About an hour north of Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita, is the unassuming hippie surf town that hasn’t made a huge effort to lure in tourists and yet, somehow more and more tourists are slowly discovering this lazy beach village.
Given that Punta Mita is a bit of an upscale bubble along the Riviera Nayarit, we decided to check out Sayulita on a day trip. From Punta Mita, the drive takes about 45 minutes, although it is technically only 10 miles away. The drive there is relatively simple: only a couple of left turns along one main road and we found ourselves driving through the main strip in Sayulita. We parked the car and strolled through town for the afternoon.
Sayulita is what I imagine Puerto Vallarta once looked like 20 years ago.
While Puerto Vallarta is still the most “authentic” when compared to Cabo and Cancun, Sayulita makes Puerto Vallarta look super modern in comparison. The main street is lined with hole-in-the-wall shops selling t-shirts, swimsuit cover-ups, beaded necklaces, and local art, restaurants with indoor and outdoor seating on worn wood or plastic benches and chairs, the kind of coffee shops you could probably visit barefoot, and the occasional vendors selling candy or fresh fruit on the streets.
There are signs outside of stores that beckon pedestrians with colorful chalk indicating the current specials. There are random stray dogs (or maybe they had owners but no leashes) along the road, and children eating snacks and running around under the swaying palms.
Dusty ATVs are parked along the side of the road. Visitors wander the small town in golf carts. This is the type of place where one could roll out of bed, hair undone, and wander down to a café for breakfast in a ratty t-shirt and a pair of 20-year old shorts. No makeup required. Shoes optional, although I’d recommend it.
Side streets lead to the beach, which is undoubtedly Sayulita’s main draw.
It is a long strip of beach, lined with restaurants, surf shops, and plenty of opportunities to take surfing lessons or rent paddleboards.
Apparently, Sayulita is one of the best surfing destinations in Mexico, although when we were there, the surf was small.
There are also swarms of beach chairs and umbrellas for rent. One vendor quoted us 200 pesos to rent two chairs for a day, which is not a bad price to escape the heat for the day, but it was already the afternoon and the clouds were coming in so we passed on his offer.
It seems, however, that most tourists make a day of lounging on the beach with their beers in hand and a ready stack of magazines.
Meanwhile, as is common in Mexico, beach vendors roam the strip asking tourists if they want to buy sunglasses, sombreros, or heck, maybe even a parachuting Batman or Spiderman to fly as a kite.
Aside from being a surfing destination and consistent with its bohemian vibe, Sayulita has no shortage of yoga studios, eco-friendly accommodation options, and even natural foods (you’re not going to find a Whole Foods but it is possible to dig around and find organic food options).
As one local informed us, however, Sayulita is not for everyone. The hotels offer basic accommodations that mirror the natural surroundings and vibe of the small town. There are no mega resorts or big chains.
There aren’t even banks in town. This is the kind of place to go if you want to get away from it all but not be entirely alone – the kind of place you go if you’re looking for more authenticity in Mexico or something that still relatively off the tourist trail.
If you’re planning to go:
- Unless you’re super drawn to places like this, a few hours is all you need to see the town, grab a bite to eat, and stroll the beach.
- Since there are no banks, you can withdraw pesos at the random ATMs in stores.
- The town is small, so if you drive, you can park in one spot and roam around but don’t park anywhere marked with yellow lines.
- Sayulita is budget friendly. Accommodations are cheaper and food is cheaper compared to other popular Mexican destinations (but you’ll get what you pay for).
- For a quieter and less crowded beach, check out Playa de los Muertos, a five minute walk south and past Villa Amor (with the beach on your right).