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Introducing Sayulita: Mexico’s Boho Surf Town

(Sayulia, Mexico)

(Sayulita, Mexico)

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.

(This pretty much captures the main draws of the little town)

(This pretty much captures the main draws of the little town)

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.

(Row of restaurants lined along a square in Sayulita)

(Row of restaurants along a square in Sayulita)

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.

(Colorful necklaces for sale)

(Colorful necklaces for sale)

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.

(This little girl was so cute just standing in front of her mom

(This little girl was so cute just standing in front of her mom’s store.)

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.

(Restaurants with outside dining.)

(Restaurants with outside dining)

Side streets lead to the beach, which is undoubtedly Sayulita’s main draw.

(One of the streets that ends at the beach.)

(One of the streets that ends at the beach.)

It is a long strip of beach, lined with restaurants, surf shops, and plenty of opportunities to take surfing lessons or rent paddleboards.

(Surfing, anyone?)

(Surfing, anyone?)

(Bike parked along the beach "boardwalk".)

(Bike parked along the beach “boardwalk”.)

Apparently, Sayulita is one of the best surfing destinations in Mexico, although when we were there, the surf was small.

(This guy was out during the hottest part of the day.)

(This guy was out during the hottest part of the day.)

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.

(A group of first time surfers leaves to try out the waves)

(A group of first time surfers leaves to try out the waves)

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.

(The main beach in Sayulita)

(The main beach in Sayulita)

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.

(Believe it or not, this is one of the "fancier" resorts in Sayulita. It has perfect views of the beach.)

(Believe it or not, this is one of the “fancier” resorts in Sayulita. It has perfect views of the beach.)

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).

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Tim - November 24, 2014 - 3:58 am

I just returned from a trip to Punta Mita – took a day trip up to Sayulita. I had been looking forward to Sayulita and envisioned it to be like Tamraindo in Costa Rica, which I love. Big Disappointment – very dirty and dusty. Oh well, I am still glad I went.. now I know.

Nick - October 27, 2017 - 11:27 am

We absolutely loved this place. It was small, and you’re right, if you’re not drawn to off-the-beaten-track beach towns, then maybe it’s not for you. But everything was so affordable and the beach (the main beach and Puerto Muertes) were clean and cool! Just keep in mind what time you visit! If you visit from September-December it is INCREDIBLY HOT! Book a place with a/c!

JustWanderlust - November 5, 2017 - 9:19 pm

That’s a good tip, Nick! Thanks for your note!

Surf Chick - March 15, 2018 - 9:15 am

Do not surf here the water is polluted with sewage and the sewer plant will not get fixed for a super long time. There is a small river 100 feet to the right on the main beach that is draining 200 gallons a minute of raw sewage into the bay. People are getting rashes after on day and majorly sick with skin infections. If you have a scratch expect to get very sick.

Avoid this place for surfing!

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