A Boise Gal’s Guide to Vacationing in Sayulita
It’s no secret. I ❤ Sayulita!
As Sayulita has grown in popularity as a welcoming travel destination over the past decade, I’ve delightfully become a source of recommendations and tips for friends who plan to travel there. Web traffic for my blog posts tagged with “Sayulita” continue to have the most views. I’ve decided to compile my tips, recommendations (not-paid), and suggestions for folks who want to check out this magical Mexican community.
How We Became fans
My husband and I began traveling to Puerto Vallarta about ten years ago, 2006 or so; it was the first time either of us had visited Mexico, and our week-long accommodations at his mother’s timeshare were quite nice. Via taxi or public bus we would explore other parts of the city (marina, The Malecon, Zona Romantica) and shared in some fun adventures. We’d also speak to locals and other tourists (as well as referencing TripAdvisor) who’d been in the area before and ask for suggestions on things to do, places to see, etc. We are not the couple who enjoys the run-of-the-mill dinner and a show cruise, booze cruise, Señor Frogs, Margaritaville, or other such available experiences.
We heard that for the type of Mexico we craved: the somewhat-hole-in-wall, street tacos galore, less touristy, kinda artsy Mexico, that we should head north of PV to Sayulita. So we did. We hopped a ride on the city bus, which granted was only 50 pesos at the time (or around $2 US) from the Walmart parking lot in PV to Sayulita, about 24 miles. It took us several hours to get there because of all the stops along the way. The time seemed to go fast though, as we enjoyed being a part of this everyday life. There was a lot to see from the bus windows, and many characters coming and going. Also, these busses tend to lack basic shocks, which made the ride all that more of an adventure. We didn’t realize that the busses stopped picking up in Sayulita at 6 or 7 p.m. for a return trip to PV, fortunately there were taxis willing to make the trek (I think our first taxi ride from Sayulita to PV was only $20 US, but has increased significantly since then) which ended up being only about a 40 minute ride.
Now we rent a vehicle from the Hertz office at the airport, and are very happy having our own ride to bounce around in. We spend about $200-250 on the rental for a week, which probably breaks even with all of the cab rides, transfers and gratuities we were shelling out in the past. If you do rent a car, be sure to PRINT OUT any insurance info you have that covers you on a rental, whether from your personal insurance plan or one you purchase online directly related to the rental. This detail will save you some money, time and headache in the end.
Once we made it off the bus in Sayulita we walked down to the beach (mostly public) to check it out, then explored some of the shops and cafes around “El Centro,” the town square. The town was a quaint mixture of local fishing families, ex-pats and surf bums. There were several appealing restaurant options, some high-end real estate offices, art and jewelry shops and a few corner tiendas. We were immediately charmed by a place called “Choco Banana” – because we knew “there’s always money in the banana stand.” We ordered some delicious wraps, fresh smoothies, and even though we were full we managed to delight in their famous chocobananas (frozen banana on a stick covered with chocolate and granola or coconut).
The folks in Sayulita seemed to be more laid back than in PV, the prices were better, and the food was fresher and much more appealing than anywhere we’d eaten in PV. Wether staying in PV and day-trekking up to Sayulita, or staying directly in Sayulita, we’ve been fortunate to return time and time again, including a dozen full-fledged, week-long Sayulita beach vacations.
In the past ten years we’ve watched as Sayulita grows and more people flock there to enjoy it’s charm.
(We still kick ourselves for not investing in a property early on. Live and learn.)
Perhaps one of the reasons we love Sayulita so much is because we stay at Playa Escondida, an out-of-the-way, private eco-boutique resort. This is where the jungle meets the Pacific Ocean. We ALWAYS stay beachfront (YOLO), but Playa has several lodging options that include everything from canopy treehouses to secluded Bird Canyon cottages accessible by golf cart.
Everything at Playa Escondida is about relaxation and enjoyment. While Playa is luxurious in the fact you don’t need to worry about a thing, it’s a laid-back, come as you are atmosphere. We love Jorge, the head bartender, for his amazing drinks, witty banter and can-do attitude. He truly is one of the top reasons we return! The food is consistently good… beyond good. Delicious! And the massages, ooooohhhhh, the massages. That is just something you’ll have to experience for yourself.
Playa generally is adult-only; however, we’ve seen exceptions to this rule during low-season, for mellow children and babies. It’s about a mile and a half from town, which you can hike into, get a taxi to/from, rent a golf cart in town or from the hotel (a new accommodation for all guests), or drive your own vehicle.
Playa recently was made famous, by appearing on the national TV show “Bachelor in Paradise.” Jorge became a star overnight!
Although we haven’t broken ourselves of Playa Escondida, we have friends who have had nice experiences staying at, or through, the following places:
- Villa Amor – beachfront in Sayulita
- Petit Hotel Hafa – town center
- Hotel Kupuri – town center
- Sayulitalife.com – Sayulita vacation rentals
Dining & Drinking
There is always an array of tasty and affordable dining options in town, though some businesses seem to be seasonal or come and go quite often. Here is a list of some of our long time favorites, and some of the newer places we enjoyed during our last trip.
- Street Tacos – Haven’t had a bad one yet!
- Cake Lady – Nice Mexican lady who sells slices of cakes and flan in the evening across from he town square.
- Choco Banana – “There’s always money in the banana stand!” Perhaps because we’re Arrested Development fans, but a town with banana stand is the best kind of town. Everything here is good. And we’re coffee addicts, so this place gives us a good fix. I love the Chilequiles breakfast special, and Sean goes for the wraps. Strong wifi. We think very highly of Tracy, the owner. If you don’t eat here, at least stop for a chocolate-dipped frozen banana while you’re in town.
- Sayulita Public House – Little pub with great beer selection, creative cocktails, yummy dishes and a breezy patio. Nice hangout for locals (and wanna-be locals like us)!
- La Rustica – Who says the beach isn’t a place for amazing pizza? La Rustica brick-oven pizza opened a few years in a small corner space on the main calle, and has expanded three times (on last count) since then! For good reason – their pizzas and salads are very fresh, and very good.
- Mama Mia – I don’t know if it’s because the produce in Sayulita is so fresh and hearty, or if there is some sort of Italian/Mexican marriage happening there, but all of the Italian food I’ve had in Sayulita is the BEST I’ve ever had anywhere. Loved the octopus carpaccio here.
- Burrito Revolución – Basically, the best burrito ever.
- Mary’s Tacos – Our favorite place to eat when we want fresh Mexican food (NOT TEX-MEX). The amount of food for the price is insane, beware when you order!
- Naty’s Kitchen – Hole-in-the-wall build-your-own taco stand with some really creative and beyond delicious pairings. Very affordable.
- Orangy – Killer smoothy stand; great for hangovers, sea-stomach, or if all of the Sayulita SUPing, surfing and yoga has you feeling uber-nutritious.
- Ruben’s Deli – Sometimes a sandwich really just hits the spot. And this sandwich shop is worth a lunch stop! And yes, their Reuben sandwich is worth noting.
We’ve learned that if the restaurant has a high-pressure host/hostess out front that actively tries to get you to eat there – the food and price CAN BE BEAT elsewhere. We also don’t have nice things to say about Don Pedro’s, a so-called “fine dining” restaurant that overlooks the beach.
- Galeria Gypsy – An eclectic gift and folk art shop jam packed with goodies.
- Pachamama – A bohemian’s delight. Beautiful and simple locally dived for and crafted pearl jewelry, embroidered clothing and more.
- Evoke the Spirit – Another shop that will send those seeking a boho meets Mexican style into a tizzy. I bought a beautiful, locally handmade and dyed woven wool wall hanging from here – one of my favorite vacation purchases to date!
- Sayulita Wine Shop – Nice selection of Mexican wines, though when I stopped in the last time they didn’t have any sparkling wine.
- Street Vendors – YES! Lots of local and nomadic street vendors. I always try to buy little dolls and beaded jewelry from the Huichol (wee-chol) artisans. The Huichol are native to the area, and do the most intricate and amazing bead artwork.
- Beach Vendors – NO! At least, I personally won’t buy from the beach vendors. Many Americans “feel guilty” saying no to them, but they are part of an industry that cheaply buys goods wholesale from China and other sweat-shop laden countries. The goods are not “locally- crafted” as these particular vendors might advertise (see info on Huichol artisans above). The jewelry is not really silver. Don’t feel guilty, just say “No Gracias.” The less to nothing you buy from them, the less they’ll disturb you on the beach.
Things to do, Places to Go and see
- Los Muertos – We stumbled onto Los Muertos during one of our first day trips to Sayulita. It is worth the short hike from the main public beach through the cemetery and beyond to Los Muertos beach. Details on how to get there at sayulitabeach.com.
- Marieta Islands – I don’t know why it took us so long to visit Marietas Islands, but we didn’t charter a boat ride out there until one of our most recent visits. THIS IS A MUST DO! Thanks to the work of Jacques Cousteau with the Mexican government in the 1960s, the islands are now a protected area (like a national park) that is home to several ocean exposed islands and blue footed boobies. Plan to leave earlier in the day to beat the crowds. Depending on the time of year, the tide should be low enough around noon to make it into the main island. We chartered a small fishing boat (we recommend Rudi, the German) directly from the beach in the town area of Punta Mita (not the resort). However, there are all kinds of charters available in Sayulita and PV for trips out to the islands. Additional information on Marieta Islands at “When on Earth.“
- Nearby Towns – We love exploring some of the other towns close to Sayulita. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll find a place to buy!
- San Francisco (aka, San Pancho) – Beach town just a short trip north of Sayulita. Expansive, less populated beach area. There is a world-class polo field here. If interested in staying in San Francisco, we suggest checking out Hotel Cielo Rojo.
- Rincon de Guayabitos – Another beach town just north of Sayulita, less “touristy,” with a larger population of Canadian retirees and Mexican nationals. Can be “dead” during off seasons. Less expensive accommodations than Sayulita.
- In Sayulita you can find world-class surfing, friendly surf lessons, deep sea fishing, sailing, stand-up paddle boarding, sea kayaking, yoga, zip-lining, horseback riding, mountain biking, and more!
Puerto Vallarta Airport
As with any airport customs situation, the PV airport is no different. This can be a stressful part of the trip, but just relax and know that soon enough you’ll be on the beach with sand between your toes and a refreshing drink in your hand!
- Take an ink pen with you on your carry-on for filling out customs forms in flight, and have the forms ready ready to go, in hand, when you depart the the plane.
- There is a set of recently remodeled restrooms just after the customs area, before the baggage claim.
- Once you pick up your bags, you’ll be asked to press a button – this is a random customs check – if you don’t get randomly chosen for a bag check, all you have to do is put your bags through the X-ray bay.
- IMPORTANT: The next part of the PV airport is what is referred to as “The Shark Tank.” This is an area where timeshare, tourist guides and other HIGH PRESSURE sales people are allowed to harass incoming visitors. BEWARE. Don’t talk to anyone. Stay focused on getting out of there, and don’t “feel guilty” or feel like you’re being rude. Even the airport’s website suggests ignoring these people.
- Once out of the Shark Tank you’ll either look for your hotel shuttle or transfer (if this is your first rodeo, and your lodging is providing or coordination your ground transportation, be sure to get as much information from them as possible about who is picking you up and where to meet them), or you can get a taxi from the company that exclusively partners with the airport. You won’t have to wait for a taxi, but you will have to pay additional “taxi taxes” to get out of the parking lot. If you want to save some money, simply walk across the catwalk on the outside of airport. Across the highway from the airport you find airport-tax-free taxis ready to take you where you want to go. I suggest asking “how much it is to _______?” Do this before getting into the cab, so you won’t be surprised by the end fare.
- Across the catwalk from the airport also is a good spot (nothing fancy) to get a taco/burrito and a cerveza to decompress from your air travel. 🙂
Enjoy your vacation!
Have questions or anything you feel like I’ve left out? Please let me know via the form below. I’m happy to hear from my readers!