Confession. I was hesitant to visit Sayulita. I had seen way too many people posing with brightly colored pom poms talking about what a great place it was. It seemed to be the kind of trendy place I usually avoid. But on a recent trip to Puerto Vallarta, the proximity made going there a no brainer. What I found was a total surprise and I enjoyed myself way more than I thought I would. Sayulita is a charming sleepy Mexican beach town tempered with surfers, artists and yes gringos, but cool ones.
Sayulita is the kind of place where you dance till three in the morning on a random Wednesday night with people you’ve never met before. Sayulita is the kind of place where the dogs are allowed in the bars. Sayulita is the kind of place where you smell weed all day long. But Sayulita is also the kind of place that shows compassion and mourns the people who just died in the bus crash down the highway. Welcome to the Sayulita I saw and experienced.
Sayulita is located in the Mexican state of Nayarit which is to the north of Puerto Vallarta. There isn’t an airport there but since it’s only 40 km or 25 miles from Vallarta you can easily fly into the Licenciado Gustavo Dias Ordaz International Airport (PVR) and drive, Uber or take a bus. Bus travel in Mexico is very safe and efficient. The bus station in Puerto Vallarta is close to the airport and the bus station in Sayulita is within walking distance of center of town.
TIP: Download the Rome to Rio app, part of my 5 Essential Apps for Traveling in Mexico recommendations and use it for bus schedules.
To get there, I decided to take an Uber. It couldn’t have been more easy or convenient. I also made arrangements for the same driver to pick me up at a designated time and take me back to Vallarta. Since the road between Jalisco and Nayarit is a two lane, traffic can be a little heavy in some of the small towns. It takes about an hour from Puerto Vallarta and costs $500 to $600 pesos one way. That’s roughly $25 to $30 USD. You might be able to find a taxi that would take you but i think it would cost a lot more.
Once there, if you plan on doing a little more exploring, you can rent an ATV or a golf cart to get around. You should have no problem finding a rental place. There were quite a few in town. I personally just walked everywhere. I felt completely safe even walking at night.
Where to stay:
I stayed at M Boutique Hotel which I booked through Booking.com. The hotel, located about a five minute walk from downtown, has five individual rooms in a four story building, over a business located on the first floor. Because of this layout, I would consider it more apartment than hotel but with some shared spaces common in a hostel. The rooms are huge and sleep at least four people. Each floor has a nice large shared kitchen and living area. It would be a great place for a long term stay or if you had a family or couples traveling together. You could have the entire floor with your individual space but a common area to hang out and cook in.
I stayed in two different rooms on the third floor. Number one and number three. Number three had a huge bathtub. I was pretty happy about that since the other places I stayed only had showers. There was also a rooftop with a Jacuzzi that anyone staying there could use. The only downside to the building is there is no elevator so stairs make it a little hard to get your bag up to the top floors. Especially if you are alone.
Umbrellas and chairs available were available in the common area for you to carry to the beach. If arriving late, make sure you make arrangements with the business downstairs because they handle check ins and are typically only there during regular business hours. The bus station is nearby as well as an Oxxo (convenience store).
I definitely would stay here again because I liked the location and the size of the rooms. However, I would also consider using AirBnb. I met and talked with a lot of other people traveling who had booked through them and they were very pleased with their accomodations.
What to eat:
Choosing a restaurant in Sayulita can be a difficult task because there are so many places to choose from. I had some of the best seafood of my entire trip there because everything is fresh caught and local. There’s also a good mix of old school restaurants and newer trendy places.
Breakfast: Café El Expresso has great coffee and an awesome breakfast sandwich, and more, that they serve all day. That’s a win in my book and enough for me to go twice. They have free WiFi (huge bonus) and you can sit at a table or if you are alone, like I was, you can sit at the bar that faces the street. Great for people watching. On the side of the restaurant there’s also a walk up window for coffee, smoothies and ordering to go food.
All through town, you will see fresh fruit juice and smoothie stands. Don’t miss a chance to taste some of the best fruit and “jugo” you’ve ever had. One of my favorite things is a green juice made from celery, cucumber, fresh orange juice and lime. Some places throw in nopales (cactus) or parsley. So good! The perfect pre-breakfast or if you just don’t feel like eating, drink.
Dinner: One of the best things you can do when traveling is ask the locals where they like to go or just look at the clientele. You can bet if locals are spending their money there then it’s going to be good. Emiliano’s had a lot of locals, so I stopped in on my first night in town. They have cute street side tables and a small bar out front, that once again, is great for someone traveling solo. I had mahi mahi or dorado in Spanish, with rice and beans and some of the best guacamole I’ve ever had. It cost about $150 pesos or $10 USD for dinner and one beer. They are cash only.
El Costeno is said to be the oldest restaurant in Sayulita. In fact there’s a sign that says if you come to Sayulita and don’t eat here, then you didn’t really visit Sayulita. Located on the beach, it’s a great place to watch the sunset while drinking a Pacifico. They also claim to have the biggest margaritas in town. According to my server it’s six liters and has at least a whole bottle of tequila in it. They are only open till 8:30 pm so plan accordingly. Again my fish and beer was about $150 pesos or $10 USD. Credit cards accepted.
There are also plenty of street food and taco stands in Sayulita. On the corner of Calle Marlin and Calle Jose Mariscal, that’s a corner of the centeral plaza, there’s a taco stand that had really good tacos and super nice cooks making tacos late into the night. Cash only.
For live music and bar options in town, Don Patos seems to be the most popular place in town. At least it was on the Wednesday night I was there. The genre was Spanish rock that night but there was a DJ that played Urban Latin music with some Salsa and Cumbia thrown in. Beer was very reasonably priced. About $30 MXN or roughly $1.75 USD for a domestic beer. No cover. Cash at the bar.
If dancing and a lot of people are not your thing, Aria Lounge, just around the corner from Don Patos, had live music in a more relaxed, chill atmosphere.
Part of my 48 hours in Sayulita was spent visiting Isla Marieta National Park located off the coast of Nayarit. You could arrange a similar tour by going over to Punta Mita (instructions in my post).
However, Sayulita is the kind of place where you can do as much or as little as you want. Perfect for relaxing and hanging out, the main beach in town has options for renting beach chairs and umbrellas or if you prefer more action, you can rent a surf board or stand up board. If you are new to either of those, there were plenty of places that offered lessons.
For the relaxation part, there are several spas in town or try some yoga.
Sayulita is also home to a lot of artists. You’ll notice street art and galleries around town that offer everything from traditional and local art to jewelry, paintings and pottery. There are several open air markets around where you can score those pom poms, among other local things.
If you would like to spend some of your time volunteering, Sayulita Animals is a rescue group that I got to know a little about while I was there. Through donations, they offer spay/neuter clinics and provide foster homes for dogs waiting to be adopted. Check their website for opportunities to volunteer, foster or adopt.
Money: One thing I cannot stress enough is to change your money before you get there! Cash is king in Sayulita and don’t plan on paying with dollars. The evening I arrived the cajas de cambio or change houses had closed and the ATM’s ran out of money. I’m assuming because it was Valentine’s Day and it was crowded. I had limited funds since I had been traveling and just thought I would exchange money when I got there. Lack of cash normally wouldn’t have been a problem except Sayulita is small and a lot of the restaurants just don’t accept credit cards. Even when the cajas opened the next day I got a bad exchange rate. So change your money before you go and carry what cash you think you will need. Don’t carry all your cash around with you at once or in one place. Spread it around among your belongings.
I also found that in a lot of the smaller towns in Mexico, even if they do accept credit cards, they don’t allow you to leave a tip on the card. This means you will need to have change and smaller bills. When you are at the bank or a store, just ask for small change or moneda. Keeping some small bills and change on hand is just good practice anyway because you never know when you might need it for a bathroom or to get into somewhere, like a bus station. Ask me how I know. That’s another story for another day.
I hope you get to go to Sayulita and I hope you enjoy it as much as did.
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