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This Small Beach Town in Mexico Has Incredible Surfing, Humpback Whale Watching, and Tasty Tacos

I lived in Mexico for years, and here's why I think you should plan a trip to the small town of Sayulita.

<p>AscentXmedia/Getty Images</p>

AscentXmedia/Getty Images

I first fell in love with Sayulita during a whirlwind romance. It was me, a backpack, a Tinder date, and a little red scooter zipping up the coast from Puerto Vallarta to spend the weekend in a humble bungalow. During the day, we’d watch surfers chase waves offshore while we snacked on fresh fish tacos. By night, we’d admire the blazing sunset burn the sky into smoldering embers and then head to the main square for live music. For me, Sayulita has always carried romantic undertones of faraway places and fleeting moments.

The small beachfront town in Mexico looks a little different these days as it has grown exponentially. From its fishing and rancho roots to a surfing secret to now a veritable bohemian playground, Sayuita is sleepy no more.

"The boho, expat surfer vibe is liberating and fun. The local community is an ongoing evolution of fisherman and ranchers to expat artists, surfers, and digital nomads," said Zach Rabinor, CEO of Journey Mexico and a Travel + Leisure A-List Advisor.  "Locals are cool, friendly and warm. The food is awesome and authentic. It's great for travelers looking for a low-rise bohemian chic, flipflop, surf environment."

While the aesthetic of Sayulita these days swings much more high-end minimalist chic, you can still discover the threads of Sayulita’s barefoot, backpacker vibes, as well as its fishing village foundation.



Sayulita, Mexico

  • Aurinko Bungalows provides that old-school Sayulita surf energy with an unbeatable location and on-site yoga.

  • Surfing is as vital to Sayulita’s identity, as is the sea and sand. Built for surfers of all levels, there's a spot for everyone to find a wave of their own.

  • Snag one of the brisket tacos at Bichos before hitting up salsa night at Don Pedro’s Restaurant & Bar.

  • Bring home a beautiful yarn-painted skull piece from Evoke the Spirit.

  • Visit between December and April for a chance to spot magnificent humpback whales.



<p>Courtesy of Playa Escondida Sayulita</p>

Courtesy of Playa Escondida Sayulita

Best Hotels and Resorts

Playa Escondida

Playa Escondida is an intimate eco-friendly resort perched on a quiet, jungle-shrouded beach just a short walk from the action of Sayulita. This laid-back hotel focuses on wellness, gastronomy, and outdoor activity. “Secluded, yet close enough to access the restaurants, shops, and nightlife of Sayulita,” said Rabinor. And yes, if it looks familiar, it is the hotel where Bachelor in Paradise is filmed.

Villa Amor

Villa Amor is a collection of one-, two-, and three-bedroom villas overlooking the beach and Pacific Ocean in Sayulita. Amenities include an on-site restaurant and yoga studio, as well as a two-level swimming pool. "Villa Amor is on the edge of town and relatively quiet, with sweeping views across the bay and village and up the northern Nayarit coast," said Rabinor.

El Pueblito Sayulita

The magic of Sayulita is that travelers often come and then never want to leave. Fortunately, El Pueblito Sayulita is perfect just for that, with rooms that are designed like homes with comfy living rooms and kitchenettes. Still, the colorful, Mexican-owned boutique hotel is outfitted with everything travelers need for a great stay: an on-site restaurant, a pool, and a prime spot in front of one of the best surf beaches in Sayulita.

Casablanca Sayulita Hotel

Thatched palapa rooftops, Jacuzzis, and lush greenery set the scene at this 14-villa boutique hotel. Casablanca Sayulita sits on the north end of Sayulita, walking distance to town, with a beachfront location and tranquil vibe. Guests love it for its heated pool, rooftop terrace, and charcoal grills.

Aurinko Bungalows

Perhaps the very best deal you'll score in Sayulita is Aurinko Bungalows. Here, a collection of charming rooms with outdoor kitchens and patios sits just a block back from the beach. This has been my preferred surfer-style accommodation in Sayulita for the past decade thanks to its great location, thoughtful design, and affordable rates. (Rooms start at $90 in high season, which is quite the steal.)

<p>Nik West/Getty Images</p>

Nik West/Getty Images

Best Things to Do

Go surfing.

Sayulita was born from a sea culture — its first residents were fishermen and, later, intrepid surfers looking for wild, untamed shores. Surf culture is integral to the identity of Sayulita, whether you're an experienced pro or a surfer at heart. Sandbar is a great surf break for beginners, and probably the spot that put Sayulita on the map. If you want something more challenging, The Cove is the most ocean-facing break of Punta Mita — beginners are not advised to ride here.

Beach

Of course, a sleepy Mexican beach town has phenomenal sandy stretches, and Sayulita is no exception. The entire village sits back from Playa Sayulita, which is also called the "main beach." This is the most convenient option, though it's not my favorite as it can get crowded. Instead, I prefer Playa de Los Muertos, located at the very end of the main beach, and Playa San Pancho, which is just up the coast from Sayulita in the neighboring village of San Pancho.

Yoga

The jungle-meets-sea aesthetic of Sayulita is a boho beacon for yogis and wellness seekers. Some of the best yoga retreats in Mexico can be found in Sayulita, like Haramara Retreat and Blue Sayulita. The town also has studios for day classes and yoga on the beach, just in case you’d rather have your wellness in smaller doses.

Adventure

Surrounded by mountains and jungle, Sayulita is one of the best places in Mexico for adventure tourism. Hiking trails crisscross the terrain, leading up to beautiful ocean vistas, while other intrepid travelers opt for ATV tours, zip lining, and mountain biking. 

Whale Watching

The ocean water off the coast of Sayulita, as well as the nearby Bay of Banderas, are prime stopping areas for humpback whales making their annual migration. Whale season runs from December to April, when the water is practically humming with whale activity. La Orca de Sayulita is a biologist-led, three-hour whale-watching tour that is as educational as it is visually stunning and deeply humbling. It offers three daily departures with a maximum of eight passengers on board.

<p>Sollina Images/Getty Images</p>

Sollina Images/Getty Images

Best Shopping

Evoke the Spirit

The signature pieces at Evoke the Spirit are yarn-painted skulls, local crafts with a history deeply rooted in the Wixarika culture native to this part of Mexico. The shop also has ceramics and textiles, which make wonderfully meaningful souvenirs to take home.

Pinche Mexico Te Amo

Founded by a French couple who moved to Sayulita, Pinche Mexico Te Amo is a quirky shop known for its T-shirts, hats, bags, and other accessories. "Formerly known as Revolución del Sueño, this store embodies the ethos of Sayulita with upscale beach bags, clothing, art, and more," said Rabinor.

Pacha Mama

Rabinor describes this shop as part gallery, part boutique, with hand-embroidered clothing and other crafts. "It's not necessarily Mexican," he notes. "But it's a very tasteful and unique selection put together by French/Mexican sisters who were raised in Sayulita."

Manyana

Minimalist and contemporary, Manyana is all about locally sourced and small-batch products. The clothing is ethically made in a small workshop in Nayarit, with a design that embodies a laid-back, beach aesthetic. Beyond clothing, Manyana sells copper products, sunglasses, vases, and ceramics.

Project Artefakto

Rabinor also recommends Project Artefakto for its curated selection of quality handicrafts and ceramics. The shop sells everything from earthy stoneware and pottery to handblown glass and woodwork.

<p>Greg Vaughn/VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images</p>

Greg Vaughn/VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Best Nightlife

Escondido Bar

Minimalist decor with a desert-meets-industrial vibe, Escondido Bar is one of Sayulita's best watering holes for craft cocktails, chill music, and views over the main plaza. The snug, pocket-sized bar specializes in cocktails made with locally sourced ingredients, from the simple yet flawless margarita to the Penicillin #2 served with mezcal, tequila, fresh ginger, lime, and honey.

Don Pedro’s Restaurant & Bar

Threads of the old Sayulita still live on at Don Pedro's. This beachfront institution is one of the town's oldest spots, with the best view overlooking Playa Sayulita. Rabinor recommends visiting Don Pedro's on Mondays between October and June for their legendary salsa nights.

El Tiburón Sayulita

Sexy cocktails, a modern, minimalist aesthetic, and a very long tequila and mezcal menu sets the tone at El Tiburón. More than just a great bar, El Tiburón also serves some of the best food in town. Tasty lunch specials with drink combos make this one of the top day drinking spots, too.

Hula Sayula

Strong drinks, small bites, and live DJ music — Hula Sayula is the quintessential modern-day beach bar experience. Perched on the rooftop of La Rustica Sayulita, Hula Sayula is all about the scene, and yet it still manages to retain that sought-after barefoot casual vibe.

<p>Linda Raymond/Getty Images</p>

Linda Raymond/Getty Images

Best Restaurants

Tacos Al Pastor Diaz

If you’re looking for the best al pastor tacos in the area, this is the place. "Some of the servers may not speak English, but don't worry — just order 'una quesadilla de pastor, un taco de pastor, y un volcan,' and you won't be disappointed," said Rabinor.

Burrito Revolution

Burrito connoisseurs discuss Burrito Revolution in hushed, reverent tones. I can't go to Sayulita and skip this spot. Completely casual, with a few tables spilling out onto the street, the burritos here are plump, cheap, and perfect after a long day at the beach.

La Rustica Sayulita

Sayulita is such an international town now that you can find practically any cuisine there. One of my favorites is La Rustica, known for its wood-fired pizzas. Ahead of its time design-wise, it was one of the first restaurants to open in town sporting that minimalist, industrial aesthetic. What has kept it in business for so long, though, is its consistently delicious menu of pizzas, pastas, fresh salads, and seafood.

Bichos

Bichos is the number one spot for creative tacos, and they're served in a lovely little garden. "This is a great dinner option if you're craving some tacos and cocktails," said Rabinor. "I highly recommend trying the brisket, fish, or shrimp tacos, and the Tamaginger margarita."

Tukari

Elegant and chic, Tukari brings the sustainable and organic concept to the streets of Sayulita. The tranquil space is tucked away with white walls. Diners pass through a bamboo gate to the beachy dining room, where the menu swings heavily Mediterranean. "This is a true gem with a charming garden," said Rabinor. "Chef Sebastián is always coming up with unique and delicious dishes, using as many local products as possible. It's a must-visit spot."

<p>Linda Raymond/Getty Images</p>

Linda Raymond/Getty Images

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Sayulita is between November and April as the weather is warm and sunny during the day and cooler at night. This is also peak whale-watching season.

Summers see lower prices and the best diving conditions, as well as fewer crowds, but much higher temperatures and humidity. It also rains during the summer and early fall, and many of the smaller restaurants and shops close for the season.

Rabinor suggests skipping the obvious peak seasons, like Christmas, New Year's, Semana Santa, and Easter, along with other semi-peak periods, which include long weekends for Mexican and West Coast U.S. schools.

"The town is small and quaint, but it can get overloaded with traffic, noise, and tourists," he added.

How to Get There

Sayulita is easily accessible from the U.S. and Canada. Travelers fly into Puerto Vallarta's airport (PVR) and then head about an hour north to Sayulita. Taxis and transfer companies are all familiar with Sayulita. It's also an easy drive if you're renting a car.

Tip: I always rent a car from Gecko Car Rental, which has offices in Puerto Vallarta and Bucerías. Their cars are in great condition and they include all necessary insurance in their rates. There are no hidden fees, so the price quoted is the one you pay.

How to Get Around

Sayulita is very much a walkable town, with bars, restaurants, and beaches all within walking distance of one another. For travelers who want to explore further, it’s easy to call a taxi or an Uber to get around. The bus system is also safe and affordable for those who want to travel on a budget.

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