Sayulita’s Coming of Age
Published Jan 26, 2011 - (Updated Dec 3, 2012)
Given its legendary reputation as a must-visit, off-the-beaten-path surfing destination in Mexico’s Pacific Riviera, one could easily assume that Sayulita is synonymous with surf, sand and not much more. However, many years have passed since this small Riviera Nayarit town by the sea less than an hour north of Puerto Vallarta began attracting the surfos (Mexico’s very practical and popular translation of the word surfers) in the late ’60s, when Carr. 200, the interstate highway, was built. With residential neighborhoods, health and community centers and comfort services (chefs, landscapers and so on), not to mention public and private schools, Sayulita has truly come of age, while keeping its eclectic, bohemian character unaltered for the most part.
Not surprisingly, hardcore surfers have always been a bit hush-hush about Sayulita, hoping to keep the bounty to themselves. You might wonder how it is that the rest of us have fallen in love with the town’s laid-back eateries, funky shops and friendly locals. “If you are not a surfer or not visiting Puerto Vallarta to begin with, you wouldn’t believe the number of people that discover Sayulita nowadays because they were guests at somebody’s wedding in town,” commented chef Nicholas Parrillo, who in 1992 set off on a surf and culinary adventure with his cousin, Damien, ultimately establishing the landmark Don Pedro’s restaurant.
Through the years, the restaurant has grown to become not only a preferred spot for a casual breakfast or lunch by the beach (perfect for people watching) or a romantic dinner, but also as a classic Sayulita hangout, featuring salsa dancing with a live band and gypsy music several nights of the week. A beautiful palapa perched high on a hill on the edge of Sayulita bay owned by the restaurant serves as an idyllic location for weddings, attracting hundreds of brides and grooms from the United States and Canada every year. “Many of those wedding guests invariably fall in love with the destination and make plans to return on the spot.”
And while Don Pedro’s beachfront location cannot be beat when it comes to a fine dining experience, Calypso’s location, overlooking the main plaza from a second floor, is equally enticing, offering fresh catch of the day and many local specialties under a spectacular, dimly lit palapa. Fine dining aside, Sayulita features myriad dining options for every budget, including the popular beachfront La Terrazola owned by the Velazco family, the only restaurant located in the residential north end of town and ideal for those looking for a more laid-back and affordable dining experience, which includes bonfires and torches right on the beach during the winter months.
Sayulita offers two primary beach options for those craving some sunning and bathing time. The main beach itself is located in the heart of town, offering many spots where you can set up camp for the day while enjoying the benefits of nearby food, drink, restrooms, a nonstop parade of vendors and endless people watching. The surf is gentle and the sand slopes gradually, providing an excellent environment for families with small children and surfing newbies, who can take advantage of the half-dozen or so surfing schools in town. A short walk south along the beach, beyond the Villa Amor resort and over a small hill, takes you to Los Muertos beach (no relation or reference to the beach with the same name in Puerto Vallarta), an even more tranquil and secluded option for those who can go without the aforementioned amenities and would rather enjoy a few hours of quiet, basic bliss. Even more secluded, word-of-mouth beaches can be accessed north and south of Sayulita by hiking through the mountains, and many locals will gladly point you in the right direction should you wish to explore them.
With the exception of the very romantic Villa Amor, you will not find any hotels or resorts of significant size in Sayulita, which is actually one of the town’s assets. In fact, most lodging options are basic, no-frills hotels, not to mention a couple of groovy campgrounds and motor home camps. That is, of course, not taking into account the large number of homes, villas and condos available to rent by the day, month or week, directly from their owners, many of which are represented on the popular website, Sayulita Life.
Since all of Sayulita is within walking distance, you can easily switch gears from beach and restaurants to shopping, with several art galleries, clothing stores and Mexican craft shops located right along the main plaza or its surrounding streets. A farmers’ market sets shop in town on Fridays, while the more traditional tianguis does so on Sundays.
And let’s not forget about surfing. Equally appealing to experts and newbies, Sayulita is the place to be, with numerous options to learn the sport, from one-on-one training to weeklong surf camps. No equipment? No problem. Most surf shops in town offer equipment rentals as well. Not oblivious to its popularity, local developer Punta Sayulita established the annual Punta Sayulita Surf Classic last year, an international competition that offers different challenges in the traditional long board category, as well as the new and very popular stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP. The very successful event gathered dozens of international surfing superstars, placing Sayulita further in the limelight when it comes to practicing the sport.
Punta Sayulita’s involvement goes much further with the community, however, organizing ongoing beach clean-up efforts, hosting the screening of environmental films and sponsoring both promising, young surfers, as well as environmental experts, who have offered talks and seminars on their areas of expertise. “For many developments, the amenities included within the project are an attractive part of the purchase,” commented Brett Ellsworth, Punta Sayulita Principal. “For us, the most important amenity here is the town itself.” A fulltime Sayulita resident, Ellsworth can be frequently found at Punta Sayulita’s beach club, which serves double duty as a community center and headquarters for the beach cleaning events. Curiously enough, he set shop right next to Don Pedro’s, only to realize, after the fact, that he and Don Pedro’s Nick Parrillo actually went to kindergarten together!
Sayulita is located approximately 25 miles north of downtown Puerto Vallarta along Carr. 200 Norte. Public transportation is provided by Transportes Medina, with departures from Wal-Mart (Maritime Terminal) scheduled throughout the day.
Try Don Pedro’s or Calypso (at the plaza) for fancy fare or La Terrazola (Miramar St. at the beach) for casual grub. Other options abound. A breakfast, lunch or snack at Choco Banana, right on the main plaza, is simply indispensable.
Villa Amor is the perfect romantic getaway. Several hotels, such as the Casablanca or Villas Sayulita, are great for families. Try El Palmar del Camarón and Junto al Río Bungalows for budget camping and rustic lodging, respectively, and Trailer Park & Bungalows Sayulita to park your rig.
Awesome stores, boutiques, art galleries and jewelry shops abound. Required stops include La Hamaca (Revolución 110) and Pacha Mama (Delfines 6B).
- Miro Vino, an Italian-owned wine bar right across from Sayulita's main plaza, featuring a choice selection of national and international wines. Mariscal 15
- The Iguana Tree! Locals will tell you of this particular tree, where dozens of protected, local iguanas have pretty much decided to take over.
- Don Pato at night, right on the plaza, for live reggae
- The nightlife around the plaza. But don’t expect it to go very late. Healthy locals like to get up early for surfing and yoga.