I heard of Sayulita a couple of years ago when it became the new digital nomad mecca. Lots of bloggers where moving there to take advantage of the cheaper prices while working remotely.
Over the course of time I started to hear more and more about it, and sometimes, the reviews weren’t overwhelmingly positive. Regardless, Jordan and I wanted to get some beach time soon after arriving in Mexico, and given it was either the large and resort-filled Puerto Vallarta or the smaller-yet-possibly-touristy Sayulita, the choice was easy.
We loved our time in this small ‘Pueblo Magico’ in Mexico’s state of Nayarit. We spent six days swimming, surfing, drinking and eating well. Regardless, I can see where Sayulita could receive some negative press. In an effort to make sure you have the right expectations when visiting, and also don’t skip it just because of rumors you’ve heard, here are all the reasons to visit Sayulita (and some reasons not to as well).
First, 5 reasons to visit Sayulita
1. You want to learn how to surf or stand-up paddle board
Most people think all Southern Californians know how to surf. My boyfriend and I are great examples of the opposite. While I dabbled in surfing in high school, the cold water temperatures and sometimes-large waves were enough to put me off. (I also am a bit of a scaredy cat when it comes to that stuff).
Luckily, Sayulita is the perfect place to learn (or re-learn too). While the beach also has an area for better surfers with stronger waves, one side has smaller waves perfect for first-timers. There are also a ton of surf schools, so for about $50 you can take a lesson in a small group. If you’d rather skip the lesson, just pick up a board from on the beach for $3/hour like we did and go for it yourself.
Lots of people are learning to surf in Sayulita, so it’s not a place where people will judge. People are nose-diving and flipping off their boards left and right. Once you get more advanced, move down the beach to surf with the more advanced, or rent a truck with a few friends and head to Punta Mita.
Although a bit more expensive (about $7/hour, but still a bargain to most of us) you can also rent stand-up paddle boards. We loved doing this, and it was also a great work out. Get past the waves and you can get a beautiful view of the entire coastline in no time. You can even paddle over to a more secluded beach, Playa los Muertos.
2. You want to meet other travelers, and possibly, get stuck there for a while
Our hostel, Lush, was a breeding ground for backpackers who were, “just supposed to stay a couple of days…” Almost every other person we met had a similar story. Instead of traveling all of Mexico, they were staying put in Sayulita and finding work at either the hostel or a bar.
This goes to show how much people love it here, and also makes for a great community. Since so many backpackers stay for extended periods of time, you don’t have to worry about it being difficult to make friends or find a solid, longer-term group of them.
3. You like the idea of being in a small town
Some of our afternoons were spent, just going on a stroll. Although it made me feel uncharacteristically old, I truly enjoyed the simplicity in the activity. In about 10 minutes you could do a loop around the main area of town and its plaza. After that, it’s time to sit down for a drink or grab some ice cream and just people watch.
Sayulita makes for the perfect place to slow down.
It was also easy to get into a bit of a routine in Sayulita, and for that I appreciated it. We would wake up as early as possible (8am if no tequila was involved the night before, 10am if there was) and then head to the beach. After a bit of exercise either in the form of hiking through some of the jungle trails, surfing or paddle boarding, it was lunchtime. From then on, the day would be spent wandering, snacking, relaxing in the hammocks and socializing at our hostel’s rooftop bar.
4. You love animals
If you’ve ever traveled to India, or other countries with large populations of hungry or mistreated street dogs, you know how uncomfortable (and sometimes scary) it can be. Fortunately, Sayulita seems to love their population of street dogs, and they act as if they are all just the towns’ pets!
A local told us that at one point the government was going to come to Sayulita and put down all the homeless dogs. In an effort to stop it, the locals went and bought collars and put them on every friendly street dog they could find.
These days, all the dogs seem happy, relatively healthy and appreciated. They play with each other and prance down the streets. The restaurant owners don’t shoo them away like pests either. When people watching runs out, there’s always a happy dog to entertain you.
If dogs are less of your thing, Sayulita also has a sea turtle sanctuary. At certain times of the year you can watch the baby turtles run into the sea!
5. You want to eat well, but don’t mind paying a bit more for it
Compared to the rest of Mexico, Sayulita is expensive. Compared to the United States, it is not. If you don’t mind spending a few more dollars each time on food and cocktails than you would be in say, Guadalajara, than this shouldn’t bother you. Fortunately, the quality of food in Sayulita is fantastic so you don’t have to feel like you’re being ripped off.
We frequented the same restaurants multiple times because we thought they were so delicious. We also found ourselves constantly overwhelmingly full. At each restaurant, (many of which have tables in the street which makes for a great atmosphere) you receive a delicious spread of salsas and pickled onions as toppings. You also usually receive unlimited tortillas with your already huge portions. Sayulita is a foodie’s paradise!
Once you’ve blown all your money on food and fancy beach-side cocktails, it is still possible to eat for a minuscule price. For $1.25 you can order an amazing fish taco from a street-side food cart. For even less you can chow down on the best tamales I’ve ever had! (For tamales, find the nice lady each evening with the cart across from ‘Chocobanana’.)
Where to eat: Everything on the menu at Yeikame was fantastic and authentic. I could of eaten there every day! Burrito Revolution next door makes an outstanding shrimp burrito. Mr. Smoothie across from Lush hostel makes amazing juices and superfood smoothies/milkshakes. The tacos, especially the carnitas, at Itacate are filling and mouth watering. The burrata pizza at beachside Don Pedro’s is a great treat to eat while taking advantage of their fast wifi. When all else fails…street food, street food, street food!
5 Reasons you Might Want to Skip Sayulita
1. You want to spend as little money as possible
If stretching your money for as long as possible throughout Mexico is your main goal, best skip Sayulita. Like I mentioned above, you’ll pay more than in other towns for food and drinks.
For example, a full Mexican meal at a sit-down restaurant in Sayulita will run you about 120-200 pesos. A lunch at a more casual restaurant, around 80-120. Cocktails usually cost us about 60-80 pesos before the 10% tip.
In other parts of Mexico, you can pay as little as 60 pesos for a large meal, and 40 pesos for a mixed drink.
2. You don’t want to be surrounded by too many ‘gringos’
It’s not surprising that a place as beautiful as Sayulita is now full of tourists. And while Jordan and I liked the backpacker vibe, we will admit that the “resort folk” were a bit much. Cruising through town on their golf carts (the way to get around in Sayulita) while not trying to speak any Spanish whatsoever, was cringey.
Honestly, it does kill the vibe a little.
On the other hand, the locals are still extremely friendly, and I don’t think tourism has completely been for the worst. The town is booming, there are loads of businesses, and overall, most people there seem very happy. In a country where the lower class can make as little as 70 pesos for 8 hours of work, you can’t 100% hate what tourism brings.
Still, if what you’re looking for is an authentic, local and traditional town where little English is spoken and gringos are nonexistent, head to the neighboring town of ‘San Pancho’ or search inland.
3. You get bored in small towns, and instead want a large selection of clubs, restaurants and resorts.
Sure, there are great bars and a lively scene of backpackers, but you won’t find clubs, more than 15 restaurants or any all-inclusive resorts. For that, stick to Puerto Vallarta.
4. Off-the-beaten-path is exactly what you’re looking for
So you don’t want resorts but you also don’t want “the next big thing”. If you’re trying to get off the beaten path, you’re probably too late in Sayulita. While there are some great places and beaches surrounding Sayulita waiting to be discovered, the town and main beaches themselves are already smack-dab on the tourist radar.
For a truly off the beaten path experience for the brave and more adventurous at heart, head to the beaches of Michoacan. We have heard how amazingly beautiful and untouched they are. There aren’t any large towns and you’ll only find rustic palapas and cabañas dotting the shoreline. Of course, this all means it’s more difficult to get to. None of the main0stream bus companies are currently traveling through there. It is also said to be a bit more dangerous.
5. Calm, turquoise blue waters and snorkeling is you’re idea of paradise
You must remember, this is the Pacific Ocean. The water will be colder (not cold, but not like a bathtub either) and typically a darker blue. Also, there are many rumors floating around (ha) about sewage spilling into the main surf. Fortunately, even though a small mucky river does empty into the Sayulita, the water was not dirty. Everyone swam in the waves, we saw no trash or pollution and never heard of anyone getting sick. It seems as if the town cleaned up its sewage problem upon the rise of tourism.
I found Sayulita and its surrounding jungle to be gorgeous, but if you’re looking for turquoise blue water and bright white sand, head to the Caribbean side of Mexico.