Saturday, July 20, 2024

An insider’s guide to a perfect weekend in Sayulita

The flap of pale pink, yellow, and turquoise flags cast fluttering shadows on the sandy cobblestone street. Leathery, barefoot surfers meander down sun-drenched sidewalks, surfboards in one hand and fish tacos in another, while straw fedora-clad influencer wannabes in flowing sun dresses pose for “the shot” for Instagram. A cacophony of sputtering golf carts, Spanglish, and banda music fills the air. It’s a crazy melange of cultures, travel styles, and tax brackets in this pocket-sized village. Somehow it’s equal parts laid-back and chaotic here — lovely and messy all at once. This is the weekend guide to getting the most from Sayulita.

Sayulita, a Pueblo Magico on the coast of Riviera Nayarit, is a rite of passage for anyone coming to the Puerto Vallarta area. This once-sleepy fishing village was long a haven for surfers, bohemians, artists, and those looking to venture slightly off the beaten path. Things look a little different these days as Sayulita has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the entire country, a reputation that has brought a mixed bag of results. Business is booming, but the tiny town has suffered from overcrowding, pollution, and overdevelopment. 

Surfer walking on the beach at sunset
People might argue over how Sayulita has developed, but it steadfastly remains a sunset surf paradise. (Sally Sees)

Still, Sayulita is a bucket list Mexico experience and an important part of the fabric that makes up the Pacific coast of Mexico. There are ways to do it just right. So, if you’re looking for the perfect insider’s guide to a weekend in Sayulita, you’ve come to the right place.

Friday

To do Sayulita correctly these days, you have to embrace it for what it is — different from how it used to be. Pacific Mexico diehards remember the days when Sayulita was heaven on earth: a small stretch of beach backed by a sandy grid of streets, one main plaza, and a handful of casual beach restaurants and taco stands, quiet evenings, and tons of privacy. Today’s Sayulita is trendy, and, sometimes, overwhelmingly so. You may need to invent another word to describe what Sayulita is today.

Still, to do Sayulita correctly, I recommend booking a room at Aurinko Bungalows. One of the last vestiges of the Sayulita of yore, this dreamy surfer hotel is a collection of humble rooms, some with outdoor kitchens, others with patios and hammocks, just a few blocks from the beach. The modest hotel is also one of the best deals in town, particularly for its location.

Of course, you can always go more high-end in Sayulita, like Villa Amor, a collection of one-, two-, and three-bedroom villas overlooking the beach. Yogis love this for the on-site studio while sun worshippers bask next to the two-level swimming pool. Villa Amor is also more removed from the buzzy downtown, offering a bit more tranquillity.

After settling in, make your way into town, which abuts the beach. The tangle of streets feels bursting at the seams with restaurants, coffee shops, bars, boutiques, and souvenir shops. Head straight for the beach to Don Pedro’s Restaurant & Bar. Old Sayulita still thrives at this beachfront icon. Overlooking the main beach, Don Pedro’s is the perfect spot to drink it all in, from the views to the frosty beers and potent margaritas.

Don Pedros restaurant at night time, Sayulita, an important part of the Weekend guide to Sayulita
Cold beer, powerful margaritas and the beach. Is there anything more perfectly Mexican? (Don Pedros/Facebook)

You can eat here for dinner, or you can head to Tacos Al Pastor Diaz, a locally loved street-side stand churning out the best tacos in town. Order tacos al pastor or a volcan. You won’t regret it. After dinner, grab a cocktail at Escondido Bar and say hello to the more modern side of Sayulita. This tiny bar swings industrial chic and specializes in craft cocktails. The Penicillin #2 is a fan favorite, made with mezcal, tequila, ginger, lime, and honey. 

Saturday

Morning

Breakfast in Sayulita is an event, and you’ll be spoiled for choice with great breakfast places. ChocoBanana is one of the original breakfast spots in town, serving everything from salsa-slathered eggs to fluffy pancakes or hearty bowls of fruit. There’s also YAH-YAH Sayulita Cafe, just around the corner from ChocoBanana, serving vegan and gluten-free dishes, as well as bagel sandwiches, pastries, and yummy smoothie bowls.

Wherever you decide to eat, make sure you’re fueled up for a day of activity, because an active lifestyle is one of the pillars of Sayulita living. No matter what outdoor adventure speaks to you, you’ll find it in Sayulita.

I recommend either signing up for a surf lesson or taking a yoga class. Surf culture and yoga culture intersect in Sayulita, and you’ll find an abundance of opportunities to do both. Sandbar is the perfect surf break for beginners, but if you’re looking for something more advanced, then head out to The Cove. For yogis, Hotelito Los Suenos has a weekly schedule of yoga classes, with at least one session per day and sometimes multiple sessions. You can also come to Sayulita strictly for a yoga retreat at locations like Haramara or La Joya.

Afternoon

A boutique in Sayulita, Nayarit
Shop for local crafts and designer gems or just soak up the alternative vibes to be found in abundance. (Sayulita Beach)

Surely, by now, you’ve worked up an appetite again, and since Sayulita is overflowing with restaurants, you won’t have a problem finding a spot for lunch. Burrito Revolution is the perfect spot to replenish calories after a workout. Casual to the core, this burrito connoisseur’s Mecca serves overstuffed burritos at a few streetside tables.

Afterward, you can head to the beach for a much-needed nap or hit the cobblestones for retail therapy. Sayulita is a shopping paradise, with high-end boutiques, souvenirs, galleries, and Huichol art shops. 

Evoke the Spirit is one of the most famous, known for its signature yarn-painted skulls whose roots lie with the Wixarika culture that is active in this part of Mexico. For something slightly more practical (and splashy), Pinche Mexico Te Amo sells T-shirts, hats, and accessories. Manyana is a sleek, contemporary clothing boutique that is more evocative of the new Sayulita. The locally sourced products, from clothing and ceramics to sunglasses and beyond, are made within the state of Nayarit. 

Evening

If you still have an appetite, you’ll want to make a reservation at Tukari, one of the loveliest restaurants in town. Snuggled away behind sleek, white walls, the central dining garden gives off a boho chic vibe. The menu is a fusion of Mediterranean and Mexican. After dinner, meander over to Hula Sayula for a rooftop cocktail and a roster of spinning DJs.

Bartender making cocktails
DJs, cocktails, the beach and sparkling Sayulita meet at Hula to give guests a great time. (Hula Sayula)

Sunday

It may be your last day, but you’ll make the most of it. Visitors can do so many excursions from Sayulita, whether it’s a whale-watching tour or a trip up the coast to the smaller beachfront towns like San Pancho or Lo de Marcos.

If you’re going the whale-watching route, La Orca de Sayulita is one of my favorites because it is truly dedicated to learning about the majestic humpback whales that migrate past Sayulita each year. Other boat tours from Sayulita can be fun, too, but typically they feature open bars and are more focused on a party vibe. La Orca de Sayulita, however, is led by biologists and has a maximum capacity of eight passengers per departure.

After your morning tour, return to Sayulita for one final (and fabulous) meal at Bichos, a creative taco restaurant set within a garden. Order the tacos adobada if you’re a carnivore, or. the mushroom tacos if you prefer plant-based. Cheers to a successful Sayulita weekend with a delectable margarita.

Meagan Drillinger is a New York native who has spent the past 15 years traveling around and writing about Mexico. While she’s on the road for assignments most of the time, Puerto Vallarta is her home base. Follow her travels on Instagram at @drillinjourneys or through her blog at drillinjourneys.com 

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