A thriving fishing village which, according to local lore, was created 5,000 years ago by the God of Waves, Sayulita is the jewel in the heart of the Nayarit Riviera, a 200-mile stretch of pristine Pacific coast. While surfers have long been drawn to the area’s many breaks, more recently it has become home to artists, yoga students, travelers, chefs and architects.
Yet, despite this more recent cultural shift, the original Sayulita can still be found. A walk through the jungle to an empty beach. A warm smile at one of the town’s shops and restaurants. Mariachi on the town square. A Sunday afternoon baseball game.
When our imagination travels, it takes us to a place like Sayulita.
Let your imagination roam.
One sweet week
Toss a rock in Sayulita these days, and you are likely to hit a great restaurant. From mind-bendingly perfect street tacos to white tablecloth French food, the area’s foodie options have blown up in recent years. And the surt? Well, that’s what the Riviera Nayarit is known for, offering everything from cruisy, mushy, sand-bottomed longboard specials to thumping, black-diamond reef breaks.
But there is more. A lot more. As a framework for thinking about Things You Can Do during your visit, here’s a handy-dandy guide:
Coffee by the pool or on your private veranda to let the travel day slough like a snake’s skin. Listen to the jungle. Feel the salt-laden ocean breeze. Close your eyes. Breathe. You’ve arrived.
Now… hop into town for a wander and a vibe-check. Make sure to swing by the hippie market that wraps the south-west corner of the baseball field on the north end of town. If you’re hungry and want to keep walking, drop La Empenaderia, about 150m from the bridge, on the right side of Avenida Revolucion. Sayulita is small, with surprises tucked into corners, so don’t be in a hurry. As Ferris Beuhler observed: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and smell the flowers, you might miss them.” Look for some roses.
A mid-afternoon lull finds you on the North side of town, where you can refuel with a coffee or smoothie from the little cafe in the foyer of Don Bonito, one of the hippest new hotels in town. On your way back to Cinetica, stop by Lunazul to schedule a surf lesson or two. Low tide is better than high tide, and mornings are almost always better than evenings… and definitely better than mid-day. So check with the staff for tide schedules and plan accordingly.
Step across the small cobbled lane to Don Bonito’s and make a reservation for dinner later this week. Our favorite tables are the ones down by the beach or the small one in the NW corner of the restaurant.
On your way out of town, stop by the oceanside bar Si Senor for a mojito before heading home. You’ll be sharing the space with other tourists, but the views are killer. You can also order take-away if you’d like to eat back at home… or order another mojito to accompany your aquachile con totopes!
Before you do anything, call one of the PV tour operators to schedule a full day cultural excursion into the mountains for day 5. Sure, it’s a day in a van. And, yes, it is full-on tourism. But to experience a tiny slice of the pre-Columbian culture and history of the Huichol, direct descendants of the Aztecs who lived nearly untouched Sierra Madre mountains until the late 19th century? Oh, yeah.
Once that’s sorted, strap on your shoes, grab the bugspray and camera and head for the finest hike in the area: Monkey Mountain. Most people approach from the south via the trail that starts near Litubu. But Cinetica guests have a sorta-secret approach: a second trailhead that begins about 700m from the south end of Pazquaro beach. If you’re fit and adventurous, start the hike from Cinetica, and the hike will be about 8 miles round-trip. And if you’d like a slightly less vigorous experience, shuttle to the trailhead for a 4 mile trek. Bring water. Maybe lunch for the summit. Maybe even a hand towel to manage the sweat (yeah, you’re going to sweat, particularly at the top when it gets steep and scrambly). But even if you HATE to sweat, definitely do this hike, as the 1100′ summit offers some of the best damn views on the entire coast.
Return to Cinetica a bit wiped out and fall into the pool. Recover. Figure out the evening once you can think again… either a hop into town for meal on the beach, call for dinner to be delivered, or cook for yourself. It’s all good. And while you’re sorting yourself out, make a reservation for dinner tomorrow night at Tuna Blanca Mita in Punta Mita. The French/Mexican fusion is… well, it’s unexpected and remarkable.
Bonus suggestion: if you want to approach from the south side, hop a ride to Litibu. While we prefer the approach on the North side of the mountain, if you come from the south, you can end up at the Litibu Grill for dinner. Although it is located within a fairly large resort, the restaurant offers one of the finest sunset beach-side meals in the entire Riviera Nayarit.
Did we say surf? Yep. Today’s the day. At most shops, you’ll get an hour’s lesson which will include an extra hour of board rental. Which should be plenty, as two hours surfing can be a lot even for an experienced water master.
If you’re at Lunazul, rinse off with their beach shower (a hose and a bucket!), and air dry as you walk to our favorite, tucked-away breakfast hang: Miscelanea. Tucked away in Plaza Papelillos, it can be a bit tough to find, so be persistent. A priority for young, remote workers and traveling yogis, it’s a perfect place to unwind from the waves.
You’ll most likely want to head home after surfing, but if Miscelanea did the trick and you’re refuled for a totally different experience, take a right on Avenida Revolucion, pass the Plaza, keep going as the road bends left and walk about 300m to Agave Experience. Although this is a state liquor store, and thus missing that gritty local feel, the servers speak English and really, really know their stuff. Take your time, and make sure to buy at least a small bottle of craft-batch tequila or mescal. Who knows, you might want to make a few pool-side cocktails during your stay! Recover and refresh by the pool before calling a taxi to take you to dinner in Punta Mita.
After a relaxing day by the pool or on a local beach, head to the surfer-hip town of San Francisco (“San Pancho” to the locals) for dinner. While there are plenty of options in this rapidly-restauranting town, our favorite is Ikan Cocina Marina. Located on the corner of Americana Latina and Chile, just a short block north of the main avenue into town, Ikan serves some of the freshest, most interesting seafood in the area.
This is the day for a more cultural/historical-oriented experience; a drive into the Sierra Madre Mountains. Why? To get a sense of the Huichol, one of the few remaining tribes in the world. Still practicing some of the pre-Columbian rituals that have sustained them for thousands of years, this unique experience is entirely different from what most Riviera Nayarit travelers experience. Yes, it is a bit touristy. And, yes, it is a long day. But if your interests expand beyond the surf and the beach, and you are curious about the aesthetic and cultural roots of this remarkable region, it is totally worth the commitment. Along the way, you’ll visit colonial towns and an abandoned sugar mill, and will be treated by some seriously stunning vistas. And if you doubt the value of a day like this, just check out this brief summary: https://www.puertovallarta.net/what_to_do/wixarica-and-puerto-vallarta
After a long day of driving, you’ll either want to recover with another day at Cinetica, or blow off some steam with an adventure. SCUBA divers should consider planning a day trip to the Marieta islands, one of the best underwater experiences on the Mexican Pacific coast. If motor sports are your jam, a jungle tour by ATV is the ticket. Zip-line canopy tour lovers have a range of choices in the area. And of course, there is always the surf. At the end of the day, punch your Don Bonito’s reservation ticket and drink in the sunset beach scene that unfolds in front of the restaurant every evening. Stay a while, have a few cocktails or cold beers, and enjoy some of the best food that Sayulita has to offer.
A special treat: if you’re into Sailing, Ally Cat Sailing offers a catamaran day trip from the Juanacaxtle marina to the Marieta islands. It’s an all-day affair, leaving at 9am and returning at 4 (plus transit time to the Marina), but it is one of the few wind-powered excursions available in the area. And if you aren’t in a hurry… why not?
If you’ve planned ahead and you have a few hours in the morning before you head to the Puerto Vallarta airport for your trip home, we’d recommend a slow-moving exploration of the North Side of town, so make sure you have everything you need: sunscreen, water, blanket, snacks, etc.
Start with a morning surf at Lunazul. Once your arms are about to fall off, stroll up the beach and take a right at the last lifeguard station. Walk a few blocks to find one of our favorite coffee shops, a locals favorite; Cafe el Fortin. Check in with the pastry shop next door, a divey little shop run by a lovely French woman. The croissants and pain au raisin are insane. Buy several.
Take your coffee to go and head back towards the beach. Take a right on Aveinda del Palmar, and head out onto the trails you’ll find where the road ends. Navigation is a bit tricky, and the trails can be treacherous, but there are two beaches that make the whole excursion worth it. A small, unnamed playa tucked into some large rocks only a few hundred meters from the trailhead, and Playa Malpaso, a huge, usually empty beach half-way to San Pancho.
On your return, either stop at Le Camion (the best damn food-truck burgers we’ve ever eaten), La Terrazola (a classic mexican beach bar that serves strong drinks and awesome street food) or Frente al Punto Beach Club (a favorite for gringo locals, with a huge lawn, plenty of shade, good tunes and a great overall vibe).
And if you don’t have a full day to explore the beaches on the north side of town, at least spend the morning in the ocean, grab a coffee and some great pastry and wave good bye to Sayulita.
Oh, and don’t forget to book well in advance for your return trip next year!