We traversed the entire land mass of Mexico from east to west to visit this little surfing haven.

Our verdict? It was just about worth it… for the food alone.

We planned on settling in Sayulita for at least a month or so and we even lined up an interview for a workaway in exchange for accommodation, but instead left after gorging ourselves for three days. Read on to see why we enjoyed Sayulita, but just couldn’t stay here long-term.


What is it that primarily brings people, and us initially, to this gringo hangout? Well, if you’re looking for the tropics, this is is it – look back across the bay from Villa Amor and there are beaches fringed by coconut palms meeting rolling jungle covered mountains as far as the eye can see. There’s also a fantastic break for learner surfers directly in front of Sayulita Pueblo, with several operators renting boards and touting surf lessons (PS: we hear WildMex is the best in town if this is what you’re after).

It’s also a gateway to the famous Marieta Islands (below), which you’ll spot in any wanderluster’s instagram feed worth their salt, even if access is significantly restricted these days. There’s a truckload of things to do, from yoga to horse riding to hiking to mountain biking to sailing. Do we need to go on? Finally, the pueblo has an awesome rough and ready vibe, with sweet street art and a few of the best meals we’ve had in Mexico.

So what was the one downfall to Sayulita that we sadly just couldn’t wrap our heads around? The beach itself.

It’s a bit of a pity we visited here after we left our hearts in Tulum. Every time we looked out at the brownish waves rolling into Sayalita, where waste water runs into the sea from the town, we just couldn’t shake images of Tulum’s crystal waters and milky white sand out of our heads. We explored a few beaches further afield, like Puerto de los Muertos and even Los Cocitas, which were interesting and pretty, absolutely worth a visit, but sadly not to our absurdly high standards.

Being from south-east Queensland, an hour from the Gold Coast and two from Byron Bay and Noosa, the dark brown sand and dirty, sometimes smelly water was unfortunately a deal breaker. For those who’ve been to Bali, it was a little like the beaches of Kuta and Seminyak. There’s a reason why Aussies would rather pack into the swim-up pool bars in these parts of Indo rather than spread out in the sea just beyond the hotel/beach club. Call us spoilt princesses, tell us our expectations are too high, whatever. These two beach babies called bullshit.

The kind of ocean we’re used to in Australia…

So should you visit Sayulita?

If you’re on this side (west) of Mexico, ABSOLUTELY. In fact, we met a number of backpackers who had settled in the town for quite a while, and looked at us in surprise when we told them Tulum was calling. If you’re in the region, or need to escape the Californian or Colorado winter for a quick break, Sayulita is fantastic. Indeed, if you’re like the Canadian in our hostel dorm, and you don’t care what the water looks like, so long as it’s warm, then Sayulita is ideal. 

Sayulita is somewhere we would love to visit on holiday, rather than as a backpacker – we’d love to wake up to take a yoga class, have a surfing lesson then go for a sailing trip to the Marieta Islands, but sadly these things all cost money that was out of our budget.

Nevertheless, there’s a sweet party/surfer/springbreaker vibe mixed with vacationing families, some very on-trend shops we wished we could plunder (once again, being a backpacker on a budget sucks sometimes), great surf and a cool crowd to keep you entertained for many an evening.

Last but not least, the food in the village is absolutely PHENOMENAL. It was difficult to work out which was our favourite (the jury’s still out). See below for our picks.

Where to Eat – Breakfast

The Anchor

If your preference for breaking the fast errs on the healthy side, then we have you 100% sorted. Look no further. Seriously. This place has the most incredible smoothie bowls – super generous, fresh and delicious. Plus the customer service is on point. Whatever you do, don’t follow the masses to Chocobanana (which everyone seems to go to); get off the main drag, find The Anchor, sit back and relax. Then come back the next day. And the next.

Where to Eat – Lunch

Burrito Revolution

 If your experience of Mexican food is limited or you aren’t overly adventurous in the culinary department, Burrito Revolution is a great place to start. Super generous burritos, with either surf or turf options to keep you trucking for the afternoon. We had the shrimp (camaron in Espanol) and chicken (pollo) and left feeling very satisfied. The decor and theme were an added bonus.


Yeikame

Delicious tacos with all the trimmings. The chicken mole and the guacamole was en pointe.

 

Mary’s Traditional Mexican

Beautiful generous tacos with truckloads of fresh-to-death salad. The carne asada quesadilla on handmade corn tortilla was the best we’ve had so far in Mexico.

 

Where to Eat – Dinner

La Rustica

Need to impress someone? This place will no doubt do it. We chose La Rustica because we were desperate for some wine, which regrettably is notoriously expensive in Mexico, and what goes better with a bottle of red than pizza? The wine must have loosened our purse strings, because we went all out here, ordering two pizzas (La Princessa for the win) and the popcorn prawns (or shrimp as they seem be called in Mexico). To round it off, we couldn’t resist trying a couple of desserts, of which we would recommend the Don Bonito – two plantains deep fried in a coconut crumb with ice-cream, berries and a little chocolate glaze. La Rustica is pricier than most of Sayulita’s dining options, but we managed all this for about $60 (AUD). Who’s complaining?

If you’re in the mood for pizza but can’t quite stomach La Rustica’s prices, we have it on great authority Pizza Venezia serves up tasty and generous pizzas all night long as well.

Where to Eat – Dessert

Buonissimo

We must have had Italy on our minds, because we reverted to our Italian mantra of ‘ice-cream all day, erry day’ in Sayulita. Our favourite ice cream joint was Buonissimo. Don’t pass up the passionfruit, coconut, chocolate and pineapple basil! Bellissimo!

Where to Stay

Sayulita is basically a tourist town. It seems if a business isn’t a restaurant, shop or tour operator, it’s accommodation. There are plenty of options from hostels to Airbnbs, to the gorgeous Villa Amor directly on the water away from the riffraff in town. We stayed in what seemed to be the town’s most popular hostel, Lush. It’s perfectly located and the dormitories were super spacious with quite possibly the comfiest beds we’d found in four months, but some of the staff weren’t overly friendly or professional and breakfast (albeit included) was a letdown. There’s also a great rooftop area upstairs, which allegedly gets batshit crazy when the sun goes down, but we weren’t feeling it so let it slide. 

If you’re after a more chilled hostel, word on the street is La Redonda is great, with yoga classes and a super relaxed vibe. To be truthful, La Redonda probably would have suited these backpacker grandmothers better… maybe next time?

Getting there

Getting to Sayulita is fairly easy. There are direct flights to the closest city Puerta Vallarta from numerous cities in the US and for those further north, direct from Calgary. We were in Mexico City, and could have flown but chose to save a few bucks on the excellent overnight bus from Mexico City Norte Terminal to Puerta Vallarta bus station with Primera Plus (approximately $70 AU). From there, it was a matter of jumping on another first class bus from the same station in Puerta Vallarta which dropped us about one kilometre out of town. It’s a bit of a hike then into town but nothing unmanageable.

More information about getting to Sayulita here

INSIDER TIPS

  1. All the food in Sayulita is unreal. We spoke to a guy from Colorado who’d been there for a month and he hinted it was a big part of what was keeping him there. Feel free to try the above suggestions, but believe us, you won’t have any trouble hunting out your own favourites.
  2. It’s best to arrive in Sayulita in daylight hours for safety reasons. We don’t want to reinforce the misconception Mexico is dangerous because in two months we had zero issues, but upon our welcome at the hostel we were shown a map of the town with a couple of streets highlighted we shouldn’t venture into after dark because they were notorious for stick-ups of drunk tourists flush with cash. If you’re partying, be smart, stay in a group and you should have no worries.
  3. Take cash – most businesses will not accept card. We would also recommend to visiting Americans to change your dollars to pesos, as we noticed many businesses giving a lousy exchange rate when patrons tried to insist on paying in USD.
  4. While we are on the topic, keep an eye on your cash and don’t let it run out. We let this happen to us and encountered the strange phenomenon of practically every single ATM in the town out of order or being emptied/loaded by uniformed men with machine guns. From memory, we struck gold at the 13th ATM.

ONE LAST DISCLAIMER

We’re sorry if we bored you harping on about the state of the beach – it’s still lovely and there were plenty of people wholeheartedly enjoying swimming, surfing and paddling in the water. Checkin-Out is all about providing honest travel advice so we want to make sure we manage your expectations before you visit! There are also truckloads of beaches around, but we had to face the facts – no matter how far we explored, there was no way the Pacific Ocean was going to rival the Caribbean where we’d just been (and where we still were, close to a month later). For another gringo’s impression of Sayulita on a significantly higher budget, check here.

Have you been to Sayulita? What memories do you have of this bustling holiday town? What’s your favourite place to eat? Did you learn to surf here? What’s your Sayulita story?