If I had to choose my favourite spot in Mexico, it would be a close-run thing between Isla Holbox, off the Caribbean coast, and Sayulita, a multicoloured, laid back village on the Pacific coast. If you’re a fan of laid back beach bars, white sand and waves perfect for the beginner surfer, you’ll be in heaven. Even if getting on a board doesn’t interest you, you’ll still fall under the spell of this enchanting little beach town.
Sayulita is a Pueblo Magico, or Magical Village, an honour given to Mexican towns that stand out for either their natural beauty, their cultural richness, their historical significance or their architecture. These are places that capture the magic of Mexico, which bewitches visitors and makes them return time and time again, and Sayulita is definitely worthy of the accolade.
This is a wonderful place to come if you’re looking for some downtime. There aren’t a huge amount of activities to amuse you beyond surfing, sunbathing and sipping a cold beer on the beach, so come ready for some serious relaxation. If you’re passing through, try and spend at least 3 days here so you’re not feeling rushed and can find your surfing legs. If Sayulita is your one and only destination, you can happily spend a week whiling away your days on the beach, window shopping and sipping margaritas.
Whether you’ve been surfing for years or have never touched a board for you, you’ll love Sayulita, unless you’re a real thrill seeker in which case you might find it a bit tame. More experienced surfers can find the best waves directly in front of the main part of the beach, but learners should turn to the left and paddle out with their foam boards to where the gentler waves break. That’s where I was hanging out, along with the kids and people doing surf school.
The seabed is sandy and it stays nice and shallow a long way out so nervous surfers don’t have to worry about being out of their depth and, although you might get dumped, you don’t have to worry about being knocked against any rocks. Your hostel will rent you a board more cheaply than those renting them out on the beach will. The best waves tend to be early in the morning and late afternoon, leaving plenty of time for some sunbathing, a hearty lunch and a siesta in between.
If you tire of the main beach and gazing at the surfers, head to Dead Man’s Beach, so named because you have to walk through the town’s graveyard to get there! This is a much smaller beach and is ringed with palm trees so there’s plenty of shade to protect you from the heat of the Mexican sun. There’s no surfing here, but the waves are great to jump and swim around in. Take provisions and set up camp here all day long!
When it comes to souvenirs, Sayulita excels. There are streets stalls everywhere selling brightly coloured, hippy-esque decorations and bracelets, and there are also lots of small, independent shops selling art, sculptures and beautiful clothes. Make sure you spend a happy morning or afternoon browsing the shops and pick yourself up a soveneir to remind you of Sayulita.
There aren’t many hostels in town, just the three. I stayed at ‘La Redonda’, which is the closest one to the beach, only one block away, and has a great vibe. It gets very busy at peak times (Christmas, Easter) so be sure to book ahead. In fact, this is a holiday hot spot, for both Mexicans and foreigners, so everywhere fills up at certain times of year.
There are also plenty of Airbnbs in Sayulita and a fair few Couchsurfing hosts, so plenty of budget options. The second time I was there, we were on a mega-budget so we free camped, which you can do without being disturbed as long as you don’t set up camp too close to the town. If you’ve got more to spend, splash out on a hotel or cabin with a view of the Atlantic ocean and really live the beach experience.
Eating and Drinking
Although Mexican food is delicious, in a lot of the country you’re hard pressed to find anything but Mexican food, there isn’t a whole lot of variety. This country can also be a bit of a nightmare for vegetarians and vegans, as nearly everything involves meat, and the meatless option generally involves cheese. Even beans, which you think you’d be safe with, often have lard added to them, so you need to be careful! Sayulita, however, has adapted to the diet of its international, hippy and largely vegetarian visitor-base, and everywhere has a veggie or vegan option.
After a surf session, restore yourself with a Breakfast Bowl stuffed full of superfoods at Orangy Smoothies. If you’re peckish in the afternoon, the empanada place comes highly recommended. For a proper feed, try the falafel place a few steps up the street, or the delicious burritos another few doors up. Sayulita is so tiny, you can’t miss any of it!
Evenings are all about Don Pato Bar. People start out with a few cocktails somewhere on the picturesque little square and then migrate to this first-floor bar with a live band and a cracking atmosphere.
Compared to a lot of Mexico, Sayulita is pricey. If you’ve come from the north and Baja California, or you’ve been on the Caribbean coast, then the prices won’t seem too steep, but those coming from Jalisco or down in Oaxaca and Chiapas will get a nasty shock. There’s no big supermarket in Sayulita but there is a reasonably priced fruit and veg shop so you can easily cook for yourself and save a few pennies.