I escaped the impeding but inevitable oncoming of winter in by heading south to Mexico to spend a week in Sayulita on the Riviera Nayarit with my good friend Kristen in early November. With an opening in both of our work schedules and cheap flights to Puerto Vallarta for both of us (Kristen flew from Vancouver and while I flew from Thunder Bay) we decided to go for it and it was honestly one or perhaps the best decisions of the year. Any stress or worries quickly washed away with a week of surfing, margaritas, delicious food, and hilarious adventures. It was awesome, and yes, Chris wishes he could have come too.
- Taking surf lessons with Kalle Carranza (aka best surfing instructor ever) and catching some sweet waves at Playa La Lancha
- Exploring the beaches in and around Sayulita
- Watching the sun set and rise
- Releasing baby turtles into the ocean!
- Eating some seriously delicious fish and shrimp tacos
- Walking around town and admiring the beautiful art and crafts
- Getting to know some of the super friendly local bar tenders, servers, and surf-shop staff
- Walking into an impromptu corner-store-accordion-tequila-concert while trying to buy bananas one evening which involved singing along to “Mary had a little lamb” and taking a tequila shot
- Laughing with our waitress as a very very drunk american hilariously stumbled around the sidewalk as we were having dinner one night (“Gringo Borracho!”)
- Going on a day-tour to the Islas Marietas where we snorkeled, paddle boarded, saw some cool rock formations, dolphins, and blue-footed booby birds
- Admiring the countryside scenery while lost in a cow pasture and being “rescued” by a very courteous and amused cowboy
- Swimming in the beautiful clear pools of the Alta Vista petroglyph complex
- Loving life
(Note: There are so many things I want to convey with this blog post so it is pretty long… Either settle in for a good read or scroll down from here to see pictures from the trip.)
Watch a short (2:38) video from this trip!
Sayulita is known for good surfing for beginners and pros alike. While we were there we planned to join the many visitors who take advantage of the consistent break on the sandy beach in town to learn to surf. We ended up contacting Kalle Carranza from I Love Waves to book a lesson and it turned out to be the best surf lesson we could ever hope for.
I should provide some context here by explaining that Kristen was a near absolute beginner while I had already been initiated to the surfing world by Chris and our friend Jesse in a just-do-your-best-to-catch-those-waves kind of way. Despite having taken a surfing lesson back in 2010 while I was travelling in Costa Rica, I thought surfing was a something of a fun challenge involving being violently tossed around by waves and occasionally catching a short-lived ride while attempting to figure things out. It turns out all I needed to do to figure things out was take a lesson with Kalle. Kalle, by the way, was a a pro surfer for over a decade, got 10 International Surf Magazine cover shots, and won the ALAS Reef Classic Reñaca in 2008 (it looks like it’s a big deal).
We ended up taking several lessons with Kalle and by the end of the week we were catching waves like never before. Kristen said she saw me come into shore on a wave that was taller than me but all I can remember from those rides is the feeling of floating, of being in perfect balance, completely present in the moment, and just so happy. Needless to say, we were both hooked and tried to get out as much as possible. We rented boards from Luna Azul and found that sunrise was the best time of day to surf the main beach in town before the crowds came out.
There are no shortage of beautiful beaches on the Nayarit Riviera that’s for sure. From long stretches of beautiful fine white sand (that gets everywhere) to secluded coves nestled between rocky points there is a lot of variety too. Here is the list of beaches we checked out.
- Playa de Sayulita: The main beach in Sayulita is the prefect place to go surfing, watch surfers, or go for a long run/walk. We were warned to stay away from the mouth of the river because of occasional problems with the sewage treatment plant :s
- Playa Los Muertos: Just outside of Sayulita (past the town’s cemetery) is this beautiful beach for swimming with rocky outcrops and shady trees.
- Playa Carasito: Even more removed (and therefore less frequented) than Playa Los Muertos and about a 20 minute walk from town is this gorgeous beach that’s definitly a little tricky to get to due to the many forks in the road leading to it.
- Playa Litibu: Not to be confused with the beach in front of the massive Litibu Resort, the main beach in the town of Higuera Blanca (just east of Sayulita) called Playa Litibu is another good one that sees fewer tourists than in other more developed towns.
- Playa La Lancha: This was our favorite beach for swimming, surfing, catching the sunset… You have to walk about 10 minutes through the jungle from highway 200 (there is a trail right across from the Oxxo about 2 km east of the town of Punta Mita) to get to this undeveloped beach.
- Playa de San Pancho (or San Fransisco): This stretch of the Nayarit Riviera (just north of Sayulita) is absolutely stunning and the beach here is the perfect place to go for a long walk and stare at some impressive mansions.
- More more more! It seems like you could plan a whole vacation around exploring the beaches along the Nayarit Riviera. Check out this website for more beaches just around Sayulita.
Restaurants & Bars
For someone who loves Mexican food so much but lives in a place where the only Mexican restaurant is a fast-food chain (a very sad reality of Thunder Bay as of December 2016), I was ecstatic to eat out in Sayulita. There are so many restaurants and bars in this little town and I wanted to mention a few of our favorite finds.
- Tacos! We ate so many fish (pescado) and shrimp (camarón) tacos while we were in Sayulita and they were all so good. Maria’s Taco Y Mariscos (street stand) and Bichos (really chill courtyard restaurant) were two places that were recommended to us and we could see why.
- Margaritas: We learned to ask for Margarita en las rocas con sal (on the rocks with salt) early on and enjoyed quite a few over the course of the week. Yeikame had the strongest margaritas (and the bill also came with a shot of tequila as a digestif) and the bar in the Petit Hotel d’Hafa had a lot delicious of varieties.
- Healthy eats & drinks: There were a number of healthy options for eating and drinking as well including the Orangy juice bar, El Fortín (best aćai breakfast bowl!), and La Esperanza (which was sadly closed for renovations while we were there but looks delicious).
There were a ton of cute shops, beautiful art galleries, and market vendors to check out in Sayulita. We loved the prevalent simple rustic style (check out Evoke the Spirit for a good example), vibrant colours, and textile crafts and we spent a lot of time browsing but didn’t end up buying much in town since the prices were fairly high and it was hard to decide what to buy with so many good options. However, we did check out the market in Bucerias (south of Sayulita) where we found some bargains and we were also told that a lot of the items for sale in Sayulita are much cheaper in Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara.
When we started planning our trip we looked at surf and yoga retreats but ended up opting to create our own (although the I Love Waves Surf & Yoga Package and the Las Diosas Retreats seem absolutely lovely) and squeezed yoga in most of our days. There are a few yoga studios in Sayulita and going for a drop-in costs between $140pesos (Los Sueños) to $10USD/$210pesos (Paraiso Yoga) while a five-class pass is around $650pesos at all studios. We went to the beautiful Moon Shala ($150pesos for a drop-in) a few times but mostly stretched out on our balcony.
Sayulita seems to have a lot of options for accommodations from hostels to luxury resorts and vacation rentals for everything in between. This Sayulita Life website gives a good overview of location options including downtown: “If you want to be in the heart of the action, close to live music, entertainment, and steps to the main surf break this is the spot for you.” Enough said.
We rented an Airbnb in the heart of town and a 4 minute walk to the main beach and absolutely loved it even with the loud music from the bars downstairs and the lack of AC. Coupled with beautiful rustic Mexican decor and a balcony looking down on the street, it gave our stay an authentic feel. Kristen also stayed at Lush Hostel for a few days before I arrived and said it was nice and a good way to meet people.
I should also note here that we were in Sayulita at a good time of the year: the first week of November which is also the very beginning of the high season. Even in the one week we spent there we saw more and more tourists out on the streets everyday and could imagine that the place would get very busy during holidays. We were also warned to avoid coming back during the Mexican spring break, or Seaman Santa, when crowds come in from Guadalajara for this Easter holiday.
We rented a little car for $27CAD/day and loved having the freedom to get out of town with the comfort of AC. Having our own set of wheels let us go beaches outside Sayulita, check out the Alta Vista petroglyphs, and drive to and from Puerto Vallarta. It made life a lot easier and was also an adventure on its own sometimes.
Islas Marietas Tour
Although we spent most of our week surfing, we did go on one tour to the Islas Marietas National Park earlier on in our vacation and it was a lot of fun. A UNESCO biosphere reserve, Islas Marietas became hugely popular in recent years because of some beautiful photos of Lover’s Beach – a hidden beach that can only be accessed by swimming thought a tunnel. The only problem was that tourist volumes became so large (2,000 people and up to 250 boats per day during Easter vacation in 2016) that the ecosystem was getting severely damaged. As a result, the national environmental authority in Mexico announced that the Islands and their beaches would be closed to the general public from May 9, 2016. The good news is that plans have been made to undo the damage done to the beaches and the islands and to mitigate any further human interference in the ecosystem.
Part of these plans restricts the number of tourists that can access the islands and we paid a decent price for that privilege (a very reasonable trade-off all things considered). We went on a day-long “Eco Discovery” tour with Vallarta Adventures which involved a boat ride out (we saw a sea turtle and dolphins along the way), some amazing snorkeling, stand-up paddle boarding, and a bird-watching boat ride that took us into a cave and up close to a colony of blue footed booby birds.
Alta Vista Petroglyph Complex
Despite loving the beach life, we decided to venture inland for an afternoon excursion to see an archaeological site that had been recommended to us. While we had been warned that it was difficult to reach, we felt confident that we could find the site with the fairly detailed directions from Kristen’s travel guide… that turned out to be completely outdated (check out our take on the directions to the Alta Vista Petroglyphs).
To make a long story short, we tried to follow the directions as much as possible but took a wrong turn while crossing the river and ended up hiking up a pretty sizable hill in a cow pasture looking for the “second gate in the fence, go through it.” After admiring the view from our vantage point and admitting to ourselves that we were definitely not where we needed to be, we started to make our way back to the car and when we encountered a friendly and amused cowboy who gave us directions we desperately needed.
We were so happy to finally arrive at the Alta Vista petroglyph site which we could admire in solitude (the trek in definitely keeps the crowds away). The impressive pre-Colombian stone carvings, stunning natural amphitheater, and beautiful clear pools of cascading water made this a truly magical place. We gratefully slipped into the cool water and savored the sweetness of the moment before starting the trek back to the car.