Sayulita: the Mexican Beach Hideaway You've Never Heard of... Until Now

A downtown street in Sayulita (Photo: Sara Lieberman)

Mexico is known for many things: its world-famous guacamole and tequila; its equally world famous “Don’t Drink the Water” warnings; sloshy nights at Señor Frogs, and a very scary drug cartel. It didn’t become a haven for yogis, however, until Amansala opened up its “Bikini Boot Camp” on the beaches of Tulum over 10 years ago. Shortly after, smoothie-loving health nuts were all “ommmmygod” and started descending upon the enclave two hours south of Cancun in droves, and soon enough it seemed like everyone who was anyone was either on their way or coming back from Mexico’s chilled-out Caribbean coast. While there are, shockingly, still people who haven’t visited this quiet alternative to the all-inclusive Cancun madness, it’s not the unknown respite it once was.

Luckily, for those who prefer a side of “haven’t been-there-done-that” with their Mexican travel, there’s a solution: Fly into Puerto Vallarta, on the country’s Pacific side, and head north about 45 minutes to the town of Sayulita instead. While the barefoot, zen activity of choice in these parts is surfing, there’s no shortage of yoga studios for those who show up with a sticky mat instead of a board. All in all, this small city (population 4,000) offers a similar escape from the big box chain hotels that dot Puerto Vallarta, just as Tulum does for Cancun.

Here are eight reasons why you should go west, young friends, to Sayulita for your next Mexican vacation. Olé!

You Can Watch a Movie on the Sand While Drinking Tequila

Movies on the beach at the new Festival Sayulita (Photo: Sara Lieberman)

Last year marked the town’s first annual Festival Sayulita, which brought large-screens to the town’s beaches for sunset showings of films like “Drift,” starring Sam Worthington and “K2,” a documentary about Himalaya climbers. There was also an amateur surf competition, tequila tastings paired with gourmet food and more.

Related: How to Travel to Mexico for $17 a Day

This year, festival organizers hope to raise the fun-o-meter by adding a “drive-in” movie theater, live music performances from 20 Mexican bands and a long board competition with a cash prize of $10,000. Festival Sayulita runs from Jan. 14-18. Many events are free, but package ticket prices start at $90 and can be purchased at

You Can Shop for Chic Jewelry and Accessories Made by Locals

Colorful pillows at Revolucion (Photo: Sara Lieberman)

When a New York expat opens up a boutique in a beach town, you can almost guarantee fashionistas will follow, and that’s exactly what happened when Brittney Borjeson debuted Evoke the Spirit, a bright, airy boutique that features one-of-a-kind beaded necklaces, bracelets, and rings made by local artisans from Mexico’s Huichol tribe. The custom beadwork is intertwined with silver and gold chains, making for unique souvenirs that scream “stylist” rather than “tourist.”

The shop, and its new sister location closer to the beach, also sells handmade dreamcatchers from Brooklyn-based Electric Love, Mexican pottery, woven blankets, and large, life-size dried cattle skulls adorned with colorful yarn paintings also made by Huichol artisans.

Other boutiques like Revolucion Del Sueno and Pachamama sell brightly colored tee-shirts, artwork and various trinkets that blend ethnic handiwork with chic trends.

You Can Wake Up to This View

The setting of Playa Escondida (Photo: Sara Lieberman)

In Sayulita, cute and chic town hotels such as Petit Hotel Haifa and Aurinko Bungalows are plentiful and feature tropical decor elements like palm-thatched roofs and outdoor showers. Those seeking an immediate toes-in-sand situation upon waking each morning should consider either Playa Escondida or Villa Amour. Both are about as resort-y as you’ll get for Sayulita, while still offering a homey, non-cookie cutter vibe.

Related: Mexico’s Hidden Colonial Town: Where History Meets Hipsters

Playa Escondida is 10 minutes outside town (25 minutes by foot), so you’ll need to rely on golf-carts or cabs to get to and from, however the resort itself is so lush you may not ever want to leave. Each of the 23 bungalows are nestled among nature and decorated differently with nods to Mexican artistry; some are completely open-air and offer sea-views, while others are way up high in the jungle, promising rainforest sounds to lull you to (or wake you from) sleep.

Villa Amour, with its 42 rooms, is a bit closer to town and provides a more buttoned-up, contemporary feel, complete with air conditioning and white linens. Both hotels offer yoga classes, private surf lessons, and have small pools and on-site restaurants.

You Can Get Around Easily on Foot… or in a Golf Cart

A street corner in Sayulita (Photo: Sara Lieberman)

The actual village of Sayulita is fairly small — street signs are hand-painted and hung haphazardly on telephone polls — making it easy to navigate on foot. That said, there are hills — lots of them, which is why many residents drive golf carts to get around, despite the obvious lack of green. Why not cars? The rickety, cobblestone roads are super narrow and often make navigating and parking very difficult.

Related: Ay Caramba! Artists and Hipsters Congregate in Mexico’s Secret Cheap Surf Town: Todos Santos

If you’re coming from PV, don’t bother renting a car. Take the local bus called “Compestela” that leaves every 20 minutes across the road from the airport. It’s a measly $2 and takes roughly 90 minutes. You can then either hire cabs to get around if you’re not staying in town or hitch a ride in a golf cart.

You Can Chow Down on the Cheap — Mexican Style

Fish tacos (Photo: Sara Lieberman)

Locals, expats, and tourists alike all know the best (and cheapest!) meal in town can be found at The Real Fish Taco, a stand just steps from the beach. Lines form early (around 10 a.m.) for a taste of mahi mahi, camarones (shrimp), or marlin tacos, which are grilled from a cart and plated on warm tortillas with fresh tomatoes and a special sauce. If you’re lucky enough to score one of the few tables, wash it all down with a cerveza and attempt not to order more. (You will fail. Promise.)

You Can Chow Down on the Cheap — Italian Style

A pie at La Rustica (Photo: Sara Lieberman)

So you’ve had enough tacos and quesadillas? Get your Italian on at La Rustica, a modern, open-air eatery that serves mini, wood-fired pies that either come mini ($6) or grande ($12). The “La Princesa” is topped with pesto, olives, spinach, and sun-dried tomatoes, while “La Mexicana” has chorizo, jalapeño, crema, sautéed onions, mozzarella, and cilantro. It’s nothing if not atmospheric, complete with candles dotting the wooden bar, Edison bulbs handing from the palm-leaf roof, and a surprisingly diverse wine list.

You Can Also Eat Insanely Decadent Pancakes While Surfing… the Web

Choco Banana, an institution in Sayulita (Photo: jramels/Flickr)

No one comes to Sayulita without at least one visit to Choco Banana. The original ”opened” in 1991. (If selling frozen chocolate covered bananas out of a cooler on the beach constitutes as an opening.) It’s been an outdoor cafe in town, serving everything from baked goods to fresh fruit juices, smoothies and wraps for the past 10 years.

Mostly, townies and visitors come to Choco Banana for breakfast, where you can get an “American” plate of eggs and toast (with a side of pico de gallo for good measure) or decedent pancakes smothered in chocolate and stuffed with bananas. It’s also one of the few places in town that offers free Wi-Fi, and with its location right on the edge of Town Square you’ll always see a handful of gringos pacing around looking for a signal.

You Can See Very Cool Street Art

An example of street art in Sayulita (Photo: Sara Lieberman)

There’s no shortage of creativity on the streets of Sayulita, from brightly painted concrete walls in festive turquoise or pink, to full-blown murals made my local artists. You’ll see signs nailed to palm trees declaring, “People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be,” or fun retail chalkboards that invite customers inside with quotes like, “Life is like a bicycle: In order to keep your balance you must keep moving.” Don’t leave your hotel without your camera and be prepared to blow up your Instagram feed upon returning.

WATCH: A Real Wedding in Sayulita

Sara Lieberman is a freelance lifestyle and travel journalist, and the former deputy Sunday features editor for the New York Post and Page Six Magazine. Her work has appeared in Hemispheres, Conde Nast Traveler, The Daily Beast, and Fodor’s. Her personal musings on self-discovery while discovering the world can be found on her blog News Girl About Towns.

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