Where the woman selling chickens on the street corner is as friendly as the volunteer managing your hostel
Sayulita wasn’t on our original itinerary, but we woke up up on what was supposed to be our last morning in Guanajuato to find out the Oaxaca, our next destination, was hit with a massive earthquake (for more on how you can help Oaxaca and Chiapas, or Mexico City which has now suffered from its own devastating quake, see this page). We ultimately looked at the map and decided to change our plans, and head to Sayulita. And thus began an excellent week.
Sayulita is Puerto Vallarta’s really subtly awesome younger sister, or cousin, or that friend who you don't think you want to grab a drink with because she’s super droll and serious-looking all the time, but then you hang out with her once and realize she’s hilarious and actually better company than your original friend. Don’t get me wrong, if paying Brooklyn prices for shitty drinks and hanging out with every bachelorette and her gaggle of bridesmaids is your thing, totally go to Puerto Vallarta. In fact, there were 7 of such specimen at the airport next to us the day we took off for Mexico City, and they were headed to Puerto Vallarta, and they all had matching hats that said “generic blonde American female name’s Bachelorette Bash!,” and they kept making Kardashian faces while they instagramed the airport waiting area, so if they’re still there I’m sure they’re amazing company! But if you want something a little less spring break-y, check out Sayulita.
Sayulita is definitely touristy, but it’s smaller and a little more remote than PV (it’s an hour away). The town has exactly 2 main streets that run parallel to each other, both rife with little shops, street food, cafes, restaurants, and bars. We found it just big enough that you don’t feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, but small enough that by the end of your stay there you feel quite comfortable walking around or greeting the nice lady taking your order for your 6th iced coffee of the day with a cheery “It’s me again!” Our hostel was close to the entrance to town, where the two main streets diverge, which meant in order for us to get anywhere we had to walk up Sayulita’s main thoroughfare.
Speaking of which, this was the first hostel we stayed in that was social by nature. Lush Hostel was full of fellow travelers looking to meet people, and we didn't hate it. Sayulita is a tiny town so I feel confident saying these were the best accommodations in town as far as hostels go. We also didn't mind that their version of free breakfast, a common amenity at youth hostels, was endless fresh eggs and tortillas available 24 hours a day. Given that Nick and I would gladly sell our first born child for the right tacos*, we were cool with this.
As far as things to do, Sayulita is a beach town. It’s not a big city, and people don’t go here for cultural exchanges or visiting museums or sobriety. We spent our days at the beach and our nights hitting up the bars in town. After getting a tip from a friend that the main town beach is quite polluted, we opted for the 15 minute walk to a lesser populated beach, La Playa de los Meuertos (the Beach of the Dead), so named because I wouldn't put my book down for long enough to give my beach partner attention (not naming any names). If you do go to Sayulita, choose this beach instead: the walk is worth it because the water is better, it’s still just as safe, and fewer people try and sell you random items while you’re relaxing. (Another tip here: when someone does approach you, as tends to happen on many beaches in Mexico, it’s considered more polite to respond with Gracias rather than No Gracias, a more direct translation of what we would say in the States to turn down someone’s offer. It’s less rude and they get the hint).
Perhaps the coolest thing we did was spend sunset one day releasing baby turtles into the ocean! There's a middle aged hippie who moved to Sayulita a few years ago and took up the cause of replenishing the dying sea turtle population. His nonprofit walks the beach collecting sea turtle eggs, which are statistically likely to die if left alone. He nourishes them until they are ready to hatch, and then the magic really happens. Each night, the turtles that hatched that day are released into the water (see video below). These newborns form a memory of this exact beach, and the ones that survive return to the SAME EXACT SPOT where they first entered the water in order to lay their eggs in 10 years from now. I literally don't remember the name of my fiancé half the time so I find this v impressive.
One day, we felt particularly antsy so we roughed it and did a hike through the jungle to the next town over. By car, San Francisco is a 20 minute drive, but the hike took us 2 hours. I’d definitely recommend the hike for those of you who enjoy it; there’s barely a path so much of the time you’re guessing whether or not you went the right away, but once you reach San Francisco you feel like fucking Magellan. One of us was petrified the whole time we’d fall victim to a large snake** but we didn’t so again, Magellan.
I’ll end by simply saying that Nick and I both plan on going back to Sayulita someday. It is touristy by native Mexicans’ standards, and it’s not quite remote, but it’s much smaller than Cancun or Puerto Vallarta, and the lively vibe is quite infectious without being in your face.
Verdict: Go for sure for your next beach vacation.
*HAHA you guys of COURSE I’m kidding. Do you think I’m a monster? There’s no such thing as “the right tacos;” ALL tacos are the right tacos for which to sell your children.
**Nick. It was definitely Nick.