A laid-back atmosphere, a lively hippie vibe, and beaches with world-class surfing bring tourists to the colorful fishing town of Sayulita, Mexico. Sayulita is a Pueblo Mágico (Magic Town). The designation is awarded to communities that over time have maintained their original architecture, traditions, history, and culture.
Sayulita lies along the Pacific Coastline of Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit approximately 24 miles from Puerto Vallarta. The drive from Puerto Vallarta, either in your vehicle or in a taxi, takes just over an hour. You can also get there via bus; busses run regularly between Puerto Vallarta and Sayulita. Catch the bus on Avenue Francisco Medina Ascencio in front of the Puerto Vallarta Walmart. The ride takes about an hour and a half.
No matter how you choose to get to Sayulita, there are many reasons to visit this bohemian Mexican beach town for either a day trip or a several-day getaway.
1. Hippie-Chic Vibe
Visit Mexico describes Sayulita as “the city of good vibes.” It is a fitting description. A relaxed happy feeling hit me as soon as I entered the town.
Although Sayulita and the surrounding area had a long history of coconut oil production, by the time the town was established in 1941, production had decreased. Agriculture and fishing were the main industries. Roving surfers “discovered” the town in the 1960s and liked its consistent wave breaks and secluded location. Just like that, Sayulita became a hippie off-the-beaten-path travel destination. Over the years, tourism has increased. Sayulita may not be such a “best-kept secret” anymore, but it has retained a hippie, laid-back vibe. This eclectic Mexican beach town, where tourists and residents easily mingle, also has a bit of a cosmopolitan air. It attracts people from all over the world.
Strolling through the town is the best way to soak up the vibe. Brightly painted buildings on palm tree–lined cobblestone streets house chic restaurants, hip cafes, art galleries, and a variety of shops. Tables in front of restaurants offer patio dining alongside the streets. The aroma of excellent street food fills the air. Buskers of all sorts entertain. Boutique hotels offer beachfront accommodations with ocean views as well as stays in the heart of town.
Sayulita Plaza, the main square at the center of town, is surrounded by restaurants and shops. Seating areas under the shade of trees offer spaces to rest or visit. Families and friends gather here in the evenings. The colorful Sayulita sign, a popular spot for selfies, is located in the plaza.
Near Sayulita Plaza, you’ll find another popular spot for selfies. The flags strung across Calle Delfines, also known as “Slap Street,” create a colorful canopy to pose under.
Sayulita is known for its Pacific Coast beaches. Spend the day relaxing on the beach of your choosing — each has its own benefits — and then marvel at the evening sunset. If you want to get more active, water activities include swimming, surfing, paddle boarding, and scuba diving. The Pacific Ocean waters around Sayulita are also home to a wide diversity of ocean wildlife.
Playa Sayulita (Sayulita Beach), the main beach, is a short walk from the town plaza. The shallow beach with a gentle break is popular with swimmers, surfers, paddle boarders, and sunbathers.
Beach umbrellas and chairs, which can be rented for a few hours or the entire day, dot the long stretch of golden sand. Seaside bars and restaurants border the beach area. Several have chairs, tables, and beach umbrellas on the sand you may be able to use without charge if you order from the restaurant. Toilets, changing rooms, and shower facilities along the beach can be used for a small fee.
Playa Sayulita is a busy beach. Expect to be approached by beach vendors selling souvenirs or snacks or offering massages. Strolling musicians play for tips. If you would prefer a quieter spot, there are alternatives.
Playa De Los Muertos
Playa de los Muertos (Beach of the Dead), just a few minutes’ walk away from the main beach, offers calmer waves and may be the best beach for swimming. Playa de los Muertos gets its name from the cemetery on the hill behind the beach. Stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, and snorkeling are popular here. There are lounge chairs and umbrellas for rent, food vendors, and pay toilets.
North Beach on the other side of the river from the main beach offers long stretches of sand and space to yourself, but note that conditions can get rough.
A little farther away from the main plaza and under an hour’s walk from it, Carricitos Beach is a secluded beach without facilities. The powdery sand beach is fully exposed to the Pacific with no protection from wind and waves. Because of the powerful waves and changing conditions, swimming is discouraged.
Sayulita is a surf town. Surfers brought Sayulita to tourists’ attention, so it should be no surprise to find excellent surfing for all levels, from beginner through advanced. You’ll find both right and left surf breaks. Waves break all year, with December through early April being the best months.
A number of surfing schools offer surf lessons. Surfboard rentals are also available.
Most of the lessons are done at Playa Sayulita (Sayulita Beach). North Beach is a favorite among advanced surfers. Beginner surfers should avoid Carricitos Beach with its strong waves and changing conditions.
4. Whale Watching
Sayulita is a whale and dolphin paradise. Dolphins can be spotted year-round from Sayulita beaches. See bottlenose dolphins from the main beach. Spot other species on a cruise to the Marietas Islands.
The humpback whale, one of the largest animals on the planet, visits the Nayarit coast from December to April. Other whale species are found sporadically. Consider taking a whale watching tour to see these magnificent creatures.
5. Art And Artisans
You’ll see vibrant pieces of street art as you wander through Sayulita. The town is home to many artists.
Browse the town’s many galleries and see the wide variety of styles to enjoy. You’ll find Mexican folk art, Huichol art, beaded textiles and rugs from small Indigenous villages, encaustic works, paintings, pottery, and jewelry.
Huichol Art And Culture
You’ll find museum-quality Huichol art in Sayulita. The Huichol are renowned for their colorful artwork that expresses their reverence, relationship, and interdependence with nature.
The Huichol, one of four Indigenous peoples in the Riviera Nayarit, are direct descendants of the Aztecs. They call themselves “Wixáritari” in their ancient language, which translates into “The People.” They have managed to maintain their unique traditions and culture, steeped in spirituality and sacred rituals, for centuries. With no written language, they used pictographs to pass down the story of their ancestry.
Huichol art features one-of-a-kind, intricately embroidered bead or yarn appliqué designs. Each piece tells a historic or mythical story. Common themes include deer, scorpions, arrows, maize, Peyote cacti, eagles, and the eye of God, an instrument to acquire the “gift of seeing.”
You’ll find Huichol beadwork at the Friday Mercado del Pueblo and in art galleries throughout town. Tierra Huichol offers unique and authentic pieces. It visits the different tribes in the Sierra Madre Mountains to provide artists with the tools, beeswax, glass beads, and materials used to create their art.
Authentic Huichol artworks are highly collectible. Each piece is handmade using traditional artwork techniques handed down for generations.
6. Sayulita Hippie Market
The open-air hippie market is located in the center of downtown along the river’s edge next to the baseball stadium. Stalls feature local artisan crafts, garments, jewelry, and all sorts of knick-knacks. Wandering and browsing through the market, which is open every day, is another one of the delightful ways to spend your time in Sayulita.
7. Mercado Del Pueblo
Fridays from November through May are fun days to be in Sayulita. The outdoor not-for-profit Mercado del Pueblo runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a focus on organic, natural, and local products. In addition to garden produce, artisan foods, and health and beauty products, you’ll find a wide variety of handmade crafts to marvel at and to tempt your pocketbook. Almost 80 vendors offer colorful displays of unique goods. The scents of prepared food tantalize your tastebuds.
Live music adds to the overall fiesta feeling. When I visited, I listened to a woman play guitar and sing folk songs at one end of the market. I watched a Mayan musical performance at the center of the market.
You will want to linger and take your time going through the market. El Mercado del Pueblo is located on Calle Revolución.
In keeping with the hippie vibe, Sayulita has become a hub for yoga on the Mexican west coast. The small town has several world-class yoga studios offering a variety of styles and types of yoga. You can do yoga at your hotel, in the studio, on the beach, or even while standing on a paddle board in the sea. For a more immersive experience, several resorts and spiritual retreat centers offer yoga retreats.
9. Jungle Hikes
Considering Sayulita is a popular stop for people backpacking through Mexico, it’s no wonder it offers phenomenal hikes. Explore the lush tropical forests surrounding Sayulita on a jungle hike. See parrots and butterflies, peruse ancient petroglyphs, discover hidden waterfalls, and take in breathtaking views. Monkey Mountain hike and the hike to San Pancho are two of the most popular hikes. They are physically demanding but take you through spectacular scenery. It may be best to use a local guide or take a guided tour.
The trail to Playa Malpaso is an easy trail offering scenic views for all skill levels. The trail is less than a mile long. Playa Malpaso is a secluded, sandy beach with big surf and undertows.
Mountain biking is another great way to see the jungle, with trails ranging from easy to black diamond. Rent a mountain bike or take a guided tour.
10. Food Scene
Sayulita teems with a range of dining options that include street vendors, taco bars, bakeries, beachside restaurants, casual cafés, lively patios, and fine dining establishments. You’ll find fresh fish and seafood, all kinds of Mexican food, margaritas, pizzerias, and a variety of international cuisines.
Lively and laid-back at the same time, colorful Sayulita entices visitors with its many things to do and the option to do little other than relax and soak up the atmosphere.
Mexico features a number of small villages and towns that beg to be explored, like: