Bags were piled in the back of the taxi, sunglasses atop noses, skin waiting to be sun ripened, and feet yearning to sink into warm sand. Just a forty five minute drive up the way from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and we would arrive in the town of only a few thousand locals. And although just outside of a popular tourist stop filled with resorts and pre-packaged trips, this destination felt like a secret, as if we were heading to a place no one knew of—somewhere made up.
Before we set off for the tiny fishing village, Sayulita was merely a name. A mark on a map. A blank canvas ready to be painted with the brush of adventure—filled with its beaming bright colors, rich flavored tacos, salsa dancing echoes, laughter of friends, a wedding celebration, and endless surf. Before this past June, Sayulita, Mexico seemed like a secret. And now, this unknown town has become my favorite Mexican stop.
The quiet reputation that has kept it quaint and perfectly local is perhaps reason to why I shouldn’t even be writing this piece, to preserve its authenticity and small town feel. But maybe, just maybe, you need a map marker, and a colorful place to set out to, just south of the border with surf and sea. So take notes you wandering, beach-going, mariachi-dancing, taco-loving darling—this destination is for you.
Walk The Town, It’s Necessary
Strap on your hauraches, this is a walking town. To walk the streets is to truly know Sayulita, as it only takes 20 minutes to walk to the end of town and back again. Grab a fruit cup sprinkled with chili pepper while strolling along the storefronts filled with textiles, paddle boarding necessities, and hand painted ceramics. Molly Paulick, California native whose wedding was the reason for my venturing down south this past June, describes the town effervescently:
“Once we arrived to Sayulita, we explored the main part of town. I could not believe the vibrancy! From the buildings, to the hanging papel picados, to the Mexican blankets—all so rich with color and whimsy. Most of the town is lined with cobblestone streets and everyone drives around in golf carts (if not on foot). Every single house that we visited was out of this world. Most had pools, plenty of beds, and a Mexican hacienda décor with adobe, an array of mosaic hues, classic Mexican folk art, and a mix of modern and vintage furniture. The feel of the entire town: Classy without being pretentious, laid back without being dirty, and colorful without being annoying. Sayulita is everything you could want in a vacation spot, let alone a destination wedding. It is everything you would hope a Mexican beach side village to be, with all the modern amenities, minus the giant hotels or corporate structures of the larger beach side cities in Mexico.”
Eat The Food, It’s Delicious
Amazing cuisine lines the cobblestone streets of Sayulita. Arrive with a inkling for authenticity and mouth watering eats. With only a few thousand locals residing there, you’ll still find over 70 restaurants to delight your palate and satisfy your appetite. Of course, authentic street food is something you can count on the locals to fix when it comes to that stand-in-the-street, squint-in-the-sun, drip-down-your-fingers-and-hands type of craving. Street vendors are everywhere. And traditional Mexican food is a mere step away from the ocean, with deliciously fresh seafood and meats ready to be served on a platter in between your paddle board sessions.
Dinner precedes dancing, while dancing precedes helado and ocean night swims. Even a simple breakfast, like an outdoor seat at a cafe named Choco Banana or Yah-Yah coffee shop, provides a front row seat to those simple moments a traveler always wants to box up and take home, such as a waking up Sayulita—front stoops being swept, surfers making their morning trek, the gas truck’s horn booming down the rickety streets, a dog stretching at a nearby bench, and school kids walking to the church up the hill. Mealtime is the center of this fishing town’s community—so delight in that ceviche and those oysters that you might not opt for elsewhere.
Swim The Sea, Or Sink In The Sand
Just as walking the streets acquaints the visitor with Sayulita, the sea makes known its roots. A fishing village from its beginnings, the ocean’s ebb and flow has become the rhythm of this town. Surf and paddle boards scatter the sandy shore, body surfers catch waves along the coast, all while a game of beach volleyball livens up with onlookers. Two blocks away from the center of town you’ll find Sayulita’s main swimming and surfing beach, Playa Centro: a beach that is fitting for the most active to the most relaxed traveler. Wait long enough and a few horses might be walked by, ready to take you up in the hills for a horseback riding excursion.Whether sinking into the sand under a thatch umbrella while sipping a smoothie, ordering a platter of fish with the horizon at bay, paddling along the setting sun, or riding horseback through the tide, you are sure to find solace in Sayulita’s sea-like rhythms.
Plan Your Next Trip, Or Even A Wedding
Another well kept secret about this town: it’s the perfect place to tie the knot. According to Molly, “Everyone should have a wedding here. That is what I kept telling all of my friends and family. And I will keep telling them until they do.” Molly and Mark Paulick decided to plan a wedding in a foreign country, in a city they had never been, all within six months:
“We really didn’t know that much about Sayulita to begin with, and that intrigued us both. We wanted a place where we could have all of our family and friends together—for a week of margaritas, toes in the sand, and one giant fiesta that would just happen to be our wedding. And for the wedding day? We wanted bright colors, terracotta pots, whimsical fabric and as many Mexican clichés as I could fit in tastefully: multi-colored papel picados, a mariachi band, maracas, tacos, and churros. I couldn’t picture a more perfect town for our wedding week. I also knew that if I had a destination wedding, I couldn’t let myself get carried away with planning. This took the pressure off me from the beginning and making it so I could fully enjoy the few projects I had without being stressed or indulging my perfectionism.”
(Local Sayulita wedding vendors that Molly recommends: Playa Bliss Weddings, Flor Mimo, Funky Diva Salon, Casa Aguilar, & Don Pedros)
From a mere mark on a map, to a town I now know, Sayulita exceeds expectations—with vibrant flying colors. So whether you’re a traveler set out for Mexican seaside charm or with plans of a destination wedding, you won’t regret your trip to this little fishing surf spot. As one local said, “Sayulita is the beach town everyone dreams to stumble upon.” He is right. And I hope one day you find yourself stumbling upon it.
Colby Poppleton for Molly & Mark’s Sayulita Wedding: www.colbyelizabethphoto.com
Lauren Tien for the town shots of Sayulita