Surf Travel Destination Profile: Sayulita - The Precious Gem
Apr 16, 2015
ISIY Ambassadors want to share their favorite surf and yoga destinations with you! This is the first of a running series of travel blogs written for surfers and yogis, exposing the underbelly of fantastic places to hit up on your adventures. ISIY Ambassador, writer, and co-founder of Las Diosas Retreats Leah Tisdale shows you around her favorite stomping ground Sayulita.
Sayulita is the town that people never really leave. You may leave physically, but lurking in some fragment of your heart, Sayulita lingers on. This Mexican gem lures its visitors back, time and again, In the Mexican province of Riviera Nayarit. The quaint towns located around the Bay of Banderas have a subtle star-like quality, they exist day after day shining on, minding their business, radiating vitality, adventure and a freshness that tourists fall in love with immediately.
Sayulita’s popularity grew slowly, with avid surfers discovering it's consistent point break years ago, keeping it a secret as long as possible. Alas, a spot this beautiful only remains on the down-low for so long. In the past five years, Sayulita has become one of the hottest tourist destinations in the world. Located just 40 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta, on the west coast of Mexico, Sayulita pulls in young surfers, Europeans travellers, and a mellow retirement crowd from the US and Canada, during it's high season from October to May. It's a rarity when a town can accommodate the active, adventure junkies and the retirement crowd in one village, but Sayulita does it with style and ease. Sayulita’s main plaza is surrounded with bars and restaurants, ranging from traditional Mexican fare, killer Margaritas, to delicious Italian dishes - if a decadent glass of red wine is more your speed!
Locals of all ages gather in the town plaza nightly to hang with friends, skateboard, or chow an ice cream from one of many nearby joints. The tourist scene feels just as cozy at the center of Sayulita, and if you're looking for something to do, a quick stroll to the plaza will give you an immediate mission, as well as a desirable community vibe. This fact makes Sayulita the ideal destination for the solo traveller. One of the main reasons so many fall in love with the village is the friendliness of its locals and expats. The vibe is welcoming, mellow, and there is an overall air of happiness permeating the scene. Just don't piss anyone off at the local surf breaks, and you're guaranteed an enjoyable vacay. In other words, if you’re a beginner surfer, pop by Lunazul Surf School and take a lesson, rather than just renting a board and “figuring it out." There is line up protocol every surfer needs to learn early on, and it’s best you learn it the easy way (with a lesson and qualified surf instructor) than the hard way (being yelled at by locals until you get punched for dropping in on the wrong surfers wave!).
When you arrive in town, after settling in to one of Sayulita's many boutique hotels or residences, be sure to pop into Panino's coffee near the main beach for a creamy latte. Easily comparable to any excellent coffee-connoisseur destination the world over, Panino's is the morning gathering place for many. If you've yet to decide on a spot to stay, Hafa Hotel, Aurinko Bungalows, or any listings on the popular website, Sayulitalife.com, are among the most popular. To burn off any lingering jet lag, or that initial morning caffeine rush, head around the corner from Panino's to Sayulita's oldest Surf School, Lunazul. Located on the doorstep of the main beach, Lunazul Surf School, and it's sister store Sininen, host staff from all over Mexico, Finland and Canada, and hold the reputation for employing the town's best surf, SUP and yoga instructors. After your first water adventure, a picnic on Los Muertos beach is a favorite pastime. The short walk to this quiet beach takes visitors through Sayulita's traditional cemetery, where one can view its colorful gravestones and altars year round. Nighttime in town famously beacons travellers to the plaza, with live music at Don Pato's, nightly cocktails at Le Zouave Wine Bar, and a famous salsa night every Monday at Don Pedro's restaurant, on the main beach.
Sayulita has a handful of great surf breaks, all within a 20-minute radius from Sayu. Lets start with the main break at Sayulita Beach, a consistent point break ten months out of the year. Watch out for nasty little sea urchins, as they are ready to spike you at low tide! On the north side of Sayulita Beach, there's a sick left that is always less crowded than the right, and is just as fun: beware of the urchins and rocks there as well. In nearby Punta de Mita - accessible by bus, car or boat - the popular breaks are Burros, La Lancha, El Anclote, El Faro and La Bahia. El Faro and La Bahia live outside of the famous Four Seasons resort in Mita, that literally takes up half the town, and these breaks require a boat ride in or a 40 minute trek along the beach in order to enjoy their sick rides. Both breaks boast rights and lefts depending on the tides, and the only liabilities are rocks and the occasional reef shark. El Anclote is the main break in Mita and my personal favorite. On days when it's working, the ride can last a solid two minutes (We know this because we actually timed it!), and it's the dream longboard wave. Probably why The Seea babes shoot their catalogue photos there!
Burros and La Lancha are outside of Mita on the highway to Vallarta from Mita, and require a car ride over, and a walk in with your surfboard. Leave your valuables at home, not in the car or on the beach, for obvious reasons. With Burros and La Lancha, morning and sunset sessions are the best, as during the days, every surf adventure company you can imagine takes their surf lessons to these breaks. Burros and La Lancha both host lefts and rights, and are physically two of the most beautiful spots I've laid my eyes on. North of Sayulita, the super rad town of San Pancho has a little jewel of a beach break, short board friendly only, as it's pretty fast. Within one to two hours, there are a host of other "secret" breaks, that if you're around long enough, you may be privy to know about. Basically, we're pretty break blessed here in Riviera Nayarit!
Our favorite yoga teachers in town teach at Hotelito de Los Suenos and Paraiso Yoga, with classes offered daily. There are also several yoga teachers in town who offer private and group classes, and will come to your place with all the mats and props to give the lesson in your space. I Love Waves is a local surf and yoga company with two teachers who do just that - one of them being me! There are also several yoga retreats that happen all year round, Las Diosas Retreats and I Love Waves Surf Camps being two of the more popular, both run out of I Love Waves. My personal favorite teachers are Carmela Carlyle, who specializes in Yoga Nidra classes and has a background in psychotherapy, and Eva Estlander, who's Yin classes are full of bliss, and the head/foot massage at the end of class kind of seals the deal for me.
Ayahuasca ceremonies are a popular, underground past-time, a medicinal root that people take in ceremony with a Shaman. This medicinal plant from Peru is ingested in a herbal cocktail, and the journey lasts eight hours, taking practitioners into their own worlds to heal and discover what the medicine has to show and teach them. In San Pancho, Ayahuasca journeys happen quite regularly, and a few times a year Shamans traveling North from Peru will pass thru Sayulita to give ceremonies for devotees committed to the plant's healing and magical abilities. Peyote is the local plant that the Huichol people here in Riviera Nayarit take in order to make their magnificent, animal centered art. Peyote is illegal for foreigners to take, though many do, as the government of Mexico decided it was sacred to Huichol people and should stay that way.
Back in Sayulita, the local bus depot on the outskirts of town will meet all of your transportations needs, whether it be catching a bus into nearby Puerto Vallarta for a day trip, or bargaining with a local cab driver to bring your surfboard to the nearby favored surf break, El Anclote. Both avenues of travel are readily available until past dusk daily, and reasonable rates are a constant. Sayulita is also known for the regular sale of bicycles, if you'd prefer to bike around town, just ask any local - and someone, somewhere, is most likely selling wheels for a cheap price. Because the town is so small, it doesn't take long to get your compass dialed, and walking from the North end of town to the South takes under 20 minutes. If your Spanish needs some polishing, the local international school, Costa Verde, offers daily Spanish lessons for all levels and is located near the bus depot on the way out of town. Omar is a great beginners teacher, so request him if he is available!
Before your stay in Sayulita is complete, pass through some of the favorite artisan shops and purchase treasures to solidify the memories gained from your time in this unforgettable Mexican village. Among the most popular are the local Huichol shop, Evoke the Spirit, Revolucion del Sueno and Pachamama Sayulita, all within walking distance from the plaza at the center of town.
Good luck with your departure from Sayulita, and be sure to tell all your closest friends about your personal favorite spots. As the locals like to say, No Good-bye's, Only See Ya Later's!
Leah is doer and lover of all things yoga, paddle boarding, surf, SUP yoga, writing and salsa dancing. Teaching and practicing yoga for 14 years, Leah has seen her body, mind and spirit transform and blossom before her eyes. Initially focused on Ashtanga Yoga and Mysore practice, she later shifted to deeper study in the Anusara, and Iyengar lineages. Currently a 500RYT (Yoga) and Paddle Canada Certified Advanced SUP Instructor, Leah pulls inspiration from many teachers who have crossed her path including Doug and David Swenson, Richard Freeman, Reno Muenz, Gioia Irwin, Eoin Finn, Mike Nichols, Shiva Rea, and Christine Price Clark. Leah grew up in Vancouver, B.C, Canada and before moving to Sayulita, Mexico, lived in Boulder, Colorado and Brooklyn, New York. She offers surf camps and yoga retreats with her partner-in-crime Eva and their newly launched Las Diosas retreat company. Connect with her on Facebook or Instagram.