Getaways: Wave Runner

Finding sand—and surf—in Mexico's hottest new beach town.

November 2008


As far as beginner surf breaks go, Sayulita is hard to beat, particularly if you’re looking for something easily accessible from Denver. The picturesque fishing village 45 minutes north of high-gloss Puerto Vallarta became an international surf destination in the last five years—after the Mexican government paved a highway through the thick jungle, making the town’s pristine bay accessible to anyone adventurous enough to rent a car and make the mountainous trek. 

But there’s more to the town than just the waves; its romantic hillside casitas, beautiful sand beaches, and inventive Mexican restaurants offer plenty of diversions for the nonsurfer set. Which is precisely why we’ve chosen this place. If I chicken out on the surf lesson (a very real possibility), at least we’ll still be in a beachy paradise.

Nearly everything in town rests within walking distance of the beach. Quick-service taquerias, surf shops, fruit markets, and the occasional tourist boutique dot the bustling main square. And while the town maintains a relatively authentic vibe—locals still gather in the square after dark to chit-chat—the tourist presence is obvious. Internet cafes, luxury spas, and espresso bars have popped up to serve American tastes. The line at the Choco Banana coffee shop is always 10 deep (but the muffins are worth the wait). What you won’t find here, however, is a Cancún-style party scene. Sayulita’s sleepy nightlife wears a decidedly casual ambience. Tourists are too tired (in a good way) from their daytime exploits to muster up more than a night out for fajitas and a Corona at the Sayulita Cafe before retiring to their villas.

Sayulita’s tiny town leaves little to be desired, but people here come mostly for the beach: a secluded bay with clear-blue water and colorful fishing boats tied up along the shore. It’s busy, but never crowded. During high-sun hours, kids splash in the water, couples lather each other with sunscreen, and the occasional retiree holes up on a towel devouring a Tom Clancy novel. But people-watching comes as a secondary distraction here in Sayulita. The waves—beautiful, endless, one- and two-foot rollers—grab your attention and rarely let it go.

Before the highway, Sayulita used to be a secret spot for American surfers. Now it’s been discovered. On a busy winter weekend, the bay evokes something out of a 1960s surf movie: countless bikini-clad beginners wobbling on their longboards, sporting big-toothed grins. It’s not the least bit intimidating, not in the way that Hawaii or Costa Rica can be. This is where the people come to learn.