Sayulita is billed as a small, laid back, surf village. Its tourism board describes it as ‘the “crown jewel” of the Riviera Nayarit’.
Many things that you read about this place suggest it’s an undiscovered gem that’s not yet on the tourist trail. Just a sleepy hippy haven which grew out of a fishing village.
If that’s what you’re going in search of, then the bad news is that you’ve been looking at outdated information. Sayulita has well and truly been discovered.
The good news is that it’s still a great place to visit. So long as you’re aware of exactly what to expect beforehand and don’t arrive under any illusions, you’re in for a good time.
We’re gonna run you through all of the best things to do in Sayulita, from adventurous activities to leisurely relaxation.
Plus we’ll lift the lid on the not so great parts and discuss what’s become Sayulita’s elephant in the room. We’re hoping to give you a totally balanced view of what to look forward to from this place.
The Best Things to Do in Sayulita
Let me start by clarifying, we really enjoyed our time here and think it’s an awesome little beachtown. And there are so many cool things to do in Sayulita.
Activities range from the sedentary to the sporty and everything in between. So whatever your interests, you’ll find loads of ways to keep yourself occupied.
You could be chilling on the beach or browsing through the trendy boutiques one minute. Then heading out on adventurous boat trips partying with tequilas the next.
Here’s our pick of the top things to do in Sayulita.
Relax on the Beaches
The main stretch is imaginatively named Sayulita Beach and backs directly onto the town. At one end you’ll find busy beachside bars and restaurants with a lively atmosphere and loungers with umbrellas out front.
At the other end it’s far less busy as there are no restaurants or bars, just a few surf schools and people chilling out on their beach towels.
The beach is a couple of kilometers long, so even if it appears busy there’s plenty of space for everyone to do their own thing. You can grab some snacks and drinks from one of the shops on the streets leading down to Sayulita beach and happily spend a day with friends or family watching the surfers and swimmers in the water.
We wouldn’t necessarily advise going into the water, for reasons that will become clear a bit later on in this post, but Sayulita Beach is still a cool place to hang out.
A bit further south of Sayulita Beach is the much smaller and more secluded Los Muertos beach. It means “beach of the dead” but don’t worry, there’s nothing to be concerned with here. The name comes from the cemetery that lies behind it with its colorful graves decorated with surf boards.
Los Muertos is a beautiful little cove, bookended by rocky outcrops that descend into the sea like mini islands. There are fewer people and no bars or restaurants here, so come prepared if you’re going to want food or drinks.
A bit further south still is Carricitos Beach which is on the other side of a peninsula called Sayulita Point. The fact that it’s not protected by the peninsula means it’s a bit wild and windy at times. But because it’s a bit of a walk from the main drag, it’s also usually deserted.
There’s a beach for everyone in this town, and hitting the sand is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Sayulita, if not one of the main reasons people come.
Get Your Shop On in Sayulita’s Boutiques
The streets of Sayulita are lined with beautiful boutiques crammed full of handcrafted Mexican goods. Not only is the produce impressive, the shops themselves are Insta worthy.
Everything is artfully arranged, with the afternoon sun drenching them in a ready made “washed out” filter. It’s worth an hour or so of your time to wander around Sayulita’s boutiques, even if you’re not into shopping.
If you are on the lookout for souvenirs, clothes, jewellery, or something to stick on your walls to remind you of your trip when you get back home then you’ll be in seventh heaven.
Produce ranges from handmade boho chic garments and ginormous dream catchers, to intricately decorated rams heads and colorful painted skulls. You may need to pay for extra luggage allowance to transport your haul back.
A word of caution though, you probably won’t find too many amazing bargains. The town’s popularity means prices are relatively high compared to elsewhere in the country.
Hit the Water
According to big wave lovers, one of the best things to do in Sayulita is to hit the water. Surfers come from all over the world to catch the famous waves that break around this part of Mexico’s coastline.
It’s also a great place to learn to surf, with the main beach boasting smaller waves suitable for beginners. If you’re looking to master the board then this is a great option.
There are dozens of surf schools offering lessons all the way up Sayulita beach. Perhaps you’ve never surfed before, or maybe you fancy brushing up on your skills.
Regardless of your level, why not book yourself some tuition ahead of time? You can opt for a single lesson, or to really get familiar with the waves, go for a 4 day surf camp. The instructors are highly experienced and will have you popping and carving in no time.
You’ll also see plenty of boogie or bodyboarders here which is what we opted for instead of surfing. The smaller waves on the main beach are perfect for it and you don’t need lessons to be able to latch onto a swell. Alternatively you can always give skimboarding a try if you’re not keen on braving the waves.
If you’re hitting the water then you’re gonna need a beach towel. Don’t waste your baggage allowance on a big fluffy bath towel that’s gonna take days to dry. Go for a proper travel towel instead.
Check out this post on the best towel for travel to find the most suitable one for you. The striped beach towel on there is awesome by the way!
Enjoy Sayulita’s Nightlife
The town is stacked with a high concentration of bars and really starts to come alive after sunset. A night out is one of the things to do in Sayulita that simply must be experienced.
One of the great things about this town is that it’s so small. You don’t need to worry about trekking from bar to bar or taxis from district to district. Everything is walking distance and no more than a few blocks away.
It’s also so laid back there’s no need to get dressed up. Just rock up in your beach shorts and flip flops and you’re good to go.
The main square is overlooked by numerous open fronted bars. Plus all of the streets that lead away from the square are lined with night spots that are all open late into the evening.
The beaches also turn into mini beachfront nightclubs at night, while many people make their own parties on the sand.
Maybe you’re looking to catch a sports game, sink some craft beer, sample a few glasses of tequila. Or perhaps you want to watch a local live band getting the crowd up on their feet.
Whatever you’re into, you’re bound to find exactly what you want on any given night. This town don’t sleep.
Top tip – The tap water in most of Mexico is not safe to drink. This means that if you’re unprepared, you will probably end up buying lots of bottled water. Not only will this cost money, but you’ll also be adding to the rapidly growing plastic crisis.
Our suggestion? Take a filter water bottle that will remove any harmful content from the water. This Water To Go filter bottle removes 99.99% of contaminants including bacteria, heavy metals, chlorine, and viruses making the tap water perfectly safe to drink.
For more info check out this post on the best filter water bottles for travel.
Eat All the Amazing Food in Sayulita
The food on offer here is truly some of the best in the whole of Mexico. And so it deserves its very own section on the best things to do in Sayulta.
The mixture of higher-end restaurants and bargain-basement street food stalls means there’s something to suit every palate and budget.
Along the beach you’ll find dozens of sellers peddling everything from donuts and ice creams to silver jewellery and massages. Not to mention the endless souvenirs and trinkets. Every now and then someone also wanders by with an extra special snack.
There were the oysters that we watched being freshly shucked one afternoon, cheekily being sold as “Mexican viagra”. Huge buckets of chapulines (crickets), liberally doused in hand squeezed lime juice and spicy chili sauce. And our favourites, the bbq prawns – 5 or 6 huge, whole shrimp, skewered on wooden sticks.
There’s also a guy who stands outside the Kiosko that’s a block back from the main beach. He has a stall on wheels where he serves just two things.
You can get either fish ceviche, or prawn ceviche which is more commonly known as aguachile in Mexico. And trust me when I say it’s the bomb. You can ask for a plate of either or have them served as tostadas on crispy corn tortillas. Delish.
We genuinely didn’t have a bad meal in any of the restaurants we visited. But our favourites worth a special mention were:
Emilianos: Mexican favourites like tacos, mole, and burritos are served alongside excellent, freshly caught seafood. Most of the food is cooked on the coal grill. We got recommended this place by a local resident and it didn’t disappoint.
Manjares: It calls itself a surf and turf restaurant and serves modern Mexican dishes. The shrimp here is absolutely amazing and the waiter we had was hilarious and welcoming.
Chilly Willy’s: Simple, very local, and overwhelmingly tasty food, Chilly Willy’s has two sides. During the day it serves wicked fish and prawn tacos at rock bottom prices. Come night time it puts out kickass tacos al pastor.
La Rustica: This restaurant does the best pizza in town hands down. I know it’s not Mexican food. But I challenge you to walk past this place and see one of their incredible pies and not feel the urge to sample one for yourself. The restaurant’s decor is also gorgeous and it has tip top service.
Enjoy a Marietas Islands Tour
Las Islas Marietas are a spectacular group of tiny islands just off the coast of Sayulita. They boast an astounding array of wildlife despite being relatively small.
The Marietas are home to around 100 species of birds, the most celebrated of which is the the blue-footed booby. Plus there’s a diverse collection of marine life that hangs out in the surrounding waters. In fact there are so many interesting creatures collected here that they’re sometimes referred to as “the Mexican Galapagos”.
But the main reason they’ve become incredibly famous over the past few years is largely thanks to social media. And it’s got nothing to do with the animals.
The highly Instagrammable Playa del Amor is the main draw for tourists and it’s easy to see why. Also known as Hidden Beach, it’s completely enclosed within the island, with an overhanging crater-like hole above.
It’s a totally unique phenomenon and an absolute must for your list of things to do in Sayulita.
The Marietas are completely uninhabited and heavily controlled to help preserve them. This means that a day trip is the only option for visiting them.
The trips involve a short boat ride out to the islands. Once you get there you have to swim 50 feet through a narrow cave entrance to reach the actual beach.
It’s important to note that there are plenty of cheap tours that advertise going the Marietas. And they do go to the Marietas. They just don’t go to Hidden beach.
This is because it’s now so heavily regulated that only 120 people are allowed to visit every day. Tour providers need to have official permits to run the excursions that include visiting hidden beach. Each tour company gets a limited allocation as well meaning you really need to plan in advance.
We’d recommend booking this tour which allows you to go right onto hidden beach. You also get to go snorkelling in the reefs that are close by afterwards – the waters are crystal clear.
Go Whale and Dolphin Watching
The water surrounding Sayulita benefits from a unique geographical location between the Gulf of California and the North Pacific. The protection and shelter it provides means that it’s full of incredible marine life.
Dolphins can be spotted all year round, sometimes even from the beaches of Sayulita. And there are various different types to look out for here. But for sightings of less common species you need to take a trip out on a boat.
One of the main draws are the humpback whales that appear every winter during their annual migration. There are also numerous other stunning species to spot including Byrde’s whales, gray whales, and orcas.
The humpbacks can generally only be seen between the months of December and April. But thanks to the huge number of sealife residing here, a boat trip is one of the best thing to do in Sayulita at any time of year.
In addition to the whales you’ll have the opportunity to see manta rays, turtles, and various interesting species of birds. Plus there’s an endless variety of brightly coloured tropical fish below the surface.
The best tours include both whale watching and snorkelling. Check out this boat trip which combines the two activities enabling you to see all of the incredible native species.
Try Scuba Diving
Checking out the marine life from above the waterline is undeniably amazing. But seeing it up close and personal beneath the waves is an entirely different experience.
Scuba diving is an extremely popular activity off the coast of Sayulita and the best way to do this.
For starters, the reefs surrounding the Marietas are packed full of stunning fish and other interesting animals. But there are also numerous underwater caves and mountains that are great fun to explore.
To top it all off, the visibility in these parts is crystal clear. In fact these waters are considered one of the best spots in the whole of Mexico to go scuba diving.
They’re also good for scuba divers of all levels. Experienced divers will love what’s on offer, but it’s also the perfect place to learn if you’ve never tried it before. Don’t wait, book your scuba diving experience here.
Get Involved in Some Yoga
One of the most popular things to do in Sayulita, and the reason many people go full stop, is yoga. It’s developed into something of a wellness hub where people come to chill out and rejuvenate through postures and meditation.
As we said, the town has a hippyish kinda vibe so yoga fits perfectly. You’ll see plenty of people wandering around, mats under one arm.
Yoga is also considered by many to be the perfect complimentary activity to surfing. Because of this people often come here to do both.
There are numerous studios around town so you can take your pick. Some of them offer longer retreats, but most will allow you to jump in for a session or two.
Take a Day Trip to Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta is probably best known as an all inclusive resort destination, particularly among visitors from the U.S. However, a bit further along from the slew of giant hotels is the actual city of Puerto Vallarta proper.
Now it’s a far cry from the dirt roads and laid back vibes of Sayulita. But the Old Town of Puerto is still a slice of authentic Mexico city life and it could be a welcome change of pace.
Cobbled streets are lined with colonial architecture, and awesome street food is on offer at every turn.
There are plenty of fun things to do here as well. From checking out the sculptures on the malecon to a self-guided street art tour, you’re guaranteed an exciting day out.
Puerto Vallarta is just an hour down the road and is easily reached by bus or driving if you have a vehicle.
Explore the Jungle
There’s no denying this is a town heavily focussed on beach activities. But look away from the ocean and you’ll find one of the least explored things to do in Sayulita.
The area is surrounded by lush jungle which makes for a fantastic day out tramping through the brush. But it’s best to find a local guide who will be able to take you on a designated route. This is because without knowing where you’re going you’re more likely to end up on a highway than in nature.
Alternatively, opt for one of the best vistas anywhere in the region with a side of adventure thrown in. High above the jungle canopy around 30 minutes drive from Sayulita is a thrill-seeker’s paradise – a huge zipline course.
The unparalleled panoramic views stretch from the mountains behind, right out to the ocean in front of you. And the course will give even the biggest adventure lover a kick.
Go Horse Riding
One of the most popular things to do in Sayulita, particularly for couples and families, is to go horse riding.
Horseback treks include a mixture of terrains in the local area. One minute you’ll be twisting and turning your way through canopy covered jungle paths. The next you’re galloping through the surf along secluded beaches.
Horse riding in this part of Mexico is a truly magical and unique experience. It’s a great opportunity to see the area from a different perspective that you wouldn’t ordinarily get.
The companies in Sayulita cater for all abilities, from first time riders to experienced horse people. There are a few that offer horseback experiences with short and long tours available.
Check Out a Sunset
This part of the world has some of the most stunning sunsets we’ve ever seen, hands down. At sundown the sky gets rapidly transformed into a watercolour of vibrant oranges, pinks and purples.
There a plenty of awesome places to take in this incredible spectacle. Some of the restaurants on the beach have upper terraces just built for catching the last rays of the sun with a cocktail in hand. Or you can find yourself a portion of sand to kick back on and watch things unfold.
It happens quickly so whatever you do, make sure you’re well prepared in your spot beforehand.
Sunrises aren’t to be sniffed at either, so if you’re an early riser then be to sure to look out for it.
Catching a sunset or sunrise is one of our favourite things to do in Sayulita, and even better for being absolutely free.
The Ugly Parts of Sayulita
OK so as promised, there are some well reported downsides to Sayulita. While many blogs written on the subject simply gloss over them, we think it’s important to address them head on.
In no way should you allow any of them to put you off visiting. With just a little bit of caution you won’t suffer any negative effects. But it’s better to know before you go than be shocked or disappointed when you arrive.
The Sewage in Sayulita
There’s no way to dress this up, Sayulita has a sewage problem.
The main beach has a river that runs into the sea, essentially splitting it in two. That river has what appears to be raw sewage constantly streaming down it, directly into the ocean. Literally meters from where people are relaxing, swimming and surfing.
This is because there is a sewage plant right behind Sayulita beach which does not have the ability to cope with what it is processing. There have been some recent changes in the management and infrastructure, but by all accounts the problem is still there.
Without getting too graphic, on many days you can clearly see the contents of the water freely flowing into the sea. And it ain’t pretty.
As you’d imagine, it stinks to high heaven. And much of it pools at the mouth of the river to form a stagnant pool of festering shite. To say it’s unpleasant is an understatement.
You can get pretty far away from it as the main beach is quite long. But it did make us hesitant to go in the sea.
A friend we were visiting with was violently sick throughout an entire night after taking a dip. We’ve since discovered that this is not uncommon.
However, we really need to stress that this is only a problem on the main beach. Fortunately there are plenty of other beaches around where the water is completely safe to swim in. And not everyone gets sick – we were absolutely fine despite boogie boarding and swimming relatively close to the river.
Our top advice would be to simply not go in the water at the main beach if you’re concerned. Instead head to Los Muertos, Carricitos, Playa Escondida, or any of the other smaller stretches of beach to swim.
Aside from the sewage problem, Sayulita also has a bit of a refuse issue. At the end of streets we constantly saw piles of rubbish, sitting there decomposing in the midday heat, swarming with hundreds of flies.
Bags were being picked apart by the local street dogs, meaning items of trash ended up strewn around the streets.
There were also a couple of “mega dumps” that we came across. The piles were massive and seemed as though they hadn’t been cleared for a long while. However, these were not on the main drag.
The smell from the rubbish is ungodly and gives some of the town a bit of a tinge. We noticed it most when we first arrived so it’s obviously something you quickly get used to.
However, you still catch the odd whiff even when you’ve been there a few days.
We didn’t actually mind the crowds. There is a great atmosphere in Sayulita and everyone we met was laid back and extremely friendly and welcoming.
But it’s worth noting because we certainly did not expect it to be anywhere near as busy as it was. And for some people we know this is a big turn off.
We were there during peak season which lasts throughout the winter and coincides with the cooler, less muggy months. The weather is still warm during the day and perfect for hanging out on the beach, but there are no rains and humidity is low.
Thanks in part to the optimum weather, Sayulita is a favoured vacation destination for U.S. and Canadian citizens wanting to escape harsh winters. Many even migrate for longer periods of a few weeks to a few months and have earned the nickname “Snowbirds”.
Don’t arrive believing you’re going to be one of a few visitors to make the trek. This place is mainstream now and the crowds reflect that.
Having said that, it’s nowhere near as busy as some other parts of Mexico we visited. It’s also still managed to retain its famous character – a bit boho, a bit hippy, and totally laid back.
Including the ugly parts of this town in this post about the best things to do in Sayulita is by no means meant to put you off going. We had an amazing time here and it’s a beautiful little town to explore. However, it’s definitely best to know exactly what to expect rather than be disappointed by what it no longer is.
Have you got any questions about the best things to do in Sayulita? Is there anything else you’d like to know about the town? Drop us a comment below to let us know.
Do You Speak Spanish?
One thing to be aware outside of Mexico’s main tourism hotspots, is that not many people speak English. Unless you are staying at an international hotel or hire an English speaking guide, it’s rare. And as for taxi drivers and market stall holders, forget it.
You can of course usually get by, but since we started learning Spanish we found that it has hugely enhanced our travel experiences. Not to mention enabled us to travel around Spanish speaking countries more confidently.
Which is why we’d like to recommend this Travel Spanish Confidence course we took recently. It enabled us move beyond a basic level to being able to communicate effectively in Spanish.
If you don’t know a word of Spanish however, this won’t be for you yet. Better to get started with Duolingo or some basic language classes first.
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**This post was originally published in January 2018 but has been completely revamped to provide you with the most up to date and accurate information**