We were looking to book a last-minute trip somewhere warm. Have you been in this position? Obvious places spring to mind, and obvious clichés: we’ve been there before, so it will be easy… everyone goes there, but it’s not that busy… you can’t beat the five-hour direct flight…
But do we need to do the easy, touristy, routine vacation every time when we face this yearning for somewhere tropical in the middle of a Canadian winter? And let’s face it, every winter that comes along inspires this yearning. I’m desperate to add more places to my list that can satisfy the ‘let’s go somewhere warm’ dilemma.
No resorts, please
Enter: Sayulita. You definitely can’t beat the five-hour direct flight (out of Vancouver), and it’s becoming more popular as more people are starting to discover this hidden gem, but Sayulita still remains less touristy than its other Mexican escape-the-cold counterparts. I had only heard about it this past year, mainly because numerous friends of ours were discovering it as well. Do resorts exist there? I’m sure they do, like all tropical destinations, but I never saw one. Did it feel like I was in an authentic part of Mexico? Absolutely. The street vendors of beaded skulls and painted ceramics ensure it. But aside from tropical destination staples (like resorts and merchants), Sayulita felt small and unrushed, one of those places I felt we had stumbled upon that hadn’t yet reached mainstream travel, yet. And Readers, I can’t praise this spot enough – it was just what we were looking for.
Sayulita on the map
To get to Sayulita, you will need to fly into Puerto Vallarta and drive an hour north. Our driver, who we hired through our AirBnb (which most AirBnbs can arrange for you), told us, “Sayulita is in the jungle! Just wait until you see how green it is!” (I remember looking panicked at my husband, thinking, we’re not on the water?!) But Sayulita is not actually in the jungle, although you do drive through beautiful green foliage and canopied trees overhanging the road to get there, which is what our driver must have meant. Sayulita is beach-side and beach-front, on the west coast of Mexico and overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The town itself is steps from the sand, and many rental properties rest a stone’s throw away from the beach as well.
Tacos, por favor
There are many great restaurants to choose from in Sayulita, from the higher-end spots where you may wait for a table, to the hole-in-the-wall spots where you will also wait for a table. Delicious food is abundant here, and it’s clear the restaurants in Sayulita take pride in offering something to be known for. On our first night, we visited a spot called El Itacate, renowned in town for their ‘cheese burritos’, where the burrito shell itself is actually made of cheese. And it seemed every spot we visited had something particular to their restaurant, that we obviously had to try. My take on eating food while traveling is to try whatever the place is known for, and often this was tacos, lots and lots of different tacos. I feel like we’re spoiled here in Vancouver for a rich selection of foods from around the world, but isn’t it best to say, “And I’ve had real tacos from Mexico too”. Our fifteen-month old son ate bowls of guacamole at every meal, to which I could only think, “And now you’ve had the real guac too”.
Toto, we’re definitely in Mexico
Each night that we ate dinner in the town, there was always some sort of cultural presentation or parade in the streets. Every restaurant has seats that sit on the fringe of the street, so when parades pass you by, you’re literally immersed in what’s happening. They’re loud, sometimes quite lengthy, and they’re colourful. If anything, they were entertainment for our toddler while we waited for our meals. If noisy performances are’nt quite your thing, then open-air restaurants overlooking the beach might be more your style. They offer captivating views of surfers getting in their last big waves of the day before the sun goes down, and of course, you can’t beat those balmy sunset colours.
While there are the vendors who sell the usual Mexican trinkets, there are also adorable clothing and homeware shops to be found. If you’re willing to spend some money, then woven baskets, rugs, and bags will catch your eye. But cheaper items exist as well, to fit any traveler’s budget. I found a stall tucked within a shopping cul-de-sac that sold the most delicate, hand-stitched coasters and pillowcases (which are conveniently small and light to pack home). I recommend searching for items during your travels that fit a theme in your home. For myself, I’m constantly looking for kitchen items that are blue, or small animal figurines that can decorate our bookshelf. I find having a theme helps me focus on what to buy rather than buying whatever catches my eye. In the same stall, I purchased two clay statuettes of dogs playing small instruments. They fit in well with the little carved Kiwi bird from New Zealand and the petite bronze elephant from Bali. Yes, I know these sound trinkety, but we all have something different that floats our boat!
Aside from shopping and eating, typical daily activities in Sayulita might include surfing, playing in the waves, or simply laying on the beach. The strip of sand is easily walkable, and we often walked from our AirBnb along the beach to get to town, a quick fifteen minutes. If you’re looking for more adventurous activities, whale-watching, horse-back riding, snorkeling and scuba diving can all be arranged as well. Because we were simply looking to relax during our time in Sayulita, we would alternate our daytime between swimming in the AirBnb pool (ideal for our toddler) and then exploring the beach, just steps from the pool. And when you’re ready for a break, pop-up margarita huts are at your beck and call.
One final note
Not to get too carried away with our dreamy vacation spot, but hanging above the town streets are the most beautifully delicate, colourful, whimsical Ojos de Dios by the thousands. To walk the streets here feels like an open-air art museum, or perhaps a Mexican fairy tale, or even a celebration that never ends. Strolling into town, feasting your eyes on strand after strand after strand of handmade decorations, it’s not difficult to feel a sense of relief, and a sense of peace from discovering so much colour and life in one little spot. If the artistic abundance of the Ojos de Dios signifies a celebration that never ends, then the culture of Sayulita responds with an invitation for you to stay, to relax, and most of all, to enjoy. And readers, we did not want to leave.
See you next time, Sayulita!