Sayulita is a popular tourist destination on Mexico’s west coast, about 45 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta, where you fly into. It’s beloved as a small, quirky, and colorful surfer town.
I’m not a surfer, but when work took me to Puerto Vallarta and Punta de Mita for a few days, I jumped at the chance to add on a weekend in Sayulita and booked an Airbnb with my coworker, Madelyn, who’s also always down for an adventure.
Without realizing it, we happened to arrive on one of Mexico’s biggest and most festive holidays of the whole year, Dia de los Muertos, aka the Day of the Dead. It’s celebrated throughout the country, and Sayulita puts on quite a show.
Dia de los Muertos lasts several days, as Mexicans remember their loved ones who have passed. What may seem like a somber celebration is actually very uplifting and beautiful.
It’s energetic and loud, with live music and dancing from all generations. And the costumes—WOW! The men, women, and ninos are dressed head to toe in layered dresses and suits and cowboy hats and boots. The skeleton face paintings are a work of art in their own right.
Mads and I landed without any plans for the weekend except 1) beach, 2) food, and 3) shopping. We settled into our Airbnb and did a bit of research before venturing out. Google all you want, but the best research is done by talking to locals in restaurants, bars, the street, wherever. The helpful ones will point you in the direction of the best burritos or bags or bolo tie or whatever it is you’re after. Sometimes that ends up being the crowded touristy spots (some of those places are actually popular for a worthy reason), but often times it’s an overlooked hideaway that’s not listed in the guide books.
Here’s a rundown of what we ate, drank, and lugged home in our luggage. I’ve also included a link to our charming Airbnb, which I would 1,000% stay at again if (when) I go back to Sayulita.
Things to do in Sayulita
We passed up the main beach in favor of Playa de los Muertos to the south, just around the bend of the bay. It’s a 15-minute walk and you’ll go through—you guessed it—a cemetery, which is mesmerizing with its bright colors and elaborate gravesites.
When you arrive to the beach—which is nice, but I wouldn’t call it mesmerizing—the helpful staff will set you up with an umbrella and beach chairs ($12) and take your drink order. We got a mojito and Michelada, as one does. The drinks were massive and lasted us the whole day, for a total of $25.
Fun fact: we didn’t have any cash when we arrived, but our upbeat server, Eric, said it’s no problem and he would give us a ride on his scooter back to town to use the ATM when we were done. Perhaps not the best idea looking back, but we felt safe and took him up on the offer. Eric ended up being lovely.
A boat trip or snorkeling excursion
Since we didn’t research much of anything before getting off the plane in Sayulita, we were sad to find out the famous Marieta Islands are limited to a small number of people per day (something like 100), meaning it sells out in advance. Because our trip was so short, we weren’t able to get out there. I definitely suggest looking into this as an activity. While I can’t personally vouch, it looks awesome.
Instead, we booked a different boat experience with Chica Loca Tours, which I can and do recommend. For $90 per person, the all-day boat excursion (9am-4pm) includes an open bar (need I say more?), a masseuse on board for your massaging needs, and several stops along the bay. The first is to go snorkeling, where you can also standup paddle board or hop into the glass bottom kayak and float around the shallow blue lagoon.
The next stop is in Yelapa, a small beach town south of Puerto Vallarta, where you can stay on the boat, post up in a lounge chair on the beach, or hike with a guide to a very nearby waterfall.
Find the best (street) food
Finding the best local fare is one of my favorite parts of traveling. Sayulita makes it easy. There’s no shortage of amazing Mexican food throughout the small town, from beachside cafes where you order from the counter to nice, sit down restaurants serving fresh, table-side guacamole.
⇓ ⇓ scroll down for more suggestions on where to eat in Sayulita… and where to find this fried cheese burrito ⇓ ⇓
Shop, shop, and shop some more
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to take home something cool and unique to the area. There is so much interesting locally-made jewelry, colorful pompoms accessories, affordable art, blankets and textiles, shoes and clothes, and so on.
⇓ ⇓ scroll down for more info on the best shops and boutiques to hit up in Sayulita for unique souvenirs ⇓ ⇓
Where to eat in Sayulita
El Itacate for the fried cheese burrito
The absolute first place you need to go is El Itacate and order the famous fried cheese burrito. They use cheese as the tortilla. That’s right. And it’s as decadent and delicious as it sounds—salty, rich, and the perfect post-beach indulgence.
As you walk up to the menu chalkboard, you can watch them preparing the food. It’s not a huge menu, but it has all the essentials. Everything comes with an array of hot sauces—covering the spectrum of spicy to spicier—along with fresh limes, onions, beans, and garlic to dress up your meal.
Organi-k for a healthy start to your day
From indulgent burritos to something a little healthier, shall we? Our Airbnb was just down the street from Organi-k, so we ended up here for breakfast twice, where organic ingredients are sourced locally. The acai bowl will not disappoint, and they have other light and fresh options, including smoothies, and great coffee. Take a seat in the shade and start your day with a wellness shot with ginger and turmeric. Your body will thank you after the queso and Micheladas.
Other recommended places for the best food in Sayulita
We ran out of time but came across these other highly suggested restaurants in our research, so they’re probably worth checking out:
- Tacos El Tal (local cuisine)
- La Rustica (pizza)
- CAVA (for cocktails)
- Jack’s Place (for a feet-in-the-sand dining experience and the best ocean views)
- Alas Blancas (also right on the beach)
Where to find the best souvenirs in Sayulita
The streets of Sayulita are lined with great shops with everything from traditional Mexican trinkets, textiles, and bags to more upscale ceramics, artwork, and clothes. We scored some great gifts for friends and family and took home a bunch of souvenirs for ourselves. Here are the best places to shop whether you want to spend 10 pesos or 100.
Evoke the Spirit
This shop is rather exquisite. They sell painted skulls for $1,200 (I WISH) and other beautiful ceramics and textiles. Not only is the store beautiful, but they also host workshops where you can learn to create some pompom art or hanging macrame yourself.
This cute surf shop has graphic tees, handmade ceramics (Mads and I both took home a hang ten hand), plant holders, surf gear, and more.
Another adorable boutique with handmade curtains, clothes, bags, jewelry, ceramics, and other housewares. I bought a small earring holder but was so tempted by the blankets and shawls.
Pata de Perro Travel
If you’re looking for handmade beauty and skincare products, look no further. The shop owner—whose name I regrettably did not get—makes soap, shampoo, body scrubs, and other products. Grab a loofa or exfoliating soap pouch on a rope. Of course, there’s an assortment of bags, wallets, and small handmade gifts, too.
“A little shop in funky Sayulita.” Run by an American expat who’s lived in Mexico for 15 years, the shop is a collection of his findings, ranging from canvas totes and swim trunks to fine art, surf books, maps, and calendars.
You can smell this corner store before you can see it. That unmistakable leather scent pulls you in—if you’re into that sort of thing, which I very much am. They don’t have much of an online presence, but check out the pics on their Facebook page. Mads and I were on the fence about these shoes and now I want to live in them. They cost about $30 and they’re awesome and comfortable. I regret only getting one pair.
Where to stay in Sayulita
There are several affordable small hotels throughout Sayulita, but we decided to go the Airbnb route. I can’t suggest our house enough.
Our charming Airbnb is called “Casa Mariposa.” It has two (proper) bedrooms that are simply yet thoughtfully decorated, each with an A/C unit. The common space isn’t big, but it gets the job done with an open kitchen with traditional Mexican tile countertops (swoon), round dining table, and a separate sitting area with chairs. There’s also an outdoor patio with a couch and chairs.
The location was perfect. We weren’t in the heart of the city and nor did we want or need to be. It was a short, five-minute walk away, but still with shops and restaurants nearby. We paid $185/night on a weekend in early November, but it looks like rates start at $95/night depending on dates.
The best time to visit to Sayulita
There’s no better time to plan a trip to Mexico than winter. It’s always sunny and warm south of the border, but winter has the best weather. It’s slightly less hot and humid than summer and it’s one of those places where you want other tourists around. It’s a pretty small town, so when it’s the hot, slower summer months, it gets pretty quiet.
I would actually suggest visiting in shoulder season, though, which is the window of time between peak season and slow season. Shoulder season is one of the best travel hacks, and every place has one. It’s the perfect opportunity to still enjoy nice weather but without all the crowds—and price tags.