Three weeks before my wedding, I’d never heard of Sayulita, but there I was, two days after the wedding, taking my first step out of the security and familiarity of our Chevy Suburban shuttle service, and onto a muddy road, in a warm, balmy, jungle. We were being dropped off at what turned out to be the head of a long driveway, which was a sort of backdoor entrance to the Amor Boutique Hotel in Sayulita, Mexico.
My wife and I had spent three weekends in the summer of 2020, carefully planning out a phenomenal and budget-friendly honeymoon itinerary in Colombia. Fast forward to November, and a friend who lives in Colombia sounded the alarm to us, that 14-day quarantines were back on the table for foreign visitors. With our wedding just weeks away, we had to scrap the whole honeymoon plan, rather than risk spending it quarantined in a Colombian airport or something. We needed a new plan, and that’s how we found ourselves standing there in an unfamiliar jungle wilderness, with our bags in the mud, still pretty sure we’d made a reasonable decision, but yet to be convinced.
All I knew about Sayulita, heading in, was that it is about an hour’s taxi ride from Puerto Vallarta, and that my wife found a hotel villa there, which she considered sufficiently cute. I’d done some quick Google searches on it, always being offered ominous “common search” suggestions like “is sayulita safe to visit” and “is sayulita water safe to drink” or “how much does the ransom cost for americans kidnapped in sayulita.” It was impossible for me to piece together a helpful picture of what we’d be getting ourselves into, but the villa looked great, and the TripAdvisor reviews weren’t sufficiently frightening to deter us this late in the game.
I’d like to promote myself as a rugged adventurer, and say danger lurked around every corner of Sayulita. As it turns out, though, Sayulita is a serene, relaxed, beach town, filled with globe-trotting aspiring Instagram influencers, surfers, and people like me looking for blog post material. It’s part pot-smoking surfer’s haven, where a tie-dyed hippie can feel right at home. And it’s part Real Housewives of OC, with totes adorbs coffee shops in abundance, high-end seafood restaurants, and bougie boutiques. And, it’s part Santo Poco, from Three Amigos, but lacking the infamous El Gaupo.
Best of all, Sayulita is geographically beautiful (especially in the right season – we were there in December). And, bonus, the dollar goes a long, long, way there, and you can get some even better deals if your wife speaks fluent Spanish and doesn’t mind haggling.
Sayulita was not crowded at all, but still lively, and far from deserted, during what many of our peers in the US considered the darkest hour of challenging times. A taxi-driver told us that normally Sayulita is a bustling tourist town that doesn’t sleep, so I do wonder what it was like in 2019. Apparently we witnessed a toned-down version, but night life was pretty good while we were there. There are plenty of bars and entertainment, optimum taco options, and an all around sense of good cheer – one night we spent just wandering around the town, drinking directly from a bottle of wine.
I was interested by the ubiquitous street dogs. There were these dogs all over the place. Really friendly dogs too. Some of them seemed to have an owner, as evidenced by collars, but on the other hand, I’d see the same dog all over town. I wonder if those are community dogs, and the townsfolk just collectively support them? Are they all so friendly and cute because they have owners, or is it natural selection – they only survive and get food from tourists by being as cute as possible? Do most of them carry disease? I had many questions about the dogs of Sayulita. Overall, I liked them, but I wouldn’t touch one.
Another peculiar attribute of Sayulita is the variety of traffic on its narrow, cobblestone streets. You could see a Prius drive by, followed by golf cart, followed by a bicycle, followed by a new Mercedes, followed by an elderly couple on a moto-cross dirt bike, followed by a full-size tractor-trailer, followed by a unicycle. It was traffic anarchy, with no code for what type of vehicle to drive, and really no marked right-of-way system in place to handle the one-way streets and bizarre, odd-numbered intersections. And yet, in four full days walking around the busy little town, we never saw a confrontation between motorists.
At the center of town, there is a small, Catholic church. We unfortunately weren’t able to attend mass at the parish; we were told that the mass schedule was a bit off because we were visiting during the fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe, for whom the parish is named, and the priest was out doing some sort of fiesta group pilgrimage. So, in case you aren’t aware of this, there’s a like, 12 day fiesta for Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, and one of the ways the fiesta is celebrated in Sayulita is by firing off enormous explosions at, for all I can determine, random times, night and day. I sort of think this should be something that’s mentioned to visitors, now and then, because it might be disturbing to be woken up in the middle of the night by a sound you’ve only heard in war movies right before everybody starts screaming and dying. The fact that these detonations are part of the celebration can only be learned by diving deep into crude Tripadvisor forums. But now we know, and you know too: if you happen to be in Sayulita in early December, and hear a series of violent explosions, you’re most likely not going to die moments later.
Everywhere you go in Sayulita, you’ll be offered an excursion package with some bundling of horseback riding, tequila tasting, RV-ing, and zip-lining. I strongly recommend the horseback riding version at Rancho Mi Chaparrita. You get to ride a horse through the jungle and onto a beautiful, secluded beach (where, fun fact, Bachelor in Paradise has been filmed). As a bonus, while you’re riding the horses, there’s a guy with a camera, riding around on a dirt bike to keep up and get ahead and take your pictures. It’s like having paparazzi, only if you agreed afterward to pay the paparazzi for copies of the pictures.
There is a restaurant franchise in Mexico called Si Senor. The one in Sayulita happens to be my favorite restaurant in Sayulita, and perhaps the world. It has such a beautiful view, and we started our days there, drinking coffee and champagne, before ordering the shrimp breakfast burrito. This is totally not some advanced, expert traveler tip from me; Si Senor is literally down a 157 step staircase from the Amor Boutique villas, and there is kind of no way of avoiding it, if you’re coming from any of the most popular hotels in Sayulita. It’s, in a sense, a tourist trap, but at the same time, excellent. Though, I am pretty basic.
All told, Sayulita is probably just as good as anything we had planned for Colombia. We ended up booking an Airbnb just so we could stay an extra night, before heading back up to Puerto Vallarta for the second phase of our trip. It was just so relaxing and fun to be there. Aside from the various fun quirks and spots of the town, this is, above all, a beach paradise. The kind of place where you can sit on a lounge chair by the ocean all day, wearing a dumb tourist hat, having drinks served continuously, and run up an all-day tab that’s so reasonable that you really can’t pass this deal up. It’s a little piece of heaven, in my estimation, and I’m so glad we stumbled into it.
By the way, we took a lot of pictures there, and in Puerto Vallarta. Here’s the link for the rest of our pics from the trip, in case you want to creep on us.