Once upon a time, in the early 2000s, the small, bohemian Mexican beach town of Tulum was a backpacker haven for affordable accommodation, untouched, breathtaking beaches, forward thinking activities (like yoga, reiki, and pilates!) and simple, fresh, local food.
Time for Tulum
Located in the state of Quintana Roo, about a two-hour drive from Cancun and surrounded by national parks, Mayan ruins, dense jungle and an abundance of natural wonders (cenotes, canals, mangrove forests), travelers who stumbled upon this jewel of a town didn’t want to leave. And they definitely did not want to spread the word either, trying to preserve the inexpensive, fancy-free vibes of this small, walkable beach strip and surrounding town.
But the word spread regardless, and bit-by-bit Tulum grew, going from boho backpacker to boho chic, with eco retreats, yoga resorts, boutique hotels and world-class restaurants. As it grew, so did the tourism of this area, making it one of the most sought out (and coolest) vacation spots for those “in the know”, culminating with last year’s Noma restaurant pop-up, where for $700 a head, world-renowned chef René Redzepi and his team of chefs served a decadent local spread to those lucky enough to get a reservation (and who were willing to pay the hefty price tag). Now a bona fide luxury destination, the cachet of Tulum remains the same, as do the beauty of the beaches, it’s just a more high-end, competitive and densely populated vacation spot.
Say Hello to Sayulita
As with every destination that becomes popular, people head out in search for the next new “it” place. And in terms of relaxed beach towns that could resonate the initial cool vibe of Tulum, the Pacific coast town of Sayulita ticks all the right boxes. Located on the Riviera Nayarit, a 200-mile stretch of Pacific coastline just above Puerto Vallarta, this whole area is less developed (for now) than the Riviera Maya, and less busy, too.
A 45-minute drive from the resort town of Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita is by no means the hidden jungle paradise that once was Tulum, but it is definitely the new place to travel for the cool crowds. With its own growing collection of yoga retreats, high-end accommodation, and restaurants, cocktail culture, chic boutiques, and spas aplenty, what makes Sayulita so irresistible is not only its laid-back atmosphere and colorful sand-washed buildings and homes but its epic coastline, which attracts surfers from around the globe. So if you’re looking for a new Mexican getaway, this is why Sayulita is stealing the spotlight:
Once a tranquil fishing village, this beachside town is now a more bustling—but still charming—little piece of paradise. Nicknamed Pueblo Magico (Magic Town), it was first discovered as a surfer’s paradise in the 1970s and has been quietly gaining international momentum since the early 2010s. With so many spots to catch a wave (there are around 19 breaks in and around the town), one of the best, and most convenient places to start is Sayulita’s main beach. Best on low to mid tides, this beach has consistent waves for all levels of surfers and is at its peak between December and April when the north swell comes in.
For beginners, it’s best to start in the spot directly in front of the town where you’ll find mellow waves and a soft sand bottom thanks to a sandbar, making it ideal conditions for those who are just getting used to the sport. More experienced surfers should check out the left and right point breaks of the beach for more challenging waves. And if you’re looking for a more secluded spot, head to La Lancha beach, a 25min drive away, where the waves are consistent all year round, there are only surfers and paddlers (no swimmers to get in the way) and the incredible, white sand beach is surrounded by jungle. Pure paradise!
Sayulita beach is not only an ideal spot for surfers, you’ll find plenty of action on this beautiful stretch of sand. Sunbathers, swimmers, families, and kids of all ages set up camp on Sayulita town beach with no shortage of things to look at, or do. Besides the numerous surf schools and watersport outfits, there are plenty of beachside restaurants and local vendors to provide you with ample food, drink, and shade options all day long. For something a little more tranquil, Los Muertos beach, named after the nearby cemetery, is just south of the main beach and by far the best swimming beach in the area. Sheltered by a peninsula, this water is calm and safe for families (especially those with young kids), plus no surfing means fewer crowds and bonus: it’s easily accessible from town by foot or car.
⠀ Playa Malpaso. ⠀ Photo by: @billhalleckart⠀ ————————————–⠀ Tag @travelnayarit or hashtag #travelnayarit for mention⠀ ⠀ #sayulita #visitmexico #nayarit #rivieranayarit #travelmexico #travelmexico #nayaritmexico #mexicotravel #vacationlife #vive_mexico #mexicolife #tourism #compartenayarit #visitnayarit #travelgram #mexicodestinos #mexico
Although Sayulita and Tulum might differ in some ways, where they do resemble each other is in the adventurous travelers who arrived, fell in love (with a local or simply with the place itself), decided to move in, and then opened a restaurant (hello Hartwood!).
At the center of town, Los Corazones is run by Oregon native Katherine Londos who met her husband (and chef) while vacationing here. Their family-style food focuses on local and seasonal ingredients including tuna, snapper, plenty of salads and their signature filet mignon. At La Esperanza, another husband and wife team (he’s Mexican, she’s Australian) are serving an all-organic menu with items like fried plantain, killer guacamole, quinoa salads and seriously refreshing cold pressed juices. But it’s not all Sayulita transplants dishing out the goods. There’s no better place for a local taste than Maria’s Fish Tacos and Tostadas, an outdoor kiosk where the whole family runs the show. All the food is made to order, so get there early for the best menu selection and don’t forget to ask for their fresh salsas! For desert, cool off with a homemade paleta (Mexican ice pop) from Wakika Heladeria where they’ll have anywhere up to 20 flavors of creamy, rich or fruity pops to make you melt with joy.
See all our vacation rentals in Sayulita