‘Doing nothing’ in Sayulita – and doing it well
Sitting with my feet in the sand and a beer in my hand, I realize Sayulita is about as good as it gets. And not just because I’m sitting with my feet in the sand and a beer in my hand (although that’s a darn good reason).This surf village is the perfect South of the Border combination: It’s not a mega-resort, nor is it a poor Mexican town.By most accounts, the surf first attracted tourists to this fishing village located 25 miles northwest of Puerto Vallarta near the booming resort town of Punta Mita. A decade-old, two-lane highway that weaves through the jungle continued the influx of visitors. Some – including a handful of Aspenites – bought and refurbished houses or built villas on the hillsides overlooking the town and Pacific Ocean. But Sayulita’s charm seems to have survived intact.I was there in January to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday – five longtime friends reunited for the sole purpose of hanging out at the beach together. We couldn’t have chosen a better place.
I think, when we first arrived at the airport in Puerto Vallarta, we might have had a plan for the week – you know, a hike to this beach, a surf lesson on this morning, dinner at this restaurant. By the time our taxi arrived in Sayulita, however, the plan had been abandoned. It never returned.Our days were spent doing nothing – in a good way.
We’d stroll down the beach every morning to the town’s main square. We’d settle ourselves at one of several cafes and watch the Mexican town wake up around us: Dogs roaming freely, chickens strutting past, uniformed schoolchildren filing down the sidewalk.It was a refreshing change from my last few Mexican vacations, spent hidden away in all-inclusive resorts. Sayulita is authentic – the cobblestone streets, ramshackle buildings, rustic tortillerias and street vendors are the real deal. There are no high-rise hotels or discotheques, and tourists attractions like snorkeling and fishing excursions are negotiated on the beach. But signs of change are on every street corner, where Internet cafes and expensive jewelry stores may foretell things to come.Still, this Mexican town is a step back in time for us. So after a leisurely breakfast, a fair amount of people-watching and maybe some shopping, we’d head back to our hotel, the Casablanca, and settle on the sand.Sayulita is a crescent-shaped beach. We were on the far end, which was perfect for us. Closer to town, the sand was dirty and the water a bit sketchy; down the way, the sand was white and the water perfect. A short hike over rocks and through the jungle made it even nicer.We took the trip one afternoon and emerged in small, deserted cove. Crawling on our bellies through a cave, we found a large, pristine beach on the other side. Apparently, if you continue on (and cut around the ex-president of Mexico’s house), you eventually reach San Francisco, the small town on the next beach.We never got that far. Nor did we make it to La Playa de Los Muertos, on the other side of town, and reportedly ideal for swimming, or the touted beaches of Pasquero and Pasquarito, about a 45-minute walk to the south.Not that we didn’t think about venturing out. In fact, we attempted an outing one afternoon, only to find ourselves simply sitting on the rocks overlooking the town with the waves crashing below, watching the sun set in a rainbow of pinks and blues.Now this isn’t to say there was no adventure in our Mexican adventure.
At its core, Sayulita is a surfing village. So we surfed. (Or tried to surf.) There are several options for learning to surf in Sayulita, from weeklong camps to hour-long lessons. We opted for the latter, and unfortunately waited until the last day of our trip to do so (I chalk that up to the fact that in Mexico, the days and nights seem to roll into one another, especially when there are no distractions like husbands and children).
We walked downtown and simply ponied up to one of the surf schools set right on the beach. Our instructors from El Tigre Surf School – a hot, young French surfer and a sweet girl who grew up surfing in Greenland – outfitted us with longboards and yellow rash-guard shirts (very attractive, with “STUDENT” printed across the back). And after a few dryland drills, we were in the water.There are two main surf breaks in Sayulita. We obviously surfed the smaller one. It was so small, in fact, that sitting on the beach and looking out, it’s hard to believe you could actually catch a wave. But we did. With a little help and a lot of laughs, all five us stood up and surfed. And a cold beer afterward never tasted so good.
In Sayulita, everything tasted good.Every day at lunchtime we would stroll about two minutes down the beach to an outdoor restaurant. We’d order cold Pacificos and fresh fish or shrimp – in tacos, grilled or smothered in cheese, it was always perfect. The guacamole was even better. In fact, every restaurant we tried was excellent and affordable, from the famed Sayulita Fish Taco to the quaint French restaurant where we splurged for my friend’s birthday dinner. Our home for our five-day escape from winter was similarly outstanding and affordable.Called Casablanca, this small hotel is one of countless lodging options in Sayulita, ranging from cheap bungalows to luxurious villas. Located at the far end of the beach, our hotel was removed from the downtown Sayulita hustle. But it was just a five-minute stroll down the beach or through the streets to town, which we made often.Our suite was sweet, with two bedrooms, as well as an outdoor kitchen and sitting area. The sitting area, as it turns out, was also my sleeping quarters (I chose this option over sharing a king-size bed with two friends). So like the family dog, every night I would go outside to sleep. Aside from a few unwelcome mosquitos, it was perfect. I would drift off to the sound of crashing waves and a whirling ceiling fan. If only I could hear it now.Jeanne McGovern’s e-mail address is email@example.com