Sayulita is billed as a small, laid back, surf village which its tourism board describes as “the “crown jewel” of the Riviera Nayarit”. Many things that you read about this place suggest it’s an undiscovered gem that’s not yet on the tourist trail, just a sleepy hippy haven that grew out of a fishing village.
If that’s what you’re going here in search of, then the bad news is that you’ve been looking at outdated information - Sayulita has well and truly been discovered.
The good news is that it’s still a great place to visit, so long as you’re aware of the downsides first and don’t arrive under any illusions, you’re in for a good time.
We’re gonna run you through the best things to do in Sayulita, plus lift the lid on the not so great parts as well to give you a totally balanced view of what to expect from this place.
The Best Things to Do in Sayulita
Relax on the Beaches
The main stretch is imaginatively named Sayulita Beach and backs directly onto the town. At one end you’ll find busy beachside bars and restaurants with a lively atmosphere and loungers with umbrellas out front. At the other end it’s far less busy as there are no restaurants or bars, just a few surf schools and people chilling out on their beach towels.
The beach is a couple of kilometers long, so even if it appears busy there’s plenty of space for everyone to do their own thing. You can grab some snacks and drinks from one of the shops on the streets leading down to Sayulita beach and happily spend a day with friends or family watching the surfers and swimmers in the water.
We wouldn’t necessarily advise going into the water, for reasons that will become clear a bit later on in this post, but Sayulita Beach is still a cool place to hang out.
A bit further south of Sayulita Beach is the much smaller and more secluded Los Muertos beach. It means “beach of the dead” but don’t worry, there’s nothing to be concerned of here. The name comes from the cemetery that lies behind it with its colorful graves decorated with surf boards.
Los Muertos is a beautiful little cove, bookended by rocky outcrops that descend into the sea like mini islands. There are fewer people and no bars or restaurants here, so come prepared if you’re going to want food or drinks.
A bit further south still is Carricitos Beach which is on the other side of a peninsula called Sayulita Point. The fact that it’s not protected by the peninsula means it’s a bit wild and windy at times, but because it’s a bit of a walk from the main drag it’s also usually deserted.
There’s a beach for everyone in this town, and hitting the sand is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Sayulita, if not one of the main reasons people come.
Get Your Shop On in Sayulita’s Boutiques
The streets of Sayulita are lined with beautiful boutiques crammed full of handcrafted Mexican goods. Not only is the produce impressive, the shops themselves are Insta worthy, artfully arranged with the afternoon sun drenching them in a ready made “washed out” filter. Because of all of this, it’s worth an hour or so of your time to wander around Sayulita’s boutiques, even if you’re not into shopping.
If you are on the lookout for souvenirs, clothes, jewellery, or something to stick on your walls to remind you of your trip when you get back home then you’ll be in seventh heaven.
From handmade boho chic garments and ginormous dream catchers, to intricately decorated rams heads and colorful painted skulls, you may need to pay for extra luggage allowance to transport your haul back.
A word of caution though, you probably won’t find too many bargains, the town’s popularity means prices are relatively high compared to elsewhere in the country.
Hit the Water
According to big wave lovers, one of the best things to do in Sayulita is to hit the water. Surfers come from all over the world to catch the famous waves that break around this part of Mexico’s coastline.
It’s also meant to be a great place to learn to surf as well with the main beach boasting smaller waves suitable for beginners. There are dozens of surf schools offering lessons all the way up Sayulita beach so if you’re looking to master the board then this is a great option.
You’ll also see plenty of boogie or body boarders here which is what we opted for instead of surfing. The smaller waves on the main beach are perfect for it and you don’t need lessons to be able to latch onto a swell. Alternatively you can always give skimboarding a try if you’re not keen on braving the waves.
While Sayulita has a reputation for being an ideal spot for all of these water sports, you may want to read on below about the quality of the h20 here before diving in. Had we known what we know now about it we probably wouldn’t have risked going in at all, or at least not on Sayulita beach.
Enjoy Sayulita’s Nightlife
Sayulita is stacked with a high concentration of bars and really starts to come alive at night. One of the great things about this town is that because it’s so small you don’t need to worry about trekking from bar to bar or taxis from district to district, everything is walking distance and no more than a few blocks away. It’s also so laid back there’s no need to get dressed up, just rock up in your beach shorts and flip flops and you’re good to go.
The main square is overlooked by open fronted bars, and all of the streets that lead away from the square are lined with bars, restaurants and cafes that are all open late into the evening. The beaches also turn into mini beachfront nightclubs at night, while many people make their own parties on the sand.
Whether you’re looking to catch the latest match, sink some craft beer, sample a few glasses of tequila, or watch an awesome live band getting the crowd up on their feet, you’re bound to find exactly what you want on any given night. This town don’t sleep.
Eat All the Amazing Food in Sayulita
The food that we ate in this town was truly some of the best that’s passed our lips throughout the whole of our time in Mexico and a completely unexpected treat. And so it deserves its very own section on the best things to do in Sayulta. The mixture of higher end, slightly more expensive restaurants, and bargain basement street food stalls means that there’s something to suit every palate and budget.
Along the beach you’ll find dozens of sellers peddling everything from donuts and ice creams to Mexican silver jewellery and massages, not to mention the endless souvenirs and trinkets. Every now and then someone also wanders by with an extra special snack.
There were the oysters that we watched being freshly shucked one afternoon, cheekily being sold as “Mexican viagra”. Huge buckets of chapulines or crickets, liberally doused in hand squeezed lime juice and spicy chili sauce. And our favourites, the bbq prawns - 5 or 6 huge whole shrimp skewered on wooden sticks.
There’s a guy who stands outside the Kiosko that’s a block back from the main beach with a stall on wheels who does just two things. Fish ceviche or prawn ceviche, which is more commonly known as aguachile in Mexico, and trust me when I say it’s the bomb. You can get a plate of either or have them served as tostadas on crispy corn tortillas, delish.
We genuinely didn’t have a bad meal in any of the restaurants that we visited while we were here, but our favourites worth a mention were:
Emilianos: Mexican favourites like tacos, mole, and burritos are served alongside excellent freshly caught seafood, most of which is cooked on the coal grill. We got recommended this place by a local resident and it didn’t disappoint.
Manjares: It calls itself a surf and turf restaurant and serves modern Mexican dishes. The shrimp here was absolutely amazing and the waiter we had was hilarious and welcoming.
Chilly Willy’s: Simple, very local, and overwhelmingly tasty food, Chilly Willy’s has two sides. During the day it serves wicked fish and prawn tacos at rock bottom prices, and come night time it puts out kickass pastor.
La Rustica: This restaurant does the best pizza in town hands down. I know it’s not Mexican food, but I challenge you to walk past this place and see one of their incredible pizzas and not feel the urge to sample one for yourself. The restaurant’s decor is also gorgeous and it has tip top service.
The Ugly Parts of Sayulita
There’s no way to dress this up, Sayulita has a sewage problem. The main beach has a river that runs into the sea, essentially splitting it in two. That river has what appears to be raw sewage constantly streaming down it directly into the ocean, literally meters from where people are relaxing, swimming and surfing.
Without getting too graphic, on many days you can clearly see the contents of the water that’s freely flowing into the the sea, and it ain’t pretty. As you’d imagine, it stinks to high heaven and much of it pools at the mouth of the river to form a stagnant pool of festering shite. To say it's unpleasant is an understatement.
You can get pretty far away from it as the beach is quite long, but it did make us hesitant to go in the sea. A friend we were visiting with was violently sick throughout an entire night after taking a dip, something we later found out is not uncommon.
Aside from the sewage problem, Sayulita also has a bit of a refuse issue. At the end of streets we constantly saw piles of rubbish, sitting there decomposing in the midday heat, swarming with hundreds of flies. Bags were being picked apart by the local street dogs meaning items of trash ended up strewn all over the streets.
There were also a couple of “mega dumps” that we came across where the piles were massive and seemed as though they hadn’t been cleared for a long while.
The smell from the rubbish is ungodly and gives much of the town a bit of a tinge. We noticed it most when we first arrived so it’s obviously something you quickly get used to, however, you still catch the odd whiff even when you’ve been there a few days.
We didn’t actually mind the crowds, there was a great atmosphere and everyone we met was laid back and extremely friendly and welcoming. But it’s worth noting because we certainly did not expect it to be anywhere near as busy as it was, and for some people we know this would be a big turn off.
We were there during peak season which lasts throughout the winter and coincides with the cooler, less muggy months. The weather is still warm during the day and perfect for hanging out on the beach, but there are no rains and humidity is low.
Thanks in part to the optimum weather, Sayulita is a favoured vacation destination for U.S. and Canadian citizens wanting to escape the harsh winters in their hometowns. Many even migrate for longer periods of a few weeks to a few months and have earned the nickname “Snowbirds”.
Don’t arrive believing you’re going to be one of a few visitors to make the trek, this place is mainstream now and the crowds reflect that.
Including the ugly parts of this town in this post about the best things to do in Sayulita is by no means meant to put you off going. We had an amazing time here and it’s a beautiful little town to explore. However, it’s definitely best to know exactly what to expect rather than be disappointed by what it no longer is.
Have you got any questions about the best things to do in Sayulita? Is there anything else you’d like to know about the town? Drop us a comment below to let us know.