Sayulita, Mexico, 2:30 AM
I awake in the net-draped bed of a jungle tree house. A primordial chorus of frogs, lizards, birds, insects and who-knows-what-else comes to me unfettered though the open-air windows of my arboreal abode. The downside of an al fresco bathroom becomes apparent as I contemplate my next move. I must answer the call of nature. Out there. In nature.
Using the flashlight on the bed stand seems ill-advised; a ‘come and get me’ beacon in the moonless night. So I take a leap of faith. I put on my flip-flops and make my way to the baño on the balcony in the darkness. I am naked, and I am afraid.
Gratefully, the jungle residents are fully engaged in their nocturnal rituals. I arrive at my destination uneventfully and take in the raw beauty of the scene. The jungle night is feral, fascinating, and not at all threatening. I am grateful to be a witness to the wildness. When I return to bed, the riotous cacophony of creatures becomes my lullaby.
Sayulita, Mexico, 10:00 AM
My guide, Manuel, precedes me on his horse into the jungle, swinging a machete at unruly vines. We’ve just enjoyed a spirited gallop down a beach otherwise occupied only by a snorkeler combing the reef for lobsters. As we move through the leafy landscape, an odd, rustling wake precedes us on the forest floor. It sounds and looks as if we are riding through a pelting rain shower, yet the sky above is clear.
Upon closer scrutiny, I see that the movement is an army of land crabs, skittering sideways in retreat from the hooves of the approaching horses. The crabs bringing up the rear realize they are not moving fast enough to reach cover, and decide to make a stand. They turn to face the oncoming equine giants, bravely waiving their little crabby claws in an attempt to appear menacing. It is a valiant, and comical, display. Manuel and I share a laugh and a sense of camaraderie that transcends the combined limitations of his English and my Spanish.
Sayulita, Mexico, 4:00 PM
The music is loud and the tequila is flowing. The passengers who boarded the catamaran as strangers are now dancing in a conga line around the boat deck. The sun, the sea, and the gregarious boat crew have conspired to turn us all into joyous idiots.
During a break in the action, I strike up a conversation with a couple of my fellow celebrants. Originally from the Bay Area, the two honeymooned in Sayulita, then rearranged their lives in order to live here permanently. I ask the wife why they chose Sayulita to be their home. She replies, “In San Francisco, people engage with their cell phones. In Sayulita, people engage with people.”
Sayulita, Mexico, 7:00 PM
I wander down the beach and through the streets of Sayulita. Sun bronzed surfers mingle with frolicking children and traditional fishermen in the breaking waves. Locals and visitors laze around the town square. Shoppers browse stores displaying a surprisingly sophisticated array of artisan wares. The edible offerings are wildly flavorful, reflecting the fact that most of the ingredients have just been just plucked from the ocean, or off the nearby trees and vines.
As my walkabout ends, I stop to ask a cart vendor for directions to my restaurant of choice. Unable to direct me in English, she leaves her cart and runs two blocks down the street, returning with written directions from a bilingual friend. She smiles and firmly declines the bills I offer in thanks.
Sayulita’s simple pleasures may not appeal to everyone. For those folks, there is the Four Seasons Resort, a mere eight miles, and a world away, in Punta Mita. But travelers seeking a taste of the wild nature and colorful culture of Mexico’s Pacific Coast should sample Sayulita.
Sayulita: When You Go
How to Get There
Sayulita is on Mexico’s Nayarit Coast, about an hour’s drive (or a 90-minute bus ride) north of the Puerto Vallarta Airport. Once in Sayulita, it is easy to walk everywhere in town.
Imagine jungle tree houses and beach villas that look as if they were designed by Gaudí. Now, picture these uncommon accommodations cascading down a verdant hillside to a pristine strip of sand and the sea. That is Playa Escondida.
Playa Escondida has many temptations, including an seaview spa, onsite horseback riding and a mighty inviting beachside bar and restaurant. As a guest of Playa Escondida, you are one with nature, so be on the lookout for whales, pelicans, parrots, sea turtles, iguanas and those crazy crabs.
It is hard to have a bad meal in Sayulita, but in general, the best dining venues are on the streets along or just off of the town square rather than the more conventional (and pricey) restaurants along the beach. Exceptional local flavor can be found at Aaleyah’s Nachos and Wings, Sayulita Café, Tacos El Ivan, and Naty’s Cocina. Choco Banana is a kind of community gathering place, where locals, expats, and visitors congregate to sup and sip on the square. If you have a car, Maria’s, ten minutes down the road in San Pancho is worth the drive for a breakfast that will kick-start your day.
A day cruise with the crew at Ally Cat Sailing Adventures to the Marieta Islands is downright infectious fun. But, Dude, if it is your time put your sled on the swell, head to Surf It Out, for a customized lesson or outing. If you’d rather troll with a pro, cast off with Fidel’s Fishing.