Three Days in Paradise: Tips For Exploring Sayulita, Mexico

Day One:

We started our journey straight from the Puerto Vallarta airport.  We walked out of the airport and across a pedestrian bridge to catch an Uber ride to Sayulita.  It was 450 pesos and a beautiful, picturesque one-hour drive through the countryside.

Av Revolucion street should be one of your first stops.  There are a few Tortillerias where you can get fresh tortillas to go.  We grabbed a couple dozen to take with us to the beach that day and enjoy as an easy snack.  

Next we hiked to Playa De Los Muertos, which is just a 15 minute walk from downtown Sayulita.  Head to the left side of the Sayulita Beach and find the path that wanders along the ocean wall.  Follow that through a colorful arch and then down to a cool, ancient cemetery. To the right you will find Playa De Los Muertos.  The beach seemed to be filled with mostly locals. On the main beach there were a few trees for shade or you could rent an umbrella and chairs for the day.  There will be many locals there to offer you drinks and snacks if needed. They weren’t pushy, but polite. You could get a margarita, donuts, or shrimp skewer brought right to you.  If you’re up for a bit of an adventure, head to the right side of the beach and climb over a few rocks to get to a more secret, secluded area to lounge for the day. It’s also a great view of both beaches, so worth a bit of a hike up just for a new vantage point. 

When you’re done at the beach for the day, head back to town and be sure to stop by the Pollos Yolanda on Calle Gaviotas (right next to Hostal del Centro) for lunch.  You will not be disappointed. And while you’re stomach may be hurting from the spicy sauce, you will not regret purchasing this meal.  The “Chicken Lady” is an expert at her craft.  She and her crew grill up pieces of chicken all day, and you purchase a half or a whole to go.  She wraps up your meal with rice, coleslaw, tortillas and an extra side of the spicy sauce as well.  We met some nice locals while waiting for our feast. They called it “alley chicken” and said they ate it at least three times a week.

Take your chicken and go enjoy it at Sayulita Plaza park.  There’s a beautiful Catholic church there and on Delfines Street you’ve got the hanging colored flags, perfect for any Instagram picture.  At night in the Plaza, you’ll find people selling tacos and sweet treats (like flan). 

Later that evening, we wandered around town looking for a place for dinner.  We ended up choosing our location by selecting the one that had live music outside.  We had delicious mango margaritas and chicken mole enchiladas at Emiliano’s.  I’m pretty sure it’s not the top-rated Yelp spot, but it had great ambiance and friendly staff.  There are plenty of choices around town for dinner, though.

Finally, we ended our evening with some delicious gelato at Buonissimo Cafe.

Day Two:

Being a huge Bachelor in Paradise fan, I knew I needed to visit the Playa Escondida Resort while in Sayulita.  I definitely can’t afford to stay there for a few nights, but I called and found out you can visit the resort on a day pass for only $40 US.  Only a 30 minute walk from downtown Sayulita (a little over a mile), it was a perfect place to escape for the day. Upon arriving to the resort, they offer you a welcome drink and give you a tour of the grounds.  You are then free to swim, drink, relax, eat, get a massage/facial, do yoga–I believe they also had some ocean activity supplies (paddleboards and surfboards) but the ocean is usually pretty rough right there so we didn’t investigate.  We did try a round of ocean view yoga. We missed the 9am session so we had to create our own–we’d recommend downloading a yoga video to use before you go! The whole day the staff was super helpful, kind, and even willing to gossip about the tv show.  While the drink and massages cost extra, the prices for both are affordable. We ended up staying there all day, and having dinner at the restaurant that evening. The food was great and the views from the open air lounge were even better. The day was definitely worth a $40 pass.

Day Three:

We had booked a trip through Chica Loca the day before to go visit the Marietas Islands and Hidden Beach.  So before we headed off on our boat adventures, we filled up on breakfast tacos at Naty’s Cocina.  There were many varieties of tacos to choose from. We went with the standard eggs, cheese and pork and a large guanabana (soursop) juice.  A delicious way to start the morning.

We met our tour at 9am in the Sayulita Plaza.  You then head out on a 30 minute ride to the pier where you catch your boat.  I’m sorry, did I say boat? I meant mini yacht. This thing had a trampoline front, two water slides, a bar/kitchen area, and two decks.  Unfortunately the weather was less than cooperative that day and we ended up with just a trip to the islands and could not access the Hidden Beach (we were refunded for that part of the day). If you’re looking for a day trip, you’ll certainly get your money’s worth with this trip.  We got a few opportunities to get off the boat via waterslide or by going on a side snorkeling trip or by jumping overboard and swimming ashore. The service was top notch; we received a light breakfast, snacks, lunch and unlimited drinks. The crew had many surprises up their sleeves to entertain us throughout the 8 hour day.  The whole trip would have been $180 with the Hidden Beach included, but we were refunded $80 when we couldn’t get to the secret site. It’s an expensive day but still fun. They also offer shorter trips, which probably would have been more up our alley, but it was a day we will remember for a long time.

We rewarded our long day with a nice dinner at La Rustica, specializing in Italian cuisine.  We started with the tamarind margarita and “pina dropper” to drink.  Both drinks were delicious hand-crafted cocktails. We had a caprese salad and split a homemade pasta dish and the signature wood-fired La Rustica pizza.  This restaurant definitely takes pride in its meals, and you don’t have to worry about getting sick on this lettuce. The caprese salad was fresh and filling.  The homemade pasta was light and the sauce was tasty, and the pizza was a nice thin crust pie with unique ingredients–ours even had cilantro. We could hear live music upstairs but it was interrupted by thunder, lightning, and the power in the whole restaurant going out.  We learned an important lesson for travel: always carry enough cash to pay for your meals. Overall, it was a great dining experience with tasty cocktails and a resilient wait staff.

Finally, we had a chance to explore Sayulita Beach.  The area is great for both sunrise and sunset, and you can find many restaurants or bars for drink.  

If you need a late night snack, or a snack at any time of the day, Tacos El Ivan had a stand out front with al pastor and pineapple tacos that were amazing. The tacos were super cheap, mere pesos, and filled with well-seasoned meat and chunks of pineapple fresh from the trompo (like a vertical rotisserie named after a spinning top).  Highly recommended if you see the cart out front, stop by! 

Unfortunately we only had three days to explore this amazing town, but we both definitely want to return.  We both didn’t enjoy the big city feel of Puerto Vallarta, so escaping to Sayulita for a few days was just what we needed.  


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A Day Trip to the Tiny Town of Yelapa

Yelapa is an adorable small town twenty miles south of Puerto Vallarta.  It is still fairly undiscovered and a nice escape from the touristy feel of walking along the Malecon in Puerto Vallarta.  There are only about a dozen beach bars/restaurants in the town and everyone is extremely friendly and welcoming.

There are two places in the Puerto Vallarta area to catch the water taxi: Los Muertos Pier in Puerto Vallarta and a bit farther south in Boca de Tomatlan.  In Puerto Vallarta, Los Muertos Pier is located in Old Vallarta (La Zona Romantica).  We opted for Boca de Tomatlan because the time worked better for our departure, so we just grabbed an Uber from Puerto Vallarta to the pier at Boca de Tomatlan.  The ride was about 40 minutes, but all along the coastline and just beautiful. The coastline reminded us both of travelling along through the rainforests and along the coastlines of Hawaii, with a more stunning view at every turn. The Uber ride only set us back 250 pesos, plus the round trip boat ticket is about half the price as from Puerto Vallarta, at 140 pesos roundtrip (from Puerto Vallarta is 300 pesos roundtrip).

We arrived at Boca de Tomatlan pier a little unsure of what to do.  We just stood around with all the locals who were headed out to Yelapa for their work day or to deliver supplies.  We were worried about buying a ticket, but it turns out that you just pay at the end of each ride on the boat. (We did hear that if you pay round trip ahead of time to save your ticket for the way back so you don’t end up paying double).  No one else on the pier seemed worried, they were all relaxed, laughing and enjoying their morning coffee or pastries they had brought with them. Everyone was smiling at us, the two crazy Gringos who were up at 9 am on vacation.

The boat ride from Boca de Tomatlan pier to Yelapa was about 30 minutes.  The boat was a small fishing boat with an overhead tarp. We piled into the boat and were given life jackets to wear.  All of this was done without a word of English or Spanish, you were just supposed to know what to do. We just copied the locals and feigned confidence upon taking our seats.  The boat ride was a mix of amazing views, with lush green vegetation, plenty of interesting birds and trees to observe, and salt spray mists as we sped along our way. Our boat made one quick stop to pick up a few people at another small beach and then it was just around another corner to Yelapa.  When you arrive to Yelapa you can opt to get off at the first dock, or you can attempt the more fun version of hopping off the side of the boat when it pulls right up to the beach.

Upon arriving to Yelapa you will take in the gorgeous views of the beach town with the mountains in the background.  The beach is a long stretch of bright yellow sand and a row of boats in front of some local restaurants. There isn’t much to the town of Yelapa, but as you turn the corner in the water taxi, you’ll see why people love to escape here.  It is very quiet, peaceful and probably just the way Mexico looked before all the tourists invaded it.

We decided to go visit the Yelapa Waterfall first. We walked along restaurant row and were greeted multiple times.  A kind waiter exchanged information of where to go for the promise of returning to his bar for a drink later.  He pointed us in the direction of a river and explained that we needed to cross it. He also mentioned that there are horses you can take, but we opted for the more fun route of just walking straight through it.  We headed off in what we thought was the correct direction, only to be confused about where to cross the river. We round another local who had just caught a dozen barracudas in the ocean who pointed us in the right direction.  A little skeptical, and worried about being eaten alive, we forged our way across the stream. The water hit us mid-thigh at its deepest point and we were able to make our way across, keeping all of our belongings dry.

Once you cross the river, it’s a well-marked dirt and cobblestone path up to the waterfall.  You pass through a town that had markets and restaurants; keep trekking past a few vendors selling handmade crafts.  Finally, you will reach the waterfall; by taking the earliest boat from Boca de Tomatlan, we were able to have the place all to ourselves!  You can take a dip in the waterfall if you’d like. Since we were there early, we were treated to one of the locals, an older man who was mumbling to us in Spanish, taking his morning bath in the stream below the waterfall.  We also met an adventurous little boy who was climbing up the waterfall rocks and jumping into the pool below (not recommended!). We took a refreshing swim in the waterfall, grabbed our Instagram pictures and dried off before the next group of tourists had even made it to town.

Hungry from our adventure so far, we thought we’d grab a beer at the great little restaurant right at the summit.  They had plenty of cold beers and a full menu. Our waiter told us to try the guacamole; he had just picked the avocados from his garden that morning–sold!  It was every bit as amazing as it sounds. The chips were homemade and the guacamole was the perfect mix of lime, fresh avocados and pico de gallo, cilantro and salt.

We then headed back down the same path to Yelapa’s main beach.  I had read about the little old ladies who bake fresh pies everyday and walk around with the pies on their heads, selling them on the beach. Unfortunately we were there during “low season” and the ladies were not out strolling the beach.  However, they did still bake the pies for the nearby restaurants so we were able to try these famous treats. Our waiter, Jorge, at Tino’s Oasis restaurant kindly obliged to bringing us a few slices of pie on his head while saying, “I just want to make you happy.”  We tried the coconut pie, chocolate pie and cheese pie. While you might be thinking the cheese pie is just like cheesecake; it is not. It is pie that actually tastes like cheese! If you’ve got an adventurous palate, you should try a slice.

Yelapa’s beach was a great place to lounge around for the day.  We also tried our waiter’s famous drinks the tamarind margarita and the passion fruit margarita that had the local moonshine (raicilla) in it. Raicilla is apparently twice as strong as tequila and known to cause mild hallucinations. I had my raicilla in the passion fruit margarita, and all I could taste was the delicious tart passion fruit flavor.  I don’t remember any hallucinations that day, but I bet after a few that you’d be dancing up and down the beach. We were able to use the beach chairs in front of the restaurant all day, and, since it was low season, it was just a few steps down to the perfect and warm ocean water.  Our waiter was happy to deliver us another round of beers any time we needed, and my friend Nichol even got to hold the local iguana for a photo op.

We then took the ferry back to the pier at Boca de Tomatlan and caught a cab to Mismaloya Beach for about 100 pesos. The beach that once put Puerto Vallarta on the map for being the main set of the movie “The Night of the Iguana” is now a tiny beach with lot of palapa restaurants where you can grab a casual meal and a beer.  The water is a mix of cold and warm thanks to the nearby river and there is a path along the left side of the beach where you can go out to an iguana statue. There is also a great view of Los Arcos, a set of rocks that host various birds and fish–a popular day trip for snorkeling from Puerto Vallarta.  It was definitely underwhelming after coming from the beautiful beach of Yelapa, but worth a stop if you have some extra time.

After wandering along the beach for a while, we decided to call it a day and head back via taxi to Puerto Vallarta for dinner.  

Yelapa is a great day trip away from the hustle and bustle of Puerto Vallarta.  It’s definitely worth heading out for an adventure!

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