After visiting the Puerto Vallarta / Nuevo Vallarta area several times between 2006 and 2014, we decided it as time to learn more about the region than we gleaned taking tours and talking with a few locals. So in 2014 we hired a taxi to drive us north to places we’d heard of but never visited. Fortunately, the driver spoke English and was happy to share local knowledge with us.
Our first stop was in Punta de Mita, a beachfront village at the northern end of the Bay of Banderas. It is on the same latitude as Hawaii and has a similar climate. Just over 6 km in size, Punta de Mita is surrounded on three sides by almost 10 miles of Pacific Ocean and includes beautiful beaches and coves. It is home to high end resorts and residential communities and the Marieta islands–a Mexican national park and popular snorkeling area–are a15-minute boat ride away.
We had planned to have a late breakfast there. However, our driver brought us to a little thatched-roof eatery on a small beach with tables in the beach sand, which belonged to a friend of his. The menu offered lots of local dishes but nothing remotely close to breakfast, so we instead we had an early Mexican lunch–fish ceviche with chips and salsa along with Negra Modelo, our favorite dark Mexican cerveza (beer). As we ate, we watched fishing boats come and go, and a tour boat being loaded for a trip to the Marietas. It was arguably the most authentic Mexican locale we had visited to date.
Then he drove us to Sayulita, a beachfront community a few miles north of Punta de Mita, and dropped us off at the town plaza to explore for an hour or so. We found it so appealing that we returned for a week in November 2015 to further explore this part of the Mexican Riviera.
Located on the Pacific Ocean, Sayulita is famous as an surfing destination. The main beach, just down the street from the plaza, is dotted with surf shops offering classes as well as renting equipment.
More than just a surfer’s paradise, Sayulita is an authentic Mexican village with a plaza with a bandstand in the middle and a little church on one corner. It is surrounded by cobblestone streets and uneven sidewalks. There are no fancy hotels or restaurants in Sayulita but, rather, small shops and sidewalk restaurants–many with tables on the street, some inches from vehicular traffic
One main two-lane street goes through town, with one way streets on either side. Traffic is slow, with as many golf carts as cars in the streets, and little to no place to park. Additionally, truck vendors drive through, loudly hawking their wares–from produce to seafood to bottled gas. There’s lots of noise, from children playing to dogs barking (lots of dogs run free) to laughter and loud music that lasts late into the night.
We rented a condo unit in the middle of town through VRBO. It was in a relatively new four-story stucco building with retail on the street level, units on the second and third floors, and a rooftop with pool and outdoor kitchen. Located just ½ block from the plaza, it was the perfect place to observe life while having all the comforts of home–a gourmet kitchen that opened onto a balcony, and a bedroom away from the street that was blessedly quiet behind closed doors.
There are no supermarkets, just little grocery stores. The best way to buy fresh produce, fish, poultry or meat is to go to storefronts that sell them exclusively–mercardo de fruta, pescaderia (fish market), etc. The sidewalk cafes and full-service restaurants (we ate at three–Don Pedro, the River Cafe, and Cafe Arte) all serve fresh, local, authentic dishes that we enjoyed tremendously–especially the seafood.
We discovered that the north end of town is a quiet, mainly residential area with a lovely beach. There’s an RV park and camping area there that looked really nice for those interested in that kind of vacation. There’s also a “family” beach at the south end of town that we did not visit.
On our last full day we hired a tour guide to drive us to San Francisco (aka San Pancho) about 5 miles north of Sayulita. We were as totally charmed by that village as we were by Sayulita the previous year. It is smaller and more quiet, with a beautiful stretch of uncrowded beach (no appreciable surf, so no surfers.) We may have found a destination for the next trip….