My first look at the Mexican coast – Sayulita

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My guidebook is a bit out of date – Sayulita doesn’t even rate a mention, even though by all accounts it is a very popular beachy town on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. I heard about Sayulita first through reading travel blogs (how good are travel blogs?). A friendly little surf town known for its gentle beginner waves, it sounded just the kind of place I felt like chilling out in for a while after being on the go for 6 weeks in the States. Maybe up to a month of beach time was in order, and I planned to do a lot of surfing. That didn’t quite pan out…

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Taken from the southern end of the beach looking back toward the town

It was quite possibly very naive of me to expect any different, but I was a bit taken aback at home many gringo tourists there were in Sayulita. I mean, obviously cool little beach towns are going to attract visitors, but I was expecting something a bit more chilled out and less established. Comparing it to my previous experience somewhere like Thailand, I was expecting more Ko Phangan than Ko Samui. It was actually much less backpackery and much more developed, attracting an older demographic as well as younger travelers, with a large expat community.

After spending two weeks there I can definitely appreciate the appeal of the town. Development is low-rise and unobtrusive, in the style of the area. The town centre itself is so cute – lots of colourful buildings around a central plaza, plenty of places to eat with a variety of cuisines and at standards you’d expect of a place with such a thriving tourist industry, and services that wouldn’t be available somewhere less developed. And after just two weeks I would walk around and bump into people I knew – it definitely had a village feel and friendly people.

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The pretty main plaza

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Colour abounds!

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Quiet in the morning, before the sales people and tourists arrive

What I can’t understand so much is the appeal of the beach. Admittedly, quite often when I visit foriegn beaches I am left feeling disappointed. Sometimes I almost think I should give up on the coast when in a foreign country! Being Australian means I am so spoilt for beaches it is very hard to impress me. But even those who aren’t blessed to live on such a gorgeous coastline as the east coast of Australia must appreciate how dirty the main beach at Sayulita is. Indeed it is quite common knowlegde locally that the town has sewage problems. The beach is stinky, the water murky and the sand dirty. Then of course you have the wandering sales people – if I’m going to have to reject sarongs and jewellery and hammocks all day I at least want a beautiful beach to make up for it.

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Beach chairs and umbrellas lines up and ready for the day

Luckily, although the main beach leaves a lot to be desired, there are plenty of beautiful beaches within walking distance that are not only clean, but mostly deserted. During my stay I walked to the nearby beaches of Los Caritos and Patzuarito to the south and one beach further north – all well worth the walk. I also took a day trip to San Pancho, the next little town to the north which is more what I was expecting Sayulita to be like. While lacking in the colourful charm of Sayulita, it was much more chilled out and relaxed. I would have stayed there if the only hostel hadn’t been undergoing renovations.

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An example of a pretty deserted beach not too far away

My experience in Sayulita proved to me one of the fundamental rules of traveling – to keep an open mind. The fact that I had pre-conceived ideas of what it would be like meant that I had to reconcile the reality with those notions, and reality came off second best. But once I accepted Sayulita for what it is was I really enjoyed my time there. I embraced the good bits – the tasty food, the yoga classes, the nightlife and the aforementioned lovely nearby beaches. I wasn’t prepared to stay a whole month as I planned, but I had fun none the less.

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Mmmmm fish tacos

Unfortunately I didn’t do any surfing until my very last day. It was pretty much flat the whole time I was there. One day I took a trip to Punta de Mita, a point to the south that has lots of different breaks where something is usually working. However, the breaks are quite hard to get to. I got talking to a guy with a boat who was taking a group to the nearby beach of La Lancha, and he agreed to take me too if I gave him a tip. I ran up the beach and hired a board and was all pumped to actually do some surfing, but just as we were pushing off the woman who was leading the group who had hired the boat had words with the boat guy about me and I had to jump off. Oh well, it was worth a try!

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Pelicans chilling out in Punta de Mita

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That’s a lot of people trying to surf on nothing…

One of the coolest things I did wile in Sayulita was go to the nightly release of baby turtles into the ocean. The Campamento Tortugeura Sayulita runs night patrols that scan the beach for turtles that come ashore to lay their eggs. They then transplant the nests to their sanctuary and wait for them to hatch before releasing them safely into the ocean. If baby animals are the cutest thing, baby turtles take it even further.

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A nest of baby turtles

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The little guy was so keen to get into the ocean he jumped out of my hand

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A line of tortugitas racing for the ocean! It was a slow race…

My accommodation in Sayulita consisted of two separate Couch Surfing hosts in three different houses, and four nights in a hostel. Each place was a totally different experience and fun its own way, and of course I met lots of different people. I mentioned in my last post that I spent a few nights staying with a yoga instructor who kindly took me along on a photo shoot for a calendar she is preparing. We hiked through the jungle to a waterfall where there are many pre-hispanic petroglyphs carved into the cubic rocks. Getting there was half the fun as it was quite hard to find and we got lost several times. It makes it all the more rewarding when you actually manage to get there!

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The beginning of our hike to the waterfalls

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Petrogylphs on the rock to the left, waterfall to the right

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Doing her thing in some uncomfortable places!

I stayed a week with a Belgian teacher who is volunteering at the local school, and met lots of people through her. One afternoon a group of us went on a bit of a hike through the jungle to get to another beach. When we arrived we found a coconut to crack open and mix with the rum that one of the girls cleverly thought to bring along. We swam in the ocean while drinking rum and watching the sunset. Ah, this is the holiday life!

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I saw some gorgeous sunsets while in Sayulita. This one was the backdrop to our rum and coconut swim.

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My Belgian host and two French couchsurfers who cooked dinner several times – mmmmm quiche and cake!

Whilst I was in between Couch Surfing hosts I spent four nights at Hostel Estacion Sayulita. I did the rounds of every hostel in town and ended up choosing this one because although it was not particularly clean and certainly not secure it was run by fun people and felt more local. I spent a lot of time hanging out with the people who ran the place and even came back to visit after I moved out.

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Hostel Estacion Sayulita. Juan Carlos is standing in the doorway – he was good value.

I also took a day trip to Puerto Vallarta, a much bigger resort town to the south with lots of high rise hotels stretching along the beach. The old centre of town was quite cute but the beach was even stinkier than Sayulita. Apparently Vallarta has a pumping nightlife but I didn’t stick around long enough to find out.

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The church in the old town of Puerto Vallarta

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The Vallarta coastline

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Bar, Restaurant and ….. Clothesline??

All in all although it wasn’t quite what I had in mind I did end up staying a decent amount of time in Sayulita and enjoyed my time there. I’m not sure if I’d recommend it or not… Having read what I have to say about it, do you think it’s somewhere you’d like to holiday?

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