Eco-Tourism in Sayulita
Sustainable Tourism near Puerto Vallarta
All participants of our trip were tested for CoVid-19 prior to flying and had negative results for the virus. We did this to ensure the safety of the locals we were visiting. At the time of writing this, it is not enforced, but it is highly encouraged.
Mexico is full of diversity, culture and wonder – and it also has a growing market for eco and sustainable tourism. There’s even a certification available to proactive destinations to be a Ciudad/Pueblo Verde, which translates to a Green City/Town. The coastal beach town of Sayulita, located in Nayarit State (near Puerto Vallarta), is working hard to achieve this status!
Why is Sayulita so popular?
Nestled on Mexico’s Pacific coast in the state of Nayarit, Sayulita is an enchanting coastal town that exudes charm. With its stunning beaches, world-class surf breaks, and laid-back atmosphere, Sayulita has emerged as a highly sought-after destination, attracting tourists from every corner of the globe.
At first glance, Sayulita is a typical bustling Mexican beach town. It’s got all the common beachy good stuff you’d expect, with lots of street-side fish taco stands, ice cream shops, surf schools and bathing suit shops. As soon as you start to peel away the layers, however, there are dozens of incredible small operators who are all doing their best to make AND keep Sayulita beautiful and sustainable for years to come.
We spent a solid week exploring the spoils of Sayulita, and though it’s a pretty small town, we never ran out of things to do over the course of the week (and easily could have stayed longer to continue the explorations)!
Of course, my main objective of visiting a town which is striving to obtain the Pueblo Verde status in Mexico was to see what great, truly green initiatives were happening here! There was actually a fair number of initiatives that really were trying to do their part. Some service providers were certainly a bit more experienced than others, but a general “A” for the effort to all those fighting the good fight!
We visited everything from an eco-hike around a massive section of land which is being bought for the sole purpose of being preserved in an effort to prevent development to some SCUBA diving with an awesome team who are incredibly passionate about the preservation of the reef systems there, as well as the protected islands we visited, to a gorgeous open-aired yoga studio who’s instructor was incredibly accommodating and experienced with larger groups of all different yoga levels, to an all-women’s co-op, helping promote equal opportunities in the community, to a bird sanctuary which is helping rescue and rehabilitate birds which were either poached, or have lost their habitats, and more! All the details will be listed below for each of these proactive initiatives which stood out in my mind.
For those not as interested in only focusing on the sustainable aspects of your vacation, the town itself has definitely evolved to cater to a foreign audience. I was expecting a few fish taco spots along the beach, and not a whole lot more. I was way wrong. Food-wise, there was everything from some pretty impressive Thai food, to some of the best (note: only) falafel burritos I’ve ever had, and even some Poké Bowls which were spot on (my favourite was Poke Mango… get it? Pokemon Go! Ha). The food options ranged from street vendor to high-end, and pretty much anything in between.
There is a lot of places to shop here as well. I didn’t do a whole lot of shopping, as that’s not usually a focus of my vacations, however, although a bit kitsch, I did stroll down the Hippy Alley, which is where many of the local and a few foreign artisans set up shop, mostly specializing in the Huichol indigenous beadwork which can be seen throughout the region, of which I supported a few stalls. This is a great place to give back to the local community while encouraging and sustaining the local traditions. There is also a bikini shop woman’s project called Lovera Bikinis which hand makes all the swimwear, employing locals at a fair trade wage. I didn’t pop in, but some of my friends did, and all ended up leaving with some pretty chic new swimwear. Otherwise, there’s lots of other shopping to be done, but again, not really my scene for holidaying.
There was no shortage of activities here either. We partook in a fun tequila and beer tasting at the Co-Working space, which also has the fastest internet in town (a dangerous combination if you’re known for drunk dialling). It’s more of a fun activity than anything else and they don’t promote themselves as running a MasterClass of any sort, but it was still a great afternoon of drink sampling. We hiked to some nearby beaches off of the main strip which were nearly empty, especially by comparison. It would be impossible to visit Sayulita without doing a bit of surfing too, with an abundance of surf schools available. Most people come to Sayulita for the straight-up RnR though.
Being so close to Puerto Vallarta, a lot of the clientele that comes to Sayulita are actually Mexicans coming for a weekend getaway, meaning that it can be very crowded on weekends. That said, the rest of the week is a lot more chill by comparison.
Overall, Sayulita proved to be a great vacation destination, with a little something for everyone. I really liked that there’s a great community here which obviously cares about their home, and with many working hard to preserve ecologically. Sayulita is well on its way to being a Pueblo Verde, an eco-destination just a short drive from Puerto Vallarta. Hopefully, their efforts will continue and more companies and individuals will get involved to help it reach this status. Please do your part too, when you decide to visit Sayulita!
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SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
Getting to Sayulita is easy from the Puerto Vallarta Airport. There are many shuttle services available. Having your own car in Sayulita could be more of a hindrance than an advantage, as the streets are small and can get crowded. Best to just take a shuttle over, and either walk or hire a golf cart to scoot around town.
Do – Activities & Attractions
The most responsible tourism-focused activities I found in Sayulita were limited but great. The vast majority of other activities were not irresponsible, they simply didn’t have that focus at the forefront of their mission.
One very notable stop we made was the Bird Sanctuary Project called Ser Su Vos (Be their voice) run by an outspoken environmentalist, Tracie Willis. She runs a local restaurant called Chocobananas, and has used some of her own funds to self-fund this project. It started, as I’m sure many do, with just one bird rescue. This quickly escalated to the point where she has, at any one time, hundreds of rescued birds. The birds have been rescued from natural habitats that were being destroyed by development, rescued from past owners that no longer want them, and some brought in from other sanctuaries that don’t have space. If you want to make a donation directly to helping the project, you can do so with this PayPal link.
Another activity which was fantastic was visiting Natikari – Rancho Verde, which sources funding to buy more and more land to prevent development. The tours and activities here are basic but immersive. We went on a nature hike around some of the protected land, which was absolutely breathtaking. Afterward, we had some fruit snacks and chatted more about the project before heading back into town. It’s definitely a worthy cause and a fun day of hiking and being in nature. You might get to hang out or hike with their resident donkeys too!!
On the sustainable tourism front, we also visited a protected island to do some scuba diving with Ocean Adventures. The flora and fauna on the Marietas and the larger Marías Islands earned them designations as UNESCO biosphere reserves! There are no landings on the island, to keep it human-free, but you can still observe the hundreds of different bird species which inhabit the island (such as the Blue Footed Boobie, commonly associated with the Galapagos Islands), in between dives where you get to see some of the coral ecosystems beneath the surface. Frankie was our guide, and a wonderful dive guide, if you get the chance to go with him!
Some other fun activities we had around Sayulita included:
Taking a surf lesson with Sayulita Surf School. It’s a family operation, and the instructors are patient and fun. It wasn’t my first lesson (though you might not know it from watching me haha), and I’d certainly recommend it to those interested in trying surfing in Sayulita, a destination which is pretty famous for its waves.
Going on a sunset sailing cruise. This was a highlight for me, having grown up with a dingy sailboat, I love getting out on the water whenever I can. It’s pretty casual, and you can BYOB if you want, though snacks and non-alcoholic drinks were provided. We did go out towards the piers in Puerto Vallarta for this one, but it was totally worth it for spending a great afternoon/evening out on the water. Check out Magic Charters for more details!
A great way to stretch out some of those sore surf muscles is with some open-air yoga! We got to try just that in a beautiful space on the roof of a hotel, at Rose Room Yoga. Our yoga instructor Audra Roses, the founder of Rose Room Yoga, was nothing short of amazing. Our mixed bag group came from all different experience levels, and I don’t think anyone felt over or under pushed throughout. She had a great way of keeping the balance – no pun intended.
Of course, you’re going to want to spend some time on the beach as well! One note though, it’s best to try and get away from the river which flows out in the centre of town into the sea, by going to either end of the main beach, or hiking out to some of the more isolated beaches nearby. Unfortunately, the water going through town isn’t the cleanest, so this is one area Sayulita still needs to improve on regarding their eco-initiatives – but – the beach is still beautiful, and one of the nicer ones I’ve been to in Mexico! (PS – if you want to check out some other Pacific coastal regions in Mexico, don’t miss out on the Baja coastline and Puerto Escondido in Oaxaca!)
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Stay – Accommodation
We were fortunate enough to stay at Casa Palmar (managed by Pacifico Properties), which is a series of low rise condos right on the beach. Each floor is fully equipped with their own kitchen, and there’s a shared pool for all the renters. The place was modern and had daily housekeeping. It is just on the edge of town, so it’s quiet and away from the bustle of the centre of Sayulita, but only a 10 minute walk (or a 3 minute golf cart ride) away from the action.
Pacifico Properties in Sayulita also sells properties, if you’re looking at Sayulita as a long term investment. Let them know that Where Sidewalks End sent you to them, as they promised to give our readers the best value available in the region! You can see their properties here!
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Eat – Restaurants
There were tons of great places to eat in Sayulita, with a lot of diversity in options. Some of the places that stood out were the following:
There wasn’t the abundance of Fish Taco stalls I was expecting for a beach town, but some of the street vendors had some of the best options I tried while there (even better than the fixed restaurant locations). The one that really stood out the most was Maria’s Fish Tacos (not to be confused with Mary’s Mexican food, which is more touristy) located on the side of the road near the intersection of Av Revolucion and Calle Jose Mariscal (right in Centro).
With a menu focused almost entirely on Poke Bowls and smoothies, Organi-k had some delicious options if you’re looking for a healthy alternative. Check out their Instagram here.
Sometimes you just crave a good burger while travelling. There’s a food truck that had some of the best burgers I’ve eaten in Mexico, called La Fogonera. It’s only open at night, and there’s usually a bit of a line-up, which is always a good sign. They even had a veggie burger made from Hibiscus flowers (called Jamaica, in Mexico)! Definitely worth a try if you get a burger craving while in Sayulita.
An interesting idea, if you’re looking for something that is both filling and different, is Falafel and Friends which specializes in, you guessed it, falafel. They have salads, pitas, and the unique Mexican twist of falafel burritos which were my all-time favourite. I ended up eating here several times, and it makes for a perfect vegetarian option!
For beer lovers, there are generally not too many options outside the standard domestic brands around Sayulita. However, there is one micro craft brewery called Yambak Sayulita, located at one of the busiest corners in the centre. If you get there early enough, you can grab a table out front and enjoy the people watching, while doing a sampler ‘yard of beer’, which walks you through several of their in house varieties. It’s an entertaining way to cool down after the heat of the day!
For more ideas on places to eat, check out Foodie Flashpacker’s post on his favourite restaurants in Sayulita.
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
High Season in Sayulita tends to run between November to May, during the winter months North of the border. This means advanced reservations are often needed.
You can generally get away with some last-minute bookings in lower tourist season, though be aware that weekends are often busy all year from local visitors coming over from Puerto Vallarta.
Safety – Possible risks
Sayulita is considered amongst the safest beach destinations in Mexico. That doesn’t mean you are not prone to be taken advantage of. You are a visitor in a foreign country, so try to be aware of what’s around you. If something doesn’t feel right, trust your gut, and seek authorities’ help if needed. Don’t put yourself in compromising situations, and leave most valuables you don’t need in the hotel safe when you go out.
Is Sayulita safe for swimming?
Sayulita’s recreational waters have been officially declared safe and clean, although they may not exhibit the pristine clarity that many anticipate in Mexican waters.
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, you can become more susceptible to falling victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed.
Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member, or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
Sayulita is not the cheapest Mexican destination I’ve been to, though for the quality of services you can receive here, and relative to bigger destinations such as Tulum, it’s certainly affordable, with options available for all budgets. By clicking on the links of all the services you’re interested in provided throughout this article, you can easily put together a budget (always add 20% to what you expect you’ll need for ‘fun’ money) which should suit your budget, and help in determining how long you’ll want to stay!
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Responsible Travel – Best Practices
Sayulita is trying to become a Pueblo Verde as a whole, so the vision for being a responsible tourism destination is there. Though many shops and accommodations are foreign-owned, you can still do your part to shop locally as much as possible (even with some responsibly operated foreign-owned ventures), ensuring the money stays in the community.
As always, responsible tourism is one part destination, one part your own behaviours. Do your best to ensure minimal waste is made (using reusable shopping bags and water bottles, and buying things with less packaging). Try to make sure you are supporting locals whenever you can. Try to respect the local way of life (dressing appropriately, not being belligerent, and tolerating cultural differences). Have fun, and try to learn from the locals – it’s the best way of connecting with them, and having the most impactful holiday or visit!
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Reality Check – Be Aware
Though Sayulita is striving to be a Green Town and has made many leaps and bounds to obtain this, don’t expect everywhere to be on the same page. Some green-washing exists, so when possible, do your research prior to booking your activities if this is a deciding factor for what you see and do.
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JOIN US! WSE Travel Packages
This sounds like quite the adventure, right? We thought so too! Though we realize it can be pretty intimidating to get out there into the world on your own, especially when travelling to some of these off the beaten path locations. We love it when our readers give it a shot and try it for themselves! In fact, please leave us feedback if you do!! If trying something ‘this’ adventurous on your own is just a bit outside of your comfort zone, WSE Travel is here to help!
Follow this link for our ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Tours – packages that are highly personalized and tailored at your request.
Have you ever been to a city that had a focus on being an eco-destination? Where was it and what made its initiatives so unique?
Please feel free to share your stories and thoughts in the comment section below!