Going for Gold
Story and photos by Pat Grubb
We PNW’ers who play up in the mountains with the gods have a more heavenly view of the weather than our sea-level brethren who bitch and moan about the rain battering against the windows. We smile inwardly and think, “Yeah, but it’s dumping on Canuck’s Deluxe and Hemispheres.”
Still, if 89 straight days of gray winter monsoons get us down, we know what to do – head south to Mexico. Like Hernán Cortés and his murderous conquistador crew, we seek gold. Golden sunshine, that is. My wife and I find it in Sayulita, a small fishing and surfing village on the Pacific Ocean about 30 miles north of Puerto Vallarta.
With its palm trees, cobblestone streets and consistent surf break, it’s the perfect place to chill out. Once we dry out, we dive into the warm waters and start playing again.
Located 26 miles (38 kilometers) from the Puerto Vallarta (PV) airport, this little fishing and surfing town is reminiscent of the PV of 20 years ago. Street-side food stands, surf shops and art and craft stores dot the downtown area, but the beach remains the focal point for most visitors. Sayulita is a mecca for surfers looking for consistent waves, and you’ll see them on the water until nightfall. Typically, the waves are small enough that beginners can get up, but the occasional Pacific Ocean disturbance will bring waves much taller than normal heights. Surf lessons are available at your convenience at any number of surf shops.
Sayulita is also a great place for family vacations. Not only is the town safe, there’s also a lot for kids to do and not much trouble to get into. Christmas and Easter are big holidays in Mexico, and families from Guadalajara and elsewhere flock to town to celebrate. During other times, norteamericano visitors are more common, but out-of-town nationals ensure Sayulita remains an authentic Mexican experience. As for the locals, on our last trip, two surfers from Colorado commented on how friendly the people were and compared it to a recent trip to Hawaii. “There’s no Aloha in Hawaii, anymore,” they said.
Not interested in surfing? How about riding horses, hiking, standup paddle boarding, snorkeling or scuba diving, fishing, mountain biking, whale watching or touring a jungle canopy? Visitors have plenty of tour and rental places in town to choose from and prices are very competitive. Spas and yoga studios are easy to find and bars and restaurants are always available for your fish tacos or margarita fix.
If you feel like a good hike, walk the beach north to San Francisco, the next town up the coast. It’s about two and a half miles, but you’ll want to check with a local before setting off. About halfway down the beach, there is a rock outcropping that you’ll need to bypass by going inland on a trail for a few hundred feet. Just before you reach San Francisco, you’ll find another outcropping with a villa that was formerly owned by a Mexican president. Again, you’ll avoid it by going inland by trail. Ask for directions for both of these diversions. Also inquire about rip tides during high wave days; this stretch of beach is uninhabited with no one around. If you do get caught in a rip tide, don’t fight it. Instead, swim parallel to the beach until you’re out of it and then swim to shore.
Pretty much a must-do is a boat trip to Las Marietas, a group of uninhabited islands that were declared a national park in the late 1960s. Though this is a popular daytrip, visitors are forbidden to step foot on shore with the exception of one small beach; consequently, the islands and waters surrounding them contain an amazing variety of avian and underwater life. That beach is reached by swimming and/or snorkeling through a short cave; it’s a great experience. Boats leave from the marina in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, another fishing village about 20 minutes south of Sayulita. Many of the boats going out are booze cruises, meaning lots of people drinking lots of free alcohol. They’re fun, but if you want a more refined option, try Red Dolphin Charters, which takes groups of 12 or fewer to the islands or on whale-watching trips on a 45-foot sailboat (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Accommodations in Sayulita range from beachside camping to hostels to villas to boutique hotels. Numerous villas owned by Mexicans and norteamericanos ranging from basic to super deluxe are available for rent. A good starting point for accommodation is sayulitalife.com, which lists most, if not all, of the available housing options. Words of advice: villas closest to the village center are noisier than those farther away. The hills in town are steep and strenuous – if you don’t have transportation, you’ll have a workout climbing the hill home. Many of the villas have at least a plunge pool, which is a definite plus. Wi-Fi and purified water are also things to look out for when booking your accommodations.
La Cruz de Huanacaxtle
As mentioned, another fishing village located between PV and Sayulita is La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, called La Cruz, for short. There’s no surfing here but you’ll still find plenty to do. A recently constructed marina has boats ready to take you out for cruises, whale watching, fishing, diving or snorkeling. Popular with expatriates, La Cruz retains a small town Mexican feel.
The town has numerous restaurants to choose from: Taco in the Street offers rib-eye tacos, while Philos offers nightly live music featuring local and gringo musicians. On Sundays, the boardwalk is filled with vendors of all kinds for the Sunday farmers market. Oso’s Oyster Bar at the marina is good for drinks, and authentic Mexican lunches and dinner.
For accommodations, a terrific place to stay is Villa Amor del Mar, a small boutique inn located right on the sandy shores of Bahia de Banderas, just a few steps from the marina. Rated number 1 in La Cruz by TripAdvisor, Villa Amor del Mar (villaamordelmar.com) is owned by Canadian expatriates Chris and Cindy Bouchard, who have summered at their cabin in Birch Bay for years. The couple is insanely intent on providing the best experience possible for their guests and no detail has been overlooked in doing so. By the time you leave, you’ll have two new friends who have introduced you to half the town and made sure you’ve gotten all there is out of La Cruz.
For more information and other options, visit insidelacruz.com.
Flights from the Northwest are easy to find. Alaska, United, Delta and Westjet, to name just a few, have frequent flights to Puerto Vallarta, and you have a number of options for getting to Sayulita or La Cruz from there. Car rentals, buses, taxis and car services are all available at the airport. We have had good luck with a car service provided by Lalo Ramirez, who is reliable and on time (email@example.com). Expect to pay around $100 U.S. for a round trip to and from the airport. Unless you take the bus, you can stop on your way at the Wal-Mart or Megastore to pick up groceries and whatever else you might need. I recommend doing this, as both towns have only small shops for food buying.
Sayulita doesn’t have any banks, but it does have ATMs and money exchanges. The best exchange rates are at banks or at the airport when you arrive. Taxis typically congregate at the village square while frequent bus departures leave from the
Sure, it may still be raining when you return home but you’ll feel re-invigorated and ready to hit the slopes again. And your tan will look stunning against the
white backdrop. x