The Riviera Nayarit is one of the easiest surf trips from the Western US because of direct flights and lots of good waves
Sayulita is usually the first thing that comes to mind when people in this part of Mexico hear the word surf. This stretch of the Riviera Nayarit has become a favorite vacation destination for Tapatios and international travelers alike. Nayarit is a warm water tropical paradise and the Sayulita surf scene is part of the local culture. Between Sayulita and San Blas there are a dozen great waves. These are a couple of my favorites.
Sayulita Pueblo Mágico
Sayulita used to be a small fishing village situated in front of a decent wave. Nowadays it is an international community that loves Mexico, loves the beach, but the home prices that are denominated in dollars. Atists, musicians, chefs and creative folks from all over Mexico have decided to make Sayulita home and build something cool. There is a thriving restaurant and bar scene, plenty of surf shops for ding repair, lessons and rentals; and you can surf out front.
What sets Sayulita apart from the rest of the Nayarit surf scene is the town. There is a diverse and international aura that is woven into, some might say on top of, your traditional Mexican beach town. Lots of people who love Mexico have moved here and blended their own culture to the cultures found throughout Mexico. There is live music to be found every night of the week. The wine shop is run by a couple from Los Angeles and has a better selection of wine than I can find in Guadalajara; and they offer classes on mezcal, tequila and Mexican wines. As you walk around the main plaza you notice that restaurants have placed tables in the streets and there is a feeling of European bistros with a distinctly Mexican touch.
The Surf in Sayulita
The surf gets crowded with beginners taking lessons and is more often than not a longboard wave. There are plenty of local rippers who will be showing you how it’s done on a shortboard, but if you are interested in upping your wave count I would recommend a longboard.
There are waves all up and down the beach but the best break is out front of the river mouth. The bottom is rock reef in front of the river mouth changing to sand the farther away you get from the river. The right usually has better form than the left but all it takes is one storm to shift the sand and favor the left.
Surfing Sayulita is not the end of the story. You probably wouldn’t fly to Mexico to surf only one wave when there are so many options close by. Renting a car will give you access to a plethora of great surf spots nearby. Some of the best spots may require an additional boat ride.
There are all sorts of lodging options from beachfront campsites and hostels to boutique resorts and villas. I really liked the Airbnb options and thought that Hacienda Cereza was a particularly good deal.
San Pancho (San Francisco, Nayarit) is for Body Surfing
Just north of Sayulita as you travel along the Riviera Nayarit is San Pancho. The mellow beach community, tropic golf course and numerous dining options have made this pueblo a retiree paradise. Beach cruiser bikes, skateboards and golf carts are the preferred methods of transportation much like the beaches of San Diego.
San Pancho Surf
While there are waves out front, they don’t have the best form for surfing. More often than not the waves out front are beach break close outs without much length of ride. Beginning and intermediate level surfers will enjoy the beaches of Sayulita, Chacala and San Blas much more than those of San Pancho. Body surfers will be frothing to get some uncrowded waves.
Most of the year the surf in San Pancho is best on the southern part of the beach, just south of the arroyo. When a really big winter time north swell comes through you will find sand bars that you didn’t know existed and only work one day a year.
Chacala and La Caleta
Chacala and Caleta: The left hand point break at Playa Caleta is one of the best Nayarit surf breaks. This is for a little more advanced surfer because of the sharp volcanic rock bottom that is covered with sea urchins. You really need to be careful about straightening out on the inside section and not put your feet down after kicking out of a wave. The wave has an easy takeoff section that lines up on the inside and allows for a ton of turns before standing up and racing down the inside.
The beach at Caleta is pristine if not a little hard to get to. You can take a boat in from Chacala for about 700 pesos or your can drive in through the Maralta Ranch if you have a four wheel drive vehicle. Most of the 45 minute drive through the jungle is flat and easy but as your drop into the beach there are a few steep, rocky sections that make four wheel drive a must. Most of the people that drive in are planning on camping for a few days.
There is a caretaker named Juan who has been living on the beach for decades. If you are going to camp, make sure to hook Juan up with some cash or bring him in some supplies (a bag of maseca or some canned food) for keeping the place clean. Remember, always pack your trash. There is an open air bathroom tucked back into the trees but you need to bring your own toilet paper.
San Blas, Las Islitas and Stoner’s Point!
San Blas has become my new favorite surf spot. The drive in from Guadalajara is really easy. It is all freeway without those mountainous curves that you have to go through to get to Puerto Vallarta. I can usually make it in two and a half hours depending on what the traffic is like getting in and out of Guadalajara.
The community of San Blas has a lot of history. The Huichol (Wixárika) people consider the area a holy place and their origin story takes place on a small island just off the coast. For the Spanish it was one of the most important ports on the Pacific. Gold was sent to the Philippines to buy Chinese silk and spices that were sent back to Spain. Today San Blas is a Naval training center, a fishing town (commercial and sport) and favorite beach town for the population in Tepic.
Playa Borrego, San Blas, Nayarit
Playa Borrego is a 3 minute drive south of the town square. It is mostly inconsequential beach break. You are not going to buy a plane ticket to surf this wave. The star of the show is Stoners Point on the northern edge of Matanchén Bay. When it’s on it’s the best wave in the region.
There is another break on the inside called Las Islitas or Matanchén Bay. There was a time when it was considered the longest wave in the world by the hodads at the Guinness Book of World Records. It’s a gimmick that even the longboarders are going to get board with. Las Islitas is a good place to teach your kid or spouse to surf but not much else.
If you drive in to Las Islitas you need 4×4 or at least a truck with good clearance to make it all the way out to the point. If not, you can park a half mile down the point and walk in. You can also walk/swim in from Playa Borrego. Walking to the very south end of Playa Borrego, about one kilometer from the restaurants, you are going to find the river mouth. It’s a 200 meter swim across the channel with little to no current. Follow the trail another 50 meters through the estuary (bugs!!) to the point. It is a This is where the estuary meets the ocean and there are occasionally crocodiles nearby.
Make sure to visit the old Spanish fort and the abandoned 18th century church on the bluff overlooking the city. The views are awesome and the tour guides have some great stories.