Guadalajara is fortunate to have a great climate and excellent quality of life but the beach is a couple of hours away. Tapatios (people from Guadalajara) have a number of options when it comes to selecting their beach of choice. The beaches along the coast of the State of Nayarit are spectacularly beautiful with lush jungle and tall trees. There are beaches for all tastes: sleepy, happening, younger, older, rustic and luxury. I happen to spend a lot of time going from Guadalajara to Sayulita because there is surf out front and a lot of people around. You will want to see the beaches up and down the coast but I like coming back to eat and hang out in Sayulita.
The Roads From Guadalajara to Sayulita
The coolest, yet the longest, way to get from Guadalajara to Sayulita is to take the old road Through Tala, Mascota, Talpa and San Sebastian. The route is much slower because it is a two-lane road with plenty of hills and curves. Plus, you are going to want to stop in at least one of the Pueblos Magicos. This is a link to an article I wrote about taking the old road through the mountains. The trip is highly enjoyable if you have the time to chill and hang out.
The old road goes through the mountains. The newer 15D freeway goes northwest a little way into the State of Nayarit and around the steepest part of the mountain range. The road heads west to the coast and then hooks back south along the coastal highway (200).
The New Freeway from Guadalajara to Sayulita
The freeway from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta is not complete. There is a four-lane freeway under construction that is going to cut the time to the beach considerably. Not only can you drive faster on the freeway, but they are much safer with a passing lane, center divider, and shoulder.
The first of the three sections is complete and operational (Jala to Compostela). The second section is scheduled to be open in October of 2019 (Compostela to Las Varas). Right now the freeway stops near Compostela and you have to get back on the two-lane highway and head through the curves. If you get stuck behind a big truck it can be a slow trip. Try to avoid this road during high traffic periods like Semana Santa and New Year.
The last section of the old style, two-lane highway, only runs for 50 km from Las Varas to Sayulita. It is a small fraction of the 300km total distance between Guadalajara and Sayulita. The second section of the freeway is going to save a lot of time. We are all nervously waiting to see what the tolls are going to cost to leave Guadalajara and pay all the tolls to the beach.
It is going to be a few more years until the freeway goes all the way into Puerto Vallarta. The freeway is under construction but it is still a long way out. Right now we are stoked for the second section to open because Las Varas is on the coast and Sayulita will be so much closer.
El Autobus o El Camion
It doesn’t make sense to fly from Guadalajara to Sayulita. There are direct flights from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta but Sayulita is an hour north of Puerto Vallarta. With the time it takes to get to the airport, get through security and then actually drive to Sayulita it is comparable to taking the bus. In my opinion, taking the bus is the best option. The busses are very comfortable and usually very quick.
The bus trip is going to take between four and five hours depending on the bus terminal that you choose to leave from. If you go to the Central Nueva in Tlaquepaque it could take you two additional hours to get out of Guadalajara. The Central Camionera Poniente (sometimes called the Central Camionera de Zapopan) is on Avenida Vallarta, on the way out of town, on the way to Sayulita and Puerto Vallarta. Unless you live in Tlaquepaque it is much better to go to the bus station on the westside of town.
Vallarta Plus is one of the nicer bus lines that goes all the way into Sayulita. There are a couple of different price points and not every bus stops at the Sayulita terminal. Primera Plus goes all the way to Puerto Vallarta and will let you off at the entrance to the pueblo, but who wants to walk the last two miles into town with luggage and a surfboard? I recommend taking Vallarta Plus. I sleep fine on their buses and I wake up at the beach. Vallarta Plus has mostly morning departures to Sayulita.
Driving From Guadalajara to Sayulita
I always recommend taking the toll roads over the free roads if I want to get somewhere quickly. When I go surf for one or two days I want to spend as much time surfing and as little time driving as possible. If you have a little more time and want to see beautiful agave fields, you could take the highway to Tequila, Jalisco but get back on the freeway toll road in Tequila.
There are currently (August 2019) six toll plazas between Guadalajara and Sayulita charging almost $300 pesos total. When the next section of the toll road is finished the price will go up.
I try to leave Guadalajara early in the morning. If you get caught in rush hour it can take extra hours to get out of the city and actually onto the freeway. The 15D freeway heading northwest out of Guadalajara is in great condition and mostly straight. There is one large grade and a few curves but the drive is very easy for the most part.
After you cross into the State of Nayarit and just before the town of Jala, there is an offramp for the freeway heading west. The freeway feels brand new. There are almost no curves, it is paved beautifully, and there are zero potholes. Unfortunately, the first section of the new freeway only goes for 50km and then you have to get back on the two-lane highway from Compostela to Las Varas. Drive slowly through the curves and don’t take chances passing that big truck around blind turns. Take it easy and enjoy the jungle scenery.
There are a number of delicious and humble country restaurants along the route. The place that blew me away is called Ostiones El Vali. The most beautiful collection of oysters, clams, and ceviches that I have tasted in a long time. Check out the full article here.