The Mexican state of Nayarit is one of the best locations for intermediate and beginner level surf trips. While the pros flock to Puerto Escondido and Pascuales during summer, the waves there are consequential and rarely drop below 10ft. The coast of Nayarit on the other hand trades wave size for length of ride. The Riviera Nayarit is on the north side of the Bahia de Banderas, stretching from Nuevo Vallarta to well beyond San Blas. The Nayarit surf scene is well developed with plenty of waves, surf shops and accomodations for every budget.
The summertime south swell are shaded from the direct south (180 degrees) and likes a swell with a little more west into (around 210 degrees). Wintertime swells that come from the northwest are going to light up the beaches of Nayarit much more frequently than the souths will. There are a number of world class point breaks all within an hour of the Puerto Vallarta International Airport.
Puerto Vallarta is one of my favorite cities but unfortunately it sits in the middle of a huge bay, the Bahia de Banderas, and sees very little surf. However, the Puerto Vallarta International airport is right on the border of the state of Jalisco and the state of Nayarit. Your best bet is to head north to Nayarit and set up camp in the Pueblo Magico know as Sayulita. From Sayulita you can take day trips to the other breaks in the area and still make it back for dinner, drinks and entertainment in Sayulita. If you have a little extra time, or the swell goes flat, you might want to spend some time in Puerto Vallarta. The Zona Romantica is the old town that screams classic Mexican beach resort. Elizabeth Taylor made Puerto Vallarta glamorous when her then boyfriend, Richard Burton, was filming the 1964 classic Night of the Iguana. The Zona Romantica and nearby Mismaloya are worth a visit if the surf forecast is looking rather dull.
Sayulita used to be a small fishing village situated in front of a decent wave. Nowadays it is an international community with home prices that are denominated in dollars. There is a thriving restaurant and bar scene, plenty of surf shops for ding repair, lessons and rentals; and you can surf out front. 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.
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.
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 Casa Cereza was a particularly good deal.
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.
San Pancho (San Francisco)
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.
While there are plenty of surf shops around town the waves our front tend to be beach break close outs. Beginning and intermediate level surfers will enjoy the beaches of Sayulita and Punta Mita much more than those of San Pancho.
The restaurant and cafe scene in San Pancho is vibrant. The streets are lines with al fresco dining options and excellent desserts. Mexicolote chocolatier has an incredible variety of hand crafted products made from the cocoa bean. The truffles and hot chocolate are decadent, and the oils and body lotions make great gifts. They will give you a full class on cocoa production in the South of Mexico and all the products that are made out of it.
Punta Mita refers to the peninsula on the northern edge of Bahia de Banderas and the town next to the Four Seasons resort. There is a somewhat fickle longboard break out front called Playa Anclote, but your best bet is to grab a boat from the cooperative and check out the better breaks on the northwest side of the point.
An ideal longboard wave with a spectacular beach that is perfect for camping out all day. The wave at Punta Burros has a shorter left and a longer right. It is not uncommon to score rides longer than 100 meters. There will be guys on shortboards, longboards, funboards and sponges, but the shape of the wave is best suiter to a longboard most days. Punta Burros is tucked into the northern rim of the Bahia de Banderas and likes swells that have a little more west in them. If the swell is coming from due south the southern tip of the Bahia de Banderas, Cabo Corrientes, will block most of the swell energy. The bottom is a mixture of smooth sedimentary rock and some sand so booties are not necessary.
Burros is directly in front of the Palladium resort but there is a long stretch of secluded beach that is open to the public. As you are coming down highway 200 look for the Mictlan Surf Shop and head down the road towards the Palladium. About 20 meters before gate to the Palladium there is a little dirt turnoff for the beach parking. Follow the trail down to the beach. There is one relatively steep part of the trail but you can also walk around it you choose. The Palladium is going to run you around US$200 per night if you want to stay in front of the break. They have plenty of equipment to lend their guests with competent instructors and lessons. I like to stay in Sayulita and make day trips to the breaks in this area. Just make sure to bring an umbrella for the sun and some water. Also, don’t forget to pack your trash. You should get in the habit of picking up a couple pieces of trash every time you surf.
Chacala and Caleta: The left hand point break at Playa Caleta is one of the best breaks in the region. This is for a little more advanced surfer because of the sharp volcanic rock bottom that is covered with 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 on 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 four wheel drive. 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 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 And Stoners 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 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. 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.