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 but if you surf then Sayulita is usually near the top of the list.
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 luxurious. I happen to spend a lot of time going from Guadalajara to Sayulita because there is surf out front and a lot of cool restaurants to choose from. You will want to see the beaches up and down the coast but I always love coming back to Sayulita because there is so much to do.
The Roads From Guadalajara to Sayulita
There are two different routes that you can take to get to Sayulita: The freeway that goes around the mountains or the highway that winds over the mountains. The freeway route is much faster but the highway route is spectacularly beautiful. If you have some extra time you may want to consider the highway route just for fun.
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.
The Old Highway to Puerto Vallarta and 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 Bus from Guadalajara to Sayulita
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 Guadalajara 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 buses 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 Vallarta Plus Terminal in 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 and it goes all the way into Sayulita. Tickets currently cost MEX$585 from Guadalajara to Sayulita and there are usually two busses departing each morning. During the weekend and high season, there are more options offered.
One of the advantages of traveling with Vallarta Plus is the free shuttle from the Glorieta Minerva to the Vallarta Plus terminal in Zapopan. The shuttle leaves every hour from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. It will save you at least a hundred pesos in taxi fare.
Primera Plus and ETN have a number of routes going to Rincon de Guayabitos/La Peñita de Jaltemba area but not directly into Sayulita. From Rincon de Guayabitos/La Peñita de Jaltemba you can take the local busses the last 20 miles down the coast to Sayulita. I would only recommend doing this if you were not able to take the direct bus in the morning.
Vallarta Plus does not use the Terminal de Autobuses Sayulita but has a small office across the street where they sell tickets and pick up passengers. The Terminal de Autobuses Sayulita is used by the local buses that stop at all the pueblos between Compostela and Puerto Vallarta. Both bus stops are located on Av. Revolución towards the entrance to the town.
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 pueblos mágicos and beautiful scenery, you could take the old highway through the mountains.
There are currently (August 2019) six toll plazas on the freeway between Guadalajara and Sayulita charging almost $300 pesos total. When the next section of the toll road is finished the price will inevitably 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.