Looking for the best guide to learning to surf in Sayulita, Nayarit?
Sayulita is a destination for surfing. People flock to the warm waters of the Riviera Nayarit to learn how to surf with qualified instructors and advance their skills on good waves. There are plenty of fun things to do for the non-surfing members of the family, the coastal cuisine is delicious, and the beaches are very easy to access. The Sayulita surf scene has it all.
This article is going to look at the surf spots, surf seasons, surf lessons, local culture, amazing accommodations, and how to make the most of it all. People love this part of Mexico for good reason. I’m sure you will too.
I have lived in Mexico since 2009 and I have been surfing Nayarit since 2006. This coast is a part of the reason that I moved to Mexico in the first place. Sayulita is an easy place to fall in love with.
Sayulita Surf Guide: Overview
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, and has created a unique tourist experience.
Artists, musicians, chefs, and creative folks from all over Mexico have decided to make Sayulita home and build something cool. There is a thriving restaurant scene. Small coffee shops and bars set up tables in the street, and there are more boutiques than I could visit in a weekend.
Sayulita is the first thing that comes to mind when people in this part of Mexico think of a surf trip. Nayarit is a warm water tropical paradise and Sayulita is the undisputed capital of surf culture in this part of the Pacific Coast of Mexico.
Sayulita Surf Spots
Maybe it should be just Sayulita surf spot. There is only one place to surf in the town of Sayulita. Sayulita’s main beach is divided in two by a river mouth. That river mouth is the main break in town. The river is constantly depositing rocks, sand, and occasionally some cars to create sand bars and reef break. The best waves break right in front of the river mouth.
The best break is the right that peels off of the river mouth. It is best to surf this at a mid tide or at high tide. At low tide, the shallow water will expose the rocky bottom.
To the west of the main break on the inside sandbar is the area for surf lessons. Local surf instructors will be pushing beginners into waves on big foamy boards all day long.
The left off of the river mouth is not as consistent as the right. The swell direction needs to have a more westerly angle to turn on the left. I have surfed the left more often during the summer months when the hurricane swells are passing through.
It probably isn’t worth flying internationally just to surf this wave. There are a number of great waves in the vicinity. Many of the local surf schools offer day trips to the Punta de Mita area.
The best spots in the region are La Lancha, Punta Burros, San Pancho, Chacala, and San Blas. They all make an excellent day trip. You can surf all day and still be back in Sayulita in time for happy hour or catch the sunset from beachfront bars.
Sayulita is the perfect place to set up a base camp for exploring the nearby beaches.
Surf Spots Near Sayulita
Sayulita Surf Seasons
There used to be a well-defined high season and low season in Sayulita. Snowbirds from Canada make a yearly migration to Mexico and Sayulita takes a lot of them in. There isn’t much of a low season anymore. Sayulita is busy year-round. The weather is better in the winter but the humidity is manageable in the summer. Just be aware that the summer is hurricane season which can divert flights and make travel more difficult.
Sayulita receives swell from both the north and the south which means there are consistent waves year-round. However, those swells need to have a little west in them to enter Sayulita’s fetch window. Swells from the due north are blocked by the Baja Peninsula and swells from the due south are blocked by Punta Sayulita.
The water temperature typically stays between 75 degrees in the winter and 85 degrees in the summer. However, a couple of years ago the water dropped into the high 60s for almost a month. It would be a good idea to have a wet suit jacket or a spring suit in the winter just in case it gets cold. During the summertime, it is important to have a UVA/UVB-resistant rash guard to protect you from the sun if you plan on spending long hours surfing Sayulita.
The rainy season runs from about June to September. While it is really enjoyable to surf during a light rain, it is rather dangerous to surf during a thunderstorm. You don’t want to be in the water when there is lightning.
It doesn’t rain all day during the rainy season unless there is a hurricane nearby. The early morning tends to be clear and a great time to score some waves. The best time to surf in Sayulita is early in the morning. There isn’t as much of a culture of dawn patrol as there is in the uber-crowded breaks in San Diego or Santa Cruz. Plus, Sayulita’s reputation as a party beach means that many folks are sleeping off a hangover.
Hurricane season coincides with the rainy season. Hurricanes create some incredible conditions for advanced surfers. Just be really careful moving around during a storm. You do not want to be on the road when the heavy rain starts. The area is known for landslides and the roads tend to shut down after a hurricane passes.
One of my best friends owns a surf school in Los Angeles and I have spent several years working with him teaching lessons and organizing the books. I know what a professional organization looks like and all the work that goes into training good employees. Wildmex has good people.
In all of my interactions with Wildmex, they have been professional, and fun, and most importantly showed up on time. I have surfed with them on several occasions and rented equipment from time to time.
There is no better place to take surf lessons in Sayulita than with Wildmex.
The shop is just 50 meters from the beach and there are changing rooms if you need to get your suit on or off.
In addition to surfing in Sayulita, they run group trips to La Lancha Beach in Punta Mita and private trips to anywhere in the region. They can arrange bike tours of the jungle, fishing trips, standup paddleboard tours, and snorkeling trips to the Marrieta Islands. It is pretty all-inclusive.
If you are looking to spend a little more time advancing your journey into surfing, Wildmex offers several different surf camps. It is perfect for people who are looking to improve quickly in a short period of time.
The instructors will take you around the region to surf a variety of waves and see different towns but the real benefit is having a ton of different boards to ride.
As a beginner learns to catch their own waves on a soft-top longboard, they will naturally want to feel a turn on a hardbottom, epoxy or fiberglass board. There are big fish-shaped boards with thruster and quad-fin setups. Mid-lengths and fun boards. If the waves are firing, maybe try surfing a standard shortboard. Choosing the right board for the conditions is a big part of catching a lot of waves. You will catch a lot of waves with Wildmex.
There are accommodations for all sorts of travelers from a shared dorm at a local hostel, to basic accommodations, and a pretty nice one.
I guarantee that after seven days of surfing in Sayulita you will be surfed out
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 with 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 tons of surf shops all over Sayulita. The local designs and beach wear is super cool. The place has a lot of style.
Really good quality surf accessories are going to be substantially more expensive than they are in the US or Australia. Anything imported will come at a hefty markup. I recommend buying locally made gifts like clothing, art, coffee, or mezcal. It would probably be better to arrive with reef-safe sunscreen and an extra leash.
Tigre’s Sayulita Surf Center is another great local surf shop that is owned by professional local surfers. They offer surf lessons, surfboard rentals, boat trips, paddle board lessons, and spearfishing adventures.
Quiverito is another cool shop that rents a diverse selection of unique surfboards. Most of the surfboard rental places on the beach have a bunch of foam boards, some beat-up longboards, and some potato chip thrusters. Quiverito has well-maintained longboards, eggs, twin fins, thrusters, and everything in between. They also have some really cool artwork by local Sayulita artists.
A bunch of surf shops will run surf trips out to other parts of the Riviera Nayarit. Punta Mita is the most common trip because it is 30 minutes away they go elsewhere too. If the swell is pumping I recommend heading up to San Blas to surf the points. It really needs to be big to even wake up though.
Where is Sayulita, Nayarit?
Sayulita is located on the Pacific coast of mainland Mexico in the state of Nayarit near the Jalisco border. It is an hour north of the Puerto Vallarta International Airport and four hours west of Guadalajara. My favorite Guadalajara itinerary includes stops in Guadalajara, Tequila, Sayulita, and Puerto Vallarta.
There are loads of surf breaks located a short distance from Sayulita. The Punta Mita area has great surf 30 minutes to the south. The towns to the north hide plenty of fun waves for more experienced surfers.
The Riviera Nayarit is one of the easiest surf trips from the Western US because of direct flights and lots of good waves.
Where To Stay In Sayulita
Best Airports For Sayulita And The Riviera Nayarit
Puerto Vallarta International Airport is one hour away and has direct flights to numerous airports all over North America.
The Guadalajara International Airport is four hours away. I have taken a number of friends on a week-long Guadalajara/Tequila/Sayulita tour that is pretty cool. You fly into Guadalajara and out of Puerto Vallarta.
Puerto Vallarta to Sayulita Airport Transfers
The best option to get to Sayulita is to rent a car and drive. It would be a shame to come all this way and not visit a few of the small towns along the Riviera Nayarit.
Some of the best surf spots in the region are not easily accessible by public transportation. If the swell is pumping, you may want to drive up to San Blas.
If there is no surf at all, it might be fun to take a boat trip out to the Marieta Islands. Having a car rental makes that all possible.
I recommend using Discover Rental Cars because the insurance pricing is upfront. It is really common to book rental cars in Mexico for ridiculously low prices online only to find out the insurance is significantly more than the rental. Discover has good insurance at a responsible price. Take then into considerations when you are booking a car.
If you will be traveling with surfboards then hiring a private driver is the best option.
Travelers looking to save a little bit of money can leave the Puerto Vallarta Airport by crossing the pedestrian bridge on the south side of the airport terminal. It is a five-minute walk to the Uber and Taxi pickup zone.
These taxis and Ubers don’t have the extra permits to enter the airport property so the passengers have to leave the airport to save a little money. I wouldn’t recommend this option if you are traveling with longboard surfboards.
The cheapest way to get to Sayulita from the Puerto Vallarta airport is to take the local bus. The Compostela bus line stops at all the pueblos between Puerto Vallarta and Sayulita so it is not fast but it is cheap.
To use the bus, one must leave the airport walking across the pedestrian bridge to the bus stop directly across the street.
Look for the buses labeled Compostela. They will have all the stops written on the window. It usually says, “Puerto Vallarta, Mezcales, Bucerias, Sayulita.” The bus from the Puerto Vallarta Airport to Sayulita costs MEX$55 pesos and takes about an hour and a half to reach Sayulita.
This bus is very popular and tends to be mostly full. It will be a standing room only for much of the day. I don’t recommend this option if you are traveling with a lot of luggage or board bags as it is inconsiderate to other riders.
Buses come every 20 minutes.
Crowds and Localism in Sayulita
Sayulita is no secret and the break tends to get crowded at peak times. Everyone in the region thinks that Sayulita is a great place to hang out on the weekend and the place is packed.
It has become incredibly difficult to find parking. Sometimes they use the baseball field as a parking lot but that isn’t an option during baseball season.
Given the number of surf schools and ease of entry into the lineup, there are a lot of inexperienced surfers. Surfboards go flying in all directions when a set wave rolls through.
While there is a hierarchy to the localism it is not enforced in the same way it is enforced at Stockton Avenue in Santa Cruz or Newbreak in San Diego. The locals will get the first choice of waves if there is scarcity.
The children of the transplants are typically the ones with the most to prove and try to exert their dominance over the traveling surfers.
When it is really pumping there are waves for everyone. It is when the waves are small or there is a long time in between the sets that tempers can flare and patience grows scarce. Those are the best times to get in the car and go surf something with a little more room to spread out.
As a traveling surfer, it pays to be patient when you first paddle out. You have to see who is catching all the waves and who can’t stand up.
A good indicator is how strong of a paddler each person in the lineup is. The person that can see a wave on the outside and put themselves in the right position to be deepest on the rideable section of the wave probably knows what they are doing.
The person who sits and lets the wave come to them probably doesn’t catch as many waves as the first example.
Where to Eat and Drink in Sayulita
I love La Rustica. I think they have great food, good service, and I love the location. They have one of the best pizzas in the region.
When it comes to tacos, you can’t go wrong with Luna’s Cocina Mexicana.
On the way into town, there is a spot called Carnitas el Frank. This was a little more local and less touristy. El Itacate has really good high-end tacos and some exotic stuff like octopus and a lot of different salsas.
You can’t say you have been to Sayulita unless you get a choco banana (chocolate-covered frozen banana) and a cup of coffee in the plaza.
La Katrina does a great bar menu with burgers, ribs, and northern-style Mexican food. They have one of the best selections of tequila you will find in all of Nayarit and a modern cocktail program.
If you would like to do a tasting and possibly take a bottle home with you then the Sayulita Wine Shop is a must-visit. There are some regional, specialty products in there that most people will not see outside of Mexico. I always take a bottle of tequila or wine back to the United States. They make the best gifts from Mexico.
Things to do in Sayulita, Mexico
When you are not looking for that perfect wave there are still a lot of things to do. Sayulita has a unique style and there are tons of great boutiques for those who enjoy shopping.
Yoga has become wildly popular and the jujitsu school has really nice facilities. There are tropical hikes and secluded beaches galore. Monkey Mountain is one of the most popular hikes in the area that has some great views.
Punta de Mita is the easiest point to catch a boat tour to the Marieta Islands. Tour operators are setting up ATV rides, zip lines, and horseback riding tours.
There is a ton of stuff to do but most people are going to focus their attention primarily on the beach.
Sayulita Surf Travel FAQ
Is Sayulita a good place to learn how to surf?
Yes, Sayulita is an excellent place to learn how to surf. The waves are small or medium-sized much of the year, the water is warm, and there are tons of surf camps. The surf camps shuttle their students up and down the coast looking for the best waves for their ability levels.
Is Sayulita safe?
Yes, Sayulita is safe. The level of violent crime is insignificant compared to most cities in Mexico. There is some petty theft but no armed robbery. You have to be really careful leaving valuables in the car when it is parked but nobody is going to take things from you at gunpoint.
What is the best time of day to surf in Sayulita?
Early in the morning is the best time of day to go surfing. Both the crowds and the wind are best in the early morning.
Sayulita can get crowded but there isn’t a culture of early morning dawn patrols like in the uber-crowded shores of Los Angeles. People like to go out at night and put a few beers back. The bar scene is a part of the local culture.
Can you surf a shortboard in Sayulita?
Yes, there are plenty of people who ride shortboards in Sayulita but on average, they don’t get as many waves as the longboarders. The waves at Sayulita is not fast and punchy. When it is small, it is a lot of work to get into with a shortboard. Shortboarders better be in really good shape and know how to move about in the lineup. There are plenty of longboarders and they have a huge advantage when it comes to scoring the set waves.
Final Thoughts On The Sayulita Surf Scene
Sayulita is always a great option. I will be the first to admit that the growth of the town has outpaced the infrastructure but things are getting caught up. But I love it here.
There was a wastewater issue in 2019 that people are still talking about to this day. That has long since been taken care of and it was the result of a construction problem while building a modern system.
The main attraction will always be the beach but my family also has their favorite things to do in Sayulita that don’t involve the beach. That is what makes Sayulita a great spot to vacation is the diversity of options. There aren’t many places this side of Puerto Vallarta with so many bars and restaurants. Everybody can find something they love.