It would be a stretch to call the Mexican beach enclave of Sayulita overdeveloped, but there’s no question that it’s been discovered: The funky Pacific coast village north of Puerto Vallarta remains a respite from reality, but its cafes, surf shops, and public beach now crawl with faux-hippie tourists.
Our advice: When you get to Sayulita, keep driving. Just three miles farther north along the Riviera Nayarit you’ll find San Francisco — or as it’s known by locals, San Pancho — which is a pretty good approximation of what Sayulita was like when it was first discovered by surfers back in the 1960s. In other words, there’s not much there: Kick back in a hammock, eat really well, do battle with some rough waves (the surf is stronger here than down the coast), or simply wander on a gorgeous and virtually empty wide sandy beach where horses gather to drink from a freshwater lagoon. Pretty much the only gringos you’ll meet are the artist or musician types who came for a week and never got around to leaving.
You can find tiny boutique hotels like Casa San Pancho or Cielo Rojo, but there are no resorts here. Instead, the lush jungle serves as a backdrop for local homes for rent, some with pools, most with balconies. Buy fresh produce — cucumbers, tomatoes, giant white onions — off a farmer’s truck and prepare meals at your house, or head to the small beachside village for delicious carne asada, coconut shrimp, or chilaquiles at La Ola Rica and Maria’s. If you’re feeling adventurous, take a jungle hike to an even better beach, or get a local fisherman to take you out to watch whales breach. Of course, it may just be a matter of time before San Pancho begins to resemble its neighbor down the coast. So enjoy it now. And when you return, just drive a little farther north. –Ari Bendersky