by David Simmonds
With more than 6,000 miles of beaches,
you could spend years exploring all the possibilities in Mexico –
searching for that perfect place, the one where you could maybe spend a
few years, grow your hair, shuffle around daily in shorts and sandals, take up
And, since I=m
overlooked and missed a few fine settlements in my 30-year search for what is
commonly called paradise, I don=t
neglected many of them. One thing I know for sure is this – Mexico=s
west coast between just south of Mazatlán and all the way to Zihuatanenjo is
recommend that you look for your town.
I know that many of you are partial to
the Yucatán coast with its incomparable turquoise sea and fascinating Maya
culture. There is surely much to like there, but I see a future of too many
people invading too few miles of beach. That=s
good for tourism, but it’s not where I=d
like to hang my hammock.
And then, more and more of you are
finding the mystery and remoteness of the Baja peninsula (hugging the amazing
Sea of Cortez) a perfect hideaway. If I weren’t so partial to the tropics,
mangos and natural shade, Baja might be my first choice. So, I have to stick
with the west coast of the mainland, and more specifically, the villages just
north of Puerto Vallarta, in the adjoining state of Nayarit.
of Mexico’s smallest states, it is bounded by Sinaloa, Durango, Jalisco,
Zacatecas and the Pacific Ocean. Nearly half of the state’s 900,000
inhabitants live in the inland capital of Tepic, home to a growing population
of expats who enjoy the near-perfect climate and relatively slow pace of life.
area was originally populated by the Cora and Huichole natives who dominated
the majestic mountains of the Western Sierra Madre. After the fall of the
Toltec Empire, the Coras broadened their empire, expanding into present-day
Zacatecas. In the sixteenth-century the leader of the empire was King Nayarit
who established an independent Cora kingdom.
1592, Friar Miguel de Uranz ventured to the area. Born in Jerez of a Castellón
father and an Indian mother, Uranz established a friendship with King Nayarit.
He gave Nayarit a sword, a letter of recommendation, and made arrangements
that the King be baptized and be given the name Francisco. In return, Nayarit
relinquished no land grants nor gave any aid to the Spanish. In time, the
entire mountain region came to be known by the name Nayarit, which is now the
name of the state.
Nayarit grows more varieties of tropical fruits in the lush landscape than any
other state, in addition to being the leading tobacco grower in the country,
accounting for 75% of national production. Mexico’s largest tobacco firms,
Compania Tabacalera Mexicana and La Modema are headquartered here.
The many green valleys carved into the mountains reminds me of Hawaii, with the mostly rocky coast blessed with many lagoons and sandy bays. Best of all, it hasn’t been overrun with tourist-oriented development and remains much as I found it thirty years ago, when I first drove my old VW bus down from San Diego during summer break from college with my old childhood buddy, Tom Dawson, now a Tempe, Arizona, dentist.
tropical fruits include avocado, mango, papaya, banana, tamarind, melons,
coconuts and citrus. Sugarcane, corn, beans, tomatoes, and chiles are also
cultivated in abundance throughout the region. Gold, silver and lead are mined
and processed and account for over 30% of the state’s commerce.
main fisheries are centered around the San Blas area where aquaculture has
been introduced to great success in the production of oysters and shrimp.
largely remote and inaccessible mountains are home to the 20,000 Huichol and
10,000 lesser known Cora. The Huichol have, more than any other indigenous
group, maintained their culture, dress and religious practices. Peyote is
still used in that regard, seemingly without government intervention. Time
spent in these native cultures illuminate the sharp contrast with the tourist
mecca of Puerto Vallarta, just a day’s drive away.
you drive north from Puerto Vallarta, shortly beyond the airport, you pass
into Nayarit, where you wind your watch back one hour (at Río Ameca), the one
on your wrist as well as the one between your ears. You soon arrive in Bucerias,
always a nice diversion from the mania that has become Vallarta, but now maybe
a little too close to be considered out of the way. It does, however, have
several miles of beautiful sandy beach, populated with various palapa
seafood restaurants well-stocked with cold cervezas. Reasonably priced
hotels can be easily located, as well as ocean-front vacation homes. But
again, it’s a little too close to PV to be one of my favorite options.
(Note: I still like PV very much. You just have to understand that it is now a
large city with all that implies)
north a few more miles brings you to the Punta Mita turnoff, rapidly on
its way to complete meltdown as the developers are lined up, backhoes in hand.
I saw an aerial view of the new Four Seasons resort out on the point
stretching from one side to the other. Others are sure to follow. Oh well,
let’s keep rolling a little farther north on Hwy 200 and at a turn-off just
22 miles from PV airport you will see a sign for Sayulita, which translated
from an ancient dialect means “unpack your bags and buy property, now.”
term “undiscovered” no longer applies to this idyllic little town,
although I am surprised it hasn’t changed more since I first rolled in a
quarter century ago. It still has the prettiest little bay accessible by auto
I have had the pleasure of camping on and the locals don=t
seem too irritated by the gringo population that has bought up some of the
better lots. You often hear Sayulita compared to the PV of 30 years ago, but I
was in PV back then and it was bigger and more developed than Sayulita is
town is located some two miles down the road from the turn-off at the highway,
putting you out of earshot from the buses and trucks that haul cargo up and
down the coast. This is a key ingredient for any settlement that carries the
paradise reputation. The only loud noises you want to hear are those of the
wind and sea during a seasonal chubasco. Or maybe the trumpet from a mariachi
band on Saturday night.
I would say that the hills surrounding the town will act as a natural deterrent to overdevelopment, but it hasn’t slowed down PV, where the hills will someday be completely covered with homes. For now, the new construction in Sayulita is tasteful and manageable, with most homes blessed with incredible views to the sea.
life around town is slow-paced unless you want it otherwise. They seem content
with the basic necessities with the knowledge that Vallarta is nearby enough
to reach on short notice if you just have to have a latte at a cybercafé. Of
course, the convenience of being close to a full service resort town will
someday also contribute to the overflow growth/destruction – sooner or
later. But for now, it’s nearly perfect.
the same time I first went to Sayulita, so did Adrienne Adams (Tía Adriana),
also hailing from the San Diego area. Looking for a radical change from her
life as a real estate broker, she decided to make the move. The beauty of the
village convinced her she could do this, although she had no real plan in
place other than the belief it would all work out. The still in-progress
result is Tía Adriana’s Bed & Breakfast & Hillside Retreats.
Located a short block from the main beach, the three story brick B&B has
evolved into the perfect retreat, especially for first-timers, where Tía can
entertain and advise you as if she’s known you for years. First-timers tend
to become regulars, as evidenced by the people I talked to on a recent visit.
All of the very comfortable rooms are filled with art, much of it provided by
her talented daughter, Lynn, who specializes in hand-painted tiles.
spent her morning recently showing me around town and the nearly completed
hillside addition to her operation. The Mediterranean-style multilevel
structure is where she lives on one level, with the remainder available for
room rentals. The view is incredible and the open air design provides a “one
with nature” feel that is appropriate year-round in Sayulita, even in the
bit more rustic in design, but heavy on sporting activities, is Papa’s
Palapa’s, on the beach and just around the corner from Adriana’s. With a
nice, rolling surf break just offshore, Papa’s rents surf kayaks as well as
offering fishing, kayak tours, surfing expeditions, snorkeling, jungle hiking
and mountain biking along miles of untouched tropical beaches. Each rental
unit has two levels with queen size beds on each level, and a full bath with
shower on the lower level. The upper level has ocean and mountain views, again
with plenty of fresh air.
restaurants provide a good variety of fare, although fresh fish is the
predominant option. I have eaten at the ocean-front palapa restaurant,
El Costeno, several times, and have always had terrific meals. Fried oysters
are the best, if they have them. Just south on the beach is the more elegant
Don Pedro’s, serving very good Mediterranean tropical cuisine – and the
nightlife in town.
three miles farther north past Sayulita is the turnoff for San Francisco,
another small village that hasn’t seen the gringo influx that Sayulita has.
If Sayulita is sleepy, San Francisco is in a coma, which isn’t so bad,
actually. And if you ask any of the locals anything about San Francisco, they
may or may not respond, since they call it San Pancho. In the 1970’s,
President Echeverria decided to turn the town into a model village/resort
experiment, but, in spite of building an ocean front villa for himself on the
edge of town, the plan never materialized. (In Mexico??)
of the more popular coastal towns, large and small, are situated on protected
bays (Pto. Vallarta, Zihuatanejo, Acapulco, Barra de Navidad), shielded from
the strong Pacific waves. San Francisco isn’t, which may ensure its relative
anonymity for years to come. Its present economy is centered on mango
production, selling beers and tacos to the surfers who come for the waves, and
as the host town for the neighboring resort, Costa Azul. As a matter of fact,
in a look around town, I couldn’t find any other hotels.
Costa Azul is advertised as catering to eco-tourism and adventure travel, but seems equally attractive as a place to do nothing but eat, drink and lie in a hammock. I have talked to several people who have stayed there and each of them enjoyed their time immensely. There were especially good reviews of the various activities offered – sailing, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, horseback riding, surfing, fishing and diving.
hotel grounds are very nice without being at all intrusive to its surroundings.
The open air palapa restaurant serves excellent food as well as providing
a lively meeting place to meet others over an adult beverage or two. They offer
several different room packages focusing on various activities, including a
honeymoon package where one day a guide takes the two of you to an offshore
island, unloads you, a picnic and gear, then splits for several hours while you,
presumably, get to know your new life partner in nature. Which sounds like
either a great idea, or possibly an eco-nightmare, depending on the...elements.
night, if you’re still married, a candlelit champagne dinner is served for you
on the beach. The five nights in the honeymoon villa, participation in all
adventure and eco-tours, all meals, beer, wine and taxes runs $1,200 per couple.
Which is really a pretty good deal if you’ve checked prices for similar offers
these days. They also offer a Kids Adventure Package, an Adventure Package, a
Surfer Package (Corky Carroll Surf School), and an American Package, as well as
room-only rates which start at $75US per night.
is a very nice place and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a resort
different from the traditional Acapulco-esque highrise.
Adriana’s Bed and Breakfast & Hillside Hideaways
and fax: 011 52 327 50192
free from U.S. and Canada: 1-888-793-3673
through October in San Diego call: (760) 632-7716, fax: (760) 632-8585
Palapas and Sayulita Properties (private home rentals)
011 52 327-50282, Fax: 011 52 327-50110
U.S. and Canada: 1-800-899-4167
Sayulita Real Estate
011 52 327-50230
Azul Adventure Resort
U.S. and Canada: 1-800-365-7613
Call for seasonal and special rates