Walking is the best option if you are staying in the flat town area. Bicycles are available for rent but are used mostly for trail rides. Golf carts are very popular as you can easily go anywhere in the Sayulita area (for $65/day). Taxis are plentiful and not too expensive, usually about $5 in town. A rental car is only for those who feel they must “explore” outside of Sayulita. Not recommended! You will lose a lot of time in rental offices and in return, have to find parking places, need to drive with unfamiliar traffic and traffic laws and you probably won’t use it much. Only if you plan to surf a lot in the Punta Mita area is a rental car a good idea.
Sayulita is a small town
There is no place not within walking distance
Sayulita is a small town, but steep hills and a mixed variety of streets—paved, cobbled, or just plain dirt roads–make getting around mildly challenging at times. But not really. There is no place not within walking distance, although hilltops and distant jungle outposts can seem a long ways off, especially at night. Hardy, sturdy, determined-to-walk-everywhere folks will find it entertaining, especially if they book a rental on the far edge of town, especially one that is up on top of a tall hill.
The town consists of several “named” neighborhoods which encircle downtown and the town beach. North Sayulita, Nanzal, Gringo Hill, and so forth. Generally speaking, if you are staying downtown or anywhere within a few blocks of downtown, you will not need or want a vehicle here unless you plan to go on surf trips or otherwise exploring. If you are staying farther out, say, on the beach or the flats on the north side of town or at the south end of Revolucion, you might consider renting a bike, or possibly a golf cart.
Shopping can be fun with a golf cart to get around town
Finally, if you are anywhere up high, in view country atop Nanzal or Gringo Hill, for most people a golf cart is just about a necessity if you aren’t using a rental car. Going down those steep streets and stairs isn’t bad, but going back up, especially after a long day of surfing, eating, and drinking, carrying kids, groceries, surfboards, umbrellas, and all the other stuff, can be brutal.
This is where you’ll thank the golf cart gods for their wonderful little vehicles. Whatever mode of transit, once you are downtown or at the beach, you’ll walk everywhere, and love it; these streets were made for walking, and most days, it seems like everybody in town, tourists and locals alike, is out and about, on foot, in a constantly entertaining parade. Slow down to a stroll, and enjoy the show.
The more muscular (and louder and more intrusive) version of the golf cart is the ATV, or all terrain vehicle, which you will see many people driving around Sayulita, often at unsafe speeds. They are noisy and obnoxious and tons of fun, especially if you are a teenage boy (of whatever age) with a load of testosterone boiling in your bloodstream. If you want to try one of these, a few places have them available for rent—not for everyday, around-town use, but for guided trail rides. Please—do NOT ride them on the beach, as it is against the law, bad for the environment, and totally annoying to everyone you rumble past on the beach.
Biking in Sayulita
There are plentiful bike trails around Sayulita
Several places around town offer bicycles for rent, and this is a great option if you’re staying a bit out of town but not necessarily way up high in the hills. There are fat-tired bikes for low-tide beach-riding, single gear bikes for riding the flats, and plenty of sturdy multi-gear mountain bikes for those who might want to attack the trails that carve over and through the hills all around town. With their shock absorbers and other refinements, mountain bikes are also cushy for in-town cruising—Sayulita’s streets are a mixed lot, some paved, some cobbled, some dirt–and cobblestones, particularly, are hard to take on a bike with skinny tires and no shocks. In any case, whatever your biking style, you’ll probably find something you’ll enjoy riding right here in town.
Horseback riding is a great family or group activity
There are several operators in Sayulita with horses and guides available for trail rides and beach rides of varying lengths. Given the many reasonably well-maintained dirt roads and trails, as well as the beautiful, often empty beaches north and south of town, climbing on a horse and hitting the trail is a fine choice. Most of the rentable horses around town are used to inexperienced riders, and so will be very patient with those of you who don’t know the difference between English and Western riding styles (all the horses for rent in Sayulita are equipped with Western-style saddles), or how to say “Giddyup” or “Whoa!” in Spanish. The horses are also familiar with children of all ages, so if your kids are pleading with you to let them ride a horse for the first time ever, what could be cooler than doing so on a jungle trail that leads to a deserted beach?
If you’re of the English riding persuasion, during high season you can zip up to San Pancho–$10 in a taxi–and sign up for an English-style equestrian course at the La Patrona Polo Club. Or go on practice or match days and watch the polo ponies, and their riders, at play. La Patrona is a world-class operation, and the restaurant that overlooks the playing field offers world class dining, should you want to indulge while watching a match.
If you should happen to find yourself margarita’d up to the point of no return, and your rental house on the hill looks far, far away, twinkling up there among the stars, and you are too wasted to drive the golf cart, play it safe and take a taxi. There are always cabs parked on the edge of the plaza, and there is nowhere in Sayulita they won’t take you for five bucks or so. Cabs are also handy for one way walks—say, you hike the beach and jungle trails all the way up to San Pancho, and the walk back sounds waaaay too far, especially if night is falling and the cold beers are calling. Well, hop in a cab and cruise home for ten bucks. You can also book cabs for surf trips (many of the local taxi vans have roof racks) or visits to Punta Mita. And of course a spacious, air-conditioned cab is the most comfortable (and priciest) way to and from the airport. If you do choose to cab from the airport, ask the driver to stop at Mega so you can get your groceries on the way to town—the food shops here are quaint and cute and offer the basics and then some, but Mega is a real supermarket.
We don’t recommend rental cars, except for hard-core surfers who need to chase waves all over the region, and dedicated explorers who want to use Sayulita as a base for mapping the territory. If you fit into one of those categories, we suggest setting your rental up in advance (you’ll get a better rate), and if you’re here for the waves make sure you get a car with enough space and/or racks for your surfboards, paddleboards, and whatever other gear you have.
Don’t let the rental company guys talk you into buying more insurance than you need. In our experience, the only company that doesn’t do this is Gecko Rentacar, based in Bucerias, a company we recommend for that reason and also because they have surf racks and even surfboards available in packages along with their cars. They will pick you up at the airport and bring you to Bucerias to get the car, should you rent from them, so don’t let the location affect your decision.
If you do choose to rent a car we strongly recommend obeying the at times annoyingly slow speed limits, since gringos in rental cars are an obvious target for the “transito” police who love to pull you over and write you a ticket for speeding. Or they will wait for you to ask if you can pay the ticket on the spot, which is another way of saying pay a bribe, or “mordida” as it is called here.
We bring this up mostly because the speed limits, which are in kilometers on the signs here, are really, really low. Hwy 200 is a fairly major four-lane road, and even in those long stretches with no traffic lights, the limit is usually 60 kph, which is around 40 mph–a bit of a crawl on an open highway. So you will be tempted to speed. If you do, and if you should get pulled over, and you don’t want the guy to write you a ticket and take your driver’s license and thereby force you to go into Las Juntas, near the airport, to pay the fine and get your license back, you’ll have to pay the mordida, and in doing so, do your bit for the rich tradition of Mexican corruption. Seriously, these cops are way underpaid, and one can hardly blame them for hitting on what they see as wealthy gringos for a little extra cash.
Often the transitos have no intention of writing a ticket, they simply want their mordida, and if you insist on getting the ticket instead of paying the bribe, you might just be sent on your way with neither ticket received nor bribe paid. But you never know, and if you find yourself in that position, you have to play it by ear and figure it out on the spot. Clearly, the easier course is to go slow—but not too slow, for you can get pulled over and possibly ticketed for that as well.
Other driving notes: you get over to the right, or lateral, to turn left, in most but not all intersections in Mexico. Drivers here often use their blinkers to signal not that they are turning left, but that it is OK and safe if you want to pass them. Only sometimes they do mean to signal that they are turning left, and that uncertainty can occasionally be unsettling, as you can imagine.
This is not to make it seem as if driving in Mexico—between Sayulita and Puerto Vallarta, anyway—is somehow fraught with danger. It is not. It’s a piece of cake, except at night, when the combination of alcohol and macho attitude can send some male drivers into aggressive overdrive. As a general rule, we do not recommend driving after dark in Mexico, except around town, where everybody goes slow.
Finally: there is at least one car rental office in Sayulita now, so you can rent a car right here in town. If you’re here and getting restless and don’t want to get on the bus, there’s no need to go all the way back to the airport or Bucerias to get a rental. Your choice is limited, but at least you have one.