Most European visitors will need to change planes in Mexico City for the one hour flight to Puerto Vallarta on Aeromexico or one of several other companies which fly this route. From Canada there are scheduled flights from Vancouver, Ontario and Montreal as well as charter flights from all major cities. From the United States: Alaska, United, American, Frontier, Delta, U.S. Airways and Virgin America all fly to Puerto Vallarta. Gateways are Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Phoenix, Denver, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta and New York.
Getting to Sayulita from Canada or the US
Getting to Sayulita from the US or Canada is as easy as hopping on a plane in a frozen northern city, knocking back a few cocktails or beers, a book, or a nap, and getting off the plane in Puerto Vallarta 2 or 3 or 5 hours later, in the tropics, in the sun, in the land of languor, in what feels like a different world. There are direct flights to Puerto Vallarta from nearly a dozen cities, as shown on the map, above. Flights are frequent and reasonably priced, although the airlines have cut back on the number of flights in recent years, and in some cases raised prices. Competition sometimes shaves ticket prices to as low as $275 for a Puerto Vallarta low-season round-trip from
the departure gateways of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas, Phoenix, or Houston.
Although only a few airlines fly directly to Puerto Vallarta from the northern United States and Canada, many charters do. In locales near Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto, Montréal, Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and New York, consult a travel agent for charter flight options. Be aware that charter reservations, which often require fixed departure and return dates and provide minimal cancellation refunds, decrease your flexibility. If available charter choices are un-satisfactory, then you might choose to begin your vacation with a connecting flight to one of the Puerto Vallarta gateways listed above.
The arrivals terminal gets busy like this every afternoon in high season
From Europe, Latin America and Australia
A few airlines fly across the Atlantic directly to Mexico City, where easy Puerto Vallarta connections are available via VivaAerobus, Copa, and Aeroméxico. These include Lufthansa, which connects directly from Frankfurt, and Aeroméxico, which connects directly from Paris and Madrid. From Latin America, Aeroméxico connects directly with Mexico City, customarily with São Paulo, Brazil; Santiago, Chile; Lima, Peru; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Bogota, Colombia. They also connect directly with Guatemala City, San Jose in Costa Rica, San Pedro Sula in Honduras, and San Salvador in El Salvador. A number of other Latin American carriers also fly directly to Mexico City.
Very few flights cross the Pacific directly to Mexico, but Japan Airlines connects Tokyo to Mexico City via Los Angeles or Dallas. More commonly, travelers from Australasia transfer at New York, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, or Los Angeles for Puerto Vallarta.
Cabs, rental cars, and tour group and hotel drivers congregate at the airport
Arriving in Puerto Vallarta
Arriving in Puerto Vallarta, you’ll be welcomed into a recently expanded and updated international airport terminal, with all the amenities. Here, you’ll need some time to go through immigration and customs (especially in high season, when several flights often arrive within minutes of each other) so if someone is meeting you at the airport, take that into account. You might also take the time to get cash from an airport cash machine, as the cash machines in Sayulita charge higher fees and don’t let you withdraw as much cash as do those in the airport. Incidentally, the most cost-efficient way to get money in Mexico is to withdraw pesos from your American bank account using a debit card—you get the bank exchange rate doing this, while money changers almost always offer a lower rate.
The entrance to Puerto Vallarta’s international airport
Cash on hand
Also, assuming you are coming to Sayulita for a week or more, you should probably withdraw the maximum amount, usually 5000 pesos (roughly $400 at current rates, subject to change), since you are charged the same fee whether you withdraw less or more money. It’s good to have cash on hand in Sayulita, as many businesses do not take credit cards, and some that do pass the fees charged by the card companies along to their customers. Once you get through customs, get your cash, get out of your cold weather clothes and into your sunglasses and sunscreen, you’re ready to head to Sayulita.
The terminal has some snazzy new eating and drinking spots
Sayulita is about 22 miles (36 km) north of the Puerto Vallarta airport. From the airport you will cross under the main highway in front of the airport (the ONLY highway in Puerto Vallarta) in a U-turn to head north. If you are renting a car they will take you to their lot which is already on the northbound side of the highway. Drive north in the direction to Tepic.
After approximately twenty minutes you will pass through the town of Bucerias and in a few miles more you pass the turnoff to Punta Mita.
Shortly after the Punta Mita turnoff, the highway changes to a two-lane road and heads up and over a beautiful jungle covered mountain with lots of curves. Watch for animals grazing along the road and slow moving vehicles. You will pass signs for several small villages.
At the village of San Ignacio, a mile or so before the Sayulita turnoff, you’ll find MANY speed bumps. Continue another kilometer (kilometer marker 123) and, at the Pemex gasoline station, you’ll see the turnoff to Sayulita.
At the Pemex gasoline station, you’ll see the turnoff to Sayulita
Sayulita’s somewhat heavy-handed new entray arch
If you don’t have too much luggage the bus is a good option. It is a funky, Mexican bus that will give you a real taste of Mexican culture and only costs 30 pesos from the airport bus stop right in front of the arrivals area on the highway. To catch the bus from the airport, cross over the highway using the pedestrian bridge. Look for the name “Sayulita” written with a white marker pen on the windshield of the bus.
You’ll need 30 pesos per person for the driver. Buses normally arrive every 20 minutes. The 22-mile bus ride from Puerto Vallarta to Sayulita takes approximately 1 hour.
Look for the name “Sayulita” written with a white marker pen on the windshield
From the Puerto Vallarta international airport
From the Puerto Vallarta international airport, you’ll drive or bus north on Hwy Mex 200. Sayulita is about 22 miles (36 km) north of the Puerto Vallarta airport. Upon exiting the airport follow the signs for Compostela and Tepic. In a rental car (there are plenty of big name rental cars available here, but you will have done better to book this in advance) or cab (500-700 pesos from the airport to Sayulita) you will cross under the highway in a U-turn to head north. If you choose to take the bus (25 pesos, around $2), take the pedestrian bridge over the highway from the airport, and catch a bus that has Sayulita, among other towns, scrawled on its windshield.
Heading north on Hwy 200, Sayulita-bound from the airport
A bit of advice
A bit of advice: if you don’t mind a short hike with your luggage but don’t want to ride the bus, walk over the pedestrian bridge and take a taxi on the other side of the highway instead of from the airport terminal, and it should cost you about half of what you would pay for the same cab ride from the terminal. Obviously the bus is far cheaper, but will take 15 or 20 minutes longer than the roughly 40-minute cab ride, and it will deliver you to a spot on the edge of Sayulita rather than in the center of town.
Hwy 200 northbound, with signs for towns en route to Sayulita
If you’re coming from Puerto Vallarta
If you’re coming from Puerto Vallarta rather than the airport, there are several stops on the lateral road alongside the highway where you can catch a local bus to Sayulita.
Another piece of advice: if you are driving a rental car, take it slow coming out of the airport. The local traffic police, called transitos, often set up speed traps just north of the airport, knowing full well that just-arrived, excited tourists are very, very anxious to get to Sayulita or wherever they’re going. These cops will write you a ticket, complicating your life, or, in some cases, they will wait for you to offer la mordida, a bribe, which we can not say you should offer. It’s your decision. Better to not speed.
50km equals 31 miles per hour
Shortly after leaving the airport
Shortly after leaving the airport you’ll cross the Rio Ameca, which takes you from the state of Jalisco into the state of Nayarit. After approximately twenty minutes of Hwy Mex 200, a very busy commercial highway—you’ll note several American big box stores have bloomed along the way–you will pass through the town of Bucerias. After passing through Bucerias, Mex 200 continues on as a four-lane highway for a few more miles until the turnoff to Punta Mita. Make sure to go straight ahead here. Slow down as you approach and pass the Punta Mita turnoff, as this is another spot the transitos often use for speed traps.
Heading north from the airport, you soon leave Jalisco and enter Nayarit
You might see police of various persuasions
During this drive you might see police of various persuasions—transitos, municipal police, tourist police, state police, and/or federal police, some of whom can look fairly intimidating. Don’t worry, they are there to protect you, although the transitos do like to ticket tourists. And generally speaking, this part of Mexico is extremely safe; driving a car from the Puerto Vallarta airport to Sayulita couldn’t be any easier.
Hwy 200 northbound is a busy commercial highway
If you need to shop for groceries
There are plentiful gas stations along the way–all Pemex, it being a national monopoly. These gas stations are almost always accompanied by an Oxxo, a Mexican chain of convenience stores that specialize in junk food. If you need to shop for groceries, a large supermarket called Mega lies just south of Bucerias. You’ll also find a tourism office in the parking lot of the Mega, should you be in need of further information.
Mega is the last big scale supermarket before Sayulita
Punta Mita turnoff
Shortly after the Punta Mita turnoff, the highway changes into a two-lane road and heads up and over a small mountain range in a winding and twisting manner with plenty of blind curves. Watch for animals grazing along the road and slow-moving vehicles. Take it easy, don’t pass if you get stuck behind a slow truck, you only have a short ways to go, and there are a few fairly macho drivers usually to be found on this road. You don’t want to get in their way.
Just past Bucerias the road narrows and climbs into jungly hills
You will pass signs for several small villages. At the village of San Ignacio, a kilometer or so before the Sayulita turnoff, you’ll find MANY speed bumps. Continue another kilometer and, at the Pemex gas station, you’ll see the left turnoff to Sayulita.
Next you’ll see the grand new arch recently erected to celebrate Sayulita’s importance as a tourism destination. Pass under the arch and make a right at the first turn. Downtown Sayulita lies ahead, but before you reach the plaza you’ll pass from the outskirts of town to the north side, then cross a small bridge and drive a last, busy block or two in our crowded, colorful streets.
If your destination lies on the north side, where many of Sayulita’s hundreds of rental homes are located, you’ll probably want to turn right at Calle Miramar, the first right turn onto a paved street as you come into town, just after the bus stop on the left, several blocks before you hit the bridge.
From Guadalajara head west toward Nogales then about 10 miles from Guadalajara take the “Cuota” (toll hwy) towards Tepic. This is a magnificant highway cut through a beautiful mountain landscape with almost no signs of human development. Continue for approximately 2 hours, passing Ixtlan del Rio and driving up the side of the Ceboruco volcano, a geologist’s dream. After cresting the mountain watch carefully for the turnoff to Chapalilla/Puerto Vallarta. Follow the winding road down the mountainside of sugar cane to the valley town of Chapalilla.
Just out of Chapalilla watch for the Pto Vallarta/Compostela turnoff. This is another beautiful highway which climbs another volcano and winds past the mountain town of Compostela then runs into highway 200 to Puerto Vallarta. Another beautiful, windy road takes you up a mountain and then down to the Pacific coast at Las Varas. Pass all the fruit stands, smell the humid ocean air and drive on another 45 minutes to km 123 marker and the Sayulita turnoff.
The route from Guadalajara to Sayulita is easily marked with plenty of public road signs to Puerto Vallarta. Head west on the “Cuota” (toll hwy) towards Tequila, a town worth visiting for obvious reasons if you like the stuff. Continue for approximately 2 hours until the turnoff to Compostela. Continue for an hour on Hwy Mex 200 down the incredibly windy / curvy road to Las Varas and on ahead for another 45 minutes to km 123 marker and the Sayulita turnoff. The drive is gorgeous all the way, with plenty of spectacular views, although we highly recommend that the driver keep his or her eyes on the road, as Mexican highways don’t always have the same railings and other safety features as American highways; also, while Highway 200 has had extensive renovations in recent years, there are still occasional unexpected potholes, and a big one can do serious damage.
Rumor has it a new superhighway, most likely another cuota, or toll road, will soon link Puerto Vallarta with Compostela. This will speed things up and also get all the big slow trucks off of Hwy 200. The new road will therefore be a tremendous boon for those of us coming and going from Sayulita.
Leaving Chapalilla take the turnoff to Pto.Vallarta/Compostela
God knows we’ve all crawled up the hills between here and Bucerias at a snail’s pace many a time, one in a pack of 40 cars stuck behind a doble semi-remolque (double length trailer truck) filled to the brim with plastic bottles of Coca Cola. We’d love to see that truck move its fat slow self onto another, faster road. We’ll keep you all posted on the highway’s progress.
If you really don’t want to pay the cuota, which can get pretty pricey if you’re on a budget, the older “free” highway, which is much slower, runs parallel to the cuota between Guadalajara and Compostela. On either road, you’ll pass through some visually dramatic countryside, including a close brush with the lava fields and calderas of Vulcan Ceboruco.
Driving up the side of the Ceboruco volcano
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
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.
There is no place not within walking distance
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.
Golf carts are great for squeezing into small parking spaces