I’ve come to La Cooperativa, in a high valley on the Baja peninsula because I’ve heard that things are happening in Valle De Guadalupe. I arrive with a filthy car, dust settled on all flat surfaces, having been lead down unsealed roads through olive groves and vineyards by my GPS.
Valle de Guadalupe (Guadalupe Valley) is a flat plain circled by rocky mountains high above the coastal city of Ensenada, about an hour and a half from the border at San Diego. The drive into the mountains is rustic rather than breathtaking, a gentle steady climb along a curving highway flanked by an abundance of roadside market stalls selling the produce the area is fast becoming renowned for: honey, olive oil, cheese, and wine.
I brush at the dust on my car, but realize that marking the car with my fingers and palm only makes it look more filthy. I’m really only concerned with my car’s appearance because I’m standing in front of a building that is hip, more hip than I had expected, staffed by interesting looking college aged locals and I’m an interloping gringo, so of course I want to make a good impression.
La Cooperativa Valle de Guadalupe
La Cooperativa is a central repository and sales point for the region’s produce and perfectly exemplifies what I will learn is the aesthetic of the Valle de Guadalupe, this isn’t a wine region that aspires to any old world glory, this is new, futuristic even. A fitting tribute to pioneers of a new life for this long obscure destination.
Each of the buildings at La Cooperative, designed and constructed by famed architect Alejandro D’Acosta, are built from recycled materials, the black wooden slatted bar and kitchen building rises high contrasting vividly with a colorful mural and a utilitarian agricultural shed. But this isn’t only a place where the regions fine offerings are sold, two large sheds, both insulated from baking afternoon temperatures by thick rammed earth walls inserted with empty wine bottles, rusted sheet metal, and pieces of wine barrels, one providing a place for the region’s producers to store and age their product, the other, used as a school room, where local producers are trained in the latest viticulture. A parked RV is the cellar door, stepping through the narrow threshold the blast of AC is welcomed, and serves to keep the wine at appropriate temperatures.
I’m taken through the variety of wines offered by the chef of the small kitchen. Though my Spanish is improving and I’m fairly conversational with the aid of hand gestures and asking for clarification of unknown words, I’m pretty sure that my conversation with the chef, translated into English, would read something like this.
Chef says, “Blah, blah, blah, red wine, blah, blah, $10.”
I say, “I like red wine.”
Chef, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, unknown words.”
Me, “Si, si, $10 is a good price.”
But, of course, you need to taste the product before taking it home. We begin with a sample of local olive oil poured from a nameless glass bottle and warmed bread. Moving on, we sample one white wine, not a speciality of the region but drinkable, and two strong hearty reds. The red wine of the region is the real star: dark, strong, masculine. It is common to find blends made from a dizzying number of varieties, experimentation, it seems, is a trait that marks all creative processes of the valley.
The really brilliant thing about the Guadalupe experience is that it isn’t catering to foreign tourists, while menus are often offered in English many waiters will speak basic English at best, that’s because the valley isn’t dependant on foreign tourism. This is Mexico, and it feels like it. But it’s the professionalization that marks La Valley as something different to other wine regions, but especially those in California. This is a region screaming creativity, producers here are doing whatever works, whatever is appropriate, whatever looks good, tastes good, and is good. This ethos extends to the architecture, the restaurants, the people. The energy of the region is noticeable even on the streets, old folks sitting on corners behind stalls of local honey and bee pollen and the constant stream of SUVs filled to bursting with families, the industry is giving the area identity and vitality.
Other highlights of the area can be seen in a post here, it’s worth a click.
Sayulita was once a sleepy fishing village. Surfer’s first found the gentle right point break in the 70’s and the town has since changed dramatically. Sayulita retains its relaxed atmosphere but buzzes with a weekly turnover of visitors from around the globe, most predominantly from America’s west coast, and a large permanent expat community that has fueled a building and infrastructure boom over the last ten years. The once dirt roads are now paved, Sayulita boasts a dedicated ambulance and medical staff, a volunteer staffed animal shelter looks after all the dogs in town, they have a boulangerie, gelato, decent coffee, amazing restaurants and incredible natural assets. It’s family friendly, safe, and still retains an authentic vibe. But most visitors to Sayulita will only have time to do so much, so here is the best of the best in Sayulita.
What time of year is best in Sayulita?
High season in Sayulita coincides with dry season (November thru April), holidays are just better when you’re not having to take shelter in a hotel room for the afternoon because of torrential rain, the climate is also far more pleasant. There are a few busy times of year that are best avoided, I have written about these times here. From May, it starts to heat up, the rains come in, and the crowds disappear. I’d say it is a requirement to have A/C in your apartment from May onwards. By August, even in the shade it feels like you’re in an oven, most restaurants will close, and the town will feel deserted but for a smattering of locals. BUT HEY, you’ll have the beach to yourself.
Where to stay in Sayulita
There are going to be differing opinions on this one. For me, I lived in the south of town, so of course I think it’s better, it’s more rustic, your neighbours are more likely to be locals who have lived in Sayulita for generations. It’s not for everyone though, the majority of expats live to the north of town or on gringo hill, and have put in decent roads and a variety of restaurants catering to tourists. It’s cleaner, it’s touristy, it’s less Mexican-y. That works for some people but I’m all about having neighbours that still keep roosters that crow at 5am, I want my roads to wash out in big storms, I love it when my afternoon nap is disturbed by ranchero music, I want restaurant staff who don’t speak english, because I came to Mexico to experience Mexico and, hey, love it or leave it, this is Mexico.
How to find the best place in Sayulita to stay
A great way to find accommodation in Sayulita is to hit the forums at SayulitaLife.com. Go to the message boards with some requirements, something like:
March 20 – 27, 2 bedrooms, 1.5 bath, pool, A/C, AREA (northside, southside, gringo hill).
And see what comes back, the likelyhood is that one of the rental property owners will get back to you with an offer. But maybe you like hotels more, same deal, get on the forums and ask for what you want and someone will steer you in the right direction. The advice at the forum is usually very usefull, coming from people who are actually living in Sayulita and know things like who is having a four storey apartment building noisily erected next to their hotel. Local knowledge really is the best in Sayulita.
I lived at Tambo de Oro and really enjoyed it, but it might be a little bit out of town for some folks.
Where to hang
You mean other than at the beach? Activity is centered around the town square, lined with restaurants, shops and clubs, there is nearly always something happening in the square, with shady benches it’s a nice place to grab coffee from hipster Yah-Yah’s and watch Sayulita go about its business. At weekends, it turns family-friendly with travelling performers coming to entertain townsfolk.
Traditional Huichol weaves and stuffed toys can be purchased at market stalls that line Las Gaviotas across from Chile Rellenos restaurant, this market expands on Fridays and sells all sorts of treasure and tatt.
Also on Fridays (High-season only) is the must visit Mercado Del Pueblo farmer’s market. Located on calle Revolucion north of the bridge leading out of town.
Sayulita is home to a literally vibrant shopping scene focusing on housewares and apparel. Inspired by the tropical surrounds, Sayulita’s retailers have created a signature look with plays on hippy vibes, fluorescent colors, and indigenous Mexican styling. The stores are scattered amongst the narrow lanes of the centre of town with some standouts including, Revolución Del Sueño and Evoke the Spirit.
Also worth a look is Z Galeria on the north side of Calle Revolucion. Artist Zoey Pierce creates encaustic paintings that hang on many walls in local resorts and sells original work for vacationers to take home.
And if you insist on working
Yes, Sayulita has internet. No, you’re not the first person to ask. In fact, Sayulita CoWork has fibre optic internet and is coolest place in Sayulita to get things done. With daily rates as well as great deals for long-term users, the question surely has to be how do I permanently move my business to the beach.
Where to Eat
Let’s start at the top end, the fancy stuff, the night out. There are so many places to eat in Sayulita it’s bordering on ridiculous. But here the few I believe to be the best in Sayulita.
I’ve written about Il Vizietto before, so I’m going to keep this short. As far as eating goes, this is the best in Sayulita. It’s the first place I take anyone visiting, I think that says it all. Read my previous review.
KM5 Surf Bar
You’ll need a car, or maybe you can get a taxi, but halfway between Sayulita and Punta Mita, is a small town named Higuera Blanca where you will find KM5 Surf Bar. The food is good (some of the best salads in the area and wood fired pizza), the mezcal is out of this world, and the sunsets are stunning. Sunday evening is always a good time to go as they usually have live bands.
And for the day-to-day meal, like the taco stand you can’t stop going to.
As it is tucked in behind the far more busy Restaurant El Costeno, the beach front Alas Blancas restaurant is a hidden gem. Run by the same folks who own the fine wine and beer store a street back from the beach, the selection of beverages is more varied than any other restaurant in Sayuilta. But the real attraction here is the aguachile, shrimp and fish marinated in a blend of orange juice, tomatillo, and habanero. And of course, there’s the view.
This place doesn’t even have a name, not that I know of anyway. It’s a one woman operation turning out delicious bowls of Birria, goat stew, that has long been a staple in Jalisco and Nayarit. It’s delicious, rich and served with an annoyed grimace by the lady chef who can act however she wants when the food is this good. She’s usually in her little spot most mornings next to Chilly Willy’s restaurant on Calle Revolucion heading south out of town.
North of the town square, from the side farthest from the beach is Burrito Revolution. It’s all about the sauces here, but especially the chipotle sauce. It’s orange and near enough the best sauce in the world. Add it to a delicious shrimp or mahi mahi burrito. As the menu says, “Your tips help purchase vital AK47s to sustain the revolution.” And so, Burrito Revolution is my tip.
A couple of doors down from Burrito Revolution is a steak taco joint named El Itacate. It’s been awarded a Trip Advisor certificate of excellence numerous times and is generally busy, they work from a small kitchen turning out juicy prime cut tacos for the tables outside the restaurant. I can recommend the New York.
No, it’s not the name of some kitschy restaurant. It’s your home. If you have a grill, I thoroughly recommend visiting the fish wholesaler on Calle Libertad. There you can buy a full side of so-fresh-it’s-still-flipping mahi mahi (or dorado, as it’s commonly called in Mexico) for about $4. There isn’t a sign, but the house is white with blue accents, as anything associated with fish generally is. If you can’t find it ask directions from the guy who works at the corner store on the corner of Avienda Revolucion and Calle Libertad.
Where to drink
For me, there is little better than grabbing a cold Minerva (A craft brewery from Guadalajara) from Alas Blancas, walking to the very south end of the beach and drinking in quiet solitude. One of the truly magnificent things about Sayulita, and Mexico generally, is that no one is going to begrudge you drinking a beer wherever it feels good.
Located on the point at the south end of the beach, Villa Amor is the perfect sunset spot. They have a bunch of chairs out on a lawn where you can very nearly touch the water and a decent happy hour.
What I really like about Escondido, besides the cocktails and beer, is that you can watch the goings-on in the town square from the quiet solitude of a small outdoor deck. If only they provided binoculars so you could get some detailed people watching / spying going on.
Where to hike
Sayulita Life has good directions to most of the beaches in the area, but here are the two secluded beaches I think are the best in Sayulita.
Playa de los muertos
Head south along the beach from town, walking through Villa Amor, follow the road over the hill and past the cemetery for which the beach is named. Here you will find a secluded cove, a lifeguard (sometimes), and a man selling fresh oysters and grilled whole shrimp. A visit to Playa de los Muertos will be one of the things that makes you fall real hard in love with Sayulita.
From Muertos keep taking forks in the road that head south until you come to some private land where it looks like you shouldn’t pass but do it anyway, eventually you’ll come to a bend to the left and spot a path running through the jungle, often there will be parked cars also. The path to Cerritos is one of the more lovely parts of the jungle surrounding Sayulita. The beach is wide, infrequently visited and about as isolated as you can feel on a beach near Sayulita.
I wouldn’t recommend this hike to anyone but the adventurous, but you can hike along the Sayulita river to the main road, passing through gorges and farmland. I’ve previously written about the trek in more detail. Maybe not the best in Sayulita, but definitely interesting and challenging.
Where to surf
The right hand point break is what made Sayulita famous. It works during dry seasons when swells are sucked around Baja and peel down the pebblestone river mouth with a gentle push. It’s a great wave but spectacularly mobbed by tourists and locals who don’t mind running you over, as, unfortunately, Jo-Roxy found out the hard way. Despite living there, I rarely surfed in Sayulita preferring to drive to Burros or La Lancha where the crowds are more manageable. For the uninitiated, the south end of the beach is where the learners should be surfing.
What to do
This is probably not for folks on vacation, but if you have the time, it’s about a hour and fifteen minutes drive on some rough roads (SUV recommended) but once you get there the Aguas Termales de Neuvo Lxtlan are a lovely day out. I’ve written about them here.
Fishing and Marietas
The Marietas islands are famous for having a small beach cove in the middle of Banderas Bay accessed by a narrow cave. It’s rare to be there by yourself but it is an incredible place.
There are about a million shopfronts where you can book a fishing boat, but I would always just wander down the south end of the beach where the boats are parked, find the table where the fishermen clean their catch and ask someone to take me out. I don’t think we paid more than $20pp for 6 of us to go fishing in the morning and visit the marietas for snorkelling in the afternoon.
Sit on the beach all day
I don’t think you need a guide for this, it’s the reason you came. What’s the best in Sayulita? This is it.
Helpful map of cool things in Sayulita
I’ve marked everything mentioned in this article in the map below.
Other Sayulita stories.
Here are some of the pieces I wrote while living in Sayulita
We’re planning another trip driving through Mexico and I’ve begun researching via news what to expect out in the wild. It’s making me nervous, I can’t lie. I’m as inclined as anyone else to not be kidnapped or decapitated, but the news reports are hysterical and contrary to our previous experiences driving and living in Mexico and I’m choosing to ignore much of what I’m reading. I live in LA, people are killed here on the regular and it doesn’t seem to bother me, probably because I don’t have the news shouting at me: NEVER GO THERE EVERYONE IS A CRIMINAL AND WILL STEAL EVERYTHING YOU HAVE BEFORE EXTORTING YOUR FAMILY AND KILLING YOU MERCILESSLY. Media coverage is biased, good news doesn’t sell, and for some reason it makes people in the US sleep better if they think Mexico is a shit-hole.
What areas are considered dangerous in Mexico?
Competition between cartels is most fierce around the US border. Towns like Ciudad Juarez are the real losers of US drug policy and have long had issues with gun battles in the street, obviously, it’s not a tourist destination, but tens of thousands of people drive through the town every day without incident. A good strategy for driving through dangerous areas of Mexico is to drive early in the morning and pass through before anyone is awake, last I checked criminals tend to sleep in.
Recently, and unfortunately, a lot of criminal activity has been taking place in Jalisco, Michoacán, and Guerrero. I lived in in the sleepy surf town of Sayulita, on the border of Jalisco state, where if there was nefarious dealings going on they were well concealed. Still, every town has a dark side and you’d do best to avoid it. Michoacán and Guerrero states struggle financially and own a mountainous topography suited to hiding-out or trafficking and are thus uniquely susceptible to criminal enterprise.
So why go driving through Jalisco, Michoacán, and Guerrero?
Because there is surf, lots of surf. My travels in the area were confined to the coastline and if it weren’t for the waves I don’t know that I would have gone at all. But if it’s surf you after, I can’t recommend the area highly enough. Michoacán especially is incredibly beautiful, like driving through Big Sur in California, or the Great Ocean Road in Australia’s Otways, a road meanders low and then high above the sea, the highway perched on the cliff as if taped on. Of course, conditions are more treacherous than my first-world examples, but only because villagers really want you to slow down and take a look at their store as you pass through and build unmarked concrete speed humps in the shape of knee high triangles. You quickly learn to slow down at the first sign of houses.
Michoacán is incredibly interesting, the majority of people living there consider themselves not Mexican and perceive the government sending in police, army, gas stations, even road workers as acts of invasion. This animosity doesn’t extend to visitors, Michoacános are incredibly friendly and fiercely proud of their lands and heritage, my Spanish improved immeasurably simply because everyone there is really keen to have a chat. Travelling is such a better experience when you feel welcome to explore the area and that is exactly how I would describe Michoacán, welcoming. I’d even go as far as to say visiting Michoacán was my favorite experience while living in Mexico.
What’s it like driving through dangerous areas of Mexico?
Never drive at night in areas you don’t know. Ever. Prepare yourself to be searched by lots of different people. It’s a hotbed of criminal activity in the midst of a policing war. When I say prepare yourself, I mean, don’t be in possession of things you shouldn’t be.
The federales have their roadblocks around the major cities you pass through, the army has sporadic checkpoints along the coast highway, and in Michoacán especially, each village has a militia that wants to know who’s coming and going. You’re going to be searched, a lot.
Federales are scary. Be polite, friendly and cross your fingers. Army will thoroughly search your car, but they are also the least likely to screw with you. It’s sometimes good to carry some food or Coke cans for the army boys, they don’t eat like kings in the service. The militias are most usually people who care desperately about their village and have taken action because they felt there was little choice. More often than not, once they see you’re a gringo they just wave you on, otherwise, they just want to see a driver’s license.
You will find changeable road conditions while driving through dangerous areas of Mexico, but for the most part roads are good to excellent.
Be aware that it’s tough to find a gas station in Michoacán, locals tend to set fire to the government gas stations. You should get a full tank and carry some spare gas before entering.
That sounds scary
And it is, I don’t think I’ve ever felt my heart pound harder than during one very thorough search by army outside of Tecomán. But we didn’t have a problem, no one asked to be bribed, no one hassled us beyond wanting to search the vehicle, everyone was polite and professional. I don’t want to play down the risks involved in driving through dangerous areas of Mexico, which are very real. But violence mostly affects those who are involved in things they shouldn’t be and killing gringos is bad business. I’d never recommend letting fear dictate your travel plans. Be safe, be smart, trust your instincts and you might just have an incredible adventure.
When we decided to live in Mexico for 6-months it was a no-brainer to drive from Los Angeles to Sayulita. I’ve written a post in the past, where I went into the details of our decision and wrote about our experience.
I recently received an email from Rich via our contact us page here at BIKE GANG.
I have enjoyed reading the blog and it has motivated me to road trip down to Sayulita instead of flying, like we did some years ago. Few questions if you don't mind. Do the quota tolls take dollars or should we have enough to cover tolls in pesos before departing.
I’m going to answer Rich’s question here for the benefit of the greater internet. Should you pay Mexican cuotas (Spanish term for toll road) in pesos? Yes. At the first few cuotas after the border it is common to use US dollars but further in you may start to run into trouble, at the very least you’ll be treated as a nuisance. Your change will always be returned in pesos and you’d probably prefer your bank doing currency exchange than the person working the toll booth. You should always aim to arrive in a country with at least a little local currency. If it is paying cuotas that motivates you to visit a bank and have a local currency in your possession on arrival, all the better.
Where to get pesos in the US.
In the USA, we do our banking with Bank of America, I visited a branch and converted US$500 into pesos. In my view, if you are driving into Mexico for a vacation you should aim to arrive with enough to cover all expenses of the first day, travel (cuotas and gas), food (delicious roadside tamales), and accommodation. I didn’t include visas and paying for your car import permit because you should always pay with your credit card, paper trails may come in handy one day.
Check with your American bank before you depart to see if they work with a bank inside Mexico, in the case of Bank of America, you can withdraw cash from any Santander bank free of charge, there is still a conversion fee but this is the cheapest and safest way to access your American dollars while travelling in Mexico.
Rich, I hope you keep reading and maybe we’ll see you out on the road this coming winter.
I’m indecisive when it comes to choosing shoes. I feel like shoes are one of the most representative choices we make when portraying ourselves through apparel. Guadalajara has a large shoe industry, and they have built an entire mall specifically to display their shoes – the ‘Galería del Calzado‘. I felt like an entire mall of shoes would help me make a decision. I’ve honestly been looking for new shoes for six months, not like everyday or anything, but I have been mentally formulating the criteria for my perfect pair of shoes. I do other things as well, just so you know.
Exercise is key to any traveler. Sometimes being in a new city can feel like a moveable feast, new cuisine, new drinks, new snacks, chocolates. There is a lot to sample and it would be culturally insensitive to not. We walked the 45-minutes from La Fe Hotel & Arts, our abode, to the shoe mall. In the back of my mind was the GDL specialty Torta Ahogada, or drowned sandwich, which is big sweet white bread roll stuffed with pork and covered in spicy salsa. I hardly need an appetite to eat such things in their entirety, but I felt the experienced would be heightened if I were at least a little hungry, so we walked.
Maybe I didn’t walk far enough but the ‘famous’ torta ahogada at Tortas Toño were a disappointment. Or perhaps another explanation is that you are handed your torta with your chosen filling of pork or beef and left to ahogada the sandwich yourself. When I go to a famous sandwich shop I’m looking for consistency of experience, I’m looking for professionals to do what I can’t, that is, make a delicious sandwich. I don’t like to be trusted to garnish my own meat. Maybe I didn’t ahogada the sandwich hard enough, maybe I added too much picante sauce vs. sweet sauce, I don’t know. How would I know?
The shoe mall was a definite success. At around 80 stores soley devoted to the sale of footwear there was plenty to choose from. Despite my particular tastes, I managed to purchase two pairs of shoes at around US$35 a pair. I made the mistake of wearing shoes without socks to the shoe mall, usually I would expect that shoe stores would provide socks so that you don’t sully their merchandise with sweaty feet. A plastic bag kept in my pocket sufficed. I think the customers and store-persons who handled the shoes after me trying them on will be thankful.
We headed over to Tlaquepaque where we planned to buy pretty Mexican things. If you have noticed a theme of shopping here that is because 1) Guadalajara, and more specifically Tlaqupaque and Tonola, is famous for it 2) There ain’t squat else to do. I had to give the Torta Ahogada another chance. We sat for the afternoon in El Parián, the unofficial world’s largest cantina I was told with a wink. I ordered beer and in a loud voice another Torta Ahogada. Jo-Roxy ordered a cazualeta drink that was about as good as any drink I’ve had in Mexico, literally a bowl of fruit juice into which you tip a double shot of tequila. Conceivably it could have been the live music, perhaps it was the idyllic surrounds, maybe it was the gigantic beer I ordered, most likely it was that I was handed a perfectly drowned sandwich that I didn’t have the opportunity to screw up. My second, and last, Torta Ahogada was a success.
A short drive from Guadalajara is a small town named Tequila, perhaps you’ve heard of it? Indeed, it is the birthplace of one of the most commonly abused alcoholic beverage, preferred by partying teenagers and those who attend Cinco de Mayo celebrations wearing oversized sombreros. But let’s be honest, those people are idiots and tequila has a terrible reputation despite being as serious a drink as whiskey or bourbon. Short of visiting Tequila, the best place in Guadalajara to purchase the good stuff is El Buho, where I found myself trying a vast array of artisinal tequilas in the late afternoon. My expert guide and shop owner, Emilio, chooses each tequila on his shelves himself. With Emilio’s help I came to the conclusion that I prefer really expensive tequila and so purchased Mestizo, produced by the famed Tres Mujeres distillery, the only bottle on the shelf not available for sale in the USA. The reason for its scarcity is a brand conflict with a drink already selling in the USA. It’s nice and all, but I still prefer mescal – for that you have to visit Oaxaca.
The thing about Guadlajara is everything is hidden and if you don’t go looking for amazing experiences you’ll be lucky to find them, for example, our restaurant of choice – i Latina. We decided we could walk from our hotel, looking at the maps we had about 25 minutes of walking, seemed reasonable. We walked along neighborhood roads, soon we hit a large intersection, suddenly we were walking alongside a freeway, then we were in a nearly deserted neighborhood walking along a busy train-line. This was supposed to be a fancy restaurant, surely Gmaps has this wrong. Then suddenly, sitting out the front of what appeared to be a normal home, was an attendant and a small valet stand. Sweet relief. But still, what the hell is going on here. Entering i Latina is like stepping into a circus tent, the small doorway opens into a small warehouse-type space where a cacophony of colors and lights and strange music add to your disorientation. There are three rooms, the circus room, the kinda-adult mood lit dining room and a very pleasant outdoor area. We were seated in the circus room and ordered local Minerva beer, which I can’t believe how good the entire range is, especially the stout and clara, and jicama shelled tropical shrimp tacos that are quite the delight. If you want to know how good we think I Latina is, we went back the next night.
If I had visited Guadalajara before I visited Mexico City, I probably would have enjoyed it more, this probably says more about how interesting and vibrant Mexico City is right now. Guadalajara doesn’t really feel like a big city, I mean, it is, but so is LA and both feel like a bunch of small towns that have grown into one city. There is also a roller blade store in Guadalajara, I thought as a society we gave that up, but in Guadalajara there are so many rollerbladers that a store devoted to inline survives, this makes me suspicious.
Not on the trip of a lifetime, on a lifetime trip. Writer, traveler, gentleman surfer.