2021 Guide to Nayarit, Mexico: Sayulita and San Pancho

Sponsored by Selina Hotel & Hotel Maraica

Well, my friends. We have almost reached the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. To me, the best part about this is that we’ll finally be able to travel internationally again! While some borders are still closed to the United States, I recently had the opportunity to travel down south to beautiful Nayarit, Mexico. Nayarit is a small state on the western border.

My first stop in Nayarit was Sayulita for two nights, followed by another two nights in the neighboring town of San Pancho. There is so much to see and do in both Sayulita and San Pancho, and they both provide a completely unique experience despite being only a 20-minute cab ride apart.

I’ve been to many places in my 25 years, and this was easily one of my top 10 best trips I’ve been on. Am I saying that just because this was the first time I left the country in two years? Maybe. But it was wonderful, nonetheless.

For a complete guide to Sayulita and San Pancho, keep reading below. I’m sharing everything you need to know – from where to stay, what to do, how to get around, and how to best prepare for COVID-19 travel protocols.

Sayulita, Mexico

If rainbows were a place, they’d be Sayulita, Mexico. This vibrant and lively town is splattered with saturated colors on every building, streetcar, and beach umbrella. Not to mention, the sea of colored flags that hang over the center of downtown like a whimsical ceiling. Sayulita is directly along the Pacific ocean. It stretches across an arch in the coastline, and the landscape just beyond the town is that of a modern-day Jurrasic Park. Think palm trees and dense jungle sans the man-eating dinosaurs.

The best part is that you truly won’t run out of things to do on a visit to the beachside town, but here are a few of my favorite activities to do in Sayulita.

Things To Do in Sayulita, Mexico

This section could be a whole separate blog post in itself, but I’ll try to keep it concise without sparing any of the important details. Of course, spending at least a few hours on the beach (per day) is a must! The main beach area is within walking distance of downtown and super easy to get to. Make sure to pack some pesos in your wallet because there are vendors everywhere selling jewelry, hair-braiding, and trinkets to bring home. It’s a good idea to head to the beach on an empty stomach. Many of the seaside hotels will offer lawn chairs and umbrellas to sit at as long as you order food or drinks.

Once you get your sunbathing and beachside margarita (or two) checked off the to-do list, head to the vibrant downtown area. There are a plethora of shops that sell artwork, pottery, clothing, and everything in between. Plus, there are a ton of delicious restaurants and fun bars. A short 10-minute walk into the neighborhood outside of downtown leads you to Playa Los Muertos. It’s a beautiful graveyard filled with breathtaking memorials to honor those who have passed. I know, walking through a graveyard sounds a bit cryptic, but trust me it’s worth it.

My favorite thing to do in Sayulita? Whale watching! There are a variety of boat tours you can sign up for (they’re super easy to find downtown!) that take you on a trip to a secret beach (literally, you have to swim through a cave to get to it) called Marieta Island, snorkeling, or whale watching. I had never been whale watching before, and it was absolutely incredible! If you’re someone who loves nature and animals as much as I do, you’ll be blown away by their massive beauty. However, the best times for whale watching are January through April, so if you go to Sayulita at another point in the year, one of the other options might be your best bet.

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Where to Stay in Sayulita, Mexico

If you want to be close to all of the fun, then I recommend staying in or close to downtown. This makes everything walkable and convenient! If you’re a young traveler on a budget like me, check out the Selina Hotel. It’s a hostel-style hotel that offers shared bunk rooms or individual rooms (this is what I did) and shared bathrooms on each floor. It offers group activities like yoga classes, surfing, and a common pool area, making it easy to stay active and meet other travelers throughout your stay. Selina’s location is the best part. It’s in the heart of Sayulita, just steps from the beach and downtown, as well as some local shops and convenience stores.

Fun fact: Bachelor in Paradise is filmed in Sayulita, Mexico! If you want to live out your reality TV dreams, stay at the Playa Escondida hotel. This is also a great choice if you want something a little more secluded. It’s still only a short 15-minute walk from downtown, but you’ll have more privacy and it’s much quieter at night.

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San Pancho, Mexico

San Pancho, Mexico (also known as San Francisco) looks like a tropical laptop screensaver but IRL. It’s basically the definition of paradise. With secluded beaches, a small town feel but with lots of character, and sunsets that will take your breath away, San Pancho is ideal for anyone wanting to unplug from the business of everyday life.

If that sounds ideal to you, keep reading for everything you need to know about San Pancho.

Things To Do in San Pancho, Mexico

Like I said, San Pancho is meant for travelers who are looking to unplug and relax. You won’t find quite as many lively bars and restaurants downtown, but there are still lots of interesting things to see and do in San Pancho! First and foremost, you’ll want to spend lots of time on the beach. It’s much less busy than the beaches in Sayulita, so you’ll be able to sprawl out wherever you please. I walked up and down the beach each morning during my stay in San Pancho and it was so peaceful. And make sure to head back out to the beach for sunset – you’ll regret it if you don’t!

If you get a little too pink in the sun, take a break from the beach and head into town to visit the local market. I accidentally stumbled upon it one day, and I’m so glad that I did! The farmer’s market-style gathering is full of local vendors, artisans, and food stands. There was even a live band in the middle of the setup. It was so cool to get a taste of the local life and the beautiful art pieces and meals that come from the soul of San Pancho.

Where To Stay in San Pancho, Mexico

If you’re on a quest to find the best eco-friendly hotels, fly south to San Pancho and stay at the Hotel Maraica. It’s a 100% sustainable hotel. You’ll be able to see how the hotel rooms and structures are inspired by and made with nature – and NO plastic water bottles! The hotel’s sustainable lifestyle extends to its food options too. The restaurant offers a variety of fresh and healthy meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Not to mention, the upstairs dining area has a stunning ocean view!

If you don’t feel like sitting in the sand, Hotel Maraica has a pool where you can take a dip and lounge during your downtime. There’s also a large grass area in the center of the resort that’s great for morning yoga and meditation. There are a few other resorts and rental houses in town. However, none of them compare to the admirable Earth-conscious practices at Hotel Maraica.

Nayarit Mexico

Getting There and Getting Around

Many restricitons are lifting and the world is slowly making its way back to “normal.” However, it’s still important to be safe and prepared when it comes to traveling. With international trips specifically, there are especially strict requirements for flying. Check out my best tips for preparing for your flight to Nayarit, Mexico, as well as getting around once you arrive below.

Travel Precautions and COVID-19 Tips

While it isn’t required to show a negative COVID test to fly into Mexico from the US, it’s obviously a good idea to do anyway. I got tested the week of my trip then refrained from seeing anyone before I left – it’s better safe than sorry! You will have to fill out a COVID survey in order to leave the airport once you arrive in Mexico. You can either print this out before or fill it out online.

IMPORTANT: You have to show proof of a negative COVID test to get back home to the US. Therefore, it’s a good idea to figure out your exact plan for testing before you leave for your trip. Another great perk about Hotel Maraica is that they do instant testing at the resort. They have a local health official come in to perform the test, and you get the results back in about an hour. It’s so easy! There is also testing available at the airport, but this can take a while and risk you being late for your flight.

How To Get Around Nayarit, Mexico

To get to Sayulita or San Pancho, you’ll first fly into Puerto Vallarta. The airport is about an hour’s drive from Sayulita, and the one-lane road takes you through scenic jungle views. I suggest taking a cab versus renting a car for a trip like this because everything is within walking distance once you make it into town. Luckily, it’s super easy to find a cab right outside the airport. The cost is about $70 in US currency. TIP: Do not let any of the airport workers at the exit stop you on your way out. They will try to upsell your car ride with additional luxuries and pit stops. Head straight out the doors and opt for the cabs out there!

If you’re going from Sayulita to San Pancho like I did, there are a ton of cab drivers lined up in Sayulita’s downtown area that can take you there or wherever you need to go. The cab ride from Sayulita to San Pancho is only about 20 minutes. Hotel Maraica or your chosen resort can set you up with a cab ride to your next destination. I definitely recommend starting in Sayulita and ending in San Pancho. You’ll be wiped out from the party scene of Sayulita and be able to recover in paradise before you head home.

Nayarit, Mexico

What To Pack for Sayulita and San Pancho 

Grab your favorite bikinis and sunnies because it’s going to hot. You really won’t need much else, to be honest. But I, being the dramatic person that I am, made several outfit changes per day – gotta do it for the photo ops, right? The sun shines brighter down in Mexico, so be prepared to lather up with sunscreen as well! Here’s a list of must-pack items for Mexico:

  • Pesos: While some places may accept American cash, it’s best to use pesos. Go to a currency exchange office before your trip to avoid additional costs and time at the Mexican airport! 
  • Sunscreen: Even if you don’t burn easily, sunscreen is essential. Trust me and learn from my mistakes. I was still peeling from my sunburn two weeks after I got home. 
  • Bikinis, bikinis, and more bikinis: Like I said, you’re most likely going to be spending a lot of time at the beach.
  • A light jacket: It can get a little chilly at night, so it’s a good idea to pack a sweater or denim jacket! 
  • Comfortable shoes: As cute as my strappy sandals were, I definitely regretted putting them on the first day of my trip. Since everything is walkable, bring a pair of sneakers or other comfortable shoes. 

I would say that these five items are the most important things to put on your packing list. Since I spent most of my time on the beach with a marg in my hand, I really didn’t need to bring all the makeup and hair supplies I lugged with me to Mexico – I’m usually not an over-packer but I was so excited about this trip!

Overall, the trip was amazing and I recommend it to anyone planning their next vacay. If you liked this 2021 guide to Nayarit, Mexico or you have any more questions about it, let me know in the comments!

Xo, Chloe

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