Insider's Guide To Sayulita

Ay Sayulita! 

This slice of Mexican paradise is filled with beautiful beaches, relaxed surfer vibe, and boho chic sensibility. This is where Mexico-meets-Malibu.

My earliest memory this beachy town dates back to the mid-90's. This was long before it was the "happening destination" and more so of a super sleepy surf town that only those in the know knew about. And, as the years have changed this place, it is still simply the perfect place to be.

It had been many moons since I sat in your golden sand, eating tacos de pescado, surrounded by the resplendent beauty of this pueblo magico.

The Mexican government just designated Sayulita one of its Pueblos Magicos, a pretty polarizing award igniting ire in some locals dreading the bus loads of day trippers from Punta Mita and Puerto Vallarta and glee in others that see ample opportunities for economic growth. But, to me, Sayulita will always have a special place in my heart.

Ready to live the little things in Sayulita? Let’s dive in!

Sayulita
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photo credit:   Paletas La Reinita

photo credit: Paletas La Reinita

EAT WELL

 Naty’s Cocina, I dream of this place when I’m back in the States. You know you’re going local when you wake up and can eat a taco for breakfast, and the best place for this craving is Naty’s Cocina (only open until 2pm). My favorite is the chicken mole. Wow, my mouth is watering right now.

El Jakal is perfect for an authentic Sayulita lunchtime experience. Staples like the coconut shrimp and ceviche tostado are a must, but be sure to ask about today’s catch. You may get to try rare surprises, like a stingray ceviche!

Estrella de Mar Mariscos is a family run restaurant that opened on the Northside of town that I’ve added to my list after trying their octopus ceviche. All outdoors, the menu is simple, fresh, and delicious. The perfect beach fare. Another is Su Casa where you can easily find yourself hanging out here nightly enjoying the fresh cocktails, live band and good-looking staff. And when I tried the freshly smoked ribs, it was a game changer.

A small homestyle Mexican-restaurant, Sayulita Café infuses fine-dining but in a very Sayulita way. This is the kind of restaurant where they never forget a face and they’ll “make” a table in a packed house for a friend just returning into town for the winter.

Cafe’s

Because I love a good cup of coffee, Coffee on the Corner is a great place to stop for morning coffee. They even offer bulletproof coffee and other keto-friendly food options. Yah-Yah is another coffee shop worth checking out. It’s a coffee shop and cafe offering 100% Mexican coffee and delicious food with vegan and gluten-free options.

The beautiful retro style wall mural of Paletas La Reinita will catch your eye but the delicious ice pops and granitas in exotic pairings and cocktails are what will keep you coming back. Try the piña con chile or the rum, coconut and mango; and if you want a really authentic Mexican experience, try a raicilla granita!

Bars

Located in the center of town, right on the square, Bar Don Pato’s is perfectly positioned to be your go-to bar in Sayulita every night after dinner, with a live band playing 6 nights a week and an open mic night on Tuesdays. If a low-key glass of wine is more your scene try Le Zouave de Hafa, a wine bar opened in the last year from the same owners of the Petite Hotel Hafa and right downstairs! In line with Hafa, this intimate wine bar has gorgeous Moroccan decor and true to the Mignot family is a favorite of the expats and surfers of Sayu. To be honest, during my recent time in Sayulita, the bars in town were packed! For a more casual option, I’ve been really into beach fires over a bottle of Clase Azul Reposado or chilling out while living to live reggae at Su Casa.

Fresh, Clean Eats

While the town’s small size makes it hard for too many restauranteurs to venture into the market, a lot of spots now cater to various dietary needs. Sayulita’s boho-wellness vibe is seen around town with their amazing selection of places to eat… clean! This family-run restaurant Yeikame serves mostly Mexican dishes and also pays homage to the local indigenous culture through the murals featuring Huichol elements on its brightly colored walls. While not strictly vegetarian, the restaurant serves quite a few meat-free dishes, like the blue corn quesadillas and the huevos rancheros.

One of the few places in town that commit 100% to only serving vegan and vegetarian cuisine, Veggie Land is open all day for all three meals and is influenced by traditional Mexican cooking methods. The owners source fresh produce from local farmers, allowing for a farm-to-table experience that appeals to any type of eater. While this taco restaurant does serve a lot of meat-based dishes, El Itacate’s meatless section on the menu takes up quite a bit of space and is truly delicious. Some of the vegetarian tacos on offer include garlic mushrooms, poblano chile strips with cheese and carrot “tinga” – a dish normally made from shredded chicken in a chipotle and tomato sauce. Atico Breakfast Cafe & Bar is a vibrant café that serves vegetarian and vegan breakfasts. Besides delicious dishes like wholemeal pancakes made from scratch and perfectly poached eggs, the highlight of this place is its quirky atmosphere with swing seats! Orangy is a juice bar exclusively serves vegetarian and vegan options, ranging from what they call “liquid breakfasts” (juice blends with yogurt) and amazing smoothies to more solid menu items like breakfast bowls with fruit and healthy toppings including chia, flax or granola. It’s the ideal healthy start to the day.

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LIVE WELL

Petit Hotel Hafa ≫ The first place I stayed in Sayulita, I always visit the Hafa team when I’m in town. Founded by Christophe & Marina Mignot, this 6-room boutique hotel is the epitome of the boho-chic traveler’s dream, blending Mexican art and a Moroccan aesthetic in a gorgeous oasis right in the heart of town and just a few minutes walk from the beach.

Villa Amor ≫ A few years ago I would have said Villa Amor was a bit of a hike away, but with town ever growing, Villa Amor’s proximity to the town center seems to be growing as well! This stunning mini-resort rises out of the surrounding jungle hillsides of Sayulita overlooking the ocean with beautiful traditional Mexican palapas style architecture. Close enough but far away, this is the perfect retreat overlooking the water for a little R&R.

Airbnb ≫ Villa rentals were always a booming business in Sayulita, but with Airbnb a lot of property owners have really upped their game! I’m lucky enough to stay with friends while I’m there, but if this is your first time in Sayulita, why not stay with my friends, or at least in their Air BnBs and get a first hand insider’s experience? If Sayulita and MTV Cribs had a modern Morrocan lovechild, it would be my friend Taylor’s four bedroom beach front villa complete with a private bar, chef on request and amazing views of the surf break. Travelling a little lower key? Try my friend Isis’s jungle hideaway a little removed from town’s main drag with mango, banana, jackfruit, passion fruit trees on the property, amazing ocean views and access to a rooftop terrace that I spent many a night star gazing.

Shop

For such a small town, there is no shortage of boutiques in Sayulita with many functioning as galleries as well, displaying beautiful made in Mexico crafts and artisanal goods. My apartment in Portland could practically be filled and look like a gallery itself with pieces displayed from some of my favorites. it’s not though.

This concept store, gallery, bohemian lair is a destination itself. Pachamama has been featured in international mags like Elle alongside owners, Les Gazelles, the Mignot sisters. The Mignot family is tantamount to Sayulita royalty and with family spread through the Caribbean, Europe, and North Africa, they have become world-renowned as synonymous with gypsey life and style. I have yet to spend a vacation in Sayulita without buying something from Pachamama, from bags, dresses to Pachamama’s well known take on the colorful embroidered Mexican wedding dress, even if you don’t buy anyting, it’s a great place to visit and check out..

Set up like a Mexican bazaar, Gypsy Galeria  is one of those shops where you’ll want to leave with everything. do NOT enter this store unless you’re fully prepped with an extra suitcase. From hand-painted Mexican tiles to revamp your kitchen or bathroom to paintings, crosses, and ceramics, this is one of my favorite places in town to shop for souvenirs for friends and family back home in San Francisco or Portland.

You know that cool friend, the one that has the immaculately decorated loft in earthy soothing tones, which each piece telling a travel story? Chances are, she has a piece from Evoke. With pop ups in NYC (where owner Brittney Borjeson hails from) and a new beachside outpost, Spirit, this zen shop should definitely be on your shopping trail when hitting the town. For sale you’ll find beautiful locally made clothing, textiles and jewelry, many of which are made by the Huichol tribe. What sets Evoke’s textiles apart from what you might see being sold in the town square are simply the soft, beautiful colors.

Located in the center of town, the amazing jolly rancher-colored chandelier was what first drew me into Ula Boutique. The only thing brighter than the neon pompoms (another Huichol artisanal trademark) is the smile of owner Paola.

BE WELL

Enjoy the Beach. Sayulita is known as the boho surf town that has grown from a few surf shacks to a blossoming and vibrant boho town. Take a surf lesson, boogie board, go Standup Paddel boarding (SUP) or just lay out and people watch. Sayulita life revolves around the waves so embrace beachtime! There are some smaller, less crowded beaches in the area like Playa Escondida and Play Pedro that are my favorites to take in the sunset and spend a great day with friends. Make friends with a local and find out about some others! There is also Playa de los Muertos is one of Sayulita's most appealing treasures. Tucked away in a little nook of a cove just a few minutes away from the main, downtown beach, many of the swells that roll into the main beach, bringing thrills to wave-riders of all sorts, are blocked by Punta Sayulita.

Jungle Hikes! The terrain surrounding this beach town is breathtaking; there are points where it the jungle seems to cascade down into the beach. There are a variety of levels from the short hike from Villa Amor, which you can actually do with your sandals, to the steep hike up Nanzal Hill that gives you panoramic views of the town of Sayulita, the bay, Punta Sayulita and Monkey Mountain. Monkey Mountain is the most difficult hike in the immediate area surrounding Sayulita, averaging about 4 hours of rugged terrain. The mountain is considered sacred to the Huichol Indians and the trail winds through dense forests, ripe with wildlife from ocelots and jaguars to macaws and jays and beautiful flora and forest canopy. The view is spectacular: a 360-degree view from Bahia de Banderas to San Blas.

 After a successful first year, the Sayulita Festival was back for January 2016. An International Film, Tequila, Surf & Music Festival, Festival Sayulita has already generated some buzz in Latin America. If you’ve never heard of Cumbia at El Camaron , Sayulita is the perfect place to listen to this percussion-heavy Latin American music genre. And there is no better place to dance all night to cumbia beats than beach bar El Camaron, a local favorite.

 

Published 2013; Updated, August 2019

Cover photo credit: Villa Amor

My Top Tips For Booking Cheaper Travel Like Pro

Let’s face it, airfare can easily be the largest expense of your trip, leaving us picking a more affordable destination or spend less money at your vacation stop to stay within your spending limit. Since first publishing this blog post in 2013, times have changed and many of the tips offered don’t exactly apply to travel in 2019. I’ve also have added in other money-saving tips to help along with your travels.

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Visit During Shoulder Season

Peak-season rates on islands often reflect nearby countries' vacation schedules rather than the best time to visit. Bali's hotels, for instance, fill up with Japanese in early May and with Australians in January. In low season, many businesses shut down. Shoulder season--when crowds are thinner, but the weather is still good--is the solution.


Sign Up For Emails & Alerts

The best airfare and hotel sales are typically unannounced. Airlines and hotel companies target specific subsets of travelers, and notify them via email. This includes loyalty program members, holders of certain credit cards, and people who have registered on their website. To keep your in-box from getting bombarded, get a dedicated email address for such alerts; and check it when one is ready to start planning your next trip. One of my absolute favorites is Scott’s Cheap Flights for flash deals on flights.

By setting alerts for price drops, can help save on flights. Ticket prices can fluctuate on a daily basis, even a small drop can result in a large savings if you need to buy a ticket for each member of your family. Google Flights will even show you the different flight trends in a graph format.


Rewards Travel

Credit card miles are also amazing, and how I travel for the most part. I also LOVE the United Explorer Card. When you sign up up, you get earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in the first three months that your account is open. This card is great if you fly United or any of the Star Alliance airlines. Another card I highly recommend for any and all travel is the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card. The high-value Ultimate Rewards® points on every purchase, making them an ideal referral for most anyone who travels (or wants to do so). Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus you’ll also get $300 Annual Travel Credits as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year. TSA Pre-check, Global Entry, Uber Rides… all covered by this travel credit!


Lounge Access

While you’re waiting out a long layover, nothing seems more enticing than the airport lounge, or even better, being able to freshen up after a long international flight. With amenities like free Wi-Fi, drinks, snacks, outlets to charge up, and glossy magazines, airport lounges feel like the answer to a lot of your travel annoyances. At the very least, they can give you sanctuary from the noise. A lot of credit card companies and airline loyalty programs offer lounge access. United Explorer Card offers two complimentary passes per year and the Reserve Cards and Amex offer lounge access through Priority Pass.


Get The Best Room For Your Dollar

At luxury properties, rates vary considerably according to occupancy. A room could be $450 one week because there is a large group, and $250 the next because nobody is coming. For top-end hotels that have on-site reservations desks, call and ask the manager when, during your travel window, the hotel will be emptiest and therefore have the lowest rates. Then ask something like, "If I come on that date, would there be a chance of an upgrade to ocean-view?"

Even better? Apps like HotelTonight offer same-day deals on hotels. This is one of my go-to’s when it comes to last minute hotel stays. I’ve gotten a chance to stay at really nice hotels for a fraction of the cost. If you use promo code VFIDAN you’ll get $25 your first booking!


Time it Right

Traveling off-peak days — and at off-peak times — means lower fares, a less crowded cabin, and a greater chance of snagging those elusive mileage award seats. It used to be that Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturdays used to be the best days. But according to travel data from May-December in 2018, booking flights for domestic travel on Saturdays and international flights on Sunday for the cheapest day to book a flight. Want to play it safe? When looking at all destinations around the world, Sunday on average had the cheapest.


Hop Between Cities at Midday

When traveling through Europe or Asia, and want to get from one city to another; consider scheduling transportation for the middle of the day.

Why? Because if you are leaving at dawn, you might miss the sunrise--ideal for photography and observing locals. Sunrise is also a great time to get those amazing instagram shots with no one around. Plus, leaving at the wee hours of the morning, you’ll likely reach your destination at midday, when temperatures are the highest, the light is at its worst for photos, and it is too early to check into your hotel. You’ll also fight rush-hour commuters and miss a breakfast that is included in your hotel rate.


I hope you found these helpful! Do you have any travel tips? Share them with me on Insta! @valeriefidan


Published March 2013; Updated June 2019.

Insiders Guide to Oaxaca

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I am often asked about my favorite places in the world, and often a conversation occurs where it doesn't cross my mind to mention my beloved Mexico; the motherland, my parents home country.

Although my parents home state is vastly different, the culture and food, the people and varied landscapes remain the same and make it a favored destination of mine year after year. Yet of all the spots I claim to conocer oh so well, Oaxaca. However, a place I have only made a small dent of all the thrills and frills of this amazingly vibrant, colonial city with rich indigenous roots.

There is no doubt that Oaxaca will always hold a near and dear place to my heart. It's the significance of a closing chapter in my life, yet welcoming a new horizon, a new chapter if you will. This charming town with Mexican hospitality and endless corazon is also the heart of Mexican cuisine.

After falling in love with its storied and cobbled streets, the vibrant culture, colors, sounds, tastes, and the amazingly hospitable climate. It’s a place with bustling marketplaces, lively fiestas, and beautiful folk art traditions and fascinating history.

It is time to teeter into the unknown, this way by way of Oaxaca. Ready to discover some of the hidden (and not so hidden) gems?

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DORMIR [to sleep]

Casa Oaxaca is the charming little hotel with a quirky heart-shaped pool, stands on its own two feet, with its mixture of colonial architecture with modern touches. Be sure to eat at the restaurant here, it’s been touted as one of the best. Taking up residence in this architecturally stunning and historically fascinating 19th century Oaxacan mansion is Casa de Sierra Azul. This is also a place my group stayed, and enjoyed the 17 high-ceilinged rooms to choose from, each one decorated in a classy yet simple style, with colorful accents. Casa de las Bugambilias is just one of three guest houses that they run in Oaxaca and is well located only one block from the famed Santa Domingo temple. It's personal touches and traditional Mexican artesanías within each of the 8 rooms.

COMER [to eat]

When it comes to food and drink, Oaxaca will not disappoint because this is one of Mexico's best foodie destinations, and many of the regional dishes date back to pre-Hispanic times. Its culinary offerings include a wide variety of corn-based dishes, and the local gastronomy also makes good use of the vast array of chiles grown in the state. Mole sauces are a specialty; you'll hear about seven different moles, but there are in fact more. Oaxaca is a significant mezcal producing center, and tasting the endless varieties is a favorite pastime.

Don’t miss out on the street food in Oaxaca. You’ll find many street foods stands throughout the city. Forget about gourmet restaurants: these stands are where some of the city’s best food is served, and the friendly banter of your dining companions will be hard to beat. From Elotes y Esquites (Mexican Street Corn) to Chapulines to fresh mango with chili, there’s plenty to pick from.

Origen Oaxacan herbs and chiles, ceviches and risottos converge on the menu of Origen, the restaurant of Top Chef Mexico winner, Castellanos Reyes. The creation of their dishes is based on tradition; it is enough to try the unforgettable language in Mole Chichilo to realize the office of the cradle of chef Castellanos.

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Come for the fantastic breakfast 
in the leafy garden, stay for a conversation with Alejandro Ruiz, the amiable chef. of Casa Oaxaca Café. The sprawling food market of Central de Abastos Mercado is an excellent place for lunch, with dozens of vendors preparing meals on the spot. Between Juárez Maza and Calle de Victoria. Enrique Olvera’s new restaurant, 
Criollo, serves creative spin on classic Oaxacan dishes in a modern space with an outdoor dining room.
 Run by the talented Chef Pilar Cabrera, Restaurant la Olla is an unpretentious restaurant offering Oaxacan specialties. Head to the upper-level dining room, which is more spacious than the ground floor, with artwork by local artists. The moles are delicious, but to start, order the squash blossom soup.

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Los Danzantes has three restaurants scattered across Southern Mexico, but the one in Oaxaca is locally considered to be outstanding with equally impressive cocktails. Get out of the city and pay a visit to the distillery as well. For 
 education in Oaxaca’s signature spirit, book 
a tasting at this bar/classroom in the city center for Mezcaloteca. There 
are nearly 100 varieties on 
offer.. 
Graciela Ángeles Carreño’s distillery is a farm-to-glass operation at Mezcal Real Minero. Tour the agave crops before settling into the tasting room.

Mexico is perhaps not the most well-known coffee producing country, but in Veracruz, Chiapas and Guerrero in particular, there are quality beans being produced. However, what about colonial Oaxaca? Your coffee options are not limited in this historic, quaint and vibrant city. El Volador, Cofetarika, and Alma de Café are worth checking out.

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HACER [to do]

Wander through the Historic Center of Zócalo. Oaxaca City was built for the wanderer; winding streets take you high up above the center with views over the Oaxacan skyline, and cobbled paths lead you to cafés you wouldn’t ordinarily have found in a million years. The multi-colored façades of many of Oaxaca City’s houses and edifices only add to this charming town. You’d be hard-pressed to visit Oaxaca and not stop by the Museo de las Culturas at least once, given that it’s located next to the famed Templo de Santo Domingo in the 17th century converted monastery. Even if you’re not big on museums, this one does have some cool exhibits you should check it out for the location alone. The large open windows frame the surrounding Ethnobotanical Garden, creating some literally picture perfect views.

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Explore the art galleries throughout Oaxaca is a must. While Mexico City takes the title for the most museums, Oaxaca is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to art galleries. From smaller independent ones that you can dip in and out of as you wander the cobbled, winding streets of the city to the larger more famous ones that display pieces from renowned artists, the art scene in Oaxaca is absolutely one of the things you must see. Visit the mezcal distilleries. The spiky agave plants whose piñas (hearts) harvested to roast, mash and ferment, it became clear why this is one of the most excellent mezcal you’ll taste.
 Chef Pilar Cabrera of Restaurant la Olla, also offers cooking classes through Casa de los Sabores. For more fun experiences, check out Airbnb Experiences, where you’ll find unique cooking classes, tours, gallery walks and so much more.


Updated May 2019



Photo Diary: Agra

There are those places that we all dream of visiting. One's the you must visit and experience for yourself, and Agra is one of them. The main reason why visitors come to Agra is to visit the timeless monument to love and one for the bucket list, the Taj Mahal.

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Photo Diary

Agra

It's the city of the Taj Mahal, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, some 200 km from Delhi. Agra has three UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort in the city and Fatehpur Sikri nearby. There are also many other buildings and tombs from Agra's days of glory as the capital of the Mughal Empire.

Truth be told, the city has little else to recommend it making it a place for an over night stay before moving on to your next destination. You can also opt for a one day excursion from Delhi to Agra. Keep in mind that due to the very high number of tourists, Agra is a breeding ground for touts and people looking to separate you from your money. 

Getting into Agra from Delhi is a quick train or bus ride, and an experience to be had.

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The Agra Fort

The Agra Fort, built by rulers of the Mughal empire, is a sight to behold. It's sandstone walls and white marble interior will hold you in awe. But before you go, be sure to find your way to the back of the Fort and catch the view of it's sister monument, the Taj Mahal off in the distance.

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Taj Mahal

One for the bucketlist. Despite the hype, it’s every bit as good as you’ve heard. I know everyone takes this picture but when you capture it with your own eyes, it because something magical and a memory that will last a lifetime!

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Off The Beaten (Tourist) Path

It's time to out the travel guides down, and skip the tourist trap attractions and experience a city like a local.

Off The Beaten (Tourist) Path travel tips

First thing firsts, if you want to experience local culture when traveling, stay away from tourist sites and tourist attractions. We all know that those experiences are far from truly experiencing local culture. Sure, you may want to explore the Colosseum in Rome  or visit Boca in Buenos Aires--but think about it this way...when you visit New York City, do you really get a New York experience by staying in Time Square? Do as the locals do. Travel with as few plans, commitments and reservations as possible. Be your most uninhibited self.

Easiest way to get the local knowledge is from the locals. This is true. Most people are proud of their home and love to tell you about it. One trick is to go to a restaurant early, like so you are the only customer - the staff will talk to you; sit at a bar and talk to the bartender, the always are in the know.

Ask your waiter.

Ask your cab drivers (use discretion here - cab drivers often get kickbacks for nightlife type activities).

Ask people you meet at the bar, or the cafe, or people you run into in the lobby of your hotel.  

Ask random people on the street.  

Rent places via AirBnB or Couchsurfing and ask your host.

As long as you are polite and use good judgment on when you are asking someone (i.e., don't interrupt people) usually people are happy to help and make recommendations.  Almost everyone wants visitors to enjoy their city/country and leave with a good impression.

Don't be intimidated by language barriers. Explore other forms of communications. Bring postcards from home to show and share. Draw pictures. Pantomime.

Be willing to try (nearly) anything. Food is a good example. Local "delicacies" may be intimidating, but you can pretty safely assume they aren't killing anyone.

Lastly, smile! People will respond best if you are approachable and polite. Well, at least this has worked for me!

Share your tips on Instagram!