Just a brief 40 minutes after landing in Puerto Vallarta, I was nestled into a private little hideaway on Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit in the little seaside fishing village of Sayulita, with wide sandy beaches and the shimmering Pacific welcoming me. It was like a step back in time. No high-rises, no neon, and no real sign of the busy life I had left behind. There was an unspoiled beach waiting there, a few random umbrellas, the quiet lapping of incoming waves, tiny cobblestone streets lined with little shops, charming restaurants, little white houses with balcony boxes filled with beautiful flowers, and a lovely place called Villa Amor tucked gently into the hillside rising from the beach.This was to be my home for the next few nights. Run by the gregarious Barbara Roche Fierman and her adorable but unfriendly dog Pinky (Pinky loves only Barbara), and consisting of 43 connected villas, mostly privately owned, Villa Amor units boast large verandas and sweeping Pacific Ocean views, allowing one to see Sayulita from a rare vantage point. Here, one can rent a two-, three-, or up to five-bedroom villa, perfect for a cozy honeymoon or a joyous family reunion.
Sayulita is itself a quiet, extraordinarily safe place for both living and visiting. The tiny downtown area is full of gentle souls who own their own shops and have lived there most of their lives. It’s unpretentious, charming, and very friendly. There are also a few lucky ex-pats who retire there, many of whom open little restaurants to keep them busy a few months of the year.
Rollie and his wife Jeanne, a retired principal and teacher, respectively, both from the Salinas area, went to Sayulita some years ago for a 10-day vacation. Rollie returned two months later, bought a small “downtown” building, and remodeled the downstairs into a restaurant—“the realization,” he says, “of a decades-old dream.” Today, it’s the town’s most popular restaurant, famous for its extraordinary breakfasts, the best espresso and smoothies around, and its jovial, fun-loving owners. Rollie is apt to appear suddenly from the kitchen, serenade you, swing you around the floor to the music of the 1950s, which is loud and constant, and generally charm the pants off you. You will want to visit them—if not for the amazing food, then just for the company of this extraordinary couple. Rollies epitomizes the carefree sense of Sayulita and the gentle, fun-loving people who both reside and visit there.
There are lots of fun things to do in Sayulita, many having to do with eating and drinking well. That first evening for dinner we went to Miro Vino, where Luca Romano reigns supreme. I loved Luca, first because he is Italian, and secondly because he has a great sense of humor. The name of his restaurant is a play on the words mi rovino, which in Italian means “the ruin of me,” something he thought this new venture might be. It is, contrarily, very successful, mostly because of his great food,wonderful wine, and warm personality. The following day, I lunched at the Punta Sayulita Beach House on a fresh cerviche lunch sampler by resident chef Miguel Angel Ortega, a large, cuddle some man of great talent and humor. Miguel is one of those people every family wishes they had—he can do anything, cook anything, fix anything, and be big and huggable— all at the same time. Miguel is an important cog in the wheel of Punta Sayulita, but more on that later.
In a meager effort to work off some of the accumulating calories, my host Kevin Roberts, he being a Principle in Sausalito’s Contact Development Company (and the reason I was there), and I drove a scant 15 – 20 minutes to play a round at the Litibu Golf Course, a lush, rolling Greg Norman-designed course in terrific condition located at the nearby Four Seasons and the beautifully understated St. Regis resort. Except for a handful of other golfers, we basically had the course to ourselves.
Already in love with the place and gliding happily into heaven, it was hard to believe it could get any better. But the next day, we set out for a long, enchanting sailboat ride—or more precisely, a sail yacht ride—which allowed me the perspective of seeing the whole of Sayulita from the sea. Once back on shore, near the marina, we stopped at Oso’s Oyster Bar for lunch, a wonderful place in the harbor of La Cruz and very close to the fish market, which explains why everything at Oso’s is fresh and delicious. It’s clearly one of those places where the locals hang, where everyone knows your name, and the owner is counted as one of your best friends.
Lest you should be troubled about where to have your next meal, another endearing place for dinner in the very heart of the village is Don Pedro’s, where I had my last supper, as it were. Damien Porter and wife Christina, proprietors, and Chef Nick Parrillo have combined excellent taste and talents to produce this very popular beach front establishment that has been there since 1994. You want romance and fun? This is the place for you.
By now you may be thinking this entire outing was about food and fun, but there is so much more to Sayulita than gentle people and outstanding food.
Sayulita itself is considered one of the top family beach destinations, as recognized by the Los Angeles Times and the Lonely Planet Traveller magazine. It is a water sports heaven, with surfing and numerous surf schools. In fact, Men’s Fitness magazine recently recognized Sayulita as “one of the world’s best Stand-Up Paddle locations,” an event now celebrated there annually.
Roberts and his team have done some remarkable projects for the natives of Sayulita as well by establishing and sponsoring a variety of environmental and education fundraising events, including its annual Punta Sayulita Longboard & Stand-Up Paddle Classic, attracting some of the top professional surfers and paddlers from around the world to compete and raise money for the Reef Check Foundation and Punta Sayulita Foundation programs.
At the Punta Sayulita Beach House, where Miguel and the developers hang out and interact with the locals, a lot is going on for all to enjoy. They have art exhibitions, movie nights on the beach, tide pool exploration workshops for kids, and an occasional sea turtle symposium/education evening. They make an effort to interact on every level with the locals, even building and sponsoring a local elementary school.
But this is a long-term project—maybe seven years or so that they plan to be there, to do what they can with and for the locals. Their desire is not to change anything, because, as they say, “We like it as it is,” but instead to interact with and do things for the community as a whole.
Immediately adjacent to the little town of Sayulita is the 33- acre private peninsula that is precisely the “Punta” of Punta Sayulita. Here, on its semi jungle-like hillside so as to be barely noticeable, and sensitively designed by the award-winning firms of de Reus Architects (architects of Waimea, Hawaii) and Vita Planning & Landscape of San Rafael, California, will arise an enclave of just 62 handcrafted residences offering dramatic panoramic views of pristine beach and ocean, with prices starting at $1.5 million.
This beautiful enclave will include a residents’ Beach & Surf Club, a beach bar, lounge, restaurant, Jungle Pool, fitness center, spa facilities, and a game room for the kids. Other amenities for those lucky 62 owners and their families will include a series of walking trails, surfing, stand-up and outrigger canoe paddling, sports fishing, hiking, mountain biking, and artisan crafts such as art and cooking classes. This is a place for those who love beauty without “showy,” privacy without isolation, amenities for everyone from grandkids to grandparents, all in a safe, controlled environment.
Walking up the densely treed hill that will be home to the villas, it is clear that every home will be private unto itself while at the same time having incredible views of the ocean below. The developers are extraordinarily involved in eco-sustainable design practices and harbor a deep commitment to keeping the little town of Sayulita as pristine as possible. “From the outset,” says Roberts, “it was the philosophy of our company and design team to have Punta Sayulita feel like an organic extension of the neighboring village of Sayulita that embodies simplicity and a relaxed coastal living environment for our resident families and their guests.”
For those with a high energy level, there will also be zip lining, horseback riding, ATVs, sport fishing, and surfing available. Punta Sayulita, however, will be an “electric golf cart only” community, the first of its kind in the region.
It certainly appears that this will be the best of all possible worlds: the tiny town of Sayulita proper with all its shopping and food possibilities, the gentle people, the extraordinary beach, and right next to it, the very private expanse of hillside homes in Punta Sayulita, tucked safely away with its own special and varied amenities.
And in between the beauty of the water, the kindness of strangers, the trees of low-hanging fruit, and the occasional leash free dog looking for a hug, there remains a touch of the America of old, and perhaps Mexico as well. It’s how we’d like to be—quiet, unhurried, relaxed, and enjoying only each other and the incredible beauty of the sea. And I think both Sayulita and Punta Sayulita have intentions to remain just this way.
… And now you know the secret, too.