Last week, I spent my Thanksgiving vacation in Mexico. I met my friend Amy in Puerto Vallarta, and from there we took a bus to the small coastal town of Sayulita, where we stayed for our first three nights. Our first night in Sayulita, Amy and I were in a restaurant where live music played and the dance floor was filled with locals and tourists whirling about in an impressive salsa dancing display. We sat back and watched the dancers, and as we did, a woman came up to Amy and asked if she had a pen that she could borrow, “maybe forever.” She explained that she was a travel journalist, and her own pen had broken (she held up an ink-stained palm) and told Amy she needed the pen to be able to do her job.
Amy gave the girl her pen, and we watched her move across the room, post up along the opposite wall, and begin to take notes on what she saw there.
Amy and I began chatting about what an amazing job travel journalism must be.And that chance meeting inspired me to write this, a few days later:
Sayulita is at once familiar and unlike any place I have been before. Multiple times, I have begun the sentence, “this town reminds me of…” and then been unable to finish it. Sayulita is a combination of all my experiences. It is Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Guatemala all rolled into one little beach town.
The guide books all seem to say that Sayulita does a perfect job of mixing local culture and tourism, but to me, the place still feels overrun with tourists. Not that that's a bad thing. But when every waiter in every café sees me and speaks to me in US-accented English, I don't feel I'm really picking up any local culture. I do, however, enjoy the emphasis and effort at hospitality which is evident at every establishment.
The cobble-stoned streets of this town are lined with restaurants, boutique shops, and convenience stores. Half of the streets end in the sand of the beach, and the eateries in that locale inevitably set out beach chairs, rent surfboards, offer fruity drinks to the tourists here to escape their chilly late-autumn realities.
The number of families here has surprised me, for some reason. Amy and I find ourselves cooing over dads holding naked babies in the waves, parents teaching their kids to boogie board, fathers running down the beach with a kid and a dog on each side. I find myself hoping that one day, I'll have a family who vacations in a beach town like this, that my own kids will drive a rented golf cart and practice their Spanish and build sand castles and think those things are the most amazing part of their year.
The beautiful thing about this area is that there are so many things to do. A family vacation would make perfect sense. There's the beach, of course. But there are also beach sports, hiking, biking, small nearby towns to visit, and the tourist mecca of Puerto Vallarta is only a short drive away. It’s a place of adventure, but not too much. Just the right amount for a family vacation.