Mazatlán and Sayulita, Mexico – “Don’t go to Mazatlán.” My dad’s parting advice as he drove us to the airport. “We’re going to Mazatlán,” we responded.
We heard good things about Mazatlán, granted not the resort area that my dad visited ten years ago that was all high rises and American tourists. No, we were headed to historic Old Mazatlán. Apparently it was something in the 50’s. Now it’s all faded, worn out hotels and mostly Mexican tourists. But the prices are cheaper, the beach is quieter and the charm can’t be beat.
Before arriving at our “charming” hotel in Old Mazatlán, we took a seven hour bus ride from Los Mochis, which was the terminus point for El Chepe. Man, buses in Mexico are nothing like Asia. Most busses are first class: A/C; comfortable, assigned seats; free snacks; bathrooms; and my favorite, headphone jacks for the TV. No loud blaring music or movie tracks, no fighting for seats or sitting on plastic stools in the aisles, and no chickens. There are a few lower class busses you can take, but they usually go on the backroads and have a much higher chance of getting robbed.
The highlight of Mazatlán was Isla de Pierda – an island a short ferry ride from the mainland. The island fills up with Mexican families on Sundays, but since we went over on a Monday, we pretty much had the beach to ourselves. We were invited to sit at Lety’s, a restaurant on the beach, and as long as we ate lunch there we were welcome to lounge on their chairs. They even watched our stuff while we went swimming. The water was warm, their food was delicious, it was a brilliant day.
Despite our yummy lunch at Lety’s, the one thing in Old Mazatlán we weren’t so keen on was the food. Apparently, as a guy we met on Isla Pierda informed us, the historic quarter now caters to Mexican tourists who want international and fancy food. So the tacos stands and street food have all but disappeared, leaving mediocre Italian and “upscale” Mexican places. Fortunately, after wandering around for a while, we found a taco stand which was only open for lunch as well as a few other lunch stalls in the centro mercado.
The food in Sayulita however, was GOOD. So Good. It took us a day to get there from Mazatlán. A first class bus to Tepic and then a slow second class bus from there. Sayulita is a cool beach town with tons of shops and restuturants and TONS of Americans and Candians. Just 35 kilometers north of Puerto Vallarta, it has a huge ex-pat community and is apparently popular with Candian tourists. It has none of the big resorts and clubs that define Vallarta, just small hotels and a mostly low key beach vibe. And the food was amazing. Al pastor street tacos with pineapple, American style burritos, and our favorite: hot, fresh churros.
When we arrived the town hopping. It was Halloween and there were kids in costumes and families jamming the streets trick-or-treating from local businesses. That was followed by two days of Dios De Los Muertos – I’m still not sure which day, the first or the second, is actually the Day of the Dead. Sayulita was filled with flowers, candles, skeletons and more families jamming the streets.
Our reason for going to Sayulita was to visit Isla Marietas. It’s a small island with a cave that you can swim through to get to a hidden beach inside the island. Stuart saw a picture of it somewhere and decided that we had to go. Several tour companies go there from both Sayulita and Puerto Vallarta, so its not THAT secret, but still well worth the trip. We sailed out with two Canadian couples and our tour guides. The beach turned out to be just as beautiful as the picture that inspired our visit, with soft white sand and warm, clear blue water. Unfortunately since we had to swim through a cave to get there, we did’t take our camera. Better add “waterproof bag” to the packing list for next time.
Our guides tried to take us swimming through another cave in the island – this one turned out to be not so easy. We all swam out to the mouth of the cave, and the water got really rough. The waves would come through the other side of the cave and push us against the outside cave walls and towards the celling. The idea was to swim through while the waves were receding, but the waves just kept coming and pushing us around – I definitely had the thought that this is the point in the movies where something goes horribly wrong.
I was doing fine, except a few scratches on my ankle and foot from the rocks, but we had a couple of people with us that weren’t strong swimmers. Our guides, who we later found out had never actually done this before, decided that it was best that we turn around and not attempt to swim through. I think we were all relieved. Ironically I ended up injuring my baby toe pretty bad when I accidentally kicked Stuart’s ankle on our swim back.