La Costa Incognita: Pacific Mexico

Sayulita

   

If it's surf you're looking for, forget Mazatlán, San Blas, even Puerto Escondido. Make your way instead to Sayulita, about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta, where an easy paddle out to a sandbar that offers both left and right rides is so close to the beach that you can be captured on film without a long lens. It's no wonder that El Tigre, one of Mexico's top surfers, is a local boy.
All the action takes place in front of El Costeño restaurant, which has the best food on the beach. Right next door is Papa's Palapas (doubles, $35 per night; 011-52-327-5-0082 or, in the United States, 805-489-7210), where you can get a comfortable two-story bungalow that sleeps four (about $3 extra for each additional person). Papa's also rents boards and kayaks (about $7 per hour) and bodyboards ($3 per hour). The village itself is tiny and the pace soporific (the La Michoacán fruit-drink stand is where the local public phone is located and is still the town's unofficial meeting place). There is a feeling, though, of bigger things to come—grand talk of big new hotels, Japanese money, massive projects with pro-designed golf courses—but for now the only thing on the horizon worth noting is the incoming northwesterly swell. The hill above town to the south, known locally as the Cerro de los Monos, Monkey Mountain, is perfect for horseback riding (rent horses in town for about $10 per hour) or wild-orchid collecting. For snorkeling, head ten minutes south of El Costeño, over the rocks, to protected Playa de los Muertos, below the cemetery. For a more extended excursion, hire a panga on the beach to take you out to Islas Marietas, at the mouth of the bay ($30 per person), for a combined snorkeling-kayaking tour of caves, reefs, and steep walls.

If you'd rather have a one-stop roster of land and water sports at your disposal, head up to Costa Azul, a five-acre jungle-beach compound with 28 rooms a few miles up the beach in San Francisco. Horseback riding on local beaches like Las Juntas, sea kayaking, snorkeling, surfing, hiking, fishing, and mountain biking are all right there (all-inclusive adventure package, including lodging, meals, and unlimited activities, $94 per person per night; 800-365-7613).

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