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How to Choose Between Visiting Yelapa or Sayulita (when you only have time for one)

How to Choose Between Visiting Yelapa or Sayulita (when you only have time for one)

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Both Sayulita and Yelapa are the two best beach town day trip destinations from Puerto Vallarta. 

Each of them have a completely different vibe! Sayulita is a happy laid back party, Yelapa is more sedate, in a good way. 

I’ve visited each town and think they have their own appeal for different reasons. 

If you only have time to visit either Yelapa or Sayulita on your next trip to Puerto Vallarta, here’s everything you might like and dislike about each coastal community to help you pick which one to visit.

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Sayulita and Yelapa – Quick Overview

Sayulita is a bustling town known for its vibrant atmosphere, busy beaches and surfing. You can expect a lively environment filled with artsy shops, restaurants, social bars, farmers markets and beach clubs.

Think colorful streets and an energetic, bohemian vibe.  

In contrast, Yelapa offers a more laid-back experience, best suited for visitors looking to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Puerto Vallarta.

This quiet fishing village can only be reached by boat, adding to its remote and peaceful charm.

During your time in Yelapa, you’ll find it much less crowded than Sayulita, particularly after the tourist bay cruise boats depart around 2:30pm.

While both villages boast beautiful scenery, Yelapa is located in one of the world’s lushest bioregions, offering exceptional natural beauty and opportunities for hiking and exploring.

The village is nestled between two rivers that meet the sea, creating a picturesque and tranquil setting for your vacation.

I particularly love the waterfall hikes and the quiet strolls through the charming village streets. 

Quick Take:

  • If you want a lively atmosphere with plenty of tourists, shopping, and dining options, Sayulita is the ideal choice for you. 
  • If you prefer a low-key, serene experience immersed in nature, Yelapa will provide the perfect getaway. 
  • No matter which village you choose, you’ll be rewarded with stunning beaches, captivating cultures, and unforgettable memories in these beautiful Mexican communities.

Can’t decide? 

If you want to experience the ‘best of both worlds’ – we took a Sayulita day trip tour and it was one of my favorite excursions on our recent trip to Puerto Vallarta.

  • Our guide brought us to Sayulita where we could explore the trendy town and bustling beach for a few hours.
  • After that, he brought us to a secluded beach away from the crowds, where we could enjoy the sun, sand and water all to ourselves.
  • He cooked us an amazing grilled lunch and enjoyed a very ‘chill’ afternoon. 

Book the exact Sayulita day trip tour we did here!

I also documented our entire experience on this trip, if you would like to watch the video to get a sense of what to expect!

Getting There and Around

Adorable roadside market on the way to Sayulita – fresh coconuts, candies, fruits…anything!

From Puerto Vallarta, it’s a bit of an adventure to get to both Yelapa and Sayulita, but you do have a few options. 

Getting to Sayulita From Puerto Vallarta

If you’re heading to Sayulita, the most convenient method is taking a bus from Puerto Vallarta’s airport or city center.

The journey takes about 1 hour and buses run frequently throughout the day.

Alternatively, you can rent a car and drive the approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) distance.

It’s a beautiful, winding road through the jungle, and there are cute roadside market stands you can stop at along the way. 

Getting to Yelapa From Puerto Vallarta

For those going to Yelapa, you can either take a one hour boat directly from the Los Muertos pier, or take a 30 minute bus or taxi to Boca de Tomatlan and then another 30-minute water taxi.

Half the fun of visiting Yelapa is getting there. The panga boat ride is an experience in itself. 

Water taxis to Yelapa typically run on a schedule with several departures throughout the day.

The boat ride takes about 45 minutes to an hour.

Make sure to catch the last water taxi from Yelapa by 5 p.m. to avoid getting stranded overnight.

Local Transportation

Once in Sayulita, you’ll find that it’s a walkable town with most attractions, restaurants, and shops within walking distance. Many people also rent golf carts for the day!

In Yelapa, there are no cars, so walking is the primary mode of transportation.

The village is small and easy to navigate on foot.

Yelapa’s main attractions, such as the beach and waterfall, can be reached by walking or occasionally by mule or horseback for a more adventurous experience.

Keep in mind that both Sayulita and Yelapa have limited public transportation options, so it’s essential to plan your day around available methods of getting around.

Key Takeaways:

  • If you’re staying in downtown Puerto Vallarta or the Romantic Zone, Yelapa is much closer to visit. 
  • If you’re staying closer to the hotel zone or Nuevo Vallarta, it will be easier for you to get to Sayulita. It will take you about 1 to 1.5 hours to get there depending on traffic. 

Vibe & Atmosphere: Let’s Compare

If you want a lively, busy atmosphere, Sayulita is the place to visit.

If you want a chill, quiet day, you’ll love Yelapa. Let’s go over this in more detail.

Sayulita’s Vibe

Sayulita’s energy is like a happy, laid back party atmosphere. 

The streets are busy with colorful shops and restaurants, and there are dozens of bars that line the beach. 

Sayulita is most well-known for its excellent surf break, especially for beginners. 

So if you want to shop, dine at trendy restaurants (especially if you’re vegan), party on the beach and try out surfing, definitely visit Sayulita over Yelapa. 

It can be known to get pretty crowded, especially if you’re visiting between January and March.

If you like the idea of visiting Sayulita but aren’t interested in crowds, you can visit San Pancho, which is only about 15 minutes further.

It’s a small beach town that’s exactly like how Sayulita was before it became popular among tourists. 

Yelapa’s Vibe

Yelapa’s vibe is much more calm and sedate, almost sleepy. 

The village is very small, with only a few restaurants and a few beach bars. 

You can hike to waterfalls, go snorkeling or swimming and then enjoy a calm afternoon on the beach. 

Yelapa is isolated, has less of a night time drinking culture, and much more beach access. And the town is quite unique – it’s built up into the hills.

The best way to enjoy Yelapa is to take one of the first morning water taxis to get there before the crowds:

  • Do a bit of hiking
  • Snorkel to cool down
  • Grab lunch at one of the beach bars
  • Nap or suntan on the beach
  • Head back around 4pm!

Who is more likely to enjoy Sayulita or Yelapa?

Young adults and digital nomads will most enjoy Sayulita. 

Or if you’re young at heart and don’t mind a little chaotic energy. Sayulita is quite crowded and busy for families with young children. 

Travelers who want to get away form the hustle and bustle of the city will enjoy Yelapa’s sleepy environment.

Yelapa is more suited for families and older adults and anyone who isn’t looking for a beach town party atmosphere.  

Activities & Things to Do

Water Activities

In both Sayulita and Yelapa, you will find a plethora of water activities to keep you entertained. 

Sayulita is famous for its surf breaks, making it a popular destination for surfers of all levels.

Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced surfer, there are plenty of surf schools and rental shops in town that can cater to your needs.

If you’re looking for a more relaxed water activity, paddleboarding is a great option.

You can rent a paddleboard and explore the calm waters of either Yelapa or Sayulita Bay while taking in the stunning views of the towns.

On-Land Activities

Aside from spending time at the beach, there are plenty of on-land activities to partake in. 

Throughout the small village of Yelapa, many of the residents line the streets selling artisan crafts – you can find all kinds of colorful trinkets.

There are also several waterfalls you can hike to – or take an ATV or mule to get there!

In Sayulita, there’s hiking, horseback riding, horseback riding, rainforest tours, and Jeep adventures. For a more relaxing experience, or take a yoga class at one of the many studios.

My favorite activity in Sayulita was this hiking & yoga tour!

  • It’s a lovely hike through the shaded forest to a secluded beach for a yoga session

A little further north of Sayulita, you can hike to a clay beach called Playa de Burro. You’ll find it between two small towns San Francisco (a.k.a San Pancho) and Lo de Marcos. 

Here is the Google map pin – so you’ll have to hike about 20 minutes to get there, but it’s worth it. Find the blue clay, cover your skin and let it dry in the sun.

After about 20 minutes, wash off in the ocean and your skin will never feel smoother!

If you prefer to hang by the pool, in Sayulita, the Sayulinda Hotel or La Patrona’s Tierra Tropical in San Pancho offer day passes for non-hotel guests. 


As the sun sets on the Riviera Nayarit, experience the lively nightlife that these coastal towns have to offer. In Sayulita, you can find a variety of bars, clubs, and live music venues to suit your tastes. 

In Yelapa, most things quiet down after 5pm, so nightlife is non-existent here!

Whale Watching

During the winter months (December to March), the Pacific Coast becomes a prime location for whale watching.

If you’re visiting during this time, a whale watching tour is an absolute must-do as these majestic creatures make their way through the waters of Jalisco and Nayarit.

This once-in-a-lifetime experience is not to be missed during your visit to Sayulita or Yelapa.

Book the highest-rated Whale Watching sunset tour here

Best Tours to Sayulita & Yelapa

One of the easiest & best ways to visit either town, is by tour.

You don’t have to worry about catching water taxis, or driving or taking the bus on winding, jungle roads.

Here are some great tour options to visit these fun little beach towns:

Mega Yacht All-Inclusive Yelapa Waterfall & Snorkeling Adventure:

  • Board a mega-yacht for smooth sailing
  • Cruise to the Yelapa waterfall
  • Go kayaking, snorkeling, paddleboarding (all equipment included)
  • Includes breakfast, lunch, snacks and and open bar (all alcohol included)


Sayulita’s Beaches

In Sayulita, you will find a variety of beautiful beaches to explore. One of the main beaches is Playa Norte, a popular spot for swimming and sunbathing. 

My favorite beach in Sayulita is Playa de Los Muertos, located near the local graveyard, which offers a protected area with fewer waves, ideal for swimming. Here we swam for hours in warm, clear and calm water. 

You can watch the video of how amazing the water is here!

And I wrote a whole blog post about how to find Playa los Muertos in Sayulita

If you’re more adventurous, venture to Playa Las Cuevas for a unique and secluded experience. 

There’s also the hidden black sand beach, just a few minutes outside of Sayulita. 

It’s a bit tricky to find, and we only found it with the help of our local guide who brought us here and cooked us lunch on the beach!

Yelapa’s Beaches

Yelapa has one beach – it’s got warm, golden sand with beautiful turquoise water. The ocean is nice and calm here because it’s located in a small, sheltered cove. 

At the beach you can swim, snorkel, dine at one of the beach bars and order pie from the famous pie lady!

Best Time to Visit

Considering the weather and tourist trends, the best time to visit either Yelapa or Sayulita is between December and April.

During these months, the weather is dry and sunny, providing a comfortable environment for exploring the town and enjoying outdoor activities.

December is particularly ideal as it marks the beginning of the dry season and allows you to explore both beach towns without worrying about rainfall.

However, be aware that this is also a peak time for tourism, so expect higher costs and a more crowded atmosphere.

If you are planning to visit in the summer months, keep in mind that the weather will be hotter, and there may be more rainfall, especially between May and November.

During this time, the tropical climate dominates Sayulita.

Despite these factors, summer visits can offer less crowded conditions and potentially more affordable options for accommodations and transportation.

Want more cute towns to visit near Puerto Vallarta?

You’ll probably love Bucerias – read all about it here.