Sunrise in Sayulita Which is Better Sayulita or San Pancho? A Battle of the Best Nayarit Beach
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Which is Better Sayulita or San Pancho? A Battle of the Best Nayarit Beach

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Trying to decide between Sayulita or San Pancho? It can be tough trying to choose between these two beautiful beach towns on the Riviera Nayarit. Luckily, there are no wrong answers and both towns have something unique and extraordinary to offer. But, depending on what you’re looking for, you might find one suits you better. Find out exactly what to expect when planning a trip to Sayulita or San Pancho.

As the Riveria Nayarit becomes more and more popular vying for the title of Mexico’s next beach holiday destination, two towns, in particular, have captured the imagination of travelers and holidaymakers from around the world.

Vibrant Sayulita, a mecca for surfing, endless activities, and great nightlife, and the more relaxed San Pancho with down-to-earth charm, a warm community, and off-beat bohemian culture.

Sayulita is the spot to organize all types of tours, lessons, and activities. Surfing, yoga, tours, motorbikes, horse riding, fishing, hikes, and mountain biking can all be done from Sayulita. Additionally, Sayulita is the spot for late-night activities with beach bars, cocktail lounges, and nightclubs keeping the party going until the wee hours.

In San Pancho, you can expect to find a more relaxed beach, with fewer tourists and less organized activities but a strong community of locals and ex-pats that have banded together to create the unique community-driven atmosphere of San Pancho.

So… Sayulita or San Pancho

Playa Malpaso on the hike between Sayulita and San Pancho. Sayulita or San Pancho
Playa Malpaso on the hike between Sayulita and San Pancho.

For us, the more relaxed, smaller, and less developed town of San Pancho is one of our favorite destinations, and we greatly prefer it to Sayulita. However, they both have something different to offer, and you may well prefer Sayulita.

Sayulita is the spot for activities, including surfing the consistent and often gentle wave, perfect for learners (along with hundreds of other beginners). It also offers accessible dining, nightlife, and accommodation catering to booming tourism.

You’ll find a slightly younger crowd here. Backpackers, digital nomads, and young families come for great amenities. Perfect beach days spent on lounge chairs with attentive service. At night, beach bars, pubs, and clubs provide revelers with entertainment well into the early morning. Sayulita is loud, busy, and fun, with something going on at any time of day, every day of the week.

San Pancho is Sayulita’s quieter sibling (although it’s growing up fast), but it has more than serenity to offer. It also has a range of dining options, including, in our opinion, some of the more interesting offerings in the region. There are bars here, but most close between 10 and 12 pm, an advantage or disadvantage depending on your point of view.

Less development in San Pancho means fewer hotels, tourism operators, and facilities. Internet service can be unreliable, and occasional power outages affect the town, but this should be expected in the jungle, and things are improving rapidly.

San Pancho also has a wider community of permanent and semi-permanent retirees and snowbirds from the US and Canada who are starting to buy and build in and around the town (another trend that brings a range of positive and negative impacts to the region).

Which Has Better Restaurants and Cafes, Sayulita or San Pancho?

A picture of street tacos found in San Pancho. Sayulita vs. San Pancho
Street tacos found in San Pancho

In our opinion, it is San Pancho that has a more interesting dining scene.

Sayulita does have some great international, concept restaurants and delicious local cantinas, but it also has a lot of flavorless, tourist restaurants featuring cheeseburgers and watered-down Mexican food. While you’ll find a few of these ‘tourist’ restaurants in San Pancho, there are lots more fresh innovative restaurants with a focus on organic produce and healthy foods.

Restaurants in Sayulita are also more expensive than in San Pancho when you compare like for like. Some of the concept and international restaurants in Sayulita are a lot pricier than similar restaurants in San Pancho and don’t offer much more.

Our favorite spots to eat in Sayulita are:

Achara: Specializing in Thai cuisine, you may forget where you are after one tantalizing bite of their delicious duck curry. The small curated menu of Achara hits all the highlights of your local Thai restaurant but with a sophistication that sets it apart from most. Their cocktail menu is equally appealing with the classics as well as some more unique offerings including my personal favorite the No. 33 with mezcal, pineapple, basil, and lime.

Tacos Al Pastor Tal Ivan: There are a few Tacos Al Pastor Tal Ivan in Sayulita but the one closest to the bridge near the Telcel shop is by far the best in town. This no-frills taco stand is everything you imagine when you think of taco stands in Mexico. While Tacos Al Pastor Tal Ivan serves a few different types of tacos naturally the highlight is the al pastor. Delicious, marinated pork roasted on a skewer and served with pineapple topped with onion and cilantro and some seriously good (and spicy) salsas. Although this taco may be simple, you likely will be back for more.

Other great street tacos in Sayulita include the tacos birria and the fish tacos, both found near the intersection of Calle Jose Mariscal and Avenue Revolución.

Estrella del Mar Mariscos: No list of the best restaurants in Sayulita would be complete without a seafood restaurant. Our favorite seafood restaurant in Sayulita is the understated Estrella del Mar Mariscos. Located on Avenue del Palmar, this local cantina serves the best agua chiles on the Riviera Nayarit. Aguachiles are similar to ceviche but with shrimp (camarones) in a delicious spicy salsa. Served with tostadas, aguachiles can be a great appetizer to share or a meal in itself. Other specialties include delicious shrimp quesadillas, tacos gobernador (camarón and marlin), and many many more outstanding seafood options.

Sueño Creative Cuisine and Cocktails: A recent addition to the local scene, Sueño brings a truly international menu to Sayulita, set in a beautiful space focused on sustainability and excellence. The quality of the food and the cocktails are exceptional even by Sayulita’s lofty standards.

A freshly made cocktail sitting on the bar garnished with candied kiwi fruit
Sueño Creative Cuisine and Cocktails is one of the most exciting new restaurants in Sayulita

Ki’i No Ramen: Combining the flavors of Mexican cuisine and Japanese ramen might seem like a tough ask, but the combinations at Ki’i No prove it can be done. Just try their barbacoa ramen or pozole ramen and find out.

Our favorite spots to eat in San Pancho are:

Arigato Bake and Brew: This small restaurant and brewery combo located in Calle Asia has the best craft beer in San Pancho. The beer selection rotates based on what is available and there are usually only a few options to choose from, but rest assured they will be delicious. They offer a number of delicious starters including wasabi guacamole, and their sushi and lomito food options round out the menu here for one of the best places to grab a casual dinner and a beer in San Pancho.

Su Pancha Madre: Carefully crafted sopes using the freshest ingredients are the centerpiece of the Su Pancha Madre experience. Mao, the creator of Su Pancha Madre, started his enterprise in a VW Kombi but has since moved to a restaurant space on Calle Argelia.

Sopes are made by loading a fried masa base, thicker than a tortilla, with various savory toppings. The sope toppings at Su Pancha Madre change regularly depending on what is in season at the time. Our personal favorites are the arrachera, camarones, and hongos (mushrooms).

Ikan Cocina Marina: If you are after seafood in San Pancho, Ikan Cocina Marina is a unique option. Run by a talented duo, Ikan Cocina goes above and beyond to ensure your meal is of the highest quality with the freshest ingredients. Their menu is centered around seafood with classics such as the octopus tostada and fried shrimp tacos but their non-seafood options such as the suckling pig tacos hold their own. The Omakase, or chef’s selection takes the difficulty out of making a decision if you can’t decide what delectable item you want to sample.

Yasmina’s Itzalanyasayan: Topping the list of healthy, organic restaurants in San Pancho is Yasmina’s Itzalanyasayan. Yasmina’s adds its unique spin on unexpected classics such as mushroom ramen, pistachio guacamole, and Jamaica and seaweed tostadas to name a few. The aim of Yasmina’s is to have the food energize and revive you giving you sustenance to keep you going while healing and nurturing your body.

Speaking of fresh and healthy food, there are more options when it comes to healthy restaurants with a focus on vegetarian and vegan dining in town including Bistro Organico and Chido Greens.

So if dining is important to you, you can’t go wrong in either Sayulita or San Pancho, but, in our opinion, San Pancho has the edge in this category.

Which has Better Coffee, Sayulita Vs. San Pancho?

coffee dough joe san pancho Which is Better Sayulita or San Pancho? A Battle of the Best Nayarit Beach
In our opinion, the best coffee and cafes are in Sayulita.

The coffee scene is starting to emerge on the Riviera Nayarit driven by the high numbers of ex-pats that flock here each year. While it’s still not as developed as some other regions in Mexico, the overwhelming sense is that it’s not far away.

In our experience, you can get a decent coffee in both Sayulita and San Pancho, but Sayulita has a higher and more consistent strike rate.

Some of the best cafes in Sayulita are:

Miscelánea: Miscelánea ticks all the boxes when it comes to cafes in Sayulita. With great coffee, superb breakfast, and an inviting atmosphere, it is no wonder Miscelánea is consistently ranked as the best cafe in Sayulita. Due to its high regard, it is not unusual for there to be a line waiting to snag a table here. In our experience, the queue moves quickly and the wait is worth it.

Update: Miscelanea has now opened up shop in San Pancho as well.

Northswell Sabor Natural: A recent and welcome addition to Sayulita’s cafe scene Northswell offers great coffee alongside a delicious all-natural breakfast menu. Situated right next to the Sayulita main beach, it is the perfect place to swing by for a pre or post-surf feed.

Paninos Express: More a coffee stand than a proper cafe, this grab-and-go coffee shop on the corner of Manuel N. Navarrete and Calle Marlin serves some of the best coffee in Sayulita as well as some of the cheapest. Panino’s Express is another spot that regularly has a queue, but the baristas know their way around a coffee machine so the queue moves quickly.

Some of the best cafes in San Pancho are:

Prieta Cafe San Pancho Which is Better Sayulita or San Pancho? A Battle of the Best Nayarit Beach

The DoughJoe: Not only does The DoughJoe have the best coffee in San Pancho but the best breakfast. Southern-style breakfast complete with sausage biscuits and hashbrowns is the star of the show here if you aren’t counting the creative doughnuts displayed in the window casing.

Prieta: A new addition to San Pancho’s cafe scene Prieta offers first-class coffee in a relaxing and tranquil space. It may be off the main drag but it is worth the detour.

Which Has Better Night Life?

If you looking for bars, pubs, and clubs then Sayulita is your best bet. With all-night entertainment every night of the week for every type of reveler, you’ll find it in Sayulita.

With more options than you can shake a stick at, you’ll have no problem finding something that suits your specific taste, whether it’s a relaxed evening with a glass of wine or all-night parties.

Best nightlife in Sayulita:

Bar Le Zouave: This intimate bar in Sayulita tops the list for its innovative and delicious margaritas and cocktails.

Cava: Another cocktail bar high on our list of places to visit when in Sayulita is Cava. Cava focuses on bringing quality, small-batch spirits to showcase in their creative cocktails. The spirits are hand selected by the owner and staff and focus on small, unknown distilleries throughout Mexico. Cava also regularly hosts events such as ladies’ night and live music, both equally great ways to draw a lively crowd.

Atico: Located on one of the main drags in town, Atico is the place to be for live music. This outdoor bar is a perfect place to start the evening. Seating is limited and fills up fast, but there is ample space in the street to enjoy the music (just watch out for passing cars).

El Patio: Directly on the beach, if you want to feel the sand between your toes with a cold beer in hand, this is the place to be. El Patio also regularly hosts DJs making it the ideal place to start or end a night.

Best nightlife in San Pancho:

If however, you are looking for low-key bars and interesting local experiences then San Pancho does have some great options, just be aware that most bars are shut by 10:00 pm with two bars in town staying open until midnight. Our favorite bars in San Pancho are

Cerveceria Artesanal: Throwing its hat in the ring for best bar in San Pancho is another bar specializing in beer. Cerveceria Artesanal doesn’t make the beer themselves but seeks out the best breweries from neighboring towns in Jalisco and Nayarit to bring you the best in the business. Their options also rotate frequently as they continue to provide quality craft beer to their patrons. Live music on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays makes Cerveceria Artensanal a crowd favorite in San Pancho.

La Baba del Diablo: One of the only bars in San Pancho that keeps its doors open past 10:00 pm, El Baba del Diablo is a specialty mezcal bar in San Pancho.

Punto Las Olas: This food market and bar combo has six different food menus to choose from including Mexican, Western, and Asian fare. It also has a great bar, a large upstairs area, and plenty of TVs for catching a game.

Sayulita edges ahead in the Sayulita vs. San Pancho battle when it comes to nightlife. While San Pancho has a few quality bars, things close up early. Sayulita has the more impressive cocktail scene and there is always a party, no matter what day it is.

Which Has Better Surf, Sayulita or San Pancho?

Surfers Sayulita Which is Better Sayulita or San Pancho? A Battle of the Best Nayarit Beach

Sayulita has long been regarded as a surf beach and destination with the first surfers trickling down from the United States in the 1960s when Sayulita was nothing more than a small fishing village with a handful of homes and families. Since then, Sayulita has blossomed with thousands of tourists descending on this idyllic Riviera Nayarit beach for decades to enjoy the surf found here.

The downside of Sayulita is that it gets incredibly busy. With a national and international reputation, surfers of all skill levels flock here by the hundreds. By the mid-afternoon, in high season the lineup can get pretty busy.

The surf at San Pancho is often steep. On the upside, there won’t be as many people fighting for a wave, but there a plenty of better places to surf on the Riviera Nayarit.

From both, it is easy (and relatively inexpensive) to organize a trip to some of the other breaks in the area up and down the Nayarit coast, with many of them being found in nearby Punta Mita.

Looking for another surf destination along the Riviera Nayarit? Head over to Lo de Marcos the next town up from San Pancho.

Which Has Better Amenities, Sayulita vs. San Pancho?

Sayulita is more developed. You’ll find more services including car and motorbike rentals, ATMs, massage services, beach umbrella rentals, and everything else you could possibly imagine for your beach getaway.

San Pancho has fewer amenities, often the town’s main ATM runs out of money, and you won’t find quite as much variety in the number of services here. For a long time the internet speeds in San Pancho have lagged behind Sayulita but during our most recent trip in November 2022, we noticed high-speed wifi and reliable 4g telephone coverage was widely available throughout the town.

Which Has a Better Vibe and Atmosphere, Sayulita or San Pancho?

Playa San Pancho Sun Set Which is Better Sayulita or San Pancho? A Battle of the Best Nayarit Beach

Again, totally subjective, those looking for buzzing activity, throngs of people, and plenty to do, will love the energy of Sayulita. Those looking for a more chilled-out experience will likely find it at San Pancho.

For us, it’s no question, that while we love Sayulita, San Pancho is the fun, relaxed, low-key atmosphere we love.


So, were we able to help you decide which beach to make a beeline for? Maybe not, in our opinion, both offer something unique and interesting that has to be experienced. Why not try Sayulita first to experience the busy and vibrant surf and party culture before heading north for a more ‘tranquillo’ experience in San Pancho?

Got a question or a comment about Sayulita or San Pancho? Let us know below!


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