A quick look at a map shows that Sayulita and Puerto Escondido share the shores of the Pacific Ocean. But they’re nearly 1,000 miles apart.
And a lot can change in 1,000 miles.
So, it’s natural to wonder about the similarities and differences between Sayulita vs Puerto Escondido.
I spent one month in Sayulita and two weeks in Puerto Escondido. I’ll share my takeaways with you. But as a forewarning, have your surfboard nearby—you’ll be ready to hit the waves by the time you finish this article.
An Overview of Sayulita vs Puerto Escondido
Short on time? No worries.
The chart below highlights some of the biggest similarities and differences between Sayulita and Puerto Escondido.
|Town layout||Compact||Spread out|
|Main attraction||Surfing (smaller waves)||Surfing (big waves)|
|Atmosphere||Lively surf town||Quiet surf town|
|Parties||Crowded bars||Low-key bars|
|Beaches||Small, rocky||Large, softer sand|
These aren’t the only items to consider when deciding whether to visit Puerto Escondido or Sayulita. However, they serve as a base for what I’ll be discussing next.
5 Similarities Between Sayulita & Puerto Escondido
At first glance, Sayulita and Puerto Escondido appear to have a lot in common. Below are their five biggest similarities.
1. Surfing Is the Main Attraction
If you’re wondering what to do in Puerto Escondido or Sayulita, the answer is surf. It’s impossible to walk down the street or go to the beach without seeing people with surfboards in hand.
But not all surf is equal in Sayulita and Puerto Escondido.
Puerto Escondido is famous for its Mexican Pipeline. This pipeline sits off Zicatela Beach, where experienced surfers can take advantage of warmer water than Hawaii while often enjoying over 90% wave consistency and 10-foot (or higher) waves.
Of course, the season matters.
You can expect the best surfing—or surf watching—in Puerto Escondido from late April to September.
In contrast, Sayulita’s beaches boast medium to small-sized waves, making it a better fit for beginner and intermediate surfers. Like Puerto Escondido, both destinations offer the largest and most consistent waves during the summer.
2. Similar Safety Profiles
When comparing Sayulita vs Puerto Escondido, safety might be at the top of your list. Especially if you’ve watched one too many episodes of Netflix’s Narcos.
The U.S. Department of State (DOS) lists both Sayulita and Puerto Escondido as a Level 2 for safety. That makes these destinations fall under the “exercise increased caution” category.
For context, the DOS’s other categories are as follows:
|1||Exercise normal precautions|
|2||Exercise increased caution|
|4||Do not travel|
Personally, I felt safer in Sayulita than in Puerto Escondido.
I think a lot of this had to do with me being a solo female traveler. I liked that it was easier to get around Sayulita on foot and that shops and restaurants stayed open later in the evening.
For more details, you can check out my article, Is Puerto Escondido Safe?
3. Bars Over Clubs
If you’re looking for a clubbing beach vacation, I urge you to avoid Sayulita and Puerto Escondido; you’re better off hitting up Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Los Cabos.
Both Puerto Escondido and Sayulita offer more casual bars for their parties.
But of the two, Puerto Escondido has a more laid-back vibe than Sayulita; Sayulita is like a Playa del Carmen wanna-be when it comes to its parties but without the infrastructure of nightclubs to make it happen.
So, if you enjoy surfing and partying, Sayulita is your best bet.
Otherwise, if hanging out at a low-key bar at the end of your surf day sounds up your alley, Puerto Escondido is a great fit.
4. Neither Are Good for Swimming
When comparing Puerto Escondido vs Sayulita, you won’t find excellent swim spots in either destination.
That’s not to say there aren’t pockets of small beaches where the casual swimmer won’t (usually) get swept out to sea. But for the most part, Puerto Escondido and Sayulita aren’t known for being swim destinations.
Interestingly, the reasons for this differ.
Puerto Escondido makes a poor swim destination because of its massive waves. Zicatela Beach is the worst offender (or best, if you’re an experienced surfer).
You even need to be careful when walking along Zicatela’s shores. Several times an extra large wave would come high up on the shore, nearly sucking me into the ocean with the water only just six inches up my leg.
In contrast, Sayulita can have strong waves depending on the season, but its dirty water makes it unsuitable for swimming.
Yes, people swim. But doing so can make you sick if you take a swig of the water.
Sadly, an ongoing issue with Sayulita’s sewage system means that surfers and swimmers alike are immersed in E. coli and other bacteria you most definitely don’t want to ingest.
5. Hurricanes Can Happen
Luckily, hurricanes aren’t common on the Pacific side of Mexico. But they happen, and Hurricane Agatha’s landfall in Oaxaca (the state that Puerto Escondido is in) proves they can have deadly consequences.
Although most hurricanes in the Pacific Ocean are less strong than those in the Atlantic, the hurricane season is longer.
So, if you book your trip to Sayulita or Puerto Escondido from May 15th to November 30th, know that your trip could be disrupted by a hurricane.
13 Differences Between Puerto Escondido & Sayulita
Now that we’ve covered how Sayulita and Puerto Escondido are similar, let’s explore their differences.
1. Sayulita Feels Bigger
From a population standpoint, Puerto Escondido is bigger than Sayulita. However, Sayulita feels bigger than Puerto Escondido because it has a more populated downtown area.
Furthermore, there are more restaurants and bars in Sayulita than in Puerto Escondido.
Puerto Escondido still has a decent selection of places to eat and grab a Corona. But you’ll need to walk or take a taxi to get to its various dining and drinking spots.
2. Puerto Escondido’s Airport Is Closer
If you’re wondering whether Puerto Escondido or Sayulita is better for a get-to-your-destination-fast travel experience, Puerto Escondido is your answer.
The Puerto Escondido airport sits less than a 10-minute drive from downtown and its beaches.
In contrast, you’ll need to fly into Puerto Vallarta to visit Sayulita. Puerto Vallarta is about a one-hour drive from Sayulita by taxi and a 1.5-hour drive by bus.
3. Sayulita Has a More Bustling Tourist Center
The days of Sayulita being a quiet beach town are long gone. The heat and rain keep some tourists away during the summer months, but even then, you can expect to share the waves with more surfers than ideal.
However, even though Sayulita has a compact and busy tourist center, there’s a reason so many people flock there.
Its cobblestone streets, colorful shops, and frequent entertainment in the main plaza offer more sightseeing and, dare I say it, Instagram opportunities than Puerto Escondido.
When comparing Sayulita vs Puerto Escondido in terms of their downtown centers, Puerto Escondido has a less touristy feel.
Yes, some vendors will try to get you to buy their souvenirs. But you won’t have to elbow your way through with loads of other tourists, and you can pretty much count on restaurants having available tables.
4. Puerto Escondido Has Fewer Day Trip Options
If you enjoy basing yourself in one location and taking day trips, you’re better off doing so in Sayulita than in Puerto Escondido.
Sayulita offers several opportunities for sightseeing, including:
- Puerto Vallarta
- San Pancho
- Punta de Mita
In contrast, Puerto Escondido’s “day trips” focus more on the beaches in the immediate area around the town.
But Puerto Escondido stands out with one activity compared to Sayulita—having bioluminescent plankton in its water. I highly recommend booking a bioluminescent tour in Puerto Escondido to witness this rare phenomenon.
5. WiFi Is Better in Sayulita
If you’re comparing Puerto Escondido vs Sayulita for the best place to work remotely, choose Sayulita.
I never had an issue with the WiFi strength and reliability in Sayulita.
That’s not to say issues don’t exist. But your accommodation choice makes a big difference on whether you’ll need to flee to a nearby cafe in search of a better connection to the ‘net.
During my stay in both Sayulita and Puerto Escondido, I stayed at Selina. Selina is a boutique hostel chain offering private and dorm rooms and a fantastic social atmosphere.
But what I love most about Selina is their cowork spaces.
Admittedly, the WiFi at Selina Puerto Escondido was the most unreliable of any Selina I’ve stayed at anywhere in the world. But I’m convinced this is a Puerto Escondido issue, not a Selina issue; many digital nomads staying elsewhere in Puerto Escondido would pay to use Selina’s cowork, saying it was the best WiFi in town.
6. Puerto Escondido Is Cheaper
If you’re waffling between staying at Sayulita or Puerto Escondido and on a budget, choose Puerto Escondido.
Accommodation in Puerto Escondido is notably less than in Sayulita. You can also eat for cheaper at nice beachfront restaurants in Puerto Escondido (the equivalent is essentially non-existent in Sayulita—more on that soon).
That said, both Puerto Escondido and Sayulita offer economical food options a stone’s throw away from the touristy areas.
All it takes is walking a block or two back from the main attractions to discover cheap and delicious local restaurants.
7. Sayulita Is Closer to Modern Amenities
Do you love the thought of staying at a small beach town but want modern amenities nearby? In that case, Sayulita is a better option when comparing Sayulita vs Puerto Escondido.
Granted, you’ll still be a 1-hour drive away from high-end malls, hospitals, and luxury hotels by staying in Sayulita. These are all in Puerto Vallarta.
But you can get to them.
In contrast, you’ll be pretty much in the middle of nowhere in Puerto Escondido.
Some people love this. Others don’t want to be a plane ride away from modern comforts.
8. Puerto Escondido Receives Fewer Tourists
I’ve already touched on this point, but it’s worth honing in. Even during the high season in Puerto Escondido, which occurs during the winter, you’ll have more space on the beach and more private conversations at restaurants without tables of people squeezed next to you listening in.
On top of that, the town of Puerto Escondido is more spread out, and its beaches are longer.
So, even during the high season, it feels like there are fewer tourists in Puerto Escondido relative to Sayulita.
9. You Don’t Need a Taxi in Sayulita
Downtown Sayulita is only a handful of blocks long and wide. So, not only is taking a taxi in Sayulita unnecessary when getting around the downtown center, but it would take you much longer to wait for a taxi than to walk.
That’s not to say you need to rely on taxis to get around in Puerto Escondido, though.
If you don’t mind some exercise, you can walk from downtown Puerto Escondido to Zicatela Beach in less than an hour, depending on how far down Zicatela Beach you want to go.
I did this frequently (though only during the day—I wouldn’t feel comfortable walking that route at night) and enjoyed the views along the way.
Another difference when deciding whether to visit Sayulita or Puerto Escondido is that golf carts are a more common way to get around if you need transportation in Sayulita.
You can rent golf carts from several agencies in downtown Sayulita. They’re an excellent option if you’re staying outside of town on one of Sayulita’s many hilly roads.
10. Puerto Escondido Has Nicer Beaches
If long beaches with soft sand, few rocks, and little seaweed sound like a dream to you, Puerto Escondido proves that dreams really can come true.
In contrast, Sayulita’s beaches are short and have lots of small rocks (and big rocks on either end of the beach). From my experience, the beaches in Sayulita have more litter than in Puerto Escondido.
And as you now know, the water in Sayulita is contaminated.
So, when comparing Puerto Escondido vs Sayulita, there’s no competition in which destination has the best beach. It’s Puerto Escondido all the way.
11. Sayulita Has Smaller Beachfront Restaurants
Both Sayulita and Puerto Escondido have beachfront restaurants, but Sayulita’s are smaller and less formal.
Furthermore, the brick-and-mortar beachfront restaurants that Sayulita does have sit back from the beach, giving you a better view of people laying in the sand than the ocean itself.
Once you walk further down Sayulita’s beach, you’ll encounter small vendors that set up shop in the sand. They sell everything from drinks to shrimp on sticks.
In contrast, Puerto Escondido has many beachfront restaurants, some of which have a luxury feel for a price tag less than your average restaurant in the United States.
My favorite beachfront restaurants in Puerto Escondido are on Zicatela Beach.
12. Surfing Competitions Abound in Puerto Escondido
Puerto Escondido gets its title the “Mexican Pipeline” for a reason, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by surfing competitions.
People travel from many parts of the world to participate in Puerto Escondido’s surfing events. And given how strong Puerto Escondido’s waves are, you’ll get to witness surfers that know what they’re doing.
The International Surfing Tournament and Surf Open Puerto Escondido are a couple of the many surfing competitions you might get to watch during your time there.
You might get lucky and see a surfing competition in Sayulita too.
But Sayulita’s surfing competitions don’t draw in as many experienced surfers, and its waves are smaller.
So, if you’re debating whether to visit Puerto Escondido or Sayulita and watching a surfing competition is on your bucket list, research when the competitions will be taking place and book that ticket to Puerto Escondido.
13. Sayulita’s Town Is More Charming
Last but not least in this Sayulita vs Puerto Escondido comparison, I’d be remiss not to point out that Sayulita’s town has a charm that Puerto Escondido’s lacks.
There’s a reason tourists flock to Sayulita—its cobblestone roads give you glimpses of its past, and colorful, well-kept buildings make it pleasant for sightseeing.
Plus, with famous local delicacies like the chocolate-covered banana at ChocoBanana, it’s hard not to fall in love with Sayulita.
Puerto Escondido’s diehards will argue that Puerto Escondido has charm too. And it certainly does.
But when you’re comparing the two, Sayulita takes the “chocobanana.”
Traveling From Sayulita to Puerto Escondido
Now that we’ve explored Puerto Escondido vs Sayulita, you might be wondering—what’s the best way to travel from Sayulita to Puerto Escondido if I want to visit both destinations?
Flying is the best way to travel between Sayulita and Puerto Escondido. There aren’t any direct flights, and the layover is usually in Mexico City. The quickest flights between Puerto Escondido and Sayulita are around 5.5 hours.
Driving is an option, but I don’t recommend it.
It takes over 21 hours to travel from Sayulita to Puerto Escondido, and the road can be treacherous with switchback curves and steep drop-offs.
Furthermore, you’d need to avoid highways that the U.S. Department of State deems too dangerous for tourists.
Sayulita vs Puerto Escondido: Which Will You Choose?
Personally, I prefer Sayulita over Puerto Escondido. As a solo female traveler, I love that I don’t have to rely on a taxi at night. Plus, having a reliable WiFi connection is crucial for my digital nomad ways.
But that’s not to say I didn’t love Puerto Escondido. I don’t think I could ever get bored watching surfers tackle those massive waves.
So, what’ll it be—Sayulita or Puerto Escondido?
Let me know your preference in the comments section, along with any questions you might have.
Laura has been wandering the globe for over a decade. She’s an early bird and backpacker at heart and can often be spotted with a dog or ten that she’s befriended along the way. Much of the content Laura writes on A Piece of Travel includes details on wheelchair accessibility, with the support of her brother-in-law and sister. You can learn about their accessibility endeavors here.