Sayulita’s history traces its roots to the indigenous tribes that once inhabited this region. The history of the Nahuatl-speaking Huichol people intertwines with the town’s origins, as they settled along the coast long before Spanish conquests. The Huichol people, known for their colorful art and deep spiritual connection to the land, continue to be an essential part of Sayulita’s cultural fabric.
The arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the early 16th century brought significant changes to the region. Sayulita, like many other coastal villages, became a focal point for Spanish colonization efforts. In 1524, Hernán Cortés ordered the construction of a shipyard in nearby San Blas, which further boosted the importance of Sayulita as a trading and fishing hub.
As the Spanish colonial presence grew, the influence of Catholicism became deeply entrenched in the region. The construction of the San Francisco de Asís Church in the 18th century stands as a testament to this influence. The church’s beautiful architecture, with its white facade and ornate interior, reflects the fusion of European and indigenous elements. This church still stands today as a place of worship, “a symbol of our rich history and the enduring faith of our community,” says local historian Juan Carlos Ramirez.
How Sayulita Got Its Name
The name “Sayulita” originates from the Nahuatl word “tzaulan,” which more or less translates to “a place where there are lots of flies”. But don’t worry, the flies have long since left town. Sayulita probably has fewer bugs than most villages along the coast.
The name “Sayulita” actually came from Don Lauro Gonzalez Guerra, who named it after his hometown Sayula in Jalisco. In the early 1900s, he managed Jaltemba Hacienda in Sayulita which was located at what locals now call, “the plaza.” While many believe that Sayulita began as a fishing village, it was actually the production of coconut oil at this hacienda that put Sayulita on the map.
From the 1940s to the present day, fishing was and continues to be a key industry in Sayulita, so naturally seafood is at the foundation of many restaurants here in Sayulita. You can enjoy red snapper, grouper, mahi-mahi, sailfish, bonita, marlin, tuna, and rooster fish, as well as shrimp, oysters, crab, and lobster. Most restaurants will have “pescade de dia” or fish of the day based on that morning’s catch. Many fishing families have been fishing for generations and generations.
The Beginning of Surfing
In the mid 60s, surfers discovered that Sayulita had a lot of beaches with consistent waves, great surf conditions, and the perfect water temperature to surf all day. Sayulita’s tourism received a significant boost in 1965 when the Varas-Vallarta highway was built. The increased traffic made the government realize that Sayulita could become a prominent tourist destination on its own, especially given the global surge in surfing.
In the early 2000s, Sayulita began to undergo a transformation, attracting artists, surfers, and travelers seeking an authentic Mexican experience. The town’s reputation as a hidden paradise started to spread, drawing surfers from all over the world.
The Americanization of Sayulita is undeniable, as expatriates have played a significant role in shaping the town’s modern identity. While the influx of foreign influence has brought many economic benefits, it has also sparked discussions about preserving Sayulita’s unique Mexican character. Many efforts have been made to hold tight to the original traditions and values of Sayulita’s roots. Festivals and celebrations such as Dia de las Muertos attract visitors from all over the world.
While Sayulita has changed irreversibly, it’s also grown into a magical village with a heart and soul of its own. We are so proud to be able to call this place home.