By: Paula Wallis
Just a forty-five minute drive north of Puerto Vallarta, at the foot of the Sierra de Vallejo Mountains, lies the lovely seaside fishing village of Los Ayala. Easily accessible by rental car, taxi, or bus, the drive there is half the experience, with lush, dense jungle on display alongside the highway, separated by surf towns and seaside villages along the way, as well as the occasional traditional cemetery to admire. This is not your typical Mexican vacation destination. You won’t find sprawling all-inclusive resorts here, no Hard Rock Cafes, no Planet Hollywoods, and no poolside beer-chugging competitions. In short, my kind of place.
Being new parents to a five month old daughter, it was a bit of a tough call to decide where to go on our first real family vacation. The answer came in the form of her doting grandparents. They invited us to join them on their yearly holiday to Los Ayala, Mexico, where they rent a place for two months of the year. Discovered by word of mouth, it’s the perfect place for a family vacation. Hosted by owners Manuel and Yolanda, they rent a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment in a small complex about a one minute walk from the beach. For a reasonable price, this includes your own kitchen, a courtyard pool, outdoor barbeque at your disposal, and outdoor dining area for groups of people, should you wish to entertain friends. There are a multitude of houses, apartments, and bungalows available with similar facilities in the area, and if you’re feeling brave enough to arrive without prearranged accommodations, it’s more than likely that just a short walk around the grid of dirt roads or the cobblestone street running alongside the beach through town will find you exactly what you seek.
Los Ayala is a very authentic Mexican experience, being a popular destination for families from Guadalajara and Mexico City to escape for weekend getaways. You also get your fair share of Canadian Snowbirds; retirees escaping from the dreary Canadian winters that can sometimes seem to last for years. Most of these folk have been coming here for many years running and have just as much knowledge of the area as the locals.
Having a basic knowledge of Spanish comes in handy here, as many of the locals do not speak English, which adds to the experience. Get ready to mime out many of your conversations with local shop owners, who are more than patient and willing to help you find what you’re looking for.
The half mile strip of beach that runs the length of Los Ayala makes for the perfect morning walk. Large waves not quite big enough for surfing pound the shore as pelicans beg for scraps from the prawn carts and fishermen arriving with their catch of the day. The north end of the beach is fairly secluded, while the south end plays host to a handful of barefoot dining restaurants. All are inexpensive and serve delicious Mexican fare. Hours of operation can be somewhat random though. In the short time that we were there, we couldn’t figure out a pattern to their opening and closing schedules.
A short hike through the jungle on the south end of the beach brings you to Playa del Beso (Beach of the Kiss), and Henry’s Bar, a family run beach bar that epitomizes the term “dropping out of the rat race.” Henry lives and works here with his wife and family, all of whom lend a hand where they can in running the business on this isolated bit of beach. It would be easy to spend the entire day on this pristine beach; plenty of shade or sun, depending on your preference, calm clear water, ridiculously cheap beer, fresh caught fish or prawns on the menu, and Henry’s adorable two year old daughter was delighted to entertain our baby for the duration of our visit.
Los Ayala is an extremely family friendly place, with many of the locals running out of their shops to lift our daughter out of our arms for a cuddle as we walked her through the town or along the beach. The local shops carry most everything you need for care of a young baby should you have forgotten to pack anything, like diaper cream, wipes, formula, or children’s Tylenol. Anything else that you may desire seems to arrive by pick-up truck on a daily basis, with the drivers driving around Los Ayala with a loudspeaker sing-songing about watermelons, fresh bread, camerones (prawns), and tamales. One of my favorite things was picking out mini pineapple pies and fresh banana muffins from the bread truck. However, if there is anything you are unable to find here, a fifteen minute walk brings you to the next town over, Guayabitos, which more than likely will have what you need, not to mention restaurants, discos, beach bars and shopping strips.
It’s pretty quiet in Los Ayala during the week, and even with weekend revelers busing in from other destinations, it still wraps up fairly early in the evenings. If you’re looking for a little more excitement, take a colectivo, or combi into Guayabitos or La Penita. Cheaper than a taxi (which isn’t all that expensive either), the colectivo, or combi, is a mini-bus that runs the route from town to town and drops you in a central location, along with other locals sharing the ride.
If you’re up for some shopping, don’t miss the market in La Penita on Thursday (and definitely hit Hinde y Jaime’s Bar while you’re there for some amazing 80 cent prawn or fish tacos!), or in Guayabitos on Mondays. The outdoor market in La Penita carries everything from dollar store type paraphernalia to gorgeous crafts handmade by the Huichol tribes, native to the region. Guayabitos market carries a similar selection but much less of the dollar store bric-a-brac. If you get the chance to take in a sunset while in Guayabitos, it’s worth the climb up the hill to get a 180 degree view from Vista Guayabitos restaurant, which carries a fairly decent wine selection and freshly caught and prepared seafood dishes, including lobster, if you get there on the right day.
Another destination, a little further out, but a scenic drive all the same, is the surfer town, Sayulita, which seemed downright hectic after a week of watching the waves roll in on the beach in Los Ayala. We took a taxi here from Los Ayala, which ran us about twenty dollars Canadian one way, it’s about a forty minute drive so that sounded reasonable to us. Prices can be slightly higher on the return journey, but still in the twenty to thirty dollar range.
There is no shortage of sights to take in or things to do in Sayulita. Spend the day in a beach bar watching the surfers, or wander around the plaza checking out local arts and crafts and alternative clothing stores. Take surf lessons, go snorkeling, ATV’ing, or horseback riding and then take your pick from one of the limitless award winning restaurants or cough up a few pesos for some street dining at one of the Taquerias. Like I said, no shortage of things to do here. Night life gets pretty lively here, with all the surfers that have taken up residence here mingling with short term holiday-makers.
Back in Los Ayala you’ll feel a sense of peace returning to you after the crowds, the revelers, the hard drinking spring breakers of Sayulita. No, Los Ayala is not your typical Mexican vacation destination by any stretch of the imagination, but perhaps it should be.
About the author:
Paula Wallis makes her home in beautiful British Columbia in the Best City in The World, Vancouver. She spends her spare time seeking out the best beaches in the world and is a huge fan of hammocks. Follow her on fanaticnomadic.blogspot.com