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The hike from Sayulita to San Pancho is not for everyone.
On the one hand, we got to trek through a lush green jungle and relax on a completely deserted beach. On the other hand, we had to climb a 12 ft. fence and almost died on the side of the highway… almost being the key word.
We made it out alive, and now that I’m safe on the couch after the Sayulita to San Pancho hike, I actually do recommend it: as long as you know what you’re getting into.
Read all the ups and downs in this step-by-step guide to decide if this adventure in Sayulita, Mexico is right for you!
Want more of the outdoors? Join our new Sustainable Hiking Collective on Facebook to connect with the international hiking community, discover new destinations, join virtual trail cleanups, and take part in monthly sustainability challenges!
The view that awaits you on the Sayulita to San Pancho hike!
How far is the hike from Sayulita to San Pancho: about four miles with the optional viewpoint detour.
How long does it take: I’m a pretty slow hiker, and it took us 2.5 hours to walk from the Sayulita town center to the San Pancho town center (with a few breaks along the way).
How difficult is the trek: The hike itself is easy because it’s mostly flat. However, since you have to climb a 12 ft. fence and walk down a highway at the end, I upgraded the difficulty level to hard.
How much does it cost: The trek is completely free. If you don’t buy anything else in Sayulita or San Pancho, this hike will only cost 100 mxn / 5 usd for round trip bus transport from Puerto Vallarta.
Extra stuff to know before you go: I included a full packing list below but be sure to bring bug spray! Dan got bit by a tick on this hike and we’re both scarred from pulling it out while we were drunk on the beach the next day.
Downtown Sayulita is worth a stop whether you decide to hike or not
How to Get to Sayulita, Mexico
Sayulita is a laid-back surfing town 1.5 hours north of Puerto Vallarta. In my ranking of the 12 best beaches in Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita came in midway at number six, but that’s not why most people go.
The beach isn’t particularly beautiful, but the waves are stronger than they are in Puerto Vallarta (because Sayulita is outside of the protected Bay of Banderas) and the town has a contagious energy.
The streets are lined with colorful art, cafes and boutiques spill out into the streets, and it’s just easy to be happy here. Whether or not you decide to tackle the hike to San Pancho, I recommend coming out to spend a day in Sayulita anyway.
But, how exactly do you get there?
To get from Puerto Vallarta to Sayulita without a car, you can take a direct bus for 46 mxn / 2.50 usd per person. The ride takes 1.5 hours and leaves from two different stops in the city, so you can catch it at the HSBC Bank bus stop or the Walmart bus stop (both detailed below).
Surfboard rental on Sayulita beach
1. The HSBC bank bus stop (Francia St.)
The buses seem to run every 10 to 20 minutes so there’s no need to try to schedule your arrival exactly, because another one will come along soon enough.
Even better, there’s a man with a clipboard that’s in charge here, so just tell him you want to go to Sayulita and he’ll make sure you get on the right bus.
This stop is closer to downtown Puerto Vallarta than the Walmart one, but it’s still pretty far and you’ll need to take an Uber here if you’re staying in the Centro / Zona Romantica area. If you’re in the Hotel Zone, the HSBC Bank bus stop is in walking distance.
2. The Walmart bus stop (Blvrd Francisco Medina Ascencio)
There are a few Walmarts in Puerto Vallarta so make sure you’re going to the right one. You want the Walmart on Blvrd Francisco Medina Ascencio, NOT the Macro Plaza.
This Walmart is farther from downtown than the stop at HSBC Bank but it would make sense to catch the bus here if you’re staying near the Marina.
The stop is just a regular bus stop on the side of the highway, wayyyy across the parking lot from the actual entrance to the store. Like the other stop, there will be a man here with a clipboard who will help you get on the right bus.
More palm trees and boutiques lining the streets of Sayulita
Arriving in Sayulita
I wasn’t sure if Sayulita bus stop would be obvious, so I keep checking our location on Google Maps. Luckily, that’s unnecessary.
In Sayulita the bus will pull into a small bus station so it’s easy to tell when you’ve arrived. The station is five minutes walking to town, so you can start exploring right in the center of the action.
I recommend getting breakfast or lunch in town and taking a peek at the shops and beach before heading out on the Sayulita to San Pancho hike.
Although there are a bunch of guided beach and jungle hikes in Puerto Vallarta on Airbnb, none of them will take you on the Sayulita to San Pancho hike. So, for now, going on your own is the only way to get there.
Brunch in Sayulita (at the tasty Paninos Bakery) before we set off on our trek
How to hike from Sayulita to San Pancho (without dying)
Ready to start your hike?
This trek will take you to three notable landmarks to help you gauge your progress: the beach, the viewpoint, and the highway. I’m going to go through it all in my step-by-step Sayulita to San Pancho breakdown below.
Peaceful moment in the jungle on our hike to San Pancho
1. Where to start the hike
Avenue del Palmer runs through the center of town. Hop on this street and follow it north (easy to do when you’re along a coast) until it dead ends into a trail about 10 minutes in.
Congrats you found the Sayulita to San Pancho trailhead!
Now, simply keep following the trail. It’s not marked but it’s wide, well kept, and obvious.
We asked multiple people along the way if the trail lead to San Pancho and they all said no… but we ignored them and they were all wrong. This trail does lead to San Pancho, people just don’t seem to really know.
Enjoying a break on the totally empty beach at Playa Malpaso
2. Take a break at Playa Malpaso
We arrived at the trailhead around 12 and followed it through the jungle (and along the water a bit) until it spit us out on Playa Malpaso around 12:30.
This beach is nice because it has big waves and is 100% deserted. To the North you can see a fortress built up on the rocks – that’s basically at San Pancho, so you’re not going super far).
Take a break on the beach and then hop back to the trail. You’ll see it winds back into the jungle again a few steps down the beach from where you came out – keep following it!
Definitely go out of your way for this view – it’s worth it!
3. Optional detour to the jungle viewpoint
About ten minutes after we went back into the jungle from the beach, we came to a true dead end. You can go left, and finish your trek in about 15 minutes, or you can go right and climb to a jungle viewpoint 15 minutes in the opposite direction.
I recommend taking the detour because the views are the highlight of this trek! You can see up and down the coast for miles and the photos are gorgeous.
Once you get your fill, simply backtrack back to the dead end and then take the third and only path you haven’t taken yet to finish your hike.
This fence was a formidable foe, but we beat it in the end
4. Climbing the fence to the highway
This is where it gets tricky.
You’ll hit a cobblestone road in a few minutes – turn right on it and it’ll spit you out at a huge 12-foot (my best guess) fence that’s padlocked shut. There was a security car here, but it was empty, and the man was in a nearby security hut completely separated from us by dense jungle.
So, we did what anyone desperate not to hike back four miles would do and climbed the fence.
Dan did it on his own and then helped me over and it honestly wasn’t too bad – go up the right side where there are no metal letters. When we got the security guy’s attention, he told us he didn’t have a key and couldn’t have opened it even if we were able to let him know we were there.
In someone else’s account of the hike online they said the security guy was able to unlock the gate for them, but that wasn’t the case for us.
Entrance to San Pancho beach
5. Walking down the highway to San Pancho
Now for the lowkey-actually-deadliest part of the hike: the walk down the highway to San Pancho.
The hike ends soooooo close to San Pancho, but not quite there. You have to walk down a blind curve on the highway with basically no shoulder. This is so dangerous. For legal reasons I should probably tell you that you should absolutely under no circumstances attempt this.
We tried to wave down a taxi, failed, and then walked down the left side, stepping as deep into the grass as possible whenever a car / bus / semi came by. But we made it out alive.
At the first road you come to, turn left and follow it into San Pancho – it’ll get you there in less than ten minutes!
Rent a chair and relax in San Pancho – you made it!
6. Finish your trek with a beer on the San Pancho beach
You’ll cross a little bridge and come out onto what is obviously the ‘main drag’ of San Pancho, turn left and follow it all the way to the beach.
There are some shops and restaurants and a couple bars on the small beach – it even has a brewery! San Pancho even more relaxed than Sayulita and a nice place to end your day with a dip or a nap in the shade.
Disregard boulder piles, keep on trekkin’
How to get from San Pancho to Puerto Vallarta
Luckily, you don’t have to hike all the way back to Sayulita to get the bus back to Puerto Vallarta. Instead, just follow the San Pancho main drag all the way back out to the highway.
On the left there is a gas station where the buses pull in. Hop on the next one to Puerto Vallarta (one came by for us in less than a minute) and pay 55 mxn / 3 usd per person to get home.
You can get off in Puerto Vallarta the same places you got on, at Walmart or a stop near the HSBC bank.
What to Pack for the Sayulita to San Pancho Hike
This is a pretty easy hike but you should still respect Mother Nature and come prepared. I packed my fav small day pack with:
- Water! There is none on the hike and it’s so hot and humid.
- Sunscreen – the trek is actually mostly shaded, but it’s always good to slap a little on just in case.
- Bug spray – Dan got bit by a tick on this hike and we had to pull it out on the beach the next day when we discovered it. Ew.
- Cash – always good to have in Mexico for small purchases like bus tickets and water bottles.
- Snacks – always good to have on any hike, ever.
- Towel – if you want to swim at Playa Malpaso or San Pancho.
- Tall socks (remember the tick)
- Sturdy shoes or hiking boots (although I did it in these sandals and was totally fine)
Bonus: Where to Stay in Sayulita and San Pancho
After all that work to get to Sayulita and San Pancho, why not spend a night or two enjoying them?
There are tons of cute and affordable Airbnbs in both cities, like this penthouse with a view in Sayulita and this Insta-worthy Airstream in San Pancho. Both towns are so tiny that no matter where you stay you’re pretty much guaranteed to be in walking distance of the beach.
Ready to go?
Explore unique stays on Airbnb – like this open-air earth house with a private pool or this 66 ft. yacht – and the top-rated hotels on Booking.com to plan the perfect night, weekend, or long-term stay in Puerto Vallarta.
Finally, join our new Sustainable Hiking Collective on Facebook to connect with the international hiking community, discover new destinations, join virtual trail cleanups, and take part in monthly sustainability challenges!
This article is part of the Puerto Vallarta Hiking Guide. Read the rest below:
Or, plan the rest of your trip with the Mexico Series for 50+ more articles on what to see, do, eat, drink, and discover in the country.
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