Surf Travel Report – Saladita, Mexico
I was in the middle of my cross-country move to Southern California when I called up my friend Meghan just to check in and see how she was doing. Somehow the conversation turned to surfing (as it usually does) and she told me that she and our two other girlfriends were heading to Saladita, Mexico in a few weeks, just after New Year’s. She said they already had a place and a car rented, and if I wanted to come that all I had to do was buy a ticket to and they’d pick me up at the airport.
It was kind of a lot to chew for me. I was already in the middle of a cross country move that was going to take quite a while (with a stopover in Michigan for Christmas with the family). The travel dates would only let me settle into my apartment San Diego for about 4 days before I’d have to get on the plane. I was also apprehensive about going to Mexico. After some thinking, however, I decided to go. I mean honestly, how many times do you get an offer like this? “Hey girl we’ve got everything planned out and booked, all you gotta do is get here and we’ll even pick you up!” Uh, like never. So I decided to carpe diem and bought myself an early Christmas gift via CheapTickets.com.
I had never been to Mexico – all I had heard were some scattered stories about great waves and scary Federales. “The waves are awesome but don’t drive around after dark.” I called and emailed some friends who had been there and they all gave me the thumbs up. Where I was going – Playa Saladita – was quite far south in southern mainland Mexico. I should be cautious, but since the surf and beach area of Playa Saladita is pretty much owned and run by a single extended family it is actually fairly safe. To quote my friend Dave, “It’s not about them stealing your stuff.”
Since a lot of my friends had been there and thoroughly enjoyed themselves I became a lot more relaxed. I have to admit, even though I did take a solo surf trip to Puerto Rico I’m not one of those Lonely Planet travel types. I think I have to blame my mom for that one, who blatantly told me “Just don’t go to Mexico” when I decided to move to San Diego. To her credit though, when I announced this trip she remained composed.
I flew Alaska airlines out of LAX, which had the cheapest fare for the dates I wanted. On top of that, Alaska only charges $50 per way for a surfboard (this may change at any time, unfortunately, so please contact the airline to check on current baggage fees.) The flight was easy and I arrived in Ixtapa/Zihuatenejo airport along with a bunch of other American tourists who were gearing up for resorts and cruises.
Meanwhile my friends picked me up in the most beat up rental car you’ve ever seen in your life. We speculated that the rental guy just gave us his personal car for the week. We headed into the countryside, stopping briefly to pick up food for the week. It was about an hour drive through the narrow roads, stopping twice for an armed military checkpoint. We were four gringo girls with a surfboard strapped to the roof, and my friends were torturing me by singing 80’s songs at the top of their lungs.
We stayed at the House of Waves, a complex of about five or six apartment style accommodations. The one defining feature of House of Waves is that it has the best, most plush lawn within 100 miles. There are several other surfer oriented places to stay along the 500 yard stretch of beach, including several restaurants. Our apartment featured two bedrooms, a living room, bathroom, a balcony with a perfect view of the break, and a kitchen where we were able to make a few meals.
So how about the waves? Well, unfortunately I was arriving at the tail end of a swell, and the surf heights were less than desirable. However, the ruler perfect lines were still spectacular. Saladita is a left point, well known for its perfection for a longboard. You have to see it to really appreciate the precision with which the lip cascades down the line at an even pace. I rode my quad fish (the Faktion quadzilla model shaped by local Long Island, NY shaper Mark Petrocelli) and had a great time even when the waves dropped below thigh high by the end of the trip. This area is the frequent stomping ground of popular author and longboarder Alan Weisbecker (In Search Of Captain Zero). Us being from the same town on Eastern Long Island and sharing mutual friends, we had a few meals and debates, and he showed us early clips from his surf movie.
One thing that was really remarkable about the area was the amount of pelicans inhabiting the area. Maybe it’s their Winter nesting ground. It’s pretty cool to see a line of 15 pelicans following each other, swooping low to catch the updraft created by a rolling line of swell. Pelicans are surfers too – they just ride the air above the wave rather than the water itself. It’s pretty fun to see. We also saw a few dolphins, but not many. We were feeling a little sharky since this was directly after the two deadly shark attacks that had happened in the region – an event that is pretty rare for the area.
Midway through the trip we decided to check out a spot further north up the coast. It was about 40 minutes by car. I’m really hesitant to reveal the name of the break here, and to preserve its integrity I’m not going to. I’m sure with a little research you can find it yourself. Basically another couple that was staying at the House of Waves gave us directions to the spot, written on a napkin. The last group of turns took us to a long dirt road past a few extremely poor looking villages that continued on into the woods. The last direction on the napkin was to “take the fork that looked more traveled”. So here we were, four gringo girls in a beat up car with 4 surfboards strapped to the roof, driving deeper into the woods with no clear direction. Every time the dirt road forked (and there were a lot of forks) we would sit and debate about which one looked more traveled. I was more than a little nervous.
Somehow luck was with us and we made it through, arriving at the most beautiful setup you can imagine. Picture lush palms, crystal clear water, and a rock reef point creating perfect left peelers. There were a handful of surfers already out – a group from California we eventually ended up talking to and a couple from Oregon.
Paddling out we were able to see stingrays and lots of colorful fish. The water wasn’t Caribbean blue, but it was incredibly clear and full of life. The waves weren’t huge, maybe waist – shoulder, and we got some amazing rides. After surfing we sat down at a tiny little restaurant right there on the beach run by a grandma and her grandchildren. We sipped Coronas and watched our friends surf. I had the absolute BEST shrimp tacos I’ve ever had in my life, and nothing I’ve had since has come close. I would take a trip back here just for the food. I couldn’t believe it – it was idyllic.
Another popular break in the area is Playa Sayulita, which is about 20 minutes south of Saladita. It’s amazing how many international travelers were at the break. We met people from Germany, Finland, and Canada, and everyone was incredibly friendly.
I’d go back to Saladita in an instant, in fact I believe one of my friends is there right now for a few weeks. I might just hop on a plane and visit her!
- Travel in groups, especially women. It’s fairly safe here but don’t be naïve.
- It’s not advisable to drive around after dark.
- Wear shoes on the beach – it can be littered with trash and fish bones. The last thing you want is a cut on your foot.
- Fall flat in the surf – it’s a rock reef bottom and it’s sharp!
- Shuffle your feet in the sand! Stingrays live here, and the intense pain suffered by our friends who was stung was scary enough.
- Lock valuables in your room.