I feel a little guilty for writing about my trip to Mexico in early January because a selfish part of me wants to ensure that it remains the way it is…even though there are signs that things are changing. However, my friends and I had such an amazing time that we are already planning #Saladita18. You know it’s serious when there’s a hashtag. We went during the quiet period right after the holidays, where it had felt like we had the beach and the ocean to ourselves and a small handful of people he beach and the ocean were pretty much empty. However, given the limited housing options, I don’t think it ever gets too busy.
My history with Mexico is pretty standard. With the exception of an amazing whirlwind trip to my friend Renn and Eloisa’s wedding in Torreon (during Swine Flu, no less), I’ve been to the popular spots: Los Cabos, Puerta Vallarta, Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum and, of course, Tijuana. Playa La Saladita is the exact opposite of these cities. The main reason people visit is because of its famous waves, favored particularly by longboarders. The only reason I know about this place is because my friend’s husband is an amazing surfer (and the best surfing instructor/push boy/motivator) who has been wanting to surf here.
I loved this trip because it was the perfect place to unwind after an eventful 2016. It felt like I was on a sparsely populated island (reminiscent of quieter spots in Kauai) with cheap & delicious seafood, gentle waves, and warm waters. The lack of wifi helped me disconnect (for the most part) and have some hilarious conversations with my friends. My love for Hawaii is strong (already booked for two weeks in Maui this September), but for the same amount of travel, perfect weather, significantly less cost, and fewer people, Playa La Saladita is a strong contender.
Getting to Playa La Saladita:
The playa, which means beach, is located north of a popular coastal city called Zihuatanejo (Zihua). From SFO, total flight time was around 4 hours with a 1.5 hour layover. My flight there was filled with many American and Canadians snowbirds, so you get a sense of the crowd. To get there, you fly into Ixtapa and drive for about 35 minutes on the main (and only) highway 200 toward Lazaro Cardenas. Along the way, you can stop at one of the many coconut stands and get a fresh (hopefully) coconut for 20 pesos. There’s also a surprisingly amount of salt for sale. I’d love it if someone can explain why.
We decided to rent a car because we wanted to have the flexibility of driving to restaurants and Troncones, another popular surf spot. If you’re looking for more full-service hotels and amenities, including shops, Troncones seems like a lovely place. I was a little apprehensive about driving in Mexico due to the issues around the required insurance, horror stories of online bookings not being honored, and the police. Luckily, we encountered none of those problems. Thanks to TripAdvisor forums, I found the email of someone at Alamo and secured a good car at a guaranteed rate with full insurance. While we did see plenty of police, we didn’t have any issues and probably drove under the speed limit for a while. Key learning: the white line on the right-hand side of the road is space for you to move over so someone can pass you.
Travel Cost: $11.20
- SFO -> PHX -> ZIH via American Airlines
15,000 AA Miles + $5.60 in airport fees
- ZIH -> LAX via Alaska Airlines
4,000 Avios + $5.60 in airport fees (because this is a direct flight, I was able to save 8,500 AA points by using Avios to fly the same route)
Car Cost: $331 for 9 days
The directions are pretty easy: drive on 200 through mountainous land and make a left at the first town.
Playa La Saladita Lodging:
Clearly, I like staying in nice hotels (for almost free). However, because I knew we were going to a small, coastal village filled with surfers, I went in with low expectations. So, you can imagine my delight when we arrived at sunset to find that this was going to be our view for the next week.
Best of all, I didn’t have to finagle or pay extra for oceanfront upgrades. My friends and I rented a two-bedroom house called Villas Jacqueline. The pictures on the website are quite outdated and there weren’t many reviews of the house online, so we took a chance. We stayed in the South Villa which was located very close to the surf break. I loved how clean the house was and the fact that they provided towels and a giant bottle of purified water. The front bedroom had incredible views of the house. My room had three comfy beds, but no closet. Both rooms had powerful air conditioning. The only downside is that the shower either provided scalding hot or icy cold water. Given that the average temperature was around 80, this wasn’t a huge problem. The best part was listening to the waves each night – even with the A/C on, it would lull you to sleep (well that or the tequila).
Lodging Cost: $140 per night ($70 per couple).
There aren’t that many lodging options and I found limited reviews online. Having checked out most of these places in person, here are a few other options. Keep in mind that you can also negotiate on pricing. Our Canadian friends who stayed in the villa next door and had been coming for years paid $110 per night for three weeks (lucky). The cheapest we heard of is around $50 per night.
- House of Waves – $70 per night, per room; this is located even closer to the surf break and features standalone bungalows for slightly less (no AC…)
- Saladita Point, Located at Lourdes/ Bar & Grill – $100 per night (for the house); this is located literally in front of the surf break and has a restaurant, wifi (paid), and laundry on-site.
- Fulano’s – $70 per night, per room; the only lodging on the playa with FREE, fast wifi, and a beautiful large veranda for relaxing.
- Casa Creando Olas – $250 per night (for the house); this is a large, luxurious home which hosts many pro surfers and has a lovely pool.
- Casas Playa La Saladita – $75 per night, per room; we heard that this place has the fastest wifi and best water pressure.
Playa La Saladita Restaurants:
When planning this trip, I found minimal information on restaurants (hence the noodles). In fact, there were several “open-air” restaurants located right on the beach. During most days, we had the whole place to ourselves. It was interesting to see that seafood was served where we stayed – the playa – and chicken/beef, etc., were served in Los Llanos, the tiny town situated about 10 minutes away by car. In general, everything was freshly cooked so be prepared to wait a bit. If you have a kitchen, you could go to the fisherman (there’s a small group of 3-5) and ask to buy their catch of the day. We saw them bring in everything from fresh oysters to lobster and snapper.
Some of our favorites:
- Kevin’s – even though this restaurant was located behind Villas Jacqueline and looked a little sketchy, it was also where the locals ate. However, not only does the menu have English translations, but their tacos were by far the best.
- Ilianet – this restaurant is attached to Casas Playa Saladita and served the best coconut shrimp for around 150 pesos. You can also buy a whole fish prepared in multiple ways for 200 pesos.
- Paco’s – we loved the service here, in particular, Miguel. In the area, ceviche is actually cooked with a tasty tomato-based sauce and aguachile is more similar to the ceviche we know, except wth a kick.
- Angelina’s (Los Llanos) – I wish I ate here more! I had the basic, but delicious quesadilla with nopales (cactus). Also popular here is the mole and tortas. No prices were posted, but our total bill for four was around 260 pesos. Another benefit – free, fast wifi.
Dogs of Playa La Saladita:
A trip wouldn’t be complete without a compilation of all the dogs we met along the way. This is particularly true if you happen to be traveling with Aya, the biggest animal lover I’ve ever met. Our days on the beach included at least one occurrence of me taking a picture of Aya petting a pup. Miraculously, neither of us came home with a dog. For the most part, these beach dogs all had homes. All the dogs we met had names and stories – another perk of traveling to a small village with a tight-knit community.
Aya documented all of these pups on her Instagram page dedicated to helping animals find “furever homes” and sharing successful adoption stories.
This dog stole our hearts. She strolled up and down the beach, traveling with various people. We learned that she actually escaped several times from the homes of would-be adopters.
Dogs along the way🐶 The Aztec dog at Fulano's in Playa La Saladita. He is a great guard dog, always on the watch, but once you get to know him, he is a sweetheart. He is almost 2 years old. I am in Mexico for 9 days and will try to post about dogs I meet in this trip. "Dogs along the way" inspired by @pallagao 😀
This is a hairless dog called a Xoloitzcuintli or “Xolo” for short. They are an ancient breed – thousands of years old and treasured by the Aztec. We spent multiple days trying, and failing, to get this guy to pay attention to us. Finally, after much coercion, Aya wore him down.
When we ventured into the “big town” of Troncones, we met this little dachshund named Nacho. We noticed that he ran with a limp and it turned out that he had been hit by a car and they didn’t know if he would survive. Luckily, he not only survived, but it turns out that dachshunds can run pretty fast! One of my favorite memories of this trip was running down the beach chasing or being chased by Nacho. Since he is purse-sized, we almost “accidentally” committed dognapping as we were sure he was homeless. He wasn’t.
Things to Know Before You Go:
- We rented a portable wifi, but it didn’t work too well. However, if you have AT&T, you may qualify for the FREE North American Roaming Plan. This includes all texts, calls, and data allowed within your shared plan between the US and Mexico/Canada (and vice versa).
- I never ever felt unsafe during this trip and the general consensus amongst local and tourists is that the playa is quite safe. During the day, we didn’t even lock our front door. This is in part to our Canadian neighbors who hung out in front of the house all day. However, if you go anywhere else, it can be dangerous.
- Apparently, there are natural hot springs right near Los Llanos. Ask a local or a seasoned visitor to direct you. During our trip, the average temperature was 85, so trekking to a hot spring wasn’t super appealing.
- My friends learned the hard way that American Airlines is pretty strict about the size of the surfboard they allow. United and Alaska also fly directly and my friends heard that Alaska had the most generous surfboard allowance. Regardless, even if you don’t bring your board, there are plenty available for rent. My friends paid around $100 per week from Chucho’s who had a variety of boards including a paddleboard and also rents out his place via Airbnb.
- You can rent horses for $20 per hour from a guy named Victor. He walks up and down the beach frequently and is easy to flag down. His horses are seem super gentle. However, because Victor doesn’t speak much English, there was a bit of gesticulating and guessing as to how much experience we had. I rode Guero and she took us on a sunset ride where we saw what the beach looked like “around the bend” – very sparse with some magnificent private homes. Unfortunately, my friend and another woman had accidents where they fell off the horse. The incident with my friend was because Victor went into a gallop and the horse followed – it seemed like maybe her saddle wasn’t on tight enough. Luckily, she was able to continue (with tendinitis) and we cautiously proceeded.
- Exchange money either in Zihua or before you arrive. Trocones “may” have a place to exchange money, but neither Playa nor Los Llanos had an ATM or exchange.
- There’s a lot of English speakers, some who live on the beach (goals). However, for basic menu translation, get an app like SpanishDict that doesn’t require Internet.
- If you have a car, there’s a big grocery store on highway 200 called Bodega Aurrera. We loaded up on cheap beer, water, tequila, and fruit. They also have a great selection of instant noodles 🙂