SAYULITA, Mexico — While violence and crime are foremost topics when discussing Mexico in the U.S., they are rarely mentioned here.
Crime? What crime?
The struggling U.S. economy remains the primary concern in most of the country’s popular tourist areas, but in this once sleepy town just north of Puerto Vallarta everyone seems to be betting on the uptick.
"There has been so much interest in this type of housing project from family and friends alone that I decided to break ground as soon as I could," said Paul Berger, the part-time Seattleite and the money behind Sayulita Preserve, a 26-acre development just within the town’s southeast limits.
Located between Tepic and Manzanillo this area has been popular with Mexican nationals for generations, especially visitors from Guadalajara, the country’s second-largest city.
The Sayulita Preserve, which is the largest piece of undeveloped land in town, will include 198 units priced from $216,000 to $425,000 aimed at North American and Mexican second-home buyers and retirees.
"I think proposing a similar project in Puerto Vallarta would be a far greater risk," Berger said. "There are still a lot of units on the market there but this is a completely different situation. People are drawn to Sayulita rather than Vallarta for different reasons. A couple of the reasons … it is not Vallarta, and our (lower) price point."
Like many previously undiscovered or remote places in Mexico, Sayulita was first made popular by nomad surfers checking the Mexican mainland for terrific waves. Word spread quickly through the West Coast surf community, and the once-quiet fishing village evolved into a "must-have" wave experience and then to its present international getaway with cobblestone streets and charming cafes.
Most of the crime here is petty theft — laptops, cameras and the occasional wallet — but the concept of stabbings and heavy drug-dealing seems only to be talked about north of the border, in the cities from which most of the visitors come.
"Residents know that the petty stuff can be annoying, so there’s a lot we are doing about it," Berger said. "There’s a greater police presence, especially at night. Like anywhere, we remind them that it’s best to tuck any valuables away."
Directly adjacent to Berger’s property is the upscale Punta Sayulita development, wiith 62 lots on a 33-acre jungle and beach peninsula just south of town. A four-bedroom, 5.5-bath Casona (with 6,148 interior square feet) averages about $4 million. The lower-end Casitas (at $1.7 million) have three bedrooms, three to 4.5 bathrooms, and 2,928 interior square feet. All homes feature huge exterior decks about the same size as the interior space.
The stampede to Sayulita did not take everyone by surprise. The writing probably was on the wall when the Vallarta Airport underwent a significant uplift and expansion. More planes brought more visitors willing to look farther away from Vallarta for deserted beaches and fewer "gringos" seeking late-night margaritas.
Nearly 10 years ago, the rising numbers flocking to Sayulita pushed Oregonian Glen Triplett even further north of Vallarta. The former commercial real estate broker and investor and his wife, Deborah, decided not to build on their lot in Sayulita, but rather to remodel an existing home half a block from the beach in Rincon de Guyabitos, a 25-minute drive from Sayulita and 45 miles north of Puerto Vallarta.
Now a popular bed-and-breakfast, Casa de los Pelicanos is open for nine months of the year. Deborah does the cooking — including weekly classes in Mexican cuisine with a local woman — and Glen keeps the books. Since Mexicans rarely measure contents in the kitchen, Deborah’s main focus in the class is to determine and translate amounts.
Sarah Walker, "a former Midwest farm girl" who now runs an airport shuttle service between the Vallarta airport and the three small towns in the Guyabitos area, said she knows of no incidents of drug violence or assaults on any visitor in the area.
"I’ve been here for seven years and all you hear about is the occasional break-in where kids come in and take money," Walker said. "I walk alone in the evenings everywhere yet am careful like I would be anywhere. I’m sure you would be more aware of your surroundings in downtown Seattle in the middle of the night than you would be on a sunny afternoon."
Glen said, "People who come and stay (here) already know things are OK and that there’s nothing to worry about. It’s only the people back in the States who are asking the questions about safety."