The short answer to this question is yes, the ocean water in Sayulita is totally safe! Sayulita’s water treatment plant was just upgraded and is under new management. A recent test of the water in Sayulita Bay showed levels 10 or 20 times below the limit set by the government for safe swimming. This is great news for locals and visitors alike!
Sayulita is a young town, founded in 1941. The land was previously owned by a powerful family and used as a coconut plantation, before it was given back to the people. For about three decades it was the quintessential sleepy fishing village, only accessible by boat, until in the late 1960’s when the highway 200 was expanded linking Sayulita with the outside world. With that expansion came cars and the first American surfers who “discovered” Sayulita and its excellent surf. Since these first pioneer surf tourists, Sayulita has steadily grown in popularity each year largely due to the word of mouth of one happy vacationer at a time. In the last 20 years, word of mouth, now driven by the internet and social media has resulted in more and more travelers from around the world who have heard about, visited and fallen in love with Sayulita.
18 years ago, Sayulita got its first water treatment plant. To this day the plant is located near the beach on the Northside of the river. Prior to that, the town utilized wells and/or trucked-in water but with this new water treatment plant came tap water and sewage. This was a great improvement and was heartily welcomed by the townspeople. This new service was not provided by the Mexican government but a private company who offered the original townspeople free water in exchange for control of the plant and the freedom to charge future home- and business-owners for water and sewage hookups. The plant treated grey and black water before releasing it into the river or river bed to eventually be washed out to sea. This was an improvement over no water treatment but still not a perfect system as the river mouth opens on to our main beach.
This started a complicated chapter in Sayulita’s history, which featured exponential growth of the town both as a tourist destination and a place for foreigners to build homes and businesses. In parallel with this growth, the water treatment plant seemed to become increasingly mismanaged. Despite a great influx of new revenue for the plant, it seemed that the money was not being reinvested with no new upgrades to the plant. To add to the frustration, due to poor maintenance the plant was also often not running at full capacity. This resulted in intermittent water shortages and sewage and water treatment issues. This came to a head over the last few years as social media and online platforms like TripAdvisor hammered Sayulita for its water treatment and the water quality in its bay.
Luckily, Sayulita is home to many proud and generous citizens who care deeply about the town and whose livelihoods depend on tourism. A local community nonprofit called Grupo Pro Sayulita raised over $200,000 USD for a new infrastructure fund to upgrade the outdated and undersized treatment plant. Casa Vecino was proud to make a $5,000 donation to this worthy cause.
Unfortunately, the owner of the plant did not want to admit to the plant’s shortcomings or cooperate with these attempts to upgrade the plant. He fought the community and at one point blocked the community from connecting an upgraded set of sewer pipes (paid for by donations) from being hooked up to the plant. (This unscrupulous businessman also ran a very successful side-business selling truckloads of water to houses that were not being serviced with tap water during the frequent water shortages.)
Luckily, the government decided to step in. They forced him to cooperate with these upgrades and offered government funds to help upgrade this nearly 20-year-old system.
Last year, the newly upgraded plant was inaugurated and officially reopened. It features a new emissor which concentrates treated black water and a 2.3km-long (about a mile and a half) pipe that takes this treated water out to sea were it is anchored to the sea bed and released at a depth of 60 meters or about 200ft. This is a proven system used around the world with no negative environmental impact. The ocean is able to safely break down this treated water and it is far enough from shore that it has zero impact on our beaches. With the emissor pipe in place and functioning, there is no treated water entering the river or emptying onto the beach. Sayulita is now the only beach town in the area that does not dump grey water directly into its river.
The treatment plant was previously only able to process 20-30 liters per second when both sides of the plant were in optimum running condition, which due to mismanagement was not always the case. This system could not always keep up with the demand due to tourism growth, but it now has now been upgraded to process up to 80 liters per second, which is a huge improvement, and is ready to handle even the busiest tourist times, such as Semana Santa and the Christmas / New Year’s Eve holidays.
With regular maintenance, this newly upgraded plant will serve Sayulita for the next 25 years as the population continues to grow. The government is now overseeing the management of the plant, so there will be regular inspections and maintenance. Then just last week, the longtime owner-operator of the plant was removed from his post and is no longer running the plant. With the plant upgraded, fully-operational and under new management, the town’s water and sewage systems are in the best shape they have ever been in and the town is elated.
After this project got kick started by Pro Sayulita with donations from residents, the newly elected Mexican State and Federal government then took over the project and have been working diligently for months to bring about the completion of the project, which they funded in excess of 41 million pesos (about 2.4 million USD).
The water quality in the bay is back to being fantastic and the beach is looking great. The rainy season is here and with it the heavy rains that revitalize our jungle, refill our aquifers and wash the dust from our streets. Local volunteers are already discussing a project to bring back plant life to improve the health of the natural estuary at the mouth of Sayulita’s seasonal river.
It only took a few weeks for the improvements at the water treatment plant to start showing in Sayulita Bay. Despite these improvements, we have just had the slowest tourism spring and early summer in recent history. Unfortunately, it will take much longer to reverse the bad press and negative reviews on TripAdvisor and other platforms. Sayulita has never advertised and while it would be great if we could work together to broadcast our good news, for now we are going to have to rely on what we always have to attract great travelers – world of mouth and positive vibes.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and for sharing this positive information. We hope that this great news makes you want to book your next vacation to Sayulita and that you will spend it with us at Casa Vecino! As an added bonus we would like to offer the discount code #CLEANWATER. Use it to save on any new bookings made until September and receive a 10% discount off our always affordable room rates!