Surfing La Saladita: Crocodile ghosts, hot springs and the wave explained

What else is there to do in Saladita besides surf one of the world’s longest and mellowist left point breaks, summer water temp a balmy 85, purple thunderclouds crackling above coconut groves?

Down an unmarked dirt road past the magic mushroom spot, check out the curative hot springs, (there is also a cold part, where unmoving toes are treated to a fish-nibbling spa a la Thailand) eat the freshest seafood, admire the architecture of natural materials–and steer clear of crocodiles.


“It’s okay, the crocs are only during rainy season,” “last year one of them ate a dog” and “oh, they can’t get THIS far yet.”

Say what?

I swallowed hard because the Airbnb I chose REQUIRES crossing the river in order to access…oh, everything. The town. The surf break. The restaurants. You know, the beach.

I knew this, but I got the impression that it was, um, a shallow river, or a small one. God laughs.

I did have a few choices to cross from my casita into the rest of scant civilization: swim, paddle my surfboard, take a kayak or using the crossing boat.

See my white kayak?

My other “favorite” option was to jump into the boat and pull myself along the scratchy black rope strung over the river and attached to two coconut trees on opposite sides of the river.

It was all fun and games until my last night. All week I paddled, kayaked, boated, and enjoyed the adventure. But after a farewell evening of local mezcal (smoked agave tequila) with others travelers and locals, I barefooted back to the riverbank around midnight to cross the water and crash into bed in my casita. But everywhere I looked, there was no white kayak that I had pulled onshore earlier that day. Then I remembered: it was Sunday. My routine had been safe all week, but I bet the weekend warriors that explode the town for two days must’ve laid claim to my kayak and paddled it around, returning it where it belongs to the restaurant and leaving me stranded.

I looked into the river: the crossing boat was lazing in the deepest part. Where was the damn rope they said you use to tug it back to shore?! I knew where it was on the other side. But on this side…

I looked and looked in the moonless night and finally gave up, sitting down on the sandy shore in a growing panic, my shorts instantly salty wet. Fish jumped and splashed in the darkness, not making me feel any more comfortable. I pulled out my cell phone and sighed: couldn’t refresh feed. The only way I communicated with my Airbnb host per the rules, was through Airbnb. No internet here.

Should I sleep on the beach?

I yelled across the river into the sounds of people partying at the riverfront restaurant near my casita. “Por favor! Ayudame! Permiso! Senores!” Nothing. The party continued: happy voices, brassy music, colorful lights flickering over the water, my words lost. At this point my best options were 1.) to swim across the entire river and leave my bag till morning, or 2.) swim into the deepest part of the river, jump into the boat, pull myself on the rope back to shore to get my bag, and then pull myself back across the whole river.

Those both sounded horrible.

In the starlight, I sat watching little bubbles rising to the surface of the black water. Crocodile? It would only take one. And no one would know what happened to me. Absolutely no one.

It took half and hour. An hour? A year. A small lifetime, to summon the moxie I needed to wade into that black water, heart thumping. I prayed and sank into the sand. Knees. Thighs. Then swimming. Unable to breath. Sharks can pick up fear right? What about crocs? Flying across the black water in wide open prayer of panic. The boat. The boat! I fling myself into its fiberglass embrace to the sound of knees and elbows banging, panting, grinning, clothes sopping. They were just ghosts, thank God! The crocodiles were only ghosts, this time. 


Now that I’m alive, let’s talk food. There are only a few restaurants in Saladita, and make sure to order fish tacos or ceviche. The marine life here is dripping, abundant, fecund, unstoppable. Flying fish skim the surface constantly. I saw what looked like a big tuna jump clear out of the water (what was chasing IT?) and I found a barracuda and a party trail of lobster shells on the beach. To say the seafood is fresh here is like saying hell is a bit hot. Below is Sergios/Enramada with its sand floor and delicious ceviche. Boards for rent above.

Now for the surf info I wish I had found:

The peak of the wave is around Lourdes and Mareta’s restaurants. This is the front yard of Mareta’s restaurant, which you should definitely return to after surfing to try the mezcalito cocktail, the tacos and live music:

You can paddle out just past Lourdes in an endless arm-aching work out, or alternatively battle the channel (mellow when it’s small) straight out in a matter of minutes. Begin just to the left of the beach massages, “Playa Spa.” (!) Beware of sharp rocks when wading out into the channel. The long way around by Lourdes’ does have rocks, but so many feet have touched them they’re not sharp anymore.

In my experience, Saladita is essentially two peaks. The deeper peak has significantly less people, and occasionally connects all the way. The main peak to the right (looking from the beach) is usually packed with people, and breaks reliably in a never ending peel. The inside is shallower and can have a little more punch at times. Pictured here is a small day, maybe chest high sets.

Crowd: a lot of people are learning, or come from places where they don’t get to surf too often. I met a guy from Paris, another from Montana, plenty of Israelis, etc. Some of the locals are accomplished longboarders, but mostly the wave is full of newbies or part-time surf people, truly overjoyed to be surfing and honing their skills. When big, it’s a mix of longboarders and short. Less than head high, mostly loggers. The wave is packed in the morning and around sunset. Afternoons can have some wind on it (usually single digits) and yet it blows the crowd right out of the water. This is a great time to surf! 

Tide: a local Mexican surfer told me that despite the internet’s claims to the contrary, the tide changes every day around 10:30/11 am and this is when it gets good. To me this tide situation of unchanging regularity defies my understanding of earthly laws, but I came to find his claim pretty accurate.

A bit on the pleasures of natural materials: all the roofs on the Jovita and Pancho side of the river (restaurant, casitas) are constructed with palm fronds. Some of the lights are made of twisted roots. Michaell, the owner and designer extraordinare, also created this surf-watch seating, made almost entirely of dried branches.

In his sand bottomed, riverfront, ocean-view restaurant, how many things can you count made of natural materials? I got table, chairs, floor, roof, lights, more? Not pictured are giant hanging dream catchers.

The casita I stayed in was so close to the river that I could see water from bed and woke up to fish jumping, yellow birds in the trees and giant green iguanas scurrying down below. Once I opened up my door to the oven outside and abandoned the climate controlled chill of my casita, of course.

I was SO tickled by all the natural materials. It felt peaceful and clean to sleep under branches and palms instead of insulation or manufactured shingles.

And if you forget wax or break your bikini, well, Saladita’s one extra-tiny surf shop has got you covered, including some chic swimsuits by Mexican designers.

Details: I recommend Jovita y Pancho’s riverfront casita, and the surfing/hot springs/spearfishing tours by Jesus of #saladitasurftrips on IG. I received nothing for these endorsements and paid in full for my experience of them.

If you’re planning a trip to Saladita, be aware of the seasons and how they impact the surf and crowds. To oversimplify, summer = consistent southern hemi waves and less crowds. Winter = high crowds and variable surf. 

If you’re hoping to work remotely, know that internet is variable by location of the provider and Saladita beach’s power supply is tenuous. Power went out for almost two days after a storm on my trip, while the rest of the nearby town retained electricity. 

All in all, Saladita is a winner for people wanting to surf long lefts, eat seafood, explore beautiful countryside, watch wildlife and eat as many mangos and coconuts as humanely possible. You know those yellow oval-shaped atatulfo mangos from Whole Foods? I picked handfuls of these off the ground outside my casita 🙂 

Presents to take home? Woven hammocks and tequila.

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