Malpaso Beach: An Unexpected Journey

We woke up this morning, looked out the window at the brilliant sunshine, and wanted to go on a hike.

Before moving to Sayulita, we read about three hikes in the area: Playa Los Muertos, Monkey Mountain, and San Pancho.

We’d already done the “hike” to Playa Los Muertos on the previous two Saturdays, so that was out. Plus, it’s less of a hike and more walking along a residential road to the beach. It’s a nice walk, but we’re hankering for a jungle hike.

Monkey Mountain is a much longer and more arduous hike than we’re hoping for, especially with two little ones coming along. There aren’t a lot of details online about the hike, so we’re going to leave that one for if and when Lori and I can finagle some time for a hike without the boys at some point.

The hike from Sayulita to San Pancho sounds intriguing, but again, too many uncertainties and a bit more than we can chew at the moment with the boys.

But, we have heard rumors of a hike through the jungle to another beach (Playa Malpaso) that’s not too long and arduous and that’s what we’re going to check out this morning.

We don’t really have a map, don’t know the way, and really don’t know what to expect. We also have no idea if it’s possible carrying a two-year-old and having a four-year-old walk along.

Will there be bushwhacking involved? Streams to cross? Headlands to clamber over? Snakes, scorpions, or fire ants? Steep, slippery slopes or lots of elevation gain? Does the beach even exist?

We don’t know! Which makes it an adventure.

With enough water for a full morning of hiking in the tropical heat, snacks, and sun protection, we’re ready to hit the trail.

I have reason to believe that there is some sort of access to a trail at the end of Av. del Palmar, so that’s where we’ll start our investigation.

This is our first time this far up Av. del Palmar and it’s strikes us as a particularly picturesque part of town, wedged between Nanzal Hill and the Pacific. As you might expect, there are some pretty spectacular properties along this stretch.

In Sayulita, we’re learning that that generally means rental properties rather than vacation homes for the rich and famous. Some of the beachfront properties in the area can fetch upwards of thousands of dollars (USD) per night, with some of the more popular wedding venues dipping into the tens of thousands of dollars.

The road eventually runs out and drops us onto a dirt path. We follow a wash as it winds towards the beach below and follow a footpath until it turns to sand.

Could this be Playa Malpaso already?

Nope. Just the far northern end of North Beach. Which is a find in itself, given that we haven’t made it this far down yet.

We make it to the very far northern end of the beach where we are met by a formidable rocky outcropping connected to a substantial headland.

On one side of the rock face, the Pacific Ocean. On the other side, a rental property with a number of signs posted warning visitors not to trespass.

Looking at the rock face and the private property, the most likely option for getting to the next beach appears to be walking around the rock face through the surf at low tide.

As luck would have it, we are approaching low tide within the hour. If this is the route, we should be able to access the next beach right now.

Since I’m carrying Riley on my back, Lori goes to peek around the rocks, but returns with bad news. Going around the headland to access the next beach doesn’t look possible.

Our next idea is to clamber up and over the rock face, looking for some sort of path along the perimeter of the vacation home. Again, Lori makes her way up and over the boulders and peers over the other side, only to find a steep drop down into a rocky cove with crashing waves.

That’s not going to work either.

After several minutes of working to solve the riddle of the rocks, we agree it just isn’t feasible and figure we’ll take our chances with the inland jungle trail to San Pancho, hoping we’ll find a spur leading to the beach at some point.

But, as we turn around, a mysterious gringo suddenly appears out of nowhere.

Daniel is his name and he asks us if we are going to Malpaso Beach.

We tell him that indeed we are.

Daniel simply says, “Follow me,” as he leaps up the boulders to the precipice. Without hesitation, Lori and Noe follow right behind.

I, on the other hand, with 40 lbs. of kiddo and water on my back, am a bit more skeptical.

I watch as the mystery man hoists himself up the stone masonry wall and disappear through a notch in the structure. Moments later, Lori and Noe do the same.

Oy. This will be interesting, I think to myself. Alright Riley, here goes nothing.

I scale the smaller boulders up to the notch, and manage to find a good foothold in the stonework. With two good hand holds I’m able to pull Riley and I up and into the notch without completely straining every muscle in my body. Success.

But, we’re just getting started.

With the five of us now on top of the stone seawall, we follow a manmade path to another, larger, rock outcropping.

We pause to admire the view of Sayulita Bay, which is absolutely stunning right now.

Lori and I look around for the trail continuing on to Malpaso. Daniel simply points up, springs up the nearly vertical path, and disappears into the dense jungle.

Before I have a moment to think about how this is going to be possible with my heavy load and what my plan of attack should be, Lori’s already guiding Noe up the steep slope.

Thankfully, I had enough foresight to select a decent walking stick on the beach before setting out on this little foray up a sea cliff and into the jungle. I shove my new friend into notch after notch as I hoist myself and Riley up yet another vertical incline.

We briefly disappear into a disorienting jungle thicket, then emerge from the natural tunnel into blinding sunlight.

We can’t be more than 200 feet above sea level at this point, but our towering perspective makes it feel much higher.

Before we know it, a new beach appears before us, a long stretch of rugged, jungle-fringed golden sands as far as the eye can see.

Playa Malpaso.

…and in the foreground, the hidden and fabled Playa Las Cuevas (Caves Beach).

We follow the trail along the top of the ridge and down into a culvert. The trail suddenly forks into three separate paths. Daniel just did this hike a few days back, but can’t quite remember which path he took before to get to the beach.

He decides it must be the middle path. We follow him and the path along an old stone wall for a couple of minutes until the wall takes a dramatic turn downhill.

There’s nowhere to go but down, so the five of us make our way slowly down the steep and slippery hillside. The white sands of Malpaso are so close, we can almost touch it.

Well, that was fun!

Playa Malpaso. This is our destination for the morning, but our new friend is keen to keep going. We thank Daniel and bid him farewell as he jogs off down the beach and out of sight.

We’ve suddenly found ourselves all alone on a wild and isolated beach. Amazing.

Time for a break!

Well, Lori and the boys take a break. For some unearthly reason, I decide to follow in the footsteps of Daniel (literally) to see what’s down at the other end of the beach.

It doesn’t take long until I realize I’ve bit off a bit more than I can chew in the midday heat. The length of the beach is deceiving – in reality, it is much longer than it appears from the southern end.

About halfway down the beach, with the sun really beating down on this very exposed section, I decide to head back to the crew and chill for a while. The northern end of Malpaso will have to wait for another day.

I return to two boys who are very happy to have this huge beach all to themselves.

Despite what it looks like in these pictures, the wave action is quite a lot here, and we’ve read a number of warnings against swimming at Malpaso. We’re perfectly content to soak up the scene from the beach before making our way back.

Again, we’re not sure what to expect for the return trip. Rather than head back over the headland, we opt for the inland jungle trail.

With the exception of a couple of minor missed turns, the trail is fairly straightforward and mostly flat – a welcome change from the inbound journey.

Lori carries Riley on the way back, which means she definitely got the better end of the bargain. But that’s nothing new.

All in all, a fun and memorable hiking day. Can’t wait to explore more of the area!

2 thoughts on “Malpaso Beach: An Unexpected Journey”

  1. Such beautiful beaches!

  2. Shirley Northcraft

    What fun the little beach bums are having!


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