The Best of Banderas Bay
Bahia de Banderas (Bay of Flags) is one of the top tourist destinations in Mexico, as well as a popular cruising ground. The bay encompasses several great harbors and anchorages, the most popular and well-known spots being: Punta de Mita, La Cruz, Puerto Vallarta and Yelapa, and over the next 5 weeks we would visit them all. Our first stop in Banderas Bay was the rugged and beautiful Punta de Mita, which lies on the northernmost point of the bay. It was once an isolated fishing village, but as tourism has expanded the once quiet community is now full of hotels, restaurants, gift shops and bars. For boaters, it’s the perfect stopover while heading north or south, and for surfers there’s several great breaks around the point. We had a mellow motor-sail down from Chacala with all the highlights coming in at the end of the trip. As we neared the point, the winds expectedly picked up and we had an awesome sail into the bay surrounded by whales and turtles!
Once anchored, we found a nice beach between two break walls where we were able to land the dingy, grab lunch and surf for a few hours.
From Punta de Mita we made a near windless trip across the bay to the Paradise Village Marina. Our friends Mike and Nicole on MV Sloboda made sure that we got into a good slip where we could still get some wind, as it can get pretty hot and stagnant back in the marina. Paradise Village is a huge resort complex that can easily trap a cruiser. The beautiful marina is connected to the main resort and a shopping center, and for a few days it was great! We had access to the lap pool, crocodile watersides, hot tubs, and beach clubs.
Some love it here, as you can walk to Starbucks, spend the day shopping at the mall, go to the all-inclusive resort’s gym, have Panda Express for lunch and sushi for dinner. It’s almost like you never left the States! It can definitely be a nice break from cruising, especially when so many new things are getting thrown at you and the oddities of living in a new country can sometimes be overwhelming, but for Rachel and I it was exact opposite of what we looked for in a cruising destination.
We spent four days here, living the life of luxury before moving further south to Marina Vallarta where we planned to meet up with Rachel’s parents.
Marina Vallarta is located 10 minutes from downtown and equally as close to the airport, so it’s a great place to be when expecting guests. The docks are new and it’s rarely crowded. The only drawback to this marina for us was the lack of facilities. There was only one set of bathrooms/showers and the location just happened to be on opposite side of the marina from us. The restroom and shower that were available were disgusting and smelled so bad that even though we kept the boat there for 17 days, I only braved it three times. The upside is there is a ton of restaurants, shops, a farmers market and a marine chandlery all within a five minute walk of the dock. Halcyon and Sloboda would also make their way into this marina, making us all dock neighbors again. Over the following weeks we explored the nearby mangroves in search of crocodiles via dingy and SUPs. John, Mike and I would go also go for morning runs while the girls did yoga.
When we finally managed to plan far enough in advance and made an honest effort to be in one place long enough to have Rachel’s parents, Jack and Lynn down to visit, we thought Puerto Vallarta would be the ideal location. PV is a large, well-developed tourist destination backed by lush palm-covered mountains, with easy access to a marina and is within close proximity to several quaint beach towns. Each year millions come to laze on it’s sandy beaches, browse in the quaint shops, dine in the stylish restaurants and wander through the picturesque cobbled streets and along its beautiful malecón.
Our first couple days were no different, we spent our afternoons exploring downtown, walking up and down the streets until all the tourist shops and restaurants blended together. Jack and Lynn also rented a car so we could explore the neighboring towns. Each day the four of us would pile in and drive out of the city to see all that the bay had to offer. Having a rental car was a huge blessing! Although most places are reachable by taxi or bus, you could end up spending the whole day or a small fortune trying to getting around. With the rental, it was so easy to just throw in our beach gear and surfboards and go!
One of our first stops outside the city was La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, a small town that boasts one of the most active cruiser communities we’ve ever seen. Here, there’s also an awesome community of families, all partnered up to home school their kids. The cruisers here have set up a morning net to share information, make announcements and sell gear, they also include a kids net afterwards. It’s truly a kid boat paradise!!! The small town has all the basics, as well as a marina and an anchorage, although windy it’s secure and close to the marina. If anchored, you still have access to the marina’s dingy dock for a small fee and there's a guard to watch it while you're in town. There are so many cruisers and ex-cruisers here that call this place home, that’s it is easy for people to get sucked in for months.
Just to the north, and outside Banderas Bay lies Sayulita, a once small and tranquil fishing village, now a rather crowded gringo outpost, famous for it’s surf spots that dot the coastline. Although the tourist boom fell off a few years back when news got out about Sayulita’s growing sewage treatment problem. A new, modern treatment plant, completed in 2006, seems to have helped, but still cannot manage to keep up with the town’s growing output. The river and estuary still cannot manage to keep up with the town’s growing output. The river and estuary still seeps raw sewage into the main surf break, but supposedly if you just stay north of the break you’re in the clear…
We made the trip up to Sayulita twice with Lynn and Jack to surf and walk around town. The once typical fishing village, now has more of a hippie/surf/yoga vibe and has been overrun by foreigners. Of course it’s just my opinion, but I feel that when a place starts to lose it’s roots, such as Sayulita and begins to cater too much to what outsiders want, it looses it original charm and draw. Sure, it might be more comfortable and easier for the vegan hippies that have moved in to find organic kopi luwak coffee, but once a place has lost it’s previously established culture and mom and pop shops it’s hard to get back.
But fret not, the true Mexican vibe is still alive!!!! About 5 miles to the north is San Fransisco and the beach of San Pancho, and while the area around the surfing beach is becoming more of a touristy area, only a block away is what I would consider an authentic Mexican town.
Jack and I had been hoping to find some really good surf, and although we got in some pretty good surf sessions in Sayulita and San Pancho, we hadn’t found the “epic day” we had been searching for. So, we made the drive back to Punta de Mita to see if we could find some waves. The point there is private land owned by the Four Seasons resort, and although I’m pretty sure there is a way to drive out there, we couldn’t find it. We decided to hire a panga driver through one of the little surf shops to take us up to El Faro. When we got up to the point there were three other local guys out, but with two breaks with rights and lefts, it didn’t feel crowded at all. After about twenty minutes the other guys left and Jack and I had the perfect 3/4ft breaks all to ourselves! It was a super fun wave and a great day to be out in the water!
Not all places in Banderas Bay are accessible by car, and Yelapa is one such place. One afternoon our friends Mike and Nicole on Sloboda were nice enough to take the four of us out on their 47’ Northaven power boat down to Yelapa. I always love going out on other people's boats to experience how they do things and see what life is like aboard their boats. Slobada left Rachel and I a little jealous. The boat is amazing, and they keep it so clean and comfortable! I could spend hours drooling over the electronics in the wheel house or how clean their walk in engine room is. I think it was great for Lynn and Jack to see how other young cruisers are doing it, and that not everyone chooses a sailboat.
Yelapa is a unique place, the land here was legally deeded to the indigenous people who have lived here for centuries. The land here is collectively owned by the community and no single person or family owns the piece of land they live and work on. It’s a small cove lined by a beautiful beach and backed by lush, green mountains, and slowly becoming another tourist hotspot. It was fun to walk up and down the maze of alleys and streets as the town has no grid style streets, everything just kind of winds around. There are tons of small hotels, B&Bs, and rental properties for every taste and budget. The town also boasts two waterfalls nearby which we found to be worth the walk. The beach also has a few palapas that serve food and drinks, and as long as you order something the whole family can sit and enjoy the lounge chairs.
No trip to visit sailors would be complete without going sailing, and Banderas bay is the perfect place for day sail! We had a perfect 10-15 knots, just enough to get Agape up and sailing and still be dry and comfortable. We spotted several whales swimming back and forth along the coast and with just enough wind, we were able to tack back and forth up and down the coast watching the whales all afternoon. They even got close enough to make Lynn and Rachel scream with excitement! On our way back to the marina we even sailed right over a huge manta ray that was as wide as the boat. It was a fantastic day of sailing with great marine life and a wonderful time with family.
The next morning we had farewell banana pancakes and walked around the marina one last time together. Jack and Lynn were down for 9 days and it flew by! I think we all had great time, and we felt very fortunate that our parents could come down to visit to get a little glimpse into our new life.