Barra de Navidad has a narrow and shallow entrance channel.
Fishermen cast nets in the lagoon.
The serenity in Barra's lagoon is a big contrast to most Pacific coast anchorages.
The French Baker makes his rounds.
Emeric delivers croissants, quiches and
baguettes right to your boat!
The Grand Bay Resort overlooks the lagoon.
"Las Sirenas" ("The Mermaids").
View across the water taxi piers.
Barra is loaded with cute little eateries.
Unlike other Mexican towns we've visited, almost all
tourists here during our stay were gringos.
How about a meal looking through the branches of an
enomous piñata decorated tree?
A 1921 sloop in the lagoon.
A restaurant's mascot macaw
blushes as I snap his photo.
Mark finds the Beatles in Mexico once again.
Many of Barra's front
doors are very ornate.
The lagoon has many
species of long legged
One of many boat-in palapa restaurants on the lagoon.
Water taxis ferry visitors all over the lagoon.
Happy Valentine's Day.
The Grand Bay Resort proudly overlooks the gritty,
quirky town of Barra.
Approaching the Grand Bay you suddenly feel a little out
of place in a bathing suit and flip flops.
Hammocks by the lagoon shore.
Overlooking the marina to the cruising boats in the
lagoon anchorage beyond.
A yacht traverses the narrow channel.
A McGregor 26 (without its mast) slides past us at a fast clip.
Dinghies scramble to save a sailboat from an unattended Offshore
48' power yacht that's suddenly on the loose.
A frustrated couple spends the day off-kilter on a
Barra de Navidad, Jalisco, Mexico
Mid-February, 2011 - After the gentility of the Las Hadas
Resort in Manzanillo and the sweeping waves and beach
scene of Playa La Boquita in Santiago Bay, we were
surprised to find yet another totally contrasting lifestyle just
25 miles up the coast in the eclectic hideaway of Barra de
Navidad. Pulling into the anchorage, we felt like we were
landing on another planet. For starters, the anchorage is
an almost fully enclosed lagoon, and to enter it requires
motoring down a very narrow and very shallow channel.
Fortunately the GPS waypoints given in the guidebook are
accurate, as the channel is marked with buoys for only half its
length, and the chartplotter is off by about a mile. In these waters,
being off by 100 feet will put you hard aground.
But the real surprise lay inside the anchorage: 50 cruising boats
were crammed into the lagoon. Until now, every anchorage we
had been in had hosted fewer than twenty boats. What a crazy
zoo scene this was! To top that off, being low tide, everywhere we looked for a spot to drop the anchor we had just inches of
water under the keel. The lagoon's water is extremely silty, and you can barely see your toes when your legs are in water up
to your knees, so there was no way to tell the depth other than trust the boat's depth sounder. In such a shallow and tightly
packed anchorage it made sense to let out just 50' or so of anchor chain. A neighbor quickly set us straight however,
informing us that boats drag regularly through the soft mud and that everyone around us had 100' of chain out, despite being
in less than 10' of water.
Once the anchor was down, the sun began to drop low in the sky. We kicked back in the cockpit and watched flocks of long
legged birds commuting home to roost while fishermen cast their nets behind the boat. A chorus of lagoon bird songs filled
the air as they settled into the surrounding mangroves.
The next morning I poked my head out of the companionway to see a picture that for
all the world looked like one of the many beautiful anchorages in Maine where I grew
up cruising years ago. Most Pacific coast anchorages are defined by mountains and
waves, making for dramatic scenery and often dramatic rolly nights. In contrast, this
anchorage was as flat calm as could be and was rimmed by low lying trees. The boats
were all well behaved, lined up with military precision, facing the gently rising tide with
dignity. This is nothing like most Pacific coast anchorages where the boats tend to
pitch and roll, swinging in different directions, often quite wildly, challenging each other
to see which one can be the buckingest bronco of them all.
Suddenly the radio came alive with chatter; it was Barra's morning VHF cruiser's net.
For a full twenty minutes cruisers ran through the roll call of all the boats arriving,
departing or staying put in one of several anchorages in the area. As soon as the net
ended, all fifty boats in Barra began hailing each other at once, making plans for
daytrips ashore, plans to meet in future harbors or plans for cocktails and dinners
together later in the day. In the midst of all this conversation a heavily accented voice broke into the fray, announcing, "This is
ze French Baker and I am entering ze lagoon now." A child's voice called out,
"French Baker, French Baker, we would like two chocolate pies." The accented
voice answered, "I have only one." "We'll take it!" came the happy reply.
Emeric Fiegen, a Frenchman who now hails from Canada, came to Barra years
ago and in 2003 created a unique niche for himself in this ex-pat community.
Opening "El Horno Frances" (The French Bakery), he sells French baked goods
out of a shop onshore and also out of a panga that he personally drives around
the lagoon each morning. Offering quiches, croissants, baguettes and other
delicacies, he does a brisk business and is always sold out by the time he gets
to the far side of the anchorage. This, unfortunately, was where we were
located, so we quickly learned we needed to email him our order the night
before. After months of tacos, burritos and hot sauces it sure was a treat to sink
our teeth into chocolate croissants and miniature bacon and cheese quiches.
Barra de Navidad is a unique gringo hangout. The town
hovers along one side of the lagoon, its small streets teeming
with cute tourist shops, charming outdoor restaurants, cheap
hotels and North American retirees escaping the cold winters
back home. The mood is laid back and slightly gritty, with flip
flops and beachwear being the accepted attire.
A pretty pier extends along
one side of the lagoon's
entrance channel, leading
strollers out to views of the
bay and beach on the
ocean side of town. On the
opposite side of the lagoon's channel the imposing Grand Bay Resort rises out of the
mangroves, offering high class and high dollar vacations to the younger still-employed (and
Cruisers stay in Barra for weeks
and even months each winter,
charmed by the convenient and
pleasing town, the picturesque
anchorage, and calm nights. Some
sneak swims at the Grand Bay
Resort's beautiful pool (after a fine luncheon), and everyone winds up
at the Sands Hotel's pool or pool bar at some time, as that
establishment openly welcomes cruisers.
The social scene
in the lagoon is
intense. It is an
easy dinghy ride
to visit your
and there are
of places to
on the radio are
everyone's business is quickly well known. The kids on two boats were the cutest to
listen to. As they made plans to visit each other, the parents were consulted in the
background: which boat, at what time, and with whose dinghy would they would get
together to play?
Sometimes this public forum
can get a little awkward.
Two women discussed the
dishes each would bring to a
dinner party and wondered
aloud whether or not to invite a third
boat that neither one was convinced
had arrived in Barra yet: "I think I
saw them in the lagoon but they
aren't due for another week..." "I
have enough salad for all of us..."
"Okay, but I'm sure they would have
called us by now if they were here..."
Two men troubleshot a plumbing problem in detail: "You gotta turn that pipe 180 degrees."
"Yeah, but that sucker won't turn..." They had forgotten to take their conversation to a
separate channel, away from the channel where boats hail each other, so they were soon
interrupted by a voice saying: "Attention Fleet: Which restaurant has the best burger in
town?" "La Oficina" came the reply. "La Casina?" "No, La Oficina..."
Three boats were awaiting a mutual friend arriving from the airport. A
comedy of errors ensued as the guest arrived with a hand-held VHF radio,
but because he was standing in the Grand Bay's lobby behind the massive
concrete structures of the resort, he was unable to hear any of the boats
responding to his calls from the lagoon. For twenty minutes he hailed
three boats in the lagoon and they hailed back, to no avail. Finally one
boat took a dinghy ashore and met the poor fellow in person in the lobby.
We took the kayak out on Valentine's Day for a quiet morning ride but found
so much to see that we didn't get back to the boat until almost dark. First the
various long legged birds of the lagoon caught our eye. The mangroves are
thick and the water is loaded with fish, making it an ideal location for birds to
quietly stalk their prey.
Along one edge of the lagoon there are a series of boat-in eateries
you can get to either by water taxi or with your own dinghy. Several
restaurants seemed immensely popular and patrons filled every waterfront
Being our anniversary as well as Valentine's Day, we wanted to find
a quieter more romantic spot. Fortina's fit the bill perfectly. We
pulled the kayak onto their little beach and followed the sand right
to a table overlooking the water. What an ideal spot to while away
the afternoon and reflect on the happy years we have spent in each
On another day we took the kayak over to the dinghy dock at the
Grand Bay Resort and wandered through the beautiful grounds.
Manicured landscaping, even the jungle kind on the edges of the
golf course, define the fringes of this resort. A row of hammocks
on a beach fronting the lagoon look out on a private island, and
everything about the resort oozes elegance.
We found a balcony overlooking the marina and the lagoon anchorage
in the distance beyond, and we watched a megayacht navigate the
skinny lagoon entrance channel past one of the resort's pretty outdoor
restaurants. From simple beer and tacos on plastic chairs along the
lagoon's edge to haute cuisine in a stunning setting at the Grand Bay,
Barra de Navidad has everything a gringo escaping reality in Mexico
But living there in
the lagoon on a
boat can bring
reality back to you
in a heartbeat.
from the French Baker and pondering the unusual wind shift we were
seeing, panicky voices on the radio abruptly brought us to our senses.
"Attention Fleet: a McGregor 26 is dragging through the anchorage on the
north side of the lagoon." We turned our heads and there it was, moving
at a fast clip right past us.
In an instant five dinghies rushed over to the wayward boat.
No one was on board, but the fast acting men in the dinks
quickly brought the boat to heel, deploying a second anchor
they found stored in one of the boat's lockers. We hadn't yet
assembled our dink and put it in the water, so we watched all
the action feeling rather useless.
No sooner had the McGregor 26 settled down than another
call went out on the radio. "Attention Barra Fleet: I've gone
aground." The wind shift had caught one sailor by surprise
and moved his boat onto a sandbar that had been a safe 50
feet away from him for the past few days.
Unfortunately, being a full moon, the tide was going to be the lowest of
the month that afternoon, and for six hours the boat laid further and
further over on its side while the owners crawled around on the high side
making the best of a bad situation. Luckily, the soft mud bottom insured
that no damage was done to the boat. At the tide's lowest point we
dropped a line over the side of our boat and measured 6' 8" of water --
and we draw 6' 6".
A friend stopped by in his dinghy, and we began discussing the morning's
crazy events when we noticed the 48' Offshore motor yacht anchored
behind us was suddenly much further away than it had been for the past
few days. It was dragging too, with no one on board! A large sailboat
was directly in its path, and the sailboat's crew were all on deck, madly
putting fenders out to save their boat from the impending collision.
Again the radio burst to life and dinghies zoomed to the scene from all corners of the lagoon. In 15 quick minutes the dinghies
pushed the boat to a safe spot and redeployed the anchor. There was a lesson in that escapade for everyone in the lagoon,
as the wheelhouse on the boat was locked, so there was no way to start the engine and move the boat under its own power.
Fortunately, the dinghies had strong enough outboards to keep the boat from crashing into the sailboat and to push it to a new
location despite the high wind. A call soon went out to the fleet reminding us all to leave the keys in the ignition when we went
ashore so that others trying to save our boats could do so easily. This, of course, was quite a contrast to the instructions we
had also all received to raise our dinghies and lock our
outboards each night since several outboard motors had
been stolen in this anchorage over the past two seasons.
Hmmm... lock the car but leave the house key in the front
door of your home... Such are the funny contrasts of this
We could have easily stayed in Barra de Navidad for a
month, along with many other boats in the fleet who kept
delaying their departure day after day, but we felt an urge
to see some new things. So after a week we made our
way a few miles north towards Tenacatita.
Find Barra de Navidad on Mexico Maps
Visit Anchorages on the Mexican Riviera (northern Pacific coast) to see more posts from this area!