Cruising Mexico’s Sweet Costalegre (“Happy Coast”) – in Sailing Magazine!

The June 2016 issue of Sailing Magazine is featuring our article about cruising Mexico’s sweet Costalgre coast. This 50 mile long stretch of Pacific coast shoreline has 10 or so anchorages that vary in size from tiny to enormous and that vary in spirit from an immersion in nature to fancy and elegant resorts.

It is a favorite cruising ground for sailors heading to Mexico — they call it the “Gold Coast” — and some cruisers return year after year.

Sailboat anchored in Chamela Bay Gold Coast Mexico Costalegre

Mexico’s Costalegre has some beautiful anchorages

The seeds for publishing this article in Sailing Magazine were planted over two years ago, but the opportune moment didn’t strike until this month. We are very proud to be contributors to this outstanding magazine and to have our story and photos appear in its pages.

Porta-bote on the beach in Paraiso on the Costalegre Mexico

The tiny cove at Paraiso has a sweet beach and jade colored water.

Many of our readers know us only as RVers, so I thought this would be a nice time to reflect back a bit on the life altering years we spent on our sailboat Groovy in Mexico between 2010 and 2013 and to share some of our photos from Mexico’s Costalegre in a larger format than is available on our older blog pages that were written while we were there.

Boats at the Las Hadas Resort Marina Manzanillo Mexico Pacific Coast Costalegre (2)

The Las Hadas Resort in Manzanillo looks like the Mediterranean!

The Costalegre (a concatenation of the words “Costa” (coast) and “Alegre” (cheerful or happy)) is situated south of and around the corner from Puerto Vallarta.

Map of Mexico Costalegre Pacific Coast

The Costalegre is a small bit of coast that is one of Mexico’s major cruising destinations.

Interactive Link: Location of the Costalegre and its anchorages on Google Maps

Most of western Mexico’s cruising grounds are very spread out between Ensenada, just below San Diego, and Puerto Chiapas down by the Guatemala border some 2,000 miles away. However, in the Costalegre region it is possible to daysail from one anchorage to the next, rather than sailing overnight as most destinations require, which is part of what makes it so popular.

Manzanillo Bay lies at the far southern end of the Costalegre, and it is home to several anchorages that are within an hour or two of each other by sailboat. Manzanillo Bay has incredible sunsets and sunrises — or it did when we were there — due in part to the power plant at the south end of the bay that spews soot particulates into the air!

Sailboat at Sunset Santiago Bay Manzanillo Mexico on the Costalegre

The sunrises and sunsets in Manzanillo Bay are stunning.

Construction was underway to convert the power plant to natural gas when we were there. Once it’s up and running, the sometimes polluted air will improve, but it may be the end of these reliably gorgeous skies!

Next door is the Las Hadas Resort where the movie 10 with Bo Derek was filmed. This is a charming resort full of crazy architecture decorated with funny gargoyles. It has a decidedly Mediterranean feeling to it.

Las Hadas Resort beach Manzanillo Mexico Costalegre Gold Coast (1)

Las Hadas Resort anchorage in Mexico – Beautiful!

The bay is big enough for about 15 or 20 boats and is a great place to stay a while.

Sailboat anchored at Las Hadas

Our boat Groovy anchored at Las Hadas

In our cruise we passed through the Costalegre four times all together on our way to and from the Sea of Cortez up north and Zihuatanejo and Huatulco in the far south of Mexico.

Las Hadas Resort sailing anchorage Manzanillo Mexico Costalegre

Las Hadas is great stop between Puerto Vallarta and Zihuatanejo, and we spent a lot of happy weeks there.

One of the most unexpected pleasures of cruising Mexico’s Pacific coast was that so many of the anchorages are in front of resorts. We hopped in and out of lots of resort swimming pools — what a life!

Las Hadas Resort Beach with sailboats on the bay Manzanillo Mexico Costalegre (1)

Sometimes resorts will let cruisers use the amenities like this glorious swimming pool at Las Hadas.

Occasionally the resorts ask cruisers to pay a day use fee to enjoy their resort facilities. Other times, buying a beer and snacks at the pool bar will suffice.

Las Hadas Resort Manzanillo Mexico Pacific Coast Costalegre

Not a bad spot to spend a day!

Manzanillo Bay is anchored by the city of Manzanillo at its south end. We met an adventurous RVing couple from Cuba (he) and Mexico (she), and at one point we jumped in their truck together to go get propane for our sailboat and for their rig. This took us into downtown Manzanillo, which is quite colorful but very urban.

Manzanillo downtown Mexico Costalegre (1)

Downtown Manzanillo gives a more realistic picture of life in Mexico than the resorts.

One of the things that took some getting used to, but that we found very fun, was the open air markets. There is lots of street food available as well as fresh veggies and sometimes deliciously fresh orange juice that enterprising people sell from carts in the street. And there’s nothing like grabbing lunch from a taco stand — the trick is always to buy this kind of food where there is a long line of locals. That means it’s good!

Fresh produce was available at many small markets.

Fresh produce was available at many small markets.

Another thing that taught us a lot about Mexico, about our own ability to be resourceful, and about how to speak Spanish, was going to the hardware stores in search of parts to fix broken things on the boat. RVs often need repairs and maintenance, but boats need a whole lot more because they are more complex vehicles and the salt air and salt water is extremely corrosive.

Once we learned how to say the word for hardware store (“ferretería”), we were off and running.

Carrying the broken boat part with us, we’d hunt down a hardware shop and throw around some beginner Spanish and some slowly spoken English.

Invariably, we’d get a lot of sympathy as well as directions to another ferretería that might actually have what we were looking for!

Usually the directions were off by a few blocks one way or the other, so after a bunch more walking (and a bit of sightseeing, of course) we’d arrive at the next place and do it all over again!

It was a hoot and we met a lot of really wonderful people that way.

America is very efficient, but keeping a boat maintained and in tip-top working order in Mexico gave us endless heartwarming experiences and chances to get to know a little about our neighbors to the south.

Hardware store on Pacific Coast of Mexico

Does this place have the little gizmo we need for the boat?

And whether or not we got the part we needed to finish our repair, there was usually a fabulous sunset at the end of the day that would light the sky on fire.

Sunrise on Costalegre Mexico Pacific Coast Gold Coast

Ahhhh…

We found that in the wintertime much of Mexico’s Pacific coast has murky water that is often plagued by red tide. However, one spring we stopped in the tiny bay of Paraiso on the Costalegre and found ourselves surrounded by crystal clear jade colored water. What a delight! Let’s jump in!

Well, jumping off the boat to play in the water always included 15 or 20 minutes of scraping the barnacles off the bottom of the boat! That was a chore we did frequently, but how wonderful to be able to do it in such beautiful water!

Snorkeling at Paraiso Bay in Costalegre Mexico

Cleaning the hull of the boat was fun in this kind of water!

In the Las Hadas anchorage in Manzanillo, we needed to fuel up. There is diesel available at a boat dock, but it was very challenging to get a big boat up to that dock easily. We managed that tricky maneuver in our third year when we were seasoned sailors, but in our first year we hauled diesel in jerry jugs from the fuel dock out to our boat in the dinghy, and we used a Super Siphon to get the diesel from the can into the boat’s fuel tank.

Filling the diesel tank with jerry jugs cruising Mexico

There is diesel available in Las Hadas, but it’s not so easy to tie the boat up to the dock.
Using jerry jugs and a Super Siphon was a simple alternative!

Another jewel of an anchorage on the Costalegre is Careyes. This is a tiny cove tucked behind an island, and all the homes have been painted vibrant primary colors. What a backdrop!!

Sailboat at Costa Careyes Mexico

Groovy anchored at Careyes

It is rumored that Heidi Klum has a home here. Unfortunately, we didn’t see her!

Careyes is a very difficult place to anchor because there are contrary currents and tides and winds that all join forces to set every boat off on a wild dance. So, very few boats go there. We were the only cruising boat in the anchorage the whole time we were there.

A stern anchor is an absolute necessity to keep the boat pointing in the right direction. We chose a Manson because it had no moving parts to bite our shins and had a nice handle to hold onto!

Stern anchor is necessary for sailboat in Careyes Bay Mexico Costalegre Gold Coast

Careyes is a beautiful anchorage, but a stern anchor is necessary to counteract the enormous current and swell.

But it is worth the effort to get the boat anchored in Careyes. What a lovely view of the palm tree lined beach!

Beach and houses at Careyes Mexico Costalegre

Pretty view at Careyes

Swell is part of the everyday picture when cruising Mexico, and for boaters whose experience is cruising the protected anchorages of the Pacific Northwest or Maine (like me), it is a real surprise to discover just how much a boat can roll. I wrote a blog post about the joys of swell here and it shows the action of the swell on a huge tanker near the Las Hadas anchorage in Manzanillo— yikes!

The waves are wild because Mexico’s Pacific coast is wide open to the Pacific, and there is nothing stopping the waves or slowing them down as they come in from the open ocean!

Perula Beach Chamela Bay in Mexico Riviera

Swell is significant on Mexico’s Pacific coast. It can be a challenge to land the dink on the beach!

So, landing a dinghy can be a challenge. And getting the dinghy launched from the beach to go back to the big boat is an even greater challenge!! But the beaches themselves are wonderful. The beach at Pérula in Chamela Bay is filled with fishing “pangas” (the open boats the locals use…all made in Mazatlan).

Fishing pangas on the beach at Perula

Fishing pangas on the beach at Perula

We wandered into Pérula (known to cruisers as Chamela) a little ways, and found a delightful little restaurant with a tiny kitchen and two or three tables.

Restaurant at Punta Perula in Chamela Bay Mexico

This little hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Pérula is typical of the fun and informal eateries on the coast.

Of course, almost every beach has plastic chairs and tables set out, and you can always plop down and dig your toes in the sand and enjoy the view with a Corona.

Perula Chamela Bay Beer on the Beach Costalegre Mexico Pacific Coast (1)

Now THIS is cruising!

Since Mexico’s Pacific coast is filled with high end resorts, there are plenty of places to find more elegant beachfront dining. In the tiny Costa Cuastecomates (once known as the “Secret Anchorage” because the entrance is hard to see from the open ocean — until the GPS coordinates were published in a guidebook (and a great book it is)), we found a beautiful resort at one end of the beach.

Cuastecomate bay resort Costalegre Mexico Gold Coast

We found an upscale waterfront dining option in the “secret anchorage” of Cuastecomate.

In front of Las Hadas Resort there are tables set up to enjoy the beach and a view of the sailboats anchored in the cove.

Las Hadas Resort beach dining

Beach dining at Las Hadas Resort

With its Mediterranean flair, Las Hadas (which means “the fairies”) also has very cute pairs of beach chairs lined up facing the bay.

Beach chairs Las Hadas Resort Manzanillo Costalegre Mexico

Fun little beach chairs at Las Hadas in Manzanillo

One of the all-time favorite destinations for cruiser’s on the Gold Coast is Barra de Navidad. Unlike all the other anchorages which are merely indentations in the land that are not protected from the open ocean, Barra de Navidad is in an estuary that is entirely enclosed.

Lots of cruisers settle in here for a few weeks or months, not only because the boat is unaffected by swell and sits flat on the water, but because the entire bay is lined with fun little eateries, beach bars and watering holes.

The only downside to anchoring here long term is that the water is too silty and dirty to make water with a watermaker and you can’t discharge the holding tanks unless you hoist the anchor and weave down the shallow and narrow channel to go out for a day sail on the open ocean.

There is a water taxi service in Barra de Navidad that can take you from your boat to anywhere on the shore for a few pesos. There is even a baker who hails from France and who sells his fresh croissants and quiches from boat to boat every morning!!

French Baker in Barra de Navidad anchorage in Mexico Costalegre

Every morning in Barra de Navidad, the French Baker delivers croissants and quiche to cruisers that are eagerly waiting in their cockpits, coffee cup in hand!

Gosh, will it be a chocolate croissant or an almond croissant this morning??

Barra de Navidad boat-in bar Costalegre Pacific Coast Mexico

Barra de Navidad has water taxis throughout the estuary to take you to waterfront dining of all kinds.

I just have to show another sunrise shot from Manzanillo Bay. It is so amazing to peek out the window and find yourself on a sea of pink!!

Sunrise Manzanillo Bay Mexico

Sunrise in Manzanillo Bay

Some spots on the Costalegre are busy and full of people, like the estuary of Barra de Navidad, the beach at Santiago Bay, and Las Hadas Resort in Manzanillo.

Dinghies lined up on the beach Santiago Bay Manzanillo Mexico Costalegre

Dinghies lined up on the beach at Santiago Bay in Manzanillo

But others are supremely quiet, like the little islands off of Chamela bay. Here, we pulled our dinghy up on the beach and had the island to ourselves.

Sailboat anchored in Chamela Bay near Perula Mexico Costalgre Gold Coast

Our dink on its own at the offshore islands of Chamela Bay.

And in a lot of places we found there were RV parks that backed right up to the beach.

RV on the beach in Mexico

There are RV parks on many beaches. This is at Pérula on Chamela Bay.

In the years we were there, the biggest ongoing story in the media was about all the violence in Mexico. We never saw any violence in all the years we were in Mexico.

The rumor among the many travelers who love Mexico and the one million ex-pats who live there was that the media smear was a ploy to keep Americans in the US spending their vacation dollars on American soil rather than in Mexico. After all, we were at the height of the financial woes that followed on the heels of the the banking meltdown of 2008.

Full-time RV childhood in a Motorhome in the 1980's

Imagine growing up in an RV traveling the Americas!

The few RVers that we met were enjoying their RV parks all by themselves all winter long. Many had taken their RV to Mexico each winter for a decade or more, and they told us those same RV parks had been booked to overflowing by mid-November in prior years.

At the end of our cruise, the owner of a pretty villa in the Costalegre village of La Manzanilla invited us to stay at his place for a week.

It turned out that he was German and his parents had raised him living in a motorhome full-time as they traveled throughout North and South America from Alaska to Cape Horn.

His unique tales and photos of growing up in a motorhome and boondocking on the beach in the 1980’s are told in these two blog posts:

RVers in Mexico saw a lot more of the country than we did, since our travels were restricted to the coast. We did take some phenomenal trips inland on long distances buses, though, visiting the colonial cities of Oaxaca, Guanajuato and San Cristobal de las Casas and visiting the Mayan ruins of Palenque and Monte Alban.

Cuastecomate view of the beach Mexico Costalegre

Beach bars galore in the “secret anchorage” of Cuastecomate

However, there are sights to be seen in Mexico that RVers can’t easily reach because they require the use of a privately owned boat. One of these is Isla Isabel (Isabella Island). This tiny island is a bit north of the Costalegre but is a definite “must see” for any cruiser sailing Mexico’s west coast.

There’s nothing there but a few fishermen and lots of nature. And blue footed boobies!

Blue footed boobie Pacific Mexico Coast

Blue footed boobies! In Mexico!!!

We were there in the spring, and a mixed flock of brown boobies, masked boobies and blue footed boobies were all nesting on the island. The chicks were full sized but still covered with down. The parents let us get close, but they made a point to stand in front of their babies as we walked up.

Blue footed boogie guards its chick in Mexico (1)

A blue footed booby guards its baby.

There is lots of other unusual wildlife to be spotted along the Costalegre, and we watched a group of frigate birds hanging around a partially submerged shipwreck in Santiago Bay.

A frigate bird takes a close look at us.

A frigate bird takes a close look at us.

Around the bend in the Las Hadas Resort anchorage we were greeted by a flock of adorable little birds that perched on our lifelines. These guys know cruisers and boats quite well, and each time we went through that area we found them chirping and flying on and off our lifelines!!

Birds on the lifelines of our boat (1)

These little guys greeted us and landed on our lifelines every time we came into Manzanillo

Out in the open ocean along the Costalegre we also saw lots and lots of sea turtles. Mexico has done a great job of protecting these guys, making sure their nesting sites are not disturbed and that the little babies can get down to the ocean without human interference. Of course, after their dangerous scramble down the beach to the crashing waves, they are met with the eager beaks of waiting birds that circle and fly low over the water to snatch them up as yummy snacks.

A sea turtle on Mexico's Pacific Coast

The waters along the Costalegre are filled with sea turtles.

Birds like to land on the sea turtles, and the turtles don’t seem to mind. So we often saw “turtle-birds” when we went out sailing. On more than one occasion we saw a particular turtle-bird on our way out on a daysail, and the same turtle-bird was floating there when we came back three hours later!

Sea turtle and Boobie on Mexico Pacific Coast

Sometimes sea birds catch a ride on a turtle’s back – and stay there for hours!

Perhaps the most exotic animal we saw on the Costalegre (and in the Sea of Cortez) was the flying mobula rays. These guys fly out of the water and flap their wings like mad and then land on the water with a big smack. It was loud enough that if you were down below in the cabin, you’d come running up on deck to see what made the noise.

The funny thing was that these guys seem to do this jumping thing out of sheer joy. They don’t just jump up and down. They do somersaults and back flips!!

Flying mobula ray manta ray Mexico Pacific Coast

The mobula rays fly into the air and do all kinds of acrobatics!

One day while we were out day sailing in Manzanillo Bay, we saw a whale breaching. We saw whales in quite a few places in Mexico, and sometimes they breached near us, but this was really unusual because the heavily populated shoreline was right there!

On another occasion, while dinghying between the small town of La Manzanilla (a favorite ex-pat hangout for Canadians) and the anchorage that cruisers call Tenacatita (and is actually known to the locals as Blue Bay or Crazy Angels Bay), we saw a mother whale and her baby playing in the water. It was early morning and the water was as still and clear as glass. The mom flopped around on her back and waved her fins around, and the baby did the same thing right next to her. Sweet!

Breaching whale Santiago Bay Manzanillo Costalegre Mexico

A breaching whale in Manzanillo Bay

Mexico’s Pacific Coast is a tourist destination, and there are tourist oriented activities of all kinds. One afternoon we looked out from the cockpit of Groovy in Santiago Bay and saw horseback riders walking along the sand.

Horseback riding on Santiago Bay Manzanillo Mexico Pacific Coast

Riders on horseback on the beach at Santiago

But perhaps the best thing about cruising Mexico and taking it slow in the Costalegre was getting to know a little about the Mexican culture. Young girls celebrate their 15th birthday with a huge party called the Quniceañera, and we often saw beautiful 15 year olds in photo shoots dressed in very pretty and flouncy dresses.

The Belle of the Ball preps for her 15th birthday.

Sweet 15!

In the final weeks of our Mexico cruise when we were staying in a marina in Ensenada, a thousand miles north of the Costalegre, we ended up hosting a Quinceanera photo shoot aboard Groovy. What fun!

For more detailed info about each of the anchorages on the Costalegre as well as Puerto Vallarta and Ensenada, we have created a video that makes it easy to get the lay of the land with a bowl of popcorn!

This video (the first in a series of three videos) shows what there is to see and do in each anchorage and also gives insights into Mexico’s weather patterns and climate and suggests an overall itinerary for getting the most out of your Mexico sailing cruise.

For more stories from our Mexico cruise, we have loads of blog posts here.

We also have a two page series chock full of tips for cruisers heading to Mexico:

If you are an avid sailor or are curious about the cruising lifestyle, I highly recommend checking out Sailing Magazine. It has been inspiring sailors for decades and was on my family’s coffee table in the 1960’s as I was growing up, fueling my dad’s secret cruising dreams. Even if, like my dad, you never have a chance to fulfill those dreams, Sailing Magazine has endless stories from folks who have had the good fortune to sail off over the horizon, and it makes for fantastic escapist adventure reading.

The June issue is on newsstands now and has lots more of our photos and info from the Costalegre. You can buy a subscription here:

Sailing Magazine Subscription

More info for cruisers sailing to Mexico can be found on these pages:

  • Planning Your Cruise – Tips plus Cruising Guides, Field Guides and Travel Guides
  • What To Expect On Your Cruise – Living on a boat in Mexico is crazy and fun, but there’s an adjustment period!
  • Maps of Mexico – Lots of maps that show what’s where on Mexico’s Pacific Coast and in the Sea of Cortez
  • More links and info below…

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Map, geography and cruising info for the Costalegre and Isla Isabel:

Other blog posts, links and webpages from our Mexico sailing blog:

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4 thoughts on “Cruising Mexico’s Sweet Costalegre (“Happy Coast”) – in Sailing Magazine!

    • We are so happy we had a chance to go cruising, and we LOVED many aspects of it, and we miss those things terribly: our fabulous and gorgeous boat, beautiful day sails, swimming off the boat, walking around small coastal Mexican towns, and spending time getting to know Mexican friends. But there were other things that made it a lifestyle we didn’t want to continue, and the feelings I expressed in this post still hold true today. In a nutshell, in the cruising life, for us, we found it took 10 units of effort and/or discomfort to get one unit of fun. In the RVing life we find it takes one unit of effort/discomfort to get 10 units of fun. So we returned to RVing and are really happy we did.

  1. We always enjoy your exploits, by land and by sea…and just came back from San Carlos SO MX with our 5th wheel. I had purchased a portable diesel tank, 75 gallons with integral 12 V pump, and was able to make it down and back from Sierra Vista AZ. Like you I had a 07 5.9 Dodge that I sold for a ’15 GMC and wish MX had ULSD. But while in a nice RV park in San Carlos, many newer diesel motor homes heading north from a winter in Mazatlan said they had no problem with MX diesel. I assume they were pre 2012 when we have to add the damn DEF. I am starting to look at the newer gas trucks that will tow a lot more than they used to. Just have to get a 4.10 rear end.

    • Thanks for reading our blog, Chuck, and for sharing your info about Ultra Low Sulphur Diesel in Mexico. Back in 2010 the manager of Hotel Coral & Marina in Ensenada called the marina’s contact at Pemex and was assured that the Baja had ULSD all the way to Cabo because the diesel on the Baja is purchased from the US (it would be too costly to route the fuel from the Mexican refineries on the mainland to the Baja). How great to hear that folks coming up from Mazatlan had no trouble, although my understanding is that you can go through quite a few tanks of the old “low sulphur” (not “ultra low”) diesel before it begins to have an impact on or damage anything in the truck. Good luck with your truck purchase and enjoy your future travels Mexico. Hopefully a newer gas truck will do the trick for you!!

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