Marina Chiapas is a new and attractive marina located next to the tiny seaside town of Puerto Madero and the new cruise ship terminal at Puerto Chiapas. They are all situated around the same estuary about 18 miles (30 min.) from the city of Tapachula (pop 500,000).
This is a very handy marina for cruisers in many ways. It is an excellent beginning or end point for crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec. It is also 10 minutes from Tapachula’s modern international airport. Supermarket provisioning is a short cab ride away, and the big city of Tapachula has luxury bus service that will take you anywhere in Mexico or Central America.
The concrete docks are in good condition, there is no surge whatsoever, it is below the hurricane belt, and the huge lightning rods on the nearby coffee factory likely protect the boats from lightning strikes during the rainy season (summer). However, there is little tidal exchange of water in and out of the marina, so when cruising boats discharge their toilets or holding tanks overboard, the water can get pretty scummy.
Because this port sits next to Mexico’s border with Guatemala, it is a very tightly controlled port. When arriving in the estuary you must hail the Port Captain to let him know you are coming in. If you are staying at the marina and wish to go out for a daysail, you must hail the Port Captain both on the way out and again on the way in. If you don’t hail him, he will likely hail you, calling, “Velero velero” (“sailboat sailboat”).
We have now been in and out of the marina a bunch of times, so I have noted some waypoints that may be of use to other cruisers. These are from our Raymarine E80 chartplotter and are just offered as a guideline — we are not legally liable for their accuracy or inaccuracy.
I originally posted a set of four waypoints on this website when we first arrived at Marina Chiapas, and those have circulated among cruisers and turned up in the marina’s brochure literature (minus one waypoint that must have been overlooked). However, there was a dredge blocking the marina channel at the time, so one waypoint was closer to shore than is necessary any more.
The five waypoints given here are more accurate and follow the contours of the channel better. I don’t recommend entering anywhere new at night, but if you arrive in the dark and feel you just can’t wait outside the marina until dawn, I believe these waypoints will get you into the marina just fine. As of June, 2013, there were still no buoys to mark the channel. Those are likely in place by now, but just in case they aren’t yet, I hope these waypoints will help you out.
The marina was built by digging an enormous ditch and then allowing it to fill with water. That is why the Marina waypoint is sitting on land in the image. The dredged channel to the marina is fairly narrow. There is plenty of depth, but stick to the middle of the channel. The bottom is soft mud if you do happen to touch.
Entrance to Puerto Chiapas
14° 41.819 N, 92° 24.685 W
14° 42.173 N, 92° 24.327 W
14° 42.240 N, 92° 24.170 W
14° 42.195 N, 92° 23.781 W
14° 41.990 N, 92° 23.665 W
14° 41.930 N, 92° 23.525 W
- The initial entrance to the channel is straight forward and the red and green buoys are easily visible.
- As you go down the channel you will see two large “Aztec” looking thatch roofed palapas. These palapas are used by the cruise ships at the cruise ship dock. You turn right before passing these palapas.
- Next you will see lots of large shrimpers on your left. After passing most of the shrimpers you turn right into the marina channel.
- You will not see the marina ahead of you when you take that right turn. Simply stay in the middle of the channel and keep moving towards the final waypoint where you make a slight left turn following the contour of the channel.
- The slips are oriented east and west and are set up with two boats to a slip.
After tying up at the dock your boat will be visited by the Port Captain and the Navy and their drug sniffing dog. If you arrive in the middle of the night they will probably not visit your boat until morning, but it might be right at dawn. The visit takes only 10 minutes or so, and in some cases the pooch wears booties to avoid scuffing up your boat!
The cheapest way to get around is by “combi” van or by a shared taxi (the shared taxis are orange). The cost to get to the city of Tapachula is 13 pesos per person (½ hour ride) in either the “combi” or orange taxi. The cost to get to the small nearby village of Puerto Madero is 10 pesos in a shared taxi. If you are in a hurry or have lots of bags, you can take an orange taxi to or from Puerto Madero by yourself (or with spouse/group) for 40 pesos.
To catch the “combis” and shared orange taxis, stand on the far side of the road right outside the marina’s entrance gate.
There is a Walmart and an air conditioned mall with a big cinema about halfway to Tapachula. The “combi” or shared taxi is 13 pesos to go there. The return trip is more complicated. You can take a taxi directly to the marina for 150 pesos. The taxis that go direct are the white and yellow radio-dispatched taxis.
Tell the driver you want to go to the “Marina Turistica” at the “Zona Naval.” We found that simply saying “Marina Chiapas” was not specific enough because the marina was new and the locals referred to it as the Marina Turistica.
Unlike the radio-dispatched white and yellow taxis, the orange taxis are on a route like a bus system, so if you take an orange taxi from Walmart back towards the marina you will likely need to change taxis at a triangular intersection where a line of taxis waits. Then the trip becomes 13 pesos per person per leg (52 pesos total for two legs for a couple).
You can also catch a “combi” van back to the marina from Walmart. Stand on the opposite side of the road from Walmart and look for one labeled “Playa Linda” or “Zona Naval.” They are not that frequent.
If you are going to the big “luxury” bus station in Tapachula to take a bus to Guatemala or San Cristóbal de las Casas, tell the driver you are going to “ADO” (the name of the bus line). When you return from your trip, take a local cab from the ADO bus station to the “combi” station (a large terminal for “combi” vans going all over the place). Find the van marked “Zona Naval.”
Marina managers Enrique and Guillermo also sometimes offer rides to cruisers when they return home for their lunch break (2:00 to 4:00 pm) or when they go into Tapachula for errands. They will drop you off at Walmart, just make sure you are ready to be picked up on time when they are headed back to the marina.
There is a small market in Puerto Madero that sells canned and boxed goods and a limited selection of fresh food. For a larger provisioning run, go to Walmart or continue another 2-3 miles towards Tapachula to Chedraui (which is also located in a large shopping mall area). We found Walmart had a slightly better selection.
If this is your last stop before leaving Mexico, stock up! From what we understand, it is much more complicated to provision in Bahía del Sol, El Salvador, than it is at Marina Chiapas. If you are reading this before arriving in Marina Chiapas, do your biggest provisioning run at Chedraui in Huatulco where the cab ride is cheap and short.
When we were at Marina Chiapas there were no laundry facilities. You can take your laundry to Puerto Madero (we saw a cruiser do this but did not find out exactly where the service was located) or to Tapachula. You can also have your laundry picked up by marina worker Ronnie to be washed by his wife. She has a washing machine but no dryer, so if the dust is flying when your clothes are on the line, they will come back dusty.
The bathrooms and shower facilities are very nice. The three shower stalls in each bathroom are spacious and have wonderfully gushing hot water. There were no hooks on the walls for hanging clothes or shower bags when we were there, but there was a large bench.
The wifi is improving. In the fall of 2012 it was possible to get wifi from the boat but it was not always working. You can take your laptop up to the air conditioned office and work there where the signal is often stronger. TelCel Banda Ancha USB modems work fine.
The fuel dock is located in a corner of the estuary just east of waypoint CHS-04. There is deep water right up to the shoreline, so there is room to turn your boat in front of the dock. No need to wait for high tide. There are grubby black rubber tires lining the dock, so get your fenders out to avoid marking up your boat. We ended up helping other boats get fuel and then we received help when it was out turn. Marina manager Guillermo may also take you and your jerry jugs in the back of his pickup over to the fuel dock.
THINGS TO DO – PLACES TO GO
Playa Linda – Leaving the marina entrance gate on foot, go right and then at the intersection about ½ mile away turn left. This takes you to a small tree-lined street of homes and a handful of small shop stands. There are several narrow paths between the homes on the right that take you down to the beach. The beach is blustery and blowy. We enjoyed running this route every morning from the marina.
Puerto Madero – Catch an orange shared taxi into Puerto Madero. This is a fun and funky little seaside tourist town that has always been enjoyed exclusively by Mexicans. We were the only gringos in town every time we went. We were such a curiosity that a little girl took Mark’s picture when she thought he wasn’t looking. The streets are filled with pedal cabs. Hop in one and ask for a ride around town. It is a hoot. Some are driven by pedals on half-bicycles and others by a small half-motorbike.
You can also walk to Puerto Madero by walking around the marina’s docks to the far side (north side) and following the dirt road. It will deliver you to a paved road not far from the fuel dock. Take a left on the paved road and keep walking until you come into town. This is a fairly long walk.
Tapachula – Tapachula is a big city but we never took the time to explore it in depth. There is a large, colorful central market along the “combi” route into town that looks like it could be a fun place to spend a few hours.
Chiapas & San Cristóbal de las Casas – The state of Chiapas is considered by many to be Mexico’s most beautiful. San Cristóbal de las Casas is a wonderful colonial city full of pretty architecture. Catch the ADO luxury bus from Tapachula to Tuxtla Gutierrez (5-7 hours) and then from there to San Cristóbal (2-4 hours). This route uses big highways and the bus can drive at highway speeds. As an alternative, you can take a long and interesting bus trip through the mountains instead. If you wish to do this, catch the bus from Tapachula directly to San Cristóbal. This route is a grueling 10 hour ride that averages less than 30 mph because of the many speedbumps, but it is dramatic and scenic and goes through endless small towns. Once in San Cristóbal you’ll see oodles of vendors selling tours to Palenque from San Cristóbal. In our opinion they cram way too much into too short a time, and the distances are significant. If you have time, a better option is to go to Palenque on your own on an ADO bus and then see the sights of that area using Palenque as your base rather than San Cristóbal. Here are pics and stories from our experiences on our scenic bus adventure through Chiapas and in San Cristóbal de las Casas.
Palenque – Some of Mexico’s finest Mayan ruins are in the neighborhood of Palenque, which is a 5 hour bus ride via ADO bus lines from San Cristóbal. The town of Palenque is charming and vibrant. The ruins are a 10 minute “combi” ride from town. For more Mayan ruins, take an organized day tour from Palenque to Yaxchilán and Bonampak. Yaxchilán was an ancient city located on the river that separates Guatemala and Mexico, and getting there involves an hour-long boat ride upriver in an open launch. We felt like we had walked into the pages of National Geographic. Bonampak features some incredible, colorful frescoes on the inside walls of a few of the ruined buildings. These are astonishing sights to behold. If you have the time, do it. Another side trip you can do from Palenque is to visit the waterfalls of Misol-Ha and Agua Azul (most easily done with an organized tour van from Palenque — many vendors sell these tours on the streets of Palenque). Here are our pics and stories from our trip to Palenque, our tour of Misol-Ha and Agua Azul and our tour of Yaxhilán and Bonampak. This was among the most exotic and exciting travel we experienced in three years of cruising Mexico.
Lakes and Canyons – From San Cristóbal you can also visit Lagos Montebellos and Sumidero Canyon, two trips full of natural beauty that sound utterly delightful but that we did not have time to do. Sumidero Canyon can be viewed from an open launch boat on a 2-3 hour tour.
Guatemala – Guatemala City is a 9 hour bus ride (on TICA bus which leaves from the ADO terminal in Tapachula). From there catch a cab to Antigua (our cab fare was $45 for this 45 minute trip). Many people love the colonial city of Antigua and many also visit Lake Atitlán which is said to be very beautiful. For us Antigua was a disappointment, but everyone has different travel experiences.
Spanish Immersion School – We attended a one-week Spanish immersion school in San Cristóbal de las Casas: Instituto Jovel. It was very professionally run, and it cost $100 per person for five days of tutorial instruction 3 hours a day. A tiny bit of material may provided on xeroxed pages, but most is given on the white board while you take notes. Bring a notebook and pen and/or use a camera to capture everything before your instructor erases it!! Three hours a day was about all we could absorb — more than that and our brains would have been mush. We also asked for homework, which is optional. There is a Spanish school on every street corner in Antigua, Guatemala with similar prices. You can also arrange to live with a local family while attending school in either location. The living conditions will be spartan but you will be speaking Spanish all the time. Our pics and stories of our Spanish Immersion experience are part of our page on San Cristóbal.
Coffee Plantation Tours – Finca Hamburgo is a coffee plantation high in the mountains north of Tapachula where you can cool off after sweltering in the marina for a while. We did not do go there but got lots of info about it. They have pretty cabins, hiking trails and tours of the plantation and processing plant, tours of the exotic flower gardens and bird watching tours (extra fees of ~$100 pesos per person for each 2-3 hour tour). The restaurant is said to prepare awesome meals. We were offered a 3-day stay including shuttle pickup at the Tapachula bus station for $2800 pesos in spring of 2012. In the fall of 2012 we were offered a 3-day stay including shuttle pickup at Marina Chiapas for $3400 pesos. Finca Argovia is another very popular coffee plantation a little closer to Marina Chiapas and slightly lower in the mountains. They also have rooms but do not offer shuttle service to and from the marina.
Macaw Tours Tapachula – Arturo of Macaw Tours Tapachula arranges wonderful, informative and personalized tours of everything in the area. He will take you to Palenque, into Guatemala, or to the coffee plantations and you won’t have to arrange anything other than the pickup and delivery time at the marina. He is a charming man and everyone who takes his tours raves about what fun they are. If you want to simply enjoy the ride and don’t feel like dealing with the hassle of buses and hotel reservations and figuring out where and what to eat, go see the sights with Arturo. He’s the best. He gets the finest guides, arranges yummy and authentic food, and handles all the hard stuff for you. Cruisers often team up in groups of up to 8 or 10 to take a tour with him.
Marina Chiapas (Puerto Chiapas) is a new tourist port that until two years ago was strictly a shrimping port. The smelly fish processing discharge has been cleaned up, a fancy new cruise ship dock has been erected, and this marina will one day be a true delight to visit.
At the moment, however, the port is still in a growth phase. There are virtually no yacht services. This marina has close ties with Huatulco, and they have tried to persuade marine service experts to make the 260 mile 9 hour bus ride to Marina Chiapas to service the cruising boats there. However, some people have waited months and never seen the service experts come. If you have major problems with your boat, you will find better services in Huatulco.
In many ways Marina Chiapas is an ideal place to leave your boat for the summer. We left Groovy for 7 months and found her in fine shape when we returned. We asked local sport fishing captain Andres Reyes Prudente to oversee the cleaning and airing out of our boat and he did a great job.
During the marina’s first few summers (2012-2014), the marina offered a phenomenal introductory rate of $200 per month for the hurricane season (May-Nov). I’m not sure if such a competitive rate will be offered again, but if it were, surely every boat within several hundred miles that needed a home for the hurricane season would stay there.
ANCHORING IN THE ESTUARY
You can anchor in the estuary off the beach on the west side (opposite the cruise ship terminal), rather than staying in the marina. The fee is 80 pesos per day, payable to API upon departure (this “port fee” is built into the slip rates at the marina).
LEAVING MARINA CHIAPAS
Leaving Marina Chiapas is a chore, whether going north to Huatulco or south to El Salvador or beyond. Boats headed north must get exit paperwork for leaving Puerto Chiapas, even though they are staying in Mexican waters. You must visit the Port Captain’s office on the other side of town to get your exit paperwork ($76 peso fee for the documentation in fall of 2012). Marina manager Guillermo may drive you there. He will also check your documents and work up some preliminary paperwork before taking you there. Allow 2-3 hours for this process. There are two dates on the exit paperwork: the date the document is signed and your planned date of departure. You have 48 hours to leave Puerto Chiapas from your planned date of departure listed on the document. Otherwise you need to repeat the process and get new exit paperwork.
For boats headed out of Mexico there is not just the visit to the Port Captain’s office but also a visit to Immigration. Again, Guillermo may drive you there. Allow 3-5 hours for the whole Port Captain / Immigration process, and more if there are several boats going through this process at once. You have 48 hours from the departure date listed on your exit Zarpe to leave Puerto Chiapas.
Two hours prior to actual departure, both the Navy and Port Captain must visit your boat in person to do the final drug sniff with the dog and to fill out some final papers. You can hail the Port Captain on VHF 16 to initiate this visit, or the marina managers may do it for you. You need a copy of your Coast Guard documentation and passports for this visit. Once the visit is completed you must leave within 2 hours. If you are making a midnight or 3 a.m. departure, they will come at night and the same rules still apply for timing your departure.
The officials have been known to be as much as 3 hours late in making their visit to departing boats. Most boats leaving Marina Chiapas are on a tight schedule due to either the blows in the Gulf of Tehuantepec or the timing of high tide at the entrance to Bahía del Sol in El Salvador (you can enter only during the daytime high tide each day). Puerto Chiapas has never had many cruising boats visiting in the past, so all the paperwork processing for cruisers is relatively new to everyone involved. Hopefully in the future the system will become easier, especially the timing of final inspections prior to departures.
Here’s our crazy story of our departure from Marina Chiapas…!!
The following is a summary of what we saw on our 3-week inland trip from Marina Chiapas:
- Antigua, Guatemala – Trying Hard for Tourist Dollars March 1, 2012February, 2012 – Antigua, Guatemala, was disappointing after the vibrant warmth of Mexico, but the colonial architecture, Mayan textiles and cobbled streets were lovely…
- Chiapas by Bus – A Day of Adventure March 5, 2012March, 2012 – Bus travel in southern Mexico is an adventure, and our all-day bus ride through Chiapas from Tapachula to San Cristobal was thrilling…
- San Cristobal – Colonial Delights & Spanish Immersion March 10, 2012March, 2012 – San Cristóbal is a bustling and pretty colonial town where we took a week of intensive Spanish classes in hopes of conversing better…
- Palenque – Ancient Mayan Ruins and Terror in the Jungle! March 20, 2012A beautiful all-day bus ride delivered us to the exotic ancient Mayan ruins of Palenque where we got spooked in the jungle!
- Agua Azul & Misol-Ha – Waterfall Adventures in Mexico March 30, 2012Special Biosphere Reserve Agua Azul Waterfall is a fabulous cascade of turquoise, while Misol-Ha is a tall thin spray!
- Yaxchilan and Bonampak – Haunting Ruins & Ancient Art in the Jungle April 8, 2012March, 2012 – We visited the Mayan ruins of Yaxchilán & Bonampak, an all-day adventure highlighted by wandering through these awe-inspiring ruins…
- Marina Chiapas in Puerto Madero (Puerto Chiapas) Mexico – Sailing near Guatemala November 2, 2012October, 2012 – We kept our sailboat in Marina Chiapas for the summer and returned to find it ready for daysailing, fishing and relaxing.
- Gulf of Tehuantepec, Mexico – Squeezing in a crossing between blows November 8, 2012Halloween, 2012 – Tactical planning, some surprising “visitors,” and old fashioned good luck defined our westbound Tehuantepec crossing from Marina Chiapas to Huatulco.
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