Costalegre: La Manzanilla – Exotic animals & RVing Copper Canyon!

Casa Maguey La Manzanilla

Casa Maguey in La Manzanilla – Our beautiful home for a week!

Late June, 2013 – We were loving our stay at pretty Casa Maguey in La Manzanilla.

With a bird’s eye view of the bay from “El Mar,” our casita, we enjoyed the ocean’s ever-changing colors and moods.

This is a place where tranquility reins.

Mystery red flower

The flowers were truly unique

Yellow Flower

Love it when the building behind the flower is a vivid color!

After a few days of oceanfront living, we moved to the garden unit called “El Sol.” We thought we would miss the ocean views, but instead found ourselves enchanted by the bird songs that filled the air.

Casa Maguey - El Sol casita

“El Sol” Casita – surrounded by tropical birds and flowers.

Some of the calls were new to us, and sounded truly jungly.  One bird had a deeply melodious voice and he or she preferred to sing in the wee hours of the morning.

Casa Maguey gate La Manzanilla

The village of La Manzanilla was
just steps away from Casa Maguey.

Casa Maguey Garden La Manzanilla

Stairs through the garden.

The song was so haunting and mysterious that we didn’t mind being woken up to listen. We laid in bed entranced.

Just outside our bungalow door, flowers of all shapes, sizes and colors were in bloom.  A few were so fragile that they blossomed for just a day.

Venturing off the Casa Maguey property into the village of La Manzanilla, we discovered the town is so tiny and rustic that its main street was just paved in the last two years.

We enjoyed watching this very peaceful village wake up in the mornings, and quite a few townspeople joined us in the gourmet coffee shop Cafe del Mar every morning.

El Mar Coffee Shop La Manzanilla

Hector made great lattes, and we enjoyed them with
homemade muffins every morning!

Gourmet coffee shop?  Yes!  Cappuccinos, lattes, mochas, you name it, they were all there.  We became regulars.  If we got there early, the yummy muffins brought to the shop by a young gal from Arkansas were still warm.

Squirrel on my back

Hector, our latte man, brought in his pet squirrel one morning.

One morning, we noticed the owner Hector was playing with a baby squirrel.  He cupped his hands, and the squirrel ran round and round between his fingers like he was on an exercise wheel.

“He fell out of a tree when I was cutting down coconuts,” he explained as he put the bundle of fuzzy energy into my hands.  The little squirrel promptly zipped right up my arm onto my shoulder, tickling me and making me giggle.  He was a cute little guy, bright orange-red on the belly and speckled grey and black on his back.


What a surprise to find exotic creatures were the norm around here!

It turned out that unusual animals were just part of the scene in La Manzanilla.

Later in the day when we stopped at Palapa Joe’s to get a slice of pizza, I caught sight of a long skinny tail out of the corner of my eye.  I turned and found myself staring right at a coatimundi, masked face, ringed tail and all.

“Look!” I gasped.  Mark grabbed his camera and we were both in shock as this unusual animal snuck up to a dog dish and started eating the kibble.  Our cameras couldn’t snap fast enough.

We’ve seen coatimundi in Arizona, but only fleetingly. This guy was as calm as could be. And he was really enjoying that dog food!

View in La Manzanilla

We climbed up the hill to take in the ocean view.

Just then the owner of the restaurant appeared.
“You wouldn’t believe…” I started to say, pointing.
“Oh yes!”  He laughed easily, “He’s my pet!”

A pet coatimundi?!  Geez, what other kind of tamed wild animals would we find at the NEXT eating establishment?!!

Pangas on the beach

Pangas ready for fishing and touring.

Mangos on sticks

My favorite way to eat mango — when it’s cut like a flower and served on a stick!

We left there in high spirits and wandered the dirt streets to the back side of town where we walked up the steep hills to see the view.

The blue bay stretched in front of us with palm trees framing the views over the tops of the homes.

It was a Sunday, and back down on the beach it seemed that everyone for miles around had come to play.  Crowds kicked back in the beach bars alongside us and vendors walked up and down the beach selling all kinds of things,.

One fellow came by selling mangos on a stick.  Cut like flowers, this is truly the most ingenious and clever way we’ve seen to eat a mango on the go, as you can enjoy all the juicy sweetness without getting all sticky!

Playing in the waves

A big wave takes everyone for a ride.

Sun in sand dollar

Mark finds a sand dollar on the shore.

Families played in the water, and occasionally a big wave would come in and send everyone flying, launching the boogie boarders onto the beach.

We strolled along the beach back towards Casa Maguey, splashing as we walked along the edge where the waves meet the sand and the sand-pipers dance in and out of the water.

Suddenly Mark reached down and picked up a sand dollar.  Although we have lived on a sailboat in Mexico for a few years, this was the first sand dollar we had seen on a beach.



Cabana on the beach

We bumped into a fascinating little cabana on the beach.

As we turned to head back onto the streets of town, we looked up and saw the most unusual structure.

It was a small thatch roofed hut tucked under a palm tree.  A man was standing out front and we soon struck up a conversation.

“I built this place,” he said.  “It’s kind of unique.  I’m an artist.”

Cabana on the beach La Manzanilla

A tiny cabana on the beach

Intrigued, we stepped up onto his tiny deck.  He had fashioned the deck and railing out of logs tied together with stringy vines.  “It’s very strong,” he said when he saw Mark testing whether the posts wiggled.  “Come on inside!”

We squeezed inside and found ourselves standing in the coziest and tiniest little two rooms.  Everything had been made by hand, even the wooden windows and shutters whose handles were made of stout twigs.

Most surprising was that he had installed electricity throughout.  Besides a blender and coffee maker, he had a big flat screen TV, and internet access on his computer!  What a great mix of Rustic and Modern!!

Cabana Windows

Everything was handmade, including these cool windows
with stout twigs for handles!


“I built it under this big palm tree so I’d always have shade.”  He explained.  He gestured towards a group of chairs in the sand.  “That’s my beach bar – in winter,” he went on. “It was destroyed in Hurricane Jova two years ago, so I built this cabana to be much stronger!!”

We looked around in wonder.  There are so many ways to live a life, and what a fun way he had found!

This is a friendly little town, and we found it easy to chat with anyone and everyone in the streets.  Two little girls were playing outside their house, and Mark entertained them (and himself!) for a while with the camera.

Girls check out pic on camera

Mark entertains a pair of sisters and himself with the camera.

Further on, we passed a young boy carrying a crate.  “Do you want some bread?” He asked.  I said “No” automatically, but when Mark saw the perfect loaves of homemade banana bread wrapped in plastic in the crate he instantly said, “Sure!!”

Boy sells banana bread

Banana bread!! Sweet!!!

At the far northwest end of town there is an estuary and crocodile sanctuary.  There were a few stuffed crocs near the entrance to entice people to spend a few pesos to check it out.

We wandered out onto the sanctuary trail, and soon caught sight of a roseate spoonbill, a very odd looking pink bird.

Taking photos of a crocodile mouth

Mark’s lucky this guy is stuffed!!

Roseate Spoonbill

A roseate spoonbill pauses to look at me.










Crocodile with mouth open

The crocodiles don’t move much, but when they do, watch out!

Not much further on we started to see the crocs. Not just one, but dozens!!

They lounged on the mud banks, half submerged in the water, lying totally motionless like logs, some with their mouths agape.

Once in a while, one would move, lumbering awkwardly, slowly crawling across all his buddies to slip beneath the murky water.

A few times a croc got startled and ran.  Yikes, those guys can move fast!!


Airstream camping on the beach

What a fantastic camping spot!!

Wandering just a bit further on to the very edge of town, we discovered a row of beach-side RV parks.  This was the off-season, so most of the parks were completely empty.

But we could imagine that this is a really fun place in the winter when snowbirds come down from the cold country to spend a few months living on the beach.

Rosie at water's edge

Our hostess Rocio at Playa Tenacatita

One morning our hostess Rocio took us on a drive to see some more of the Costalegre.  This coast is lined with beaches of all kinds, and the first one she took us to is Playa Tenacatita.

We had been hoping to do some swimming and snorkeling, but the weather gods had other plans.

Rosie walks on the beach Tenacatita

Rocio didn’t know why we we were taking photos of her — until afterwards!”

Instead, as we watched Rocio walking towards the waves, we both suddenly saw the same image.

Her pretty pink beach dress was flowing in the wind, and she looked beautiful against the overcast day and frothy white waves.

“Wait, stand right there!” We yelled in unison.

Anchored in Careyes

Anchored in Careyes

Rocio had no idea what we were up to until she saw the photos on our laptop later — and she loved them.  What fun!

Once we were done playing high fashion photographer, she drove us to the little bay of Careyes, a gorgeous spot where we had anchored a few months earlier. We wanted to get a glimpse of it from a shore-side perspective.

Careyes View

The only public shore-side view of stunning Careyes.

However, when we drove down the road leading to the public beach, we were stopped by two security guards at a gate.  The entire bay is now in private hands, and the public is not allowed on the beach.

What a shock! In the past, Mexico’s property laws allowed public access to all beaches, but this is changing under the new president.  A law is being passed that will allow both Mexicans and foreigners not only to own oceanfront property but to close public access to the shore if they so choose. Fortunately, Careyes will become accessible to restaurant-goers as soon as the old restaurant on the beach is renovated and is once again open for business.

Playa Los Angeles Locos

Playa Los Angeles Locos.

On our way back to Casa Maguey, we stopped at Playa Los Angeles Locos (“Crazy Angels Beach”) to take in the dramatic view of the bay. What a spot! It was incredible to think that our host John had grown up camping on many of these beaches in his family’s motorhome.

Champion motorhome towed away

The Lehmens’ Champion motorhome gets towed away for repair.

Back at Casa Maguey, John brought over his family’s photo albums from their RV travels in North and South America one morning.  As he began to flip through the pages, we were fascinated by the stories each photo provoked.

Any family that ventures off in an RV or a sailboat to see what lies over the horizon is eminently brave, but I can’t imagine the intrepid determination John’s parents Helga and Josef had when they took their 26′ motorhome all over the American continents in the 1980’s.

Their first motorhome, a Champion, gave them a bit of grief mechanically, and it got towed off to a garage on more than one occasion.  Having dealt with boat repair projects in Mexico, we can only imagine what it was like to have a motorhome break down in Central or South America in the 1980’s!!  But that was just part of the adventure.

Josef digs a well

Josef digs a well for fresh water
for dishes and showers.

Unlike the privatized beaches of today, the Mexican coast was completely open for boondocking back in those days.  After setting up camp, John’s dad would sometimes dig a well near the motorhome and use a motorized pump connected to a hose to get fresh water into the rig for dishes and showers.

RV on flatbed train car Copper Canyon

Young John checks out a train while the motorhome waits
on its flat bed rail car behind him.

Perhaps the most riveting story John told was of the family’s trip through Copper Canyon.  In Chihuahua, John’s dad Josef noticed that a lot of the trains had flat bed rail cars, and he got the idea that perhaps his motorhome could be loaded onto one.


Motorhome on flat bed train in Copper Canyon

The first RV to venture into Copper Canyon on a flat bed rail car.

He asked around, and was able to persuade a train operator to put the motorhome on the train to Los Mochis.

As they were rolling through the countryside, Josef was intrigued by the small town of Creel.  He asked the train operator if the flat bed car they were on could be unhooked and left in Creel until the next train came through three days later.

No problem!!  The car was unhooked in Creel, and the family suddenly found themselves swept up in the unbelievably welcoming embrace of the local Tarahumara Indians.

Many of the Indians had never seen white people before, and they were as fascinated by this traveling family as the family was by them.

Copper Canyon flat bed train for RV

Little did they know they would be forgotten —
only to be remembered at 3 a.m. !!!

Three days later, the train came by Creel — but it didn’t stop!

For most people, this would have been cause for alarm, but John and his family were enjoying the generous hospitality of the Indians so much that they thought nothing of it and patiently waited for the next train.

Then one night at 3 a.m. they were jolted out of bed by a huge crash just outside the motorhome.  The train company had suddenly remembered them and had sent a 30,000 horsepower locomotive to retrieve the flat bed rail car. Unannounced, it hooked them up!


Casa Maguey La Manzanilla

We will always treasure our memories of Casa Maguey in La Manzanilla
and its lovely — and fascinating — hosts, John and Rocio.

Flying down the tracks at warp speed, with diesel soot spewing everywhere, the huge locomotive pulled their little home aboard the flat bed car on the sleigh ride of its life.

Josef was a freelance writer, and many of the family’s stories graced the pages of AAA Magazine.  Surely, that tale of their flat bed rail car adventure was a huge hit. Not long after their escapade, tourism companies began leading RV tours aboard flat bed rail cars into Copper Canyon.

I could have listened to John’s stories and gone through his photo albums with him for hours.  What a fabulous and adventurous childhood he had.  But now he is enjoying a more tranquil life hosting lucky guests like us at his family’s villas in La Manzanilla at the beautiful Casa Maguey.

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Costalegre: Casa Maguey – Kindred spirits in a beachfront villa

Casa Maguey from beach

Casa Maguey overlooks the beach in La Manzanilla

Late June, 2013 – We returned from our exhilarating inland trip to Guanajuato to find Puerto Vallarta simmering away in the early summer heat.

The rains hadn’t started yet, but the skies threatened every afternoon, while the temperatures inched ever higher.

Our daily migration path went between the ocean, the swimming pools and the ice cream shop at the air conditioned mall!

When we had first arrived in Paradise Village two months earlier, I received an intriguing and unexpected email from a man named John Lehmen inviting us to stay for a week in a beachfront villa at his property, Casa Maguey.

Casa Maguey Oar

Wow!! Were the gods ever smiling on us now!! We emailed back and forth a few times, and Mark and I studied his website, It turned out that his beautiful trio of oceanfront casitas were situated in the little coastal town of La Manzanilla in the heart of Mexico’s Costalegre.

Casa Maguey in La Manzanilla

Casa Maguey

We had visited La Manzanilla two years prior when we had anchored our sailboat Groovy across the bay in a cove cruisers know as “Tenacatita.”


Stairs to the beach

Stairs leading from the house to the beach.

La Manzanilla is a tiny little village that is beloved by all who know it, but it is not a “hot spot” on the tourist trail. We had taken our dinghy ashore and walked around for a few hours in a very brief visit.

What great fortune to be invited to see the town once again, but this time from a lovely vacation home overlooking the beach!

We kept marveling that this special door had opened for us. We wondered who our host John was, and where this unique opportunity would lead.

Cat on the brick stairs

Clay pots and cactus at El Mar

Casa Maguey has wonderful decorations.

La Manzanilla is a favorite among retired ex-pat North Americans, so we knew John must be an older guy.

We were sure he’d created a nice little retirement business for himself renting out his beachfront villas. Scouring the Casa Maguey website, we read one glowing testimonial after another from people who spoke of the tranquility, peace, and beauty they found during their vacations there.

These quotes were taken from guest books left in each villa, and many were decorated with drawings that guests had lovingly made of flowers, hummingbirds, kayaks in the water and other special memories of their time at Casa Maguey.

Almost all of the comments were addressed to a woman named Helga, who was obviously John’s wife. We could tell she kept a lovely home and was a very gracious hostess.

Casa Maguey Entrance

The unique front entrance to Casa Maguey

So we were very surprised when John mentioned that he would be out of town when we arrived and that his wife Rocio would let us in. Rocio? What about Helga? Hmmm. Our curiosity was perked, but even without Helga, we knew we would have a wonderful time.



When we arrived, after we admired Casa Maguey’s unique flower covered front gate for a few minutes, the door swung open and we were greeted by a very beautiful young woman. “I’m Rocio.” She said.

Our eyebrows shot up and we exchanged a quick glance. Huh? We didn’t say a word to each other, but we were both thinking the same thing: whatever happened to Helga, this guy John sure scored well on his second marriage!!

El Mar Sitting Room

The sitting room in the casita “El Mar” is filled with
refreshing ocean breezes…

Rosie showed us our room, and we were absolutely charmed. Besides a pretty bedroom and kitchen, there was a sitting room with a terrace that overlooked the beach and bay.

El Mar Sitting Room View

…and it has a great view!

The windows and door were flung wide, and the ocean breezes felt delightfully refreshing after the oppressive heat and humidity that been smothering us day and night in Puerto Vallarta.

El Mar Bedroom

We had a full-sized apartment to spread out!

We quickly made ourselves at home and settled right in, spreading out in this full-sized apartment and luxuriating in having not just the airy sitting room and bedroom but a lovely patio too.

El Mar Bedroom

How had this good fortune come our way? I don’t know, but it seemed to be the miraculous modern mixture of internet socializing and sharing our travels online. Suddenly we were living in a beautifully decorated and spacious one-bedroom apartment on the beach.

El Mar Terrace

We loved this terrace and its exquisite view of the beach

We stood on the deck and admired the spectacular, flower-framed view.

The beach stretches out for miles, stopping first at some thatch-roofed palapa beach bars in town and then wrapping around past stands of palm trees and occasional oceanfront mansions.

The sun was falling low in the sky, casting everything in a beautiful, warm, late afternoon light.

El Mar Terrace View

It’s a busy beach with pangas going in and out for tours and fishing all the time.

What a thrill it was to have a chance to enjoy this beach and town at leisure from the comfort of our own beach bungalow! We snuggled on the couch and enjoyed the view, counting our blessings.

Casa Maguey Stairs

The essence of this pretty property is
peace and tranquility.

Fountain at Casa Maguey

The lush gardens are filled with exotic flowers and bird songs.





Suddenly we heard a knock on the door, and a handsome young man with blonde hair and bright blue eyes appeared. “I’m John,” he said., holding out his hand.

Our jaws dropped — was this John, our host? He was far from a retiree! We laughed as we shook hands and told him about our goof and how we’d assumed he was a spry old silver fox that robbed the cradle. He was actually the perfect match for his stunning bride!! He laughed too. “I can’t wait to tell Rosie, she’ll think that’s really funny!”

John and Rocio of Casa Maguey

Our wonderful hosts – and kindred spirits –  John and Rocio

So if this wasn’t a retirement gig, we wondered, how had John come to own such a pretty property on the coast?

“My parents built this place 20 years ago,” he explained. “It was one of the first guest houses on the bay. All the buildings you see around the bay have filled in since then. My mom ran things for a long time, but she retired recently and passed the responsibilities on to me.”

“Oh… so Helga is your mother!” I said, slowly piecing it all together.

El Mar Garden at Casa Maguey

“Yes!” he said. Then he went on to tell us the tale of the most intriguing childhood and upbringing I can imagine.

Born in Germany to German parents, John was raised traveling throughout the Americas full-time in a 26′ RV, first a Champion motorhome and then a Winnebago.

For 12 years, he and his mom and dad took their motorhome between Alaska and Tierra del Fuego at the bottom of South America.

They drove up and down the two American continents seven times, first going along the coasts and then zig-zagging through the middle.

Champion Motorhome

John traveled across the Americas in a motorhome with his parents

They traveled through El Salvador during the war — with a military escort — and they camped on the Caribbean and Pacific beaches in Mexico.

From Macchu Picchu to the Grand Canyon, they saw it all, speaking German among themselves and learning Spanish and English on the road. Whenever they stayed in a place for two weeks or more, John was enrolled in the local school.

John was a seasoned world traveler before he entered first grade!

John was a seasoned world traveler before he entered first grade!

Fitting in wasn’t so hard where blue eyed blondes were common, he said, but he had to learn to adapt quickly in schools where he stood out from the crowd.

Mark and I were blown away. What a fabulous family adventure!

“My family was 7th generation wine makers in Germany.” He went on. “The wine industry was changing in the eighties and small boutique wineries were facing a lot of competition from the industrial giants. So my dad sold the vineyard and decided to take the family on the road…”

John and the motorhome

What a great way to grow up!

Mark and I listened to his story in wonder. We feel like adventurers ourselves, but every so often we meet someone whose travels and experiences completely dwarf what we’ve done. We love that!

It turned out that John’s parents, Josef and Helga, had passed through this corner of Mexico several times in their travels, camping right on the beach. It was one of their favorite places to visit. One year, they noticed a small “Se Vende” (For Sale) sign hidden in the bushes on property at the end of the beach.


The hummingbirds happily buzzed all the red flowers.

At the time, after all those years of traveling, the family was at a crossroads: sell the motorhome and buy another one overseas to travel the African continent, or settle down for a while?

cat tail flower

There are lots of very unusual flowers

purple flower


In the end, the village of La Manzanilla and the beachfront property captured their hearts, and they decided to make Casa Maguey their permanent home.


Red bell flower

How beautiful!

“I’ve got some stories to tell!” John said. “I’ll show you some pictures later!” Then he was off.

Sun lashes

We watched many magnificent sunsets
from our terrace.

Running a guest home takes a lot of work, and over the next few days we watched him and his crew working hard on all kinds of projects around the property.

But we were on vacation! We got out our cameras and began exploring.


Just outside our door, between the three cottages at Casa Maguey, there is a lush tropical garden that is absolutely brimming with flowers and singing birds. Mark was in seventh heaven photographing all the exotic flowers, and I happily listened to the trilling bird songs.

Sunset on a silken sea

The colors were ever-changing at sunset.


In the late afternoons, we were treated to some magnificent sunsets right off our balcony. Each sunset was unique and special.

One night the rays of the setting sun played with the palms of the palapa roof over our deck. Mark caught them just right and called his image “sun lashes.”

Another night we looked out on a silken sea. The water was like an undulating blue scarf, and the halo of the setting sun made a peach backdrop for the rocky cliffs on the horizon.



Golden sunset with bougainvillea

The sky and sea are cast in gold

On yet another night the whole sky and sea were cast in gold.

A few nights we had overcast and dark skies, preventing any colors from showing.

Sometimes, however, just for a moment, the sun would suddenly peak through, turning the sky a vibrant orange and yellow, and reflecting these bright shades in the water.

This was an engaging place, and we felt blessed to have been welcomed in by such warm hosts.

Orange sunset from El Mar balcony

A vivid orange sunset takes our breath away.

Macaws in heart

Casa Maguey is a romantic spot!



The heart of a small guest house like Casa Maguey is in the spirit of its hosts, and John and Roscio were fun to be with and were quickly becoming good friends.

Rocio showed up at our door one night with a delicious desert made of bananas and honey for us to try, and she told us some of her favorite spots to go in town. Once we began exploring La Manzanilla and beyond, it was easy to see why John’s parents had decided to end their travels and make a life for themselves in this quiet village on the Costalegre.

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Oh, That’s Just Swell! – Life on a Boat that ROLLS At Anchor!!

A container ship rolls in the swell in Manzanillo Mexico

The container ship rolled slower than this, but I can only imagine what it felt and sounded like inside!!
Notice that there are no visible waves!!

It is rare — no, it’s nearly impossible — on Mexico’s Pacific coast to find an anchorage where the boat stays flat. The direction of the wind, the tides and the ocean swell conspire to keep the boat in constant motion, endlessly pitching and rolling and ignoring all pleas from the crew to “Please Stop and Let Me Get Off!!”

It’s not that big a big deal during the day.  If we’re on the boat, we’re busy doing things.  Of course, sometimes we get caught off guard in the middle of something that requires coordination — like pouring a hot cup of coffee, standing on one foot while putting on a bathing suit, or walking up the companionway stairs carrying his-and-hers lunch plates in both hands.  The boat will suddenly lurch to one side and the coffee will spill all over the floor, or I’ll topple over with one foot stuck in my bathing suit, flailing helplessly as I go down, or the lunch plates will fly off in all directions as I try my best not to get too many bruises bouncing down the stairs to the floor.

At night, however, it’s another story.  The offshore winds at night in Pacific Mexico almost always turn the boat so it is beam to the sea, and it seems to me that the swell always picks up too.  So, even if during the day the swell was mild and the boat was taking the rolls on the nose, gently pitching from front to back, at night (like clockwork after the sun goes down) the boat turns and the side-to-side rolling begins.  Finding a comfortable sleeping position can be a good challenge.  On my side, I find myself rocking forward and backward, over and over.  A better position is either on my back or my front, arms and legs stretched wide on either side for stabilization.  The starfish position!  Get two people doing this in one bunk and… well, it’s a little like the game of Twister.

On more tumultuous nights, the doors, bulkheads and stairs creak with every roll. Sometimes an errant flashlight or coke can begins to roll back and forth on a shelf or in the fridge, banging at either end of its path. Thud, thud, thud.  What the heck is that noise?  Our ears perk up, listening for each thud as our bodies rock around around in bed.  Then we’ll find ourselves doing an hour’s worth of cat-and-mouse hunting, as we try to figure out what’s making the noise and squelch it. Sometimes the sound is in a cockpit locker, making for a naked dash outside to repack the locker so everything stays put.

Sometimes the boat plays games with us at night.  As it swings at anchor it faces beam to the sea for a while and then swings to face bow to the sea, moving in a slow 90 degree arc back and forth all night long.  When the boat finally turns all the way so the swell is on the bow, the side to side motion suddenly stops.  Ahh… such sweet relief!  We sink back into delicious oblivion and sleep steels over us.  For a few seconds.  Then the boat gradually swings back on its arc to put the beam towards the sea, and the noise and motion begin once again.

Anchoring all over the west coast of Mexico, we’ve become apprentices in the fine art of taking a shower on board, which can be an adventure unto itself, as well as landing a dinghy on the beach, which is frequently a true water sport of the wettest kind!

When we visited friends in the Las Hadas Resort Anchorage and stood on their balcony enjoying the view of Manzanillo Bay, we suddenly noticed a container ship leaning way over on its side.  Wow!  We watched for a few seconds and it slowly rolled all the way over to the other side.  Holy Mackerel!  What was it like to be on that ship, and what did all those containers sound like as the boat moved?  I don’t know, but it sure makes a great animation to watch from a solid foundation on sweet Terra Firma.

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Other blog posts that give a glimpse of what it’s like to live on a sailboat:

What Is It Like to go Cruising on a Sailboat in Mexico?! – Insights for planning a sailing cruise of Mexico

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Costalegre: Careyes – The most colorful anchorage in Mexico!

Careyes castle Costalegre Mexico blue oceanfront estate

Bright blue elegeaance!

Late March, 2013 – When the swell got us rockin’ and rollin’ too much at pretty Paraiso, we decided to backtrack four miles to another little jewel on the Costalegre coast: the Bay of Careyes.

Snowy egret flying

A snowy egret flies overhead.

This anchorage is marked by a series of ornate and colorful estates on its outskirts, and they had caught our attention when we passed them on the way in.

Castles in Careyes Mexico Costalegre Red mansion

Perhaps their Ferrari is
fire engine red too?

Costa Careyes castle Mexico Costalegre blue mansion

Another royal blue estate!

As we approached Careyes this second time, the bright blue, fire engine red and brilliant orange of the houses lining the anchorage glinted in the morning sun. All of the oceanfront estates were sizable, and all were painted in vivid colors.


Turning into the bay, in front of us was a hillside covered with homes of every imaginable color.

It looked like the owners had all run to the paint store and bought the store out of every can of paint in every color and then had a field day creating a community of rainbow colors.

Bay of Careyes anchorage Mexico Costalegre

What a colorful hillside!

We quickly got Groovy settled near the beach and then spent a good hour in the cockpit gaping at our surroundings. This place is like no other on the Costalegre. I know I just said that about Paraiso, but it is true of Careyes as well. These are special and unique anchorages.

Sailboat at Bay of Careyes anchorage Mexico boats at anchor

Groovy looks good here!

Colorful Careyes houses Costalegre Mexico

Careyes sports homes of every imagineable color!

Where Paraiso had given us a feeling of the tropics, with turquoise water, a light sand beach and palm trees, Careyes was all about splashy, bright buildings spilling down a hillside in a playful spray of primary colors.

Pretty homes of Costa Careyes on the Costalegre

What a spot!

Careyes Mexico colorful houses on the hill

There are no colors left in the paint store!!

Playa Rosa Careyes Bay Mexico boats at anchor

Playa Rosa at Careyes.

Sailboat at Careyes Beach Costalegre Mexico boats at anchor

Groovy is tucked in around the corner.

Bright color was the theme here – even the beach we were anchored near was named “Playa Rosa” or “Pink Beach.”

Playa Rosa Costa Careyes Costalegre Mexico

What a fantastic staircase!

Palm trees on Playa Rosa Careyes

Looking out at the bay from Playa Rosa.










We quickly jumped in the dink to explore this beach. It was deserted but had an alluring bright blue zig-zag staircase running up into the hills.

The beach was backed by palm trees and we got a good glimpse of Groovy around the corner.

It felt a little funny walking on this empty beach. There wasn’t a soul to be found, yet there were lots of homes in the hills.

Bay of Careyes Playa Rosa Palm trees

View from Playa Rosa



We came across a little restaurant and poked around, but there was no one there.

A driveway led to a narrow cobblestone road, and we walked up the road a ways. What a pretty little lane it was, filled with flowering trees.

We still didn’t see anyone anywhere. It felt a little like we’d landed on a beautifully landscaped and deserted island.

I know there is a town or main street or something back there, but we didn’t explore too far.

Costa Careyes cobblestone street

Pretty cobblestone lane and flowers.

Bougainvillea flowering tree

A beautiful flowering tree.

Homes in Costa Careyes

Vivid orange casitas away from the beach.



When we first dropped the hook in Careyes, we also put down a stern anchor to keep the boat pointed towards the waves in an effort to reduce the rocking motion. The tricky part was that during the day the predominant wind waves came in from one direction, and at night the swell came in from another direction.

Stern anchor

A requirement for boaters overnighting in Careyes: a stern anchor!





Sailboat anchored in Careyes

Groovy poses in front of a castle!

So once or twice a day during our stay, at the whim of the tides, the wind and the swell, which are all active forces on the boat, we needed to adjust the stern anchor line, letting it out or pulling it in.

Garden patio home

A pretty garden patio…






Blue heron

A blue heron on Playa Careyes.

This would realign the boat so it pointed directly into the waves, wherever they were coming from, rather than lying sideways to them and rolling like a pig on a spit.

Playa Careyes Costalegre Mexico

Playa Careyes

The easternmost beach, Playa Careyes, had a few signs of life in the late afternoon when a family came out to play volleyball. As the sun was setting the game broke up and a couple took a dip in the water together. A blue heron watched them from the shore.

Careyes Costalegre Mexico pretty homes

A rainbow of colors on the hillside…

Another day we took the dinghy to the westernmost beach, Playa Blanca, and it was utterly deserted. The few stark buildings that were there appeared to be totally unoccupied.

However, as we rounded the corner we saw the most unusual bridge strung between the bright blue estate on the mainland and a tiny island just in front of it. I guess if they wanted to go for a picnic on the island all they had to do was walk across the bridge!!

Palm tree on Playa Rosa Careyes

A palm tree on Playa Rosa.

Careyes Bridge to island Mexico

A very cool bridge next to Playa Blanca…

Costalegre Careyes Playa Rosa homes

Dinghying to Playa Rosa.

Crashing surf in front of Careyes mansion

Crashing surf and a lime green estate…











We had noticed the water slowly turning darker during our first two days in this anchorage.

On the morning of our third day we found ourselves immersed in red tide.



Rats!! We had escaped the red tides that plague Mexico’s Pacific coast all season, but one had finally caught us here in Careyes. Oh well!

Sunset at Careyes

Sunset in Careyes.

We scrapped our plans for sticking around and snorkeling, as it would be a few weeks before the red tide completed its lifecycle.  Sigh!

Our next destination was Puerto Vallarta, and a weather window had opened up for us to slip around the notorious Cabo Corrientes in peace and quiet.  So we packed up the boat, and made our way towards Bahia Chamela to stage our passage.

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Costalegre: Paraiso – An Unexpected Tropical Oasis!

Careyes oceanfront resort

Looks like some pretty good digs!!

Late March, 2013 – The wind and waves at Cuastecomate were making life a bit uncomfortable. That bay is known for good snorkeling, which we had wanted to try, but in the current conditions it just wasn’t possible.

Up the road 25 miles there was another anchorage, Paraiso, that we had heard was very beautiful. We had never stopped in because it, too, could get rolly. However, we decided to chance it this time and hope for the best.

We stuck close to the coast, and suddenly some out-of-this-world properties appeared on shore. We leaped for our binoculars.

One mega-million dollar vacation property was bright orange and featured not only the usual thatched palapa roofs covering its ramadas, but also a large rotunda at its center. Wow!

Carayes Mexico waterfront resort

Look – Another one, and this one’s blue!

Shortly after that sighting we came across a bright blue mansion with two large cylindrical towers. Wow again!

Who built these properties? Were they private homes or resorts? Whoever and whatever, we really liked the bright colors they used. No blending into the landscape here. If you’ve got it, flaunt it wildly!!

Each of these estates had unusual architectural novelties placed away from the main building — in matching colors.


The orange estate had a cascading series of walled enclosures.  We couldn’t tell what was inside the enclosures other than some trees, but it seemed this was some kind of elaborate staircase with arched doorways leading from one set of stairs to the next. The blue property had a wonderful little wall with a donut hole cut into it. A ladder led from the donut hole down to a path to the sea.

Careyes Mexico oceanfront mansion

Terraced and walled enclosures with arched doorways leading to the beach…??!!

Careyes waterfront villa donut hole

A donut hole in a wall (or bridge?).

Was that donut hole wall a bridge? Decoration? Who knows, but it sure was cool!

If those things weren’t enough, then we came across an enormous bowl perched on the edge of a cliff. What the heck??!!

Who built that and why?!


Carayes Mexico bowl on a cliff

Holy cow – a huge bowl on a cliff, with a staircase!

Paraiso anchorage in Mexico

“Paraiso” is the right word for this place!

It must have been someone very rich and very eccentric!

As we passed the bay of Careyes, we debated stopping there instead. We had heard it was exquisite too.

We had also heard that it is very difficult to anchor there. The swell turns the bay into a washing machine, sloshing the boats about mercilessly.

Despite being very tempted to turn in, for the moment, our sights were set on Paraiso just four miles further on.


Paraiso Mexico cover with boat

Tranquil, turquoise waters.

Tropical beach play in Paraiso Mexico cove with boat

A family enjoys a day on the beach in paradise.

Palm trees and white sand beach

Palm trees, almost-white sand and thatch roofed palapas…















Turning the last corner into the little cove of Paraiso, a gradual feeling of stunned amazement crept over us. The deep blue, churning water outside the cove miraculously smoothed out and became the most vivid turquoise.

Playa Paraiso Mexico

A tour boat swings through the bay.

Swaying palms trees, light colored sand, jade water and a small thatch roofed building filled our view. Adding pure charm to this scene, a family was having a picnic on the beach. The parents relaxed under a colorful umbrella while the kids frolicked on the sand and in the water.

Were we still in Pacific Mexico? This felt like the Sea of Cortez (way north) or Huatulco (way south). We had never seen an anchorage anything like this anywhere else on the mainland coast of Mexico!

Snorkeling at Paraiso anchorage

We couldn’t get in the water fast enough!


Groovy in the Paraiso anchorage

What fun!!

This coast is rugged. Huge splashy waves crash on brown beaches. And it is often plagued by algae blooms where dinghy beach landings become terror-inducing adventures. Boats at anchor look like bucking broncos.


Porta-bote floats on turquoise water

In suspension.

But this place was a gem. Paradise! Whoever named the cove “Paraiso” (“Paradise”) got it 100% right!

Our dinghy floated off the back of Groovy as if sitting on glass, as its shadow followed its gentle movements on the sand below.

Groovy anchored Paraiso cove

What’s that dark patch? Rocks? Sea grass? Guess again…








Fish off the back of Groovy

Fish off the back of Groovy

We couldn’t wait to jump in that water. We hadn’t seen inviting water like this since we left Huatulco six weeks earlier.

When we anchored, we noticed a large brown patch of something, so we avoided that spot and put the anchor down in the sand. The anchor winked at us from its resting place, as if saying, “I like clear turquoise water too!” But what the heck was that brown patch? We thought it was probably sea grass of some kind.

Wrong! It was fish. Millions and millions of little fish. Looking off our swim step we could see them swirling about when the dark patch engulfed Groovy.


Fish school in formation

Organized fish on a mission.

We jumped in, and as we swam among them we were astonished that none of the fish ever touched us. We were surrounded by fish so thick that they nearly blotted out the sand below. Yet, even if we thrashed around or deliberately reached out to touch them, not one fish made a false move and bumped into us.

The patterns they made as they swam were beautiful. Sometimes they would stream by, all lined up in parallel like flying soldiers. Then suddenly they’d stop dead in their tracks and all turn 45 degrees, some facing one way and some the other. Then they’d reorganize and soar off in parallel again.


Fish school out of formation 405

Stopped dead in their tracks at funny angles…

Diving pelican

A flying knife!

I swam along the edge of one of these fish patches.  It was a true edge. On one side there were millions of fish in formation. On the other there were none. Just clear water. I swam back and forth across the edge several times, totally floored by this phenomenon of organized fish.

Playa Paraiso palm trees



Who’s the leader our there? Who’s shouting the orders to swim or turn or stop? Do they do it by telepathy? I could believe that, because they seemed to have a kind of group consciousness.

I know that in cycling pace lines the conversation and chatter is non-stop (unless the guys in front pick up the pace, and then all conversation stops because no one can breathe!). Hand signals are used to pass information down the line like, “danger ahead.”

Playa Paraiso Mexico

What a place!

I suspect honking geese are doing somewhat the same thing, chatting about who did what last week while the guy in front chooses the altitude for the best air currents. But fish?

Whatever method the fish used to plan their movements, the birds didn’t miss a trick. The pelicans rained down on the fish patches like javelins falling from the sky.

Anchored in Paraiso Mexico

A dreamy place to drop the hook!


We took the dinghy ashore the next day and strolled along the beach. Such serenity and beauty!!

Although there are a few buildings set back from the beach, nature rules here.

I had read the wonderful adventure that sailors Tom and Lori of the sailboat Camelot had had here two years prior to our visit.

They had met the owner of the property on shore and had shared some really good times with him and his family, both ashore and on their boat.

I was secretly hoping for a fun encounter like that.

But we weren’t so lucky this time. As we approached the inviting but seemingly vacant building, a man greeted us and informed us that this was private property.

Palm trees

Palms with branches swept back in the wind.

“You can stay on the beach, though,” he said, gesturing back towards the pretty crescent beach with a smile.

Palm trees and thatched palapa

Paraiso beach palapas.

Bahia Paraiso Mexico

The waves play with the sand.










Anchored in Paraiso Mexico

Such a pretty place.










Well, who could possibly complain about being told they had to stay on this beach?  The setting was true perfection. We lolled around on the sand and in the lapping waves, soaking in this delightful tropical oasis.

Sunset in Paraiso Mexico

Paraiso at sunset

Back on the boat, however, the anchorage became rougher and rougher. The tranquility we saw at our arrival was replaced with the more familiar rolling seas of this coast. Our stern hook kept us pointed into the swell, but Groovy began to lurch.

As we bounced around for another day, we kept thinking about those majestic properties we’d passed on the outskirts of Careyes on our way here. They were like a siren call begging us to backtrack a few miles.

We had heard Careyes was beautiful and that we shouldn’t miss it. Besides, we might get lucky and find a patch of calm water over there…!

Costalegre Map (partial)

The central portion of the Costalegre (“Cheerful Coast”). Barra and Tenacatita are the more popular anchorages in this region.
The distance between Paraiso and Barra is ~30 miles.

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Costalegre: Cuastecomate – Exploring a “Secret Anchorage”

Cuastecomate Anchorage  Costalegre Mexico

Groovy rests at anchor in “secret” Playa Cuastecomates

Mid-March, 2013 – We left Manzanillo’s Santiago Bay and its daily morning show of brilliant sunrises, and made the short 25 mile hop north to the tiny anchorage, Cuastecomate, between Barra de Navidad, Melaque and Tenacatita.

Cuastecomates beach Costalegre Mexico

The surf was up during our stay.







Playa Cuastecomate Costalegre Mexico

Royal blue skies and jade seas at Cuastecomate.

Groovy had gotten quite dirty in Manzanillo, and our passage north was on a day with little wind, so we gave the boat a nice bath. It was a great way to pass the time, and splashing around in cool water on the hot deck was lots of fun!

Mexico’s coast between Manzanillo and the outer edge of Puerto Vallarta’s Banderas Bay is known to cruisers as the “Gold Coast.” I’m not sure how it got this name — perhaps from the popular Mexico Boating Guide by Pat Rains — but that term does not seem to be well known outside cruising circles.
Wondering where this is? See Mexico Maps!

Cuastecomates Costalegre Mexico

There are lots of beach palapa bars at Cuastecomate

To most Mexican vacation travelers this is the “Costa Alegre” (sometimes shortened to “Costalegre”), which literally means “the cheerful coast.”

The Costalegre is a 100-mile stretch that includes ten or so anchorages for boats. A few of these anchorages are very popular and frequently visited. A few, however, are quite small and not very well protected from the wind and swell coming in from the Pacific.

Cuastecomate pangas on the beach mexico 405

Pangas on the beach at Cuastecomate

Playa Cuastecomates Costalegre palm trees

The village is tiny with lots of palms.

Always happiest getting off the beaten path, we decided our trek north this year would hit each of these smaller spots.

Before we left San Diego for Mexico three years ago, a cruiser told us to be sure we visited the “Secret Anchorage” on this coast.

Cuastecomate Costalegre beach view

Looking down towards the beach.




He gave us the waypoints to find it. “When I was there, I kept emailing my friends in neighboring anchorages and they had no idea where I was,” he said. “They kept writing me back saying, “where the heck ARE you??…”

bougainvillea flowers cuastecomate mexico

Bougainvillea flowers.

Cuastecomate beach hotel costalegre mexico

We had gotten a good chuckle out of that, and we had looked forward to getting in on his secret.











Playa Cuastecomate beach surf costalegre mexico

View of the bay.

However, the publication of Shawn Breeding and Heather Bansmer’s” Pacific Mexico: A Cruiser’s Guidebook not only made the waypoints to this hideaway public, but revealed its true name: Cuastecomate.

Cuastecomates Costalegre Jalisco anchorage costalegre mexico

We stopped here two years ago, but hadn’t gone ashore because the big surf made it too difficult to land the dinghy.

Unfortunately, the surf was scary this time too.  After a dramatic splash dinghy landing on the beach, we wandered around the tiny community of dirt streets and were charmed with what we saw.

Cuastecomate shrine mexico

A little shrine was on a corner…

Shrine at Playa Cuastecomate beach costalegre mexico

Inside the shrine








We noticed a tiny shrine at a crossroads with a man working on a light fixture inside. We asked him if the shrine belonged to a family nearby, and he said it was for everyone in the community. What an intriguing idea.

Cuastecomate Jalisco beach hotel costalegre mexico 550

There’s a pretty hotel at one end of the beach

When we stopped in this bay two years ago, I posted some pics and notes about our stay, explaining the sudden emergence of this tiny anchorage in Mexico cruising circles because of the new cruising guide.

Cuastecomate Flowers

…great shot!!!

A few weeks later I received an email from a Cuastecomates resident who had read my post.  She said she now understood why there were suddenly so many sailboats decorating the view from her living room window.

Flower Photography

Mark gets pics of the flowers…








flowers Cuastecomate Jalisco Costalegre

I remember growing up on Sandy Bay, north of Boston, and how the arrival of a sailboat in the bay was happy cause for me to dash out in a rowboat to say hello (and secretly hope to be invited aboard…which sometimes happened!).

Cuastecomate Jalisco anchorage costalgre mexico

A little frame around Groovy.

Fruits for sale Cuastecomate beach palapas costalgre mexico










regina flower

Cuastecomate Jalisco hotel costalgre mexico

So I completely understood our Cuastecomate email pal’s eagerness to connect with the boats anchored just beyond her living room window. When we arrived in Cuastecomate this year, we wanted to hook up with her, but unfortunately she was in Guadalajara at the time.

Playa Cuastecomate beach palapas costalgre mexico

Cuastecomate Jalisco Costalegre Mexico

Oh well, at least we saw her village, including the very pretty hotel at the end of the beach. And all those colorful flowers – they were everywhere!

The wind was blowing pretty hard, and the seas were building steadily all afternoon. Suddenly the sun disappeared from the sky, and we hurried back to Groovy, as the sky began to turn black.

Just as we clambered into the cockpit, the heavens opened up in a torrential rainstorm.

fishing kayak

A fisherman gets caught in the downpour.




Now, doesn’t that figure? We had just washed the entire boat, and now it was pouring pitchforks. Lordy me. It doesn’t seem to matter if we wash our trailer or wash the boat, the mere act of filling a bucket with soapy water is the opening steps to a Rain Dance wherever we are!!

This was only the second time we had seen rain this season, and it came down so hard it bounced back up off the water around us. A fisherman in a kayak wasn’t quite as lucky as we were, and he got stuck in the worst of it, paddling as fast as he could to shore.

Cuastecomate Tree Devil Branches

The devil cursed the Cuastecomate tree with an ugly web of branches & hard fruit…

Once the rain cleared, we watched a gorgeous sunset.



Cuastecomate Leaf like a cross

…so God blessed the tree with cross-shaped leaves.

It is oddly fitting for God and the devil to bicker over this cove with conflicting weather patterns. Afterall, long ago, they had a big argument over its namesake, the Cuastecomate tree.

Legend says the devil designed this tree with a nasty tangle of branches and big hard ugly fruit. Unhappy with the devil’s creation, God gave the tree a divinely inspired flourish, and blessed it with leaves that are shaped like crosses!

Sunset at Cuastecomate Costalegre

After the downpour, we were given a glorious sunset at the mouth of the bay.

After several days in this pretty cove, we decided to move a few more miles up the coast where, to our complete surprise, we discovered a mini tropical paradise with gorgeous, calm, turquoise water in a cove that was aptly name “Paraiso.”

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Costalegre: Santiago – Brilliant sunrises every day!

Manzanillo Sunrise in Santiago Bay

Awe-inspiring colors at dawn.

Mid-March, 2013 – We left the little cove of Las Hadas in Manzanillo and went around the corner to lovely Santiago Bay where we anchored of Playa La Boquita. Almost every morning we stayed in this bay we were treated to a divine art exhibition in the sky as the gods painted the heavens in brilliant shades.

Sunrise in Santiago Bay Manzanillo

Every day the patterns were different.

Sunrise Manzanillo Bay (Santiago)

Some days we just got a hint of color…

Sunrise Santiago Bay Manzanillo

Other days the colors filled the sky.




Sometimes the morning mural covered the entire sky, and sometimes it was just a pinpoint of color with reflections in the water.

Eager to watch the celestial drama, we bounded out of bed each morning absolutely thrilled to see the sky awash with yellows and oranges and pinks and reds.

Sunrise Santiago Bay Mexico

Even with blurry, sleepy vision, sunrise was worth getting out of bed for…!

Sunrise Santiago Bay Manzanillo

These were heavenly moments.



Each day’s heavenly artwork was completely different than that of the previous day, and seeing the wildly varying patterns of color was a wonderful reminder that each day we live is utterly unique, starting with the texture and color of morning’s earliest moments.



In Santiago Bay, Playa La Boquita is at one end of a very long and wide beach, and there is always lots of activity on this beach.

kid flies a kite on Santiago Beach

Afternoons on Playa La Boquita are perfect for flying kites.

Playa La Boquita Santiago Bay Manzanillo

Playa La Boquita is a beautiful, big, wide beach.










Little kids played by the water’s edge and a variety of vendors wandered past with carts full of all kinds of goodies.

Santiago Bay beach vendor cart

This girl sure was cute, but I don’t think she could get the cart to go anywhere!

Playa la Boquita beach vendor cart

What a cool thatched roof!

Mark liked the thatched roof on this one vendor’s cart, and I liked the little girl riding it in the back!









beach toy cart Santiago Bay

Skip shopping ahead of time and get your beach toys right at the beach!

Another vendor had every imaginable blow-up beach and water toy for sale, plus enough pails and shovels to dig to China and build lots of sand castles too. No need to go to the toy store before hitting this beach!

La Boquita Beach Santiago Manzanillo

Shifting sands…

La Boquita Beach Santiago Manzanillo

Between the waves…











Mark enjoyed getting some artsy images of the sand and the water while I was drawn to a little bird standing up to his knees in the water and fishing between the rocks.

Sandpiper Playa La Boquita

This little guy blended right into the rocks.

Bridge La Boquita Beach Santiago Manzanillo

There’s a wonderful foot bridge that leads to some pretty resorts at the far west end of the beach.

One of the hallmarks of this beach for cruising sailors is the tuba player. From late morning until late evening the deep tones of a tuba can be heard throughout the anchorage.

tuba player playa la boquita santiago

A tuba player waits his turn.

Groovy at anchor Santiago Bay

The swell at Santiago isn’t too bad…


When we walked the beach we found the tuba player – and then discovered there was more than one of them!

Several small bands with tubas wandered up and down the beach performing for the vacationers.

They would politely wait for each other so each tuba band got a chance to perform without intruding on the others.



Waves at La Boquita Manzanillo

…some of the waves are quite sizeable!!

This is a beach that gets some nice surf. The waves come in sets. Each wave grows slightly larger than the last until there are one or two really big crashers. Then they grow smaller until the beach actually seems quite calm.

Invariably, as we walked this beach, I would suddenly see a huge green wave out of the corner of my eye followed by a beautiful band of white frothy spray and the sound of thunder as it smashed on the beach. I’d grab my camera excitedly, but, of course, that would have been the big wave of the set.  I’d have to wait another five or ten minutes for the next photo-worthy one.

Club Santiago Homes La Boquita Beach Manzanillo

The beach villas in Club Santiago are lovely

Club Santiago Homes La Boquita Beach Manzanillo

I love the stone walls, the flowers and the palms.

But then I’d forget all about the waves and become intrigued by something else. The camera would be turned off and dangling on my hip. And then, suddenly, there it would be again: the bright green underbelly of a huge wave looming up and rolling over so beautifully. I’d grab my camera again, but it would be too late. I would have missed it once again!

Dinghy parking La Boquita Beach

Dinghy parking on the beach.

Club Santiago Walking Paths Manzanillo

The walking paths in Club Santiago inviting too.








bottlebrush flower

Mark discovers a bottlebrush tree in bloom.

Getting a dinghy safely on the beach requires watching these wave sets too, but it’s not too bad a dinghy landing here.

tropical flower

Not sure what this flower is…

There’s a kind of designated parking area on the beach for the dinghies, complete with a rope you can tie your dinghy to so it doesn’t float off if the tide comes in while you’re away!!

Oasis bar club santiago mexico

The Oasis, a cruiser hangout.

The homes along this beach are beautiful. We wandered into the neighborhood of Club Santiago which fills this end of the beach.

The palm tree-lined paths and backs of all the homes were just as lovely as the fronts of them along the beach.

Life is Groovy

Life is groovy.

Some of the landscaping is very pretty, and Mark found some bottle-brush flowers and another exotic tropical flower that we weren’t sure what it was.

Back on the beach, we stopped at the Oasis Bar, a favorite cruiser hangout where you can enjoy a brewski in a lounge chair under an umbrella while watching your boat bobbing in the bay.

beach chairs club santiago manzanillo

Welcome to Santiago Bay!!

This was pretty good living here in the Manzanillo area. The days slipped by quickly, and before we knew it almost a week had passed.

We probably would have stayed even longer, but the crazy thing in Manzanillo is that the air quality suffers from the soot produced by the nearby coal-fired power plant.  After a few days, poor old Groovy was grey. Fortunately, the plant is in the process of being converted to natural gas, so the air in all of the Manzanillo area will be much cleaner in the future.

But we needed to give the decks a bath, so we hauled up the anchor and moved up the coast about 25 miles, setting our sights on the tiny cove at Cuastecomate.

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Costalegre: Manzanillo’s Las Hadas Resort – The Med in Mexico

sailing blog Zihuatanejo pangas on the beach

Pangas on the beach in Zihuatanejo.

Early March, 2013 – We were loving Zihuatanejo‘s wonderful, relaxed, laid-back atmosphere, and we took many leisurely strolls along the waterfront. It was impossible to walk anywhere without snapping a few pics.

One afternoon a couple on inflatable kayaks paddled out to Groovy and we discovered they were future cruisers who were outfitting their Catalina 34 Aussie Rules for a voyage from Vancouver Island through Mexico to Australia two years from now.

sailing blog Zihuatanejo palm trees and pangas

Palm trees lean out over the beach.

We remember being in their shoes in San Diego and the Caribbean a few years back, longing to meet active cruisers who could tell us what the lifestyle was like.  We welcomed Rose and Dave aboard, gave them a quick tour and had a lively conversation about cruising.

sail blog sailing groovy with friends

“Aussie Rules” captain Dave steers Groovy on a windy romp.

Dave is an Aussie who grew up sailing Down Under, and he and Rose fell in love when the two of them were fierce rivals in the sailboat racing circuit on Okanagan Lake in British Columbia. We could tell they were both itching to get out for a sail to cap off their Zihuatanejo vacation, so we invited them back to Groovy for a daysail with us a few days later.

sailing blog Crepuscular rays outside Zihuatanejo

Sunrays spray the sea from the clouds.

The wind gods showed up on cue and gave us a wonderful, brisk ride. Dave was completely in his element as Groovy leaned into the waves, and he was ear-to-ear smiles at the helm. We are looking forward to following their voyage in a few years!!

It was time for our own voyage to continue, however, so after seeing them off, we pointed the bow north from Isla Ixtapa and made our way to Manzanillo 29 hours (190 miles) away. On the morning of our departure we sailed under beautiful, brooding clouds and sun rays.

sailing blog Lazaro Cardenas see from the sea

Lazaro Cardenas is one big industrial port!

mexico cruising blog sunset at sea

The sun sets off the bow of Groovy on our way to Manzanillo.

The huge oil refinery at Lázaro Cardenas made quite an impressive sight as we slipped past a mile offshore.

Happy to put all that industry behind us, we watched a colorful sunset off our bow and settled in for one of our last overnight sails for the season.

A recent armed robbery aboard an anchored cruising catamaran in Caleta de Campos (halfway between Zihuatanejo and Manzanillo) made us cautious as we snuck past in the night.  We detoured slightly further out to sea and passed without mishap.

mexico sailing blog sunset at sea

The sun goes down in a burst of color.

This had been the first incident of its kind that we know of in Mexico, and it is being taken very seriously by the authorities. The catamaran’s owners were seasoned Mexico cruisers and were known for their fun Playboy antics at the Baja Ha-Ha cruisers rally in 2010 (near top of page). In contrast, armed attacks on cruisers are quite common in many Caribbean countries.

mexico cruising blog sunrise at sea

The sun sneaks above the horizon behind us and Mark pops up to say “hi”

Next morning we caught the sunrise at about the same position on the horizon as the previous night’s sunset, but this time at the other end of the boat! As you can see, along this stretch of coast the direction of travel is predominantly east-west.

When we finally pulled into the sweet anchorage in front of the Las Hadas resort, it was like being given a second sunrise for the day.

Las Hadas is unique and utterly charming. Filled with fairy-tale turrets and gargoyles, arches and palm trees, it was a pleasure to sit in the cockpit and take in the view while Groovy gently swung this way and that.

sailing blog Las Hadas Resort manzanillo mexico

Las Hadas (“The Fairies”) Resort – right out of a fairy tale.


The cove is very small, and condos and villas cover the hillsides, hugging the anchored boats in a close embrace.

The white-washed architecture, bright green palm trees and true blue sky combine to make a beautiful backdrop.  What’s best is that all the properties that flank one side of the anchorage are filled with vibrant magenta bougainvillea flowers.

sailing blog Las Hadas anchorage manzanillo mexico

Our boats seem to be anchored in a flower garden.



Standing out on the breakwater on the opposite side and looking back across the tiny cove, it seemed as though all our boats were anchored in a brilliant garden of palm trees and pink flowers.

Even though we have been here several times before, each time we arrive we are enchanted once again.  The colors are so vivid, the buildings are so fanciful and the whole area is so lovingly maintained.

sail blog las hadas resort anchorage manzanillo mexico

This tiny cove is such a picturesque spot to drop the hook for a while.

sail blog Las Hadas Resort manzanillo mexico

Curvy palms.

sail blog Las Hadas Resort rope bridge manzanillo mexico

A wonderful rope bridge crosses between the pools.

sail blog Las Hadas Resort pools manzanillo mexico

What a spot!

sail blog las hadas resort arches manzanillo mexico

Double arches and cobblestones – such fanciful architecture.



















We wandered happily all over the resort, as excited to be walking its little cobbled paths today as we were the first time three years earlier.

sail blog las hadas arches manzanillo mexico

Arches everywhere…

Las Hadas palms manzanillo mexico

The pretty archways, royal blue swimming pools and soaring palm trees inspire the imagination.

sail blog sailboat wreck las hadas manzanillo

A fallen comarade – we never got the full story behind this odd sight.

sail blog Las Hadas Resort architecture manzanillo mexico

Private pools and cabanas and courtyards everywhere…








Out on the pier we found a toppled over sailboat with broken rigging that was in dire need of a bottom job. It was unclear how it came to be lying there. It looked very forlorn, with tall grasses growing around it.

A mystical air envelops this whole resort, and there is an element of fantasy to it all. The architecture is truly whimsical, with towers, sculptures, curving stone paths, and rotundas at every turn.

We needed to get through the resort to the main road to do some errands, but it was hard not to get sidetracked and wander off down all the inviting little pathways.

sail blog Las Hadas anchorage

First light in Las Hadas…


One morning we hustled ashore before the sun had risen to try to capture the Mediterranean looking cascade of villas in the morning light. We climbed high on the hill on the opposite side and found a tiny peek-a-boo lookout through some chainlink construction fencing where we could catch the view.

cruising blog Stone stairway las hadas

An intriguing stone stairway.

While we were in Manzanillo we began experimenting with various post-processing photo techniques. Mark downloaded PhotoMatix which creates intriguing effects. First you take three identical photos at different exposure settings and then you feed them through this software which takes the most vivid colors from each image and creates a composite merged “painting.”

cruising blog las hadas docks HDR

Down on the docks – PhotoMatix software.

Another technique is Nikon’s “color sketch,” a menu option within the camera that takes a photo and creates a colored sketch from it.

cruising blog Las Hadas docks color sketch

Down on the docks
Nikon’s “color sketch” button.

cruising blog Colorful clay bowls mexico

Mark found a vendor selling colorful clay bowls.







cruising blog Bronze sculpture Las Hadas

Las Hadas has some interesting art work and sculptures.

This was all great artsy fun, and we were loving our walks around this stunning little oasis. Every way we turned there was another beautiful image that begged for attention.

cruising blog sailboat at anchor las hadas manzanillo mexico

Groovy turns heads – ours at least!!

Unusual sculptures and accent pieces caught Mark’s eye, and then he was drawn to the colorful clay bowls sold by a pottery vendor on a folding table.

Meanwhile I wandered down to the beach and took portraits of the Groovy boat framed by palm fronds.

It was hard to call an end to all this, but we finally hauled up the anchor and made our way around the corner to Santiago Bay where every morning was kick-started with a spectacular sunrise.

Note: to see the location of Zihuatanejo and Manzanillo on a map, check the first image on Mexico Maps and another halfway down that page.



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Surfing the dinghy = Crash landings on the beach!

March 19, 2013 – One of the craziest aspects of cruising Mexico’s Pacific coast is the insane dinghy beach landings. Sometimes the surf is up, and you have to time your beach landing carefully, or you’ll get a serious dousing. We watched an experienced cruiser lose control of his dink on his way out from the beach one time. It shot into the air like a rocket and flipped over upside down, scattering his belongings everywhere.  Worse, his outboard was toast!

Sailing Mexico means surfing the dink sometimes

Not so easy getting in… and not so easy getting out either!!

Sooo… heading in to shore in Cuastecomate the other day, we packed our cameras in dry bags and set out to hit the village for some fun photography. But as we neared the beach and heard the huge crashers, we got cold feet. Back to Groovy we went, tails between our legs. Later, staring at the shore sulkily from the cockpit, we decided to give it another go. Properly dressed in bathing suits, and with everything lashed down in the dink in case it flipped, we saw a break in the rollers and Mark floored it towards the beach.

Dinghies with wheels just roll right onto the beach, but our porta-bote doesn’t have wheels. So Mark cut the engine at the last second to get the prop out of the water before it hit the sand. At the same time, I jumped out of the dink to pull it onto the beach before the next wave caught us. But this is a steep beach. I jumped too soon. The water was too deep. My feet didn’t hit the sand til I was half under the boat and hanging on for dear life. A huge wave grew to mammoth proportions behind us and crashed just inches from the back of the dink while I staggered to pull it to shore. It was all very funny, and we were both laughing hysterically. But a nicely dressed older couple walking hesitantly past us under a shared parasol stared at my dripping, sandy, soaked body in total disbelief.

Little did we all know, they had a better show coming. On the return trip into the crashing surf a few hours later, we waded into the series of small waves that was to be our escape route and jumped in the dink. Mark pulled on the outboard starter while I rowed with all my might. But he got no response from the engine. We were still floundering in the surf zone when the waves started to grow. “Hurry hurry!” I yelled, making little progress with the oars because his body was right where my left oar needed to be. The dinghy barely climbed over one breaking wave and then struggled over the next bigger one behind it. We just missed a good swamping each time.

Ten yanks on the outboard and some really colorful expletives later, the engine finally started. We were free. Looking back at beach, I could see the little old couple sitting under their parasol. Their mouths still hung open as our prop finally bit into the water and lurched us back to safety aboard Groovy.

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Costalegre: Chamela Bay Islands – Remote Getaway

Bocce ball in Tenacatita anchorage


Bocce ball in Tenacatita anchorage

The rookies take the game!!

Dinghies at La Manzanilla

Dinghy group lands on the beach in La Manzanilla.

Street scene in La Manzanilla

A steaming cauldron keeps a

dog's attention.

Street scene in La Manzanilla

Concrete is mixed by hand.

Red tide scum in Tenacatita anchorage

Post-red tide scum creates patterns on the water.

Pelicans dive in Tenacatita (Blue Bay)

Pelicans dive for supper.

Pelicans dive in Tenacatita (Blue Bay) Mark catche a Toro off Bahia Chamela

Mark gets a good look at his catch.

Fog in Chamela Bay

Thick fog greets us in the morning.

Fog in Chamela Bay anchorage Fog in Bahia Chamela anchorage Chamela Bay birds on the beach in Chamela A river of water created by the March 11 tsunami

A river of water isolates a favorite cruiser restaurant.

Sunflowers in Bahia Chamela Isla Colorado anchorage, Chamela Bay

Chamela's three little islands are a great hideaway.

Isla Colorado anchorage, Chamela Bay

There's nothing like an uninhabited tropical island.

Hermit crabs Isla Colorado anchorage, Chamela Bay

Hermit crabs dashed urgently

all over the sand.

s/v Groovy at Isla Colorado anchorage, Chamela Bay

Island paradise.

Isla Colorado anchorage, Chamela Bay sv Groovy at Isla Colorado anchorage, Chamela Bay Isla Colorado anchorage, Chamela Bay

Lots of cactus lined the shore.

Isla Colorado anchorage, Chamela Bay Tidepools on Isla Colorado, Chamela Bay, Jalisco, Mexico

Craggy rocks and tidepools grabbed our attention.

Tidepools on Isla Colorado, Chamela Bay, Jalisco, Mexico Colorado Island, Chamela Bay anchorage, Jalisco, Mexico Cleaning Groovy's bottom, Bahia Chamela islands

The water seems clear enough to

clean the bottom of the hull.

Cleaning Groovy's bottom, Bahia Chamela islands

See you down under!

Chamela Bay & Islands, Jalisco, Mexico

Mid-March, 2011 - Despite the drawbacks of red tide, jelly fish blooms and land disputes,

the anchorage at Tenacatita held us in its grasp for ten happy days.  Old time cruisers

who had been coming to Tenacatita for years initiated games of Bocce ball on the beach,

they encouraged cruisers to gather for beers at the beachfront palapa restaurant La

Vena, and they organized group dinghy provisioning

trips across the bay to the village of La Manzanilla.

Beginners luck prevailed for us in Bocce ball, and we

nailed a few throws to win the first game.

Dinghy landings in this bay are quite a challenge,

because of the pounding waves and surf on the beach.

We hitched rides with friends several times to learn the

technique for landing the dink and launching it again

later without getting too wet.  We learned that waves

come in sets, often 6 or 7 at a time, and the trick is to

wait until a set has passed to make your move.  You get a total of about 15 seconds to ride

behind the last wave to shore or to jump in the dink and start the outboard during a launch

off the beach.  One false move by a passenger, or an unexpectedly stalled engine, or a

miscalculation of when the last wave has actually passed can spell the difference between

being wet up to your shorts or flipping the dinghy entirely and getting drenched head to toe.

We watched in amazement from the beach as one

seasoned pro accidentally flipped his dinghy during a

launch when his inexperienced passenger took too long to

climb into the boat. The dinghy hit a huge oncoming wave

and flew straight up in the air like a rocket, landing upside

down in the surf.  Workers from the restaurant dashed

down to the beach carrying a five gallon jug of fresh water

to flush the outboard engine while cruisers searched the

waves for lost cargo.  Fortunately the outboard responded

to the treatment, most items were found, and the dinghy

was soon re-launched without mishap.

La Manzanilla on the far side of the bay is a small

seaside village, and we enjoyed watching the locals

going about their daily activities.  Two men stirred a

cauldron filled with ham hocks (hooves included),

while a dog waited patiently.

There was plenty of construction going on, all done

by hand.  We watched one worker shovel gravel into

a bucket on the street and then hoist it to the roof of

a building using a rope and pulley system.  Water

was then hoisted in another bucket, and the worker

on the roof mixed and poured the concrete by hand.

In another area we watched a worker mix his

concrete in a little pile of gravel right on the street.

This may not produce the highest grade concrete,

but there is a quiet calm and pride in the way these

men go about their work.

Out in the bay the red tide began to go through its lifecycle phases.

First the water turned from beet red to murky brown to grey green.

Then a huge blanket of foam formed in the middle of the bay.

Several hundred feet across, the foam began as a solid sheet of tiny

white bubbles and then began to dissipate into elaborate patterns as

the current ebbed and flowed beneath it.

The pelicans had no qualms about

the water quality, and they dove for

fish each afternoon.  They looked like

flying knives being hurled into the

water.  I tried in desperation to get a

picture of one just at the moment of

impact when their wings are pressed

tightly against their bodies, but I

never quite caught it.

One morning we awoke to a pan-pan call on the

radio.  This is an emergency alert for anyone within

earshot, and as I laid in bed with my eyes closed

debating how we'd spend our day I heard, "Japan has had a massive earthquake

and a tsunami is headed this way.  It will arrive here in two hours."  That got me out

of bed in a hurry!  Pre-coffee and still half-dressed in pj's, we hauled the anchor and

dashed out of the anchorage.  A fishing panga was nearby and we waved them over

to pass on the warning.  I hated the thought that they might fish by the rocks all

morning and never know what hit them.

Out on the open water we were able to connect to the internet, sort of.  If I stood in

the cockpit holding the laptop over my head with the USB antenna pointed towards

shore, I could download a page in about 3 to 5 minutes.  This was just enough to get some Google News reports detailing the

unfolding disaster.  Meanwhile the radio was abuzz with cruiser chatter.  People were sharing information they were receiving

from single side band radio broadcasts, from cell phone calls to friends and family on the west coast and from the internet.

We soon realized the predicted time for the arrival of the wave was 1:45 pm, not 10:45 a.m. as we were first told, and the

effects could last up to nine hours after the intial wave hit.

This meant a long day of sailing.  We had planned to stay in Tenacatita for a few more days, but once we were out in the

ocean it made more sense to travel up the coast a bit to Chamela Bay.

Almost the entire cruising fleet joined us in the open water, and a huge game of musical chairs ensued.  Just about everyone

changed anchorages and moved north or south to the next spot on their itinerary along the coast.

Out on the water the regular ocean swell was running about five

feet, so the five foot tsunami waves were undetectable.  Our

biggest challenge was trying to determine whether the waves

had arrived on shore or not, and whether or not it was safe to go

in to anchor.  Once the initial waves had hit California and then

Cabo San Lucas, all new internet reporting ceased.  The

Mexican news stories were only about warnings, not about

actual wave arrivals in the various ports nor about damage, so

we had no idea what the status was along our coast.

However, the air was warm and the breeze too light to sail

much, so Mark lazily dropped a handline over the side of the

boat as we motored along.  Within an hour the line suddenly

went taut and then limp.  He brought it in to find that a huge fish

had struck and broken the clasp holding the leader line to the

handline.  Somewhere out there a fish was swimming around

with a six inch blue feather lure hanging out of its mouth while

fifty feet of nylon leader trailed behind him.  Darn!

He quickly found another lure with a stronger clasp and thicker leader line, and threw it over the side.  Wham!  Another fish

was on the hook.  Holy cow.  Mark has trailed handlines up and down this entire coast with only one catch so far.  And now

within minutes he had two, with the one that got away being (undoubtedly) one of the biggest fish in the ocean.  Was the

tsunami herding the fish somehow?  Whatever the cause, he hauled the fish in and we had a good look at it.  It was beautiful:

big and silver with bright yellow fins and tail.  Unfortunately, it was the inedible Jack Crevalle, or "toro" in Spanish, a fish that

has meat so red and bloody that it is considered inedible.  Toros have big puppy dog eyes, though, and this guy was staring

up at Mark in stark terror.  He quickly unhooked the lure from its mouth and we could feel his utter relief as he swam off into

the depths.

We pulled into Chamela Bay around 5:00 p.m., thinking the worst of the waves must have passed.  As we lowered the anchor

over the flat sand bottom, I watched the depth gauge read a steady 22 to 23 feet and then suddenly dip to 14 feet and then

rise again to 22 feet.  Within seconds I heard an enormous crash of a mammoth wave pounding the shore, and I turned to see

its foaming mass sweep well past the highest tide mark on the beach.

Our radio instantly crackled to life as a friend of ours used her hand-held radio to describe the utter pandemonium she was

seeing on the beach.  Mark had to calm me down a bit, as I started to rant, but no waves quite that big rolled through after

that.  However, all was not right in the water.  Every boat in the anchorage did steady 360 degree turns around its anchor,

completing a full turn every minute or two.  After a few clockwise turns the boats would all begin to turn counterclockwise as

their hulls followed the pull of the ocean surge washing in and out of the bay.

The next morning we woke to thick fog, the first we had

seen since we were in Chamela Bay four months earlier.

The scene around us had an eerie glow.

We walked along the shore later in the day.  The ghost town

feeling that Chamela Bay had had in November still

persisted, especially now that the fleet of fishing pangas had

been dragged high onto the beach out of reach of the

tsunami waves.

A little restaurant at one end of the beach was stranded

by the tsunami.  Usually a path through soft sand leads

to this building, but the tsunami swell was continuing to

disturb the peace a day or two after the first waves

arrived.  A steady river of water washed to and fro in an

estuary, making access to the restaurant a dicey affair

that included wading in water up to your shorts.

Elsewhere around Chamela Bay little had changed.  More flowers

seemed to be in bloom, but the pretty little waterfront RV park was

totally empty now.

We decided to take Groovy out into the bay for a few days where three

small uninhabited islands huddle together.  There are several

anchoring spots out there, and we found it to be a cozy, hidden


As we dropped the hook we heard the loud and rather

urgent cries of hundreds of pelicans roosting in the trees

on the shore.  These islands are an ecological preserve

zone, and pelicans rule.

We took the dinghy ashore and stood in awe watching two different

species of pelicans engaging in what can only be described as a

springtime orgy.  Throaty groans, flapping wings, and awkward

physical postures gave the rugged shore an emotional vibe that

made us feel we were intruding on the most intimate of erotic


Averting our eyes from these

impassioned birds, we found

a host of hermit crabs

scurrying across the sand.

They crawled over each

other and tapped on each

other's shells.  These little

guys were inhabiting a huge

variety of shells, and one or

two were running around

naked looking for a new home.

The water was a

gorgeous shade of

blue, a welcome

change from the post-

red tide grey-green

that filled Chamela's

main anchorage.

Around the beach there were cactus and palm trees, and stubby little deciduous trees

too.  But it was the tide pools that really got our attention.  The waves sloshed in and out

with a vengeance, but a few were out of reach of the surf, and life in those pools was

calm and serene.

Back on the boat it

seemed we were in the

perfect place to have a look at the underside of our

hull.  We had been cleaning it every week or so

down in Zihuatanejo where the water was warm

and the barnacles grew quickly.  Since we had

been up north of Manzanillo, however, we hadn't

had a chance to give it a good look or a good scrub

because of the murky water.

Mark tackled the lowest parts of the hull and keel

with his scuba gear while I held my breath with a

snorkel and popped the offending barnacles off the

higher parts of the hull.  The water wasn't exactly

clear, and while we were in it a new wave of post-

red tide scum floated by.  Suddenly the water was

full of white puffy stringy stuff, and we quickly

wrapped up our work.  Unfortunately, the waves

were surging so vigorously that at one point each

of us accidentally gulped a huge mouthful of water.

Over the following days we both

went through a series of weird symptoms, starting with sore shoulders

followed by swollen glands in our necks and nasty head aches.  Mine

ended with a round of vomiting, while Mark was nauseous for two days.

After a week the symptoms passed.  My advice to anyone following in

our path:  don't drink water tainted by red tide.

Chamela Bay is the last good anchorage along the coast heading north

before the much feared Cabo Corrientes where high winds and

conflicting swell can make for a miserable passage.  The bright lights of

Puerto Vallarta lie beyond that point, but it is a 100 mile trip to get there,

so boats gather in Chamela Bay and watch the weather forecasts like

hawks, waiting for the best 24 hours to make the trip.  Before long we

got our chance, and we dashed out of the bay towards the Puerto

Vallarta suburb of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle.

Find Chamela on Mexico Maps

Visit Anchorages on the "Mexican Riviera" (northern Pacific coast) to see more cruising posts from this area!