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

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

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

Sailboat anchored in Chamela Bay Gold Coast Mexico Costalegre

Mexico’s Costalegre has some beautiful anchorages

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

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

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

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

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

The Las Hadas Resort in Manzanillo looks like the Mediterranean!

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

Map of Mexico Costalegre Pacific Coast

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

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

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

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

Sailboat at Sunset Santiago Bay Manzanillo Mexico on the Costalegre

The sunrises and sunsets in Manzanillo Bay are stunning.

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

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

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

Las Hadas Resort anchorage in Mexico – Beautiful!

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

Sailboat anchored at Las Hadas

Our boat Groovy anchored at Las Hadas

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

Las Hadas Resort sailing anchorage Manzanillo Mexico Costalegre

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

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

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

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

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

Las Hadas Resort Manzanillo Mexico Pacific Coast Costalegre

Not a bad spot to spend a day!

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

Manzanillo downtown Mexico Costalegre (1)

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

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

Fresh produce was available at many small markets.

Fresh produce was available at many small markets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hardware store on Pacific Coast of Mexico

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

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

Sunrise on Costalegre Mexico Pacific Coast Gold Coast


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

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

Snorkeling at Paraiso Bay in Costalegre Mexico

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

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

Filling the diesel tank with jerry jugs cruising Mexico

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

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

Sailboat at Costa Careyes Mexico

Groovy anchored at Careyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beach and houses at Careyes Mexico Costalegre

Pretty view at Careyes

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

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

Perula Beach Chamela Bay in Mexico Riviera

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

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

Fishing pangas on the beach at Perula

Fishing pangas on the beach at Perula

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

Restaurant at Punta Perula in Chamela Bay Mexico

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

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

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

Now THIS is cruising!

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

Cuastecomate bay resort Costalegre Mexico Gold Coast

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

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

Las Hadas Resort beach dining

Beach dining at Las Hadas Resort

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

Beach chairs Las Hadas Resort Manzanillo Costalegre Mexico

Fun little beach chairs at Las Hadas in Manzanillo

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

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

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

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

French Baker in Barra de Navidad anchorage in Mexico Costalegre

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

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

Barra de Navidad boat-in bar Costalegre Pacific Coast Mexico

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

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

Sunrise Manzanillo Bay Mexico

Sunrise in Manzanillo Bay

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

Dinghies lined up on the beach Santiago Bay Manzanillo Mexico Costalegre

Dinghies lined up on the beach at Santiago Bay in Manzanillo

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

Sailboat anchored in Chamela Bay near Perula Mexico Costalgre Gold Coast

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

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

RV on the beach in Mexico

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

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

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

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

Imagine growing up in an RV traveling the Americas!

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

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

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

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

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

Cuastecomate view of the beach Mexico Costalegre

Beach bars galore in the “secret anchorage” of Cuastecomate

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

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

Blue footed boobie Pacific Mexico Coast

Blue footed boobies! In Mexico!!!

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

Blue footed boogie guards its chick in Mexico (1)

A blue footed booby guards its baby.

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

A frigate bird takes a close look at us.

A frigate bird takes a close look at us.

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

Birds on the lifelines of our boat (1)

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

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

A sea turtle on Mexico's Pacific Coast

The waters along the Costalegre are filled with sea turtles.

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

Sea turtle and Boobie on Mexico Pacific Coast

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

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

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

Flying mobula ray manta ray Mexico Pacific Coast

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

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

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

Breaching whale Santiago Bay Manzanillo Costalegre Mexico

A breaching whale in Manzanillo Bay

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

Horseback riding on Santiago Bay Manzanillo Mexico Pacific Coast

Riders on horseback on the beach at Santiago

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

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

Sweet 15!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sailing Magazine Subscription

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

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

Never miss a post — it’s free!

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

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

Our most recent posts:

More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU above.

Mexican Dentists – Finding Affordable Dental Care in Mexico

A trip to the dentist’s office isn’t fun for anyone anywhere, but Mexican dentists do terrific work, and we have received outstanding and very affordable dental care in our travels throughout Mexico, both on our sailboat and in our RV.

This page offers a glimpse of what a trip to a Mexican dentist’s office is like, what to expect when crossing the border to get dental work done, which dentists we’ve been to and recommend, and what various dental procedures have cost us. There’s a ton of info on Mexican dentistry here, and if you don’t want to read it all in one sitting, these quick links will get where you want to go:


Getting a Crown in Mexico — Our Experience in San Luis south of Yuma, AZ

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Our first experience with a Mexican dentist, and the one that totally changed our attitude towards Mexican dentistry in general, was in San Luis Mexico, just a little south of Yuma, Arizona, back in 2008.

Mexican Dentist crown in a tooth

Getting a Mexican Crown was quite an adventure for us back in the day.

We walked over the border and continued on for half a block to the office of Dr. Sergio Bernal at 4:00 on a Friday afternoon. We did not have an appointment, but we wanted to see what could be done about a baby tooth of Mark’s that had never fallen out but had suddenly started bothering him.

After two minutes in the chair, Dr. Bernal recommended he get a crown. We weren’t sure about getting something complicated like this done in Mexico, and were also unsure whether a gold crown or porcelain crown would be preferable. We walked around the streets of San Luis for an hour debating whether to go for it, and if so, what kind of crown to get.

When we returned to Dr. Bernal’s office, we met a group of Americans from Las Vegas in the waiting room. A big friendly guy in the group told us he gathered up his friends and family every year, rented a car, and drove down to San Luis to get their teeth checked and worked on by Dr. Bernal. He’d had extensive bridge work done by Dr. Bernal 10 years prior, and he had been so impressed by the quality and affordable cost of the job that he’d been going back ever since.

Mark decided to go for it, and in no time Dr. Bernal had ground down his tooth, made an impression of it and made arrangements for a porcelain crown to be delivered to his office by noon the next day. Because the permanent crown would be installed so soon, there was no need for a temporary crown (how nice!).

As we walked out the door (without having paid a cent for the diagnosis, the tooth grinding or the impression), Dr. Bernal asked Mark his name, scribbled it on a yellow sticky pad and put it on the impression. He waved to us as we left to walk back over the border and said, “See you tomorrow!”

Despite the next day being a Saturday (we later learned Mexicans work six days a week), we walked across the border again at noon, and Dr. Bernal quickly cemented the crown in place.

The cost? $130 US.

Best of all, it was a perfect color match and was the best fitting crown Mark had ever had. It has been fine ever since.

From that moment on, we have entrusted our teeth to Mexican dentists throughout the country without a moment’s hesitation.

Dentist chair Dr. Sergio Bernal San Luis Mexico

The Dentist Chair… yikes!

During our nearly four year cruise of Mexico on our sailboat, we visited dentists (and doctors) up and down the Pacific coast and in the Sea of Cortez. The dental care was always top quality, very caring, and very affordable. We have never had unnecessary work recommended (as happened to me 15 years ago in the US when an unscrupulous dentist recommended I get five crowns immediately, only one of which I actually needed).

I always feel like going to the dentist in Mexico is basically like going to the barber. You walk in off the street without an appointment, talk to the dentist directly, hop in the chair for him or her to assess what you need, get it done right away or return the next day, and walk out with everything completed at a fraction of what it would cost in the US.

Where Are Mexican Dentists Trained?

There are some urban myths about Mexican dentistry. I’ve heard people say, “The best Mexican dentists get their training in the US.”

In our experience, that is not true. Of the ten excellent dentists and doctors we have been to in Mexico, none received their training in an American university.

Usually, Mexican dentists and doctors hang their diplomas on the wall. Whether the diplomas are hand calligraphed in Latin or typed up in Spanish, it is pretty easy to tell if the university was in Guadalajara, Mexico City or Baja California (the three areas for medical and dental schools we’ve seen on diplomas).

Do Mexican Dentists Speak English?

In our experience, most speak at least a little, especially in tourist areas and in the border towns where a lot of Americans come specifically to receive dental care.

Why Are Mexican Dentists So Cheap?

People also wonder how it is that Mexican dental (and medical) professionals can charge so little for their services if they are really as good as (or better than) their counterparts in the US. The reasons are complex, but in a nutshell, the American and Mexican economies and cultures are totally different. Even more important, the business models for the dental and medical professions are not at all alike in the two countries.

A Lower Wage Scale in Mexico

The average DAILY wage for an unskilled Mexican worker is around $5 per DAY. Obviously, skilled workers make more, but the entire spectrum of wages, from professionals to janitors, is scaled down much lower than the US. In many cases, like that of a city employed street sweeper we met in Huatulco, the employee provides the equipment for their job. This industrious city worker we met had fashioned his brooms for his government job from tree branches and twigs himself.

Cheaper Office Space

Commercial property rental is also much cheaper. A friend of mine who owns a store in the popular seaside tourist town of Zihuatanejo pays $30 a MONTH to rent the space. Office space for Mexican dentists and doctors may not be quite that low, but even if it is double the price, it is still negligible by American standards.

Very Little or No Staff

Mexican dentists and doctors also don’t employ much staff, if any. Some dentists have an assistant, but many of the best ones we’ve been to don’t. Also, there is no one dedicated to answering the phone and making appointments. Any time we have had our teeth cleaned, it was done by the dentist and not by a hygienist. One very conscientious dentist spent an HOUR cleaning my teeth and then spent another HOUR on Mark’s, for $45 US each.

Little or No Malpractice Insurance and Marketing

Unlike their American counterparts, Mexican dentists and doctors don’t have to carry massive amounts malpractice insurance. Also, they don’t invest in marketing. None of the dentists we’ve been to have websites, and it is very difficult to find information about any of them on the internet. The few Mexican dentists that do have websites cater primarily to Americans, and we found that their fees are often adjusted upwards accordingly.

No Third Party Relationships

Mexican dentists and doctors also set their fees according to the market demands of their patients. There is no insurance company operating as a middle man. Patients pay their medical providers directly rather than paying an insurance company who, in turn, then pays the dentist or doctor, as happens in the US.

This keeps the patient/doctor relationship very pure. The doctor or dentist is employed by the patient, not by a third party insurance company. Fees for unexpected issues that come up requiring return visits, extra x-rays, additional prescriptions, etc., can be discussed between doctor/dentist and patient. In our experience, though, those little extras have been free because the dentist/doctor is managing the relationship with the patient/customer and wants to provide good value.


Getting A Root Canal in Mexico — Our Experience in San Luis south of Yuma, AZ

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A few weeks ago one of my teeth began to bother me, so we decided to return to our dentist, Dr. Sergio Bernal, in San Luis, Mexico, who had done such a fine job with Mark’s crown years ago. We took our rig to Yuma, drove our truck to the Mexican border and parked it in a parking lot on the American side right next to the border crossing area. The parking fee was $4 for 24 hours (in 2017 it is $5 for 24 hours).

Parking lot in San Luis Arizona

The parking lot on the American side of the border at San Luis, Arizona. $4 for 24 hours.

It was 8:45 in the morning on a Tuesday, and we followed signs that walked us through the border crossing. We saw a few Mexican border agents, but none asked for our passports. Then we emerged on the other side and saw a soldier dressed in desert camo holding an automatic weapon.

The soldier smiled broadly at us when we said “buenos días” to him as we passed by, and he said “buenos días” to us in return.

Having lived in Mexico for a few years, we learned that Mexicans always greet each other with a warm “buenos días” (before noon), or “buenas tardes” (after 12:00 p.m. – sharp), whether they are passing in the street, or standing in front of a store clerk about to pay for something, or boarding a crowded bus (everyone on the bus responds!). Mustering the guts to say that phrase in Mexico will always get you a smiling response, and it is heartwarming and fun to give it a try.

We also learned that the presence of soldiers is just standard procedure at Mexico’s borders (we’ve seen them at the US and Guatemala borders). It is also standard procedure when the Mexican Navy boards boats at sea.

Our sailboat was boarded 8 times during our cruise, either to to check our papers, to check for weapons and drugs, or to make sure we had proper safety gear on board. Each time the inspectors couldn’t have been nicer or more polite. In one case, when they brought aboard a drug-sniffing dog, they put booties on his feet so he wouldn’t scratch the boat. Another time we were given a performance evaluation form to fill out for the boss!

I touch on three of the Mexican Navy boardings we experienced in these blog posts:

Moments after crossing the border, we emerged onto a lively and busy street in the town of San Luis Rio Colorado, the Mexican sister city of San Luis, Arizona.

After emerging from the border complex, we walked straight down the street, crossing a small intersection and looking to our left towards the opposite side of the street as we walked.

Crossing the border at San Luis Arizona into Mexico

Mark crosses a small intersection after crossing the border.
Dr. Bernal’s office is on the left just beyond the lavender “Genesis” sign (center of photo).

We were walking south on First Street (“Calle 1”). Dr. Bernal’s office is in an alcove on east side of the street (the opposite side…the left side in the above photo) about halfway between the first intersection we had just crossed and the street light at the next intersection.

The shops are small and tightly packed with colorful but faded signs overhead.

Shops near Family Dental Dr. Sergio Bernal San Luis Mexico

Walking down Calle 1 (1st Street), and looking left, these shops are just before Dr. Bernal’s alcove.

Catching sight of the lavender “Genesis” sign on the left side (east side) of the street, we spotted the alcove where Dr. Bernal’s office is located just beyond that sign (to the right of the sign while facing that side of the street (facing east)).

Inside Dr. Bernal’s alcove, we saw a large grinning tooth out in front of his office door. A sign overhead and a sign on the roof both said, “Family Dental.”

Family Dental care in Mexico at Dr. Bernal in San Luis

Dr. Bernal’s office is in this alcove. The door is on the right.

Mexican dentists Dr. Sergio Bernal Dentist San Luis Mexico

We head in!

Even though it had been 7 years since we had been here, back in 2008, memories flooded back as soon as we walked in. We had known nothing about Mexico back then, and we had been quite overwhelmed by the differences on the two sides of the border.

Things are not as spiffy or glam in Mexico as they are in much of America, and this dentist’s office wasn’t in fancy Class A office space like we were used to back home. That had been a little off-putting to us back then. But during those early days of full-time travel we had yet to learn that you can’t judge a book by its cover.

Dr. Sergio Bernal Dentist Office San Luis Mexico-2

The waiting room.

When we walked into Dr. Bernal’s office with all these memories swirling around, he greeted us with a big smile. I explained (in English) that he had done a crown for Mark way back when and that we had come back because I had a toothache.

“Oh yes, I remember….” He said.

“You remember us???!!” I asked, incredulously.

“Of course I do…” he said, “Gold crown or porcelain… you couldn’t decide.”


We were the only patients there at the moment, so I hopped in the chair right away and he tapped my teeth and said I needed a root canal. Darn! I was afraid of that.

Dr. Sergio Bernal Dentist Dental Surgeon San Luis Mexico

Dr. Sergio Bernal tells me I need a root canal. Oof!

Mark got in the chair and was given a clean bill of health. No problems, no need for work, no need even for a cleaning. “Come back when you have a problem,” Dr. Bernal said. I should only be so lucky!!

Wasting no time on my behalf, Dr. Bernal got on the phone to an endodontist across town, Dr. Horacio Avila, to make sure he was available to see me right away. Then he walked us out to the corner and hailed a cab for us. He handed the cabbie a business card for the endodontist, and we climbed in the cab.

Taxi cab San Luis Mexico

Dr. Bernal puts us in a cab to go to endodontist Dr. Horacio Avila across town.

The cabbie swung the car around and then let another guy in too. The cabs in San Luis are shared cabs, and it is normal to have the cabbie pick up someone else who is headed in the same general direction.

A few minutes later he dropped us off at Dr. Horacio Avila’s office. The cabbie wanted 40 pesos or $2, whichever we had. We happened to have some pesos we wanted to get rid of, so we paid in pesos. Back when we got those pesos in 2013, the exchange rate had been less than 13 pesos to a dollar. What a shock it was to find that the exchange rate is now 19+ to the dollar!

Mexican dentists Dr. Horacio Avila Dental Clinic Endodontist Mexico

Dr. Avila’s office at Calle 13 (13th Street) and Madero

Dr. Avila’s office was nice inside, and like all dentists and doctors we’ve been to in Mexico, his diplomas hung on his wall. He had earned his dental degrees at the University of Baja California. Dr. Bernal had earned his degrees at the University of Guadalajara.

Dental Surgeon Endodontic Degrees Dr. Horacio Avila

Dr. Avila’s diplomas. He was trained at the University of Baja California.

I was blown away by Dr. Avila’s equipment. A quickie x-ray yielded an image on a computer screen in seconds, and he explained (in English) that the root canal would take about 45 minutes. He said it would normally cost $180 US, but because it was in a tooth that already had a crown on it, the extra work of drilling through the crown to perform the root canal would raise the cost to $230 US.

I leaned back, he numbed me up, and in no time the root canal was finished.

Mexican dentists Dr. Horacio Avila Endodontist San Luis Mexico

Dr. Avila had very modern equipment with x-rays that went directly to a computer screen, etc., etc.

When I got out of the chair, he explained that I needed anitbiotics and anti-inflammatory meds. He described how to take them and wrote up a prescription, handed me an envelope containing prints of my x-rays as well as the images of my root canal in progress, and then he led us to the door.

His assistant asked me my name and wrote it down on a pad. I gave her $230 in American dollars in cash, and she asked me whether I wanted a receipt. Then she took us out to her car and drove us to Liquis Farmacia, a big pharmacy back near the border crossing area. (“Farmacia” is pronounced “far-MAH-seeya” even though it doesn’t look like it).

Liquis Pharmacy (Farmacia) San Luis Rio Colorado Mexico

Liquis Pharmacy (“Farmacia”) is a block away from the border.

She took us through the drive-through lane, placed the order for the meds at the window for us, and passed our cash through to the clerk (we paid in pesos, but dollars would have been fine too). It was about $10 for a supply of amoxicillan (Ampliron) and anti-inflammatory Supradol. Then she drove us to Dr. Bernal’s office.

We tipped her $5 in American dollars for driving us around town and making sure we had the right meds in hand before we left the country.

Liquis Pharmacy Drive-up Window San Luis Mexico

Dr. Avila’s assistant drove us to the drive-through window and ordered my meds for me.

We walked over to Dr. Bernal’s office and I climbed back in his dentist chair (gosh so many times in and out of dentist’s chairs in one morning!!). He took a look at Dr. Avila’s work and said he would complete the job by putting a filling in the crown where Dr. Avila had drilled through to do the root canal. But he didn’t want to do it until a few days had passed and the tooth was totally pain free.

So he sent us on our way (and again, did not charge us a cent).

It was 10:00 in the morning when we crossed back over the border into the US and got back in our truck.

San Luis Arizona Pedestrian Entrance

The pedestrian crossing going back into the US

The whole thing had taken an hour and a quarter — with no appointment. In that short span of time we received two check-ups, a diagnosis, a root canal, x-rays and meds.

Including the cab ride from the dentist to the endodontist, a tip for the assistant who drove us to the pharmacy in her own personal car, and the parking fee for our truck that was waiting for us on the American side of the border, it all came to a grand total of $241 US.

So far, we hadn’t paid Dr. Bernal a dime, yet he had masterminded the whole thing.

Does this sound like American dentistry?

We returned a few days later to check in with Dr. Bernal (no appointment, we just walked in). My tooth was still a little tender, so he told me I wasn’t ready for him to do the filling in the crown yet yet. So I was in and out of the chair once again! And again, he didn’t charge me for the checkup.

Finally my tooth was back in action and pain free, so we crossed over the border to Mexico again. This time we went to the endodontist, Dr. Avila, first to get a final x-ray of the root canal and verify that everything was A-okay. He was happy to see me and said everything looked great and sent me on my way. He didn’t charge me for the x-ray or the office visit.

Dr. Horacio Avila Endodontist affordable dental care Mexico

Dr. Avila explains to me about teeth and roots. The x-ray is on the computer screen on the wall.

Then we stopped in at Dr. Bernal’s office. He had a line of patients waiting this time, so we took a seat and waited with them. I got chatting with an American woman next to me, and she told me she and her family had been coming down from Phoenix to see Dr. Bernal for 25 years.

“He must have been just out kid out of dental school back then!” I said.

“We were all a lot younger back then,” she laughed.

Suddenly, an old, hunched Mexican woman came in clutching her mouth. She was moaning as she took a seat. Mark asked her in broken Spanish if she was in pain, and she nodded and rubbed her fingers along her whole lower jaw, obviously in agony.

We were next in line now, but we got up and stuck our heads into Dr. Bernal’s office where he was working on a patient and told him we’d be back later and to please take care of this old woman first.

We wandered around town for a while, and when we returned the woman was gone and Dr. Bernal was free again. I hopped in the chair, and after a few quick zips with the drill, he was done filling the hole in the crown. Then he did a full check on the rest of my teeth and polished some of my white fillings that had started to leach and turn a darker color.

Affordable dental care in Mexico

Back in The Chair with Dr. Bernal.

He charged me $40 US. This $40 fee covered the three times I had sat in his dentist’s chair over the past few days since we first crossed the border as well as putting a filling in the crown where the root canal was and polishing me teeth. We handed him the cash, and went back to the border half a block away.

Easy peasy!!

So, my entire procedure involved sitting in dentist’s chairs five times for check-ups and procedures, x-rays, a root canal performed by an endodontist, a filling performed by a general dentist, cab rides between dentist’s offices, antibiotics and pain medications, a tip for the dental assistant who drove us across town and took us to the pharmacy, and the parking fee for our truck waiting for us on the American side of the border.

The grand total for my root canal plus all that other stuff was $281


Tips for RVers Crossing the Border to San Luis Mexico for Dental Care

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Yuma is 23 miles north of the US/Mexican border, so it is very easy for RV travelers to get dental work done in Mexico at the San Luis border south of Yuma, AZ. Allow about 35 to 45 minutes to get to the border (it’s mostly highway).

There are loads of RV parks of every description in and around Yuma, and Yuma is a fun town to visit anyway. There are some pretty buildings in the Old Town neighborhood, a really funky burger/bar scene in town at Lutes Casino, and an interesting glimpse of how the Wild West used to be for the bad guys at the Territorial Prison.

For RVers who want to be a little closer to the border and don’t mind dry camping in their trailer or motorhome, Cocopah Casino is 16 miles from the border and has a paved parking area out back that is striped for RVs. As of January 2016 the cost to stay there was $10 for 3 nights. It was very busy when we were there in late January, and I imagine the place is quite packed through the winter season.

Motorhomes at Cocopah Casino Yuma Arizona

There are tons of RV park options in Yuma. At Cocopah Casino there is dry camping as well.

In Mexico’s border towns like San Luis, you can do all financial transactions in US dollars. Some businesses, like Liquis Farmacia (the pharmacy Dr. Avila’s assistant drove us to), will take a credit card, but in our experience most dentists and doctors prefer to be paid in cash (some don’t even have credit card machines in their offices).

If you want to get some Mexican pesos, there are money exchange shops on both sides of the border. But you certainly don’t need to.

Money Exchange San Luis Mexico

There are money changing shops on both sides of the border, but US dollars work just fine.
Take lots of $1 bills for cabs and tips.

Walking over the border is easy, and if you are finished in San Luis early in the day, the walk back over the border is easy too. There was no one in the pedestrian line going back into the US when we got there at 10 a.m.

Later in the day, the border crossing into the US gets much busier. Walking back over the border late in the afternoon can involve a long wait in line for pedestrians (and much much longer for cars). Riding our bikes, we never saw anyone in line at the Sentri Gate.

For us, in all our travels and dental office visits in Mexico over the past eight years, figuring out which dentists to go to has been a matter of talking to the locals and to fellow travelers and to ex-pats who live in the area.

We first heard of Dr. Bernal from RVers staying at the Escapees Kofa RV park in Yuma. Some places with lots of ex-pats have online forums where local dentists are discussed and referred, and that’s how we found two of our favorite dentists in southern Mexico.

Some quick tips:

  • You need a passport to return to the US from Mexico
  • Take lots of $1 bills for tips and cabs just in case you want or need to be driven around town
  • Change will not be made with American coins, just bills. Take a variety of bills to avoid making change in general.
  • Some dentists and doctors will take credit cards, but not all. We carried about $350 in cash.
  • Bigger pharmacies will take a credit card. Unlike most stores in the US, Liquis was set up for the new chip style credit cards!
  • To save on currency exchange fees, get a credit card from Capital One. They waive the standard 3% currency exchange fee
  • If you bike over the border, you can save a lot of time getting back into the US because no one uses the Sentri pass / bike gate
  • Make a day of it. Go to El Parianchi (10th St. and Obregon) for some awesome food and a truly authentic Mexican experience, especially on a busy Saturday

Here is a Google Maps link for the locations of things in San Luis, Mexico. In this map link, the locations are:

  • Dr. Sergio Bernal – showing as “Calle 1 115”
  • Liquis Pharmacy – showing as “Calle 1 7”
  • Dr. Horacio Avila – showing as “Madero 1307”
  • El Parianchi restaurant – showing as “El Parianchi” at 10th St. and the border road.

You can see the location of the town square “Plaza Benito Juarez” too.

Mexican Dentists we recommend:

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Here are some of the dentists we have been to and that we would return to. One thing that can be confusing about Mexican names is that the Spanish convention is to give your mother’s maiden name as part of your own name, at the end. So, you state your name like this:

First-name Father’s-last-name Mother’s-father’s-last-name

So “Pedro Diaz Hernandez” would be called “Pedro Diaz” using English conventions.

San Luis (south of Yuma, AZ)

Dr. Sergio Bernal does general dentistry and is located about 1/2 block over the San Luis Arizona/Mexico border on the left hand side in an alcove marked with a large sculpture of a tooth under a sign, “Family Dental” on 1st Street (“Calle 1”) just north of Obregon as described in detail above in this article. Call him directly from the US by dialing this number: 011 52 653 534 6651
Address: First St. #118-9 San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico. Open Monday-Friday 9-5, Saturday 9-2, Sunday 9-11

Dr. Horacio Avila is an endodontist located at 13th Street (“Calle 13”) and Madero (address is 1305 Madero). He did a root canal for me in 2016 as described above in this article.

Loreto (Baja California Sur – Sea of Cortez)

Dr. Aldo Velásquez works with his father Dr. Eduardo Velásquez at #53 Benito Juarez Street in downtown Loreto. In 2011 Dr. Aldo Velazquez filled a cavity in one of my teeth and checked Mark’s teeth for 450 pesos. At the exchange rate of the time, this was about $40. We went to his office because we passed it on the street while out walking and it appeared well kept and attractive. Later we found out that Aldo and his father are very highly regarded in town. I wrote about our experience in HERE at this link

Zihuatanejo (Southern Pacific coast of Mexico)

In 2013 Dr. Oliverio Soberanis (#210-E 5 de Mayo Ave.) replaced several large fillings in my teeth and fixed some work that had been poorly done by an American dentist long ago. See some pics HERE at this link. I found him by reading an ex-pat forum for Zihuatanejo. He had brand new equipment with TV screens showing the work in progress. I had a cruising friend who is a retired dentist check his work afterwards, and he was very impressed that he took the time to polish the fillings, something many American dentists don’t do because it takes extra time.

Huatulco (Southern Pacific coast of Mexico)

In 2012 Dr. Francisco Hernandez (Sierra de Ixtlan, Edificio B Dept 101, Conjunto Residential Los Mangos) did 2 cleanings for us (550 pesos, or about $45, each) and 3 replacement fillings (450 pesos, or about $35, pesos each) for us as well. The cleanings were the most thorough we’ve ever had, taking about an hour each. He was gentle and very conscientious. We went to him because the dentist that had been recommended in an ex-pat forum was on vacation, and she had left a note on her door giving Dr. Hernandez’ name and address. Another cruising friend (whose boat appears at the top of all our blog posts from Huatulco had an excellent experience with getting some fillings replaced by Dr. Hernandez as well.

If you have been enjoying your RV down near the Mexican border this winter and have been on the fence about whether or not to get some dental work done south of the border, hopefully our stories and info here will help you decide to give it a try.


Typical Costs of Mexican Dentistry and Where It’s Cheapest

Mexico has lots of dentists and doctors practicing all over the country. After all, Mexico’s population is nearly 1/2 of America’s population, and all those people need medical and dental care, just like Americans do!

Because of the big difference in the cost of living between the two countries, Mexican dentists are well aware that their services are sought after by Americans because it’s cheap.

Mexican Dentists Whose Practices Serve Primarily Mexicans Are The Cheapest

Most Mexican dentists set up practices in predominantly Mexican communities, and they charge prices their patients can afford. Their prices are typically 10% to 15% of the costs for identical dental procedures done in America.

San Luis is such a community, even though it is a border town. A few Americans cross the border to get dental work and medical procedures done in San Luis, but they are a smaller percentage of the dentists’ and doctors’ total patient base than in other locations.

In San Luis, Mark’s porcelain crown cost $130 US in 2008. At that time, in America, the cost for a porcelain crown was typically $1,000. My root canal in 2016 plus medications, cab fees and parking fees cost $281. At that time, in America, the cost of a root canal in a tooth that had a crown on it already was typically $2,000 or more.

Mexican Dentists Whose Practices Serve Primarily Americans Are More Expensive

In contrast, dentists that are located in places where Americans tend to congregate often establish their practices specifically to serve Americans. After all, they can make a lot more money that way than by serving Mexicans. This means that they have flashier office space, they have marketing geared towards Americans that is in English, both of which Americans appreciate, and they have higher prices.

Their services may not be any better than the Mexican dentists who focus on Mexican patients, but it will feel more like dentistry “back home” in America. They may require that you make an appointment in advance, they may accept a credit card for payment, and they may speak very fluent English.

The prices in these kinds of places are typically 40% to 50% of the costs of equivalent procedures in America.

One area that is extremely oriented towards Americans is Los Algodones near the border of Yuma, Arizona. Los Algodones is a tiny handful of tightly packed streets that are wall-to-wall dental and medical offices that serve an entirely American clientele. Few, if any, Mexicans go to these dentists and doctors for care. It is way too expensive for them.

Likewise, we found in our cruise along Mexico’s west coast that the dentists who operated in the more central and touristy parts of any town tended to have more American style facilities and higher prices.

In Ensenada, a cruise ship destination 70 miles south of San Diego, a dentist on the “front side” of town greeted us wearing scrubs (you rarely see that in more Mexican-oriented dental offices). He spoke perfect English and gave us a quote for a very American sounding price for a simple cleaning and a filling.

We decided to pass on his services. However, during our stay in Ensenada, we got to know the affluent looking owner of an ice cream shop in town and asked him for a recommendation for a dentist. He sent us to a totally different part of town where a very skilled dentist in a much simpler office took care of us at the typical 10% to 15% of American prices that “Mexican dentists for Mexicans” charge.

So, when looking for a dentist in Mexico, keep in mind that dentists whose patients are primarily American will charge you prices that are much higher than dentists whose patients are primarily Mexican. Whether the actual dental care they provide is any different is truly debatable. It’s just more expensive and feels more familiar because of the outer trappings of the office space itself and the way they run their business.

Map showing Los Algodones and Yuma, Arizona


Make a day of it and HAVE SOME FUN between Doctor and Dentist visits in San Luis!

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Crossing the border on foot forced us to rely on taxis to get to the more distant locations on the other side, so after our first visit, we decided for future trips it would be a whole lot easier and more interesting to ride our bikes over the border instead. We simply parked our new truck on the American side for the day, unloaded the bikes, and walked them across.

Once on the other side we could get around town quickly and easily.

Riding bikes in San Luis Mexico

We found riding our bikes around San Luis was much more fun and made the border crossing back to the US easier.

And that’s when we really started to have some fun too.

Mexico is a vibrant country with really exuberant, fun-loving people. Everybody is outgoing and friendly and warm, and we have always found it really enjoyable to chat with people on the street, whether in our halting Spanish or in their typically very good English.

Like all Mexican towns, there is a town square in San Luis that is lined with palm trees and has a bandstand at the center. It wasn’t quite as festive as the one in Guanajuato or the town square in Oaxaca, but it we enjoyed wandering through it.

Bandstand Benito Juarez Park San Luis Rio Colorado Mexico

The town square/park named for Benito Juarez has a small band stand.

We really enjoyed seeing San Luis beyond the dentist’s office. There’s plenty of security too — we saw police riding around on Segways (how fun!). They very kindly came over to offer assistance when we looked a little lost at one point.

Police on Segways in San Luis Mexico

Now there’s a great way to get around town!

There are lots of places to eat, and if you find yourself in town waiting between dentist or doctor visits and need a bite, there is a Subway that makes sandwiches exactly the way we’re all accustomed to. The only difference is the menu is in Spanish. But don’t worry, the workers will take your order in English — and if they struggle, sign language and pointing at what you want always helps.

Inside Subway San Luis Mexico

Subway has a shop in town, and the only difference we found was the Spanish words on the menu.
Pointing and smiling works fine if you can’t make out the Spanish words.

If you have a little more time, check out El Parianchi, a fabulous restaurant that is the Real Deal for Mexican food, Mexican flair and Mexican fun. We LOVED it there.

We found El Parianchi one day when we were looking for the other top restaurant in town, El Herradero where we had enjoyed some chips and salsa and beer on an earlier visit. We were a little lost, though, and we found ourselves in front of El Parianchi instead. When we asked the parking lot attendant, Fernando, for directions to El Herradero, he talked us into staying at El Parianchi, because the food there was truly delicious.

“I’ll put your bikes in here,” he said, pointing to a locked shed in the back of the restaurant. “They’ll be safe.” Deal! We rolled them in between the rakes and shovels and barrels, and went on in.

We had been noticing that we were the only gringos in the whole town. And now we were very definitely the only gringos in this restaurant. We were also the only people dressed in cycling clothes.

Talk about standing out!

It was a Saturday afternoon, and the place was hopping. Waiters rushed here and there, grabbing extra tables and chairs for people, and the food was flying out of the kitchen at a wild rate.

El Parianchi Mexican Restaurant San Luis Mexico

The servers were hustling at El Parianchi on Saturday afternoon!

Two big parties — what looked like a baptism party and an engagement party — were in full swing at long tables on either side of the restaurant, and a Mariachi harp player was singing and strumming his heart out in a corner.

People were laughing and eating and have a grand time while the waiters ran at top speed from one end of the room to the other.

Eating at Mexican restaurant El Parianchi

Gringos in cycling jerseys. Sure…we blend right in!

We were seated to one side, and in an instant, a waiter was at our table welcoming us.

We both ordered Corona with a lime, and Mark got a bottled water and I ordered a Jamaica water as well. Jamaica water is an absolutely delicious drink make of hibiscus flowers that has a tartness like cranberry juice (and is about that color) but is much sweeter. Jamaica is pronounced “Hamikah” with a long “i” (even though it doesn’t look like it), and it is a refreshing drink I enjoyed repeatedly throughout our Mexico cruise.

The drinks arrived along with tortilla chips and a bean dip that was to die for. If only I could make beans like that!

Suddenly the harp Mariachi player appeared at our table. Mark handed him a few dollars and asked for a song.

Harp player El Parianchi restaurant San Luis Mexico

A harp playing Mariachi sang some songs for us — what total fun!!!

“What song do you want?” the harpist asked.

After racking our brains to remember the name of a Mexican folk song, we came up with “Alla En El Rancho Grande!”

He proceeded to play a great rendition of it. I don’t have a video of him singing, but I do have a special video of another Mariachi singing this exact same song for us when we were in Huatulco Mexico at a little beach bar in the sand. Our sailboat Groovy was anchored just out of sight.

When he finished the song, the folks at the tables around us clapped. He wanted to sing a second song for us, so we asked for Mariachi Loco. This is a really cute song we first heard on a day charter catamaran called Picante that used to circle past our boat at anchor in Zihuatanejo.

We were having so much fun in this restaurant, we hadn’t even looked at the menu yet!

Suddenly, the manager, Jose, came over and asked if we were having any trouble understanding the menu. We told him we wanted a beef and bean burrito, and he recommended one of the “percherones.” We’d never had one before, but the “Sonorense” was absolutely scrumptious. It was so good, in fact, that we came back another day just to sample it again!!

Menu El Parianchi restaurant Percherones San Luis Mexico

For a genuine Mexican culinary experience, check out El Parianchi on 10th Street and the street along the US/Mexico border by the international boundary wall.

When the bill came, it was $17.73 US including our 20% tip — and we had plowed through four beers, a bottle of water, my Jamaica water, our chips and bean dip plus the huge percheron burrito we had split.

We got up to go, rubbing our aching tummies, and suddenly a waiter was carrying over two huge sombreros for us.

We put them on and cracked up.

The harp player placed his harp in front of us, and Jose took pics of us while everyone at the big party at the long table clapped and laughed. How fun!

Good dental care in Mexico is cause for celebration


Then someone handed Mark a guitar and he strummed a few chords.

What a total blast this was!

Singing with Mariachi El Parianchi restaurant San Luis Mexico

Mark finds a guitar in his hands and a sombrero on his head!!

We left to a chorus of cheers and found Fernando waiting in the parking lot. He unlocked the shed door and helped us disentangle our bikes from the rakes and shovels and buckets inside. We tipped him a dollar for his efforts.

Rolling back to the border on our bikes, we passed dozens and dozens of cars lined up to cross into the US. By now the pedestrian line was really long too.

In San Luis, bicycles go through the Sentri Pass gate (a special gate for people who cross the US border on a regular basis). This was awesome because there was never anyone in line at that gate!!

Bicycling over the Mexico border at San Luis Arizona

What a fabulous day… and no line for bikes at the border!

Our smiles went from ear to ear when we settled back in our little buggy after a great day in Mexico.

Note: We returned to San Luis to see Dr. Bernal and Dr. Avila for more dental work a year later in October 2016. Read the blog post here:

A Visit to the Dentist in Mexico

To get the hours of operation of the San Luis, Arizona, USA / San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, Mexico border crossing and other info, call: 928-627-8854

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For more info from other RVers who have gone over the border to get dental care, see the following two blog posts by Nina Fussing of WheelingIt HERE and HERE.

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Learning the Ropes at J-World Sailing School

Caribbean Dinghy

Dreaming of the tropics…

We’ve recently enjoyed a bit of nostalgia, courtesy of J-World Sailing School.

Before we bought our sailboat Groovy and went cruising in Mexico — in fact, even before we bought our first travel trailer and drove off to a life of adventure on the road — we enrolled in two classes at J-World in San Diego that put us on the course to our new lifestyles.

We had both sailed before, Mark on Hobie catamarans on Michigan lakes, and I on boats of all sizes in the Atlantic Ocean.


Nonsuch 36 sailboat

A Nonsuch 36, sistership to “Magic Dragon,” my home for 4 years in Boston.

In fact, at one time I had lived aboard a wishbone-rigged Nonsuch 36 (something like an enormous windsurfer with an elegant cabin) in Boston Harbor for four years.

What a ride that was — 3 months a year of blissful weekend cruising in New England and 9 months a year of frozen fingers and toes!.

When we decided to leave convention behind and see something of this beautiful world, our initial dream was to do it by sea, and we both realized we needed to improve our boating skills if we were going to do that and come out alive.


Sailing a Hunter 44DS sailboat

Happy sailor!

There are many sailing schools in almost every state, and most follow one of two track systems for teaching sailing: the American Sailing Association system and the US Sailing system.

We looked into sailing schools in our area, but they were all just Learn to Sail classes on lakes. We needed instruction on handling a large cruising boat on the ocean too.

We also thought about flying to the Caribbean for a week or two of instruction, but as lovely as a class at Offshore Sailing School in the BVI can be, it was cost prohibitive.


Sailing at sunset near Acapulco Mexico

Underway aboard Groovy near Acapulco Mexico

Our solution was to take two back-to-back classes at J-World in San Diego, and what a great decision that turned out to be.

J-World teaches the US Sailing curriculum, and they offered a four day Learn to Sail class followed by a three day Liveaboard Cruising class.

Even though I had had formal sailing instruction before, I had no trouble going back to square one and learning it all again.

That way Mark and I would be on an even keel with each other, and we would both have heard the same words of wisdom and learned the same methods and techniques.

Sailing a Hunter 44DS in Mexico

We have great memories of our cruise in Mexico

Another draw for me was the kind of boat they used for their Liveaboard class. It was a J-120, a boat that intrigued me.

The biggest decision for most sailors before they cast off on their cruise is what kind of boat to buy.

This debate had rattled around in my own mind for decades (this cruising dream went back to my childhood).


On the deck of our Hunter 44DS sailboat

They didn’t teach this sailing technique at J-World,
but it’s easy to learn!

My very first boat had been a 5′ long plastic skiff when I was a little kid. Despite my mom’s insistance that I stay within her view from the beach, I had rowed that thing long distances.

I had taken it far from view, imagining myself a skipper on the vast ocean, fighting off pirates and communing with seabirds.

The conventional wisdom among old salts is that a big, heavy, solid, “seaworthy” boat is what you need for a proper cruising adventure.

But a yacht broker in Marblehead Massachusetts who had circumnavigated as a young adult had convinced me decades ago that a boat that sails well and sails fast in light air is a really great choice.

Of course, there is no “right” or “wrong” boat for cruising.

Friends of ours who sailed from San Diego to Mexico and on to the South Pacific have regaled us with tales of cruisers that are out there on all kinds of floating tubs.

Paradise Village Marina in Puerto Vallarta Mexicoat dawn

Paradise Village Marina at dawn.

From multi-million dollar yachts to the Norwegian couple who has no plumbing at all on their boat (which means, of course, no head since leaving Norway!!), sailors cruise in anything that floats.

But I like the idea of a boat that is a joy to sail in light air, and the J/Boats line of racing/cruising yachts had fascinated me for years.

When I lived on the Nonsuch I dreamed of a J-40.  When a newer model J/Boat in that size was built — the J-120 — my dream got an upgrade!

So, when I saw that J-World’s Liveaboard class was conducted on a J-120, that cinched the sailing class deal for me.

Not only did I get to see the boat in action, both under sail and as a living platform, but Mark and I both received absolutely top notch instruction from two different teachers.

One instructor made sure we could maneuver under sail on and off the docks and in and around a crowded anchorage, and the other ensured we understood the operation of a large cruising boat.

Sunrise in Santiago Bay Mexico

Sunrise in Santiago Bay near Manzanillo

Now that we are J-World alumni, we receive their newsletters. 

When one came a few weeks ago, Mark decided to reach out and let the school know how their classes had launched us into the cruising lifestyle.

They were delighted to hear from us and wanted to know more about our experiences in Mexico.

We exchanged a few emails, and then they decided to highlight our story on their blog. What fun!!

Thank you, J-World, for your terrific instruction and for being our first stepping stone into a life afloat!


New to this site? Visit our Home Page to learn more about us, and see our Intro for Cruisers to find out where we keep all the good stuff, including tips for planning your cruise to Mexico, our Solar Power pages, and our ideas for outfitting your boat.

Cruising Mexico Video Series!

Cruising Mexico Off the Beaten Path is a three-part video series to help you plan your cruise. Our goal with this series is to:

  • Introduce you to Mexico’s lesser known & prettiest anchorages
  • Teach you Mexico’s overall geography, both coastal and inland
  • Explain the general weather patterns and climate
  • Help you plan an itinerary where you see the best places at the best seasons without backtracking too much
  • Inspire you with ideas for what to see and do during your cruise
  • Ensure you get the most out of your sailing adventure.

Each video is chock full of maps, tips, insights and hints, along with vivid images of the most beautiful spots!

Cruisers often invite each other over for drinks or dinner to swap info on where they’ve been. And in that spirit, this series is our way of sharing what we learned (and that isn’t in the guidebooks) with you. It’s if we had stopped by your boat and sat down with you for a few hours to go over the charts and give you our insights and tips, suggesting where to go, what to avoid and what to look forward to.

Many people cruise Mexico, but few get to the anchorages where we stayed.

Mexico Regions

There are lots of maps in these videos.
We review the overall geography, weather patterns and climate.

This video series begins by familiarizing you with Mexico’s geography. Do you know where Huatulco is in relationship to Chamela or Chiapas?  This series will teach you.

Then we review the overall weather patterns and seasonal climate variations and how they will impact your itinerary.  Is it better to start in La Paz or La Cruz?  How’s the snorkeling in the Sea of Cortez in January?

Then we dive into the good stuff as we visit each destination and check it out.

Like most cruisers, before we left on our cruise, we were buried in the bilge as we got Groovy ready for our voyage.

Our plan was very simple:  leave San Diego, turn left, and keep going until we got warm.

Lots of first-timers tackle Mexico that way, and that’s unfortunate.  Safe passage from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas is their primary goal, and things get fuzzy after that.  The problem is, Cabo isn’t a place that is easy to stick around (it’s fun but very expensive!), so as soon as you arrive you need to be planning your departure.  But where to?  For how long?  What will you do there?  And then where?

Mexico's Southern Pacific Coast

We had no idea what was in this part of Mexico. Do you?

The invaluable cruising guides we all use and rely on are awesome for telling you how to get in and out of the anchorages and where to find provisions at each stop.  But it is very hard to get an overall understanding of what it is like to travel in Mexico by boat from these guides.

We got well off the beaten path that most Mexico cruisers follow, and I am hoping that by watching our videos you can benefit from all the research we did and all the great experiences we had once we got down there.

I also hope these videos will get you juiced up about your upcoming cruise, and give you a happy break from all the boat projects and shopping sprees that seem to be the very essence of getting ready to go cruising.

As a learning tool, these videos provide a fabulous way to study a lot of information in an easy to digest and highly visual and colorful manner. If you miss something, back up and play it over. Unlike books that you read privately, you can watch these videos with your spouse and talk over your thoughts and plans.

Grab a bag of popcorn and come have some fun with us!


Cruising Mexico DVD Volume 1

Cruising Mexico Off the Beaten Path
Ensenada & the Northern Pacific Coast
Volume 1 – Front Cover

Cruising Mexico – Off the Beaten Path – Volume 1
Ensenada and the Northern Pacific Coast
Purchase as an Instant Download

This hour-long video (327 photos) covers Mexico’s overall geography, getting you familiar with what lies where.  It presents a brief discussion of weather patterns, climate and the weather prediction tools we used for passage planning.  After a brief glance at where all the marinas are located and which ones are good for summer storage, it offers an itinerary that will get you to all the best spots in two seasons, making sure you see each area when it is at its peak.  Then it reviews the anchorages between Ensenada and Manzanillo.

This video has lots of maps!  Hopefully, after watching it, you will have a good understanding of the layout of this part of the coast, the general distances between the anchorages, and what’s where in relation to each other.




Cruising Mexico DVD Volume 2

Cruising Mexico Off the Beaten Path
The Southern Pacific Coast
Volume 2 – Front Cover

Cruising Mexico – Off the Beaten Path – Volume 2
Mexico’s Southern Pacific Coast
Purchase as an Instant Download

This nearly two hour video (380 photos) covers our favorite cruising grounds that lie between Zihuatanejo and the Guatemala border, way down at the bottom of Mexico.  Although Zihuatanejo gets a lot of cruising visitors, the areas south of there are so distant that they are little visited by Mexico cruisers unless they are in transit to or from Central America. So it is an area that is not only more exotic but much quieter than other areas to the north.

These areas are not as well documented by the cruising guides as the regions to the north, so this video fills in much of that void by showing loads of detailed maps and offering a ton of information about where to anchor, where to snorkel, and what to do, both around town and out of town.


Cruising Mexico Cover Volume 3 281

Cruising Mexico Off the Beaten Path
Colonial Cities – Oaxaca
Volume 3 – Front Cover

Cruising Mexico – Off the Beaten Path – Volume 3
Colonial Cities – Oaxaca
Purchase as an Instant Download

In this 40 minute video we take an inland trip to Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s most beloved colonial cities.  We explain how and where to leave the boat, different modes of transport to Oaxaca and what to see and do in this glorious city.

For many travelers, Oaxaca is their favorite destination in all of Mexico, and it is a definite “must see” for cruisers.  Boasting a lively town square and several grand churches, Oaxaca is filled with stately, centuries-old colonial architecture, yet has an engaging, energetic, youthful and artsy vibe.





These videos are available at Amazon:


“My husband was enthralled. I loved it.”

“The DVD we watched last night was not only a good reminder of a wonderful season we had, but gave us MANY things to look at doing when we sail south again next season.”

“Wanted to get back to you and let you know how much we enjoyed the video’s. Your correct, they will be invaluable for future reference.”

Mexico Cruiser’s Bookshelf – Guides and Resources!

Cruisers are notorious for stocking their bookshelves to the max with books of all kinds, and Groovy has her share.  During our cruise of the west coast of Mexico we found that some of our reference books and other resources were so valuable that they were basically “essential cruising gear.” Following are descriptions of resources we would recommend every cruiser headed to Mexico consider carrying on board:

Cruising Guides

There are four major cruising guides for the west coast of Mexico, and each is wonderful in its own way:

Mexico Boating Guide by Pat Rains
Charlie’s Charts – Western Coast of Mexico & Baja by Holly Scott et al.
Pacific Mexico: A Cruiser’s Guide by Sean Breeding & Heather Bansmer
Sea of Cortez: A Cruiser’s Guide by Sean Breeding & Heather Bansmer

In recent years, the Mexico cruising guide industry has become quite competitive, which is fantastic for today’s cruisers.  Two of the guides have new editions for 2013.  Pat Rains has released the third edition of her Mexico Boating Guide, and Charlie’s Charts has been revamped by Captain Holly Scott to include the work of its original authors and that of Sea of Cortez cruising guide author Gerry Cunningham as well.

In addition, Baja Bash II is a specialty guide for sailing the outside of Baja California between Cabo San Lucas and San Diego.  Unlike the other guides that include chapters on Baja as part of an all-Mexico guide, this book focuses specifically on springtime northbound voyages.

If you buy only one guidebook, we recommend the new Mexico Boating Guide (3rd edition) by Pat Rains.  It covers the entire western coast of Mexico and has all the data needed to cruise the entire region between the California/Mexico border and Mexico/Guatemala border with confidence.

However, our own preference in our cruise was to carry all of these cruising guides on board Groovy.  In many cases, before approaching a new area, we read each guide book’s description, picking up different bits of wisdom from each author.  It might seem like carrying all these guidebooks would be redundant or might get confusing, but we found that in each area one book or another shone above the rest, and we liked the reassurance of being able to get multiple opinions about the dangers and hazards, how much swell there might be in a given anchorage, where to shop, etc.  We can think of examples for each guidebook where their description led us to an anchorage we were delighted to find — and would never have found if it weren’t for that book.

Mexico Boating Guide

Mexico Boating Guide (3rd edition) by Pat Rains

This cruising guide is the most well-rounded cruising guide for western Mexico, and the new edition is better than ever, with more photos and more mini-charts and updated info everywhere.

The two areas where we relied on this guide most were at opposite ends of Mexico:  the northernmost 800 miles during our initial cruise south from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas along the outside of Baja California and the southernmost 800 miles between Zihuatanejo and Puerto Chiapas (Puerto Madero) at Mexico’s Guatemala border.

Pat Rains describes hazards and approaches and their GPS coordinates extremely well, although the last edition had some errors in waypoints and descriptions of “east” versus “west” that I’m sure have been rectified.  Unlike the guides by Sean Breeding and Heather Bansmer below, she gives few specific waypoints for exactly where to drop the hook in each anchorage.  Instead, she offers traditional sighting methods like depths, landmarks and an anchor symbol on a mini-chart.  This book is backed by the author’s decades of boat delivery experience on this coast, and we all become more confident at anchoring — and don’t need those exact anchorage waypoints quite as much — as we drop the hook in more and more places.

Map of Mexico

For cruisers heading south of Zihuatanejo, the Mexico Boating Guide is invaluable, because it has by far the most detailed information of any of the guidebooks for cruising the Bays of Huatulco, our favorite part of Mexico.  It also gives detailed info for passages and anchorages along the extensive stretch of coast between Zihuatanejo and Puerto Chiapas (Puerto Madero) on the Guatemala border.

There is a revised chapter at the end on the new Marina Chiapas in Puerto Chiapas (Puerto Madero) including photos and mini-charts.  However, no waypoints are given for the tricky, twisty channel that leads to the marina, and there is little information for how to see the spectacular ancient Mayan ruins and colonial cities that are MUST DO inland trips from there.  So, for cruisers headed to Chiapas, we recommend having a look at our Marina Chiapas Guide, which includes waypoints, notes for provisioning and getting around as well as notes for the really magnificent sights that are a (long but worthwhile) bus ride away.


Pacific Mexico: A Cruiser's Guide

Pacific Mexico: A Cruiser’s Guide by Sean Breeding & Heather Bansmer

Besides the beautiful photography in this book, perhaps the best feature of this guide — and of its companion book Sea of Cortez: A Cruiser’s Guide — is the very well organized system of numbering and presenting the waypoints for approaches, anchorages and hazards.

The waypoints and their presentation is so good that this guide allows blind “sail-by-numbers” cruising.  Simply flip to the back of the book and enter all the logically numbered waypoints into the chartplotter and away you go.  Drop the hook on the anchorage waypoint in whatever bay you choose, and you know you are sitting where Sean and Heather anchored.

We heard from friends that it is possible to obtain the waypoints in electronic form from the authors or the publisher Blue Latitude Press and download them directly into your chartplotter if you are technically savvy.  We found it was easy enough to enter them manually, a few at a time.

We relied on this guidebook between Mazatlan and Zihuatanejo.  South of Zihuatanejo, however, we turned back to the Mexico Boating Guide by Pat Rains because the authors of Pacific Mexico did not take their boat south of Zihuatanejo.  So, while their information on the anchorages south of Zihuatanejo is generously offered, it is not backed up by first-hand experience.


Charlie's Charts of Mexico

Charlie’s Charts Western Coast of Mexico & Baja by Holly Scott

This guidebook has been revamped and greatly expanded since the last edition by Capt. Holly Scott who has taken the guidebook and data that was gathered by both Charlie & Margo Wood and Gerry Cunningham and compiled it all into this one hefty tome.

It still retains the hand-drawn mini charts that set this guide apart.  It also now includes some anchorages on the outside of Baja that are not in the other guides.  In addition, much of the knowledge and wisdom accumulated by Gerry Cunningham during his decades of sailing the Sea of Cortez has been incorporated into this book.

We used the previous edition of this guide mostly while sailing the outside of Baja, headed both south and north, and for parts of the Costalegre and Sea of Cortez.  For us it was usually backup confirmation of what the other guidebooks said.  We also appreciated being able to see yet another set of mini-charts of each bay, and sometimes what was confusing in one guide’s mini-chart was easier to understand from this guide’s mini-charts (and vice versa).


Sea of Cortez: A Cruiser's Guide

Sea of Cortez: A Cruiser’s Guide by Sean Breeding & Heather Bansmer

Scanning the yummy photos in this gorgeous cruising guide makes me want to go cruising.  Each anchorage is lovingly described and documented.  The only downfall is that sometimes the descriptions are more beautiful than the anchorages themselves.

This was our primary guide in the Sea of Cortez, although we turned to both the Mexico Boating Guide and Charlie’s Charts on occasion, especially when a norther was coming and we wanted to see if the other guides described any lesser known hiding places where we could seek refuge.


Baja Bash II

Baja Bash II by Jim Elfers

We read this guidebook prior to our sail south from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas.  It is extremely helpful for pointing out the nasty capes and other areas that make this coast a challenge, even if you are going in the easier southerly direction.  We used it exclusively when we did the Baja Bash three years later.

In our opinion, this guide is essential equipment for anyone doing the Bash.  It is the only guidebook that assumes you are sailing north up Baja and not south.  It lists the anchorages in that order, and it outlines a strategy for tackling each portion of the coast.  It also has little jewels like the author’s favorite anchorage in the northern Baja coast which is tucked just south of Ensenada and is not mentioned in any of the other guides.

Inland Guides, Flora and Fauna and Other Resources

In the excitement of getting ready to go cruising it is easy to forget about non-boating related things you might need.  We sailed off to Mexico with just the above cruising guides on board, thinking that that would be all we would need.  We were going cruising after all.  Why would we need any ordinary guidebooks for our voyage??

Little did we know that the image we had in our mind of cruising was just a tiny facet of what the experience would eventually be all about.  Once we figured out how to get from anchorage to anchorage safely and easily, our interests changed and we began to look more closely at the world we suddenly found ourselves inhabiting.

This is most effectively accomplished with guidebooks and reference books that explain that world.

Lonely Planet Mexico

Lonely Planet Guide to Mexico

Our first season we didn’t have a general guidebook to Mexico, and what a mistake that was. Our first summer back in the US I spent two hours in the bookstore studying all the different guidebooks to Mexico, and concluded that for me, the best one is the guide from Lonely Planet.

What is helpful about this guide is that it gives an overview of what this magnificent country is all about. Up front is fifty pages or so of excellent general information. From a Top 25 list of Mexico’s best sights, to a discussion about immersion Spanish schools, to talking about how to explore the Mayan ruins, to reviewing the various regions of the country and what they are known for, this little book helps you get your hands around the very large and varied country of Mexico.

When I first got to Mexico I was baffled and overwhelmed that this entirely different world existed just miles from the city I had most recently called home (Phoenix, Arizona). Who were these people, why were they so different and where did they come from? The “Understanding Mexico” section at the end of this book goes a long way to helping figure that out. Mexico is nothing like the US, and for many people, it is nothing like they thought it would be before they got there.

Lastly, this guidebook is invaluable for venturing inland off the coast to the majestic colonial cities like Guanajuato and Oaxaca and to the evocative ancient ruins like Palenque and Monte Alban.



Once we started traveling inland, our first conundrum was where to stay. While the printed guidebooks have suggestions, we’ve found that TripAdvisor is an even better resource because it is a compilation of reviews from many travelers rather than from a single person. Granted, the objectivity of a professional travel writer is lost, and the comparative scale between places is gone, because travelers of all experience levels and with all kinds of tastes and budgets are writing reviews. However, in our experience, the reviews are surprisingly accurate.

Even better, many hotels respond to the reviews, giving the reviews even more depth. Complaints are addressed, compliments are thanked, and for small boutique hotels and hostels you can get a sense of what the hosts are like.

For me, after looking up a hotel in TripAdvisor, I like to go to the hotel’s website (sometimes it’s given, and sometimes you need to do a Google search), and then I email the hotel directly. We actually decided against staying at the most popular B&B in Guanajuato because the host seemed a little crabby in his TripAdvisor replies — and during our email correspondence with him, he confirmed his crabbiness in spades!

Besides lodging, TripAdvisor is very helpful for figuring out what to do when you get wherever you are going. Each city/state has a Things to Do section, and that is an excellent place to find out what you might be doing in a given place, and whether those are the kinds of things you want to be doing.

Birds of North America

National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, Sixth Edition

Sitting on the boat in various anchorages, and strolling the streets on shore, we often found ourselves staring at birds we didn’t recognize. If you enjoy exotic flora and fauna, consider bringing along some guidebooks so you can look them up. Our first season we didn’t have a bird book, and I had to resort to crazy online searches to satisfy my curiosity about what some of the birds were that we saw. That’s really hard!

I’ve hunted for an outstanding book specifically about Mexico’s birds and haven’t found one yet. However, this book on North American birds has been around for decades and proved pretty darn good. The only drawback is that the authors don’t seem to realize that all of Mexico is in North America. For some inane reason, they think that only the northern half of the country is on the North American continent.

Geographical confusion aside, many birds of northern Mexico (and the US and Canada) also live in southern Mexico, and only a few truly tropical birds that we saw way down south seemed to be missing. For the most part, the birds we saw were all in this book, and for us, it’s really nice to put a name to a bird and to read a little about its range and its habits.

Fishes of the Pacific

Fishes of the Pacific Coast by Gar Goodson

Lots of cruisers try their hand at fishing, and some become really good at it. For us, the hardest thing about fishing was recognizing what we’d caught and knowing whether it made for good eating or was better returned to the sea unharmed (some of the easiest fish to catch taste really terrible!).

This little book — which sadly appears to be out of print (hopefully just for the moment) but is still readily available used — was a godsend for us after a preliminary season of laboriously gutting, filleting and marinating fish only to serve them and have us both pinch our noses and say “Yuck!”

Not only does it have good color images which simplify the identification process, it also describes them in detail, including all the forms from young fish to gender differences to adult fish in various seasons. It lists the range of each fish — very helpful if you think you’ve identified your fish only to find out it lives 1,000 miles south of where you are. Most important, it lists the edibility. Wouldn’t it be great if the next edition included a recipe for each yummy one!

Reef Fish

Reef Fish Identification: Baja to Panama by Paul Humann and Ned Deloach

We did not do nearly as much snorkeling in Mexico as we had thought we would before we began our cruise. The water in the Sea of Cortez is cold in the winter and spring, and the water is murky and often full of red tide on the mainland during the winter. However, when we did find great snorkeling — in summer in the Sea of Cortez and in winter in Huatulco — we sure wished we knew what we were looking at.

We did not have a reef fish guidebook onboard Groovy. However, we have heard that this book is the one to get. If we were returning, it would be on our bookshelf. One of the photos in this book was taken by veteran Mexico (and Caribbean) cruiser Geoff Schultz on the Freedom 40 Blue Jacket.

Without a guidebook, it was frustrating to come back into the cockpit breathless with excitement and start talking to each other about the fish we’d seen, and be reduced to saying, “Did you see the ones with the yellow tails?” “The big ones, or the little ones?” “I don’t know, they were kind of medium sized…” Or to have a cruiser anchored nearby say, “Have you noticed all the damsels swimming around our boats?” What? This sent Mark flying to get his binoculars to check out the babes, but of course these damsels were blue and had fins…

Spanish for Cruisers

Spanish for Cruisers by Kathy Parsons

I have written a post about the books and resources we used for improving our Spanish beyond the typical cruiser’s starting point of “cerveza” beer and “baño” bathroom.  I highly recommend reading that post if you are going to Mexico and want to maximize your experience.

If you don’t have the time or interest in taking a conversational Spanish course, either in the US before leaving or in Mexico once you get there, this little book covers an awful lot of ground.  Besides being a fabulous glossary for all those technical boat terms like “bow” proa, “hull” casco, and “stainless steel” acero inoxidable, it will help when you carry a little broken part into a ferretería and need help repairing or replacing it.

One of the features we found most helpful was the chapter on sentence starters.  Sometimes just getting going with the Spanish that you already know is a bit daunting.  Having a few pat phrases to get those first words out of your mouth really helps.

Of course, most Mexicans who assist boaters speak good English, or can grab a friend nearby who does.  But the smiles, raised eyebrows, and genuine appreciation we get when we muddle through a few words of Spanish is priceless, and often forges a special bond between us and these good people who have taken the time themselves to learn a lot of our language and are more than willing to speak it on their own soil.

Mexico Travel Road Map

Mexico Road Map

When we first got to Mexico, the only maps we had were in the cruising guides and whatever we could find online. Yikes!! It’s a huge country with lots of states, and it was much easier to get a feel for where things were once we got a proper map aboard Groovy.

Baja California Cruising Map

This was especially true when we started traveling inland. Google Earth is great for getting quickie distances, but I also liked being able to pinpoint where each destination was on a large map I could spread out in the cabin. Call me old fashioned…

Baja California Cruising Map

This cruiser-specific map has waypoints and lots of boating oriented details for Baja California. We relied on the chartplotter for passage-making, obviously, but it sure was nice to open up this very large paper map on the floor of the cabin and get a feel for what was where…

Google Earth

We used Google Earth a lot to estimate passage-making distances between ports and also between coastal locations and hot spots inland.  For some reason, even in nautical miles, we found the estimates were always just a hair longer than our chartplotter showed.  No matter, it was still very useful for planning purposes.

We also used Google Earth to estimate waypoints in anchorages where there were none given in the guidebooks.  This was especially helpful when cruising the Bays of Huatulco and other less well documented points down south.


Steinbeck Sea of Cortez

Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck

This book is absolute MUST READ if you are heading to the Sea of Cortez.  It is a light-hearted and hilarious account of a voyage John Steinbeck made from Monterrey, California, to the Sea of Cortez aboard a chartered shrimper during March and April of 1940.

Besides making any cruiser laugh out loud at his descriptions of the ship’s cantankerous dinghy and outboard and the hapless crew member who refused to take his turn washing dishes, Steinbeck paints a vivid picture of Mexico, the outside of Baja and the Sea of Cortez as it was nearly 75 years ago.

Things have changed dramatically — and yet they haven’t changed at all — both in the Sea and aboard cruising boats, and many cruisers find they can’t put this book down.  One warning: there is a bizarre chapter in the middle that goes off on a philosophical tangent that has nothing to do with the Sea or Mexico or Steinbeck’s voyage.  That chapter was written by a friend of his, and he included it as a favor.  You’ll know it when you get there.  Just skip to the next chapter…

Conquest of New Spain

The Conquest of New Spain by Bernal Diaz

This riveting book is a first-hand account of the beginnings of the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Written by one of the men that was there on the scene when it happened, it puts you right in the middle of the action as Hernán Cortés barnstorms his way across Mexico in 1519, after sailing from Cuba to Veracruz on Mexico’s Caribbean shore.

I never really understood how radically different the arrivals of the Spanish and the English were in the New World, and reading this book gave me a much deeper understanding of who the Mexicans and other Latin Americans are today and where they come from.

Hernán Cortés was as smooth and wily and ruthless and volatile as the Sea that bears his name, and the political tactics and extraordinary savvy he used to decimate the Aztecs is truly astounding. Arriving from Cuba with just a few men, by the time he reached Tenochtitlán (now Mexico City), home of the Aztec emperor Montezuma, he commanded an army of thousands, few of them Spanish.

Perhaps even more astonishing is to consider what those Spaniards must have thought when they first laid eyes on the intricate and cleverly engineered city in which the Aztecs lived. Built on a lake and incorporating canals, land bridges and extensive water travel, the population was some 200,000, while the biggest European cities of the time were a mere 50,000. It’s no wonder that by the time their tales of this incredible city reached home, the streets were said to be lined with gold.


Cruising Mexico DVD Volume 1

Cruising Mexico DVD Series

Cruising Mexico Off the Beaten Path DVD Series

Even with all these wonderful guides and books, it can still be hard to get a visual picture of what cruising Mexico will be like.  What do the anchorages look like?  What do the towns look like?  Where are the best beaches and snorkeling? Even if you have sailed the US west coast extensively or done a lot of charters in the Caribbean, a cruise in Mexico is a completely different kind of experience.

To help folks get a better visual sense of what Mexico will be like, we have put together a DVD series.  Chock full of maps, charts, and inspirational images, this series is presented as cruiser-to-cruiser.  It’s as if you are sitting down with a cruiser who has been there and done that and hearing about what it was like.  We share all the tips and hints we would have loved to have seen before we untied the dock lines and sailed south.


I hope these books and maps find a place on your boat’s bookshelf and that they are as useful in your cruise as they were in ours!!  For your convenience, this page gives product links for all these great resources.

To help you plan your cruise and get you inspired, we created the video series, "Cruising Mexico Off the Beaten Path - Volumes 1-3," shown below. This is a fun-to-watch and easy-to-digest introduction to Mexico from a cruiser's perspective, giving you lots of valuable information that isn't covered by the cruising guides. Each video is available individually at Amazon, either as a DVD or as a download. For discount package pricing on the whole series, visit our page Cruising Mexico Video Series.

Volume 1 reviews the geography, weather and seasons in Mexico and shows you what the best anchorages between Ensenada and Manzanillo are like.

Volume 2 gives detailed info that can't be found in any of the guidebooks about the glorious cruising ground between Manzanillo and the Guatemala border.

Volume 3 (right) provides all the info you need to get off the boat for an adventure-filled trip to Oaxaca.

Our Gear Store also has a boatload of ideas for your cruise!

If you are planning a cruise to Mexico, you might also enjoy:

More Tips for Cruising Mexico         Upgrades & Product Reviews


Tips for Cruising Mexico – Part 1 – Navigation, Weather, Gear & more

Mexico Cruising Guide: tips for a cruise of Mexico in a sailboat

Primary Mexico cruising landmarks.

More info on Mexico Maps.

Mexico Cruising and living on a sailboat

Groovy's solar panels on their arch support.

Mexico cruising in your own boat

A few of the watermaker parts, not including the

high pressure pump, 75' of 3 different kinds of

hoses & two 4' membranes.

Tips for Cruising Mexico - Part 1

(This guide was adapted by the Baja-Haha Cruiser's Rally for their First-Timer's Guide to Mexico)

This page is a guide for cruisers that contains a huge collection of tips for Mexico cruising in your own boat.  These are things we

wish we had known before we cast off the docklines.  See our Tips for Cruising Mexico - Part 2 and Mexico Maps too.

If you are planning a cruise to Mexico, I hope this page will inspire you with new ideas for your preparations.  They include:

• Mexican Culture

Adapting to living in a very foreign country

• Learning Spanish

The best course you can take before you go

• Navigation:

Related equipment and cruising guides

• Weather Prediction:

Methods and websites

• Tides and Lunar Calendar:


• Sailing in Mexico

Where the wind is -- and isn't -- and the best places to sail

• Boat Preparation:

Major upgrades for marina-based versus anchor-based living

• Goodies:

Oddball items we have found very useful


All it takes is one provisioning run to realize that you're not in Kansas any more, and it can be quite a culture shock.  Mexicans

are a wonderful, outgoing, friendly and exuberant people, and their warmth is infectious.  But their traditions, ways of doing

things, history and ethnicity are very different than in the US and Canada.

We spent six months living on Groovy at Hotel Coral and Marina in Ensenada, and it was an awesome way to adapt to living

in Mexico while we still had wheels to drive back to San Diego.  If you are planning to cruise to Mexico, I highly recommend

spending a few months in Ensenada as you outfit the boat, perhaps split your time between Hotel Coral and Cruiesport

Marina.  Boatyard Baja Naval does outstanding work, and you be over your culture shock before heading south.

Ensenada is a terrific university town filled with activities and festivals of all kinds.  From classical music concerts to art

exhibits to the Baja 500 and 1000 car and motorcycle races to the Newport-Ensenada sailboat race to tours of the

surrounding wine country to the Rosarito-Ensenada bike ride, to the very active running community, there are all kinds of

things to do.  The bay is fantastic for daysailing -- the wind comes up most afternoons -- and you will be the only boat out there.

Some people have the misconception that Ensenada is not a "real" Mexican town.  In our experience it is as Mexican as any

other, but is more varied, less touristy and has fewer gringos than most of the other coastal cities.

If you can't spend a few months living in Ensenada, a long weekend can help give you a feel for what to expect.  There is a bus

line, ABC Bus (Spanish language website, prices in pesos) which runs between the Tijuana border and downtown Ensenada.

Take the trolley from San Diego to the border, walk over the border and catch the ABC bus to Ensenada and a cab from the bus

depot to your hotel.  For a high-end treat weekend getaway, stay at Hotel Coral and Marina.


One of the best things I did to prepare for cruising in Mexico was to take some conversational Spanish classes at my local

community college.  I took three semesters and have found it has not only made it easier to get around and find things, but it

has enriched my time in Mexico.  I have gradually reached a point where I can listen to the thoughts of these fine people in their

own language.  Although three semesters taught me almost all the verb tenses and lots of vocabulary, learning to actually hold

a meaningful conversation is still an ongoing process for me.  However, the conversation in which the pizza store guy in Loreto

explained the Mexican presidential election process to me, the day the canvas lady in San Carlos told me all the ups and downs

she has faced as a professional boat service person in a man's industry, and the time the fuel dock guy in Manzanillo told me

about the keys to enjoying a long marriage all stand out as true highlights of this crazy cruising experience.  If you won't be

starting your cruise for a few years, sign up for a Spanish course today, and keep taking it until the day you leave.

Ensenada and La Paz both have immersion Spanish schools where four weeks of four-hour-a-day classes gives you a

semester's worth of conversational Spanish.  (Se Habla...La Paz) is one of the schools).  I'm sure there are others in the

mainland coastal cities as well. Click here for our Spanish Learning Tools page

I have met many cruisers trying to learn Spanish from courses on CD like Rosetta Stone.  I haven't met anyone who learned

Spanish this way.  Get serious, make the time, invest the money, and take some classes!

To see the funny things that happen to gringos living on sailboats in Mexico, see: What's it like to cruise Mexico?


Navigation in Mexico with a modern electronic chartplotter and radar overlay is a cinch.  All the cruising guides give GPS

waypoints for major obstacles and anchorages.  Sean Breeding and Heather Bansmer, authors of the popular Sea of Cortez: A

Cruising Guide and Pacific Mexico: A Cruising Guide, include a table at the end of each book that lists the suggested waypoints

with logically named labels and descriptions.  Entering these waypoints into your chart plotter turns Mexico cruising into an easy

paint-by-numbers affair.

The survey data used to create the chartplotter charts (Navionics and others) is something like a century or more old, and

although the contours are usually correct, the data is often offset from the real GPS coordinates by as much as a mile or so.

Whenever we approach an unknown anchorage we turn on the radar to see how accurate the chartplotter is.  50% of the time it

is right on.  The rest of the time it is usually just offset to one side or the other and it is easy to see where you should go and

what to avoid.

Note: we receive a 4-6% commission -- at no cost to you --

for purchases made through our Amazon links.

This helps us pay our out-of-pocket costs for this site.

If you buy something, let us know so we can say thanks!

Before setting out, we purchased Pat Rains' Mexico Boating Guide and Charlie's Charts of Mexico by Charles and Margo Wood

as well as the two books by Bansmer/Breeding.  All four were useful, and we were glad to have each one on board, as they offer

different perspectives.  Charlie's Charts reflects an earlier age of cruising but is completely up to date.  Pat Rains gives down-

and-dirty practical advice.  Bansmer/Breeding paints a vivid picture of what you will find in each anchorage.  We relied on Rains

and Wood for the San Diego to Cabo passage.  We used Rains, Wood and Bansmer/Breeding on the Pacific coast and used

Rains and Bansmer/Breeding in the Sea of Cortez.


We have found the weather in Mexico to be generally benign and the bad weather predictable well in advance.  The worst

weather we have experienced has been while we were at anchor.

Our preferred method for weather prediction is the internet.  We have had internet access from the boat at most locations,

relying primarily on our USB modem from TelCel (more on acquiring one of at Mexico Tips (2)).  On the trip south the only

place without internet via TelCel is Cedros Island.  Once south, the only place where there is no internet access (and you really

could use it for weather forecasting) is from Islas Espiritu Santos north to just south of Ensenada Blanca (Bahía Candeleros) in

the Sea of Cortez and from north of Isla Coronado further north to Bahía Concepción also in the Sea of Cortez.  These are both

long stretches of excellent cruising grounds, so after a few days at anchor when your downloaded weather data is out of date, it

becomes necessary to rely on SSB radio broadcast forecasts from amateur meteorologists (more about that below) or some

other method of obtaining weather information.  If you can understand rapid-fire Spanish full of wave heights and wind speeds,

the port captains periodically broadcast weather forecasts on the VHF radio on channel 12 or 14 (they are announced first on

Channel 16 and come mid-morning and mid-afternoon).

The key to all the internet weather websites is to add 5 knots to the wind speeds and a few feet to the wave heights, especially

in the Sea of Cortez where predicted, pleasant sounding 15 knot winds may be 20 with gusts to 25, accompanied with short

steep waves -- not fun.

San Diego to Cabo San Lucas Passage Websites:  - Gives high resolution graphic images of the Pacific side of Baja that are are accurate if you

add 5 knots to the wind speed for good measure. - There is a page for Baja California that shows the conditions on the Pacific side

of the Baja peninsula.  The time is given in UTC (Greenwich Mean Time).  Rather than worrying about time zones and

being exact, I simply subtract 6 hours to try to keep it simple and easy reading these charts, as the forecasts are given

for 3, 6, 9 and 12 am and pm.  You really need to study each time-stamped chart carefully to figure out what conditions

to expect. - From amateur SSB weather broadcaster Geary (see below),

this site gives 3-day forecasts for each major anchorage on the Pacific side of the Baja peninsula.  The posts are

not always up to date.

Mainland Mexico weather websites: - There is a page for California to Mexico that offer wind and wave forecasts.

Subtract 6 hours from UTC to get approximate local time. - The California to Mexico forecasts are available for download

if you have a slow internet connection.  These are also useful to download if you are going to lose internet

access in the next few days. - Offers wind and swell forecasts similar to Santiago Weather.html - Posted by amateur meteorologist

Stan from Manzanillo Bay, there are separate links for each region of Mexico including the Tehuantepec.  The posts are not

always up to date. - Gives high resolution graphic images for the Sea of Cortez that are accurate if you

add 5 knots to the wind speed for good measure.

Sea of Cortez weather websites: - This gives a nice synopsis, including sea

temperature (SST tab), and there is a ton of other information about Baja elsewhere on the website. - There is a page for California to Mexico that offer wind and wave forecasts.

Subtract 6 hours from UTC to get approximate local time.

Sea of Cortez to Mainland Crossing Websites to Banderas Bay Forecast.html

- From Stan in Manzanillo Bay, forecast for crossing the Sea at different points. - From amateaur SSB weather broadcaster Geary (see below),

this site gives 3-day forecasts for the northern and southern crossings including the wind conditions on each side and in

the middle.  The posts are not always up to date.

SSB Broadcasts

There are several amateur weather forecasters who give their predictions on various SSB radio nets.  The two most popular

forecasters are Geary who is located in Bahía Concepción in the Sea of Cortez and broadcasts on the Sea of Cortez focused

Sonrisa Net, and Don Anderson who (used to) broadcast from Ventura California on the Mexico and Central America focused

Southbound Net and Amigo Net.  Their volunteer work is extremely generous and they take their self-assigned jobs very


Geary's 3-day forecasts for the passages down the outside of the Baja peninsuala (San Diego to Cabo) and the two Sea of

Cortez crossings (north and south crossing) are all excellent.  However, he does not offer a prediction beyond today for any of

the areas inside the Sea of Cortez. 

He posts the broadcast on the internet as well (see above website listings). and he takes questions from listeners

about specific areas.

Due to time constraints on the air, there's necessarily a lot of generalizing, lumping many miles over many hours into a single

"15 knots NNW" kind of statement.  When I have internet available, I find it much easier to look at pictures of the Sea of Cortez

or of Mainland Mexico showing wind speeds and directions in a graphical form to get an idea of what will be happening in my

particular little spot.  Especially in the Sea of Cortez where the wind wraps around the towering mountains, changing its direction

and intensity with every mile it traverses, a single wind speed and direction forecast can't tell the whole story.

We also like to get a general weather prediction for the air temperature, humidity, sunshine and rain.  We use:

Other websites that can be useful: - a free downloadable application that allows you to manipulate GRIB files.  Windows only. - a subscription-based marine weather predictor. - a subscription-based marine weather predictor - a general weather forecasting website - Gives a radar overview of the most recent conditions - Gives a radar overview of the most recent conditions


Tides generally run less than 6 feet in most of Pacific Mexico except in the far northern Sea of Cortez where they can be a lot

more (few cruisers venture to that area). - Has a good graphic layout that shows where in the tide sequence you are right now. - An alternative tide forecasting site that includes solar/lunar and other info too.

It is nice to know how much moon you will have on an overnight crossing.  This website detects where you are from your IP

address and generates a lunar calendar for the month.  It also lets you put a red pinpoint on any location in the world and then

create a lunar calendar for the month:


The best sailing in Mexico is north of Cabo Corrientes: in the Sea of Cortez, in Banderas Bay (Puerto Vallarta area), and in the

"crossing zone" between Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta.  South of Cabo Corrientes -- the Gold Coast

(Costa Alegre) and south to Zihuatanejo -- has very light wind and it tends to run parallel to the coast, making it either right on

the nose or dead astern as you sail between those anchorages. See our MAPS OF MEXICO page to get your bearings

We have sailed about half of the time that we have been in transit north of Cabo Corrientes and 10% of the time south of there.

This translates to somewhere around 5-10% of all the miles we have covered as the crow flies.  In order to sail in Mexico you

have to be willing to tack, to sail dead downwind and to sail at 2 or 3 knots.  Romping sailboat rides in 15 knot winds on flat seas

are not common, but they can be found.  One of the best ways to do that kind of sailing is to daysail.  Our favorite places for

daysailing have been Manzanillo Bay (south end of the Costa Alegre (Gold Coast)), Loreto Bay between Isla Carmen and the

Baja peninsula north of La Paz in the Sea of Cortez, Acapulco Bay, and the Bahías de Huatulco.  Banderas Bay (Puerto

Vallarta) is reportedly another good spot.  In any of these places you will likely be the only boat out daysailing.

Fishermen's "long lines," or nets, crop up in certain places.  We have seen one in the Sea of Cortez, five or six in the Isla

Isabel / Mazatlan area, one south of the penal colony islands Islas Marias outside Banderas Bay, and one on the Gold Coast

south of Cabo Corrientes.  They are marked by some kind of bouy at each end, and these end bouys are a few hundred yards

or a few miles apart.  The two end bouys may have a flag on them and may have a second smaller bouy floating nearby.

Reports from people who have sailed into them are that you can cut them fairly easily with a knife.

The VHF radio is an experience unto itself in Mexican waters.  The fishermen go crazy on channel 16, especially out at sea late

at night.  They whoop and holler and whistle at each other.  They hold the mic way too close and yell into it in very fast and

excited sounding Spanish.  I asked a Bolivian cruiser what the heck they were saying, and he said he couldn't understand them

either and that they have their own jargon.  Sometimes they hold the mic to their radio speakers and play songs on Channel 16.

Sometimes they make animal sounds and other weird noises.  In between, the cruisers hail each other and the freighters and

cruise ships hail the port captains, all sounding very formal.  The other day I heard a Mexican voice say in Spanish, "This

channel is for serious mariners, not animals."  To which the reply was a loud chicken squawk and then silence.  Channel 22 is

the channel cruisers use to hail each other when not underway, and many busy anchorages host morning nets on Channel 22.


If you are outfitting a boat for cruising, I hope this section offers some food for thought and sparks some ideas.  We have found

that it is easy to get caught up in a mindset of never-ending boat projects to the point where the projects overshadow the

cruising.  Starting north of the border with a slew of upgrades., it is really tempting to continue taking on huge boat upgrade

projects in Mexico.  In addition, things break, and suddenly The Boat turns into a 50-hour-a-week job with no time left for

sightseeing and enjoying Mexico itself.  Soon frustration sets in.  "When do the boat projects end and the cruising begin?" one

friend asked in me in jest, but not really joking.  Here are some thoughts I've had about some of the most popular upgrades:

Solar Power and Watermaker -- Marina-based Living

If you are going to be in Mexico for just a season or two, and you have the budget to spend 50% or more of your time in

marinas, you may be best off skipping the watermaker and solar panels.  These are two huge, complicated, expensive projects

that will only help you when you are anchored out, and in reality, how many nights will that be?  For a lot of people the time

spent anchoring out is just a few weeks in the Sea of Cortez, a few days here and there between La Paz, Mazatlan and Puerto

Vallarta, and a few weeks on the Gold Coast.  The $10-15K outlay for a watermaker and solar power/arch setup might be much

better spent at the swank resort marinas and on trips inland to Mexico's famous landmarks.  Doesn't sitting in a hot tub or

visiting the extensive but distant Mayan ruins and dramatic landscapes sound better than overseeing a worker installing your

upgrades, or worse, doing it yourself?

If you stay at a marina for a few weeks and are then in transit for a week or two before settling into the next marina, a Yamaha

or Honda 2000 generator will keep the batteries happy on days you don't use your engine, and a large alternator will top them

off when you motor between anchorages.  If you have good sized water tanks you can manage with onboard water from the last

marina stop.

Some of the happiest cruisers we've met are people who didn't install these expensive items.  The water at the marinas is good.

If in doubt, you can always filter the water at the dock with a 1 micron filter and a carbon filter in series, or you can add a carbon

filter at a sink onboard.  If you are fussy about drinking water it is easy to stock up with bottled water in gallon containers, as it is

carried in even the tiniest one-room stores.

US camping stores sell collapsible water jugs in 2.5 and 5 gallon sizes.  Grab a few of these before you set out and you can

increase your on-board water supply without having to store the bottles on deck when they're empty.

Solar Power and Watermaker - Living on the Hook! For more on solar visit our SOLAR POWER pages.

On the other hand, if you are going to anchor out most of the time or are planning a longer cruise to places beyond Mexico that

don't have so many marinas, solar power and a watermaker are two awesome upgrades.  For us it made sense to get the

biggest ones we could.

Our DC fridge and freezer eat up about 100-120 amp hours every 24 hours.  Our 555 watts of solar panels tied to a 60 amp

MPPT charge controller is just barely sufficient in the winter if we keep the freezer running. If we run just the fridge but

keep the freezer turned off, we can live on solar power indefinitely.

On good sunny days we get anywhere from 150 amps in December/January to 230 amps in June/July.  We need to run the

engine (with its 100 amp alternator) for a few hours every third or fourth day in the wintertime.  This works out fine because that

is generally about the time we are ready to move on anyways.

We have met a lot of boats in Mexico that found they did not installed enough solar power before starting out and decided to

add more in Mexico.  This isn't easy to do.  So if you are considering putting solar power on your boat before starting your

cruise, get at least 500 watts, and more if possible.

The panels need to be installed so they are not shadowed and they need to be

wired in parallel.  Ours are aft of the boom, but they often get a little shade when

the sun is on the beam or foreword of the beam.  Lashing the boom off to one

side often helps.  Unfortunately, if as little as 5% of a solar panel is shaded, it

quits working all together.  If the panels are wired in series this knocks out the

whole solar panel array.  I have seen this on our fifth wheel where our 490 watts

of solar (wired in series) went from producing 10 amps on an early winter

morning to producing 0.1 amp when I used my body to shade a corner of just

one of the four panels.  Placing panels near or under radomes, wind generators

or the boom will make it very easy for shadows to creep onto one of the panels

and severely impair the system.  Of course while sailing they often end up tilted

away from the sun as well as shaded by the sails.

Our engine-driven water maker is rated to produce 38 gallons per hour, but it

actually makes as much as 60 gallons per hour.  In our research we discovered

that most DC watermakers require running the engine to keep the batteries at a

high enough voltage for the watermaker to operate well, so getting an engine driven unit that produces five times more water

made sense to us.  It was the same price as the more popular DC

watermakers that produce 6-12 gallons per hour.

In our fifth wheel we use only 8 gallons of water per day, because obtaining

water when boondocking can be tricky.  On the boat we use much more.

The salty, grubby marine environment requires lots of fresh water to keep

things clean.  Mark attaches a hose to the watermaker's sample tube so we

can wash the decks while making water (although the water pressure

is light).  Snorkeling gear and kayaking gear needs rinsing after use, and it

is nice to rinse off salty feet and salty bodies after swimming.  We also have

fresh water flush toilets.  We use about 20 to 30 gallons of water a day.

Because we are used to keeping our drinking water in gallon bottles in the

trailer rather than drinking from our holding tanks, we always make the last

bit of water into gallon jugs.  This allows us to add minerals to the water,

since desalinated water doesn't have any minerals in it.

Anchor & Rode

In Mexico we have been able to anchor in 15 to 25 feet of water almost everywhere, and we put out 120' of chain regardless of

the depth because there is usually plenty of swinging room.  When a Sea of Cortez Norther or Corumuel or Westerly blows in

we let out more chain, often as much as 250'.  We thought it was a little crazy when we followed the advice of seasoned cruisers

and installed 300' of chain, but we're sure glad we have it now, as we have never dragged.  Snorkeling over our 60 lb. Ultra

anchor (and Ultra flip swivel) we have seen a case where the boat pulled the chain in a 360 degree circle around the anchor,

and the anchor neatly cork-screwed into the sand.  The chain's pattern on the sand was very pretty.  I wish I'd had an

underwater camera to capture it!


These are some goodies we found extremely useful that are not usually on the list for outfitting cruising boats.

Shower Bags

Our hot water heater holds 11 gallons and relies on the engine to heat the water.  After two days at anchor it's not hot any more.

If we run the engine to make water in the anchorage then the water gets heated up again and the batteries get topped off.

However, if we don't want to run the engine another option is to fill a camping solar shower bag with water, set it in the sun for a

few hours and then use it to take a shower.  We tie the shower bag outside the bathroom window and run the nozzle through

the window to the shower.  It's not quite as nice as the real shower nozzle, but it does the trick.  The 2.5 gallon shower bags are

an easy size to deal with, and we can both get a shower from one bag.  The 4 gallon bags are ungainly.

SSB Radio (portable)

The SSB radio is great for socializing on the SSB nets and, if your radio can transmit, the addition of a

Pactor modem also gives you email access while out of reach of Wifi or TelCel cell towers.  However,

installing one is an expensive and complicated project, so we decided to forego it.  Instead, we use a

portable, battery operated SSB receiver.  Clipping a lead between the radio and a steel rod that comes

into the cabin from one of the inner shrouds is all we need to do to listen to the SSB cruiser nets.  It took

us quite while to figure out which buttons to push to get the various frequencies, and the nets often change

frequencies slightly up or down if the official frequency is in use when the net is supposed to begin.  SSB

broadcasts are full of beeps and blips and weird outerspace noises that make our fellow cruisers sound

like Martians.  Ours is a Sangean ATS 909, but others are made by Grundig, Eton and Sony.

WiFi Booster

There are a lot of places in Mexico where you can get a free wifi signal on the boat, but you need a booster.  We have a

Bitstorm BadBoy wifi antenna which has an RJ45 ethernet jack at the end that goes to the computer.  This makes the wifi

signal onshore available to one computer on the boat.  The manufacturer, Bitstorm, also sells their Unleashed product, a small

antenna which connects to this ethernet jack and then broadcasts wifi within the boat.  This effectively makes the external wifi

signal onshore available to multiple computers on board via local wifi.  When you turn on the BadBoy antenna it turns on the

Unleashed antenna at the same time, and all of it runs off DC power so there is no need to turn on an inverter.

GMRS Radios

One of the best things on our boat is two little GMRS walkie-talkie radios.  These are rated for 36 miles, but they require line of

sight to achieve that distance.  We have found they work over several miles with buildings in between.  For instance, from West

Marine's parking lot on Shelter Island Drive all the way down to the Police Dock.  We use them when anchoring, which makes

the whole process much less stressful and a lot more polite as we can discuss what's going on while Mark scopes out the

anchorage at the bow and I stand at the wheel.  Hand signals are great but you can't really converse about whether this or that

spot might be better and why.

They are also very handy when one person goes to shore and the other stays on the boat.  Most cruisers use a handheld VHF

for that purpose, but all VHF radio conversations are public, and I prefer our conversations not to be broadcast all over the


Shade Screen & Fans

If you will be cruising in the Sea of Cortez between May and October you will need a lot of shade in the

cockpit.  There are many fancy ways to create shade screens, and lots of people use a mesh that keeps

out 75% to 90% of the UV rays.  We chose screens that keep out 90% of the rays, and that was not

enough from June to early October.  You need true shade at those times.  A fancy solution is a sunbrella

flap that can connects to the bimini and comes down past the lifelines.  A cheaper option is just to buy

some bedsheets and use clamps to clamp them onto the bimini and lifelines.  These are easy to fold out of

the way and to wash.  The biggest problem with shade screens is that the boat rotates, so you need

coverage around the entire cockpit or you will go nuts constantly moving the shade screens from one

place to another.

Some portable DC fans that can be taken into the cockpit or pointed at yourself wherever you are sitting really help too.

Caframo makes high quality DC fans, and they have a small 2-blade model that rotates.  Perfect.

Super Siphon Hose

These plastic hoses have a check valve at one end, and they are ideal for transferring diesel or water from

jerry jugs into the boat's tanks.  You put the open end of the hose into the tank and put the check valve

end into the jerry jug.  Shake the check valve end of the hose up and down to coax the water into the

hose.   Once the siphon starts, keep the open end of the hose at the bottom of the jug until it is empty.  We

have one Super Siphon hose for water and another for diesel.

Electronic Spanish-English Dictionary

A small book dictionary will work too.  The idea is to have something small that you can whip out at the

grocery store when you are staring at a label and have no idea what is inside the container -- is it whole

wheat or oats?  Is it whole milk or skim?  Is that price for the carrots or the zucchini?  Etc., etc.  Also, it is

handy for deciphering signs, billboards and newspaper headlines.

Swimmer's Towels (and boat cleaning towels)

These are highly absorbent towels that you rinse out after use and store damp in a plastic container.  We

found swimmer's towels online, but they seem no different than the similar towels sold in auto parts stores and

the Walmart auto parts department for wiping down cars and boats.  We have a few of each.  We use the

swimmer's towels after swimming or after showering in the cockpit.  This significantly reduces the number of

salty, wet terry cloth towels we have lying around.  The boat cleaning towels are perfect for giving the boat a

sponge bath wipedown on dewey mornings.

Battery Operated LED Candles

We got four 3" candles at Bed Bath and Beyond, and they make the cabin very homey, especially since our

cabin lighting is fluorescent and LED.  On overnight passages they make the cabin feel warm and secure.

LED Lights

We replaced all of our incandescent lamp bulbs with LED bulbs, and we replaced two overhead halogen

bulbs with LED bulbs.  A good inexpensive source for LED bulbs is

We got extra bulbs and we got a few in red so that on overnight passages we can switch a few of our lights

to red (although we don't generally bother to do that).  Our overhead cockpit light has a red LED bulb, and

this is very handy for identifying our boat in a crowded anchorage when we come back to it in the dark.

We replaced our anchor and running lights with LED bulbs too, but those are specialty items we got

through the traditional marine stores.

We also installed two LED reading lights that have turned out to be really great.  They cast a nice light that

is excellent for reading, and they don't have the harsh glare of most LED interior lights.  We also put

several $4 battery operated stick-on LED lights in hanging lockers, under the sinks and in other poorly lit


Dive Tank Handles

Getting dive tanks refilled usually involves at least a long walk if not a dinghy ride, and the easiest way to haul around the

ungainly tanks is with a webbing and velcro strap handle.  We found these simple handles make all the difference in the world.

Just make sure the dive shop knows the handles belong to you, or remove them before you leave the tanks if you have to leave

the tanks for a few hours or overnight, just so they don't disappear while at the shop.

This Tips for Mexico Cruisers guide is continued here: Tips for Cruising Mexico - Part 2
























































































































































































To help you plan your cruise and get you inspired, we created the video series, "Cruising Mexico Off the Beaten Path - Volumes 1-3," shown below. This is a fun-to-watch and easy-to-digest introduction to Mexico from a cruiser's perspective, giving you lots of valuable information that isn't covered by the cruising guides. Each video is available individually at Amazon, either as a DVD or as a download. For discount package pricing on the whole series, visit our page Cruising Mexico Video Series.

Volume 1 reviews the geography, weather and seasons in Mexico and shows you what the best anchorages between Ensenada and Manzanillo are like.

Volume 2 gives detailed info that can't be found in any of the guidebooks about the glorious cruising ground between Manzanillo and the Guatemala border.

Volume 3 (right) provides all the info you need to get off the boat for an adventure-filled trip to Oaxaca.

Our Gear Store also has a boatload of ideas for your cruise!


Curious about the price or specs for something similar to an item mentioned on this page?  You might find it here:

New to this site? Visit our Home Page to learn more about us, and see our Intro for Cruisers to find out where we keep all the good stuff, including tips for planning your cruise to Mexico, our Solar Power pages, and our ideas for outfitting your boat.


Tips for Cruising Mexico – Part 2 – Costs, Provisioning & more

Here is a Cruising Guide with tips for getting prepared.

20 Peso Note

Cruising Guide for Mexico: A collection of tips for preparing yourself and your boat for the journey.

Mega Comercial Mexicana supermarket (La Paz).

Cruising Mexico aboard a boat

Produce at the Mega Comercial Mexicana

supermarket (La Paz).

Cruising Mexico insider tips and tricks

Chicken on a table at the Comercial

Mexicana supermarket in Ensenada.

Preparation guide and tips.

Frosted Flakes - Kellogg's cereals are everywhere.

special provisioning

Cocoa Krispies.

Cocoa Krispies

Produce at the Central Market in Zihuatanejo.

Mexico central market

Chicken in Zihuatanejo's Central Market.

Guide for sailors

Fish market in Ensenada.


A vendor at the fish market on the

beach in Zihuatanejo.

Getting ready for cruising

A typical corner "tienda" or "mini-super."

Loading up a sailboat

Inside a "mini-super" in La Manzanilla (in

Tenacatita Bay).

Buying food

One of two "tiendas" (small stores) in Agua Verde, a

remote village in the Sea of Cortez.

Mexican tiendas tiny stores

Inside the store in Agua Verde (by far the

smallest store we've seen).

a guide for sailors

Waldo's - the Dollar store.

Living in Mexico - a guide for sailors

Boxed milk. We prefer

Alpura products.

provisioning dairy products

Alpura plain yogurt

("sin azucar")

Living in Mexico aboard a boat

Excellent refried


Mexico on a sailboat

Mayonnaise in a nifty


A boat blog from a sailboat in Mexico


Happy tummy

Living on a boat


Vegetable Wash

Afloat on a boat

A typical hardware store, or "ferreteria."

ailboat in Mexico

Another hardware store ("ferreteria").

Mexican lifestyle and boat blog

Lopez Marine, the best stocked chandlery we have seen in Mexico.

boat blog notes - few chandleries in mexico

Vallarta Chandlery in La Cruz (on right).

Living in Mexico and cruising a sailboat

Getting a haircut in La Cruz.

our boat blog about cruising in a sailboat

Typical laundromat, or "lavenderia."

laundromat in la paz

Wendy, the French coffee guru,

grinds his delicious French Roast

in La Cruz.

Tips for Cruising Mexico - Part 2

(This guide was adapted by the Baja-Haha Cruiser's Rally for their First-Timer's Guide to Mexico)

This is Page 2 of our collection of tips for cruising Mexico in your own boat (see Tips for Cruising Mexico - Part 1

and Mexico Maps for more info). These are things we learned en-route and wish we had known before we left. If you are

planning a cruise to Mexico, I hope this special page from our boat blog helps paint the picture of what you might find there.

• Checking In Procedures:

What you might experience during the check-in process

• Money:

Currency exchange and credit cards

• Provisioning:

Stores and foods

• Boat Parts:

What to expect - it's nothing like the US or Canada

• Internet Access:

UPDATE from 08/25/2016 - See INTERNET info at bottom of page!!

• Laundry:

Where to do it and what it costs

• Clothes

What kinds of clothes - and how much - to bring

• Hair Care

Getting your hair done can be a cultural experience

• Bugs:

There aren't many, but here are the few we've seen

• Dinghy/outboard Theft

Crime against tourists is rare, but dinghy/outboard theft is a known problem in two areas.

• Costs:

Approximate costs of cruising in Mexico

• Hurricane Season

Some things we learned after leaving our boat in San Carlos


This procedure changes so much it is almost silly to put anything in here, as it is probably out of date already. But this will give

you an idea of what might take place, as it is what we went through in February 2010 and October 2010…

We checked into Mexico in Ensenada. This is a great place to do it, as everything is in one room. In 2010 the Ensenada

marinas charged $60 to have a staff person take you to the port captain and walk you through the process, although we have a

friend who was not charged a centavo. Having a guide makes it a no brainer to check in, and you know everything is done right.

If you decide to do it yourself you will still need the marina to write up a crew list for you. The port captain in Ensenada wants to

see the letterhead of one of the three local marinas on the crew list. I tried to write one myself upon our second entry into

Mexico after we had left for the summer and they wouldn't accept it. The port is encouraging all boats not to anchor out, so this

may be part of their method for controlling that.

Your marina may write up a crew list for free, at least Baja Naval did for us when we checked into Mexico the second time.

They will also ask you to give them a copy of the paperwork when you get back from the port captain's office. It is a tightly

controlled port and the marinas are required to keep copies of the check-in paperwork for boats that stay with them. All

together you will need:

• Crew List

• Passports for all on board

• US Coast Guard boat documentation

• Boat insurance declaration page (I think…)

• Serial numbers of your boat's main engine and dinghy outboard

The port captain's office is on the north side of the big fish market at the north end of the malecón. It is down a side road,

opposite the chandlery Agencia Arjona, and is clearly marked "Capitania de Puerto." Ask for directions when you get to the fish


Walk inside and tell the first person you see that you want to check in. There are several windows with officials sitting behind

them, and you will be pointed to the right one for starting the process.

You will be obtaining a 10-year Temporary Import Permit ("TIP") for your boat and a 6-month tourist visa for each person on the

boat. For each of these documents you will have to pay first at one window (the Banjercito) and then take your receipt to

another window to obtain the paperwork. You may go back and forth between the windows twice to get these documents


The TIP is a document that includes an addendum page that lists everything you have on your boat, including watermaker,

electronics, cooking appliances, etc. This is where the serial numbers of the engines comes in. We knew we would be adding

solar and a watermaker within a few months, so we listed the boat as having those already.

At the end of the whole process you will have three documents in your hand: 10-year TIP, Tourist visa(s), and stamped Crew

List. In addition you will have the two receipts from the Banjercito (TIP and tourist visa(s)). The process could take an hour or

could take two, as it did for us because we walked in right after a megayacht that had 10 New Zealanders on board.

Then you will be asked to press a magic button that is connected to a large street light. If it lights up green you are good to go.

If it lights up red and sirens go off, you will be mortified and everyone in the room will stare at you. This means you have been

arbitrarily selected for a boat inspection. A few uniformed people with clipboards will accompany you back to the boat and will

have a look around. They checked out our boat but didn't verify line-by-line what was on the TIP as I would have expected. It

was just a general, friendly inspection, much like the many Mexican Navy boardings that have taken place since then.


There are lots of places to get the current exchange rate between the Mexican peso and US or Canadian dollar. One site with a

historical perspective and current rate is: Although in the past two years

the exchange rate has hovered between 11 and 13 pesos to 1 USD, most people use a 10-to-1 exchange rate in their heads

when trying to figure out prices on the fly.

The best place to change money is with your debit card at ATM machines located

within bank buildings. By using a bank's ATM machine you have someone to go to if

the machine doesn't give you your money (three different friends have told me a

free-standing Mexican ATM machine shorted them their money or gave them nothing

at all, and they had little recourse). You can't exchange money with a bank teller

unless you have an account at the bank, and the money changers on the streets

don't give great rates.

You will be charged a fee by the bank that changes your money, usually about 19-27

pesos, and unless you bank has a relationship with the Mexican bank, your bank will likely charge a $2-$3 fee too. So we prefer

to change as much money as possible whenever we do it (6,000 to 8,000 pesos seems typical with most cruisers I've talked to),

and the final exchange rate after the two sets of fees works out to about a few tenths of a peso less than the advertised rate.

The receipts never show the exchange rate you were given, so we find out what rate we got when we look at our bank account

online after the fact.

HSBC, Bancomer, Banamex, Santander and Scotiabank are in most cities. I haven't studied the comparative exchange rates,

but I do know in La Paz HSBC gives the best rate. One interesting note: I walked into a Santander bank and the first ATM

machine I walked up to wanted to charge 31 pesos to change money, while the second one, further from the door, charged only

21 pesos.

Credit card fraud is rampant in Mexico. In one year we had five cases of fraud on three different credit cards. I guess it took us

a while to learn our lesson. So bottom line: don't use your credit card. Our last fraud was either at an Ensenada marina or at

the main TelCel office in Ensenada, so even if you are dealing with an established, above-the-board big business, your card

may get compromised. Look up "ATM skimmers" or "credit card skimmers" online to learn more about some of the ways credit

card fraud is accomplished, both at US bank ATM machines and abroad.

All that being said, it can still be helpful to have a credit card available for emergencies or for purchases where you trust the

merchant. Most credit cards charge a fee for changing the currency from pesos to US dollars. However, Capital One credit

cards are terrific for all international travel because they do not charge any kind of a fee for changing money.

You will need lots of smaller bills when you are in smaller towns -- 20, 50 and 100 peso notes. We have found some places are

challenged to make change when you hand them a 200 peso note. Lots of 2, 5 and 10 peso coins are also handy for tipping. If

the ATM machine gives you a wad of 500 peso notes, go inside the bank and get some small ones.


Warehouse Stores

There are some warehouse stores on the Mexican coast. Sams Club is more prevalent in the coastal port towns than Costco.

The only coastal Costcos are in Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco. The one in PV is very difficult to get to,

especially if you are staying in La Cruz, as there is no bus to it. The cab ride back to La Cruz from that Costco is about 100

pesos ($7.50). Sam's Club is much more common in coastal Mexico (Manzanillo, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and La Paz) and is

relatively easy to reach in every town. Before buying or renewing your club card, check the Mexican locations online, as new

Costcos and Sams Clubs will continue to pop up.


There are lots of big supermarkets in the major cities (Ensenada, La Paz, Loreto, San Carlos,

Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, Zihuatanejo). The Mexican chains are Soriana,

Comercial Mexicana (which has a line of mammoth supermarkets called "MEGA") and Ley.

Walmart is in most of those cities too. If you need to do a big provisioning run, take the bus

there and a cab back. Most cab rides are around 30 to 50 pesos ($2.30-$3.80). Negotiate the

fare before you hop in.

The selection and prices are all over the map, both in the warehouse stores and in the major

supermarkets. American packaged products are often more expensive than in the US due to

import taxes. Some brands have a big presence in Mexico and some are non-existent. For

instance, Kelloggs cereals are everywhere, some General Mills products are re-branded Nestle,

a handful of Quaker cereals can be found and Post cereals don't exist at all. If you have certain

products you can't live without, stock up before leaving the US. If you are willing to take the time

in the bigger cities, you can find just about everything if you check each of the big supermarkets.

Soriana and Comercial Mexicana (Mega) both have

club cards for frequent shoppers. It is easy to sign up

for a card and you will accumulate points. Every so

often it pays off. I've never fully grasped the subtleties

of these cards, but a few times we've had a hundred or

so pesos deducted from our grocery bill at the checkout


It is customary to tip the bagger a few pesos for bagging your groceries. I have

heard rumors that they are not paid by the stores, but I don't know if this is really

true. Also, we purchased two big insulated "cold bags" and keep some cold packs

in our freezer. This helps keep the refrigerated items cold during the long trek

back to the boat.

Public Markets

Many bigger towns have a Mercado Publico -- a central public

market. These usually take up nearly a city block and are enclosed

with lots of booths for different vendors. The meat, fish, poultry and

produce is brought in from the outlying farms. Prices aren't posted,

so it's a great time to practice your Spanish numbers as you ask

what different items cost. You bag what you want and pay the

person near the booth's register. Often lots of other things are for

sale -- there might be a hat booth, a straw basket booth, a hardware

booth, a broom booth, a DVD booth, etc. For us gringos, it can feel like a

very third world experience, but is also very colorful and exciting.

Small Grocery Stores

In smaller towns, villages and on the back streets of the cities you'll find corner "tiendas" or

"abarrotes." These are small convenience stores and grocery stores that carry essentials.

These little one-room shops usually have a few vegetables (onions, potatoes, tomatoes, and

maybe a few others), lots of canned goods, bread, boxed milk, soaps, cold drinks, bottled water,

beer and other basics. They are often called a "mini-super."

There are US-style convenience store chains as well. Oxxo is the most common convenience

store chain. Similar to 7-11 or Circle K, it can be found on many city street corners. The beer

breweries also have chains of convenience stores that sell their beer and other basics. Modelo,

Pacifico and Tecate all have convenience stores. For Corona fans: Modelo makes Corona.

Dollar Stores

There are dollar stores in Mexico. The most common are Waldo's ("Todo a un precio" - "Everything at one

price") and Solo Un Precio. Just like dollar stores in the US, they sell all kinds of cheap goodies. This is one of

the few places we have found pretzels, although they are not quite as tasty as pretzels you buy in the US. We

also found huge jars of peanut-butter and relatively inexpensive peanuts.

Provisioning before leaving the US

Specialty items, from favorite toiletries to spices, sauces and condiments, may or may not available in Mexico, so stock up on

those before you leave. Kikkoman soy sauce is easy to find, but Neutrogena facial products aren't. It's impossible to list all that

is available and not available. This is where living in Ensenada for a few months first (or at least driving or taking the bus down

for a weekend to check out the shopping situation) is really helpful

Don't bring any canned vegetables with you except what you are going to consume right away. Canned vegetables can be

found in even the tiniest "tienda" in the most remote Sea of Cortez village, so unless you eat a lot of canned vegetables, there is

no need to bring any with you from the US. Other canned goods like Dinty Moore Beef Stew, Chef Boyardi products, Bush's

Baked Beans and Hormel Chili are not easy to find. Canned tuna and canned chicken are reported to taste different in Mexico.

I can't verify that as I am still working on the enormous stash we bought at Costco before we left the US.

Paper products in Mexico are not the quality we are used to in the US. If you use a lot of paper towels and like them to be

strong enough not to disintegrate at first touch, take as many rolls as you can fit. We have friends who now use blue Shop

Towels as paper towels (available at auto parts stores in Mexico) -- an expensive way to go, but they couldn't stand the flimsy

Mexican paper towels. Likewise with toilet paper. Good quality brands of these products can be found at the warehouse stores,

but not necessarily at the supermarkets.

We found we longed for American snack foods, and were glad to have a stash of favorites. Ritz crackers,

potato chips and Oreos are readily available at supermarkets in Mexico, but Wheat Thins, Cheezits,

Triscuits, and Chips Ahoy are nearly impossible to find. Dark Chocolate, Peanut Butter Pretzels and Nuts

of any kind are rare and expensive.

If you have a freezer, stock up on meats, chicken and your favorite cheese before leaving the US. The

Mexican counterparts are okay, but they are different, and it is really nice after a few months to bite into a

steak from your favorite hometown grocer.

Get some long-life veggie bags. Debbie Meyer's Green Bags or the Brawny pink ones. Both keep veggies

longer than if they are in regular plastic bags. You can wash and re-use the bags. We had beautiful fresh

broccoli 3 weeks after we bought it in San Diego. Carrots, potatoes and onions last well in brown paper

bags out of the fridge.

Provisioning in Mexico

Many big city supermarkets have a gringo section, and that is often stocked with Kirkland

(Costco) brand items, although the prices are more than in the US. Breton crackers, fancy

mustards and olives can often be found on these shelves. I've even seen peanut-butter pretzels.

Mexican dairy products are not the same as in the US. For some reason the fresh milk goes

sour a lot faster -- is it inferior processing, or does the US use more potent chemicals? Who

knows. Mark stopped eating cold cereal all together and I use boxed milk for my coffee. I don't

taste a difference. To me the boxed milk is just like fresh milk, but Mark disagrees


If you like yogurt, the best yogurt we have found is from the dairy Alpura. This brand is sold

primarily on the mainland, but sometimes you can get lucky in Baja. All plain yogurt by other companies

has sugar in it ("azúcar" in the ingredients list). Alpura is the only dairy that sells true plain yogurt. Their

flavored yogurt is also the most similar to US yogurt. Even though Yoplait and Dannon sell yogurt in

Mexico, it is nothing like the US versions of the products.

If you want fat free products, that is "sin grasa," and sugar free is "sin azúcar." Many people confuse

yogurt and sour cream because the containers look the same. If the container says "Crema" it is sour

cream. If it says something that looks like the word "yogurt" (spellings vary) then it is yogurt.

There is one major Mexican cheese sold everywhere: Manchego cheese. It has a Spanish origin where

it is made from goat milk. In Mexico it is a different recipe using cow's milk/cream. It is a white cheese

that is good with crackers or in quesadillas or tortillas. However, many Americans eventually long for their

familiar orange cheddar cheese which Mexicans don't eat. Most supermarkets carry one brand of cheddar cheese: Joseph's

Farm from California. Stock up when you see it, if you like that kind of cheese, as other gringos will be stocking up too, and a lot

of times the supermarkets are sold out. Most big city supermarkets sell Gouda cheese and many have Brie and other soft

European cheeses as well.

Also in the dairy section you can always find Yakult, a terrific little sweet dairy drink packed with

probiotics, the perfect antidote to any kind of gastric distress caused by Montezuma or anything else.

We have never gotten sick from water or food -- only from swallowing red tide by accident. Most

digestive complaints from cruisers seem to come after a meal out.

The biggest supermarkets have good selections of fresh produce. However, the quality is not as high

as the US. Examine everything carefully, because blemishes are common. Most big supermarkets

sell small bottles of Microdyn or other antibacterial wash products. Pour a cap-full in a sink of water

and let all the veggies float in it for a while. Then rinse them well.

Eggs are often sold unrefrigerated. They can be kept unrefrigerated if you turn the box over every 24

hours. I had never in my life seen a rotten egg before living in Mexico. I cracked my first one not long

ago. The yolk and white were completely black and putrid. Now I understand the childhood taunt,

"Last one home is a rotten egg."

Meats and chicken take a little getting used to, as the quality is often only so-so. The chicken is very yellow. We have asked

lots of people why, and we've gotten several odd answers. There is an old wive's tale that it is from feeding the chickens

marigolds. Well, Mexican chickens are raised in factory farms, so that is doubtful. Some say they are dipped in iodine. I've also

heard they are fed corn, but US chicken is fed corn too. Who knows. It is very yellow and it can have a potent smell when

cooked if you don't remove the skin and fat.

Lunch meat is available in one variety: turkey ("pavo") that has been made to look like ham ("jamón"). The most common

brand is "Fud." It resembles the worst quality lunch meat available in US stores, and even that brand name "Fud" is

unappetizing. If you like good quality lunch meat, buy a bunch in the US, freeze it and bring it south with you.

Fresh fish is often a better bet. The Spanish names are different. Fish we have enjoyed immensely are Cabrilla (bass) and

Sierra (Spanish Mackerel), as well as dorado (mahi-mahi).

Pollo Asado is grilled chicken sold at outdoor stands. This chicken is delicious. Choose a stand that has a crowd of Mexicans

around it, and it will be tasty and safe to eat. A whole chicken is usually around 100 pesos ($7.50) and you can also buy half

and quarter chickens. They are often split along the sternum and laid out flat on the grill so they look like roadkill. They are sold

with corn tortillas and often with delicious flavored rice. This is a terrific thing to buy prior to a long passage. You can nibble the

chicken plain, make chicken salad or sandwiches, turn it into a stir-fry, or wrap it in a tortilla with cheese and heat it up.

Tacos on the street are also a great way to go for cheap eats. A good price is about 8 to 20 pesos per taco (around $0.60 to

$1.50). Two makes a meal and three stuff you. They are served open so you can fill them with toppings and then roll them up

yourself. Always choose places that are crowded with Mexicans. They know where the good food is. Carne, chicken and fish

tacos are available from Puerto Vallarta and to the north. The best are on the Baja peninsula (at Rancho Viejo in La Paz and

Las Brisas in Ensenada).

South of Cabo Corrientes corn tortillas begin to dominate and flour tortillas disappear along with the familiar style of beef,

chicken and fish tacos found up north. It is not nearly as easy in this area to find good beef taco stands. In Manzanillo we

walked all over town in search of fish tacos and finally asked at the visitors center where to find them. They sent us to a back

street where a vendor had a vat of fish stew he ladled into corn tortillas -- not at all the fish tacos we were used to in northern

Mexico and southern California and Arizona.

You can easily make fish tacos from any kind of cooked fish by dicing up tomatoes and cold crunchy veggies (cucumber, celery,

cabbage, etc.). Heat up the fish on a tortilla in a skillet or microwave, then sprinkle on the veggies and add a little mayo and hot

sauce and roll it up. Yum.

The best flour tortillas are on the Baja peninsula, and are found in tortillerias that make them there on the spot. They are

typically about a peso apiece, sold by the kilo (about 28 tortillas). Separate them before refrigerating or they will stick together

and rip. If you freeze them they may stick together when thawed, so separate first and make sure they are dry before freezing.

South of Cabo Corrientes there is only one brand of commercial flour tortillas, "Tortillinas," and they aren't nearly as good as the

homemade ones, but they are sold even in the smallest tiendas. Tortillerias in this southern coastal part of Mexico make and

sell only corn tortillas.

Totopos are a fried corn tortilla chip snack food that were probably the original ancestor of Doritos and Fritos (we discovered

that the famous Frito Bandito song from the old commercials is actually a take off on a famous Mariachi song here in Mexico).

They are available primarily on the mainland. You can buy them freshly made at tortillerias and in the bakery section of the big

city supermarkets, or you can buy them prepackaged at little corner tiendas. They are tasty as a snack served plain or with a

guacamole, bean, cheese or other dip.

We have found awesome refried beans under the brand "Isadora" that come in soft

plastic packaging. These are fantastic for a quickie bean burrito on the boat (tortilla,

beans, cheese, hot sauce - heat and roll up).

Mayonnaise also comes in this kind of soft packaging which is perfect for jamming

into a packed fridge…

It is hard to find good quality coffee in the northern part of Mexico. However, the

best coffee I have ever had can be found at The Octopus's Garden / Galeria Huichol in

La Cruz (Puerto Vallarta/Banderas Bay). The proprietor, a Frenchman named Wendy,

roasts his own beans to create a French Roast that is to die for and is about half the

price of Starbucks coffee in the US. He also sells his coffee at the weekly Farmer's

Market in La Cruz and is located in the last booth that sells coffee (so don't get hasty

and buy the wrong stuff!). Further south in Zihuatanejo you can get locally grown

Mexican coffee, and it is very good.

There are lots of products I have been told can't be found in Mexico, but they can be if you are patient. They just

aren't easy to find and may not be in the city where you want them to be. But keep prowling around and eventually

you will locate them. Among these are brown sugar, pickle relish and high quality packaged bread.


While all Mexicans eat and there is an abundance of food to be had, even if it isn't quite what you're used to at home, not that

many Mexicans own cruising boats. Finding parts for the boat is a challenge. Even finding simple tools and hardware is a


The best chandlery we've seen is Lopez Marine in La Paz. It is about ⅓ the size

of West Marine in San Diego. If they don't have it on the shelf they can order it

for you from the US. Prices are 10% to 30% higher than in the US. All the other

chandleries we visited in Mexico were fishing oriented and had few, if any,

sailboat-specific parts. My eyes popped out of my head when I saw a snap

shackle at Lopez Marine -- it was the first I had seen since West Marine in San

Diego 6 months earlier, and we had been all over the Mexican coast at that point.

The rule in Mexico for buying anything is: if you see and think you might want it

someday, buy it, because you won't see it again. That goes for the humongous

jar of Skippy peanut-butter and it goes for the gizmo-widget that looks like it might

come in handy in a crisis at sea.

Most hardware stores ("ferreterias") are small one- or two-room shops that

carry a variety of general purpose tools and parts. The selection is often

minimal and sometimes a bit weird. They may have 100 screws of one

length and pitch, six of another, and none of any others. When you ask for

an item they might hand you a dusty, opened box with something similar to

what you want inside. You have to rely on your own ingenuity and creativity

to make the best out of what you find in these little places. That's what the

Mexicans do, and they are extremely good at it.

Some hardware stores have specialties -- the

nuts-and-bolts-and-screws store, the tool store,

etc. Little is available in stainless steel. Home

Depot has a few stores in Mexico, and they are much the same as the stores in the US, but they

don't sell things the Mexicans don't buy. Appliances are smaller; the selection of things like faucets

is minimal. The major US auto parts stores like Napa Auto Parts are also common in Mexico. Again,

patience, lots of walking, and creativity are key. Most store clerks will point you to another store if

they don't have what you are looking for. You will get in lots of miles on foot.

In many ways we have had some of our best days getting to know the Mexicans and their culture

when we wandered the back streets of different towns looking for a particular part. We might not

have found the part, but we had a chance to practice our Spanish and experience a little of life in a

culture that is very differently than our own.

Major replacement parts can be

brought into Mexico, but it is a

complicated process that is heavily taxed. Some cities like

La Paz have an enterprising person that will drive to the US

and carry packages over the border for you for a fee (they

avoid the import tax for you by not declaring the part at the

border crossing). Otherwise, if the parts are shipped by a

commercial shipper they have to go through customs in a

major inland city (Mexico City or Guadalajara) and an import

duty is imposed. We have not done either of these things,

so I won't mislead you any further.



For internet access from the boat we found the TelCel USB modem to be very valuable. It uses the TelCel cell phone towers to

operate, and there are cell towers wherever there is a good sized town. It is a small stick that plugs into the computer's USB

port. The first time you plug it in it will download some application software onto your computer. You run that software to make

the USB modem connect to a cell tower.

TelCel (pronounced "Tell SELL") is owned by the world's richest man, Carlos Slim, but it is not a particularly easy device to buy

or renew. The best way to get one is to go to a main "TelCel - Atención A Clientes" office building. These are huge buildings in

major cities (Ensenada, La Paz, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, PV, Manzanillo, Ixtapa). Inside (often upstairs) there is a row of 20

or so clerk windows, like you find at a huge bank or at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Don't bother with any of the small

TelCel shops on the street. They are cell phone oriented and don't have what you need.

The big TelCel offices are run something like the Department of Motor Vehicles too: you tell the receptionist what product you

are there for and she gives you a number. Then you stand in line for as much as an hour until a window opens up. Like the

check-in process for entering Mexico, this whole process is ever evolving, but I will explain here what we have gone through to

purchase and renew our TelCel Banda Ancha. It is just a guideline...

The product you want is the Banda Ancha Amigo Alto 3G. The 3G is pronounced "trays jeega," but the important thing is to

get a clerk that speaks English. If the one you walk up to doesn't speak English, wait for one that does.

Once at the clerk's window, it will take a while for the paperwork to be processed. You will then be sent to a line to pay for it.

Your purchase should include both the USB modem and the first month's 399 pesos of upload/download. After you have paid (it

might be handled in two transactions) you return to your clerk's window with the receipt and they give you the USB modem stick.

Before leaving the building, take out your laptop, plug in the stick and verify that it works. Look for the word

"Idioma" (Language) in the software (it may be in the "Herramientas" (Tools) menu). By clicking "Idioma" you can set the

language to English. If you can't get it working, ask for help and stick around until it does. Make a note of the cell phone

number that has been assigned to your USB modem.

We got a Huawei modem stick and it works great. Other cruisers like their Huawei stick too. Our first stick was a Nokia and the

Macintosh implementation of its software couldn't go through the steps necessary to renew the account at the end of the month.

A real headache.

The stick lights up blue if it is a 3G connection and green otherwise. Much of the time it is green. The fastest connection I've

seen is in La Paz and has a download speed of just under 2.5 Mbps and an upload speed of around 0.15 Mbps. To compare

this to your current internet connection, go to and do the speed test. In most anchorages the

download speed is more like 0.5 Mbps and upload is around 0.07 Mbps. Pretty pitiful, but it sure is better than nothing and it

teaches you patience, a critical skill for cruising. Sitting in the cockpit, aiming the stick towards the cell tower and even holding

the laptop overhead can all make a difference in the speed (I held our laptop overhead off and on for 45 minutes while we left

Tenacatita during the March 2011 tsunami so we could get the latest news reports on how the waves were affecting the

California coast. We had connectivity--of sorts--for six miles out).

The cost is 399 pesos (~$32) per 3GB of uploads/downloads or 30 days, whichever comes first, and the USB

modem stick is a few hundred pesos. Oddly, access is sold in increments of 500 pesos. You can buy more

than one 3GB packet of access, but they are distinct purchases and you should get a separate receipt for each.

I found it best to stick to one 500 peso advance purchase at a time, activated when needed..

The 3GB of access is enough to send and receive email, surf the web, watch some YouTube and news videos and access

social media websites. If you spend a lot of time on YouTube or watching news videos or downloading large files you will use it

up faster.

You can see your approximate usage in the Statistics tab in the TelCel software. For a more accurate accounting, especially if

you access TelCel from more than one computer, you need to set up an account online. To do this go to http:// and create a NIP (password) to go along with the cell number of your modem. Once you have logged

in you can go to "Internet TelCel" and click on "Consulta" see the exact amount you have used so far. On the right hand side

bar under "Mi Cuenta" you can go to "Consulta tu Saldo" to see the balance of pesos in your account.

Whether or not you use all your 3GB, your account will expire after 30 days at a specific hour, minute and second (given in your

online account). The communication between you and TelCel is handled through text messages in the software, and you will be

notified when it expires. All the text messages are in Spanish, so a Spanish-English dictionary really helps. Or, you can copy

the text from the message into the Google Translator ( to get it translated into English.

In order to renew your service, you need to put more money in your account and then inform TelCel to apply it to another month

of Amigo 3G access. This is a two step process. You can put more money in your account any time by going to a chain market

(Soriana, Comercial Mexicana (MEGA), Chedraui, Walmart, Oxxo) and asking the checkout person to put 500 pesos on your

USB modem's cell phone number. Just show them the phone number and ask for 500 pesos to be put on your account.

Once the money is in your account you will get a text message in your TelCel software telling you it has been received. Activate

it after the current packet has expired, not before. There is a grace period of a few days where you get free access.

To activate it, open the TelCel application on your computer and go to the TEXT tab (for Text Messages). In the "Send

message to:" field put: 5050. In the body of the message write: bat30 You will get a text message reply stating that the

service has been restarted. It will also tell you the date and time the service expires. Or do it through your http:// account. You can also purchase air time with a credit card through, but when I last tried it

was not a secure credit card transaction. (Recently the text msg renewal deducted 500 pesos whereas the online one deducted 399).

Of course all this will probably change, so this is just an approximation of what to expect.

Patience is key, but the reward is internet access from the boat. A lot of times the speed is not great. Sometimes the servers

are down (and if so it will likely take until the next business day for them to be brought up again). However, something is better

than nothing, and it's all part of the cultural experience of living in a foreign country.


There are lots of laundromats in Mexico, usually within an easy walk. Most marinas have them onsite. The cost per load is is

somewhere around 30 to 60 pesos to wash and dry, or about $2.30 to $4.60 per load. For another 10 pesos or so per load you

can have your laundry done for you and returned to you folded and smelling good. The pricing is

frequently based on weight rather than load, and it is typically about 15 to 20 pesos per kilo to have your

laundry done for you (or about $1.15 to $1.50 per kilo). A load is usually two to three kilos. As with

everything, prices are cheaper further south.

We often go 2-3 weeks between laundry runs, so we have a second set of sheets and towels. We also

wash some lighter and smaller items by hand, like running shorts, bathing suits and tank tops. Washing

out a few things every day makes it an easy job.

Generally the commercial washing machines and dryers are far from new and unfortunately it is rather

common to get your clothes back with small rust stains on them, usually placed front and center on your

brand new souvenir t-shirt or dress. Occasionally you may find an article of someone else's clothing in

your bag when you get it back, or you might discover an item is missing. This is just because things get

stuck in the crevices of the washers and show up in the next load.


Almost everyone takes too many clothes to Mexico. Living on a boat, especially at anchor, is a grubby business. It is amazing

how many times you will wear a piece of clothing because you know you won't be near a laundromat for a while. Several

changes of clothes may be sufficient to start -- that way you can get some souvenir t-shirts and beach cover-up dresses without

overloading your lockers. I loaded up on bathing suits before leaving the US, and then couldn't justify buying any of the really

cute bathing suits for sale in the Mexican tourist shops. Mark made the same mistake with t-shirts. So before you overstuff

your lockers, keep in mind that a lot of our clothes north of the border are made in Mexico, and they are cheaper down there!

You will need cold weather clothing for the trip to Cabo. If you spend the winter in La Paz, Mazatlan or Puerto Vallarta, you may

still need a light jacket, long sleeves and long pants as well as shorts. If you stay south of Cabo Corrientes for the winter you will

be living in shorts and t-shirts. If you spend the coldest part of the winter in Z-town or south of there, you will be in a bathing

suit, lightweight shorts and tank tops.


Some of the best haircuts I've gotten have been in Mexico, and I've never paid more

than 80 pesos (about $6). Just as we discovered in our trailer in the US, sometimes

you learn a lot about a community from the hair stylists. I felt I had really reached a

high point when I was able to talk to the lady that cut our hair in Loreto for an hour in

Spanish. If you want true styling and not just a cut, the prices are more typically 200

pesos (about $15).


Bugs are generally not an issue at all in Mexico. The only bugs we have come across have been:

Bees - In the Sea of Cortez there are a lot of thirsty bees looking for fresh water. In 2011 they were particularly pesky on the

islands around the Loreto area and at Puerto Los Gatos slightly south of there. However, I suspect that they move, as

anchorages reported to be bee-filled had few when we got there, and anchorages that were supposed to be bee-free were

inundated when we arrived. The best way to deal with them is to have a few good fly swatters on board and to get aggressive.

They move fairly slowly and are easy to kill. They send a scout first, and then they come in pairs and threes. If you can prevent

the scouts from returning to the hive you are winning. Another trick is to make sure you have no fresh water puddles from your

cockpit shower. I found that dousing the transom near the shower with seawater can really help discourage them. They can

detect fresh water in a sealed plastic water bottle…

Bobos - These are tiny mangrove-loving flies that don't bite but bug the heck out of you anyways by landing repeatedly all over

you. They can't get through screens.

Jejenes (pronounced "hayhaynays") - These are virtually invisible no-see-ums that bite like the dickens. You'll feel this zing and

then study your arm or leg and see nothing unless you get a magnifying glass. You can kill them by smearing your finger

across them. Screens don't keep them out. We found them in Amatorjada Bay on Isla San Jose in the Sea of Cortez, and they

seemed to stay with us on the boat for a week after that.


In most places in Mexico you can leave the dinghy in the water overnight without any concern. However, two areas on the

mainland have had rashes of outboard theft in recent years.

Barra de Navidad experienced nine dinghy/outboard thefts in the winter of 2009-10. Once cruisers started raising their dinks

there at night in 2010-11, the number dropped to just a few (which were in the water). So be sure to lift the dinghy out of the

water and lock the outboard to the dinghy transom while in Barra.

Mantanchen Bay outside San Blas (near Mazatlan) had a rash of 5 or 6 outboards/dinghies stolen in the winter of 2010-11.

While we were staying there friends of ours had their outboard stolen off the dinghy even though it was raised high in the davits

(it was not locked to the dinghy). They were on board and asleep when it happened. So the best defense is to remove the

outboard from the dink and lock it securely to your boat's transom.

In the fall of 2011 a saiboat anchored in the San Blas estuary outside of the Fonatur/Singlar marina experienced an attempted

robbery while the owners were ashore. So if you are staying there, it might be wise to stay in the marina rather than anchor out.


Everyone has a different budget, and everyone spends what they have. So it is impossible to say "it costs xyz to cruise in

Mexico." However, I'll give a very rough idea of what some of the costs are that we have seen.

For us, keeping a boat in Mexico, living on it and sailing it 6 months a year, maintaining it, flying back and forth to it, insuring it

and storing it when we're not there costs around $13,000-$14,000 per year. If we were on it full-time and didn't fly back and

forth or store it, our annual cost would be around $21,000-$24,000.

Getting our boat ready to cruise - anchor system upgrade, watermaker installation, solar installation, dinghy & outboard,

downwind sailing gear, safety gear, interior comfort stuff and small goodies cost about 20% of the purchase price.


On average we found our food bill is about 90% of what it is in the US, slightly higher than that in the northern parts of Mexico

and slightly lower in the southern parts. Beer is typically anywhere from 55 pesos a sixpack ($4.25) for Pacifico/Modelo to 72

pesos a sixpack ($5.50) for Bohemia Oscura (a darker more premium beer). Many grocery items are taxed 15%. American

branded items seem expensive. For instance Listerine is 42 pesos ($3.25) for a 16 oz bottle. Colgate toothpaste is 35 pesos

but for the same size tube the Mexican brand called Fresca is 6 pesos. So it is all in how you shop.


We don't eat out much, but simple street food is cheap: 100 pesos ($7.50) can buy each of us a meal and a drink. At the beach

palapa bars (sitting under an umbrella on a plastic chair in the sand) a beer is typically 12 pesos ($0.95) in the far south and 25

pesos ($1.95) further north. Fine dining in the high end resorts is similar in price to comparable US restaurants.


Fuel pricing is government controlled so it can't swing up and down by huge amounts, and there is a tax on it. In addition,

marinas charge a service fee for using their docks and that fee can be anywhere from 10% to 20%. So in the end our fuel costs

in 2013 have averaged around $3.50 to $3.80 per gallon. You can't avoid the dock service fee by showing up with jerry jugs --

the fee applies no matter how the fuel is delivered. Still it's not a bad deal, as diesel in California is running over $4.00 per

gallon now in the fall of 2013.

We use about half as much fuel per month while cruising as we do while RVing. This may sound surprising, but we drive our

truck in the US less than some people might expect and we motor our sailboat in Mexico more than we ever expected. On the

boat we burn about 2/3 to 3/4 of a gallon of fuel per hour, and we traveled from San Diego down to Zihuatanejo up to San

Carlos and back down to Puerto Vallarta in a year. Our monthly fuel cost during that time was somewhere around $250 (2011).


Marina costs are typically $30-$60 per night and $600-$1,000 per month for a 45' slip. Some marinas discount the price slightly

after 3 days or a week. Most offer a monthly rate, although both the popular Marina Riviera Nayarit (La Cruz in Banderas Bay)

and swank Paradise Village (Nuevo Vallarta in Banderas Bay) charge around $30 per day in winter no matter how many days

you stay ($0.60 to $0.65 per foot per day plus tax).

Rates drop in the summer. We paid $565/month for a slip in Marina San Carlos for the summer of 2011, $200/month

in Marina Chiapas in 2012 and $565/month in Paradise Village in 2013. The Fonatur/Singlar government run marinas

used to be less than the private marinas, but they raised their rates and are now comparable to the private marinas.

If you wanted to spend half your cruising time in marinas and had a 40-45' monohull, a comfortable budget figure

would be around $400 per month. This would allow for some shorter stays and some month-long stays. Most boats

spend significant time in marinas (they're nice!) and very few boats are at anchor more than 95% of the time like we were.

Boat Services

Having the bottom cleaned by a diver generally costs about $1 per foot. Having the boat washed is the same. We got the hull

waxed in San Carlos for 700 pesos ($53). If you use dive tanks to clean the bottom yourself and don't have a compressor, it

generally costs about 100 pesos ($7.50) to have one tank refilled at a dive shop (and you have to lug it there).

Boat Insurance

Insurance varies a lot by boat age, sailing experience, where you keep your boat during hurricane season and whether you go

south of Acapulco. Keeping our boat in San Carlos during hurricane season, staying north of Acapulco the whole season, and

having plenty of sailling experience, insuring our newer boat costs $1,600 per year with Pantaenius.


Starting in February people begin discussing their summer plans. The marinas in Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, La Paz and San

Carlos are popular, as is dry storage in La Paz, Loreto and San Carlos/Guymas, and other spots as well. Some marinas offer

significant summer discounts, especially when pre-paid. We left our boat in San Carlos in the water for 3 months and were

shocked to return and find that everything was just as we left it. A quick boat wash and bottom cleaning and the boat was ready

to sail away. Some people who left their boats for six months in dry storage in Loreto and San Carlos reported having to clean a

lot of dust off the deck (and some inside).

San Carlos is a popular option for people from Arizona. The bus line Tufesa (this is the link for Bus Schedules) leaves from

Guaymas and goes to 27th Ave. and McDowell in Phoenix. The "Especial" bus trip from San Carlos to Phoenix is $61 per person

and takes 10-11 hours if you take the regular day-time bus. It stops in 4 or 5 towns in Mexico plus the military checkpoint, the

border crossing and again in Tucson. The buses are regular Greyhound style buses used for 2-4 hour trips in the US.

The "Ejecutivo" overnight bus is $81 and takes just 8-9 hours and is a much better option. It stops in 2 towns in Mexico plus the

military checkpoint, border crossing and again in Tucson. The buses are very luxurious. There are only 3 seats per row, 2 on

one side and 1 on the other. I found them wide enough to curl up in and try to sleep. Bring layers because the buses can be

heavily air-conditioned. Our driver in the US was kind enough to turn off the a/c (we were two of three people on the bus). Our

driver in Mexico had an attitude and refused to turn it off (even though the driver's cab is separate and has its own

thermostat...). The buses are theoretically equipped with wifi and electrcity. On the US side the driver turned on the electricity

so we could run the laptop from its charger cable. On the Mexican side the driver refused to (!). The wifi never worked on

either side. But it was still a very cool bus ride.

The bus depot in Phoenix is in an unsafe area. If you are there at night stay close to the terminal. Taxi cabs come to meet the



These are some of the things we've done and found useful and would have liked to have known about cruising Mexico in

advance. Hopefully some of these goodies in our boat blog will make it easier when you're cruising Mexico too!!

If you haven't seen it yet, check out Page 1 of this guide: Tips for Mexico Cruisers - Part 1













































































































































































































































































In August 2016, Verizon began offering new talk/text/data packages that allow you to access the internet from Canada and Mexico free of charge on your Verizon data plan. You must have at least 16 GB of data on your plan. You don’t have to have a cell phone (we don’t).

We use a Verizon MiFi Jetpack in our RV travels now and it worked like magic in Canada in the summer of 2016. We have more info about the Verizon MiFi Jetpacks and the new talk/text/data packages at this link: Mobile Internet Access

To help you plan your cruise and get you inspired, we created the video series, "Cruising Mexico Off the Beaten Path - Volumes 1-3," shown below. This is a fun-to-watch and easy-to-digest introduction to Mexico from a cruiser's perspective, giving you lots of valuable information that isn't covered by the cruising guides. Each video is available individually at Amazon, either as a DVD or as a download. For discount package pricing on the whole series, visit our page Cruising Mexico Video Series.

Volume 1 reviews the geography, weather and seasons in Mexico and shows you what the best anchorages between Ensenada and Manzanillo are like.

Volume 2 gives detailed info that can't be found in any of the guidebooks about the glorious cruising ground between Manzanillo and the Guatemala border.

Volume 3 (right) provides all the info you need to get off the boat for an adventure-filled trip to Oaxaca.

Our Gear Store also has a boatload of ideas for your cruise!


New to this site? Visit our Home Page to learn more about us, and see our Intro for Cruisers to find out where we keep all the good stuff, including tips for planning your cruise to Mexico, our Solar Power pages, and our ideas for outfitting your boat.


Mexico by Bus – Land Travel in Mexico!

ADO / OCC Oaxaca Bus

ADO (OCC) Bus from Huatulco to Oaxaca

On our travels inland from the Mexico’s west coast to see the country’s beautiful colonial cities and ancient ruins, we have found it’s fun to do Mexico by bus!!

For cruisers, there’s nothing like getting off the boat and seeing something of the rest of Mexico.  Renting a car makes sense if there are enough people to share the cost (or for families).  However, it can get expensive for couples.

We have discovered that long distance buses in Mexico are terrific, and we’ve visited many places in Mexico by bus.


What to Expect on Buses in Mexico

Because there is no single company that provides all long distance bus services in Mexico, and because there is a lot of variation to the countryside and highways, buses in Mexico can be a bit unpredictable.

Some buses stop for meals, some stop at military checkpoints.  Some buses offer free food or snacks, and some allow snack vendors to come on board the bus when it stops for passengers.  Our Huatulco-to-Oaxaca bus stopped at a restaurant so everyone could sit down to order and eat a meal!

Tica Bus to Guatemala

Tica Bus double-decker
Tapachula (Marina Chiapas) to Guatemala

Sometimes there is TSA-style inspection outside the bus before boarding, including a pat-down for the men, and sometimes a fellow comes on board with a video camera to record everyone’s faces.  You never really know what will happen.

Buses that cross a border (into the US, Guatemala or Belize) will involve checking out of Mexico and into the new country (passports and tourist visas required).  They also include a change in currency that is easy to forget to plan for after you’ve been sailing the Mexican coast for a few months.

In our experience, the quoted arrival times are sometimes optimistic.  An 8-hour bus ride may take 10, and there is no way of knowing ahead of time.  All kinds of crazy things happen on the road, and the folks at the ticket counter will simply quote the time given on the computer.

Some Tips for Mexico Bus Travel

The buses in Mexico are often heavily air-conditioned, so having an airline blanket or some extra clothes handy is helpful.

Also, although lots of the buses stop at convenience stores or at terminals where you can jump out and buy a snack, packing some munchies for a long ride can really help too.

Having some TP handy is not a bad idea on long trips too, as the bathroom can run out if the bus is crowded.

Primera Plus Bus PV to Guanajuato

Primera Plus bus from Puerto Vallarta to Guanajuato.

Our favorite seats are in the front row to the right of the driver where you get more leg room and (on OCC buses) have a great view out the huge windshield.  Also, we sometimes plan our seats to avoid getting trapped in the morning or afternoon sun if the trip is largely north/south.

Overall, we’ve found that long distance buses in Mexico can make for wild adventures.  Our bus trip from Tapachula (Marina Chiapas) to San Cristobal de las Casas was so eventful it got its own write-up!

As one seasoned Mexico/Central American traveler once said to me, “I never get on a bus in Mexico or Central America with any expectations of when I will arrive or what will happen on the way.”  That is a great way to approach the whole process — enjoy the ride.


Mexico Bus Schedules, Prices and Tickets

There are lots of long distance bus companies, and it can be confusing to figure out which Mexico buses go where.  Here is an online source that lists many of the Mexican bus companies.

Following is a list of bus companies that serve the cruising spots where we have found it is easy to leave the boat and catch a bus inland. Prices are given only as guidelines and are from June 2013. In some cases there are cheaper options, but we’ve found that if we are going to sit on a bus for 6 hours or more, spending another $10 or so USD is well worth it to be comfortable.

It is possible to book and purchase tickets online, and we have done that a few times.  If we don’t book online, we try to get to the terminal well ahead of time to ensure there are seats available and that we get the seats we want.

Some bus companies have websites in English, some don’t.  These translations might help if you are struggling with one in Spanish:

boleto = ticket
sencillo = one-way
redondo = round-trip
mañana = morning
tarde = afternoon/evening
noche = night
madraguda = wee hours of morning
fecha de ida = date of departure
tiempo recorrido = travel time

Map of Northern Mexico

San Carlos (Guaymas) is 8-10 hours from Phoenix by bus.

Guaymas (San Carlos) to Phoenix, ArizonaWe left our boat in Marina San Carlos

The Tufesa Bus Line (this is the link for Tufesa Bus Schedules) leaves from Guaymas and goes to 27th Ave. and McDowell in Phoenix.  The “Especial” bus takes 10-11 hours and stops about 8 times, including 4-5 Mexican towns, a Mexican military checkpoint, the US border crossing and Tucson.  The “Ejecutivo” overnight bus is a little more money (863 pesos or $69 USD) but takes just 8-9 hours and stops in only 2 Mexican towns plus the Mexican military checkpoint, US border and Tucson.

The “Ejecutivo” buses are luxurious with just 3 seats per row, two on one side and one on the other.  They are supposed to have electricity and wi-fi, but may or may not.  The “Especial” buses are okay, but not as nice (and in our experience much more crowded).
The bus depot in Phoenix is in an unsafe area.  If you are there at night, stay close to the terminal.  Taxi cabs come to meet the buses.

If you are heading to the airport to fly to Canada or elsewhere outside the US, you will still need about $25 US dollars to pay the cabbie to get you from the bus station to the airport (we’ve known folks who forgot about that).  The cabbie can drive you to an ATM machine, or stash a few US dollars on the boat ahead of time…

Map of Central Mexico

It is easy to get to and from the coast in Central Mexico.
Guadalajara is about halfway between PV & Guanajuato.

Puerto Vallarta to Guanajuato (or Guadalajara or San Miguel de Allende) – We left our boat in Paradise Village Marina

Several bus companies go between Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara (about a 5-6 hour trip).  Only one has an express route between Puerto Vallarta and Guanajuato (10 hours), and this is also one of the most luxurious bus lines: Primera Plus.  From there it is a 1.5 hour ride (108 pesos or $8.65 USD) to San Miguel de Allende.

There are several Primera Plus bus stops around Puerto Vallarta.  The main bus terminal is on the block behind the big Corona bottling plant on the way into Puerto Vallarta from Nuevo Vallarta and La Cruz and takes a few minutes of walking to get there.

When we traveled to Guanajuato, our bus was a “directo” bus, going directly from Puerto Vallarta to Guanajuato with only one stop in León (it did not stop in Guadalajara).  It left from the main bus terminal.  We took a local ATM bus from Paradise Village to get to the Primera Plus bus terminal.

This ten hour bus trip (755 pesos or $60) was the easiest and most pleasant long distance bus trip we’ve taken in Mexico.  The road was smooth, there were no speed bumps, and the only stop, in León, was about 45 minutes before our arrival in Guanajuato.  We even had wifi on the bus while traveling through the larger towns (electricity was supposed to be available but wasn’t working).

The highway is good (smooth pavement) because it is a toll road (“cuota”).  If we had driven a car, the tolls would have been about 750 pesos (~$60 USD) one way, which was the same price as one bus ticket.

Another bus company that serves Puerto Vallarta and these inland colonial cities is the  ETN Bus Line.  We were not able to find a route with them that was as direct as Primera Plus, but they go to many destinations and have fabulously comfortable buses.

Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo to MoreliaWe left our boat anchored off of Las Gatas Beach, Marina Ixtapa works too!

We were very fortunate to travel to Morelia from Zihuatanejo with friends of ours in their car.  However, the trip can be made by bus (about 4-5 hours).  Parhikuni premier class (455 pesos or $36 USD) is slightly more expensive than Autovias, and likely a little nicer.

Map of South Central Mexico

Huatulco and Tapachula (Marina Chiapas) are the best jumping off points
for west coast sailors headed inland in Southern Mexico.

Huatulco to Oaxaca (or San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque)We left our boat in Marina Chahué

ADO is the primary bus company in this area.  Their premier brand is ADO-gl, and the overnight buses between Huatulco and Oaxaca use this service (358 pesos or $29).  OCC is their second tier brand of buses, and they are the most common provider for the colonial cities in Oaxaca and Chiapas.  If you can get on an ADO-gl bus for a leg of your inland trip, fabulous!  Otherwise, OCC is where it’s at, and that’s the line that was going to Oaxaca when we made the trip.

The ADO bus terminal is at the far end of La Crucecita, easy walking distance or cab ride.

The trip to Oaxaca was grueling for us because of the many hours of sweeping turns on the way to Salina Cruz and then the many hours of switchbacks climbing the mountains to Oaxaca.  We tried both day and night travel.  It was difficult to sleep on the 8-hour overnight trip because of the motion of the bus.  The 10-hour daytime trip (longer because there are more stops) was was full of beautiful views out the windows.  An alternative is the six-hour “vomit comet” van ride (also a bit cheaper).  Lots of people like this option.

The daytime bus stopped at a restaurant after passing Salina Cruz, and we all hopped off and ordered a meal and ate and then piled back onto the bus to continue traveling.  This was a first for us!  The bus also stopped for a military checkpoint where the luggage in the baggage compartment was searched.

Huatulco is a great jumping off point for a trip to San Cristobal de las Casas and from there to the Mayan ruins at Palenque.  It is about the same distance by bus to get to San Cristobal de las Casas from Huatulco as it is from Tapachula (the city next to Marina Chiapas on the east side of the Tehuantepec).  We made these trips from Tapachula instead of from Huatulco, so we don’t have first-hand experience on the buses into Chiapas from Huatulco.

Tapachula to San Cristobal de las Casas and on to Palenque – We left our boat in Marina Chiapas

Like Huatulco, ADO is the primary bus company in this area (here are the bus schedules and ticket info).  OCC is their second tier brand and that is the line that goes to San Cristobal de las Casas.  The “combi” vans to Tapachula from Marina Chiapas pass close to the ADO bus terminal.  Tell the van driver you’re going to ADO, and you will be dropped off about a block from the ADO terminal.  On the return trip from the ADO terminal, we always caught a cab to the “combi” terminal and boarded the van headed to Zona Naval.

The easiest trip to San Cristobal from Tapachula is via Tuxtla Guttierez (change buses there) because Tapachula-Tuxtla leg of the trip is on a highway and has no speed bumps.  The 9-hour trip directly from Tapachula to San Cristobal crawls over the mountains (many lovely views and interesting small towns), and there are tons of speed bumps.  The bus comes to a stop for most speed bumps and creeps over them one axel at a time.  We also stopped about every 30-45 minutes during the trip either to let passengers on/off, or for military checkpoints.

Our 9-hour bus trip from Tapachula to San Cristobal (276 pesos or $22) was eventful enough to warrant a page of its own.  We continued our trip by going from San Cristobal de las Casas to Palenque (312 pesos or $25).  Then from Palenque to Comitán (250 pesos or $20).  And finally from Comitán to Tapachula (206 pesos or $17), all on ADO (OCC) buses.

Tapachula to Antigua GuatemalaWe left our boat in Marina Chiapas

Tica Bus connects southern Mexico to all of Central America.  Bus schedules and ticket purchases here.  It is possible to travel on their buses from Mexico City (or Tapachula) all the way to Panama City, Panama.  They leave from the ADO bus terminal in Tapachula.  Take a “combi” van from Marina Chiapas to Tapachula, tell the driver you are going to the ADO bus terminal and you will be dropped off a block from the terminal.

Our 8-hour bus ride ($19 USD) to Antigua was on a double decker bus.  We traveled one way on the upper level (regular class) and one way on the lower level (first class).  The view from the front row seats in the upper level can’t be beat (we weren’t lucky enough to get them on our trip).  The first class seats on the lower level are nicer seats, and we were served a complimentary hot meal that was much like the old days of airplane travel.

The bus conductor escorted us through the entire border crossing process into Guatemala which involved getting off the bus, standing in line to check out of Mexico and then walking a ways to stand in line to check into Guatemala.  There were money changers everywhere clutching wads of pesos and quetzals and hoping to change money for us.  Like the Mexico side of the US/Mexico border, the Guatemala/Mexico border was a zoo-scene with vendors everywhere.

We didn’t know that we wouldn’t have a chance to change money once we got to Guatemala City, and upon arrival we hopped into a cab with only US dollars and Mexican pesos, neither of which made the cabbie very happy.  He drove us to an ATM machine to get quetzals so we could pay him.  Changing enough money for cab fare at the border would have made sense, despite the bad exchange rates those money changers were likely offering.

The 45 minute cab ride from Guatemala City to Antigua was about $45, more than twice as much as the day-long bus ride from Tapachula to Guatemala City (about $19).

Hopefully these tips will help you see Mexico by bus too!

If you found this helpful, you might also like:

To help you plan your cruise and get you inspired, we created the video series, "Cruising Mexico Off the Beaten Path - Volumes 1-3," shown below. This is a fun-to-watch and easy-to-digest introduction to Mexico from a cruiser's perspective, giving you lots of valuable information that isn't covered by the cruising guides. Each video is available individually at Amazon, either as a DVD or as a download. For discount package pricing on the whole series, visit our page Cruising Mexico Video Series.

Volume 1 reviews the geography, weather and seasons in Mexico and shows you what the best anchorages between Ensenada and Manzanillo are like.

Volume 2 gives detailed info that can't be found in any of the guidebooks about the glorious cruising ground between Manzanillo and the Guatemala border.

Volume 3 (right) provides all the info you need to get off the boat for an adventure-filled trip to Oaxaca.

Our Gear Store also has a boatload of ideas for your cruise!


Spanish Learning Tools – How To Learn To Speak Spanish!

Learning and speaking Spanish

Mark checks his homework before class.

April 30, 2013 – One of the most fulfilling aspects of cruising Mexico, for us, has been the crazy roller coaster ride of learning to communicate in Spanish. We’re not super competent at it, but it is so much fun trying.

Our mistakes are always great for a few laughs, too. One time, while the Mexican Navy was doing a routine inspection of our boat at sea, I happily rattled off the answers to the Navy officer’s many questions in Spanish.

When he asked how big the engine was, I chirped “54 caballeros,” quite proud that I knew the correct word for 54. Seeing him smirk at me over his glasses, I wondered what I’d said wrong. Then I suddenly remembered that “horsepower” is “caballos” (horses), not “caballeros” (gentlemen). Oops!

Before we started our RV travels in 2007, I had a hunch we might someday buy a boat and go cruising in Mexico, so I took a year and a half of conversational Spanish at the local community college. For anyone planning to cruise, travel by RV or live in Mexico (or any other Spanish speaking country), I can’t recommend highly enough that you enroll in a community college Spanish class right away, even if your departure date is years away! The more semesters of Spanish you have under your belt before you take off on your voyage, the better off you will be once you get here. I had three semesters. I sure wish I’d had six.

What I loved about my class was that everyone in it had a deeply vested interest in learning Spanish. Our class was full of nurses, hospital administrators, cops, lawyers, construction foremen, and people married to native Spanish speakers who wanted to get along with their in-laws. We all progressed through the semesters together, and we had a blast!

It was quite a challenge, however, to take all that good class knowledge and apply it in the streets of Mexico once we started cruising, especially living in a community of English-speaking cruisers. When we first got to Mexico, I was very surprised at how much Spanish I didn’t know. However, by constantly asking directions, asking vendors for mechanical parts for the boat, and generally bumbling along, I slowly improved.

Spanish Learning Tools

There are several tools that have been helping me bridge the gap between in-class Spanish and on-the-street lingo. One of my favorites is Breaking Out of Beginner’s Spanish by Joseph Keenan. It is hilarious and is chock full of phrases, concepts and goodies that are glossed over by traditional text books.

Besides being very amusing and easy to read, it gives lots of colloquial phrases.  So when “Really?” or “No way!” or “Imagine that!” is on the tip of your tongue, you can come up with the equivalent Spanish phrase.  It also discusses the most common verbs and adjectives in great detail, explaining the nuances implied by using the words in certain contexts.

Another excellent book to help cement all that grammar and vocabulary in memory is Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish by Margarita Madrigal. This book works extensively with the most common verbs and adjectives as well, but breaks it all down in bite size pieces and focuses on the forms you are most likely to use on a daily basis.

Whereas Breaking Out of Beginner’s Spanish is a book you can sit back and read page after page, laughing the whole time while picking up little jewels along the way, Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish is a book I like to grab for five minutes at a time, flipping to a random page and diving in. Both are awesome, and I’m glad to have each one on my bookshelf.

Spanish Reference Tools (Google Translate) is terrific for translating phrases and words. This is really helpful if you get a message from TelCel about the status of your USB modem account and have no idea what it says. Cut and paste the message into Google Translate, and you can get the gist of what the message is all about.

Once I started making friends here in Mexico, I suddenly started connecting with them the modern way – via email and Facebook (they call it “Face”). Yikes! What a shock to start reading emails and FB comments filled with slang and colloquialisms, all written in the modern “texting” form of Spanish where “que” is shortened to “k” and punctuation is skipped all together! I guess English isn’t the only language undergoing major changes with “u” “ur” and other bizarre abbreviations taking over the written word and making the literary greats of yesteryear turn over in their graves.

Google Translate doesn’t work for translating friends’ email messages and FB comments. For those I find I turn to the following websites and my own imagination. is a Spanish-English dictionary and an excellent word translation tool. Type in your word in either English or Spanish and hit enter, and you’ll get pages of information. That’s what I love about it. Rather than giving you a one word translation, it goes on and on, showing how the word works in different phrases, and analyzing it from every angle. will conjugate any Spanish verb into every person in all the tenses. I use this all the time when writing emails.

When we first got to Mexico, I always carried an electronic Spanish English Dictionary with me whenever we went out on the town. It was especially helpful in the super market where the packaged food ingredients lists were unintelligible because the words for most basic ingredients are not at all similar between Spanish and English. More than one cruiser has lamented buying a container of plain yoghurt only to find out later it was sour cream!

Back on the boat we also have a traditional Spanish-English Dictionary (book). For those of us who grew up in the era of one telephone per family, sometimes it’s just easier to grab a book and rifle through it…

We have also used our Spanish for Cruisers book quite a bit, as it gives the words for all the parts on the boat, from “proa” to “popa” (bow to stern).

Immersion Spanish Classes

Almost every city has immersion Spanish classes available. Just ask around or hop online. We both took a week of Spanish classes at Instituto Jovel in the historic Spanish Colonial town of San Cristóbal de las Casas in the state of Chiapas. For $100 USD per person for the week, we each had three hours of tutorial instruction a day (we each had two different teachers for an hour and a half apiece with a break in between). We also had an hour or two of homework every night. We both learned a tremendous amount, and it bumped our Spanish skills up a notch.

For me, just conversing one-on-one in Spanish for three hours a day made a huge difference in my ability to think on my feet and spit the words out. For Mark, learning the basic grammatical constructs helped give his sizable vocabulary some glue. However, even he — who took one look at the desk-chairs in my community college Spanish 101 class and said “no way” and walked out — now wishes he had braved some conversational classes before we started cruising Mexico.

Adding a home-stay to our week of classes in San Cristóbal would have made it true “immersion,” but we enjoyed doing our homework in the comfort of a hotel. The experience was intense enough as it was. Some folks do two, three, four weeks or more, but we found our brains were mush by the end of Day 5!

Another excellent immersion Spanish school is in the gorgeous city of Guanajuato — a city that no cruiser should miss. Escuela Mexicana is set up much like the school we attended in San Cristobal, and all the students we talked to there said they loved their experience. The only caveat we would have is that if you choose to attend this school, don’t stay in the hotel they recommend, because all your classmates will be there too, and you will end up speaking English together. We heard this from every student we conversed with there.

Lots of folks like Rosetta Stone and other audio courses on tape and online. These are probably great for supplemental learning, but I think the most effective (and realistic) method is to talk to and listen to a live instructor whose mission is to teach you.

Getting out and Practicing!

I was shy to try to speak in Spanish at first, but Mark was so bold with the few words he knew that I quickly jumped in too.  I knew I was making progress when the folks I talked to stopped switching into English as soon as I opened my mouth. Wow! They understood what I said. Once in a while I even understood their reply! After a year of cruising, when I carried on a conversation with a hair stylist throughout my haircut, I felt totally triumphant.

Now, I take advantage of long cab rides to engage the cabbie in conversation. A 20-minute cab ride can turn into a great Spanish lesson that makes the cab fare a bargain. Street vendors enjoy shooting the breeze with passersby, so we try to do it in Spanish. The silver tongued timeshare tour salesmen love to talk, and are happy to chat up a storm.  Get them to do it in Spanish!!!

What do we talk about? We compare notes on where we’re from, where we’re going, where we grew up, our families, what the best things are to see around town, what we’ve all done for work, and on and on. Many folks we meet have lived north of the border for a while, and we enjoy sharing our thoughts about places we know in common. These aren’t earth shattering conversations, but they tune our ears and help us get the words flowing out of our mouths.  And it’s fun!

Keep a Notebook

We ask people all the time, “¿Como se dice…?” to find out how to say something in Spanish.  But by the time we get back to the boat we’ve forgotten all those golden nuggets we learned.  Jotting down these words and phrases we hear in a notebook is really helpful.  (Remembering to BRING that notebook is another story…!!)

I hope you find these ideas and tools as useful as we have… buena suerte (good luck) !!

For a recap, here are what all these goodies look like:

We receive a 4-6% commission — at no charge to you — for any purchases made through the Amazon links on this site. This helps us cover our out-of-pocket costs for the site. It does not pay for our time spent editing photos or writing posts. If you make a purchase, let us know so we can say thanks!

Wondering what else there is to help you learn Spanish? Maybe it’s here:

More Tips for Cruising Mexico

Marina Chiapas – Waypoints, Cruising Guide & Inland Travel

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”).

To see what the marina looks like, we have blog posts about our spring visit and our return fall visit, both in 2012.

Marina Chiapas Waypoints Chart for Puerto Chiapas and Puerto Madero Mexico

Chartplotter image of the entrance to Marina Chiapa


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
First turn (RIGHT) towards Marina
Second turn (RIGHT) towards Marina
Third turn (RIGHT) towards Marina
Fourth turn (LEFT) into Marina Chiapas

Marina Slips

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.


Marina Chiapas Puerto Madero Pedicabs

Puerto Madero Pedicab

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.

Guadelupe Cathedral San Cristobal

Guadelupe Cathedral in San Cristobal

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 Mayan Ruins

Mayan ruins at Palenque – breathtaking!

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.

Agua Azul Waterfalls

Agua Azul – the cascades of water go on forever

Boat ride to Yaxchilan

The ruins at Yaxhilán include a cool riverboat ride along the Guatemala border.

Mayan wall frescos at Bonampak

Vivid Mayan wall frescoes at Bonampak

Mayan glyph carvings at Yaxchilan

Mayan glyph carvings at Yaxchilán












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 ToursFinca 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

Awesome personalized tours!!

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.


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 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.

Misol-Ha Waterfall

Misol-Ha waterfall – you can creep in behind it!

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:

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