Mexico - Mainland
Written by Cathy Siegismund
December 2000 - January 2001
We arrived in Puerto Vallarta on the 4th day out of La Paz on December 12. We
entered Banderas Bay early that morning. Banderas Bay is a large bay that is 26
miles wide at the mouth includes a state line between Nayarit and Jalisco. PV
sits back in the middle of the bay.
Banderas Bay with the Sierra Madres mountains
Puerto Vallarta and the Sierra Madres
We had tried to get a reservation at Paradise Village in Nuevo Vallarta
(about 10 miles north of Puerto Vallarta and actually in another state) a very
nice marina attached to a resort, but were unable to do so for our short 2-day
stay. We decided to try our luck at Marina Vallarta a large marina actually in
We got to Marina Vallarta at about 1500, during seista, but the large marina
looked to be about 1/3 empty so we pulled into a slip and went exploring. The
marina is older, but quite nice and is surrounded by restaurants and hotels.
When we returned to the boat, the marina office was open and we checked in for
two days. We were lucky to catch the marina office open, as we had forgotten
December 12 is a very important holiday in Mexico. It is the festival of the
Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico. This is a week long festival
which culminates on December 12 with fireworks and a parade.
We were tired from our 4-day passage, but grabbed a cab to town at about 1900
to see the festival and have dinner. The Malecon (the street along the water)
was decorated with Christmas lights and crowded with people.
Puerto Vallarta dressed up for Christmas
Local children playing on one of the many sculptures that
line the Malecon
All of the stores, restaurants and bars are open quite late and were packed.
We walked along the Malecon and made our way to the main crowded square a block
from the church. The square was packed with booths run by families serving up
homemade dinners, deserts and drinks.
Main square with booths run by families serving up homemade
dinners, deserts and drinks.
We roamed the stalls and had an excellent dinner. We then walked up to the
church where a large mass was being held and then explored the stores and
galleries along the two main streets. We then stumbled on the parade. There were
floats, some fairly elaborate and others perched in the back of pick up trucks.
Most were religious themes around the Virgin of Guadalupe. There were also high
school marching bands and groups of dancers in Aztec costumes.
Aztec Dancers in the Virgin of Guadalupe Festival Parade
The festival culminates with a fireworks show at 2330.
Hundreds of people gather waiting for the beginning of the
A 2-3 story tower was erected in the town square made of wood and twine. It
was covered with fireworks in various shapes; doves, sea horses, flowers and a
large depiction of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
The smaller shapes were all lit and would then spin in circles by small
Floral fireworks ignited on the tower
Rockets ignited to spin the decorative fireworks
It was an impressive display but not exactly up to OSHA standards. When the
rockets were lit, they would shower the packed surrounding crowds with sparks.
Some braved this with cardboard over their heads, and others would run.
Other fireworks were shot into the air
Fireworks displaying the Virgin of Guadalupe
We finally returned to the boat after midnight, exhausted as we'd just come
off a passage, but we were glad we got the chance to see the festival.
The next day we checked in and out with the Port Captain and Immigration with
our destination of Zihuatanejo. We then took a cab up to Paradise Village in
Nuevo Vallarta to see about reservations when we return in March and to visit
Jan and Signe on Raven who had been there for several weeks.
The marina is new and beautiful. It is part of a 5-star mega resort and
marina guests have access to all the hotel facilities, including spa, gym,
beach, pools, etc. The marina also caters much more to cruisers than Marina
Vallarta. They have a book swap, mail room and propane tank fills much like they
did in La Paz. We made reservations to stay from mid-February to mid-March,
spending a month in PV before we head across the Pacific. Paradise Village is
also the location of the various 'Puddle Jump' parties and meetings. These are
activities for those of us getting ready to head to the South Pacific. It isn't
really 'authentic' Mexico, but before 30 days at sea, it will be nice to enjoy
The next day, December 14, we left PV for Zihuatanejo.
Leaving Marina Vallarta takes you past the cruise ship
We planned to do a few overnight passages as well as stop at a few bays as
long as no check-in/out was required. This is a lovely part of the west coast of
Mexico, but we decided to go quickly South, and take more time exploring on our
way back North to PV in February.
We didn't leave PV until about noon, and with the light wind in the bay we
decided to do an overnighter around Cabo Corrientes. This is a large point which
forms the Southern end of Banderas Bay. The cape has the same effect as Point
Conception in California. Whenever a land mass juts that far out into the ocean
it causes higher winds and bigger seas. We ended up rounding the point that
night with 25 knot winds and a few higher gusts on the stern, but with fairly
short, steep, confused seas. Our first stop after the 75 mile or so trip from PV
was Bahia de Chamela. We arrived mid-morning on December 15. As soon as we
rounded Cabo Corrientes we really felt like we had entered the tropics - it was
HOT! It was a pretty bay but a rolly anchorage. We dropped the hook and caught
up on sleep after the overnight passage.
We left mid-morning the next day, December 16 for a day sail to Bahia
Tenacatita. We sailed a few miles off the coast and enjoyed the rocky coastal
cliffs interspersed with palm lined beaches. There were also a number of hotel-
sized mansions built on cliffs overlooking the pacific.
Bahia Tenacatita is a large and popular anchorage. There were about 15 other
boats in the bay when we arrived and dropped anchor just as the sun set. There
is a beautiful long sand beach with a large hotel at one end. We'll definitely
stop here again on our way back north. We enjoyed a quiet evening and a good
December 17, we left Tenacatita for an overnight passage past Manzanillo.
Manzanillo is large port city, but has a Port Captain and therefore was not on
our schedule. We had a quiet passage although we did have to contend with some
hazy weather and busier shipping traffic as we passed Manzanillo. On my watch
that night it was very dark as there was little moon - always a little creepier
than when you are dazzled with a full moon. I was sitting in the cockpit when I
heard splashes and what looked like submerged lights darting around the boat
caught my eye. These are telltale signs of dolphins. It was very dark and hard
to see them swim and play with the boat, but you could hear their puffs of
breath and see their underwater phosphorescence trails like comets zoom past the
boat. I happened to be looking forward when one of the dolphin leapt straight
out of the air next to the bow, higher than the lifelines. He was vertically
spinning - it was like Sea World!
I was rejuvenated for the rest of my watch, nothing is better at night than a
visit by a pod of dolphin, all cruisers seem to agree it feels like a good luck
We arrived the next morning, December 18, at Bahia de Maruata, a very small
and picturesque bay.
Entering Bahia de Maruata
Maruata is fairly open to the ocean but it's narrow, only 1/2-mile across,
and its head is somewhat protected by several large rocks.
Cath - hot, tired and tanned after our overnight sail to
Bahia de Maruata
It has a lovely long white sand beach with heavy surf. Tall coconut palms
fill the flat land North of the bay and is home to small village.
The beach lined with small thatched shelters shading tents
and hammocks of campers visiting the bay
Sunset over the head of the Bahia de Maruata and the inland
Large rocks that form Bahia de Maruata
Cactus growing to water's edge
The morning of December 19, we left Maruata for what was planned to be a
short day trip to another bay, that would have been followed by one last
overnighter to Zihuatanejo. As we left the bay however, the winds had shifted
from the NW to the SE - the direction we were headed. The winds were somewhat
shifty and although we tried to tack into the winds, we were making little
progress. We decided to press on for an overnighter, rather than stop in a bay
that would not provide any shelter in the shifting winds.
The timing worked out just right, as we were motoring past Ixtapa on the way
to Zihuatanejo as the sun was rising on the morning of December 20. We motored
into large Zihuatanejo bay just as the morning cruiser's VHF net was starting.
Entering Zihuatanejo Bay
There is no mooring in Zihuatanejo, but there are two large anchorages in the
bay. We chose to initially anchor closer to town, as we had to check in, do
laundry and grocery shop.
The bay is split into three main areas. The first anchorage, where we
initially stayed, is off the municipal pier and beach and is closer to town.
Rocky outcropping in the middle of Zihuat bay on which sits
an exclusive hotel and beyond which is Playa de La Ropa
View from the Municipal anchorage looking towards town
However, the water is murky and really too dirty to swim or run the
watermaker in. The other anchorage is at the other end of the bay and is off a
beach called La Ropa. The beach is lined with hotels and the water is clean and
delightful for swimming, although you have to contend with jet skis and
parasailers. It is also closer to another beach called Las Gatas that has an
ancient man-made reef for snorkeling, swimming and generally lounging on the
As we were dropping the hook, we were hailed by Sammy and Don who bought the
boat my parents had built in Port Townsend and I had grown up sailing. Sammy
keeps in touch with my Mom via email and I had hoped we would run into them here
in Mexico. They have been cruising in Mexico for 3 years, and this year are
heading further South into Central and South America, and ultimately to Panama.
Sammy and Don's Dawn's Belle, Skookum 53, Cath's family had
built and sailed
We met on the dinghy landing, and they gave us the lay of the land. They told
us about Rick of Rick's Bar, an American who has a boat, but lives in Zihuat and
runs a bar, and is the local 'den mother' to cruisers. He has local events, will
fill propane tanks, has a book swap, mail forwarding and collection, and other
assorted services. They also pointed out the best laundry, bank, place to have
Ken and I checked in, and had pizza with Don and Sammy of Dawn's Belle, and
Kris and Bill of Pacific Adventurer. Kris and Bill spend winters cruising in
Mexico (this year they're taking the boat to the Caribbean) and spend summers
running their Bed & Breakfast in Friday Harbor.
The next day, I joined Sammy and a few of the other cruising ladies for a
Christmas shopping day. One of the ladies I really hit if off with was Grace
from Eagle, a Crealock 37. Grace and Larry returned from the South Pacific last
summer and have a been a great resource about cruising in the South Pacific.
Grace and Larry's Eagle, Crealock 37, at anchor in
On December 23, Wendy and Garth on Velella arrived in Zihuatanejo.
Wendy & Garth's Velella, Wylie 31, at anchor in Zihuatanejo
We enjoyed further exploring Zihuat with Wendy & Garth. We went to Mexican
folk dancing night at Rick's Bar, baked Christmas sugar cookies on Felicity -- a
rather warm undertaking in 90 degree heat.
Ken and I got in the Christmas spirit by decorating our tree below and
stringing Christmas lights on Felicity. We were even visited by a group of
carolers in dinghies on night!
Christmas 2000 in Zihuatanejo - Feliz Navidad!
Felicity dressed up for Christmas in Zihuatanejo
Cruising Christmas Carolers in their dinghies
Ken and I joined Wendy and Garth for a cruiser's Christmas dinner Rick put
together at his bar. Over 60 people attended for turkey and all the trimmings.
The week between Christmas and New Years we enjoyed the town of Zihuat, went
snorkeling and relaxed. We went to Rick's house, a lovely home with a pool, for
New Year's Eve. We swam and barbequed and then returned to the town. We wandered
by the central area on the Malecon, a basketball court by day, that had been
transformed into a stage with live music, food stalls and dancing for New
Year's. We then returned to Felicity, where we welcomed the new Millennium
sitting on the bow watching fireworks being shot off from both sides of the bay.
Last week we decided to do something different. We heard about a tour offered
by a local archeology student up into the mountains around Zihuat. Wendy and
Garth joined us, and about 6 other people for the tour. We met at the dinghy
landing at 0800 and were then led to the bus stop. We were then driven up into
the mountains outside of town.
Birds startled by our bus in the countryside outside
After a 30 or so minute bus ride, we stopped and Rafael led us up a trail to
an Aztec site where human sacrifices had occurred. Hiking up the trail you could
still find partially buried shards of ancient pottery.
Halfway up the trail was a group of stones where the virgins were sacrificed
and in the upright stone was carved directions to the sea and the cliff where
the bodies were subsequently thrown into a cave.
Rafael and the carved stone
Further along the trail we came across an enormous cactus, which was over 500
Ken and the 500 year old cactus
Further along the trail we reached a large stone outcropping from which they
tossed the bodies of those sacrificed into a cave, and from which had a sweeping
view of the coconut plantations which stretched for miles to the sea.
Cave where hundreds of human remains were found, victims of
the Aztec sacrifices
View from rocky outcropping
Miles of coconut plantations stretch all the way to the
We had to skip a usual part of the tour to the ruins of a temple, as that
particular ridge had been infested with African Killer Bees. We thought that was
OK to skip! The bus picked us up again, and drove us to a village that had claim
on the land where the ruins were found.
Welcome to Soleada de Maciel
Soledad de Maciel is also Rafael's home town, also known as Lachole. It was a
small village devoid of gringos - except us. The town's main industry is working
the coconut plantations. The copra (meat of the coconut) is sent to Mexico City
for processing for coconut oil, whole coconuts are sold to hotels for drinks,
etc, and the husks are dried and sold to bakeries for fuel for the ovens.
Separating the copra from the coconut husk
The town was quiet and the people friendly. We were however, immediately
swarmed by all the village children. Tony, a cruiser from the UK, had a digital
video camera. He taped the children and then would show them the tape. This was
fascinating for them, probably the first time they had ever seen themselves on
tape. Tony became the pied piper for the rest of the trip.
The town of Lachole and Tony with his following of admirers
All the women in the tour were also followed by the village children. We were
all given flowers which we put in our hair.
Wendy was the recipient of some rather large flowers
Most of the finds from the archeological dig are now in museums in Mexico
City, but a few artifacts remain in the village.
An Aztec carving holds a prominent place outside the
A group of Aztec carvings and ancient tools on display in
A beautiful river runs through Lachole where the villagers fish and wash
River in Lachole
Laundry day in Lachole
We also visited the town's cemetery still decorated from the Day of the Dead,
an important festival in Mexico in November which honors the dead.
As we neared the end of our tour, two of our local followers posed for me.
Two girls from Lachole pose for me atop an enormous volcanic rock
We continue to make Zihuat our adopted home for another month, enjoying the
town and growing community of cruisers. The bay now has about 60 boats in it,
many of boats making their way South heading for the Panama Canal. We alternate
between the Municipal anchorage when we want to be close to town and the La Ropa
anchorage when we run the watermaker or want to swim off the boat.
Over the last week we have worked on the boat, scrubbing the bottom, waxing
the topsides and polishing stainless. The tropical salty environment is
murderous on boats, and it is an endless chore to keep the boat looking and
performing her best. Maintenance that would be done annually in Seattle now
needs to be done monthly.
However, we still have plenty of time to enjoy the cruising lifestyle.
Sunset from our current La Ropa beach anchorage in
I will be making a week-long trip to Seattle, January 10-17. I no doubt will
be shell-shocked by the cold weather, but will enjoy seeing friends.
We plan to stay in Zihuatanejo for the rest of January. We will be hosting
some visiting friends and look forward to showing them this wonderful place. In
February, we will start making our way back North to Puerto Vallarta where we
will have visits from both of our mothers and where we will spend over a month
preparing for our biggest adventure so far, the crossing of the Pacific to the
Marquesas in French Polynesia.