Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Puerto Vallarta and Banderas Bay

Banderas Bay is deceptively large, the largest on the west coast of Mexico. Entering the bay, we gave Punta de Mita wide berth and followed the suggestion of the cruising guide, passing close to Marieta East to avoid the shallows near the point and the three large pinnacles which come within feet of the surface.

While relatively shallow on its north end, Banderas Bay is also one of the deepest bays in the world. The southern end of the bay is encircled by high mountains (Cerros Moronades at 9,000'). These deep escarpments continue to plunge to depths beyond the waters boundary (with depths up to 2 miles).

The marina at the municipal harbor is entered through the ship channel, heading north after entering, past the cruise ship moorings and the Navy base and into the narrow entrance of the municipal marina, itself. Marina Vallarta is surrounded by condominiums which are fronted by shops and restaurants. The ambiance and charm provided by the promenade along the shop fronts and the water is in stark contrast to the disrepair of the marina.

We are now developing a routine when visiting a new port. We first reconnoiter the immediate area on foot to find all the essential services we may need before expanding our presence by becoming familiar with the local bus system. We have been impressed, not only with the efficiency and low cost of the bus system, but also the quality of the Mexican highway system. If you know your destination, traveling by local city buses becomes a matter of speed reading. Each of the older city buses has on their windshields a fairly complete list of destinations that particular bus services. By reading the hand painted route as the bus approaches, you know whether or not to flag that particular bus over to get to where you're going. Even if you're not sure, most of the drivers are very helpful in letting you know if they will be going to your destination.

The old city of Puerto Vallarta, bounded by high-rise resorts on either side, is still charming and beautiful. The narrow cobbled streets, hidden suspension bridges, stunning gardens and picturesque hillside enclaves all serve to enhance its seaside setting. By sticking to the back streets and avoiding the malecon and the main tourist shops we were able to avoid one of the distractions of the Mexican seaside cities, the time share hawkers.

The advantage to Marina Vallarta is its relative proximity to town. While the environment surrounding the marina was seductive, the shoddy condition of both the docks and showers induced us to begin looking elsewhere for slip space. We took the bus north to Nueva Vallarta to check out the marina there. It’s about 20km further north of the city and located in the state of Nayarit. The development was laid out as a planned resort. The streets were well manicured with landscaping, but the marina itself was made up of a series of unpadded, concrete floating side-ties. There were no support facilities close to the marina and no obvious shower or bathroom facilities. The clincher for Kathie was the billboard warning of the presence of crocodiles and suggesting no swimming, fishing, water play or allowing pets to run loose. Kathie couldn’t imagine walking along the dock at night and running into a crock lounging on the dock.

We knew of an anchorage even further north out of town at La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. Reading in a more recent yachting guide, indicated there was now a marina at that location. Kathie contacted them by cell phone and found they had space for us. The morning of February 16, we cast off from Marina Vallarta, stopped by the fuel dock to top off the tank and sailed up to the marina at La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. What we found was one of the nicest marinas we’ve seen in Mexico or the U.S. It was had been opened since November of ’08. It has an artfully designed breakwater, yacht club house, second story palapa restaurant with an open air Sky Bar above that. The cruiser lounge, bathrooms and showers were architectural jewels. They even provide a concierge service. The facility is well staffed with professional, friendly staff. To top it all off, the slip rates were lower than the municipal marina at Marina Vallarta. The sunsets over Banderas Bay from the Sky Bar are hard to beat.

Besides a world class marina, the village that surrounds La Cruz has a more traditional Mexican character. While there are a few low-rise gringo developments nearby, the town is dominated by its local citizenry. The streets are narrow and cobbled and not all are paved. There is a once a week mercado on Wednesdays that takes up one narrow block in town. There are many fine restaurants and a great deal of live music opportunities to take advantage of in town. Between the highway (Punta de Mita to Puerto Vallarta) and the marina the town is about 5 blocks deep. From one end of town to the other may be another 5 to 7 blocks. It's all very compact and self-contained.

The morning of February 23, we said good-bye to friends we met while in La Cruz, backed out of our slip at the La Cruz Yacht Club and began making our way north, towards the Sea of Cortez.

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