Gold Coast Winter Cruising

Beautiful and pristine anchorages await on this itinerary.

Mexico’s Gold Coast a series of nine beautiful boating destinations and pristine anchorages strung like jewels on a golden crown. Together they provide several months’ worth of winter cruising pleasure. Here’s one winter cruising itinerary for Mexico’s Gold Coast, a three-month itinerary (November, December, January) designed for boaters who want to escape the north’s cold while soaking up the very best of Mexico’s tropic splendor.

November 1–20
If you’re coming down the outside of Baja, jump across from Cabo San Lucas (about 300 n.m., avoid Tres Marias) to the welcome arms of Banderas Bay, where four full-service marinas await at La Cruz, Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta. Banderas Bay’s north shore has all the marinas, two fuel docks, two boatyards and Puerto Vallarta’s international airport, for guests. Plan to provision in Puerto Vallarta’s many excellent supermarkets and big municipal market stalls. Walk shady pedestrian paths on Isla Rio Cuale and enjoy street performers, fun art and interesting eateries.

Nov. 20–30
Save 10 days for Banderas Bay getaways. Scuba or snorkel or just see the sights at Tres Mariettas Marine Park near Punta Mita. Sample tequila and raicilla at a 300-year-old distillery in the quaint mountain village of San Sebastian del Oeste, 90 minutes on winding roads by tour bus. Visit four free village anchorages — Mismaloya, Tomatlan, Las Animas, Quimixto — along the south shore of Banderas Bay and the hippie jungle outpost of Yelapa.

Dec. 1–15
Round Cabo Corrientes overnight when winds are lightest and spend a week in each of the following. At Chamela, the main overnight anchorage lies in the north end of the bay off the vacation village of Perula, but tiny pristine toeholds are tucked among a dozen small jungle-clad islands (only nine of which are named) scattered along Chamela’s southeast shore, also ideal for snorkeling and bird-watching from dinghies, kayaks and SUPs. My favorite is Isla Pajarera, the Bird Cage.

At Careyes, million-dollar bungalows of chartreuse and neon pink cling to the cliffs above three tiny turquoise coves. Ask about a day pass at posh El Carey Hotel to use its spa and pools that overlook the anchorage. A polo field and heliport are nearby. Save Careyes for flat sea conditions, because the anchorage is tiny and can be susceptible to surges, or try Bahia Careyes a bit farther south where the turtle nests are protected.

Tenacatita is famous for the Jungle River Dinghy Expedition, a self-guided dinghy cruise (fun for two or three dinghies) composed of shady tunnels of mangrove tendrils, hidden loops for squirt-gun ambushes and sunny ponds. You’ll see jungle flowers, iguanas, butterflies, king fishers and crocs — don’t bring pets. Land the dinghies on the sandy back side of Playa Tenacatita for a potluck lunch, then return through the estuary to the commodious main anchorage before sunset.

Dec. 15–31
Barra de Navidad is the place for Christmas. Book a slip early at Marina Puerto Isla Navidad for primo service, including a fuel dock. The French baker — he really is — will deliver fresh croissants and other delights, by panga, to your swim step every morning. The Grand Isla Navidad resort’s stunning colonial architecture frames the marina, whose guests get access to the hotel’s restaurants, golf courses, boutique shops, pools, concierge desk and shuttle service to nearby Manzanillo airport.

Across the front lagoon, the funky surfer village of Barra de Navidad has water taxis to pick you up at your slip and whisk you to a choice of inexpensive waterfront eateries with dinghy-up steps. Water taxis also serve the free anchorage in the back lagoon. Join the traditional Christmas and New Year street festivities (e.g., church processions, food tables, fireworks) at Melaque, San Patricio and Barra, then join or watch a lighted boat parade through both lagoons.

Jan. 1–15
Celebrate Ano Nuevo 2019 just 30 miles south in Manzanillo Bay’s mini cruising ground: nine free anchorages and the historic Marina Las Hadas, where boats Med-moor in a circular harbor. This hotel’s architecture is a dazzling white fairy-tale castle. Book early for the holidays, which end January 12 when the wise men arrive and gifts are opened.

Manzanillo’s two best free anchorages are Playa La Boquita and Playa Santiago (fun beach eateries), but for a small fee try Playa Las Hadas, which includes dinghy access into the marina docks and some resort amenities. La Audiencia cove has excellent snorkeling. Downtown, anchor off Fishermen’s Wharf to stroll west half a mile to the Sail Fish Plaza, which honors this region’s pledge to catch and release.

En route to Ixtapa (185 miles), Cabeza Negra and Caleta de Campos are merely stepping- stone rest stops in fair weather. Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo are the diamond-studded destinations. These non-identical twins lie only 10 miles apart and are both attractive to boaters for their different characteristics. The only slips are inside Marina Ixtapa, a narrow yacht basin — full service, fuel dock, boatyard — tucked behind lines of sparkling 20-story hotel towers. On the other hand, Zihuatanejo’s steep little bay has three beachy little anchorages that front a small historic town and nice La Ropa homes on the east side. Ixtapa has jazzy nightlife and boogies till dawn, which is when Zihua’s pangueros are heading out to fish. The contrasts are delightful, and an hourly tourist bus links both locales. I’d spend one week in the marina and the other on the hook in Z-Wha Bay.

Zihuatanejo is a good U-turn point for heading back north into the lower Sea of Cortez for the rest of the winter and spring cruising season. Lay a course to spend more time at some favorite spots, perhaps flying down a different set of guests or crew.

The big time constraint is hurricane season, which officially begins June 1. Before the first summer cyclonic storms start roaming up from the Gulf of Tehuantepec, you want to be safely positioned within quick reach of a hurricane hole: Barra, PV, La Paz, Puerto Escondido.

One thought on “Gold Coast Winter Cruising

  1. Marina Vallarta is set only 2 minutes from the Puerto Vallarta international Airport plus it has all the amenities (hotels,hospitals,restaurants and live entertainment) just walking distance. It’s newly refurbished docks are great and their staff is helpful and friendly. You don’t need to rent a car or taxi since for only a few pesos you can get on the bus to go to downtown Puerto Vallarta. Other marinas at Banderas Bay are farther from all of this.


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