Banderas Bay includes muchos boating facilities and sightseeing opportunities.
On Oct. 22, 2018, Puerto Vallarta boaters were protected from Category 4 hurricane winds and seas, thanks in part to Banderas Bay’s geography. With 150-knot winds and 25-foot seas, Hurricane Willa buzz-sawed a path up the Jalisco coast. But when it approached the Cabo Corrientes headland, its ferocious winds and seas were blocked by the Sierra Cuale range’s 9,000-foot peaks, which rim the south shore of Banderas Bay. As Willa crept north past Punta Mita at high tide, 11-foot swells that entered Banderas Bay from 270 degrees T (almost west) extinguished themselves on the southwest-facing beaches of Punta Montoga. That secondary headland in turn shielded all four marinas in the Puerto Vallarta area.
“All the boats here did fine,” said Catalina Liana, a spokesperson for Marina Riviera Nayarit at La Cruz, which, as the westernmost of Puerto Vallarta’s marina harbors, is more exposed to tropical storm weather than the others. However, the marina’s beefy breakwater enclosure effectively shielded the docks and boats inside. “The swell wasn’t nearly as bad as we feared it might be. No boats or docks were damaged.”
In fact, in the 165-year history of storm tracking, no hurricane eye has ever penetrated Banderas Bay’s natural storm baffles to reach Puerto Vallarta. Torrential rain and 16 knots of wind, yes, but no hurricanes.
Filling the need for boating facilities, four full-service marinas are available along the northeast shore of Banderas Bay. The westernmost of the marinas is the newest kid in town, Marina Riviera Nayarit at La Cruz, which has expanded to 340 slips since it was built in 2006. The town of La Cruz is picturesque and trendy. This marina’s lighted entrance is about 15 nautical miles northwest of downtown Puerto Vallarta.
Then, six miles southwest, toward downtown, the elongated estuary called Nuevo Vallarta Inlet houses two marinas. A turn to the north past the lighted jetties leads to Paradise Village Marina — 200 slips to 240 feet — which serves most megayachts within a large gated resort with a zoo, golf and a shopping center. Vallarta Yacht Club is housed in Paradise Village Marina.
In Nuevo Vallarta Inlet’s smaller south arm is Marina Nuevo Vallarta, the smallest marina in town (150 slips), partially renovated in 2016. Restaurants and shops line the seawall above the docks. Nearby is a dolphin encounter and one of the bay’s two port captains’ offices.
Finally, less than a mile north of downtown, Puerto Vallarta’s municipal harbor houses Marina Vallarta (230 slips), the original boating facility opened in 1990 and recently renovated by Bay View Grand. This municipal harbor also houses cruise ships, navy docks, Opequimar and private homes with docks.
Both boatyards are on the north shore of Banderas Bay. La Cruz Ship Yard is located within Marina Riviera Nayarit’s breakwaters. It has a 150-ton Travelift that can accommodate boats to a 32-foot beam, a full range of repair services, a fuel dock for diesel and gas, and a chandler store, but no long-term boat storage on land.
The other yard is Opequimar Marine Center. Located on the west side of Puerto Vallarta municipal harbor’s narrow main channel, Opequimar has an 88-ton Travelift, a 50-ton crane, a full range of repair services, a fuel dock for diesel and gas, a chandler store, and limited dry storage on land (some is under cover). Opequimar also operates a search and rescue service within Banderas Bay; hail Opequimar Rescue on VHF Channel 16 and 68.
All the marina offices can help with port clearance, or you can do it yourself. The Nayarit port captain’s office overlooks the south side of the entrance to Nuevo Vallarta Inlet. That jurisdiction covers Marina Riviera Nayarit, Paradise Village and Nuevo Vallarta marinas. The rest of Banderas Bay lies within the state of Jalisco; the port captain for Marina Vallarta is located at the cruise ship dock to starboard as you enter the municipal harbor.
Banderas is the largest bay in Mexico, about 25 miles east to west and 13 miles north to south, and fringed on the west by the Tres Marietas Islands. Fishermen don’t even have to leave the bay to snag delicious dorado (September through February), grouper (July), red snapper (April) and wahoo (January). But for bill fishing, they may head out past the Marietas for black, blue and striped marlin (September through December) and sailfish (August through January). Tuna are best June through September.
PLAY IN THE BAY
The remarkable Tres Marietas (Three Little Marias) islands are a national park and biosphere preserve just south of Punta Mita. Besides spectacular underwater caves and walls for snorkeling and scuba diving, the islands shelter nesting colonies of many marine birds. Only about 100 visitors are allowed each day, so boaters need a day permit from SEMARNAT’s natural resources office (322-222-0703) to anchor out there and dive or step ashore. Sadly, before this limit, more than 125,000 people swarmed the little Marias yearly, damaging the habitats.
Humpback whales are often spotted around the Tres Marietas from December through March, plus a few orcas, Brydes whales and a gazillion dolphins.
Two villages on the bay’s steep south shore are especially fun to explore. Boca de Tomatlan is a half-mile fjord where a dozen exotic vacation villas cling to the jungle-clad sides (binocular sightseeing) and umbrella tables line the narrow beach. Yelapa is more remote — no paved road in — and has a wider beach dotted with palapa-roofed seafood cantinas. Yelapa is famous for its coconut pies, two spectacular waterfalls and the California expats’ slogan, “A palapa in Yelapa beats a condo in Redondo.” Both are fair-weather anchorages with concrete dinghy landings, but visitors can use the water-taxi panga.