Holidays are for happiness. Know where to go for a holiday cruise in Mexico and how to get guests there.
ANYONE WHO HAS BEEN putting off inviting friends or family to travel down to the boat in Mexico should consider now to be the time. The widest range of cruising grounds opens for what’s called “winter” in Mexico, exactly when everyone would love to flee chillier climes up north.
WHY IT’S DIFFERENT
Mexico’s traditional December and January holidays provide a welcome contrast to the “wanton commercialism” we all disparage — but can’t avoid. Instead of constant exhortations to “buy, buy, buy,” the theme south of the border is more refreshing, with constant reenactments of stories about Mary, Joseph and the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
Mexican villagers trek up to the mountains to cut wagonloads of pine boughs and dig up living Christmas trees, carting them back so the whole community can turn out to decorate the plazas, churches and parade routes with fragrant green foliage. Decking the halls is a time-honored tradition, before the tinsel and strings of lights go up. Crèches and Virgins of Guadalupe (patron saint of Mexico) are more common than plastic Santa Clauses.
December is when special Christmas foods appear in the markets and restaurants, such as Noche Buena beer, Navidad pork tamales steamed in banana leaves and stuffed with pineapple or guava, spicy green or red pozole soups, champurrado chocolate drink, and Rosca de los Reyes (bread of the kings).
WHERE TO TAKE GUESTS
Plan A: In this active itinerary, crews will spend each day fishing, diving, hiking or cruising to the next anchorage, every night swinging on the hook somewhere new and exciting. From Los Cabos or La Paz, it’s best to run up the Baja side of the Sea of Cortez, cross over to San Carlos or Topolobampo, then run down the mainland side and cross back to the starting point. This works well with guests who are physically agile, and if they aren’t already boat savvy, they may at least enjoy learning and sharing the daily tasks.
Plan B: Relaxation is the rule for Plan B. Keep the boat in a comfy marina the whole time guests are aboard — maybe a week. Every day, whoever wants to can step off the boat merely to walk around the marina grounds, sample nearby restaurants and perhaps take a taxi to see the local sights.
Entertaining two-week guests might entail a move to another marina area for the second week. This plan is ideal for pleasant nautical ports such as Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo, La Paz, San Carlos, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Barra de Navidad, Ixtapa and Acapulco.
Plan C: This is a blend of Plans B and C. An example of a good location for Plan C is the 115-mile route from La Paz up to Puerto Escondido. Mix a couple of leisurely cruise days with two- and three-day stops in the more interesting anchorages, giving guests a look at what life is like overnight on the hook. Try to begin and end with a couple of days docked in full-service marinas. This also works from Mazatlan down to Puerto Vallarta, or along the Gold Coast from Manzanillo to Acapulco.
FLY THEM DOWN
Guests who will be enjoying a loop itinerary probably need a simple round-trip ticket from the U.S., such as from LAX to Cabo San Lucas or Puerto Vallarta, the latter of which is an easy airline destination from most major U.S. cities. It has a choice of comfy marinas and several interesting anchorages are within a day’s motor along the south side of Banderas Bay. At the end of their visit, guests can fly north on the second half of their round-trip ticket.
If, however, the plan calls for a one-way cruise from, for example, Puerto Vallarta straight up the mainland coast to Mazatlan — a nice resort port with several marinas — plan to pick up guests in PV and cruise them north for seven to 10 days. Visit several pleasant stops and then arrive in Mazatlan, from where they can fly back to the U.S.
For such an itinerary, they’ll want to book two flights, such as one-way from LAX to Puerto Vallarta and then one-way from Mazatlan to LAX. That may be more convenient and save everyone time and hassle by avoiding a redundant backtrack leg by boat or bus.
Generally, I try to avoid flying through Mexico City due to long layover times. Guests who are intrepid travelers might consider booking on Volaris or Calafia airlines, which start in Tijuana at the Cross Border Express (CBX). For an extra $20, passengers simply walk from the U.S. directly into the Tijuana airport in Mexico and vice versa on their return, thereby avoiding long border lines.
WHAT TO BRING
Every person must have a passport that’s valid for at least 30 days. The other piece of paperwork each visiting tourist must obtain is a one-page FMM form (formerly known as a “tourist card”). It’s good for up to 180 days but it’s “single entry,” not valid for multiple entries. Airlines, bus lines and border crossings give arriving visitors a blank FMM to be filled out before they go through the Aduana (Customs) gate. Directions are on the form, but in the Residence in Mexico field, they’ll need to write the name of your marina, such as Marina CostaBaja in La Paz.
Prescription medicines from home? Yes, a personal supply of up to 30 days is legal to carry through the Aduana. Anything narcotic must be accompanied by a paper prescription in the guest’s name.
Tell them what kind of clothing to pack based on the itinerary. Mexico
is mostly tropical, but Copper Canyon is at a higher elevation and gets chilly, so they’ll need jackets, socks and sturdy shoes if it’s on the itinerary. If they won’t have access to a clothes washer for a couple of weeks, they should bring hand-washable items. Will the host supply everything — dive fins, masks, snorkel tubes, fishing rods and reels — or do they need to bring their own?
Gifts need to be unwrapped before they pass through inspections, as in the U.S., so if you’re immediately whisking guests away to remote places, they might want to pack empty gift bags, wrapping paper and tape.