Mexico’s Gold Coast Cruising Guide

Boaters are attracted to the Gold Coast’s 18 nautical destinations, all of which are golden during the fall, winter and spring cruising season.



MEXICO’S GOLD COAST STRETCHES 475 nautical miles, from Puerto Vallarta to Acapulco. This tropical shoreline curves like a giant pouch stuffed full of gold nuggets.

Recreational boaters are attracted to the coast’s 18 nautical destinations, all of which are golden during the fall, winter and spring cruising season. Ranging from posh marinas at glamorous resorts, to bustling ports and remote anchoring coves, these nuggets are easy pickings, so let’s take a look.

PUERTO VALLARTA in Banderas Bay i s the best place to start. We can stock up on provisions and pick up fl y-in guests before cruising south. Four marinas and two boat yards line the north shore. The south shore is full of the small but interesting village anchorages of Las Animas and Yelapa. Cabo Corrientes can be bumpy if an afternoon wind is blowing, so round this headland in the evening or overnight.

CHAMELA BAY contains Islas Pajarera (Aviary) and Colorado, both with anchoring coves, plus 12 islets. Tucked into both ends of the 5-mile beach are the primary overnight anchorages off the resort villages of Perula and Playa Chamela.

Carayes, named for the endangered Caray sea turtles that nest here, has a gem ashore in each of its three tiny lobes: Playa Blanca (private home), Playa Rosa (French restaurant) and Playa Carayes (small, posh Hotel El Caray). Neon bungalows climb the jungle cliffs. Moorings hold excursion boats overnight.

MEXICO’S GOLD COAST CRUISING GUIDETENACATITA’S two lobes span five miles, providing reliable shelter in NW wind, when up to 30 cruising boats may swing in comfort. Playa Tenacatita anchorage is closest to Las Escolleras, a dive spot also known as Aquarium Reef. At the bay’s south end beach, La Manzanilla village has shops close to Highway 200. Tenacatita’s largest anchorage lies in the north end, below Blue Bay hotel. When departing Tenacatita, look for La Iglesia, the church, in the towering cliffs.

“JUNGLE RIVER DINGHY TRIP” This is Tenacatita’s primo activity, a dinghy adventure through the Las Iguanas mangrove estuary. Starting south of the palm plantation campground, you cross a small bar then meander through leaf-shaded channels amid colorful wildlife. Three miles upstream, land the dinghy on the north side of Playa Tenacatita for your picnic lunch, then three miles downstream, exiting before sunset. This is ideal for groups of two or three families.

PLAYA CUASTECOMATE: Beautiful black sand rims this small turquoise bay tucked into the NW side of the Melaque headland. The best spot to drop the hook is off the hotels in the SW corner.

Melaque & San Patricio are adjacent beach-resort villages in the west end of large Navidad Bay. Anchor off Melaque, but during the week of March 17, join the St. Patrick festivities. He is the patron saint of San Patricio village.

BARRA DE NAVIDAD: A lighted channel leads boaters behind this gorgeous blonde vsand spit into two sheltered lagoons for anchoring and the first full-service marina and fuel dock since Puerto Vallarta. Marina Puerto Isla Navidad has 200 slips inside its own enclosed basin. Behind it rises a 12-story Spanish Colonial resort. The marina’s fuel dock lies 300 yards into Laguna Colimilla, which contains another fishing village,

the largest free anchoring area and an island where the TV series “McHale’s Navy” was filmed. Punta Graham headland shields these lagoons. The beach-front town of Barra de Navidad covers the sand spit with shops and eateries. Water taxis shuttle visitors between the marina, anchorages, hotels and lagoon side of the town.

MARABASCO SHELF: At six miles down from Punta Graham, sportfishers flock to this seasonal shoal that extends a half mile out to catch marlin and dorado, or skim the beach berm for rooster-fish. Rio Marabasco floods every summer to enrich this fishing destination.

MANZANILLO encompasses four distinct anchoring bays: undeveloped Carrizal, craggy Higuerras, Bahia Santiago with its many anchorages and small resorts, and the largest, Bahia Manzanillo which houses the

This tropical shoreline curves like a giant pouch stuffed full of gold nuggets

This tropical shoreline curves like a giant pouch stuffed full of gold nuggets stuffed full of gold nuggets.

commercial port and navy. The only marina, Las Hadas, is tucked into the east side of Punta Santiago, the craggy headland between Santiago and Manzanillo bays. Behind the marina, Las Hadas resort’s fairy-tale architecture climbs the cliffs. Sailfish chartering is Manzanillo’s major tourist industry, but strictly catch and release.

PUNTA CABEZA NEGRA lies about 5 0 miles down the beach from Manzanillo. This peninsula juts out two miles and has two bold heads, allowing boaters to anchor in either north or south wind and current conditions.

CALETA DE CAMPOS is a town atop Buffadero Bluff. A low concrete breakwater shields the anchorage in the bay’s north end, where stairs bring visitors up to the town. Besides shops, restaurants and small hotels, boaters can visit Michoacan’s Technical School of Navigation and Fishing. By dinghy you might find “Cara de Nixon” in the cliffs.

Isla Grande looks like a miniature Disney fantasy island, less than a mile wide with 168’ peaks. Two of its three sandy coves allow overnight anchoring, Playa Norte and Playa Veradero, but due to delicate corals, “swimming only” is posted at Playa Coral on the south side. Sand floored seafood cantinas fill the coves by day, but all the tourists depart at dusk.

IXTAPA is famous for sparkling white beaches, 5 -star hotels and robust night life, but boaters find comfort next door in Marina Ixtapa’s 600 slips, fuel dock and boat yard, all within a 2-lobed interior basin, including golf course. Just outside the marina, sportfishers and divers spend all day at the four Islas Blancas.

The Gold Coast is the best winter cruising ground on Mexico's mainland shore. Gold stars indicate a jewel of a boating stop.

The Gold Coast is the best winter cruising ground on Mexico’s mainland shore. Gold stars indicate a jewel of a boating stop.

ZIHUATANEJO BAY is adjacent to Ixtapa, but opposite in ambiance. Zihuatanejo means “Place of the Goddess Women” in Nahuatl. Today we can anchor off fi ve beaches within this gorgeous 2-mile bay, while the villagers who used to go to sleep at sundown now must adapt to cruise-ship visitors. A bus links Zihuatanejo with Ixtapa hourly.

Papanoa offers reliable overnight anchorage for boaters. On the north side of Morro Papanoa, two overlapping breakwaters shield three shrimp docks. The lighted outer dock is handy if you need to come alongside for repairs or take on provisions, while the nearby marine base keeps law and order.

Mexico's GoldACAPULCO: Final jewel on the Gold Coast, about 300 yachts can fi nd berths in the harbor’s West End: Acapulco Yacht Club, Marina Santa Lucia, La Marina and Performance Marina. Mooring buoys hold 50 more. Fuel docks are at AYC and Performance. Within walking distance are grocery stores, eateries, the famous Zolcalo park, the cruise-ships dock and the starshaped El Fuerte museum. At Isla Roqueta, snorkel over the golden sculpture garden.