Last year (2012) I visited Puerto Vallarta for what I call a photo tour, visiting different parts of the Bay, the beaches, the attractions and sightseeing at the same time. It was a hectic four days, but it worked out quite well, despite the sore feet, blisters and the hot weather.
Las Ánimas Beach, south of Puerto Vallarta
I decided to visit as many of the beaches in and around the Bay as possible, so I started off very early, prepared with sun block lotion, the camera batteries well loaded and the SD memories empty.
In Mexico all beaches are Federal Property, so supposedly all people are able to visit them and enjoy them. Hotels and other businesses sometimes try to make it hard to access them and this trip showed me in some cases just how far they go to make them their own “private” property.
La Cruz de Huanacaxtle and La Manzanilla Beach
La Manzanilla, the beach by La Cruz de Huanacaxtle
The adventure started off early in the morning before dawn, I drove north until I started to see the sunrise, this was close to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, so I turned off the road, took some sunrise photos and turned in to La Cruz, the town is nice, they were renovating parts of the town, so it looked a bit messy.
Went to the Plaza, took some photos and went in to the Marina, I found they were holding a open sea swimming event, so the place was quite active.
The Marina is nice and the beach, La Manzanilla, though relatively small is a nice quiet beach which obviously is great for families. Access is easy either via the Marina or a side street of the plaza that follows the edges of the local church and takes you to the beach
I then continued along the edge of the Banderas Bay, trying to figure out where Punta Burro (Burros Beach) and Destiladeras Beach were, didn’t see them or any sign informing of their presence, so I ended up in Punta de Mita (or Punta Mita - used indistinctly) on Playa El Anclote in the north zone. This is Punta Mita’s best and most popular beach, the locals told me that going east you’d arrive at the beach called Los Ranchos, and that was where the jet-set enjoys their condos, beach and surf (including Lady Caca). Obviously, I didn’t go there (who cares!).
El Anclote beach is a short stretch flanked by a lot of hotels, palapas and restaurants and two stone piers, though I understood the beach continued westward all the way until the golf club starts and from there on the beach there has another name, the beach west of the pier is alright for some 50 meters, but becomes quite rocky and is more a beach you’d stroll along looking for treasures the sea washed up. I found a stretch of the beach filled with broken white coral that was quite interesting… where's they come from?...
So access to the beach in Punta Mita is easy and there is quite a bit of parking space along the street behind the stores, restaurants and hotels. I said to myself, this trip to the beaches is going to be a breeze.
I then decided to go northwards, just outside Punta de Mita going towards Bucerías, there is a crossroad where you can start driving north towards Litubu, Sayulita and further north to other beaches like San Pancho (San Francisco), Lo De Marcos, Rincon de Guayabitos and the rest of the Riviera Nayarit (was just about to write Maya…), so I decided to go to Sayulita and Lo De Marcos, which seemed to be quite nice and interesting (left San Pancho for another trip).
The drive takes you by Litibú that looks more like a private condo-timeshare development, with a controlled access, took a photo and moved on, the drive to Sayulita is quite nice, even in the dry season, jungles cover both sides to the two lane road which is in quite good shape too. It took me 20 minutes to get there. There are a few false “entries” to Sayulita, but the real one is quite obvious, so don’t get distracted along the way.
Litibú, the entrance at least...
You drive into town and it looks quite nice, I parked before the bridge that takes you into “downtown” Sayulita and walked the rest of the way, was a good idea as the town is small and picturesque, better to see it on foot. Sayulita is strange in a good way, it breathes and air of 70’s hippy mixed in happy communion with traditional Mexico, half the people on the street look like gringos, with the typical flip-flops /sneakers, the knee length khaki shorts and t-shirts, the other half look very small town Mexican. So it’s quite a contrast, but people seem very relaxed and don’t seem surprised to find a California-style arts and crafts store beside a small old fashion “abarrote” store. I found it quite indicative when I actually went into a small store and found Tillamook Cheddar cheese alongside panela cheese packages… a brand you only find in COSTCO in Guadalajara.
A local artist works by the bridge in Sayulita
Anyway, I visited the small plaza, took some photos and went to the beach. You immediately notice that the town mostly revolves around the beach, surfers, bars, palapas, sunbathers, artisans selling their crafts on the access streets, lots of people, much more than I found on any of the other beaches in the bay. Sayulita is a beach town, that’s for sure and there is lots to enjoy there. I’d call it the “in” beach of the area, specially if you are between 20 and 40. The beach itself is nice, wide, long, with good waves that roll along for the surfers and arrive gently on the edge for kids and swimmers. Nice place to visit, very recommendable, but plan to overnight, though I didn’t stay the night, you can see it’s a fun place to stay.
Lo De Marcos is a great beach, the town is cute, there’s a small plaza on the way to the beach, stores, bars and small restaurants, a more a traditional Mexican small town. The beach is wide, clean, clean and has nice beige small grain sand. The slope is a bit steeper than most beaches I visited and the waves are stronger, so swimming and kids alone by the edge could be an issue. There are some small bar/restaurants by the edge and there is a small lagoon going north by the beach, which could be fun to visit and enjoy (I didn’t have the time to visit it).
In 1975 Man Friday, starring Peter O'Toole was filmed here, you can see the north area in this video on Youtube.
I returned the same way I took to Sayulita, and searched for Playa Burros between Punta de Mita and Destiladeras in the north zone, now with the indications I got from the guys at El Anclote Beach. I was to look for a Resort called Grand Palladium and take the road to the resort, and just before arriving at the gates, take a dirt road on the left. So I did, and parked at a prudent distance from the resort (you don’t need to, there are parking spaces along the dirt road) and walked most of the way.
Burros Beach "access"
At the end of the dirt road you walk into the jungle, along the path you hop over some broken and downtrodden walls and fences, after some 10 minutes through the lush vegetation (the path is clear), you arrive to a “The Beach”-like opening, the sea, waves and the beach itself. There were some surfers snoozing under some make-shift palapas, a cute girl taking a nap too and some surfers out on the waves. The beach is nice, in some spots quite stony too and it’s not too wide, but it is quite long to the left going towards Bucerías (900 meters).
There was a lot of wind when I got there too, very quiet, I must have seen a total of 7 people while I was there. It is not as active as Sayulita or El Anclote, with that access it’s clear, but I’d say it is a nice beach for younger couples and surfers, of course. Playa Burros is not a place to bring your family, unless you are ready for a good hike, also consider that there are NO places to buy drinks or anything else, so pack accordingly.
Next stop was Destiladeras Beach (between Burros and Bucerias), this time around I was informed I should look for a development called Nahui. I had actually seen it on the way to Punta Mita, but I thought it was only that, a real estate development with a big parking lot.
I parked there around midday and it was really, really hot, a 15 knot hot wind coming in from the South (where’s my windsurf when I need it…). You can see the beach up from the hill where you park, the beach is in two parts separated by a small point, a small stretch of around 200 meters on the left and the main beach on the right that is very long, around 2 kilometers (1.3 miles). You walk down the hillside; there are two stretches of stairs to the beach itself. The beach is wide, clear sand, soft waves. There were quite a few people there and it’s obviously a popular beach, certainly a family friendly playa and quite recommendable. There are a few small very rustic stores that offer cold drinks, fish, snacks and very little more. If you are picky it’s best to pack your food and drinks before going to Playa Destiladeras.
The next stop was Bucerias, a small town between La Cruz de Huanacaxtle and Nuevo Vallarta. The town it quaint, there’s a small church right beside the plaza and the beach right on the west edge of the plaza itself. The beach is quite nice, wide, medium slope, the waves a bit strong.
Access is easy, you may have issues finding parking space right by the beach, but a few blocks walking is only good for you. There are quite a few restaurants, bars, hotels and condos that border with the beach, so you’ll have quite a variety of options should you suddenly need something to drink or eat. Bucerías itself has lots to offer too if you get tired of roasting on the beach.
The fun part came when I arrived in Nuevo Vallarta, the whole Flamingo Beach is “private”, I was granted access through their property, but was asked to avoid the beach there and shown the gate out. So that’s a drag, if you don’t pay the Flamingo people, you are nothing. I left the property and decided to find a way to the beach, asking around I was told that the Etc Beach Club had an access and found it with some help along the way. The bar itself is not the access, though they kindly let me through.
Public access is a small path that runs along the left side of the bar, there was actually a government employee there for that purpose. He guided me to other access points (three in Nuevo Vallarta).
Nuevo Vallarta Beach access by ETC Beach Bar and Restaurant
The beach by Etc Beach Club is great, you just have to hand it to them, Nuevo Vallarta has a fabulous beach, wide, clean, nice sand, soft waves, I’d say only Destiladeras Beach is nicer in all the Bay. Family friendly, bars like Etc and similar can help you when it comes to eating and drinking.
See a panorama of Nuevo Vallarta Beach by Etc Beach Club.
So the trick is to find these so-called “windows” to the beach and you can enjoy a great trip to the beach. So off I went to find “window” number two, a beach club right after Marival when going south, there was a gate and a charge of 30 or 40 pesos, so I tried to find a parking spot, none available and there was a cop car, like a vulture, obviously waiting for anyone to make a mistake.
I drove up to the gate and told the guy there I wanted to take photos so I could promote them online, he scoffed and requested the 40 pesos, I told him to shove it and drove off. So public access there is a joke, it’s not a window, it’s more like a barred gate, shame on the Nuevo Vallarta authorities.
Blocked access the the beach in Nuevo Vallarta by Marival
I took off to “window to the beach“ number 3, supposedly by Hotel Varadero on the southern tip of Nuevo Vallarta, after driving around a while, I had to park close to the port authority and ask, access was between two condos, Vela Vista and Ocean Vista, here the guard was a bit concerned if I was taking photos for the authorities.
Nuevo Vallarta Beach access close to Villa Varadero
Anyway, access there takes you to a nice beach, quite like the one by Etc Bar, nice, though I do believe there may not be any bars or stores of any kind on the beach, there’s a bar and a restaurant around the access point so stock up there or go there to eat, there’s also an OXXO close by (see map), so pack your snacks and drinks before visiting this beach. You can walk along the beach all the way to the Ameca River that also divides Nayarit State from Jalisco State.
Nuevo Vallarta Beach by Villa Varadero
Conclusion, Nuevo Vallarta’s beach is great; the two access points are good enough to get to know both parts of the beach if you like to walk. I found it disturbing just how far the resorts have gone in claiming their territory and how the normal people have been pushed off these beautiful beaches. If authorities were really catering to their own population you’d have a large parking lot with easy and visible access to the beach. Obviously money talks stronger than ethics and moral.
If Nuevo Vallarta was tough, Marina Vallarta takes things to a new level. First off there were supposedly two ways to get to the beach, the one on the south side, right by the mouth of the Marina has now been blocked by a condo development and there is no access at all!
So off I went to the north access, you pass by Bay View Grand condos and continue on the street till you arrive to Paseo Bocanegra. Here you can only access between 7AM and 8PM, the rest of the time they block the entry (talk about “public” access to the beach). You then follow along Paseo Bocanegra for 2600 feet and arrive to the edge of the bay.
Marina Vallarta Beach access through Paseo Bocanegra
There is an ugly beach on the right, where you’ll have the planes taking off over you and to the left is the nice beach. Here’s the fun part, some “smart” a$$hole has placed a whole bunch of boulders here to make it hard to access the beach, obviously, if you have any handicap or find it hard to jump from one rock to another, you can’t get to the beach. I made the hike and it’s not too bad, but I feel ashamed when I think of the unscrupulous pseudo-human that thought of doing that.
The public access to the Marina beach is blocked with boulders
The beach is fine, the sand darker and hotter than the beach in Nuevo Vallarta. The beach is more or less wide, in places with a stronger slope, in general a good beach, there are no restaurants, bars or stores here on the beach, only resorts, hotels and condos, so bring your food and drinks along, in any case, I’d recommend Nuevo Vallarta or Destiladeras more than this one.
During my next trip I’ll visit the rest of the beaches from the hotel zone down to Mismaloya (I hope) and report on the isolated beaches south of Boca de Tomatlán. I visited Las Ánimas already, but I’ll try to visit the other ones before reporting.
The closer you get to larger towns and cities, the less access you have to the beaches. It’d be important that the local governments think more about their citizens than the big money the resorts and condos flash in their faces… is that asking too much :-), of course it is!