by Peter Wells Scott
If you are sitting in a hot stuffy office in the middle of Manhattan or Washington, D.C., and someone says, "Let's go to the beach," it's just not that easy. The Hamptons are at least two hours away, and Rehobeth, Del. and Ocean City, Maryland, are more like three or four from the nation's capital. Getting back is even worse. Folks have to get back to work on Monday morning, so if you are making a weekend excursion, the backup of traffic can be hours of agonizing sitting in traffic.
Not so in Puerto Vallarta or around the Bay of Banderas. A short ten-minute drive from almost anywhere can land you at the beach of your choice:
- Playa Los Muertos on the south end near to the pier has been a perennial favorite of locals and tourists. Fisherman fashion homemade "poles" made out of an empty soda bottle, a "fishing line" with a hook and bait attached. Locals are always proud to show off their catch, be it Sierra, Pargo or Torito. The beach is lined with restaurants galore, from a more fancy Daiquiri Dick's to an inexpensive fish on a stick or 12 oysters on a plate. The beach is never dull, as vendors weave their way hoping for that "first sale of the day." Whereas you may tire of their unending explanation of "almost free", one nevertheless can find bargains not available in retail establishments. Los Muertos extends for a mile south of the Rio Cuale, and many expensive condos overlook the beach. Gentle waves make this beach safe for wading and a swim beyond the breakers.
- About a mile south of Playa Los Muertos is Playa Conchas Chinas, a great place to spend the day exploring sandy coves that are dotted with tide pools. Multicolored tropical fish, crabs, mollusks, and oysters abound, and the water is sufficiently clear for snorkeling. Be sure to bring your own gear.
- Further south there are beaches named El Gato, Los Venados, Los Carrizos, Punta Negra, Garza Blanca, and Playa Gemelas. All can be reached by an in-town bus marked "Boca" or "Mismaloya."
- The beach at Mismaloya resembles Los Muertos with its continual activity, both from the native population and from people that own condominiums. One reaches the beach by walking down the dirt road next to the Mismaloya River. There are quaint restaurants lining the road. Once at the ocean, looking to your left, you can get a glimpse of Vallarta's history, because it is there that the filming of "The Night of the Iguana," took place.
- Boca de Tomatlan is a bit farther to the south. It is a small colorful beach, known for its pangas, and excursions to Las Animas, Quimixto, and Yelapa.
- Offshore from Mismaloya is Los Arcos, a marine national park comprised of two large rocky outcrops about 100 yards offshore. The coral attracts parrotfish, angelfish, and triggerfish, which makes it a preferred spot for snorkeling.
All beaches are federally owned or belong to the public, however, you want to look at it. Every hotel has its own beach, and most have security to protect their pools.
- Yelapa is home to 100 local families and a group of artists that find Vallarta "too busy". Since it is only accessible by water, folks walk or ride horses. A hiking tour of the village and surrounding jungle and a waterfall is a favorite pass time.
- One can get a feeling of the bustle of the city by spending some time at the beach at Bay View Grand (El Salado). On any Sunday there are at least ten LearJets that take the privileged back to northern reality.
- A quick 10 miles up the road to Bucerias, north of the airport finds one of the favorite "walking beaches."
- Heading north on the road to Punta de Mita is the Destiladeras Beach. The sand is white and comfortable, making it a perfect spot to spend a day of relaxation and sunning.
- Back to the main road and heading north you come to Sayulita, 3 km from Ruta 200. The beach at Sayulita is a mecca for surfers. Over the hill to the graveyard is another "Los Muertos." The sandy cove is a perfect place to take the mate of your dreams.
Whether you are looking for a secluded stretch of sand or a day of palapa hopping, the Bay of Banderas offers a complete smorgasbord. The most romantic has to be the beaches at Hyatt Ziva, Punta Negra, and Sayulita. The best for walking is Bucerias, the best for action is Los Muertos or Mismaloya, the best for sightseeing is Yelapa or Quimixto.
Whatever the selection, one need not suffer the commute from New York or Washington, D.C.