REVIEW: MARINA VALLARTA (A Cruiser’s Guide to the closest marina in Puerto Vallarta)

When “moving” to a new place for living aboard, it’s important to pick the right marina, the right anchorage or place to stay, particularly if you’ll be there for a period of time. In an anchorage, it’s fairly easy to pick up and move if you don’t like it, but in a busy marina, where you have to reserve a slip weeks in advance, it takes a bit more thought.

Lodos docked in Marina Vallarta

For us, our criteria is usually the same and fairly basic, but there is always the subjective “feel” of a place that is hard to capture, and let’s be honest, everyone has their own opinions on these things. Our first impressions of Puerto Vallarta are great. It’s been decades since we were here last (via land), but the city has grown up to be a lovely place with a vibrant arts and music scene. Banderas Bay is a beautiful bay to sail in, where the wind is usually perfect for sailing in the winter months.

In Mexico, you cannot believe what is written on a marina website as there tends to be misleading or untrue information listed; often times, if I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt, they ASPIRE to the benefits posted, but just haven’t gotten around to making it all happen. In the USA, this would never happen. Someone would be sued, the site would be shut down, fines would be levied, etc. But, this is Mexico – Caveat emptor! The best way to understand a place is to go there yourself first, before sailing there, but that isn’t always feasible or practical.

So, now we are in Puerto Vallarta, in Marina Vallarta, which is the closest marina to downtown PV in Banderas Bay. Operated by Bay View Grand, their website is wildly misleading and or just flat out incorrect, so here goes my review, as of January, 2020:

Crocodile near Dock H, where they usually hang out

WHAT WE LIKE HERE:

It’s minutes from the airport (we will be traveling a lot, so being close to the aiport is a plus), close to downtown with a multitude of restaurants, busses/great transportation options, and one of the best marine stores we have ever been to (Zaragoza Marine).

The docks are secure, with a friendly security guard at each gate; there is a cardkey pass (with a deposit of 500 pesos), the electricity and water seems consistent without surges or outages – there is an extra cost and all metered. The water is non-potable, so you’ll be hauling drinking water or making water with dock water if you have an RO system on board as we do.

It’s a dynamic location with a lot going on – including an energetic Thursday evening market with crafts and food.

There are crocodiles, which really are very cool (and hardly worth being concerned over, although you should watch that your small dog doesn’t wander along the water’s edge alone). In the mornings, the Kiskadees are your alarm clock (if the mariachi music doesn’t wake you first).

There is a great little bookstore/coffeeshop that is worth visiting, the Living Room Cafe & Bookstore, a nearby Starbucks with fast wifi, and many restaurants, bars and stores.

Thursday night market stand with Lodos in the background
Map of Marina Vallarta with key points of interest/services

I’ve included a map (above), so you can see where the office, showers, bathrooms, laundry and ATM is, as we couldn’t find this information online anywhere. The website advertises “best in the region ” internet, pump out services, pool passes, laundry, showers and more! Most of these claims are not true and do not actually exist:

Text lifted from Marina Vallarta’s website
Text lifted from Marina Vallarta’s website

SOME CONS TO BEING IN THIS MARINA:

  1. As we have heard from many sailors, this is NOT a cruiser’s marina. This is generally a marina for charter fishing boats or large power yachts. There is no service directory or map, the office staff – although friendly – doesn’t know much about boats (they do not understand simple terminology such as “we need a port/starboard tie”), no guidance on resources to clean your hull, change zincs or wash your boat. Some of these may be found on the Cruiser’s Net at 8:30am CT M-S on VHF Channel 22 and on the Banderas Bay Cruisers FB page or by just walking around and asking people. There are also several FB pages for PV that have invaluable information for the area.
  2. There is no pump out service. The office staff told us to go north to La Cruz. I can guarantee you that no one is sailing their boats 2-3 hours north to complete a pump out….and in fact, one day, I saw some human waste float by (eeewwww!), so you know people are just pumping their waste into the marina (double eeewwwww!). Welcome to Mexico.
  3. The internet and wifi is so bad it’s truly unusable. The office nearly refuses to give you a code because they say it won’t work anywhere. We have a wifi extender, and that is the only way we are getting online, but even then, it’s slow at best. We work at the nearby Starbucks if needed and use our 4G Telcel SIM cards otherwise.
  4. There are no laundry facilities. There are laundry services for drop off (not affliated with the marina), but you have to pay by the kilo and cannot do it yourself (see map for 2 locations).
  5. There is no pool pass. The office staff looks at you as if you’re making this stuff up when asked, even though it’s listed on their website.
  6. The bathrooms are newer but not very clean. There is an A/C unit inside which helps keeps the humidity down, but only 1 shower and 1 sink works in the women’s bathroom, and there is less than 2 minutes of hot water available, generally.
  7. It is “vibrant” – which means it can be boisterous. Loud music from the restaurants, construction noise from the workers who are on the charter boats everyday, and from tourists and holiday-makers. Surprisingly, with its proximity to the aiport, you don’t really hear airplane noise.

All that being said, we really like PV, we are here for a few months, making the best of it and enjoying the proximity to downtown. We will be checking out Nuevo Vallarta and La Cruz, where we will likely end up next and look forward to “finding our people” in another location…which may be back in La Paz!

Characters, Crusaders & Criminals

Living an expat life, on a boat, in a developing country brings out all sorts of characters, crusaders and criminals.

The Characters, as you can imagine, are as varied and diverse as they are interesting. Salty sailors (mostly men) whose wives have left them or who refuse to live this life full time, the ultimate in bachelor pads. Wearing the same Hawaiian inspired print shirt day after day complete with some sort of shell necklace and a well-past-its-prime straw hat, these characters claim they are seeking solitude, but when you get them out for a beer, you cannot shut them up; they have more extroverted vs. hermit tendencies, who would give that Hawaiian shirt off their back to you if you needed it (along with well worn advice about weather, hurricanes, and Mexico culture). 

Scary one-legged clown in La Paz

The Crusaders see the Sea as something to be conquered or endured. They boast of their year-round living aboard in a heat index that averages 112 degrees in these summer months, and they often have a story of saving a whale, a boat or life during a storm. Theirs is a badge of honor to endure the conditions and often loneliness of sailing. Both the Characters & Crusaders are generous with their time and resources – bestowing fresh fish, engine parts or advice as needed. 

Then, you have the Criminals. These are the people who couldn’t make it in the “real world” or who are escaping something sinister and nefarious. Like our neighbor here (about 100 yards away), who, immediately after meeting him, claimed theirs was a “Naked Boat”, and so it is….morning, noon and night, this guy and his younger “caregiver”, who is looking after his 80 year old mother with dementia, are naked as the day is long. We’ve since learned this guy has a sordid and ugly past, and his host of stories must be true because you cannot make up the things he says. Kirby tried helping him one day with his anchor, and the minute they got to his boat, he dropped his pants and climbed aboard his boat, leaving Kirby with a Junk-In-The-Face moment that I’m sure he won’t soon forget….

The Naked Boat – as seen from Lodos

You’ve gotta be a little crazy to live this life. I’m leaving out the rest of the “normal” people here because in comparison, they/we are all just incredibly boring…

Enjoying La Paz

Recently, we had some friends visit us from Michigan, and their lovely photos from our trip together reminded us how beautiful the beaches are, how great the restaurants, and how wonderfully laid back the town. Here are a few of our favorites (all photos courtesy of Seth & Daniela)

Kayaking at Balandra Beach

Balandra Beach, which is north, nearly at the end of the peninsula from La Paz, is a picture-perfect place to spend the day, drink coconut water, kayak, swim and enjoy the crystal clear waters. We were there early during mid week, and we had the place almost entirely to ourselves.

Come back soon!

Back in La Paz

After crossing the Sea of Cortez and making a near record beat south, we are happy to have settled back at Marina de la Paz, where we spent a few happy weeks last year and vowed to return in 2019.

Lunch at The Dock overlooking our marina

La Paz is the quiet, authentic, hippy-sister to Cabo, without the Spring Break party scene and huge resorts. Incredible beaches are nearby as is extreme wildlife and protected underwater parks while also close to two international airports,

Sunset over La Paz bay

We welcomed our first visitors! Seth & Daniela came all the way from Michigan; it was the perfect way to enjoy re-entry back into the city we fondly remembered. We ate great food, enjoyed beautiful beaches, and each other’s company.

Seth, Daniela & Kirby in their natural habitats
Seth getting a shot of Saguaro cactuses, mangroves & torquoise waters

The sailing club we belong to here is putting on their Bayfest festival this week, and we just finished watching the Tour de France race that was in town this weekend. Next weekend is the La Paz Jazz Fest which supports Mar Libre – a local marine conservation organization, so there is no shortage of things to keep us busy and entertained!

The remote “Office”
Lodos sitting pretty on B Dock

However, with lots of real work to do in the coming months, it will also be fun to be dock potatoes for awhile as we make trips back and forth to the US for work and enjoy being “residents” of Mexico again.

We hope to see you here sometime!

ROAD TRIPPIN’ DOWN THE BAJA IN MEXICO

The Pacific Ocean – as seen from the van vs. a sailboat

We have a van and a boat, and it’s impossible to get them to the same place at the same time, so we left Lodos safely floating in San Carlos while we made our way back to San Diego and then started our road trip down the Baja.

Traveling is humbling. You meet adversity, stay in dodgy places (Baja Cactus) and always experience something new and foreign. I continue to be in awe of meeting the kind and generous people of Mexico  – they are patient with our poor Spanish, honest and almost always welcoming.

We traveled nearly 1,000 miles vertically down the Baja, stopping in Ensenada (at the Marea Vista) for a first short day, then two longer days, stopping in El Rosario, the infamous resting stop for the Baja 500 and Baja 1000 – an international desert road race that goes roundtrip from Ensenada to La Paz, traveling over the rough and tumble landscape of the desert sometimes at speeds in excess of 100 MPH and Santa Rosalia – an old Copper mining town with a French influence (and an outstanding historic bakery).

Kirby drove the entire way – all 944 miles of it. We were stopped 9 times by Federales and Military police wanting to know what we were doing on these quiet roads and why we were there, always waving us through with a smile and often well wishes. I think the new president is making good on his anti-corruption promises, which is why we encountered so many of these roadblocks.

Sometimes we slowed to give the charities a few coins at the toll booths that are often vacant and not taking tolls; the locals take the opportunity to gather money that goes directly to their communities instead of snaking its way inefficiently through the government first.

Inoperable tollbooth taking makeshift charitable donations

We listened to Michelle Obama read us her book Becoming, and I felt like I was changing listening to her story and voice, seeing the serene nothingness of endless miles of cactus, saguaros as old as the redwoods and millions of desert flowers blooming. We even spotted a few notable birds (tanagers, hummingbirds, hawks, orioles, ospreys, herons, vultures and shrikes), no doubt migrating this landscape for cooler weather north.

Mardi Gras Queen & King in Santa Rosalia

We visited towns by road that we’d only seen by sea and on foot – participating in a glorious small town Mardi Gras parade in Santa Rosalia showcasing their finest dancers, princesses and princes on top of handmade floats while friendly Federales cleared the roads and parents cheered their support, trying to catch candy and prizes tossed to cheering children lining the roads.

We finally arrived in La Paz today (Sunday), where we will drop the van, get some sleep, see some friends at the marina and then catch a flight back to San Carlos on Tuesday to begin our slow sail back south again.