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!

A LODOS VACATION IN 2020: What to bring (& what to leave at home)

You will be living on a boat. That means, you should pack very light. A soft-sided carry on is ideal if you can swing it! 

Lodos at Isla Isabel with a Blue Boobie

CLOTHING:

  • Former guests say even though they brought very little, it was still too much! You can do laundry if needed, and the dolphins don’t care if they see you in the same outfits!
  • Loose, lightweight, breathable, easy fabrics that dry quick are best (avoid denim and heavy cotton)
  • Swimsuits & coverups, 2 pair of shorts, summer dress, 3-4 tees
  • Depending on the time of year, packing layers is a good idea – a long sleeve shirt or fleece
  • Comfy clothes to lounge around in throughout the day (e.g. yoga pants, sweats, leggings)
  • 1 nicer outfit/shirt to go out in the evening or while on shore/in port – wrinkle resistant ideal, collared shirt for the guys
  • 1-2 hats (ideally something with a strap, so you don’t lose it in the wind – Neptune already has more baseball hats and sunglasses than he needs!)
  • 1-3 pair of shoes: non marking, non skid soled shoes (e.g. light weight tennis shoes or treaded sandals), shoes you can get wet/flip flops for marina showers, hiking shoes/sandals, and something to wear to a nicer dinner. We don’t recommend going barefoot on the boat when it’s moving, but feel free to be barefoot while lounging. Inside the boat, we ask you to remove your shoes.
  • Personal items (e.g. chapstick, toothbrush, moisturizer w/ sunscreen)

LUGGAGE:

  • Duffels or backpacks are ideal, something compressible/malleable to fold into smaller spaces
  • Small tote or dry bag for marina showers, dinghy-ing to a shore destination, keeping your phone/camera safe, going on land adventures, etc. are better than a bulky purse

PERSONAL/ENTERTAINMENT:

  • Motion sickness meds, patches and sea bands if you get sea sick 
  • Downloaded music that can be played on bluetooth without wifi 
  • Books/Kindle and/or magazines
  • Puzzle books or other non-wifi entertainment vehicles (we have games and cards on board)
Relaxing in the Cockpit

THINGS TO LEAVE AT HOME:

  • Sunscreen, soap, shampoo, bug spray, towels, jackets, life jackets, binoculars, other extras you may have forgotten
  • Basic medicine/first aid
  • Solar charger or external battery (we have iPhone/solar chargers on board)
  • Goggles/snorkel gear
  • Makeup, curling irons, hair dryers, heeled shoes, big purses, lots of jewelry
  • Headlamp/flashlights
Sailing on a close reach in the Sea of Cortez

LOSING YOUR PASSPORT IN MEXICO

On the last night of a 10k kilometer USA/Mexico tour, ending in La Paz, we realized that my husband’s passport was missing. While we don’t believe it was stolen, we remembered clearly the last place we had used it and when we saw it. 

Fast forward – we knew we were sailing to Puerto Vallarta, and since there isn’t a consular office in La Paz, we planned to visit the consulate in PV to determine how to get out of/into the country. 

STEP 1:

Fill out all online forms in advance online reporting when/where your passport went missing. This triggers the next steps. 

Fill out the form DS64 found on this page:  https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/how-apply/forms.html.  

Be ready to fill out the form and have it printed at your hotel/internet cafe.

Get passport photos in advance to speed up the process. 

STEP 2:

Visit the Consular Office in Nuevo Vallarta, inside of Paradise Village. It’s inside the Plaza shopping center where the bus stops/taxi turn around is, just outside of the area’s only Starbucks. Proceed inside and go to the far west corner office of the 2nd floor.  The office is open at 8:30am and closes around 2pm each day. You are not allowed to use cell phones inside, so if you have information on your phone you will need to access, print that information in advance or write it down on a piece of paper. You do not need an appointment as this is determined an “emergency”. 

You can take the forms (along with a passport sized photo) to the US Consular Agency found here:  https://goo.gl/maps/VjzWoSJrb24KRLyz7

USA Consular Office in Nuevo Vallarta

STEP 3:

What to bring: new passport photos without glasses, copies of the forms filled out online, color copies of your passport if you have them, details about where you lost the documents and/or police reports if your passport was stolen. Check in with security and meet with the very helpful staff there. You’ll likely need to fill out additional paperwork, but if you have copies of materials, it will go very quickly. We arrived at 8:35am, and we were the first ones in. We were out of there by 9am. 

STEP 4:

If you are flying within 24 hours, you’ll receive a letter that will get you out of Mexico and into the USA. If you are flying within a few days, you’ll likely get your temporary passport, valid for 1 year, the next day via Guadalajara.  The agent will give you a piece of paper indicating when/who to call and what time/where to get your documents. 

STEP 5:

Call the number given on the sheet of paper to get your FedEx tracking number (this is not a regular tracking number) which is required to pick up your new documents. Likely the next day, you’ll travel to the office indicated to pick up your new documents. Ours was delayed two days, and when we went into the office downtown (after the consular office said it had arrived), they people at the FEDEX office said they didn’t have it. Press them. It will be in a different location as it’s a security document, and you may need a manager who knows this. You will have to show ID and also pay for the overnight package. 

Waiting in line to pick up the passport – this process took 4 hours

STEP 6:

Go to the Immigration office inside the airport to replace your Mexican Visa (if that was lost as well). It will cost about $25 USD and is needed before going through immigration in Mexico. 

STEP 7:

Apply for a new passport before your temporary one expires in one year. Recommend ordering a passport card with your new passport – keep your passport locked up when not traveling by plane and only use your passport card, so you won’t be locked out of a country (easier to replace if it’s lost/stolen in the future). 

STEP 8:

Don’t lose the new one!