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Places to go

Barra de Navidad & Melaque

Melaque and Barra de Navidad, twin towns on either side of an arching bay, are havens for sun-seekers, artists, and people looking to do a lot of one thing: nothing.

Every winter in Melaque, the tiny town that sits to the north of the wide bay, it becomes quietly full of low-key, beachcombing vacationers. Time stands still, and even turns several years back. There isn’t much to do other than wander leisurely along the edge of the pounding surf, eat lots of seafood, and watch as generations of fishermen ply their trade in the frothing waves.

A natural salt-water lagoon with thriving mangroves flows behind the town and along the bay’s edge to the southern point, Barra de Navidad. Also an artists’ haven, Melaque boasts several art retreats and workshops which offer the expert creator and appreciative novice creative guidance in a vibrant natural. More info...

Bay of Chamela

Located a third of the way from Melaque towards Puerto Vallarta, the wide Bay of Chamela cups nine smaller islands just out of shores reach. The twin peaks of Montana Guegueton rising out of the emerald jungle provide a dramatic backdrop to the lively village.

On Perula beach, laze around on the 11-kilometer blanket of beige sand or take a tour of the many islands, amoung them the bird sanctuary, Isla Pajarera, Isla Colorado with its distinctive red cliffs and white-cliffed Isla Pasavera.

The collection of islands form a unique and wonderful diving and snorkeling experience and are a photographer's dream when lit by a peach and golden sunset.

Isla Pajarera in particular is a hidden paradise. Only accessible by boat (you can pay a local fisherman 500 pesos for a ride out to the island), the tiny island has pristine white sand and bluey green waters that lap over a small coral reef reminiscent of a scene from the South Pacific or Thailand. More info...

Bay of Tenacatita

Around half an hour north of Melaque lies a little beach with creamy dark brown sand in a gorgeous, curving bay praised for its clear waters and abundant sea life. Tenacatita, which means "colored rocks", lies approximately 9 kilometers from the highway, and was so named because of a ridge of reddish rock rising out of the south end of the bay.

Today, the fine golden sand and gentle surf form an ideal setting for relaxed family fun. MarcosPeces Several modest beachside palapa restaurants serving fresh seafood and plenty of cold cervesa and coconuts dot the north end of the bay where the waters are so clean and aquamarine you can see right down to the bottom. A group of jagged, weather-beaten rocks rise out of the sea, forming a natural habitat for an amazing array of sea creatures.

On a cloudless day in September, a SNORKELING trip through the shallow reefs revealed a multitude of multi-hued fish swimming in schools, a cranky moray eel, several two-foot long, snake-like irridescent fish, and a shy, yellow clown fish that closely resembled a papaya with fins. The water is completely clear like bath water, and you can see straight down to where the gentle tides have cut ripples in the sandy bottom.
More info...

Costa Careyes

The Costa Careyes is a flower-covered series of undulating cliffs between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo, interspersed with hidden beaches and exclusive hotels. Known among a polo-playing, jet-set crowd of Europeans who own impressive holiday mansions, the area is also one of the prettiest and most scenic along the Pacific Coast.

Gian Franco BriRegnone, an Italian who made his fortune in oil, discovered the coast during the mid-‘60s and imagined merging European sensibilities with the natural vibrancy of Mexico. Here, he built the first of several multimillion-dollar dream mansions, a precedence that soon caught on with those with money to spend.

Today, also known as the Mexican Riviera after its more famous and French cousin, the Costa Careyes boasts a collection of glamorous cliff-top homes and an atmosphere of silver-screen, old world elegance mixed with frivolity.

The steep precipices cascade over with bougainvillea and equally colorful floral counterparts, and the houses and cottages are painted to match. Over the years, several spa resorts designed to pamper have sprung up which remain faithful to the unwritten code of Careyes: opulence.

But the upscale secrecy which shrouds the area may be fading as the region regains some of its former mainstream popularity. Hollywood actors Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinz, Jr. recently tied the knot at one of the exclusive Brignone mansions on the hills in September 2002, splashing the name "Costa Careyes" across glossy magazines from the United States to Europe.

In late February 2003, legendary film director Quentin Tarrentino also wrapped up his latest cinematic endeavor, "Kill Bill", starring Uma Thurman in the Careyes area. Film crew and actors stayed at El Careyes resort during their production period. More info.

El Tamarindo

Secluded beaches, magnificent reefs, dazzling sunsets and primordial nature set amid 2,000 acres of untouched jungle are found at El Tamarindo.

Located 45 minutes north of Manzanillo's international airport along the Tres Bahias Coast in Tenacatita Bay, the exclusive eco-reserve and resort offers plenty of high-quality facilities such as tennis, 18-holes of golf, horse stables and yachting.

The 29-villa resort is built on an expanse of three secluded beaches with a wildlife reserve and protected lagoon full of rare bird and flowers. Visitors can luxuriate in jungle surroundings and hike the paths that wind through paper trees, hundred-foot palms and exotic orchids dripping through the trees.

The 18-hole championship golf course at El Tamarindo is also one of the top rated courses in Mexico. As challenging as it is visually pleasing, the course covers a wide topography, from beach to jungle covered cliffs and rolling fairways that pass by natural lagoons. More info...



Boca de Iguanas Beach

Steamy jungle meets creamy sand beaches in La Manzanilla and Boca de Iguanas on the southern tip of Bay of Tenacatita, roughly 20 kilometers north of Melaque or 40 minutes north of Manzaniallo's international airport. 

La Manzanilla estuary is a refuge which is home to crocodiles.

One main street runs parallel to the beach and loops around at the far end of town where several expansive homes rise above the bay. Local children and Mexican families frolick in the gentle surf in front of a handful of beachside restaurants serving fresh fish and seafood.

La Manzanilla is fast becoming an escape for North Americans seeking a laid back lifestyle and stunning surroundings; the expat community is growing more and more each day.

Condos and high-end homes have sprung up to the south end of the bay in La Manzanilla as well as back in the jungle-covered cliffside. Other signs the town is blossoming? An Asian fusion restaurant, a thriving arts scene led by a brand new Art Gallery and center, yoga classes, and shopkeepers who slowly test their English skills.

Further on along the bay, the wide creamy sand at Boca de Iguanas provides plenty of opportunities for gathering shells and interesting rocks that are washed up by the gentle surf. The sand is fine and smooth, and the beach covered by many rocks worn smooth by the pounding surf. At the north end of the beach, explore the cave with an alter to the Virgin Mary.

A smattering of hotels and other low budget accommodations dot both beaches as fishermen work their trade in the frothy waters. Most visitors enjoy the surroundings from the comforts of their RVs campers and trailers with hookups right on the beach.
More info visit

Costa Majahua

The sun rode high in the sky as we raced along coastal Highway 200 that winds north through vast coconut and banana plantations, and past agave fields as it enters Jalisco state.

We flew past gated compounds El Tamarindo, villages La Manzanilla and Boca de Iguanas, winked at the candy-colored villas of the Costa Careyes, and waved at passing Chamela Bay, keeping our eyes focused on the mysterious northern coastline of the Coastalegre: Costa Majahua.

On such a varied coastline that is resplendent with rocky coves surrounded by overgrown jungle, we had heard that the northern reaches of the Costalegre held some of the most spectacular forgotten beaches.

Sure enough, about 20 minutes north of the turnoff for Las Alamandas, a sign for Campo Acosta leads explorers through papaya, mango and tomato fields to a series of wide, empty beaches that have several good waves for surfing. Like most of the Pacific coast beaches, these are framed by rocky outcroppings and scattered with shells and drift wood washed up on the beige sands.

Continue another 20 minutes along the bumpy road, kicking up clouds of burnt orange dust or retreat to the highway for a less jolting entry to Playa Peñitas along a road that follows an irrigation ditch that feeds mango groves and coconut plantations. More info

Cajon de Peña

Cajon de Peña  a large fresh water lake in the Costalegre – is a paradise for bass fishing, mountain biking and bird watching aficionados. A reservoir constructed in 1976, the lake is located18 kilometers off Highway 200 near Tomatlan.

There are two small stores and three restaurants around the lake but no accommodations or campsites. Señor Marcos Almanzar, who with his family owns and operates the Restaurant Lobina, offered us the use of his facilities when we camped on the shore of the lake in May. There are hotels about half-an-hour away in Tomatlan and the lake is an easy 130 kilometer day trip riding mountain bikes from Barra de Navidad or Melaque.

Stocked with Florida wide mouth bass (lobina) that run from 1 to 6 kilos the lake is great for bass fishing. Members of the local fishermen’s Cooperative offer bass fishing trips by the hour that include boat, guide and gear. Bass fishing tournaments are held at the lake each year but the dates vary depending on the water level. Unsuccessful as bass fishermen ourselves, we dined at the Lobina on freshly caught bass and giant fresh caught langostino prepared al mojo de ajo and a la diabla. Accompanied by a few ice-cold cervezas, our dinner was exquisite. Afterward, we sat overlooking the water and drank in the peace and tranquility as the sunset over our shoulders cast a golden glow over the landscape and darkness slowly enveloped the lake.

We burned off the feast of bass and langostino the next morning with a relaxing 25 kilometer mountain bike ride. Starting from Restaurant Lobina we followed the lightly traveled, dirt and gravel road along the lakeshore, across the dam and along side a creek all the way into Tomatlan. The area is lush with vegetation and on the ride we passed through a forest of habillo, barcino, higuera de boradora, higuera common, papelillo, parota and primavera. We also passed small ranches and two tiny little settlements. We stopped along the way to cool off in the creek, which is accessible all along the route, and ended the ride on quiet cobblestone streets just outside the center of Tomatlan.

Bird watchers will find the area of interest because Cajon de Peña and the surrounding woods are host to over 150 species of birds including, Wild Parrots, Ducks, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Cranes, Egrets, Orange-breasted Buntings, Orioles, Jays, Humming birds and Doves. More info...


Cuzalapa’s organic shade grown coffee coop

Century-old shade-grown coffee plantations continue to thrive and produce fine Arabica coffee beans only two hours inland from the Costalegre.Shade-grown coffee is grown under a natural forest canopy as opposed to “sun coffee” or “estate coffee” which is generally monocropped on large estates. This natural canopy in essence functions as a largely self-sufficient ecosystem that needs little maintenance. The shade provided by the canopy keeps moisture from evaporating, which cuts down greatly on irrigation needs. Constantly falling leaves provide natural fertilizer for the forest canopy, precluding the need for chemical fertilizers. And the shade-grown plantation with all its diversity tends to self-maintain pest problems. This is the nature of diversity—balance. Thus, shade grown coffee is almost always synonymous with organic coffee, as is the case in Cuzalapa. The particular shade gradient at Cuzalapa can be defined as traditional polyculture, which involves the deliberate integration of beneficial plants, in the case of Cuzalapa, fruit trees, which mean yet another crop from which to benefit.

  If it weren’t for a group of concerned women in the semi-indigenous village of Cuzalapa, within the Sierra Manantlán Biosphere Reserve, their ancient shade-grown coffee plantations would have been transformed into pasture land or lost years ago when the price of coffee plummeted in the mid 1980s. But thanks to the Cuzalapa Co-op and to help from the University of Guadalajara (the primary management directive within the reserve), the co-op is now a sustainable business that helps protect their invaluable shade-grown coffee plantations.

  Every December the harvest of the succulent red coffee beans begins. The women of Cuzalapa walk daily to their plantations to pick the beans by hand. In fact, the annual harvest of the beans is very important or they will not grow back as robustly the following year. Then comes the peeling and the drying of the bean, and finally the roasting. It’s a long and arduous process that’s rewarded by the knowledge that these women are protecting not only a way of life, but life itself. Of course, a steaming cup of fresh-brewed shade-grown coffee isn’t a bad reward either. In order to continue producing coffee and protecting biodiversity, the co-op needs the support of its clients. In addition to selling their coffee, the Cuzalapa Co-op also sells organic jamaica, honey, and jams, in addition to indigenous-style hand-woven clothes. More info...


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Steamy jungle meets creamy sand beaches in La Manzanilla and Boca de Iguanas on the southern tip of Bay of Tenacatita,
roughly 20 kilometers north of Melaque or 40 minutes north of Manzanillo's international airport.