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Beach Hopping Along Mexico’s Central Pacific Coast

Lash releasing a baby turtle at CuyutlanBeach Hopping Along Mexico’s Central Pacific Coast

Earlier this year I spent over five months extensively exploring Mexico’s central highlands and Pacific coast, (February to July, 2017). Starting in Mexico City, I traveled westward visiting several gorgeous historic towns until I eventually reached the Pacific coast at Mazatlan.

From Mazatlan I headed along the coast southward and eastward, staying at various beaches and towns. Check out my whole route and trip details in this article.

Although I loved the beautiful architecture, superb museums and other attractions in the many historic towns I explored in Mexico’s central highlands, I have to confess that after two months of continuous city life I noticed I was becoming progressively more aggro from the crowds, traffic and usual city noises. I needed to get out of heavy human habitation and get re-immersed in nature!

Zacatecas at nightSo by the time I reached Mazatlan in early May, I was well overdue to hit some beautiful beaches. And my explorations of Mexico’s vast central Pacific coast began…

In this article I’m going to divide my coastal beach explorations into two parts. During the first part I visited various beach destinations from Mazatlan to Manzanillo, situated south of Puerto Vallarta.

During that time I was often busy visiting luxury resorts on assignment. That meant I had to spend a lot of time at very developed coastal tourist areas and cities, places I probably would not have chosen to visit on my own. In between, though, I also hung out at a few awesome, undeveloped beaches.

The second part of my beach explorations came after I completed all my resort inspections and was at last free to travel wherever I wanted. During that time I went beach hopping at rather remote, little-developed beaches along the wild Michoacan state coast, plus one great beach town in Colima state.

Lash at Casa Velas Resort

Lash at Casa Velas Resort

Part 1 – Mazatlan to Manzanillo

In this region I visited Mazatlan, San Blas, Punta Mita, Nuevo Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, Barra de Navidad and Manzanillo.

First stop, Mazatlan… Quite unfortunately, Mazatlan turned out to be one of the worst places I visited in all of Mexico! Read my views on Mazatlan here.

Luckily, immediately after Mazatlan I was able to escape development and enjoy many quiet, little-developed beaches along the coast, starting with the somewhat remote surfers beach of San Blas.

I spent a wonderful week in a thatched shack on the beach, taking daily walks and generally unwinding from city life. Read about San Blas here.

San Blas Beach- restaurants and coconut trees line the beachMy next beach stop was at stunning Punta Mita cape, a triangular wedge of land jutting into the Pacific about one hour north of the famous seaside resort city of Puerto Vallarta. I loved it so much that I spent two full weeks there strolling the empty beaches, suntanning in solitude and enjoy great panoramic views from my hostel’s rooftop palapa-covered terrace. I wrote about Punta Mita here.

From there I did find myself in coastal cities for nearly two weeks, as I had to review a dozen luxury resorts at Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta. I also stayed with an American friend in Puerto Vallarta, getting to know that town, which proved to be much nicer than I’d imagined. I’ll be writing about those destinations soon.

South of Puerto Vallarta, I also had to visit Barra de Navidad (which was great) and Manzanillo (which was awful) for hotel inspections. I wrote about Manzanillo here and will get around to Barra de Navidad soon.

map Cuyutlan to Barra de Nexpa beaches-001 copyPart 2 – Cuyutlan to Maruata – Colima and Michoacan States

Finally, after I finished reviewing 20 luxury resorts in the Puerto Vallarta – Manzanillo – Colima area, I was at last free to pursue some much-needed beach hopping and camping at the little-developed beaches in Colima and Michoacan states. I’d been looking forward to it for a very long time. And I was thrilled to finally set out.

First stop, Cuyutlan in Colima state. Although little known outside the region, Cuyutlan is actually a historically important town with several interesting attractions.

It’s Mexico’s most important salt producing town. Today it has a small but intriguing salt museum. There’s also a big turtle conservation center and an inland lake.

It was a great start to my beach hopping adventures. Little did I know it then, but Cuyutlan proved to be the easiest, most relaxing destination in my route. Read about Cuyutlan here.

Michoacan coast - Mexico

Michoacan coast – Mexico

But it was the isolated Michoacan state beaches south of Colima that I was really looking forward to. While the coastline in Colima state is pretty much entirely flat, soon after crossing into Michoacan. the coast suddenly becomes mountainous.

Tall cliffs plunge into the sea, high rocky headlands surround small coves with dark volcanic sand or light golden sand, and rocky pinnacles jut out of the ocean just offshore. It is dramatic, beautiful, wild coastline.

By that time in my Mexican journey, I was becoming a bit pressed for time. I had a flight to Guatemala in late July. That restricted my beach-hopping journey to a mere two weeks.

With more time, it could easily take 1-2 months to explore the coast, visiting a lot more beaches. But with my two week limit, I had to pick and choose the beaches carefully. There were so many I wanted to experience!

Maruata beach - Michoacan - Mexico

Maruata beach – Michoacan – Mexico

I finally decided to visit 4-5 beaches, staying only 3-4 days at each beach. I selected beaches that were fairly isolated, little-developed and had camping opportunities but also had places to eat. I wasn’t prepared to cook.

I selected Playa Las Brisas, Faro de Bucerias, Maruata and Barra de Nexpa. I never made to the final beach.

Every beach I visited was gorgeous. Camping on the sand, falling asleep to the sound of waves crashing ashore was wonderful.

coconut palms at MAruata Beach

coconut palms at MAruata Beach

However, I didn’t quite account for the difficulties involved in visiting such remote, undeveloped beaches. Nor did I realize what I was getting into by staying at indigenous Nahual beach villages. But I soon found out!

Remote in Michoacan state actually does mean remote, as in it’s difficult to access the beaches without your own transportation. Although regular luxury buses ply the highway, passing the turn-offs to each and every beach along the way, the buses drop you at the highway.

From there, each beach is 1-5 km from the highway, down winding mountain roads. Without your own transportation, your options are to walk in or try hitching a ride.

With a normal amount of luggage, that’s easily done. Sadly, I have way way too much luggage to be able to walk more than about 10-15 minutes. And some of the beaches have almost nobody visiting them, leaving hitch-hiking quite difficult.

another sunset at Playa Las Brisas

another sunset at Playa Las Brisas

Other implications of ‘remote’ at these beaches include no phone reception, little or no internet access, limited eating hours, very expensive food and surprisingly noisy village life.

First off, there is no phone reception at any of these beaches! For me that meant no phone calls back home for two weeks. No messages to friends or family in Mexico or the US. Basically, I was out of touch for the duration of my beach hopping expedition.

Secondly, Wifi is quite limited. Clearly, a lack of internet connection wouldn’t be a problem for anyone not earning their income online. But for me, it was a problem. At three of the four beaches I did manage to get online a couple hours each day, so I could squeeze by. But it became an increasingly urgent issue.

Maruata with stormy sky

Maruata with stormy sky

Had I known in advance there was no phone or internet service, I could have planned to make my beach-hopping adventures an off-grid off-work vacation. Unfortunately, I didn’t and had planned on continuing my work. Oops.

The worst outcome was that LashWorldTour actually went offline for a few days! My domain name expired during my beach sojourn! Without internet access, I never got the notice to renew my account. Eek!

Quite luckily, nobody bought up my domain name out from under me during the few days it had expired (that could actually happen!) and I was able to renew it in an emergency dash to a bigger coastal city.

The other huge problem I encountered at all the beaches was difficulty eating. While all the beaches had at least a few beach-side restaurants, they weren’t necessarily open during the hours I needed to eat. All bad, bad, bad for me. At least the meals were delicious when I could get them! 

shrimp dinner at Faro de Bucerias

shrimp dinner at Faro de Bucerias

I also had trouble dealing with the local Nahual villages. For one thing, I have never seen (and heard) so many babies and children in one tiny village in all my near-20-years of travels. Wow, those people love to breed! In Faro de Bucericas there were easily over 100 young children, not counting the dozens of teenagers.

That meant that instead of a quiet, relaxing vacation immersed in nature, I was stressed out by continually screaming babies and noisy, racing children.

Secondly, the Nahuals apparently have a very, very different concept of time. If you’ve ever heard of ‘Mexican time’ or of the Mexicans habit of saying one thing but doing another, the Nahuals are the Mexicans I’ve encountered for whom those descriptions most fit.

camping at Maruata

camping at Maruata

In fact, in my 14 months of travels around Mexico, I’ve actually found Mexicans to generally be rather prompt, to be good on their word. Buses and flights to run on time, business hours mostly function as stated. But, boy oh boy, not among the Nahuals!

In the end, I got so fed up with not being able to eat easily, with locals promising me things they didn’t do, with internet difficulties and with village noise, that I abruptly ended my beach-hopping jaunt a few days earlier than I’d planned. In fact, I was thrilled to get the H out of there!

However, my beach adventures certainly weren’t all bad. In fact, I’d describe my time as primarily wonderful, with just a smattering of daily annoyances and stresses.

Every beach I visited was gorgeous. I enjoyed falling asleep and waking up to the sound of crashing ocean or gentle waves lapping the sand. I took long walks, swam in the ocean, photographed beautiful scenery and colorful sunsets. I ate many delicious shrimp and fish dinners. And I loved sleeping in my cute little yellow tent on the sand.

Here’s a brief overview of each beach:

sunset at Playa Las Brisas

sunset at Playa Las Brisas

Playa Las Brisas

This beautiful grey-volcanic sand beach stretches for miles southward and comes abruptly to an end against rocky headlands at the north end. Little visited except on some weekends, this remote beach is inhabited by a family of sisters, each of whom have a thatched restaurant/bar on the sand near the north end.

Visitors can camp at any of the sister’s properties. There’s not much to do there except enjoy the sand, sea and sun.

Faro de Bucerias

Faro de Bucerias

Playa Faro de Bucerias

This gorgeous golden sand beach sits in a lovely curved bay with bright turquoise water, rocky headlands at either end and is backed by thatched palapas & restaurants run by indigenous Nahual people who own the land.

It’s great for camping and eating seafood with your feet in the sand. But be warned, this village has A LOT of children running around! It’s also extremely popular on weekends and holidays. Not the quietest ‘remote’ beach destination, as it turned out.

cliffs & palapas & sea at Maruata Beach

cliffs & palapas & sea at Maruata Beach

Playa Maurata

This gorgeous beach is generally considered the most beautiful in Michoacan state. It’s actually four beaches separated by rocky headlands, each with a different character.

The main beach is inhabited by a Nahual village, with lots of thatched houses & restaurants right on the sand. But the other three beaches are much less inhabited, with just one or two discreet family houses per beach.

Strong ocean water is funneled between rocks & canyons, through crevices and around headlands, producing frothy roaring water, water sprays, surges and blowholes. Visitors can camp on the beaches, climb up headlands for incredible views and play in the water features. Outside the village beach, it’s a slice of paradise, to be sure.

Lash at Maruata Beach - mexicoSummary

While I had been greatly looking forward to my beach-hopping adventures and expected to enjoy a serene, rejuvenating vacation-like experience, in the end it was a mixed bag. The beaches were beautiful, the scenery spectacular, the food delicious. But it was far from relaxing or rejuvenating.

I think beach hopping along Michoacan coast could be much easier and more relaxing for anyone with their own vehicle, with the ability to buy and cook their own food, and who can go off-grid, get disconnected from phone and internet. Maybe I’ll try it again one day with my own vehicle.

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