Monday, March 17, 2014

Trip Report. Punta de Mita, Nayarit, Mexico. February, 2014.

Back in the fall a few things happened.  My wife got a raise, and she said to me that she wanted to go on a vacation, a real vacation, for February Break.  "Somewhere warm," she quickly added.  So, there I was, considering planning a vacation, to somewhere warm, right in the middle of my favorite time at home.  Winter.  I mean, it is almost perfect at home most of the winter.  Why leave?  I knew I would have to give this trip some thought.  The plan was for us, our two year old, and my in laws to travel some where warm.  Our first thought was Costa Rica, but after some more thought, we ruled it out.  I like it there.  But it is far.  A long flight, both for us and my in laws.  And then, once there, hours of road travel.  And it is hot.  Like tropical hot.  Then we thought Kauai.  Or maybe I thought Kauai.  Specifically, the north shore.  But alas, too wet.  And pretty damn far for our east coast family.  Along the way, someone pointed out Punta de Mita.  At first I was not impressed, but the more I looked into it, the more ideal a number of factors were.  For us it was a short flight.  Three and half hours from SFO.  It is about 45 minutes from the airport.  Nice water front accommodations are not too expensive.  And the climate looked just about perfect.  So we booked.

Looking out of our front door on the first morning was nice.

Many dead blowfish along the beach.  Maybe they went to the wrong sushi chef.

Clear water.

Looking west toward the Marina.

Our first evening, enjoying the views with dinner.

This is dinner in Mexico.

Here is a table for you.

And a mooring.

Local architecture.

The main avenue in town.

Merchants sell their wares along the row each evening.

And toddlers enjoy sitting in big chairs.

We stayed for six nights in what many refer to either Punta de Mita or El Anclote.  There are a number of low rise western style condo complexes, some hotels and a row of restaurants along the water front.   The Four Season's compound, which sits on the tip of the land mass, is next door.  It is a nice location.  And the weather this time of year was perfect for our group.  It was in the mid to upper 80s during the afternoon, with low to moderate humidity.  Dawn usually was in the upper 60s and dry.  And the ocean, well, the ocean was a toasty 78F.  Now, this was not a surf trip.  It was a family trip.  Was it a perfect spot for a surf trip?  Hell no.  The surf was okay, but it took some work, or money, to get too.  And then, it was just okay.  Was it a perfect spot for a family trip?  Pretty much.  I mean, it was basically pretty easy.  Get off the plane.  Get your car.  (Okay, that was not easy, but never is in Mexico; but easy enough).  Drive about an hour.  There is even a Mega, or mega-grocery store, on the way.  Pull up to a gate, give your name, and park you car.

Another evening, another lovely sunset.  

My father in law enjoys the first meal of the first vacation of his working life.  

The pool was way too crowded...

Vacation means mid day naps out on the veranda.

El Anclote is a perfect little long board break.  It never got over waist high during our visit.

This is the land of the SUP.  Love it or leave it.

The surf right out in front is small and mellow.  Perfect for the little ones.

The lighting fixtures at each restaurant were pretty cool.  

The grandparents really enjoyed the location.

This dish was a bit over the top, but super tasty.

I'm not sure who this is a portrait of.  Big Ron or Bacon Wrapped Shrimp

The Blue Shrimp lights up at night.

The condo had a nice view of the Bahia de Banderas.  Across the bay we looming mountains.  It reminded me of the Monterey Bay, only on a much bigger scale.  The entire wall facing the water was made of glass.  Sliding glass.  During the day, you could turn the indoor and outdoor space into one big space.  Kind of cool.  While we could see the ocean, we were not directly on the beach.  Town was.  So it was a short five minute walk past the pool, down some stairs and out onto the beach.  Right out front was a surf break called El Anclote.  I caught one wave out there, while on a SUP with my wife.  She was not amused I ditched her on our date to grab a wave.  But it was a good one.  Otherwise, it was pretty small, and weak at this spot.  I saw maybe a few waist high waves on the biggest days.  And only at low tide.  But it was right there int town.  You could watch it as you eat your meal at any of the places along Restaurant Row.  Turns out some of these are real restaurants.  Real chefs working with real local food.  I think they all might be.  We ate out every single night and were never disappointed.  Was if living on a budget prices?  Nope.  But, not only did we enjoy our food, we enjoyed our time, and our toddler remained constantly entertained by the great staffs we met.  And if you enjoy some Mariachi table side while watching sailboats bob in the anchor as the sky reddens with the sun low and sipping your margarita when the waiter shows up with your just pulled for the sea grilled fish, then this is the place for you.  If you like to eat on 200 Pesos a day, then you might want to look elsewhere.

This was a favorite spot to sit.

Pool view by night.

The Marina was very colorful.

Any of these boast can take you out to snorkel, or surf, or fish, or see whales.

I just liked the looks of this boat.

Pelicans and gulls.

Ruling the roost.

This is the lighthouse.  It is a minimalist.

A view of town.  The condos are the obvious buildings in the back ground.  Restaurant Row is all along the beach front.

This guy had a clear favorite on where to eat.  The staff treated him like a prince.

Think your job is hard work?

Try hauling a couple hundred pounds of fish around every time a new table gets sat.  I had the Parrot Fish.

Getting bored of this shot yet?  El Anclote at sunset.

It was seriously gorgeous every single evening.

Nearby was a surf break called La Lancha.  It was about a mile east along the coastline.  It is a series of point like reefs that face predominately south.  The walk there is quite nice, in front of condos for a short bit, then in front of estates.  Well guarded estates.  You can also get there by car and a short walk, but you must be carrying a board to get through the gate.  Boogie boards count.  Every single person.  It seems to keep the beach clean, and relatively un crowded, which is nice.  It is a beautiful beach.  It became my go to spot.  I also went and checked out Burros one day.  The hike there is great.  You park on a dirt service road next to an all inclusive party resort, then follow a trail down to a some what dry creek bed, which you follow for a while, and then get spit out onto a beach.  Another beautiful stretch of beach.  But the surf was just not working there that day, so I headed back to La Lancha and kind of scored.  The wind is not a big issue there, as the predominant breeze is cross off shore.  The crowd it.  When I parked, there must have been 25 vehicles, including vans coming with the surf school.  Holy crap. As I walked the 200 yard trail to the beach, i must have passed at least twenty people leaving.  When I got to the break, it was still packed with a good twenty still in the water, but as I paddled out half of them went in.  Ten minutes later, there were just three of us enjoying the waves.  Timing is everything.  As much as I enjoyed my sunrise sessions, they soon got crowded.  I soon learned it was best to hit up the afternoons, when the lesson groups were gone, and the others were grabbing some beers.  Thing is, the winds are typically off shore all day, so the surf rarely gets blown out.

La Lancha is not a secret spot.

But is is not hard to get waves there.

Even if the surfing is not great, the beach is quite nice.

Dawn Patrol was pretty empty, but an hour later hordes would show up.  These guys called it when I did.  Not worth fighting for waves.

The beach was often pretty empty.  I guess requiring you carry a board does have its benefits.

Morning light poking through the jungle.

A great perch to watch the surf from.

The surf ranged from knee high to shoulder high during our visit.

The crowd ranged from solo session to 25+.  Avoid mid morning to early afternoon if you can.  

Basically La Lanch is a weak right hand point.  There are some lefts, and the a few short board friendly bowls though.

The outside bowl, and the far inside bowl (not pictured) seemed the best to me.  Most folks lined up for the middle bowl.  No complaints here.

The trail down is a well maintained access road.  Parking is right on the main road.  Look for surf racks.

La Lancha is basically a fairly soft wave.  I'd call it much more of a long board wave, but can see how with a little size you could have fun on a short board.  Our condo came with two NSP long boards, and the swell never got above shoulder high, so I never bothered going out to rent a short board.  But if you need one, check out Coral Reef in Bucerias.  They have a great selection.  So does Paul in Sayulita.  Rates ranges from 100 Pesos for an hour to $25 for 24 hours.  Anyway, there are other waves nearby.  If you head out to the point, El Faro is a long, deep water, groin style point, and the Cove is a fun little reef style break.  The walk is over mostly cobble steep cobblestone and takes about 45 minutes.  Or you can have a panga take you out for two hours.  Prices are higher in the marina or with the surf excursions, but rates run about 600 Pesos (or $45US) at the boats in front of the El Anclote Restaurant.  In fact, have breakfast there your first morning.  It is excellent, all inclusive (meaning choice on entree, fruit, pastry, coffee, juice, and milk) for 60 Pesos.  Anyway, eat here and talk to the groups coming in from dawn patrol to hook up with a group to surf the next day and share the cost.  I ended up surfing the Cove my last morning.  This wave is a little bit more short board friendly, but I did just fine with the long board. You need to hit this spot early though, as the winds here tend to be more cross on shore and can get blown out early.  If you are reading this because you plan to visit and want more info regarding the surf, feel free to send comments and questions.

Boats out at the snorkeling zone.

You can see the flotilla here, and in some of the La Lanch pics.  Look closely.

The ocean was pretty glassy right through mid day.

Not sure what this guy is, but he flew along side our boat for a while.

As did his friend.

And another friend.  If you are a bird watcher, I'm sure you would like it here.

The Four Seasons compound.  This pier is about half way along the walk to the Cove.

See any pelicans today?

Pebble stone beach and jungle backdrop.

A nice day for a walk.

Enjoying another fun place to sit.

The surf was a fun diversion.  It is nice to surf in board shorts, and during the middle of the day, it was a good way to beat the heat.  And at sunrise, the water was a good ten degrees warmer than the air, making for a nice plunge.  But there is a whole lot more to do in Punta Mita than surf.  Like I said, this was a family trip.  SUP is very popular down here.  So popular, I wonder what everyone did before the SUP scene exploded.  Rentals are about $15US for an hour and $40US for a full day.  Not sure what I would do all day on one, but it was fun to paddle out on the bay in the evening with my wife to enjoy the sunset.  And sneak off for just one wave.  $140US gets you a boat out of the Cooperative, by the marina for four adults and toddler to go snorkeling at the Islas Marietas, a pair of islands in the mouth of the bay.  Along the way you will likely see whales.  We did.  And we enjoyed quite a show.  The snorkeling area is a bit interesting.  You are not inside some reef enjoying calm and crisp water like in Hawaii.  You are in the middle of the ocean next to a rock mastiff protruding from the sea.  The big draw is a cave you must swim through to access a hidden beach that gets light from a lava tube hole in the roof.  Gorgeous.  As were the fish.  As soon as you jump in you are surrounded by blues, yellows, oranges, greens, whites and flashes of every color.  Of course if you prefer to catch and eat your fish, excursions are available for  that.  We mostly enjoyed relaxing through most of the day, and enjoying a long dining event in the evenings.

Our condo is the far top right.  The Four Seasons is right next door.  Our nightly cost was about 18% of our neighbor's rack rate.  And our room came with two surfboards and two boogie boards.  Win.

Talking about Win.

We came across a Momma and her baby.

They were super active.

You know that is just a strong back there.

I learned how hard it is to shoot a fast moving object from a bobbing panga.

But here is my best effort.

What a great treat seeing these two play it was.

These lava tube holes are all over the island.  This one had no beach.

The islands are a National Park and protected.  They are also very barren and rocky.  Birds love them.

They have even done some work painting them.

It was an oddly colorful landscape.

Nearby is Sayulita.  A totally different kind of place.  Punta de Mita may seem a little bland for some.  It is not like Puerto Vallarta with its mega resorts, towers after tower along the beach and all inclusive and crowded type of Mexico vacation.  Here, there were a lot of families and a lot of American retirees, as well as locals escaping the city for the weekend.  While not super built up, it is a collection of condo resorts not dissimilar to what you would find in the States.  Sayulita is a who different character.  It is a town.  A crowded town, with lots of street life and beach life.  The surf is right our front, with a few different peaks along the beach.  And it was super crowded with a full mix of talent.  Ultimately, the restaurants in Sayulita fell into two categories.  The primary type we saw was touristy establishments targeted at making Americans feel at home.  As in a lot of burgers and pizza mixed in with a little local food.  But none of them seemed the same caliber as The Blue Shrimp or Rosa Mexicana or Si, Senor (all on Restaurant Row in Punta de Mita).  On the other hand, there were many, many small store fronts and street venders who were serving up very tasty looking authentic meals.  And at a budget travel price.  Throw in a few relaxing coffee shops, and you get the mix of options.  Now, we only spent one day in town, so I know there must be places we did not see, and I fully expect there are some nicer restaurants some where in town.  It is a fairly big town.  Well worth a visits as it is really only twenty five minutes drive away.  A short distance further north is the hamlet of San Francisco.  We did not make it there, but from what I understand, it is slightly less touristy feeling than Sayulita.

Surf wear comes in all shapes and sizes.  

The beach at Sayulita, looking south.

The beach break was pretty long board friendly.

More beach scape, looking north.  Plenty to get right on the sand.  Food, drink, kayaks, boards, and more.

There was definitely a more progressive crew in the water here.

The surf was not very large, or very powerful, but enough to get a short board going.

These guys were very good at milking energy and throwing some turns.

But it was not uncrowded.

It was basically two turns, to an inside race track and rebound kind of wave.

There was also the occasional left

All in all, Sayulita is a pretty idyllic location.  But it is not at all secluded.  The beach crowd was thick.

I bet this perch is a nice place to lay one's head.

A typical pedestrian street leading to the beach.  

In case you have not figured out this post is about Mexico, here you go.

For those who may be looking at more adventure, there are jungle tours near by.  You have plenty of options for excursions.  Zip lines, ATVs and horses are all available for you to explore.  Of course, for cultural history, one can drive back down to Puerto Vallarta's Old City and check out the architecture and monuments.  Of course, there is golfing nearby.  Lots of golfing.  And most of it is along the water front, so I know at least the views are good.  There is also a fish and farmers market twenty minutes away in La Cruz de Huanacaxle.  The marina was built just a few years ago, and can be fun to walk around checking out the fishing boats coming in each day.  You can't find fresher fish than this.  There are also a number of nice seafood eateries in town that tend to be a bit cheaper than Punta de Mita.  One reportedly includes a bottle of all you can drink tequila with your entrees.  I only assume the Policia are parked nearby, do bring your designated driver.

Another early evening shot looking out at El Anclote.

Local talent making the wave work for him.

Even the small ones were enough to get up and above.

When we first arrived, I was wondering how I would spend an entire week here.  The surf was tiny my first day.  About knee high.  I'm not one for much sitting in the sun, or bathing by the pool.  I am allergic to chlorine, so sitting in the pool was not an option.  But turns out the place really grew on me.  The surf was mediocre at best, but is was always warm, and fun to get out in.  The food was way better than I ever expected.  As much as a I love a cheap taco stand, I was never disappointed with eating thoughtful chef creations.  All of the establishments utilized local ingredients, but incorporated a whole slew of global cooking techniques.  Very cool.  Well, Rosa Mexicana was pretty much just Mexican, but pulling in tastes and styles from around the country.  And I never bored of watching the sun set and sitting on the water.  But more importantly, my toddler and my in laws really enjoyed themselves.  So, if you are trying to figure out a place to take the family, but still get your self in the water, you may want to check this place out.