Banderas Bay Shuffle and The Big Three

Hola de Bahia de Banderas!  (“Hi from Banderas Bay”)  This fourth sailing saga is coming to you (once again) from Banderas Bay which is the location of Puerto Vallarta as well as the lesser-known towns of Nuevo Vallarta, Bucerias (“BOO-sir-REE-us”), Punta de Mita, and La Cruz.  All of which play a part in this on-going saga of the cruise of the good “ship” No Moss.

In the third saga, Our Hero (aka “The Captain”) finally managed to break the grip of the “black hole” (known to the rest of the world as Mazatlan) and slip southward to the warmer and more exciting environs of Banderas Bay.  With intrepid crew member Nathalie (also once again), this southbound leg presented the extremes of somewhat remote anchorages and major resorts/marinas.

This saga chapter will provide a shore-based look at some of the things one can do in the Banderas Bay area. It is a good reference for any of you who might consider a vacation south of the border – whether traveling by boat or flying-in/-out and staying ashore.  Plus, “The Admiral” (Paula) is piped aboard and shares three weeks of fun-times doing the “Big Three” (sightseeing, shopping, and dining) with Our Hero and another couple (introduction to follow, so read on).

Red light or green light?  What’s it gonna be?  Unfortunately for Paula, she pushed the button and got the red light. Customs put her through the baggage inspection process, but luckily she didn’t have to pay duty on anything.  I met her in the main terminal area and we caught a cab back to Nuevo Vallarta and the marina.  The stress of international travel slowly crept away with each mile from the airport.

Picture101No Moss was safely ensconced in slip A18.  The boats on either side were inhabited by some “old sailors” (Americans) who sailed in and seemed to have lost the motivation to keep on cruising.  They were good neighbors and provided some excellent local knowledge that made our explorations easier and more productive.

By mid- to late-afternoon, we had hopped on the water taxi that shuttles between Marina Nuevo Vallarta and the Paradise Village Marina.  The Paradise Village Resort offers many amenities and we took advantage of the mall with its myriad of shops, places to eat, and a small but well-stocked market.  After buying some short-term grocery items and a stop at the ATM for pesos, it was back on the water taxi for a return to No Moss and finally some kick-back time with drinks in the cockpit.

You’ll have to pardon The Captain’s lack of recall regarding where we ate lunch or dinner out and in what order.  Three weeks of alternately eating aboard and ashore when coupled with the occasional adult beverage makes it very difficult to specifically relate the chronological and geographical sequence.  Trust me, being exact in those details far exceeds the scope of the saga.  However, Our Hero will note highlights where appropriate.

After a day or so in Nuevo Vallarta, it was time for a change of venue.  The original plan was to sail to La Cruz (only an hour and twenty minutes away), spend a day or two in the marina and see the quaint little town, then move on to anchor at Punta de Mita.  Chacala (one of our favorite anchorages) would be the next and last stop in our foray north of Banderas Bay.  Well, it never quite happened that way . . .

Picture102Upon arriving in Marina La Cruz, Paula and I hiked along the breakwater to get oriented and checked out the restaurants in the marina complex.  Later in the day, I introduced Paula to Steve and Lynne Smith (aboard their Stockton-based Catalina 36 sailboat).  You may remember that Nathalie and I had first met them in Puerto los Cabos marina before crossing the Sea of Cortez.  Anyway, all four of us hit it off well, and consequently followed the untimely demise of our sailing plans involving Punta de Mita and Chacala.

Steve and Lynne had spent some time in La Cruz and really liked the place. Their enthusiasm and willingness to share the Big Three with us supplanted our desire to sail onward.  Of course, this was not a hard sell to The Admiral because it meant more time ashore doing “fun stuff.”

Picture103Variety is the spice of life, and we certainly had that. Most often we would explore “downtown” La Cruz on foot. Step out the entrance to the marina and right away one is greeted by some of the local “residents.” It’s a quaint little Mexican town with mom-and-pop tiendas (mini-markets is probably the best descriptor) along each block.  There are so many, that one has to wonder how they stay in business when the resident population isn’t that great.  The secret probably lies in that an item one doesn’t stock, another one will.  “One-stop shopping” is not alive and well here.

Picture104A Laundromat?  No such thing.  Someone has to do yourPicture105 laundry for you.  Thus, we patronized this establishment on one of the infamous La Cruz cobble-stone side streets ( . . . watch your step).  The only advertising (and way to locate this business) consisted of the picture on the wall.  However, the nice ladies who did all the work were very friendly and did a great job at a very reasonable price.

Picture106Lastly, for those of you who have a long-established relationship with your barber or beautician, please don’t show them this picture.  I can’t vouch for the quality of the work (e.g., a haircut) in this shop, but I suspect it’s probably quite good based on only two haircuts I’ve had in other places in Mexico.  By the way, here are the prices in USD (US dollars):  35 pesos = $2.00, 60 pesos = $3.43.

After a hard day of traipsing all over La Cruz, it was nicePicture107 to get back to the boat, take a shower in the very nice marina facilities, and then have dinner in the cockpit aboard No Moss.  With the warmth (and humidity) of the day gradually dissipating as the sun went down, it was most pleasant to sip a drink or a glass of wine and enjoy a salad or other fare while settled comfortably under the bimini (awning over the cockpit seats in boat talk).  Sailing in foreign lands can be quite nice under the right circumstances.  Wouldn’t you agree?

Earlier Our Hero made reference to excursions to Punta de Mita and another place called Bucerias.  Well, Punta de Mita was a bit of a “dog.”  It really had nothing to recommend it.  The Captain and The Admiral both give it “thumbs down” in reference to the Big Three.  We hiked the length of the main street along hotel and restaurant fronts; their backs were on the beach.  That was it.  Lunch “on the beach” was okay with saving graces being generous servings of food and margaritas. Obviously, no pictures for this tells you even more.

Picture108However, Bucerias was a bit more exciting for its ability to overwhelm one with the “shopping” aspect of the Big Three. Numerous tourist trap stalls lined the street that ran along the beach.  If you look closely, you will see Our Hero (with his signature Panama hat) accompanied by Lynne Smith in the bottom right corner of the picture.  Our Hero is patiently waiting for Paula to catch up and then join Lynne as they forage among the stalls stretching into the distance.  They are two truly great “shopping animals.”

I must add, however, that on the second street back from the beach there were some very nice (up-scale) shops offering art works and cut glass pieces.  Both of “The Admirals” spent significant time in such places while “The Captains” (Steve and I) sat in a small outdoor café across the street and sipped a beverage of choice.

Sadly, so far I have neglected to mention that the transportation of choice (based on cost effectiveness) was the local bus system.  Trust me.  These busses are BASIC transportation with hard seats (usually) and super-stiff or completely-sprung suspensions such that one can ultimately experience every bump in the road. Now, add to that the fact that Mexican speed bumps – on main highways even – are Mt Everest compared to what you’re used to, and you have another whole dimension of experience that would make your chiropractor cringe.  Needless to say, we survived the trips to Punta de Mita, Bucerias, and (yet to come) downtown Puerto Vallarta.

Picture109Before leaving La Cruz, Our Hero celebrated his birthday.  The Admiral treated to dinner at the really nice restaurant in the marina complex.  The table was on the third floor and looked out over the marina and the nearby grandeur of La Cruz . . . until the sun went down and left one able to see only the well-lit marina and an occasional streetlight in La Cruz.  Nonetheless, it was a most enjoyable evening with excellent food and service.  The best part?  The Admiral’s company.

Ahh, yes, the foray into downtown Puerto Vallarta was the last big event after sailing aboard No Moss from La Cruz back to Marina Nuevo Vallarta.  We sadly said “adios” to Steve and Lynne and were back to adventuring on our own.  The day was filled with “super-shopping” interspersed with lots of walking to get from the bus depot to the desired shops and then back to the bus depot.

The shopping was focused on mutual gifts.  The Admiral’s birthday was mid-January and The Captain’s birthday was early February, so this was the perfect opportunity to fulfill the gift-giving requirement that had been held in abeyance until we were together in Mexico.  Needless to say, we covered a lot of ground and looked in a lot of shops.

Picture110The sales force varied considerably from your basic street vendor to the refined clerk in a very nice jewelry store.  Spanish “passwords” for the day ranged from “hoy no” (not today) for the former to “solo mirando, gracias” (only looking, thanks) for the latter.  Fortunately, we found the River Café and had a very nice lunch (and respite).  The setting was very verdant with trees and foliage lining the river bank (actually it was more of a wide creek in Our Hero’s opinion).  The Admiral didn’t like the picture I took of her as she sat across the table from me, so you’ll have to settle for this.

By the end of the afternoon, sensory overload had set in (for Our Hero anyway), but the timing was good because by then we had purchased appropriate gifts.  Now, which way is it to the bus depot?  Which corner was close to it?  Hmmmmm.  Let’s try to remember.

We did make it back safe and sound.  After all that, it was a welcome relief to find ourselves on the boat in a very pleasant water-surrounded environment.  Showers followed by a drink in the cockpit were most enjoyable and offered the chance to reflect on the day’s successes.  The final decision was which restaurant do we wish to visit for dinner.  That was easy; back to Eddie’s Place just outside the entrance to our dock.

The day had one failure.  Our Hero was unable to find a replacement for his well-worn and slowly-deteriorating signature Panama hat.  If it couldn’t be found in downtown Puerto Vallarta, maybe it wasn’t to be found in Mexico.  Hold on, not so fast!  Get out the “secret weapon.”  Call for help from the “Super Shopper!”  Paula to the rescue . . .

Picture111The Admiral hopped the water taxi driven by Guillermo, a very likeable gentleman who owned and operated the pontoon boat from 9-5, Mon-Sat.  Off she went to the mall in Paradise village to do some power shopping for herself and without the distraction of Our Hero tagging along.  Less than an hour later, Our Hero gets a text that says she has had success on both counts.  She’s found Panama hats that are essentially the same as The Captain’s beloved head covering.

Well, as you might guess, Our Hero joined her and confirmed the hat in the shop was the long-sought replacement.  Mission accomplished.  To make the ending even happier, Paula found a very nice cotton skirt and top ensemble in the same store and Our Hero purchased it for her as a birthday (and thank you) gift.

There is a dark cloud gathering on the horizon.  What ill does this portend?  Have The Captain and The Admiral fallen into disfavor with the “Travel Gods?”  It would seem so.  Here’s what happened . . .

We arrived at the Puerto Vallarta airport two plus hours before the flight to SFO was scheduled to leave.  All went well with check-in.  Then, the unexpected happened.  The flight was delayed.  Then it was delayed again by another hour. And, then . . .  You get the idea.  By ten that night the flight was canceled.  The plane had arrived but the crew had run out of “crew duty day” (the number of hours they are allowed to fly in one day).

United Airlines bussed all the passengers to a local Puerto Vallarta hotel and paid for everything.  Sounds good, but it wasn’t.  The dining room shut down one half hour after we walked in to the buffet meal so there was a meager selection of rather “tired” food.  To make matters worse, room service wouldn’t serve breakfast until six a.m., the veryPicture112same time we had to be down in the lobby to get the bus back to the airport.  So, there was no breakfast unless you wanted to help yourself to the gourmet selection of cereals in the room, and I use the word “gourmet” with a great degree of sarcasm.  See what I mean?

We did fly back that day (one day behind schedule).  It was great to get home and have a good night’s sleep in a familiar bed and eat real food.  Our Hero was home for only a week in order to do a few things at home, but more so to leave Mexico and return.  That’s the only way to renew the tourist card (visa) for another 180 days to cover the rest of the cruise on No Moss.

I won’t leave you in “suspenders.”  Our Hero flew back most uneventfully.  Yay!  No Moss was none the worse for wear in his absence and only needed the usual pre-departure actions of refueling, reprovisioning, and checking out with the Port Captain.

Will Our Hero single-handedly sail back to Mazatlan without trials and tribulations?  Will he be plagued by rolly anchorages, speeding pangas, and untended long fishing lines?  Who knows . . .  Stay tuned for more excitement.

Signing off for now,


Ed: Neal Doten is a member of The Club at Westpoint and an active boater. In addition to these delightful travelogs, Neal provides advice and guidance to boaters undertaking coastal cruising especially those looking for adventure on the Mexican and Central American shorelines. Read about his educational program here. You can contact Neal by completing the contact form below.

About the author

If you have edits or ideas, please contact

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.