The Pacific Ocean meets up with the small but quiet town of Barra de Navidad, the last stop South on Mexico’s Costa Alegre. On one side of a large sand bar rests the town. The other side opens up to a large natural lagoon.
Boats entering the area have the option of anchoring for free in the Lagoon, or paying to enter the marina. While it is free to anchor in the Lagoon, just because something is free it doesn’t always mean it’s the best. When it comes to free or cheap, we feel you often get what you pay for. Sometimes it is good. Like spending 50 pesos for the best pastor street tacos, or anchoring in beautiful fair weather anchorage where the sand under your anchor is free. Other times “no vale la pena” like they say in Mexico, it is not worth it.
In this case, what do I mean? How could something that is free not be worth it in the world of penny pinching cruising? Entering the Barra lagoon can be sketchy because the channel markers end at the Marina entrance. Many boats venturing past the marina entrance into the free lagoon have run aground. The thought of running aground made us nervous. However, if you carefully plotted and followed the correct way points marking the otherwise invisible channel into the lagoon, how could you run aground?
Our question was soon answered. At the fuel dock just past the marina entrance, we met a very nice couple who had arrived after sailing nonstop all the way from Ziuahtenejo, about 250 miles South. We chatted a bit and they appeared very knowledgable, as this wasn’t their first visit to Barra. Being the rookie visitors we were, we stood on the fuel dock dumb founded as we watched them attempt to drive their boat directly across the sand bar. “REVERSE!” screamed the wife who was now standing on the bow.
“BAck UP, BaCk UP, BAck UP!”
Amazingly, with all the shouting and reversing, they were able to release themselves from the clutches of doom unscathed. Again during the same visit we heard a few more calls via VHF radio for help from boats that had either hit a rock at the entrance, or once again run aground just past the marina entrance.
Once inside the sand bar, the holding can be muddy, and weak. When weighing anchor some report dragging a huge mess of mud and gunk onto the forward deck. Great! We’ve just saved a few dollars. Now let’s justify that by creating more work because we all know that sailing a boat in Mexico requires nothing more than a cocktail. Besides we have nothing better to do with our time except get the boat ready for our next passage, and so on, and so on . . . Actually . . .
In Barra (de Navidad) the docks were alive with excitement. Many boats were arriving at this little oasis from both the North and the South, willing to spill the beans on where they’ve been and where they were going!
In fact, our first night in Barra wasn’t spent washing our decks, filling up water tanks, and re-provisioning as planned. Instead we were whisked away by a group of people heading into town to watch the sun-set, grab a bite to eat, and find some delicious churros a la street vender.
“You coming?” They shouted. “Taxi is here!”
The marina in Barra along with the Grand Bay Resort sit on the opposite side of the lagoon. An extensive water taxi system transports hotel and marina guests across the lagoon 24-hours a day. Before you get too excited, this is not Disneyland. The taxi’s are not free with your stay at this fine resort, but we think $3 round trip per person is pretty affordable.
Many complain the the prices of the marina are too high, but we figure it is all relative to the experience. For example, all of the marinas in Puerto Vallarta are .08 cents more expensive per foot than the most expensive marinas in La Paz. From Baja you trade the amazing solidarity, beauty of the Islands, and Sea of Cortez for; fresh tuna, Sunday markets, Banderas Bay sailing, live music, cheap street tacos, and free Thursday night movie showings. There’s that word again.
In Barra the prices go up significantly from Puerto Vallarta for a marina stay. Just how much? An additional .30 cents per foot, but depending on the length of stay the price actually goes down. Your best option is to get comfortable and stay the entire week to get the weekly rate, over the daily or three day rate. Then again, you must consider your own budget. You will obviously pay more at a lower rate for a longer stay.
What’s included? The resort at Barra does not discriminate between hotel guests and marina guests. This means as a visitor on a boat you have full access to the resort sans bracelet. This includes access to all of the resort pools, poolside towels, and amenities such as free Wi-Fi and hot showers.
Ok, ok. For .30 cents more a foot it doesn’t seem like you get that much, that is until you’ve been living on your boat at anchor for some time. Grab your pen and pencils, and gentleman take note! Staying inside the Barra marina is a nice treat for the ladies and a nice treat for your crew. In the case of the ladies or your crew, “sí vale la pena!” ~ “It IS worth it!”
The resort and its trails are beautiful. Take a stroll and watch for iguanas and fresh papaya in the brush. Explore the many different areas of tranquility and relaxation. Choose your spot and settle down with a nice book or your drink of choice. When it starts to heat up take a dip in the hot tub and throw yourself down one of the many pool slides.
The best deals at the resort happen to be at the pool side restaurant. For $15 the Hamburgesa Cowboy is an all beef burger, with bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion and avocado, served on a sesame seed bun, accompanied by American French fries. It happened to be the best burger I had experienced in all of Mexico! Still, some might argue that these costs are astronomical! Who would pay $15 for a hamburger and $3 for a water taxi ride in Mexico?
You’re looking at her – me! Look, I never signed up for this adventure to restrict myself to a life time of hermit boat living. If I couldn’t figure out a way work in a few splurges here and there, then I would have decided to stay at home where I can make my own hamburgers anytime, anywhere. This $15 was going for the most amazing hamburger on the Pacific Ocean that I’ve tasted in the last two years.
But, if $15 for an amazing burger is still not in your budget, no worries. Perhaps a $4 breakfast at the Grand Cafe won’t break your pocket book in half. Order any egg plate on the breakfast menu for 60 pesos and sit back and wait for a grand feast! Each breakfast comes with an assortment of sweet breads, tortillas, fruit, coffee and juice.
Of course breakfast at the Grand Cafe can only be had if you can overcome the “Barra Addiction” for just one day. The dealer had a name but was known by many as “The French Baker.” He arrives early each morning with his stash. He has his own boat, and VHF radio. With the quick ring of his bell, he announces his arrival at the marina. The substance was butter, and the addiction . . . French pastries. One bite of anything in his stash, and your hooked.
Each morning you try to resist the temptation, but you’ve secretly been conditioned. That bell. That bell wakes you out of deep sleep! You know he has arrived. He’s in the marina, but where? Before you can say ham and cheese croissant, he’s on your dock greeting your with a huge smile and a friendly “Bonjour Madame!” You have a limited amount of cash on purpose. It’s too easy to want to sample it all. These goods are high quality.
One morning our friend Dan on Rocket Girl was brave enough to ask the question, “Hey Buddy, what are you putting into these pastries that make them so addicting?” The answer?
With an answer like that, “sí, vale la pena!”