I’m sipping a mango margarita on a golden beach in Guayabitos, Mexico. The sun-baked shore is lined with palapa-covered restaurants and bars, and we turistas are constantly approached by vendors in colourful canopied carts hustling an amazing variety of goods including jewellery, hats, coconut drinks, grilled fish and shrimp on a stick. A mountain of colourful inflatable toys passes with only the vendor’s feet visible. Large grey pelicans swoop and pose. I take a sip and sigh in contentment. I’m happy, for this beach, one of the best in the world, is what drew me here.
My wife, Ally, and I arrived yesterday at Puerto Vallarta airport, and the 40-mile taxi drive north to Guayabitos in the state of Nayarit passed in a daze of heat, jungle and exotic colours. We settled in at our modern one-bedroom apartment in a four-story building right on the water. Our friends Tony and Dianne, who arrived a week earlier, join us on the balcony for cervezas and vino. Condensation drips from the bottles, tall palm trees are silhouetted against an azure sky, frigate birds soar lazily and waves roll in from far out in the Pacific. Ah, what a wonderful winter break from Canada.
We soon develop the habit of strolling along the three-kilometre-long beach several times a day, joining hundreds of others. It’s the best entertainment possible! The sun beats down, waves roll in gently, vendors parade their wares, Mexican children build sandcastles and pelicans beg for food.
Ally points to a band with trumpets, a large bass fiddle and even a tuba who patrol the beach seeking couples wishing to celebrate their birthday, anniversary or other event with the blaring brass of Mexican Mariachi music. They’re dressed in ponchos and sombreros and only their bare, sand-encrusted feet indicate they’re performing on a beach.
Further along, we come upon a wooden boat drawn up high on the beach selling its fresh catch including prawns, octopus and various kinds of fish. Ally chooses our dinner, while I snap photos of the more than a dozen pelicans circling the boat, whose enormous mouths now and again open wide to receive a snack tossed by the fisherman.
We often interrupt the strolls to visit one of numerous bars, for who can resist a refreshing drink in this heat, and cervezas are only 25 pesos.
Sipping my margarita, I wonder why I’m drawn to this particular beach. I’m not alone, for there are many other mature Canadians here, mostly from the western part of the country. The great sunny weather and low prices are obvious draws, but these are common to all of Mexico. Three other factors make Guayabitos special. First, this resort and fishing village, although attracting tourists, is still very low-key and much quieter than Puerto Vallarta. Second, it’s a popular place for Mexicans and it’s nice to see Mexican kids jumping in the surf or playing with their siblings on the shore. Entire families gather on the shore enjoying traditional Mexican fare. It’s good to be interspersed with Mexicans, and I love hearing the rolling rrr’s of Spanish.
Margarita in hand, I’m gazing at the third reason: the incredible beach, one of the best I’ve experienced anywhere. It’s long, wide, clean and pulsating with fascination. We spend hours every day exploring its reach, walking to the north end to visit a large cross on a jetty, the Fisherman’s Memorial. We nod to fellow strollers and often stop to chat with ones we’ve met before. At the south end, is Restaurante Pineda, one of my favourites. It serves enormous, and very tasty, mango margaritas. A wood-fired oven cooks succulent fresh fish. Children of the staff play on the dirt floor. And there are great views over the large curve of the bay anchored by two small islands. It’s so casual and quintessentially Mexican.
The next day, Ally and I visit John and Lesley, two friends from British Columbia, at their ocean-side villa, Marina Azul. We stretch out on hammocks and easy chairs beside the swimming pool, as they explain why they come here every winter for at least two months.
“We’re drawn by the beach, the price and the sunny weather,” says John. Lesley adds, “It’s much quieter than Puerto Vallarta and we feel much closer to Mexican culture. Almost everyone staying here is Canadian, so we make a lot of friends. We’ve formed an informal hiking group and several times a week we head out early – while it’s cool – and enjoy the great rolling scenery.”
They also explain that the neighbouring town to the north, La Pineta, offers excellent, economical medical and dental service, and that several of their friends get all their dental work done while holidaying here.
The following day, Ally is excited because it’s Monday, market day. We stroll past the church to the plaza, which is crammed with booths offering everything from silverware to beads to sarapes to tortillas. It’s noisy, crowded and a kaleidoscope of colour. We rest on a bench under the shade of a tall palm tree while Ally and Dianne assess their purchases. Then a pickup truck passes, with loudspeakers booming out ear-splitting Spanish. We cover our ears. But the locals are nonplussed for this form of deafening advertising is commonplace.
On Thursday, we walk to La Peñita, drawn by its market, the largest in the region. En route, we pass through a suburb of wealthy homes, all distinctly Mexican with tiled roofs and mosaic designs. Then we stagger across a footbridge that sways and twists. In the stream below, we see elegant egrets, long necks poised, patiently waiting for a fish to pass. A crocodile, long and lethal, is disguised as a log. I make a note not to swim, or even wade, in local rivers. We enter cobbled, potholed streets with dusty, weather-beaten houses. A wizened old lady sits on a chair on the sidewalk, quietly knitting.
We turn a corner and suddenly are enmeshed in the bustling market. The variety of goods is astonishing. Local artists display silver and handmade jewellery, glassware, pottery, beautiful wool rugs and beaded artwork. And there is food: carts of ceviche, jumbo shrimp and fresh pastries; pickup trucks overflow with potatoes, peppers and watermelons. Sweat drips down my back as I elbow my way through the happy throngs.
For lunch, we carry our bags to a cool, packed restaurant and munch on guacamole and tacos and sip cervezas while a guitarist wanders amongst the tables seeking tips. We catch a taxi back to Guayabitos for a siesta.
Later, Tony and I go for a swim. Along the water’s edge people are boogie boarding and splashing. We go a little farther out and are floating in the warm water, when suddenly there is a loud splash only yards away. Looking around we discover a flock of about 20 pelicans is circling and diving around us, chasing a school of fish we can’t see. It’s incredible to have a large, ungainly bird suddenly transform — practically within touching distance — into a svelte dagger, and plunge into the sea. Moments later, it pops up, often holding a fish in its beak. We are in the midst of this aerial exhibition for about 10 minutes before the pelicans drift away. Tony and I head for shore, thrilled to have had this extraordinary experience.
In the evening, when the temperature drops, the main street, Avenida del Sol Nuevo, comes alive. Stretching the entire length of Guayabitos, it is crammed with restaurants, hotels and shops selling a variety of souvenirs and handicrafts. The shops’ wares spill onto the narrow sidewalk, forcing pedestrians – and there are many – to jostle past each other and often sidestep onto the street.
Surprise! Ally and Dianne decide to get tattoos. Giggling, they select a dragon and a flower and the “artist” proceeds to paint them on a shoulder and an ankle. Okay, the tattoos will only last a few weeks, but they’re great souvenirs of a wonderful vacation. And the “grannies with tatts” will amuse their friends when we return home.
If You Go
General Information: http://explorenayarit.com/towns/rincon-de-guayabitos/
Electricity: Voltage and plugs are the same as in Canada.
Money: 1 peso = 9 cents Canadian
Time Zones: Important! When you land at Puerto Vallarta airport, you are on Central Time. Once you head north to Guayabitos be sure to turn your watches back one hour as you will enter Mountain Time. When returning to Puerto Vallarta, remember to set your watch an hour ahead, so you don’t miss your flight.