by Nick Gallo
Nick Gallo is a Seattle writer with
longtime travel experience in Mexico.
Ten years ago, my wife and I were
traveling down Mexico’s Pacific Coast and stopped for dinner in a small town
when we stumbled upon a little travel magic.
Happy enough to find a meal, we sat
under a palapa restaurant and were treated to wondrous fresh seafood, a lovely
bay with perfect light – golden and buttery, turning everything warm – and
the cheerful sounds of Mexican kids frolicking in the water. We vowed to
return, but never did.
This year, we decided to try. Unsure
whether our Shangri-la-like remembrance was more fantasy than fact, we rented
a car at the Puerto Vallarta airport and headed north on Highway 200. For an
hour, we traveled through lush agricultural valleys before signs for our
destination appeared: “Rincón de Guayabitos.”
The first sights were not auspicious.
Turning off the highway and entering town, we passed tin-roofed stands of
tacky beach gear and trinkets. I groaned, preparing myself for another case of
But moments later, the beach appeared.
Again, we had arrived in early evening when the sky was the color of orange
sherbet and the air warm enough to provide levitation. The gentle bay and
palm-backed beach were just as gorgeous as we had remembered it. And,
amazingly – as if central casting had been called – there were the
children: Dozens of happy kids riding “bananas” – towed inner tubes –
while others stood knee-deep in the water and dared the waves: “Más
alto, más alto.”
Best of all, it was fairly uncrowded. I
couldn’t resist the thought – was this one of those unspoiled Mexican
hideaways everyone is always looking for?
Shielded from the Pacific on the small
Bay of Jaltemba, Rincón de Guayabitos actually was born with a
“waiting-to-be-discovered” tag attached to it. Built from scratch about 30
years ago, Guayabitos was designed to be a beach resort for middle-class
Mexicans. It rose up from grassfields with two- and three-story hotels, most
of them featuring bungalow-style rooms equipped with kitchens to feed
But the resort never took off. “For
more than two decades, this town slept like a baby,” said Jorge Castuera,
the local pharmacist. “Then, a few years ago, it woke up, and now it’s
starting to boom.”
“Boom” may be a stretch, but things
definitely are perking up.
Guayabitos has about 3,000 year-round
inhabitants, a figure that doubles or triples during winter.
For many years, snowbirds from the U.S. and Canada have flocked to one of the numerous trailer parks here. But recent growth has been sparked by a younger crowd – American and European – who stay at the Decameron Los Cocos, an all-inclusive hotel – or one of the handful of small, deluxe properties that have opened on the northern part of the beach.
Thus, this was one of our first
surprises – Guayabitos has plenty of “gringos.” But, they seem to go
about their fun and business without overwhelming the place. Moreover, the
atmosphere changes on weekends when Mexican families from nearby towns arrive
toting grandma, musical instruments, and plates of home-made tamales.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” Connie Lund, a traveler from Minnesota,
told us. “You get to mingle with locals on the weekends, but then it’s
peace and quiet the rest of the time.”
An easygoing vacation was what we were
after. Every morning, we’d start the day by going to the beach, a two-mile
strand of soft, cream-colored sand that lay just outside our hotel. We’d buy
a heaping plate of tropical fruit and a tall glass of fresh orange juice for
about $2, add a few bolillos, fresh-baked rolls, and sit down to enjoy
the morning sights.
We’d see fishermen throwing their
lines into the surf. There’d be beach vendors getting an early start – men
carrying shrimp on weight scales yelling “camarónes”; women
peddling handicrafts, children selling dulces (sweets). One morning, my
wife took out her sketch pad and almost destroyed the local economy when the
kids spent most of the day drawing pictures with her rather than selling
During the day, we swam, threw a
baseball around, read our books. When we grew restless, we roamed to a
different beach – Playa Los Ayala or dreamy Playa Chacala. When evening
came, we’d find a little place to eat dinner – usually huachinango
or fish recently plucked from the sea – then have a few drinks at a hotel
bar and walk around town. (Guayabitos was safe, even at night, people assured
us.) We’d turn in around midnight.
If that sounds boring, well, Guayabitos
might not be your cup of tea. “This place isn’t for everyone,” said
Karen Bond, a visitor from Victoria, B.C. “My travel agent told me about a
person who came here on her honeymoon and hated it. Nothing to do.”
True enough, Guayabitos has little
nightlife, shopping, or diversions. There’s a bit more activity in La Peñita,
two miles north, where there are shops, bars, a disco, taquerias, a
bank, and a bus station. Nevertheless, the area isn’t geared for the young
Plenty of daytime activities kept us
busy. One morning, we boarded a panga to go snorkeling at Isla Islote
across the bay. The snorkeling wasn’t bad, but much more memorable were the
upclose looks at humpback whales and mingling with dolphins.
On another day, we drove north to San
Blas, where we took a boat trip through jungle
and mangrove canals to a natural freshwater spring called La Tobara. An area
of extraordinary natural beauty, it thrilled us with countless birds, iguanas,
turtles, and crocodiles.
Great stuff, but when our vacation
wound down, the thing that almost caused us to miss our plane was, you guessed
it, our beach. We couldn’t leave it. We spent our last hours latched to the
waves, digging in the sand, and, of course, playing with the kids. It’s what
Guayabitos is all about.
If you go: First-class
buses run several times a day from Puerto Vallarta to La Peñita. Cost: about
$4.50 one-way. Taxis from the Vallarta airport to Guayabitos: about $50. Car
rentals are available there.
Guayabitos has very affordable lodging and food. Bungalows on or near the beach are readily found for $40-$50 night. But if you can afford it, consider a bump in class to stay in Villas Buena Vida (011 52 32 74 07 56; www.villasbuenavida.com), a year-old hotel opened by an Alaskan woman. She did it right – lovely rooms, stocked with traditional Mexican furniture, a pretty pool, and a genuinely friendly staff.
Recommended restaurants: Rincón Mexicano (inside the Hotel San Carlos) has original seafood offerings and authentic Mexican dishes. Piña Colada Bar & Grill (Ave. Guayabitos No. 15) has tasty fajitas and a colorful roadhouse atmosphere. Restaurant Campanario (in front of the Hotel Posada la Misión) is popular with longtime visitors. Finally: Jorge Castuera’s farmacia (Av. del Sol Nuevo at Tabachines) dispenses medicines, drugstore supplies, stamps, FAX service, and the best all-around advice in town.