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Barra de Navidad Jalisco
Photos by Liz Rothwell and Bob Crosthwait - More Photos from Liz & Bob

Barra de Navidad & Melaque--San Patricio

These two towns are found at the southern extreme of Jalisco State, just across Christmas Bay, or Bahía de Navidad, from Colima State. While beach towns like Zihuatanejo have been discovered by developers of high-end hotels, Barra and Melaque (as it's called for short) remain---knock on wood!---blissfully Old School Pacific.

Barra (again, for short) follows a long sand bar that juts out at the southern extreme of the bay. Most of the town strings along parallel streets: Calle Veracruz faces the long lagoon and Isla Navidad, home to the upscale Gran Bay hotel. Running parallel, Avenida Miguel de la Madrid looks out over the choppy gray Pacific. Up and down both these long sandy streets are shops selling sarongs and kids' toys, shell and coconut and cedar-wood souvenirs, pipes, embroidered tops, and more sophisticated handcrafts from Jalisco and Chiapas.

Family-owned restaurants and small, funky hotels predominate in Barra: there aren't any chain hotels or mega-grocery stores. Like San Blas, this beach town is still "owned and operated" by the locals, and sought-after by beach lovers who avoid fancier resorts. Popular with surfers and beach bums of all ages, Barra sports a respectable number of bars and cafes as well. The Sociedad Co-operative de Servicios Turísticos facing the lagoon on Calle Veracruz offers inexpensive boat trips: They have fishing or snorkel trips, bay cruises, or just a jaunt across the lagoon to the seafood shanties of Colimilla. A new church is being built; in the meantime, the town's well-known icon, the Christ of the Fallen Arms (Cristo de los Brazos Caídos) holds court in a charming temple of palm fronds.

San Patricio--Melaque

Across the bay, San Patricio--Melaque is actually two ejidos that have grown towards each other over the years. With about 12,000 inhabitants, this town strings along Bahía de Navidad. You can walk along the course, blond-sand beach all the way from Barra, about 5 km (3.5 miles). The waves are gentle here, and concessionaires rent kayaks, boogey boards, and snorkel equipment. If you drive to town, San Patricio Melaque makes a poor first impression. One of the first things you see is a behemoth abandoned structure, an earthquake-damaged tourist facility and hotel that was destroyed almost as soon as inaugurated. Later sacked, the empty shell remains to blight the town.

Continue a few more streets however, and you'll see San Patricio Melaque's simple charms. The main square is colorful, genuine, and cheerful. Facing it are a handful of cenadurías, casual dinner spots selling shrimp pozole, enchiladas, tacos, and other regional snacks. Ice cream shops and email stops, the town's church, and corner groceries crammed full of the necessities of daily life line the square too, and one street behind, blend into the town's marketplace. Buy a plucked chicken or better yet, pull up a stool at a comedor for a yummy chicken--veggie soup or a steamed tamal. Lodgings, restaurants, and other beach-related businesses follow the curve of Christmas Bay, named by Spanish explorers in honor of the holiday when they holed up here. Fishermen will take anglers around the rocky headland to fish for wahoo, swordfish, mackerel, or to Playa Cuastecomates, another gorgeous stretch of sand on the other side.

Look at a map of the coast north of Barra, dubbed La Costalegre, and you'll see a necklace of perfectly strung "pearls"---beaches strung one right next to the next up the coast. Not one but several long, sandy and stunning beaches line Tenacatita Bay, including La Manzanilla, Boca de Iguana (nice for swimming, but watch for the undertow), Tenacatita/La Mora (with clear water and an offshore reef that encourages snorkeling), El Tecuán, and the protected Teopa, where sea turtles nest in the late summer and fall. You can access most of the beaches from the highway (which leads to Puerto Vallarta, about four hours to the north), or from La Manzanilla, the largest town on the bay, near the south end. Continuing up the coast, there are more lovely, relatively undeveloped beaches at Bahía Chamela (Playa El Negrito, Chamela, La Fortuna, and Punta Perula, among others). Offshore, Isla Pajareras, Cocinas, and a handful of smaller islands offer snorkeling, diving, kayaking and wildlife viewing. Fishermen on the beach all along the coast can be counted on for boat trips by the hour or by the day.

Between Tenacatita and Chamela are a bunch more beaches and lofty bluffs. Luxury resorts have snagged some of the prettiest stretches of sand---El Tamarindo, El Careyes, Las Alamandas and Hotelito Desconocido are the most elegant, expensive, and isolated. If you want to treat yourself to gran turismo (beyond five-star) luxury you'll find it here, tucked beside designer spas and golf courses.

For those with a serious cash problem (way too much, in this case), there is Cuixmala, a privately owned reserve with zebra and other exotic species as well as cattle and organic gardens. The villas there are pricey---over US$10K per night---but do come with cook, maid, valet, and other help. But for most people, there are still miles of sand with drop-dead-stunning beaches and bays, basic hotels, seafood shacks, and RV- and tent-camping spots.

Satellite Map of Barra de Navidad



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