DescriptionThe Costalegre (Happy Coast)—also known as the Costa Careyes, or Turtle Coast—extends from Chamela south to Barra de Navidad. A few expensive, exclusive, secluded resorts catering to the wealthy are tucked among a string of modest beach towns that are popular weekend getaways for residents of Guadalajara.
By car, take Mex. 200 south from Puerto Vallarta. (Buses traveling between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo also make stops along the coast.) At Boca de Tomatlán, south of Puerto Vallarta, the road swings inland, bypassing Cabo Corrientes (the southern tip of Banderas Bay) before nearing the Pacific again in the vicinity of Chamela. Although not strictly a coastal route, the highway does offer occasional views of the ocean.
The scenery is varied—hills spiked with cactus give way to palm groves as the route winds south, and views shift from craggy mountains to waterfowl-filled lagoons. Many of the villages, beaches and private resorts along the Costa Alegre are accessed from dirt roads branching off Mex. 200.
The village of Chamela sits on bluffs overlooking Bahía Chamela. First settled in 1525, it served as a fortified anchoring ground for Spanish galleons returning from the Orient. Sea turtles and good-sized oysters inhabit the local beaches. During February and March, huge flocks of migrating sea birds settle on the small islands in the bay. A few rustic bungalows, restaurants and campsites accommodate travelers.
The next major development is Costa Careyes, where an all-inclusive resort development and luxury villas are situated along a series of rocky, jungle-edged coves protected from the open ocean. Further south is the tranquil, mile-long beach at Tenacatita, which is reached by a 8-kilometer (5-mile) dirt road turn-off. There are a number of restaurants at the western end of the beach.
The most popular stretch of the Costalegre is anchored by the towns of Barra de Navidad and San Patricio Melaque (meh-LAH-keh), just north of the Colima state border. They lie about 2 miles apart along the shore of crescent-shaped Bahía de Navidad, which is edged by a long, curving beach. Small, inexpensive hotels and thatch-roofed restaurants line the beach, known for its blazing sunsets. This area is much less crowded during the week than it is on weekends (and particularly during the Easter and Christmas holidays).
Barra de Navidad, on a sandbar lying between the bay and a lagoon, is the more picturesque of the two towns and the one most dependent on tourism. While not luxurious, it has more upscale accommodations than San Patricio Melaque. Hotels line Avenida Lopez de Legazpi, the beachfront street (although it is actually a short walk to the beach from most of them).
The redbrick-tiled Zócalo, on Calle Jalisco, is part of a pedestrian mall closed to traffic. This plaza is the place to relax, browse the many small shops (tiendas), have a cup of coffee or a cold cerveza, or perhaps have your hair braided by one of the local women. A street market sets up along Calle Guanajuato between avenidas Veracruz and Tampico on Thursdays.
There are views of the bay and beaches along the length of the malecón (sea wall), where pangas (small open-air ferries) and yachts can be seen entering and leaving the harbor. On the ocean side of the malecón stands “Triton & Nereida.” The sculpture commemorates the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the Philippine islands by a Spanish expedition that departed from this area in 1554.
The panga docks are at the south end of Avenida Veracruz, on the lagoon side of the sandbar. The local cooperativa—an association of individual boat operators—is further up the street. They can arrange fishing excursions, a tour of the lagoon or a quick trip across it to one of the half-dozen seafood restaurants in the little village of Colimilla. Lagoon tours are around 220 pesos.
Local buses connect Barra de Navidad with San Patricio Melaque, toward the northern end of Bahía de Navidad. Melaque, with its main plaza, church, municipal market and bus station, is more like a typical Mexican town, and has a greater number of hotels in the budget range.