We haven’t made many stops on our voyage so far, mostly due to circumstances such as waiting for a weather window, or waiting for an actual window… But of all the places we have been since setting out two months ago, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle (or just La Cruz) was by far our favorite and it unexpectedly stole a little bit of my heart. I already longed to be back in La Cruz as we reached our next stop on our nearly nonexistent itinerary.
La Cruz is a small town on the northeast side of Bahía de Banderas and is about 21 km north of the popular tourist destination of Puerto Vallarta. The “main” street is a cobble-stoned road with a large park to one side. This is a great place for a siesta under a shade-tree. Although a bit dusty, this village is charming in its own way. La Cruz harbors the relatively new Marina Riviera Nayarit. This marina accommodates long-term US and Canadian expats as well as travelers just passing through. We stayed here for a total of 6 days, but for us La Cruz was love at first sight.
As we approached the marina, we were greeted with coconut trees along the sandy shores. The lush mountains beyond extended from one end of the bay to the next. The sky was clear, and the weather was warm. We weren’t the only ones to be put under this town’s spell; there were at least 40 sailboats anchored just right outside the marina enjoying the picturesque bay.
That day we arrived was a Sunday, which happened to be Mercado Huanacaxtle day. It was mostly an artisan’s market with arts and crafts vendors selling jewelries, paintings, blankets, woven bags, souvenirs and decoration. There was a handful of vendors serving food or fresh juice and a fish market as well. The market was full of ex-pats, hippies and locals, setting a good vibe from the get go.
But what really set La Cruz apart was to be the people, be it the locals or fellow sailors in the marina. Probably the best word to describe everyone we met in La Cruz would be friendly, and I’m talking genuine friendliness. The real deal. Not the annoying superficial gestures one find in larger tourist towns; everyone’s your best friend as long as they think you have a dollar in your pocket. Here nobody was in my face trying to sell some “Cuban” cigars or jewelries, or hiding behind a conversation so you rent their jetski. It was refreshing to be rid of all that and to just have an enjoyable conversation with no ulterior motives.
When we ventured out at night to hunt down some tasty food, we often found the locals hanging out in front of their homes chatting away. Some pulled out TVs to the road side to watch telenovelas, an open invitation to neighbors and passersby. If only television was such a social affair in the states. Even Gidget made new friends with 3 boys at the beach who wanted to play fetch with her. We chatted with those kids for nearly an hour. It was a delightful albeit painstaking conversation as we failed to comprehend most of what was said. Thank goodness one of them spoke some English.
La Cruz has numerous local eateries that seem to operate out of their home. The makeshift restaurants were once a living room or kitchen. Sometimes they just put out a couple of plastic tables and chairs on the side of the road. Our daily diet here consists of tacos and quesadillas with our favorite spot being Tacos La Silla Roja: they had the best quesadilla adobada and deliciously spicy salsa. I do mean properly spicy, not the kind of “spicy” you get in restaurants stateside. Of course there are always real restaurants too, but by now you probably guessed we did not make it to any of them except to the marina restaurant once for the sake of their free Wifi. We love our local taco vendors.
One thing you can do in La Cruz is to take a day trip to Puerto Vallarta, and it is a painless venture. We just walked up the main road for a few blocks until it meets the highway and catch the ATM bus to Puerto Vallarta. The bus we took from La Cruz was really just a minivan but they were all clearly labeled, so it wasn’t rocket science. The bus took us to the downtown area and on the way we saw a sign to Costco. We were tempted to stop there for a hotdog and soda (which costs $1.50 in the US, making it a good staple food for struggling college students or young, married couples saving money to go sail for 4+ months) but we didn’t. From Puerto Vallarta, one could take a taxi or local bus to Walmart to catch the ATM bus back to La Cruz.
A nice marina, quiet town, friendly people, laidback lifestyle, beautiful scenery and delicious food. What more do you need to fall in love with this place? The answer is whales. Bahía de Banderas is a whales’ playground; we saw more humpback whales here than anywhere else thus far. A mama and baby whale passed right beside our boat, so close you could see her blowhole and the baby’s face clearly. I mumbled a prayer that they wouldn’t hit the boat as they flew by. We saw whales breaching (yes, breaching!) near the beach by the marina, out in the bay, and by Las Tres Marietas islands. We saw them playfully doing a flipper or tail slap; you know, things you see on a whale-watching advertisement that you never actually see if you pay to go on the trip. We saw them. It is impossible to describe such an encounter, not any photos or videos can capture the magnitude of the experience. Just wanting to enjoy the experience, we never even bothered fumbling with our cameras (this photo is not ours but it depicted what we saw that day). Whether you are religious, agnostic or downright atheist, there is an undeniable feeling of humbling awe and admiration of these magnificent creatures roaming the seas. Once again, we were reminded on just how truly incredible nature is, and what small place humans hold in the grand scheme of things.
When the time came to leave La Cruz, we couldn’t help but ask ourselves why this couldn’t be the place that we had to be stuck in for two weeks while waiting for our new window. We even played with the idea of staying in this lovely town. But our journey pressed on. So we made a promise that we would, one day, return to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle and Bahía de Banderas.
View more of Puerto Vallarta here
View more of La Cruz here