Chacala - A great Mexican seaside village
25 March 2015 | 21 34.13'N:106 04.13'W, Crossing the Sea of Cortez, Mexico
We spent the last couple of nights anchored off the small village of Chacala, about 50 miles North of Puerto Vallarta, but a world away in terms of attitude and pace.
Chacala is situated on a small half moon bay, less than a mile across. Behind the sandy beach is a very small town that originated as a fishing village. You can find a handful of beach palapa restaurants, two tiendas, and a few small Mexican hotels and B&B's. For anything more than that, you need to jump in collectivo (shared van taxi) to the bigger town of Las Varas, a few miles inland. On the northern edge of the bay is an even tinier rock-lined bay with a perfect sandy beach at it's head for easy beach dinghy-landings. The port captains office is right there at the beach - extremely convenient. From a cruiser's point of view, this place is near perfect for a relaxing stop.
So many of these picturesque villages, like Sayulita a little further south, have been discovered by the gringo tourist masses and have changed significantly. More restaurants, more services, bigger hotels, crowds, and biggest costs seem to be the progression. For some, this is an improvement, but I think it comes at the cost of authenticity and quality of life for many in town. Here in Chacala there are a few gringo tourists but they seem to be the experienced ones who know that they have found something special. Most of the tourists, but still a very small number, are Mexicans who come for the day or for the weekend.
When we arrived there were only three other cruisers anchored in a bay that could hold many more. Checking in with the Port Captain was a leisurely affair interrupted by petting the cat that seemed to be as interested in our arrival as anyone. Walking through town, it was clear that these are the friendliest locals we have met yet. Everyone waved, or said "Hola" as we passed by. Best of all, aggressive salespeople calling out were nowhere to be found. It felt to us that this town was honestly welcoming to visitors, not yet seeing enough tourists to drive them crazy.
After a peaceful first night at anchor, we headed out to climb to the caldera of the extinct volcano that we were told was just behind the closest hills. I wasn't surprised to hear about a volcano as the rocks in the area were all black and bubbly, definitely seeming to be of volcanic origin to my untrained eyes. This dark rock up against the while sand and green jungle definitely accentuated the visual charm of the area.
With very little in the way of directions we set off down the road, looking for tracks leading upwards. Eventually, after following a steeply winding dirt road we came to the most impressive gate house for a neighbourhood that we have ever seen. We could see a few of the houses clinging to the steep hillside from the anchorage, but it was clear that there hadn't been any new development happening for a few years. The guard at the gatehouse, who obviously hardly ever saw any visitors, was testing his new car stereo with some pretty impressive volume - another laid back local enjoying himself. I told him in Spanish that we wanted to walk to the Caldera and hoped that he would let us pass. He replied in perfect english that we were nearly there and give us some further directions.
By this time, we were close to the crest of the hills surrounding the anchorage. The view was spectacular. The picture at top of this entry was taken from here. Once we reached the top, we were looking down into what was obviously an extinct volcano. The round caldera is now a large swampy area with a mix of grasses and water plants. Most of the bank was dense jungle, but on our side was a huge orchard of trees growing a very spiny fruit. We haven't had any internet to check, but we were told that it was prickly pear.
We hiked around much of the caldera enjoying the spectacular views and then made our way all the way down, back to the boat. It was a wonderful day in what will probably be one of our favourite anchorages. I have one request - don't tell anyone! I do hope that this place is able to retain its character and friendliness!
We left Chacala early this morning, although we could easily have stayed longer. But, the normal north wind has died down and given us a good weather window to head North to LaPaz. Although we will probably be motoring the entire way, it is much nicer to motor 300 miles than to beat into a strong headwind - especially in a catamaran. We expect to arrive in Muertos, about 50 miles from LaPaz sometime the day after tomorrow. It's a long non-stop stretch, but will get us over the Baja and back into its very different desert environment! From Muertos we will head north a bit further, and then south towards LaPaz. There are a few gorgeous sugar-white sand anchorages that we will probably visit along the way. LaPaz was the first town where we spent any time on our last trip here ten years ago so we are eager to see it again.
Well, that's it for now. It is glassy calm as I write this but I had better stick me head up to make sure that I don't run into any whales!