By Pat Grubb
After such a great summer here in the Northwest, most of us accept the constant clouds and drip, drip, drip of winter philosophically. Still, if 89 straight days of gray winter monsoons get us down, we know what to do – head south to Mexico. Like Hernán Cortés and his murderous conquistador crew, we seek gold. Golden sunshine, that is. My wife and I find it by flying to Puerto Vallarta, where we catch a lift to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, a small village about 20 miles north of Puerto Vallarta (PV).
Called La Cruz, for short, the town is located on the Bahía de Banderas, a large bay on the Pacific Ocean. While you are close to the excitement of PV for day or evening trips, La Cruz offers a more laid-back and relaxing environment. Not too relaxing – you’ll still find plenty to do. A recently constructed marina has boats ready to take you out for cruises, whale watching, fishing, diving or snorkeling. Nearby, there are hiking trails, eco-tours, surfing, jungle canopy tours and more, and of course the beach for when you feel like being simply lazy.
With palm trees, cobblestone streets and a village square, La Cruz retains the small-town feel of the real Mexico. You won’t find hordes of tourists, but you will discover a small army of expatriates who came upon the town and found it impossible to leave. Visitors usually mention the friendliness of the Mexican people they meet in La Cruz – it’s one of the attractions of the town.
Pretty much a must-do is a boat trip to Las Marietas, a group of uninhabited islands that were declared a national park in the late 1960s. A popular day trip, visitors are forbidden to step foot on shore with the exception of one small beach; consequently, the islands and waters surrounding them contain an amazing variety of avian and underwater life. The beach is reached by swimming and/or snorkeling through a short cave – it’s great fun. Boats leave from the marina but many of the trips are booze cruises, meaning lots of people drinking lots of free alcohol. They’re lively, but if you want a more refined option, try Red Dolphin Charters, which takes groups of 12 or fewer to the islands or on whale-watching trips on a 45-foot sailboat (firstname.lastname@example.org).
La Cruz has numerous restaurants to choose from: Tacos in the Street offers rib-eye tacos, while Philos offers nightly live music featuring terrific local and gringo musicians playing some of the best music you’ll ever hear. On Sundays, the boardwalk is filled with vendors of all kinds for the Sunday farmers market. Oso’s Oyster Bar at the marina is good for drinks and authentic Mexican lunch and dinner.
For accommodations, a terrific place to stay is Villa Amor del Mar, a small boutique inn located right on the sandy shores of Bahia de Banderas, a five-minute walk from the marina. Rated number 1 in La Cruz by TripAdvisor, Villa Amor del Mar (villaamordelmar.com) is owned by Canadian expatriates Chris and Cindy Bouchard, who have summered at their cabin in Birch Bay for years. The couple is intent on providing the best experience possible for their guests and no detail has been overlooked in doing so. By the time you leave, you’ll have two new friends who have introduced you to half the town and made sure you’ve gotten all there is out of La Cruz.
The villa has five hotel-style rooms that come complete with fridge, coffee maker and toaster. The villa also offers a shared kitchen and BBQs for more elaborate meals. Next to the villa is Casa Amor, a full house with two bedrooms. The villa and house can hold up to 16 people for those looking for a family vacation option. However, if you’re looking for a romantic vacation, Villa Amor del Mar is your place in the sun.
The pool is a few feet from the beach, which is pretty much free from beach vendors; and guests are welcome to use the inn’s paddleboards, kayaks and boogie boards.
For more information and other options, visit insidelacruz.com.
Getting there: Flights from the Northwest are easy to find. Alaska, United, Delta and Westjet, to name just a few, have frequent flights to Puerto Vallarta, and you have a number of options for getting to La Cruz from there. Car rentals, buses, taxis and car services are all available at the airport. If you’re staying at Villa Amor del Mar, either Chris or Cindy will be waiting for you when you emerge from customs with an air-conditioned car and a big smile.
A word about safety: While there might be parts of Mexico it would be prudent to avoid, Puerto Vallarta and the surrounding region isn’t one of them. We’ve traveled many times to the area and have never felt the least bit concerned for our personal safety.
Photos by Louise Mugar and Pat Grubb