an ancient mayan miracle
Remember when the world was supposed to end on December 21, 2012? That prediction was derived from the ancient Mayan calendar, which was so advanced that it could predict that every 5,126 years all of the planets would be in perfect alignment. How could an ancient people have such incredible knowledge of astronomy and math? This question has been haunting me ever since my recent visit to the Chichen Itza pyramid, in Yucatán, Mexico.
chichen itza pyramid known as el castillo or kukulkan
It’s incredible that over 1000 years ago, the Mayans could predict rare astronomical events such as solar eclipses and equinoxes. They didn’t even have telescopes back then as far as we know. They appear to have learned all of this by studying how the sun, moon and stars traveled across the sky and how shadows on the ground changed over time. Imagine how connected to nature the Mayans had to be to learn these things on their own. We admire the Mayan connection to nature and rely on nature’s gifts on a daily basis to maintain our own personal health.
chichen itza pyramid
the ingenious mayan calendar
They built incredible observatories to study and create the Mayan calendar. That calendar would help them to know when to plant, when to expect the rainy season, and when to harvest. The Spring equinox marked the planting and rainy season. The Autumnal equinox marked the time to harvest.
an ancient observatory at chichen itza called el caracol
The Chichen Itza pyramid (called El Castillo or Kukulkan) was built around 800-1000 AD as a three dimensional representation of the Mayan calendar. The pyramid faces slightly east of true north. Its positioning is believed to account for the roughy 23.5 degree tilt of the earth on its axis. It has 365 steps representing the solar calendar year (91 steps on each of four sides plus the top). Research using imaging is still exploring the insides of the pyramid. However, our tour guide indicated that there is a similar but smaller pyramid inside that has 260 steps representing the lunar calendar. Finally, he also indicated that here is a third even smaller pyramid inside the second pyramid with 52 steps representing the weeks in the solar year.
365 steps comprise the three dimensional mayan calendar at chichen itza
a snake appears during the equinox
Even more amazing, it forms a snake shadow twice a year during the equinox on September 21 and March 20. The snake appears to slither down the pyramid and connects to the head of the snake statue at the bottom of the pyramid before disappearing. How could an ancient people construct such an amazing three dimensional calendar? Thousands of Mayan people gather at the Chichen Itza pyramid twice a year to watch this amazing event.
during the equinox, a shadow of a snake body slithers down the pyramid and connects to the statue of the snake head
The walls of the pyramid and surrounding structures also create amazing acoustical echos. This enabled ancient Mayan leaders to speak to all of the people as they gathered around the pyramid. It’s easy to imagine how the leaders would appear godlike as they spoke loudly to summon the snake shadow.
the lost history of chichen itza
Around 1250, the city of chichen itza collapsed and the people appear to have left or disappeared for unknown reasons. Speculations include drought or conquest by rivals. After the Mayans left, the jungle trees grew and covered Chichen Itza causing the stone structures to fall apart. It wasn’t until the 1800s that an American archaeologist explored the area and wrote a book that reignited interest in the ancient Mayan city. In the 1900s, Mexican archaeologists began restoring it and it was opened to the public.
cenote sagrado – a sacred natural sinkhole at chichen itza
Unfortunately, much of what we know about the ancient Mayan civilization is speculation. When the Spanish arrived in the Yucatán in the sixteenth century, they burned the recorded Mayan history because they did not approve of their belief in many Gods.
the plaza of a thousand columns at chichin itza
The Mayans continue to amaze me though. Everywhere I travel I buy my daughter a turtle figurine. I don’t know why she likes turtles but she does. On this trip, I was so amazed by the Mayan culture that instead of a turtle, I ordered a personalized Mayan lunar horoscope and astrological chart for my daughter’s birth date. When they delivered the calendar four hours later, guess which animal was on the calendar to represent my daughters date of birth? Yep, the turtle! Coincidence? As I read the Mayan description of the turtle, I was stunned. I could have written it myself about my daughter.
cenote sagrado – a sacred water hole at chichen itza
how to see the chichen itza pyramid?
Chichen Itza is about 2.5 hours from Cancun, Tulum, or Playa Del Carmen by car. We recommend paying for a guided tour as it is hard to fully appreciate the ruins without an expert to explain the astronomical significance of the ruins.
from nevada to arizona on a surfboard?
Probably the only benefit of being an occasional gambler is that you can get free hotel rooms. I had just completed an incredible three day jeep expedition through the Mojave Trail that finished in Laughlin Nevada. Since I was in the area, I booked a free hotel room in Vegas for a few nights because how could I go wrong there (said no one ever)? The desert scenery along the Mojave Trail and Red Rock Canyon was beautiful, but it was time for some water in my life. Kitesurfing Lake Mohave was on my bucket list. It would be my first time crossing state lines on a surfboard.
Lake Mohave from a distance
I had heard about people kitesurfing Lake Mohave, about an hour south of Vegas where wind speeds of 30-40 mph were common. I had also read that kitesurfing Lake Mohave could be dangerous and that several kiters had been seriously injured there. Extreme gusts of wind can unexpectedly launch kiters into the air with no telling where they will land. Since the border between Nevada and Arizona runs right through the middle of the lake, you could literally get launched into another state. It didn’t sound like ideal conditions, but I’m usually up for adventure and seeing new places. Plus, how often do you get to kite surf from one state to another?
6 Mile Cove at Lake Mohave – dead calm water with no wind (the mountains across the way are in Arizona)
it’s not an adventure if you don’t get lost
Siri doesn’t know this area very well though so I had to find it the old fashioned way. I drove around, made wrong turns, and asked locals when I got lost. Fortunately, driving around Nevada is so beautiful that you don’t mind getting lost. My first missed turn took me to Cottonwood Cove boat docks, at Lake Mead. I couldn’t believe how quiet and peaceful it was there. I laughed at the irony that no one was there on probably one of the best days of the year.
That’s one of the things about being retired. You avoid traveling during the times when everyone else is because it’s too crowded and costs a fortune then. Sure, the water might be colder, but we have had some of our best experiences visiting places in their off season. The lack of long lines and crowds often make up for the off-season weather or water temps.
Cottonwood Cove – peaceful day in the winter off-season
Follow the power lines into the desert
Eventually I found a local who could direct me to 6 Mile Cove at Lake Mohave. He told me to follow the power lines leading into the desert from the entrance to the Lake Mead recreation area. It was a long and bumpy dirt road for my Prius to handle. I figured there was a good chance my car would get stuck in the middle of the desert. However, I had come along way and wanted to check kitesurfing lake mohave off my bucket list.
the long dirt road to 6 Mile Cove at Lake Mohave
the friendliest sport on earth
When I arrived, there were only two other kiters camping there and an RV. The lake was as calm as could be, not even a light breeze. The forecast called for wind though so I killed time with the other two kiters I met there while we waited for wind. Kitesurfing is one of those sports that brings strangers together. I love regular surfing, but it’s a crowded sport, and nobody wants to see another surfer arrive at their surf break. There’s not a lot of kite surfers in the world though, and so local kiters generally welcome new kitesurfers to their area. This could change in twenty years if the sport gets too crowded.
flying a wind meter kite at 6 Mile Cove – Lake Mohave (waiting for real wind)
kitesurfing lake mohave – let there be wind!
The wind didn’t arrive until noon on my second day at 6 Mile Cove. It was dead calm when all of a sudden someone somewhere turned a switch and the wind kicked up to 20mph. I had never seen the wind and water change so dramatically in a matter of seconds. Out on the water the three of us had 360 degree views of Incredible mountain scenery all to ourselves.
a new friend catching some big air at Lake Mohave
That night I was back at the tables in Vegas because that’s what gamblers do. Even though I lost $200 that trip, I was still grinning as I swapped stories of adventure with the others gathered around the roulette table.
hilltop view of 6 Mile Cove at Lake Mohave
keep your eyes on the road
We first heard about Red Rock Canyon over 20 years ago. We were climbers in college back then, and we saw it in a magazine. Ok maybe we weren’t real rock climbers. Real climbers were hanging off the edge of half dome in a hammock suspended only by pieces wedged into the rock. That being said, we were weekend warriors who could sport climb (5.10-5.11) and appreciate the sport. When we saw Red Rock’s colorful hues and smooth surface in the magazine, it beckoned us from our Southern California apartment five hours away.
red rock canyon – steep overhanging climbing route in calico tanks
A climber looks at mountains and rocks differently than everyone else. Just as a photographer is always scanning the scenery while driving instead of watching the road, a climber is always looking up at the rocks and mountains. The first thing a climber notices about Red Rock Canyon is its smooth hard sandstone surface that won’t tear fingers apart like granite does. Throw in the gorgeous colors, 5 minute approach, and beautiful mountain scenery and you have a climbers paradise.
red rock canyon – hiking/scrambling up calico tanks
“When I was a kid, we walked through 10 miles of snow to get to school”
Times were much different 20 years ago though. The visitor center you see today didn’t exist, and Siri wasn’t at your fingertips waiting to tell you how to get to Red Rock Canyon. The internet barely even existed then to the average person and hardly anyone had a cell phone. Ok, we didn’t walk through 10 miles of snow to get to school like our parents did, but you get the picture. Times were wildly different and information was scarce.
red rock canyon – mount wilson, oak creek canyon and rainbow peak (left to right)
Exploring the outdoors two decades ago involved gathering information the old fashioned way. You had to get your hands on a hard cover climbing guide and a fold out map. Even with those, your adventure involved many wrong turns before you reached your destination.
red rock canyon – view of keystone thrust from calico tanks
Remember pay phones?
If you got lost, no one would know for days or weeks because when you stayed in a hotel room, you didn’t use their phone. It cost too much to call out-of-town from a hotel phone. Sure, there were pay phones in the lobby, but even back then, using a pay phone wasn’t that much less ridiculous than it is today. Pay phones were for emergencies. People didn’t hang out at phone booths and use them to update their friends and family about their cool selfie pictures and awesome day.
red rock canyon – calico tanks
The only people you talked to on vacation were the people that were physically right in front of you. If you documented your trip with a few photos, you didn’t see any of the pictures until a few weeks later when you paid a fortune to develop them. People knew you made it home safely only after you arrived home and made a phone call from your land line.
red rock canyon – calico tanks
“huh – I expected the red rocks to be redder than this”
Now you might be able to understand how we failed to find Red Rock Canyon twenty years ago. Somehow we ended up in the middle of the desert with no red rocks in sight. It sounds ridiculous now given how easy it is to find the visitors center these days. It’s only 30 minutes from the strip, but we lived in an information dark age then. Wherever we were that day, we bouldered around for a few hours and then returned to our casino hotel. The visual and auditory stimuli of the Vegas casinos took over and we forgot all about our failed attempt. We lost interest in climbing a year or two after that trip as adult responsibilities took over.
red rock canyon – turtlehead peak
“ok mr. double down”
Gambling blood runs deep in our family, and so we have been to Vegas about 20 times since then. Unfortunately, we never bothered to make a second attempt at Red Rock and nearly forgot all about it. The architects that design the casino mazes are great at their jobs. They managed to keep us at the craps table all those visits instead of venturing outside the strip. Nonetheless, we usually had a great time with only a few regretful nights trying to exceed my ATM withdrawal limit. You know its time to go to bed when even the pit boss doesn’t want to let you take out more money.
red rock canyon – climbers on calico tanks
red rock canyon: 20 years later
This year I finally left the casino and had an incredible experience at Red Rock Canyon. Part of me wished I was climbing it, but part of me was happy to just explore it. It’s easier to just wander and appreciate its natural beauty without the heavy gear or a specified climbing route. Besides, I’m 20 years older now, physically at least. My knees can no longer handle hiking with heavy climbing gear, and I have to carry around peppermint for when my heartburn acts up. Mentally, I may not be a full 20 years older, but I do worry more than I did back then.
red rock canyon – calico tanks as sun begins to go down
The park host at the new visitors center said the scenic loop drive would take about 45 minutes. Instead, I managed to spend 7 hours hiking and exploring. I didn’t stop until the park closed, which fortunately didn’t happen until just after sunset. It’s the only time I can remember being happy that it gets dark as early as 5pm in the winter. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have witnessed this crazy sunset. I thought lava was about to spew out of Rainbow Mountain.
red rock canyon – sunset at rainbow peak
There is still so much more to explore at Red Rock Canyon. Next time we are in Vegas, I may even take my climbing gear. That shouldn’t be long from now as you know we are gamblers. Our Vegas trips will now include at least one morning at Red Rock Canyon instead of 10am gambling (8pm gambling still perfectly ok)!
red rock canyon – hiking the keystone thrust
5 jeeps and a prius in the mojave desert
Life doesn’t hand you a lot of gifts. Even when it does you have to have the insight to recognize them and the motivation to seize them. When Sesar put the word out that he was gonna jeep the Mojave Trail, I pulled some strings to make sure I could be there.
Did I even know what the Mojave Trail was? Not at all, but I knew it would be an experience that I didn’t want to miss. I stopped collecting assets 4 years ago and started collecting experiences instead. Sesar took me on my first jeep expedition a few months earlier to the Rubicon trail. That trip opened my eyes to the beauty and excitement of exploring nature from the comfort of a jeep. While it doesn’t provide the health benefits of hiking, you can cover more ground and it’s easier to carry beer.
I’ve never been a jeep enthusiast and never had an interest in cars. It’s an expensive hobby and requires mechanical know-how. We have always owned practical cars like the Honda Civic and the Prius. Sesar hates practical.
dude, send me the bleepin’ details!
He sent just one text a few days before the trip that said “bring a backpack of supplies…needed to survive.” I was hoping for a detailed pack list and trip summary, but just as I had hoped the selfie craze was a fad, I was sorely disappointed. It took my whole family blowing up on him with angry emoji texts to eventually get a few details. Up until two days before I left we didn’t know when or how I would get home and that I needed to bring my own food.
There would be 7 of us on the Mojave Trail in 5 jeeps. When was the last time you were able to get 7 adults together to go on a 3 day expedition? Sadly, few people have the time to get away from the money grab of life. I guess it takes the commanding leadership of an off-duty army officer to pull off this type of feat. Either way, Sesar and The Chop Shop put together one hell of a jeep trip.
many battles were fought on this trail
In preparation, I did some rigorous research on this new website I found called Wikipedia. I also yelped it and asked Jeeves but was not nearly as successful there. Anyways, I learned that the Mojave trail is a 140 mile trading route originally created by native Americans that connects the various watering holes in the Mojave Desert. It starts near Laughlin and finishes at Barstow.
It was later used by Spanish missionaries and every other foreign colonizer that came to the area including American pioneers and forty-niners heading west to find gold in California. It’s a true Wild West trail where many confrontations occurred between Native Americans and incoming colonizers. Think of The Lone Ranger and the stuff that Louis L’amour books are made of, but this is the real deal.
Today, the Mojave Trail is a 4-wheel drive dirt road for us weekend warriors in mid-life crisis. The national preserve is believed to appear much the same as it did hundreds of years ago. It’s not a slow rock crawling expedition like the Rubicon Trail. It’s a high speed adventure through huge expanses of waterless uninhabited desert and thick sand. The primary dangers are the trees and rocks that you have to avoid as you bounce and swerve through the often narrow trail at high speeds.
“i’m a professional”
The other major obstacle is that there are very few markings along the trail so it’s easy to get lost. After reading this, I asked Sesar if he had ever done the trail before. He assured me that he had taken tanks through the trail with the army as well as recreational jeeps. I’m happy to hear this, but a scene from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” flashes into my head. I picture the valet who takes a joyride in Cameron’s father’s 1961 Ferrari minutes after saying “Relax…you guys have got nothing to worry about..I’m a professional.”
Nonetheless, after Sesar’s reassurance and after learning about the rich history of the Mojave Trail, I was all in. We had already taken four jeeps rock crawling through the Rubicon trail without getting stuck once. This should be a cake walk. Anyone suspect that I might have just jinxed the trip?
probably the wrong place to leave a prius in barstow
I arrived in Barstow Thursday night and paid to leave my car in a reserved spot intended for 18 wheel trucks at the Flying J truck stop. We laughed at the ridiculous sight of my tiny car parked amongst 30 big rigs in a spot that could fit 5 of my cars. As We drove away in Sesar’s jeep, we imagined what the weary long haul truckers would do to my Prius that was occupying the last reserved spot. They probably wouldn’t think it was as funny as we did.
We headed into the desert just a few hundred yards off the highway to camp for the night and wait for the others to arrive. Camping in the desert is so easy. You can just unfold a cot and sleep under the stars with no worries of bears or mosquitos.
We hung a strobe light so the other jeeps could find us. Eventually, we saw headlights veering off the highway and bouncing into the desert towards us. Let the games begin!
embarking on the historic desert trail
We woke at sunrise and began heading east from Barstow on the Mojave trail. We flew through the desert at speeds ranging from 30 – 70 mph. There is so much dust flying around that you can barely see. If there is a rock in the middle of trail we will be airborne. I double check my seat belt to make sure it is catching properly, and Sesar says “relax, you got nothing to worry about.” Once again, I picture the valet from “Ferris Bueller.”
Less than an hour into the trail we encountered the Mojave River crossing. I figured we would stop and check the water depth to see if we could make it through. Instead, Kevin, who is leading the caravan just charges straight through so we follow right behind. The water seemed like it was going to swallow our car, but it was too late to stop. Our only choice was to power through to the other side.
After the river crossing we stopped at an old bridge with train tracks. I assumed it was no longer in use but as soon as I climbed the bridge for an aerial photo a train came roaring by a few feet from me. The conductor sounded pretty angry as he honked his horn, but I’m surely not the first idiot to pull that stunt.
“don’t touch it, it might be a crime scene”
We continued on until we came across a relatively new abandoned Challenger in the middle of the desert. It looked like a crime scene but after finding no dead bodies in the backseat, we came to the conclusion that some teenagers were probably just having fun riding their trucks over a broken down car. I was reminded of my Prius I left at the truck stop and figured it probably looked a lot like the challenger by now. “You got nothing to worry about,” Sesar says laughing.
on this day, some very cool stuff went down…
Travelers monument was our next stop on the trail. Everybody got out of their jeeps and threw a rock onto the pile for good luck. There is a secret plaque on top of the rock pile, and tradition dictates that only those that travel the Mojave trail get to read it. The profound message can be life changing.
Eventually we reached a beautiful forest of Joshua trees. Apparently, the area is protected for a rare species of gnomes and frogs. When Sesar told me to bring a small porcelain gnome and frog, I assumed it was an inside joke. Sure enough, everybody else brought items to contribute to the growing population of porcelain figurines. I still don’t know why.
Afterwards, we signed the log book and continued on our journey. We eventually found a nice campsite near the base of a mountain before sunset. Sesar offered to let me try his Eno hammock he had been raving about. I was plenty comfortable on my cot the night before but I obliged and he took my cot. I woke up freezing in the middle of the night just waiting for the night to be over. Morning finally came and Sesar boasted he was so warm on the cot that he was nearly sweating. Army guys get a kick out of pranking city boys.
“we just hit 80!”
The next day three more vehicles joined us on the trail bringing our caravan to eight jeeps and trucks. This gave us new blood to banter about shocks and coils with and tell our lies to. It wouldn’t be a jeep trip without at least one mishap, but we managed to put out an electrical fire with some quick thinking (not water!). Afterwards, we paid the toll to the penny can hanging from the tree and continued on the last straightaway at top speeds. “We just hit 80!” someone called out over the radio.
We reached Laughlin before sundown and celebrated with a huge buffet and more jeep banter. The moment of truth came the next morning when we pulled into the truck stop in Barstow. My Prius was right there where I left it without a scratch. I guess maybe truckers do have a sense of humor.
where the desert meets the sea of cortez
Baja is not just a place. It’s a way of life. Technology and innovation have changed our lives irreversibly. Our children will never understand life without selfies and the internet, and we will never have a chance to experience the wild west. You can’t go back in time, but fortunately you can go to San Felipe Baja!
Our $10k beachfront shack we bought near San Felipe Baja 13 years ago takes us back to a different time. You wake up when the sun rises and gives you light. There is no electricity where we live 40km south of town, which means no crowds. Imagine having beautiful pristine beaches and miles of desert trails all to yourself.
The few people that do live in the south campos rely on a few solar panels to charge a few batteries to run a few lights. Propane runs most refrigerators and stoves, and water comes from a well or a truck. It takes a little getting used to primitive housing conditions. I recently burnt my fingers trying to reach into the crowded propane stove (I used lavender and frankincense to ease the pain). Septic systems don’t handle toilet paper, and we have to light the water heater twenty five minutes before we are ready for a hot shower.
you’re not in san diego anymore toto
It’s hard to believe we are only 5 hours away from San Diego. Most people pay thousands of dollars a month to share walls there. We couldn’t reach our nearest neighbor with a rock, and we pay $1300 a year in rent (our house sits on leased land).
People in the states worry about crime when they think of Mexico. Maybe we are kidding ourselves, but most people know each other around San Felipe Baja. You know the street vendors, you know your neighbors, and you know the restaurant owners. If someone drives into your campo (neighborhood), your landlord or neighbor will see the trail of dust coming from a mile away.
Without all the people and technology, you can get more in touch with the land and nature. There’s no shortage of beautiful natural scenery to inspire your creative side. You might even find yourself in front of a canvas with some paint or collecting artifacts to add to your yard art.
the tide rules in san felipe baja
It’s hard to escape nature in San Felipe Baja. The tide and the weather are powerful forces that influence daily life there. When the tide rises enough to cover the rocks, fishermen launch their boats, kids go swimming and gringos hit golf balls into the sea. When the tide goes out, it’s time to collect the golf balls, mussels, clams and octopus from the exposed rocky shore. Our landlord makes an amazing ceviche from the seafood he collects in the morning low tide.
High tide is the perfect time to visit the natural hot springs of Puertecitos, just 70km south of San Felipe Baja. As the tide begins to recede, the healing waters of the hot springs are exposed at the perfect temperature. You don’t even have to take the roads to get there. Hop on a buggy or jeep and and take the beach.
an off-roading paradise
Regardless of the tides, you can always fire up your favorite off road vehicle and explore the beach and desert. You can ride up and down the beach for miles and miles, only occasionally passing and waving to another person. Or you can head inland and explore the desert trails that host the famous Baja 250. When the race is on, you can get as close as you dare to the trophy trucks as they fly by you across the desert.
the santa ana winds are your friend if you kitesurf
When the winter Santa Ana winds start blowing dust everywhere, most people stay inside and play games or try in vain to clean the dust from their house. However, that’s when a few of us pump up our kites and let the wind drag us around the Sea of Cortez on our surfboards.
Baja is one of the few undeveloped places in the world where the desert meets the sea. Everyone knows how great it feels to stand on the beach and look out to the sea. However it’s a whole different experience to glide across the water and look out at the desert, mountains and beach.
Baja seems like one of the last frontiers not yet spoiled by human development and regulations. If you ask our landlord what the rules of the campo are he will tell you there are no rules. Sure, some overzealous old timer may try to put up his own 5mph sign along a dirt road, but there’s no one to enforce it.
Forget about having a schedule. In San Felipe Baja, things happen when they happen. If you ask someone a question that begins with when, the answer is mañana (tomorrow). The desert is littered with half built structures that we call mañanas.
We wouldn’t mind if those half built structures never get finished, let alone mañana. The beauty of San Felipe Baja is its pristine undeveloped nature. The lack of crowds is what makes it special – that and those amazing desert sunsets. I don’t know why, but the sky there produces incredible sunsets every night.
After sunset, you might find yourself around a campfire with friends and family, but don’t get too comfortable. People go to sleep soon after it gets dark, called “Baja midnight” (which ranges from 7-9pm). Lights are used sparingly at night so as not to drain solar powered batteries. This makes for some amazing night time skies filled with more stars than you have ever seen.
The best thing about Baja midnight is that we will wake up when the sun rises and do it all over again mañana. Every morning as we sip our coffee and stare out at the sun rising over the sea, we are reminded why we love San Felipe Baja.
clifftop ocean views and uncrowded surf breaks
We spend a lot of time enjoying the beauty of the Baja desert from Cabo north to Rosarito. However, we also welcome the opportunity to enjoy the greener parts of Mexico. One of our favorite spots is Rancho Banderas Punta Mita. The lush and tropical green mountains of Punta de Mita make you realize how mainland Mexico is almost a different country than Baja.
Punta de Mita is a beautiful coastal region about 40 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta. Its secluded green coastal cliffs run for several miles north until you reach the quiet little town on the bay. The road is quite narrow and windy though, and so I did have to take some peppermint essential oil to calm my stomach.
Rancho Banderas Punta Mita is a resort on the cliffs just outside of the small town. We chose this spot so we could enjoy the clifftop ocean views and uncrowded surf breaks. The sunsets there are also perfect every night!
Two of the breaks (Veneros and Paredon) were a short walk up the beach from Rancho Banderas Punta Mita. There’s nothing like being able to walk to the waves and surf the warm waters in a swimsuit. However, if you can’t handle intense heat and humidity, you may want to skip this region all together or visit in December.
peppers restaurant at rancho banderas punta mita
The Restaurant at Rancho Banderas Punta Mita had excellent food and gorgeous scenic views. We never had to wait to be seated or pay inflated resort prices like many other places. Meanwhile the infinity pool and 2 for 1 happy hour had a way of sneaking into our daily routine.
w punta de mita
A new W hotel opened this year just a few minutes walk north on the beach. This gave us several more upscale restaurants (The Spice Market and Venazu) to explore without having to bother with driving. We also caught some stunning sunsets by their gorgeous pool.
You can even see tiny Marietas island which sits about 10 miles off the coast. Marietas is famous for its hidden beach which rumor has it was created by explosions from government test bombs. At high tide, you have to swim under a rock arch and through a cave to get inside the “beach of love.” At Low tide, an entrance opens up large enough that you could enter by kayak.
After you swim through the underwater cave, you reach a tiny beach where you can only see the sky through a large hole in the ceiling (or is it the ground?). It’s even more beautiful than Leonardo do Caprio’s secret beach in “The Beach.” We didn’t have a waterproof camera but Manny J. Soto (@ohhh_itsmanny on Instagram) took this picture which does it justice.
You can catch a boat to Marietas from Punta de Mita for about $70 (half the price that tour campanies charge from Puerto Vallarta). There is also excellent snorkeling around the island preserve.
day trip to sayulita
Another 30 minutes north of Rancho Banderas Punta Mita is Sayulita, a bustling little surf town with lots of energy. It usually has a very gentle surf break reminiscent of Waikiki, which attracts both beginners and seasoned longboarders.
We spent a whole day in Sayulita walking around exploring the beaches, bars, restaurants and shops. We also stumbled upon Playa de Los Muertos, an interesting and beautiful secluded beach surrounded by a cemetery at the south end of town.
If we ever stay the weekend in Sayulita, we will have to try Villa Amor. The boutique hotel nestled on a jungle hill next to Playa de Los Muertos is a popular scenic destination for weddings.
road tripping to puerto vallarta
When there were no waves, we rented a car for $50/day to explore. Just 10 minutes south of Rancho Banderas Punta Mita we found a beautiful marina called La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. There were two nice restaurants with great views of the marina but unfortunately they were closed for summer until November.
We continued south to the crowded downtown area of Puerto Vallarta. We had heard about a new observation deck at the top of the hills surrounding the city. The steps up to the observation point begin at an excellent restaurant called Si Señor. After a delicious meal, the staff was kind of enough to give us directions up and around to Mirador La Cruz where we could see all of the Bay of Banderas and Puerto Vallarta.
Although the observation deck was still under construction, the 360 degree hilltop views were amazing. The few hundred steps to the top only took about 15 minutes but made for an intense leg workout. My husband’s leg cramped on the first large step down, and I had to nurse it back to health with essential oils (deep blue rub).
los arcos preserve
About 15 minutes south of Puerto Vallarta we found excellent views of the famous Los Arcos marine park near Mismaloya. Like the Marietas, this is a protected area popular for its excellent snorkeling and unusual rock arch formations.
If you haven’t tried chocolate coffee tequila, stop at Mama Lucia tequila distillery not far from the Los Arcos lookout. After the free tour and tasting, we decided to bring home a bottle to enjoy at home. Yes, Chocolate coffee tequila! It’s our new favorite decadent desert drink!
dinner with a view in mismaloya
We rarely treat ourselves to “fancy” dinners, preferring to spend our money on more vacations. However, if you are going to treat yourself to the best restaurant in town, you can do it for 1/4 of the price in Mexico versus California. The 19 peso to one dollar exchange rate is extremely favorable for us tourists. We remember when it was 10 to 1 just fifteen years ago! We treated ourselves to an amazing meal at Le Kliff in Mismaloya, known for its incredible views.
You can see all of Bahia de Banderas from Le Kliff, and it really helped us put the area in perspective like a map. From here we could see that all of these little towns and bays are part of one very large bay (Banderas) with Rancho Banderas Punta Mita directly across from Mismaloya, and Puerto Vallarta at the middle of the C shape.
After a lot of sightseeing, the waves picked up for the second half of our week. Finally, my husband was in heaven surfing, and I was able to get back to my Jodi Piccult book!