On vacation in Puerto Vallarta? Head south on a jungle path for secluded beaches and pristine views
Visitors come here because the prices are good, the food scene is excellent and the weather is seldom less than perfect.
But Puerto Vallarta is becoming a victim of its success. Restaurants where you could walk in and be served now have a weeklong waiting list. The Saturday market is almost too crowded to walk through, and the noise never stops.
The solution: Walk — or, in this case, hike — away.
Head out of town for a trip along Cabo Corrientes, or Cape Currents, a 2,000-square-mile area of bays, beaches and jungle. This piece of Mexico, beginning at the village of Boca de Tomatlán and stretching along the southern curve of the Pacific coast, is still rustic and undisturbed.
If you are in it for the burn, you could hike the 5½-mile trail to Quimixto in three or four hours.
Or you could take most of a day to complete your trek, savoring the beauty of secluded beaches and indulging in a long lunch by the ocean. That’s the adventure two friends and I chose in early February.
Those with time could spend the weekend, overnighting in one of the small hotels along the pristine coast or settling in for a longer sojourn to truly disconnect.
Whether you take the fast route or decide to linger, there will be a green jungle path, blue skies and the ocean at your side.
Bus to Boca
The day began for me and friends Ray and Sue with a bus ride down the coast from Puerto Vallarta. The 30-minute trip wound along miles of sandy beaches and pink and white villas.
We caught the early bus to be sure we could begin the hike in the cool of the morning, so it was no surprise that one woman had a sleeping baby on her lap. The bumpy ride, the ranchero music of a guitar player and the frequent stops — none of this disturbed the little sleeper.
At Boca, the highway continues south from the Bahía de Banderas, or Bay of Flags, and skirts the cape, leaving this section of the coastline and its villages accessible only on foot, by boat or by unmapped and unpaved narrow roads. That fact has saved the area from high-rise condos and big resorts, at least for the moment.
The Cabo Corrientes hiking trail is easy to follow, with a route that hugs the coast. It begins across a small footbridge over the Horcones River at the end of Boca’s main malecón.
The first leg took us past homes that overlook the bay and sometimes through strangers’ yards. We stopped at Casa de los Artistas, a residential art school offering seasonal workshops and instruction. We joined the artists on a terrace, with a view of the boats and buildings of Boca, and listened for a few minutes to a tutorial on the principles of watercolor.
There were roosters, dogs and cats on that first section of the trail, but the noise soon disappeared as we climbed from Boca and over the edges of the Sierra Madre Occidental. Then there was just the cool jungle, the chatter of parakeets and macaws, and the rhythmic sound of the ocean.
We met two couples from Minnesota and a woman from Vancouver, Canada, hiking on her own. We stood aside to let a group of six fast hikers pass, but traffic on the trail was sparse.
From canopy to cove
The section of the trail between Boca and Colomitos was the hardest, with some steep climbing and uneven footing, but nothing the average hiker couldn’t handle. About 45 minutes in, we emerged from the jungle canopy to the blue-green water of Colomitos Cove.
Our reward was a cooling swim with the woman from Vancouver and a few others who had boated in. On the point stood the Ocean Grill, a popular spot to dine. The Grill’s owner has a Great Dane, Wilson, who sometimes joins the swimmers on the beach. The perro was huge but friendly, and spent most of his time snoozing under the tables at the restaurant.
From Colomitos on, the hike was easier along a level path that curved past isolated beaches.
The Beach Club at Maraika was the next stop, one of my favorites for a casual meal. The food was simple but fresh — quesadillas, tuna ceviche and tacos al pastor. The cervezas were cold, the mojitos tart/sweet, and the tables shaded by palapas overlooking the beach. In front of us, frigate birds and gray pelicans paraglided on the wind.
The restaurant buzzes on Friday nights, when a DJ and patrons seem to materialize out of the jungle to dance on the beach, but today there was just us and three other tables.
We dragged ourselves from the beach chairs and headed out again, enjoying an encounter with a sleepy iguana sunbathing on the rocks, empty expanses of sand with only our footprints, and views of the ocean. Then, around a curve in the coastline and up a set of stairs we arrived in Las Ánimas.
This busy fishing village attracts day trippers who sit under umbrellas and enjoy the sun and seafood. It was a shock to leave the quiet beaches and navigate among the restaurants, bars, beach chairs and trinket sellers.
It’s fun and a good place for a rest or a cool drink, but if you’re fleeing the crowds, as we were, Las Ánimas is just a pit stop. We stayed long enough for a glass of limonada and then continued.
The last section of the trail took about an hour and led to Quimixto, a fishing village and our final destination, where we climbed to a waterfall for a chilly swim. It was a challenge at the end of a day of hiking, but the dip in the pool at the foot of the waterfall was an icy revival.
We had dinner at Los Cocos on the beach — grilled fish and locally caught shrimp — and then hailed a panga for a quick ride to Boca and the bus back to Puerto Vallarta.
My yoga teacher, an expatriate Russian physicist (only in Puerto Vallarta), claims that the Bahía de Banderas is the intersection point of lines of energy and that the area is similar to Sedona, Ariz., or the Magdalen Islands in Canada —an energy vortex whose power can be accessed by those who are receptive.
After a day along the coast on a self-designed adventure, a day that, despite the physical exertion, felt akin to meditation, I think she may be on to something.
If you go
THE BEST WAY TO PUERTO VALLARTA, MEXICO
From LAX, From LAX, American, Delta, Alaska and Southwest offer nonstop service to Puerto Vallarta, and Delta, Aeromexico and Alaska offer connecting service (change of planes). Restricted round-trip airfare from $280, including taxes and fees.
From the airport it is easy to arrange a taxi into the city. You can also exit the airport, walk across the footbridge and hail an Uber.
The best times to hike the trail are November to April, when conditions are dry and the temperatures are cooler. I would rate most of the trail as easy, with maybe one-third of it of medium difficulty.
The bus ride from Puerto Vallarta to Boca de Tomatlán costs 10 pesos (52 cents; exact change is a good idea) each way. You can drive as far as Boca if you have a rental car, or you can take a boat from the pier in town, but the bus ride is part of the experience.
The boat trip from Quimixto to Boca takes about 20 minutes and costs about $2.50 to $3, depending on your negotiating skills. Beyond Quimixto, the hiking path is much more challenging and unreliable. I don’t recommend it.
WHERE TO STAY
Casa de los Artistas, 17 Ribera del Rio, Boca de Tomatlán, Mexico. Open November through April. This small casa hosts all-inclusive seven-day artist retreats, with classes and excursions to local sites as well as hikes along the coast, for $2,195 per person, including daily art classes, all meals and return trip to the Puerto Vallarta airport.
Casitas Maraika, Playa del Caballo, Las Ánimas, Boca de Tomatlán, Mexico. Maraika has six casitas, simple in design but artfully decorated. A casita for two is $125 a night, including round-trip transportation by boat from Boca.
Hotelito Mío, Playa Caballo, Cabo Corrientes, Mexico. Upscale boutique hotel with eight private villas. Doubles from $490 a night.
WHERE TO EAT
Ocean Grill, Colomitos Beach, Cabo Corrientes, Mexico; WhatsApp only (044) 322-111-0157. Lunch and dinner served on terraces with superb views of the ocean and the sunset. By reservation; no drop-ins. Cash only, entrees from $12. Closed Mondays.
Beach Club, Casitas Maraika, Playa del Caballo, Las Ánimas, Boca de Tomatlán, Mexico. Classic local Mexican dishes. Lunch about $15-$20.
Los Cocos, Carretera a Barra de Navidad, Cabo Corrientes, Mexico; casual dining on the beach with local specialties. $10-$15.
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