If you plan on cruising to Mexico you do not want to miss these three destinations; Isla Isabel, Chacala, and San Cristobal de las Casas. Really, there are so many amazing places to see down here that many cruisers pull up to Mexico with plans to venture farther and then end up staying for years. The cost of living, the local people, the weather and the availability of boat supplies, have been just a few of the reasons why many cruisers say that Mexico is their favorite place to stay. There are too many amazing places to write about, but these three places so far in Mexico seem to be a few of our favorites. Bill briefly touches on these spots in an earlier post, Ship’s Log: Zihua, but I felt they needed a little extra attention, and wanted to add more pictures.
As you head out of Mazatlan down the coast, stop at the amazing Isla Isabel. Many boats decide to pass this gem because there are rumors of fishing lines, and a rocky unprotected anchorage. Us being us, we ignored their warnings and had to see it for ourselves, and are very glad we did. As we have learned, you have to take everything you hear with a grain of salt because there are so many different perspectives and experiences. We take head of the warnings and make our own decisions, but go in cautiously. There were two large fishing boats anchored deep off of the island, but no fishing lines in the southern bay anchorage that we saw. This is the first time we have needed to anchor on a rocky bottom so we didn’t know what to expect. We usually use an anchor ball to locate our anchor when we drop our hook anyways, but this time it served a dual purpose. Clasping the ball and rope right on to the anchor itself lets it act like a trip line so if it does get wedged under a rock we will have leverage on the anchor to pull it up with.
We notice right away, as we’re pulling in, that there is something very magical and special about this place. We try to center our boat in the middle of the bay as best as we can, and drop our anchor in 26 feet of water over a rock covered bottom. I back up on our anchor and feel fairly sure we are secure, but hope we aren’t stuck.
We venture onto the island and feel we have just entered Jurassic park. The frigates are so big, and there are thousands of them. It is a little intimidating being so close to such a prehistoric looking animal, but they just stare at you and don’t feel the need to move, making for some great picture opportunities. The trails that extend all around the island forces you to venture under and around their nests as close as 2 feet above your head.
We heard there are Blue Footed Boobies on the other side of the island, and head towards the trail that says Las Monas. We round a jungle corner and quickly realize what Las Monas are. Huge rocks just off the island come into view, and the terrain opens up to a rock laden beach with a whole community of Blue Footed Boobies. We’ve heard many stories of blue footed boobies flying down to snag fishing lines while boats were sailing, and being troublesome to release them from the hook. Apparently, they are very cute, but not too sharp.
They are a little more skittish than their frigate neighbors that share the island, but we manage to sneak some pictures without bothering them too much. We end up anchoring at Isla Isabel for 2 nights without any problems. We were lucky to have fair winds and weather enabling us to thoroughly enjoy this experience.
I got to celebrate my birthday in this lovely bay. Bill surprised me by inviting all 8 cruising boats out to dinner for the celebration. The boat Bugler played a tune while we danced on the beach. It was a fun, impromptu gathering with new friends.
There is a small town adjacent to the beach, not over run by tourists, but just enough infusion of comforts that make this the quintessential mexican anchorage. A swanky wellness hotel at the end of the beach blends in with landscape, and has 3 very inviting swimming pools. So inviting that Bill and I posed as Yogi’s, and snuck into a yoga retreat for multiple dips throughout our visit here. I don’t think we fooled them, but we didn’t care, it was a much needed bath for us.
The sunsets are so dramatic here! The sky explodes with stunning color every evening, forcing you to stop whatever insignificant thing that you are doing and watch. Bugler played Taps every night during sunset, and multiple boats blow conch shells.
We discovered the restaurant Chac Mool, the second palapa on the beach. They had the best Pina Coladas, and Mango Margaritas we had tasted so far in Mexico.
We met this couple off the boat Lovely Rita in Mazatlan during a Chiefs game and found them again in Chacala. They celebrated my birthday with us, and invited us to their small, intimate funeral on dinghies in the middle of the bay for their friend and dog that had passed. We scattered ashes in the bay, blew a conch shell and all of us toasted to the lost loved ones with tequila. We were happy to be there with them.
Chacala is a must stop for cruisers, and a quaint Mexican town for travelers looking for something off the beaten path. There are many Airbnb’s here, as well as small casitas and hotels.
San Cristobal de las Casas
If you get across the gulf of Tehuantepec successfully, and find yourself in Chiapas you may want to hop on a bus and go inland. There is not much to do in Puerto de Chiapas, and it is down right hot! Puerto Chiapas is the most southern port in Mexico before running into Guatemala. While you’re waiting for a weather window to continue up or down the coast, it will be well worth your time heading north into the mountains to find an amazing gem of a town called San Cristobal de las Casas.
As Bill describes it, “It is a mexican, colonial, indigenous hippy fest.” There literally is something here for every traveler. Fair warning though, the bus ride was suppose to be a 6 hour ride, and we showed up 9 hours later to town. The first 6 hours were great, traversing through the little mountain villages of Chiapas, but the last 3 hours were a little painstaking. Our Airbnb hosts were graciously waiting for us at 11:00pm when the bus finally pulled in. The city is well worth the long trip though.
We went during their rainy season, and it down-poured every day that we were there. The town keeps going rain or not. The small cafes that line the brick, colonial streets with out door seating just wait out the rain, wipe everything off and carry on.
Vina de Bocca became our home away from home. We loved this place. If you ordered a bottle of wine it came with a plate of appetizers consisting of wrapped meats and cheeses that varied each time we went. Upon arrival you also get a bowl of popcorn which we shared with the local, indigenous children who are vending various things late into the evening. We had so much fun hanging out in the outdoor patio meeting people from everywhere.
San Cristobal has a large populous of indigenous people, this makes the town so original, lively and appealing. There was the most impressive outdoor market we’ve seen to date here that traverses under tarps for at least 8 blocks. At one point I got a little claustrophobic because it took us so long to find an exit.
The restaurant scene is explosive here. From street vendors selling tacos de canasta, and a homemade chicken-broth soup kitchen, to an entire, avantgarde mall of the most amazing restaurants that would match any city restaurant from the states.
The whole town sits in a valley surrounded by mountain peaks. Any direction that you look there is a church on a hill. We headed up the hill to the north to get a view of the town from above and found an amazing hostel with a patio bar where we could sit, drink tequila and watch the town from the sky.
Farther up into the mountains about 15 kilometers there is a place called Grutas de Rancho Nuevo, (las grutas) meaning small caves in Spanish. We climbed in little caverns, sometimes having to crawl, and entered a maze of what looked like basalt or novaculite caves.