La Costa Incognita: Pacific Mexico

La Manzanilla/Tenacatita

   

Tenacatita Bay is where longtime foreign residents of Mexico come when they need some extended tropical R&R. The beach, part of a 60-mile marine preserve, has clean sand, no stingrays, and a gentle yet reliable break—perfect for snorkeling and bodysurfing. Plus, you can buy a whole lobster for a whopping 40 pesos ($5).
The little village of La Manzanilla, in the crook of the bay's southern edge, is the place to hang for a week or a month. Budget central is the RV campground at Boca de Iguana, a few kilometers north (car camping, about $3 per person per night; phone/fax 338-1-0393). There are communal showers, outdoor sinks for dishwashing, and tiny thatch enclosures for changing clothes. Fishermen come around selling their catch, and the bodysurfing out front is the best on the bay. La Manzanilla itself has adequate bungalows right on the beach, but the deal of the century has to be Helga Lehman's El Mar bungalows at Casa MagËey ($50 per night, $800 per month; phone/fax 335-1-5012), perched on the cliff right at the southern edge of town. Of her two bungalows, the front one is the jewel. Out on the veranda, above a stairway leading to the beach, you're at eye level with pelicans, seagulls, and frigate birds hovering in the updrafts. You may want to just sit there all day, especially in February, when orcas come through and breach in the bay. If not, Lehman has a water-skiing boat and wake boards—her son is a champion wake surfer and instructor—bodyboards, and a kayak. She even has a Volkswagen for rent ($20 per day, $150 per week).

Back in the large lagoon, hidden behind mangroves a few hundred feet off the beach, you can find caimans 18 feet long. Jorge Requence, who lives in a palapa midway down the beach, rents horses (about $7 per hour or $20 per day). He'll give you directions to Ingenieros, a ghost town in the jungle. He'll also show you the trail to the lagoon, where you can watch the parade of caimans daily at 10 a.m. Besides the crocs, there are roseate spoonbills, flamingos, and ibis.

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