A paradise of balmy, sugary beaches and natural splendor, Mexico's “Happy Coast” is quite possibly heaven on earth! Spanning 280 km (173 miles) from the exquisite colonial realm of Puerto Vallarta, to the tranquil turquoise shores of Manzanillo, the Costa Alegre of Mexico's Pacific South Coast bears all the vital ingredients for a sun-soaked escapist vacation. Unlike the tourist trap Rivieras or the enigmatic Yucatan Peninsula, Costa Alegre remains a largely unspoiled, undeveloped strip of coastline punctuated by a few bohemian colonial cities and a plenitude of authentic Mexican hideaways.
Costa Alegre's uninterrupted coastline of white sands and secluded coves runs from the film-set beauty of Playa Mismaloya to the Bahía de Navidad of Southern Jalisco State. In between, lie a network of mission towns and key Pacific port cities serving Southern Mexico's flourishing agricultural economy. Barra de Navidad sits upon a long sand bar amid the bay and Navidad Lagoon, bounded by swaying palms and lush green hills for as far as the eye can see.
Founded in 1633, the small fishing town grew to prominence during the settlement of the Spanish, chosen as an ideal base for ship building and merchant trade across the Pacific to Asia. Fishing still dominates the local economy – exuberant panga boats dotting the harbor make for an interesting splash of color upon the otherwise placid turquoise bay. Pangas are the only way to experience Barra de Navidad for what it truly is – an exquisite coastal town with an abundance of curious coves, secluded beaches and fishing hot spots to while away the hours. Laguna de Navidad remains a key point of interest for wildlife enthusiasts, home to over 100 exotic bird species, wild cats and free-roaming cattle, along with the best sport fishing to be had anywhere on the Costa Alegre.
Highway 200, the infamous coastal route that snakes throughout much of Costa Alegre country is literally teeming with off-the-beaten-track beaches and archaic old pueblos. Largely undiscovered by mass tourism, the Melaque municipality just 5 km West of Barra de Navidad ticks all the right boxes for culture-seeking adventurers. San Patricio-Melaque is a community comprising of three diminutive pueblos, all nestling side by side along a broad strip of caramel sand known as Playa Melaque. Villa Obregon retains a predominantly villagesque ambiance, decorated with a stunning 17th Century mission church and ancient haciendas. Melaque, by contrast is decidedly more upbeat, featuring the largest proliferation of hotels and guest houses of anywhere along the Costa Alegre and world-class restaurants overlooking the tanned beaches. Calle Ramon Carona is the hippest street in the entire town, brought alive daily by the cacophony of stall vendor calls and ranchera bands. Melaque's Tamarindo and Great Bay Resorts are the largest of the area, combining dazzling pool and fitness amenities and two of the best resort golf courses in Mexico. Colimilla, a tiny village just North of Laguna de Navidad makes for an exotic panga trip and boasts the finest seafood restaurants - second only to Bahia de Banderas.
Beset within the spectacularly blue Bahia de Tencatita some 21 km (13 miles) North of Melaque, the old-time pueblo of La Manzanilla greets visitors with acres of balmy coastline and dense tropical jungle just ripe for exploration. Arcing toward the popular RV outpost of Boca de Iguanas, the beach of La Manzanilla is by far its primary attraction, fronted by palapa restaurants and several well to do resort hotels. Rippled by retreating tides, the sands stretch for over 4 miles in either direction – ideal for escapism and romantic strolls with little effort required. Scuba diving excursions offer the chance to get intimate with Manzanilla's exotic marine life, including bottle nose dolphins, basking sharks, dorado and angel fish. Should you fancy a more adventurous test, tour guides offer jungle treks from the town with no pre-booking required.
La Manzanilla features little by way of historic attractions, save for the old El Tecuan Hotel located off highway junction 33. Gifted to Mexico's Secretary of Defense, General Garcia Barragan sometime during 1966 by President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, El Tecuan aspired to be the first five-star resort of Bahia de Tencatita. Sadly, the General's health deteriorated before completion of the hotel project, leaving just a skeletal shell, swimming pools and tennis courts completed. A ghost of a glorious ambition for the area, El Tecuan has found fame of sorts as the film set for box office thriller movies, such as “I Know What You Did Last Summer” - a fact which has largely influenced the continued pilgrimage of tourists to the site. Many a dreamer talks of reviving the romantic crumbling ruins, but with such spectacular sunsets, few would be willing to share the beauty of this locale with the rest of the world!