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There’s no better place to people-watch than the beachfront malecon of the rustic village of Barra de Navidad in Mexico’s Jalisco state. From a shady bench along the walkway, I observed a local woman pass by with fruity pineapple drinks balanced on a tray she carried on top of her head; I watched a hippy surfer paddle his board out to sea with a beer bottle in his hand; and I saw a dark-haired woman push a pink stroller with two tiny Pomeranian dogs inside. Barra de Navidad is a charming Mexican beach village that has been attracting travelers for decades. Visitors who sit on the beachfront malecon can watch the world go by — in the form of an eclectic collection of colorful locals, ex-patriate hippies and vacationers.
The name Barra de Navidad means “Christmas Sandbar” or “The Bar of Christmas,” and the village is just a 30-minute drive north of Manzanillo’s Playa de Oro International Airport. Though modern-day Barra seems to be a small, sleepy tourist village, it was once an important harbor for the Spanish fleet. In 1564, Spanish galleons set off to find China but, instead, discovered the Philippine Islands, an event that is still a point of pride for the approximately 7,000 villagers who live in Barra. You can find a statue at the end of the jetty commemorating Barra as an important Spanish port. During the Vietnam War, the village served as a hideout for draft dodgers and hippies. Today it has evolved into a laid-back fishing village and beach retreat where locals and tourists mix.
The Mexican government has been promoting Barra as one of the tourist highlights of the Costalegre, a series of beaches and bays distributed along the western coastline of the state of Jalisco, between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo, Mexico. Costalegre literally translates to “Coast of Joy,” and as I wandered along the beaches at Barra and nearby Melaque, I had to agree with the moniker.
Barra is the kind of place I could easily spend some real time in, but it should be noted that this laid-back vacation style is not for everyone. Younger clients who want to be near a more modern city with abundant night life might get bored here. But for someone who likes a relaxed beach village with shady tree-lined cobblestone streets, inexpensive seafood and a funky charm, Barra is ideal.
Getting Your Clients to Barra de Navidad:The closest airport to Barra de Navidad is Manzanillo’s Playa de Oro International Airport (ZLO). The airport is only about a 30-minute drive from Barra, and taxis are available. The taxi fare from the airport to Barra will cost approximately $70 roundtrip or clients can take the bus for about $10 roundtrip. There is a National Car Rental outlet at the airport as well. Puerto Vallarta is three hours by car from Barra or five hours by bus on Highway 200.
The Big Resort:For clients who want a traditional large beach resort, the best option is the Wyndham Grand Isla Navidad Resort. The resort sits on a bluff across the inlet from the village of Barra, but is connected by a water taxi service that is free for hotel guests. The resort features 199 rooms and an adjacent 27-hole golf course. The resort beach sits on a freshwater lagoon, which provides calm waters for swimming. Guests who want to enjoy the sea and surf must travel across the inlet to Barra. Rooms can be booked as room-only or all-inclusive. Room-only rates start at $169 per room, per night. Some tour operators offer all-inclusive packages to this resort, but they may have it listed as a Manzanillo resort, even though it is in Isla Navidad. www.wyndham.com
Other Accommodation Options:There are several good small hotels in Barra with extremely reasonable rates. Rates start at about $50 per night, per room, and condo-style accommodations are also available. Guests should be aware that traditional Mexico hotels have firm beds. For more information on accommodations and attractions in Barra de Navidad, visit the official tourism website at: www.barradenavidad.com
Currency:Expect to pay cash in most restaurants and shops in Barra. The Mexican peso is the preferred currency, but U.S. dollars may also be accepted. Haggling is expected in shops but not in restaurants. The most convenient and inexpensive way to get Mexican pesos is to withdraw them from an ATM machine using a bankcard.