This is top of our list for destinations in Mexico so far. We spent three nights and two days exploring this little town in early December and absolutely loved it.
There are two options for parking your boat here – a small marina a mile or so up the river or a very nice anchorage off the beach in Mantanchen Bay just a few miles South. We decided to try the little marina. Marina Fonatur was a nice facility, but very difficult to get in touch with. We wound up calling the Mazatlan Fonatur to get their phone number. The staff were very nice and helpful, and it is necessary to know some Spanish to manage here!
The big challenge is that the marina is well up the estuary and the last section has lots of shoals right around the entrance. We were advised to stay close to the fuel dock on the starboard side on the way in, but there was a trimaran tied up to it, so couldn’t get very close and saw less than 6 feet going by. Buoys about a boat length behind the docks marked shallow water, and after we arrived a boat neighbor told us that they almost dry at low tide. We had no problem getting in or out, just slow and careful. There were only about 20 slips in the marina and it was packed full with sailboats. We were the only cruising powerboat in there, and were by far the largest boat in the marina. The 50 foot slip we were in was actually 40 feet in length. Moorage was very cheap, and they had free wifi, with pretty good speed. The water was not potable, but they had 30 and 50 amp power on the docks.
On our first day of exploring we made the short but hot and dusty walk into town during the height of the afternoon sun. It was quite quiet, and we walked around the square and found the road out to the edge of town and the historic fort.
The fort itself is set high up on the hill – it was formally established on my birthday (February 22) in 1768 and soon became the most important shipyard on the Pacific Coast. Ships left here to explore California and Alaska. In the early 1800s the move for independence from the Spanish also started from here. Its importance receded over time and now it is a sleepy town known for bird migrations and some music festivals.
We walked back to town, now quite thirsty and sweaty, and headed for the square to see what we could find. It was still early at 5pm although the sun was about to set, so we settled into a sidewalk table at the only open bar and restaurant on the square. As we relaxed and cooled off the town came to life – lots of people zooming by on motorbikes and bicycles, kids with backpacks who seemed like they were just getting out of school, and noisy birds that I’ve been told are grackles came home to roost in the trees around the square by the thousands and made quite the ruckus. An hour or so after sunset, a parade went round the square to the church – it was one of the first nights of the 12 nights of the Feast of Our Virgin of Guadalupe.
The next day we got up a bit early and called a taxi to take us to the up La Tovara estuary tour. It was outstanding – we had a panga and guide to ourselves. He did a great job of pointing out birds and other wildlife and helped with English and Spanish terms. The animals were fascinating and posed well in the early morning cool air for me.
One of the reputations that San Blas has is bugs – particularly tiny “Jejenes” – no see-ums that make very itchy bites. So we were prepared with our screens and lots of bug spray. We lucked out though – a few locals told us that they hatch on a cycle with the full moon and we were there mid moon cycle so we completely missed them! Very lucky for us. The other secret we were told is to brush them off your skin and not scratch when they do get you, and the bites won’t be as bad (have no idea if this is really true but worth a try!)
After the tour we walked further down the road to Matachen Bay beach. We hung out in a beachside palapa restaurant, eating, drinking and enjoying the warm waters of the bay. We had an excellent and very inexpensive meal of spiny lobster prepared with lots and lots of garlic, discovered the Pacifico “Ballena”, or very large beer, there. The palapa had a huge barrel filled with rain water and some dipping vessels so we were able to rinse off the salt water at the end of the day.
On the way home we stopped at one of the roadside shops near the bay to buy the local specialty of pan de platano (banana bread) and other loaf like breads.
We left Marina Fonatur at high tide the next day, and had no problems getting past the shoal spots. Staying near the red buoys in the channel gave us 12-15 ft depths, but the entrance/exit bar was really shallow. It is quite wide, there are no channel markers past the breakwater, and the charts are not at all accurate for depths in this area. We saw as little as 3 feet under the transducer at one point, and under 10 feet for at least a quarter of a mile. It was a relief to get into deeper water. All things considered, we would definitely choose to anchor in the bay next time.