Barra De Navidad: Discover Mexico’s Best-Kept Secret
The small town of Barra De Navidad is one of Mexico’s best-kept secrets. Find out how to get there, why it’s safe, things to do, and more!
I remember when I visited Mexico as a child and it felt like I was discovering uncharted territory that few people knew about. The cobblestone streets lined with tiny markets, street vendors selling authentic Mexican food, villas for rent at a steal, and long stretches of un-crowded beaches.
Places such as Puerto Vallarta, once a safe haven for vacationers looking to escape the crowds, has now become one of Mexico’s most popular destinations, and has lost its obscurity. Feeling the urge to get away from the crowds, my family took the road less traveled, and wandered upon a little-known town called Barra De Navidad, just 3 hours south of Puerto Vallarta.
Barra De Navidad lies along the Happy Coast, (Costa Alegre) in the state of Jalisco. Even with all the travel warnings for Mexico, I feel just as safe in this town, and it’s surrounding areas, as I do in my hometown of San Diego. After spending my first week in Barra, I met several of the local business and restaurant owners, and became fast friends with many of them.
The next time we visited, nearly two years later, it felt like we had never left. They remembered our names and the people seemed genuinely happy to see us again.
I now visit nearly every year, and have been doing so for the past 5 years. Although part of me feels like keeping this place all to myself, so that it will forever be my tourist-free second home, I know that is not possible. Sooner or later the cat will be let out of the bag.
For those of you who know better than to let the media scare you about travel to Mexico, here are a few tips if you make it to this area.
Barra De Navidad: Discover Mexico’s Best-Kept Secret
How to Get to Barra De Navidad, Mexico
The closest airport to fly into is Manzanillo (ZLO). A few of the popular airlines that offer flights to this airport are Alaska, Continental, Delta and American Airlines.
Once you arrive in Manzanillo, you can take a taxi for about $40-$50 US to Barra. Renting a car is also an option. However, I should warn you that when it’s all said and done, a week long rental can get expensive. It is recommended to get the full coverage insurance if you rent a car here.
Mexico drivers are not required to carry insurance, and many of them don’t, so even if you are not at fault in an accident, you will likely be forced to pay the damages. I paid $330 US for a 5-day rental. Not exactly my idea of cheap.
Where to Stay in Barra De Navidad
When my family first started visiting this tiny town, there were very few places to stay. Luckily there are more options now. These are the best hotels and resorts in town.
Hotel La Alondra: Hotel La Alondra is a top pick because it offers a private beach area, ocean-view rooms, swimming pools and free WIFI.
Grand Isla Navidad Resort: The Grand Isla Navidad Resort is a luxury, beachfront resort featuring a golf course, gym, spa, 2 outdoor pools and much more.
Cabo Blanco Hotel & Marina: The Cabo Blanco Hotel and Marina is a short 10-minute walk to the beach and offers outdoor pools, tennis courts and free WIFI.
Where to Eat in Barra De Navidad
Casa Chips is among my favorites for authentic Mexican dishes, friendly owners, and a view of the beach.
After you have had your fill on chips, salsa and mass amounts of refried beans (a personal favorite of mine), your pallet may be hankering for something a little different. In this case, check out Ambar Del Mare Restaurant.
You will be pleasantly surprised at the quality of Italian food that comes out of this kitchen. Thin, mouth-watering pizzas, a variety of pastas, and extravagant salads. For the most part, salads ordered in a typical restaurant in Mexico leave something to be desired. At Ambar’s you will get quality lettuce, not iceberg, with all the fixings. Try the gorgonzola and walnut salad if you are a cheese lover, like myself. The vegetables here are completely safe to eat.
There are also a number of tiny restaurants along the main strip that make the best burritos and tacos for a steal.
Nightlife in Barra De Navidad
Barra has no shortage of options for a night out on the town. One of my personal favorites is a bar called La Azotea, where you will find friendly staff, a pool table, and a few televisions on a covered outdoor rooftop, which overlooks the main drag of Barra.
Another fun bar with live music is Roctavios Bar, where the charismatic owner, Octavio, who claims he is related to a member of the band, Mana, will likely serve you.
Check out Sea Master if you are looking for a hip nightclub crawling with twenty somethings.
Where to Surf Near Barra De Navidad
The town of Barra itself does not get hit with surfable waves very often. Ever since they built the jetty at the end of town, it ruined the only good surf spot. I have been there when there was head high swell, but since it’s a point break, everyone is crowded into a tiny area, fighting for the same wave. I also learned first hand that the young kids who surf there have no problem running people over. Literally.
About 15 minutes north of Barra, you will find one of my favorite surf spots, called Boca De Iguanas. It’s a fun, mellow beach break with little to no crowds. Although, last time I visited they were building a small resort right on the beach. I’m not sure how the resort has affected the crowd in the water, but it’s still a decent spot to check out.
If you are looking for good snorkeling, Tenacatita Beach, right next to Boca De Iguanas, is the perfect beach for swimming, snorkeling and having a few margaritas on the sand.
For the more adventurous, take a drive to the world famous break of Pascuales, only a couple hours away, in the neighboring state of Michoacan. The wave here is heavy, hollow beach break, so make sure you are prepared before you head out. If you want to stay the night here, my suggestion would be to bring a tent and camp right on the beach, merely steps from the water. I intend to stay here for a night or two the next time I visit Barra.
Festivals and Traditions in Barra De Navidad
Barra De Navidad:
July 5-13th — San Antonio De Padua
August 30-September 1st — Cristo De Los Brazos Caidos
Festivities include rosaries, fireworks shows, food fairs, and other celebrations.
Neighboring town of Melaque:
March 9-17 — Saint San Patricio
I had the honor of visiting Melaque during this festival, and it was indeed a huge event. In addition to the above-mentioned festivities, you may also witness a running of the bulls, late-night rodeos, and dance performances.
The rodeo was unlike anything I had ever seen. Most of the show was not a rodeo at all, but a string of dramatic performances. In my opinion, the performances promoted hitting women, but that may have also just been my personal take on it. All I know is it’s not something I would have taken a child to go see.
How about you? What is your take on Mexico? Do you feel it’s safe to travel?
For more Mexico travel resources & tips, visit these pages:
Prep, Pack & Plan: Travel Guide to Cabo, Mexico
Island Hopping in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Villa Del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto
8 Reasons to Visit Mexico’s Riviera Maya
Algodones, Mexico – The New Tijuana?
Cenotes, Caves & Zip Lines – Oh My!
Where to Stay in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
I was hoping you can advise me on medical info of Barra or nearby. My mom and dad discovered this unique little village of Barra a number of years ago and was their favorite place! Mom passed away several years ago ans dad wants to go back one more time. He is not very mobile these days with a very bad knee and leg and uses a cane and other more serious health matters. Would he be able to get around there? He can’t walk far anymore. And in the event of a health emergency is there a good hospital with good medical care nearby?? Thanks so much for all the info!
Hi Carrie. Cihuatlán is about 20 minutes away and they should have everything he needs. You can take a taxi there.
Thanks for the post. I’m traveling to Barra from Puerto Vallarta. I’m trying to figure out the best way to get to Barra. The bus seems to make for a long trip. I was thinking rental car or finding a driver. Any suggestions?
Hi! My parents have done that drive with a rental car. I’d check prices with a driver as well if you don’t plan to drive both ways. Enjoy!
Great article, Barra is my hometown. I lived in LA, Oahu, and now BC, in Canada. I feel safe & happy when I go back, the beautiful surroundings and the delicious food, the familiar faces, love every minute. Did I mentioned that i’m related to 1/10 of the habitants, perhaps more? Cheers
Been there once 1996. We really liked it but can’t remember our hotel. Do you have some suggestions? Would like to stay a month or so this winter, Jan. and Feb. Are you still high on Barra? Thank you and Have a Blessed Day! Tommy
Hi Tommy. I just added my hotel recommendations in the post. Thanks so much for reminding me to do this!
Thanks for the great article. Just one thing though, every motorist on the road as of 01-01-2019 is required to have at least third party liability or face stiff fines. thanks again. Be safe
Barra is one of my favorite places in the world. I work in Manzanillo almost monthly and escape to Barra whenever I get the chance. Beautiful people with a very chill atmosphere. I dream of retiring there one day, if I can convince my wife that its safe. Much safer than my hometown of Baltimore!! Love taking a ponga across the bay to visit to cool little waterfront restaurants on the other side.
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Great advice, it looks like a fun trip. I think part of me has been influenced by the media, it’s hard not to take their advice when its drilled into your head 24/7.
I’ll add this to my list! I love Mexico. It’s been a year since I was last there. By and large, I felt safer there than some places I’ve been in the US. I know the border area is supposed to be pretty bad now, but once you really get down into Mexico, it just doesn’t seem to me like the danger remotely matches up to the hype. Would anyone not go to LA because there are areas of town with gangs?
Great post on Barra De Navidad – I like seeing you personal preferences and tips.