One of the joys of this lovely place is that each of the beaches has a very distinct character, meaning in reality that there is a beach here for everyone. Here’s a brief guide to them all, starting at the western end and moving through the town to the eastern tip. Some things in this list are relative; for instance, the seas are powerful everywhere, so if we say it’s calmer, it’s still a very strong current. Most have a steep shelf fairly early, so waters become deep, close to the shore. Expect large numbers of hawkers and vendors: the busier the beach, the more there are. Sands throughout are soft, fine and golden. In brief then:-
Playa Bacocho. This is where to go for peace and privacy. An amazing huge stretch of soft sand mixed with coral shards, backed by lines of palm trees. A few miles out of town, and therefore quieter than the town beaches, with masses of space given its size. No facilities other than by paying to enter a private beach club; not even a drinks bar. Huge waves; powerful seas, but not surfing territory due to the last minute breaking of the waves. Seas too strong for swimming but OK for “surf play” as long as you’re fit and can cope with the power. Bacocho is home to the turtle project (see Day 13). Accessible by car.
Playa Coral. Small cove separated from Bacocho by rocks. We didn’t actually visit Coral but viewed it from Bacocho and it appears to be a scaled down version with similar characteristics, and no facilities other than a club with a fee. Accessible by car.
Playa Carrizalillo. Without doubt the most picturesque of them all, set in a gorgeous cove, cliffs above, palm trees at beach level backed by deciduous hillside behind and above. Quieter than the town beaches but can still get busy. Accessible only by 160-odd steep steps down the cliff which is probably why it’s quieter. The tight cove makes for a calmer sea and swimming is good, rocks at the sides make for outstanding snorkelling. A handful of beach bars (palapas), including one with a chilled drinks platform upstairs.
Puerto Angelito. Small cove beach but much loved by Mexican families so gets utterly rammed. Don’t let that put you off; watching the fun had by these colourful and entertaining people makes a visit here worthwhile, regardless. Seas are calm, swimming easy and snorkelling good. A mass of palapas cover over half of the sand bringing noise, colour and pizazz to this beach. Home to many boat trips so there is constant coming and going of small boats, making boat trips easy but dirtying the water a bit. Accessible by car.
Playa Manzanillo. Separated from Angelito only by a short path across rocks, yet that seems enough to deter many families and consequently is quite a bit quieter than its noisy neighbour. Same sea condition as Angelito but without the boat trips. Smaller number of palapas but still plenty of nice shady bars. Is accessible by car in its own right so it’s strange that it’s quieter, but good that it’s different.
Bahia Playa Principal. The main town beach and home to the fishing fleet, flocks of pelicans, and sun seekers galore. Seas are calm enough for children to be safe if accompanied, and the beach is alive with hawkers, vendors, food offers and pretty much all of human life. Many of the bars have a double frontage on to both beach and street and therefore feel a bit more like a restaurant than a palapa, unless you take a beach table. Amazing to watch the sheer volume of fish being caught, by fishermen, kids with basic lines, pelicans, gulls and even herons. Is right in town so is easily accessible by any means.
Playa Marinero. The scarcely definable stretch which separates Principal from Zicatela and home to the set of rocks which give the beach its name (Marinero means sailors, and the locals say the rocks resemble the wizened faces of old sailors). For fun in the sea, the perfect blend, in between the calmer waters of Principal and the Pipeline rollers of Zicatela, Marinero has powerful waves which can knock you off your feet but surf which can carry you in at speed even without a board. Large expanse of sand, quieter than Principal and with very pleasant palapas along the back. A 5-10 minute walk along the sand from town.
Playa Zicatela. Home of the colossal Pipeline surfing waves. Swimming is barred as currents are far too strong, but well worth a visit to watch the world class surfers perform amazing twists and somersaults inside the tube of crashing surf. Large expanse of sand but largely empty due to the strong waters. 150 metres back from the beach is the Zicatela strip, a street lined with bars, restaurants, cocktail joints, hotels, night clubs. At night, music is everywhere and the quasi Bohemian atmosphere of the surfing fraternity holds sway. It’s the closest you get to a resort feel, but is never tacky – in fact, the area has a certain laid back quality vibe and you would have to be a proper misery to not feel good sipping a £3 cocktail to a soundtrack of lounge music and crashing surf. Easily accessible from the strip.
Punta Zicatela. Final easternmost point, beyond surfing and into backpacking territory. Actually is still good surfing but not quite Pipeline. Has cheap accommodation and backpackers’ hostels. Is a couple of miles out of town but is accessible by road beyond the Zicatela strip.