San Carlos and South: The road from Bahia de Kino to Puerto Vallarta

San Carlos was mentioned in our Lonely Planet book and described as a beautiful beach town with a marina. Beaches? Yes. Beautiful? Yes. Marina? Yep, they got that. The town?….. I think we missed it. We did drive through and around the bay past the marina, up to the lookout. The views were spectacular.

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The beach in the picture was really pretty, but private property. Wah!

The majority of the area was tourist winter homes, condos, hotels and chintzy tourist restaurants/bars. We searched for free beach camping, but the only spots we found had “Private Property” signs and mentioned fines for overnight stays. Sucks. The signs were all in English, which I thought was rather strange. It felt like we left Mexico. We found an RV Park to spend the night since free camping was out, and we were starving. There are two RV parks in San Carlos, according to online sources. The second RV park we found online, called El Mirador, was closed. FYI Future travelers to San Carlos. Tonatonka RV Park in San Carlos seemed a lot more transient than Isla Marina in Kino. It was also the most we had paid for camping so far at $14 USD. There was little shade, no character, and the people were, um, cold. We got looks like we were either: homeless, drug addicts, or Satanists. A wave garnered no response whatsoever, and a hello? That got an odd look and whispers. I’m pretty sure the people in the rig across from us took turns in the showers thinking we would rob them or something. Retirees with their huge rigs with all the fixin’s (Satellite TV??) sat out under their awnings and stared at the odd newcomers with the rooftop tent.  Awk-ward.

While scouting for the next stop using the Park’s Wi-Fi, a fellow “overlander” pulled up in his restored VW van.

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Mike got all excited, seeing his setup (hard top RTT), and some conversation was made before they headed off for dinner. We were still out searching for our next stop (or three) when they returned and Mike (the other guy) offered us a beer and hung out for a bit. We discovered that he’s a famous fisherman (of the Deadliest Catch variety) and has been driving down to the southern Mexico coast for the last 30 some-odd years. He offered some advice on places to stop along the way, and some helpful Spanish to know (don’t eat the lechuga (lettuce) – more on this later). If not for meeting Mike, the whole stop in San Carlos would have been a bust.

We left the next day and headed towards Topalobampo. I liked saying it and I figured, how bad could it be? Well, Mike (fisherman Mike) did say there was nothing there, and he was right. It’s a decent sized city/town, but it’s basically a port town. There was a small beach area about 15 minutes away but it was a nature reserve and had “No Perros/No Gatos” signs posted all around. Also, no wind protection either. After a few pointless hours of driving, we returned to a Pemex (Mexico’s only gas station) outside of Los Mochis to bunker down for the night. We asked in our best Spanish if we could park for the night, and if it was safe, and one of the two ladies working there nodded (success!). The manager came out later and chatted with us, said it was too cold to sleep in the car but we insisted it was fine. He also said it was OK for us to park overnight and wished us luck on our trip (all in Spanish). We slept in the Jeep (sorta slept anyway) and left early the next day. Camping at the Pemex stations is something fairly common among RVers but we didn’t feel comfortable opening the tent in the parking lot, it just would have been weird, and windy.

Let me just throw out there something I mentioned in another post about bathrooms. Yeah this one had no seats. Other than that it was clean and had TP and soap and running water, and even hand towels. Apparently, toilet seats were not in the budget. At least the bathrooms were open overnight even when the gas station was closed.

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Six or so hours south was Mazatlan. Another, much larger port city that has an abundance of “norteamericanos”. After a small debacle involving a cut-throat exchange rate for USD at a gas station, we made it there (mostly) unscathed. There is a quaint old town on one end of the strip, close to the port, and the “Zona Dorado” (golden zone – aka tourist town) runs along the ocean front and north of the port. We circled, looking for a few elusive RV parks (secure parking is more necessary in tourist towns) but only found ones with RV rates and no camping rates (I’m not spending $25/night for a parking spot with an outlet) so we decided to try our luck at finding a room. No secure parking in the old part of town (where we wanted to stay) so we headed into the tourist mecca and found ourselves a cheap, ugly room with secure parking, hot showers and (thankfully) no bugs for two nights. Clean doesn’t mean pretty people, and clean is way more important. We were able to snag a room with no kitchen for 350 pesos (less than $30 US).

We went down the road for some grub after getting washed up, and found a decent looking place full of people. I, being the brave soul I am, ordered their Sunday special of “Menudo” while Mike got every kind of taco they made. See here was my logic: Menudo, in my Spanish dictionary meant, “little thing”. Also, I know of Menudo as a boy band from Puerto Rico or something like that, so how on earth do you make a soup, brewed from animal parts (mostly stomach) and call it Menudo??? No seasoning in the broth, it came out smelling like sewer. I kid you not. There are many gas station bathrooms that smelled better. Bravely, I had 2 bites of the stuff, and proceeded to even try and have it with bread and onions. NO FREAKING WAY was I eating any more. I stole a taco from Mike and called it a day. Lesson #47 of the trip: If you don’t know what it is, don’t order it (or at least ask first).

I wanted to walk around the old town, which involved a REALLY long walk from the Zona Dorada. We found out later there was a regular bus across town. Oops. We stopped at a market and wandered through, seeing the butchers with their wares out, tons of produce, and surprisingly not too many people. Outside we grabbed some grub. OK, so earlier, back in San Carlos, Mike said, no lettuce. And I thought, let’s try this and see if it’s true. Well, Its true. Don’t freaking eat the lettuce. Neither of us got sick from it, but lets just say, we got more than lettuce with our lettuce.

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It was pretty, and hilly in the older part of town, but we quickly grew too tired and headed back. It was hot, we were in need of Wi-Fi, and I was fairly certain after 3 bottles of water I should have had to pee.

A few beers and some friendly “advice” from some other Canadians/Americans at the bar about how dangerous everywhere we are going is (even though they said they’d never been, but they “knew a guy”), we headed back and packed up for the next day. I feel like we missed something in Mazatlan, but we can always hit it again on the way back.

The next day we headed south, in search of warm waters and some familiar scenery, to Puerto Vallarta. The toll roads on this leg were the most expensive we’ve come across yet. After exiting the toll roads in Tepic, we headed towards the coast to San Blas and Highway 200. These roads were the most fun so far. Windy hilly and it smelled like jungle. We drove through several teensy villages in the mountains before hitting the coast. Watch out for TOPES (pronounced toe-pays)! These things are all over Mexico, essentially speed bumps but bigger (or smaller in some cases) but those suckers always sneak up on you when they’re big enough to send you flying.

South of San Blas were several smaller coastal towns, each one similar to the last but all looked lovely. If we didn’t have reservations in Puerto Vallarta we would have stayed a night in one of these places, but we always have next year. We also heard from some folks in Bucerias that the mosquitoes in that area are terrible. So… maybe not. The road was mostly good but there were areas we had to drive much slower, due to traffic, construction, or poor road conditions.

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We got some really good chicken with everything for like $10 and it would have fed 6 people (if we weren’t so hungry) and then FINALLY made our way to Puerto Vallarta for a few nights of pampering at the Westin. With lunch in our bellies and leftovers for dinner, we were ready for a relaxing evening with a real bed, a real shower, and four solid walls.

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6 thoughts on “San Carlos and South: The road from Bahia de Kino to Puerto Vallarta”

  1. I’m gonna need you to elaborate on 2 things: where are you going that other travelers say is dangerous? Are you still going, and why? And what comes with the lettuce?

    Hope you two are having fun! Merry Christmas!

    1. We got an inchworm with our lettuce and we haven’t been anywhere that’s known as “dangerous” yet. No plans to go anywhere specific that we know of as dangerous but petty crime happens pretty much everywhere there are tourists.

      1. Inchworms aren’t supposed to come with the lettuce. Also it’s kept in the water and it’s not always potable.

      2. Oh and I didn’t realize you were referring to us saying everyone was warning us how dangerous it is. It’s just fear mongering. It’s i know a guy who knows a guy stuff. Illegitimate fears from people who have never been. We have gotten the same warnings since before we left.

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