By Dan and Lisa Goy on the March 2021 Edition
La Peñita de Jaltemba, Nayarit
In the fall of 2018, we included the La Peñita RV Park as one of our many stops on our first 45-day mainland Mexico tour. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay and were so impressed that, following the tour, we returned for the remainder of the winter and booked in again for January, February and March 2020. Our scheduled return in November of 2020 was canceled, of course, because of COVID-19 and the international border closures, something we hope never to repeat after spending 15 consecutive winters in Mexico. To date, we have shoveled snow 15 times since our first snowfall October 28.
The La Peñita RV Park is located within what is referred to as Riviera Nayarit. Stretching north from Puerto Vallarta’s International Airport, Riviera Nayarit is a beach destination of 200 miles of pristine Pacific coastline, dotted with dozens of seaside coastal towns and pueblos boasting lush, rugged mountain peaks, nature sanctuaries, golden sand, palm-fringed beaches, RV parks and luxurious resort hotels. What snowbirds and vacationers alike love about Riviera Nayarit is this region of Mexico is marked by a predominately sub-humid climate and an annual average temperature of 25°C (77°F) throughout the winter.
Sunshine and clear blue skies predominate ninety-five percent of this season and this creates the ideal environment for the growth of exuberant flora that take on intense colorful hues and beautifully paint the land. On every Nayarit beach, in every little Pacific Coast town, you’ll find Mexico’s lush vegetation, the extraordinary animal species and friendly people.
Campgrounds and RV parks can be found as far north as the community of San Blas to the outskirts of Puerto Vallarta, winding along the Pacific coastline through the municipalities of Banderas Bay, Compostela, San Blas, Santiago and Tecuala. De-pending on the RV snowbird destination, there are many different options to drop down from Hwy 15D to the coast, including a new toll bypass under construction as we write this article.
The La Peñita RV Park is in the town of La Peñita de Jaltemba, on Jaltemba Bay, about 60 km (40 miles) north of Puerto Vallarta and has a private gate that provides direct access to the village. Canadians Carole and Grant took over the management of the campground after first visiting with their parents, decades ago.
With 120 spaces, there is plenty of room although a space was hard to find in January of the 2019/2020 season. The village of La Peñita de Jaltemba provides shopping, restaurants, a weekly market and many other services. The entrance is well signed on Mex 200 between KM 91 and KM 92. The Church’s describe La Peñita like this:
Mike & Terri Church (Page 64 – Traveler’s Guide to Mexican Camping)
“This campground is a little different than the others in the area. It is located on a small hill above, but close to, a nice beach. The facilities are good and this is a very friendly and popular park. It’s also one of the best-managed parks in the country. Reservations are important for long stays but it’s possible to stop in here for a few days without them, particularly early or late in the season.
Campsites are spread all along the hillside on terraces. There are about 120 spaces. Most have full utilities (15 amp outlets) and some have patios. There is plenty of room for big rigs. There is lots of shade and some sites have great views of the coast and the beach below. Restrooms have hot showers and there is even a swimming pool.
There’s very inexpensive phone service to the US and Canada, and also DSL Wi-Fi which reaches throughout the park. Activities include frequent water volleyball games, tours and special nights for hamburgers and pizza. There’s almost always some-thing going on in this park. Monthly rates here are lower for multiple-month stays.” 4th Edition (Copyright 2009)
For us, we particularly enjoy the pool and started the “La Peñita Floating Club” which consists of a daily migration to the pool after lunch and sitting in our floating chairs for an hour or so. We are joined by others and sometimes the event includes some swimming. Other features very important to us are the daily laundry service with same-day delivery, Taco Tuesdays, Tuesday propane pickup, twice-weekly green grocer delivery, twice-weekly bakery truck, daily water delivery, Friday beer can races, washer toss on Sundays Sunday hamburger/hot dog night, and so much more. Special events include the Valentine’s Day Costume Dinner and the Super Bowl Sunday Pot Luck. Some of these are features of the park, most are organized by volunteers within La Peñita.
The park population supports many good causes in the community such as a breast cancer clinic held yearly on the first weekend in February in La Peñita de Jaltemba. These efforts are designed to help women survive breast cancer with comfort and dignity. Volunteers from the park supply women with a breast prosthesis, mastectomy bras, lymphedema sleeves, wigs, hats, scarves and love. There is also a survivor program for local women while they are undergoing treatment. This is just one of many good causes the La Peñita RV Park community supports. Last season, the park was treated by a drive-by of the Guadalajara Auto Club of unique and collectable cars, the 20th Rally Costa Del Sol which was much appreciated by everyone.
The town of La Peñita de Jaltemba is a real treasure and the commercial center of the tiny bay area. It has a bank and an ATM outlet. There are a few general grocery stores, butcher shops and other food and tourist trinket stores along the main street, the Avenida – the Avenue – as the locals call it. The formal name is Avenida Emiliano Zapata, named after the Mexican Revolutionary hero who fought for land reform.
La Peñita is arguably larger than the other communities and therefore has more shops and stores than the communities to the south.
It has a population of approximately 7,000 people and, during the November to April tourist season, swells by another 2,000 to 3,000 people. What we like the best is that the town is decidedly Mexican. Often there will be parades with colorful costumes, kids in marching bands, banners and flags. Celebrations can close down a street, occupy the town square or blast into the night. Fireworks going off intermittently during some festivals often keep folks on their toes at night.
One of the main ways merchants advertise is with a vehicle, usually a dilapidated car, with a blaring speaker system. They drive up and down the street announcing this bargain or that, from shrimp, tamales and elotes, to events and community warnings. Of course, there are the gas trucks that frequent the streets with similar speaker systems belting out the familiar jingle or simply the word “GAS!” When the circus comes to town, promoters drive animal trailer cages through the street. It is very strange to see a couple of Bengal tigers drive by as you eat lunch at one of the many eateries.
One of La Peñita’s major attractions is the “Tianguis” or open-air market. Every Thursday, rain or shine, the market attracts locals and visitors to the town. Artisans sell their crafts: pottery, jewelry, fabrics, baskets, purses. Food vendors sell fish and shrimp, veggies and fruit, breads and herbs as well as prepared market food such as large plastic cups filled to the brim with a fruit salad. The market also specializes in clothes, used clothes, $10 peso stores (similar to a dollar store), household tools and small equipment.
You can purchase everything from flower pots to gas stove parts, blender pieces to baseball caps or purchase real estate. This is a diverse market with a wide range of customers.
Separated by a river to the south, Estero Zarco, Rincón de Guayabitos lies in the centre of the three towns. Rincón de Guayabitos name is derived from the Spanish meaning Inside Corner of the Guavas. This is in reference to the guavas or-chards of the past that inhabited the corner of Jaltemba Bay. The town was developed for Mexican middle class tourists and later for foreign residents.
The Avenida del Sol connects the two as it twists and turns through the town’s residential area and then past the police, square and church, through the commercial area. The town is a hub for small hotels and bungalows, usually a one- or two- bedroom apartment with a small kitchen. These are perfect for the Mexican family vacationers that travel from the interior. This community also has RV parks full of snowbirds. We have many friends staying somewhere in this community.
The residential area of Rincón de Guayabitos is where the majority of Americans and Canadians have built their houses. There are small, modest casitas to million-dollar oceanfront homes. While the intention was never to be commercial, bed and breakfasts, small bungalows and hotels have invaded the quiet neighborhood. There is an ecological park, beach access, tennis and pickleball courts.
The Guayabitos beach is a circular half-moon of sand that stretches from Estero Zarco past the residential area down and around the commercial sector. It is an entertaining beach with a number of vendors that keep things lively. Of course, there are a number of small entrepreneurs that sell, like everywhere in Mexico, jewelry from briefcases, tablecloths and T-shirts. They also sell beach toys, umbrellas, fish on a stick, nuts, oysters and tattoos. A favorite are the huge blown-up beach toys in the shape of sharks, lobsters, airplanes and the traditional round lifesaver, all in florescent blue, pinks and greens.
We have a couple of favorite day-trip spots we visit during our stay at La Peñita. One is a village a little farther south, full of snowbird RVers with a great beach, Lo de Marcos. This is an-other small authentic Mexican town with wide, calm streets, colorful flowering trees, brilliantly painted façades and friendly people. The other is Chacala, 30 minutes north of the park. This beach town is set in a small cove on the Pacific coast near the pueblo Las Varas with a population of approximately 300 full-time residents. Chacala is known for its physical beauty and un-hurried lifestyle. This place is all about the beach and seaside restaurants. They also have a large parking and dry camping area. We always stay a couple of days southbound and north-bound at Chacala on our travels to La Peñita.
Dan and Lisa Goy, owners of Baja Amigos RV Caravan Tours, have been making Mexico their second home for more than 30 years and love to introduce Mexico to newcomers.