La Cruz de Huanacaxtle

La Cruz the Huanacaxtle is a charming little fishing town which relatively recently (2008) became a cruiser destination with the construction of the marina. This would be our second major stop this season (the first being La Paz) and a chance to check out this location as a temporary base.

Boats at Marina La Cruz at sunset

Despite being a small town with a fraction of the population of La Paz, the cruiser community in La Cruz is well supported and make this a viable place for a longer-term stay. While certain things such as supermarkets or banks are only available in the neighboring town of Bucerias, there are enough restaurants and tiendas to meet most of our needs within walking distance. The marina is also a host to several weekly events for the cruising community which range from sailing seminars and workshops by PV Sailing to cooking classes to outdoor movie nights to beach clean-up days to Spanish classes and many more. The variety of events offered certainly make it worth extending our stay here! All of this plus on Sundays there is the La Cruz Market which is certainly a highlight for the week in this town.

man in tropical shirt and shorts with microphone speaking in front of projector screen at a restaruant
Cruising seminar at Marina Bar and Grill

Even more than in other destinations, we found out about most of the local activities and resources via the morning VHF net. It was also vital to ‘local knowledge’ on how and where to find what you’re looking for. In Mexico a lot gets done by ‘knowing a guy’ and the morning net is a great way to find out who that guy is and how to get a hold of him or her.

Greg speaking into VHF microphone

Since we had crossed over to the mainland and sailed a bit more south, we were finding that once again we were in the sweet-spot for weather. The days were hovering in the high seventies and low eighties and cool just enough in the evening to the high sixties. It was a bit more humid than on the Baja Peninsula, but not disagreeably so.

puffy cloud formations over hotel in La Cruz

Since we arrived on a Sunday, we had to wait until the workday was done to start to explore the town. Kristin had been researching restaurants all day and came up with a short list of places we must try.

Staying at the marina had some advantages for us. While I was busy working on the boat, Kristin could easily run into town to do some shopping, drop of the laundry or even attend an outdoor Spanish class.

Teacher with white board filled with Spanish words with sailboats docked in the background
Kristin’s Spanish class at the marina

In the evenings at a minimum we would go for a walk through town and perhaps a bit too often end up at Vegan Paradice for a delicious coconut-milk ice cream sundae. The shopkeep would see us coming, usually just before she closes, and we’d share a giggle acknowledging that yes, we are in fact coming almost here every night for ice-cream. This might be a problem.

Our first week in La Cruz we tried several restaurants and most of them were great. On Friday we decided to try to find Ala Braza for some BBQ ribs which looked great online. Leaving the marina we walked up Huachinago to Robalo and turned right. On either side of the street all we could see were two-story residential buildings with doors or gates that butted up to the the narrow sidewalks on either side of the cobblestone street. iPhones in hand as we turned right and left as we studied the buildings we probably looked like extras from a Star Trek episode scanning for lifeforms with our tricorders.

“It must be further down.” Kristin said, motioning her iPhone toward the town center.

“No, it should be on this block,” I disagreed, turning with my iPhone to the right and left as I studied the pointer on the map. “It should be right here.”

Just then I noticed a chalkboard menu hanging on the wall just inside an open gate leading to a bright yellow staircase leading up to the second floor of one of the buildings.

“Yes! I think this is it.” I asserted as if claiming it as the restaurant made it the restaurant and not someone’s house.

“Are you sure?” Kristin hesitated. “I don’t see a sign.”

“I’m sure. This is it.” I said as I started up the staircase.

At the top of the stairs we found the upper patio of the house had been turned into a small open-air restaurant complete with a TV suspended from the ceiling, a bar, and several tables overlooking the street below. Once again we arrived early to better our chances of having the place mostly to ourselves and once again we were the only ones there. The owner was very gracious and talked to us at length about his restaurant, how he came to La Cruz from San Blas (his wife couldn’t stand the bugs there) and how he’s faring with the pandemic restrictions. All the while his young daughter squealed as she kicked and chased her ball around the patio.

Kristin and I shared the most delicious plate of ribs and a couple of ice cold cervezas.

Greg seated at table with beer and plate of BBQ ribs and corn at patio restaurant

As we explored La Cruz we began to notice a theme amongst the street art. There was this same little bird caricature that cropped up everywhere in town. We hadn’t noticed this anywhere else in our travels so we assumed that this must be a sort of a local mascot.

Another one of our favorite evening walks was to walk the beach which is right next to the marina. Just on the other side of the marina breakwater is a beautiful public beach where you can sit and watch the sunset and the whales play on the bay or walk the beach and have a lunch or snack at any of the quaint beachside restaurants.

sunset on the beach at La Cruz
plate of four large clams stuffed with vegetables
sandy beach looking out at Banderas Bay on a bright sunny day

The weekend came and it was time to re-provision. This meant finding an ATM to get some cash. La Cruz is very much a cash-only kind of town and we found that shortly after we arrived we had used up most of our remaining pesos and the Sunday market was coming the next day. We had asked both on the net and asked some other cruisers and apparently there IS an ATM inside one of the corner grocery stores in town, but it’s often out of cash and there was some rumor that at one point it may have been compromised with a skimmer (or maybe it was a different machine?).

Not wanting to take any chances, I unpacked the folding bicycle and prepared myself for the 5 mile bicycle ride to the neighboring town of Bucerias where there were several actual banks. Getting up to the main road was a little challenging as it was all uphill on cobblestone streets. Once on the main road it was a dusty and surprisingly hilly climb and drop back down into Bucerias. It was a little daunting to pedal for several miles on the shoulder of a two-lane highway, but the last portion was probably the most annoying. As the highway cuts through the town of Bucerias it narrows but gains a frontage road along the side of the highway. The frontage road is a welcome break from the speed of the traffic on the main road, but equally difficult as every block or so it drops down into a gully that was cut to form an underpass for the highway. Up, down, up, down. I certainly got my exercise in that day!

After a successful transaction at the bank ATM, I started back to La Cruz.

Earlier I had discovered several farmers selling fresh watermelon and pineapple off the back of their trucks next to the Oxxo just outside the La Cruz town limits. I returned with some of the sweetest watermelon and pineapple we’ve ever had.

farmers selling watermelon and pineapple from the back of pickup trucks next to Oxxo gas station

While in La Cruz we had also heard other cruisers mention a tequilera and even seen some photos from other cruisers posted online. On my bicycle outing I found what appeared to be a sign for the Tequilera and on returning told Kristin that I think I’ve found it and that we should go since it looks like they have outdoor dining and a great view.

We weren’t disappointed here either. They make their own tequilas and I must say they were wonderful. They were the type of tequilas that stand on their own and are even better sipped straight than mixed in a margarita. Kristin especially liked their chocolate tequila. It was a perfect aperitif and we returned to Sonrisa with a bottle in tow for future enjoyment.

Flight of 4 tequila samples served on a wooden tray in champagne glasses with lime and seasoned salt
View of Banderas Bay and the La Cruz anchorage through the trees
Greg and Kristin sitting at a wooden table with a tasting flight of tequila looking at menus

While we were enjoying our meals and our tequila tasting we noticed they were playing the best mariachi covers of classic pop music. Kristin and I were thoroughly enjoying it. As each new song came on, we listened intently to the first few notes to try to ‘name that tune’ first. I finally had to ask the waiter to find out the band name as I had to add it to the Apple Music library. It was a local band out of Jalisco called Mariachi Rock-o. Highly recommended to listen with tequila.

That Sunday we went to the La Cruz market. For such a small town I was very impressed by the size of the market. The entire “Malecon” along the marina breakwater was full of vendors of all kinds with hot prepared food and local crafts representing the majority of booths. Still there were several vendors offering produce, baked goods, cheese and the likes.

Having strolled through the booths at the marina, we walked up to the town square only to find yet another Sunday market there! This one was mostly clothes, art, blankets, rugs, hammocks and such, but it was fun to browse.

In addition to the Sunday market, another great feature of La Cruz is the Seafood Market which is adjacent to the marina. It is open daily and has the most beautiful fresh fish. Even though we were still enjoying Kristin’s catch, we did stock up on some more fish before departing.

Given the size of the market(s) to the size of the town, this is obviously more of a destination event for the surrounding area. I understand there’s a large ex-pat community in Bucerias so this might be their Sunday excursion opportunity.

La Cruz is a small but surprising town. It seemed like every day there was some small new thing to discover. On Fridays there is a dancing horse performance in front of the La Cruz Inn, most weekends there is live music at either Ana Banana’s or Green Tomate (which we hope to enjoy post-pandemic), and abundant wildlife in the bay including some great whale watching. Some friends of ours even reported humpback whales swimming amongst the boats at the anchorage.

Japanese street art in Mexico? Why not!

Even just walking the docks can be an adventure. While we were there on the morning net someone reported seeing a crocodile inside the marina breakwater while they were paddleboarding. I was skeptical at first, but a moment later someone from the marina chimed in that they are aware of the crocodile and have borrowed a live trap to try to re-locate it. Every time we walked from our slip to the top of the dock we kept our eyes peeled for the croc, but never saw it.

We did, however, see these beautiful juvenile African Pompano right next to the dock.

While we were at the dock it gave me time to finally get my DC-DC charger installed. Way back when we had our new engine installed, the mechanic recommended we replace our battery isolator with a DC-DC charger for better charging efficiency. On a typical cruising boat there are 2 (or more) battery banks. One small bank is just for the engine and starter and the other large bank is for all of the ‘house’ electricity. The old way to charge this from a single alternator is to use a battery isolator that uses diodes to allow electricity to flow from the alternator to both battery banks, but prevent electricity from flowing between the banks. This prevents your house bank from draining your starter battery to the point where you can’t start the engine. The downside to this is that there’s about a 0.7 volt drop across the diode, so your alternator is never charging either battery at an optimal voltage.

One solution is to connect the alternator and regulator directly to the house bank and then add a DC-DC charger from the house bank to the starter battery. That way the alternator pushes all of its current into the house battery and the regulator adjusts the charge based on the house bank alone. The starter battery is then connected to the house bank via the DC-DC charger, which senses when the engine is running and charges the starter battery from the house bank using its own charge profile.

I used a Victron Orion Smart DC-DC charger I purchased before we left Emeryville. This unit integrates nicely with our Victron solar controller and battery monitor, all of which can be monitored from an iPhone via Bluetooth. Fortunately I had all of the materials I needed for the install onboard and I’m very happy with the new setup. It’s too soon to say if it made a big difference in our overall charge efficiency, but at least now I know exactly how each bank is charging.

Pulling new wire for the DC-DC charger

In all we ended up staying 19 days at La Cruz catching up on work, rest and enjoying the beauty of this little town on beautiful Banderas Bay.

sandy beach looking out at Banderas Bay at sunset
Puffer fish

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