Way Off the Beaten Path: The Coast of Michoacan, Mexico

House rental in Caleta de Campos, Michoacan

House rental in Caleta de Campos, Michoacan

After our trip to Patzcuaro last weekend, we headed southwest to the Pacific Ocean. Sandwiched between the resort areas of Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco, the long, craggy coast of Michoacan is largely undeveloped. It was, so far, one of the most sparsely populated areas I’ve visited in Mexico, especially along the coastline. It is one of the many stretches of Highway 200.

There are a few really good surf spots here,  such as Nexpa, but otherwise the area gets few tourists passing through. Most guidebooks don’t even mention it — even though it consists of more than a hundred miles of beaches. Of course, this piqued my interest – what would it be like?

Turns out, when traveling with a Shih-tzu in a small rental car, this meant good things and bad things.

The beach at Nexpa, a popular point break.

The beach at Nexpa, a popular "left" point break.

We were able to find a great surfer’s house to rent for a couple of nights in Caleta de Campos, a town big enough to have roasted chicken and cold beer, but not much else (the town, in all honesty, was horridly ugly but had incredible views of the ocean).

If there was one person I wished I could have traded places with during my trip, it was this girl.

If there was one person I wished I could have traded places with during my trip, it was this girl.

Who needs whales when you have a rock with a blowhole? (OK, OK, I need whales...they arrive in the winter, so I always seem to miss them.)

Who needs whales when you have a rock with a blowhole? (OK, OK, I need whales...they arrive in the winter, so I always seem to miss them.)

The sun rises behind the lighthouse, Caleta de Campos.

The sun rises behind the lighthouse, Caleta de Campos.

Charlie and I try to cool off, but it was difficult.

Charlie and I try to cool off, but it was difficult.

The drive was espectactular (but often stomach-churning) and about as remote as it gets. Suddenly a pristine beach would come into view, and you’re several hundred feet above it, watching the waves roll in, and not sure if there’s any real path to the beach from the tiny, two-lane highway that has so little traffic. In the back of your mind, you’re thinking: my car could be robbed while I’m frolicking in the Pacific, unknowingly becoming the lead actress in an American Express Traveler’s Checks commercial. The area is still quite well-known as a drug smuggler’s paradise, mostly due to its remoteness, which is why this paranoid thought kept popping up: Would the smugglers turn Charlie into a mule?

We didn't really see a clear path down to this beach; there may not have been one.

We didn't really see a clear path down to this beach; there may not have been one.

Just a typical view from the road as you drive along Highway 200.

Just a typical view from the road as you drive along Highway 200.

But, as with everywhere in Michoacan, the people were generally friendly. We’re also eternally grateful to two of the state’s residents, who got us out of a really bad scrape. Yep, turistas’ nightmare: We managed to get our car stuck in the shimmering white sand (we were aiming to park in a tiny spot of shade for just a few minutes so we could leave Charlie in the car, if needed, while we walked on a beach). We had a few initial moments of panic when we realized we had driven about 4km from the Highway 200, and hadn’t seen anyone in mucho tiempo.

After assessing that yes, we were indeed f’ing stuck in the sand, we grabbed some metal roofing sheets left on the beach and stuck them under the tires. Then watched them sink under the spinning tires. All while Charlie sat, head tilted, inside, perplexed.

Once this failed to work, my panic manifested as such: I threw all our valuables in the trunk, put Charlie in the front seat so he could be shaded, and forced us to spray down with sunscreen, in case we had to walk miles and miles to civilization. Of course, that was all incredibly unnecessary (whew, whew, sweat-wiping-away wheeeeeeew), as there were a few small houses off the tiny beach road, and two men chatting in the street — one was sitting in a truck, hallelujah!

As we walked up, he waved good-bye to his amigo and started to drive off, causing us to start running, screaming “Senor! senor!”  Once we reached the two men — looking I’m sure like the two goofiest gueros to ever drive through Michoacan — we mustered our best “please, for the love of Maria, help us!…” en espanol as we panted.

Problem solved. They unstuck us, and I even chatted up one of the men about how beautiful the beach was, how badly I had wanted to see it, how Chilangos suck compare to Michoacanos, etc. Of course, once unstuck, we were in no mood to sightsee and we immediately got in the car and hauled ass north to the highway, and to the lovely beach city of Manzanillo, where we stayed two nights before heading home.

Best irony of the moment? It was Playa La Llorona — crying woman’s beach. What we missed. (And you may wonder: Why is it called this? Well, as it turns out, not because of some scary ghost story involving a dead crying woman rising out of the espuma, or a  pale turista lamenting her sand-sunk Dodge Attitude and sunburnt skin, but the cute noise the sand makes.)

Had we not had Charlie in tow with us, (and had we rented a 4×4) we perhaps would have stayed at least one night in one of the uber-rustic cabanas between Caleta de Campos and Manzanillo (perhaps here in Maruata, which I’m now kicking myself for not stopping and visiting), where I imagine we would have felt like the only souls on the planet, under very bright stars. But it would have been incredibly humid, mosquito-prone and we’d pine for cold beer — so we’d only stay for one night.

Manzanillo, where there are hotels, and air conditioning.

Manzanillo, where there are hotels, and air conditioning.

Overall, do I recommed this drive? Yes, but be prepared to fill up at every Pemex station you see — there aren’t many. Be prepared to stay in “one-star” lodging. Be prepared to see an extraordinary amount of poverty (wooden shacks, at best, for most people here).  Bring food and snacks for spontanous beach stops, especially if you’re traveling in the off-season when most places are closed. And  for the love of Maria, stay out of the loose sand.

(More on the hidden beaches of Michoacan, en espanol.)

9 thoughts on “Way Off the Beaten Path: The Coast of Michoacan, Mexico

  1. Inside Mexico says:

    Great post Joy! Aran and I went to the Michocan coast last New Year’s and loved it. It is spectacular and as you mentioned, wonderfully undiscovered. We stayed a couple of nights at La Ticla and then went to the quieter beach next door. We were lucky enough to wake up one morning and see turtles (thousand of them! ) hatching on the beach. But yeah, that drive…we drove up the coast from Lazaro Cardenas at night and nearly ran out of gas.

  2. Lesley says:

    This looks spectacular. I wish I could transport myself into that Caleta de Campos picture.

    The Vive Mexico campaign seriously needs to be paying you… you’re getting me all jazzed up to see more Mexican beaches. (Forget wine tasting in Ensenada, I’m going to the coast of Michoacan! Or Isla Mujeres!)

  3. Adam says:

    Maruata is the best… we beach-camped with our dogs for a week there. Great food, beautiful scenery, and cold beer. I would highly recommend.

  4. jasmine says:

    i stayed at Jons house too!!!!! I LOVED IT!!! do you know those 2 crosses were girls that accidently fell off the cliff??? we used to go every year we havent gone in some time due to economy =) will soon though!

  5. vicki says:

    Hello,

    Last year we lived in a little town called Bucerias just 20 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta, for 5 months. Someone reccomended we go to Michoacan, Mexico we plan on moving there f or 6 months but have no idea where to start. Do you have any reccomendations to a good safe, cheap place to live? We are from Victoria, BC Canada and will most likly be driving down this time.

    Thanks Vicki

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