Marinas of the Mexican Sea - Part 1

Marina Costa Baja - La Paz - Sea of Cortez - The hillsides overlooking the marina are now covered with a golf course and new homes and condos..... Very upscale!
Marina Costa Baja - La Paz - Sea of Cortez - The hillsides overlooking the marina are now covered with a golf course and new homes and condos..... Very upscale!

The Marina Experience

I prefer to be anchored-out in one of the hundreds of beautiful coves and bays that exist in these wondrous maritime cruising grounds, but as a "cruiser" over the past four years on the Sea of Cortez, a stay in a marina has always been a necessary part of the experience. I have developed a sort of love – hate relationship with the marinas of Mexico based on that experience, and no doubt also due in part to my twenty years of experience in the marina and resort business. Mostly I love them, but I’ve had to learn to accept some of their short-comings along the way..... but then, it's Mexico, and I'm cruising, and the deficiencies never seem that important in the overall scheme of things.

The back basin at Marina Costa Baja - La Paz, MX - A new Beach Club now occupies the beach behind the palms. Marina rates are high, but it is a very nice marina, though their maintenance could be better and the staff lacks basic marina knowledge and
The back basin at Marina Costa Baja - La Paz, MX - A new Beach Club now occupies the beach behind the palms. Marina rates are high, but it is a very nice marina, though their maintenance could be better and the staff lacks basic marina knowledge and

An Essential Guide...

This article began as a simple pictorial of the marinas I visited while cruising the Sea of Cortez and the Mexican Riviera, but soon began to take on a life of its own at the urging of other cruisers, and would be cruisers, who wanted more information. It is now two parts of which this is Part 1.

I returned to the United States in 2011, and my cruising adventures are over for the time being, but I think I gathered enough information and insight, and photos of various marinas, during my four years of cruising Mexican waters to make this article interesting, if not informative. I will continue to stay abreast of developments in the Mexican marina industry through friends and associates, and interested readers may want to check back on occasion for additional and new information.

The Village at Marina Costa Baja - Good restaurants and a chandlery and general store are there. The Marina Village is very nice, unfortunately the businesses have suffered as rates increased and occupancy decreased.
The Village at Marina Costa Baja - Good restaurants and a chandlery and general store are there. The Marina Village is very nice, unfortunately the businesses have suffered as rates increased and occupancy decreased.

I hope you enjoy the pictures, and please take the information with a grain of salt, and perhaps a shot of tequila; things change unexpectedly and sometimes rapidly here in Mexico, and you cannot always depend on the news, even from a reliable source.

For the most part, Mexico’s marinas provide an enjoyable and relaxing experience for visiting boaters, and there is no easier way to enjoy the surrounding cities, and do the necessary provisioning and unexpected repairs that accompany the cruising lifestyle than by taking a slip for a time.

The Dock Side Restaurant at Marina de La Paz - Great food and ambiance to boot.... This marina is right in the heart of La Paz, and while it is not the prettiest marina, it is definitely the best run, and has the broadest selection of boater services
The Dock Side Restaurant at Marina de La Paz - Great food and ambiance to boot.... This marina is right in the heart of La Paz, and while it is not the prettiest marina, it is definitely the best run, and has the broadest selection of boater services
Cabo San Lucas - If you like 24 hour excitement and activity then Cabo is for you, but don't expect to get a slip.... if you DO, then expect to pay through the nose. Most visiting boats end up side-tied with no power or water... so you might as well
Cabo San Lucas - If you like 24 hour excitement and activity then Cabo is for you, but don't expect to get a slip.... if you DO, then expect to pay through the nose. Most visiting boats end up side-tied with no power or water... so you might as well

What to Expect

In general, recreational boat marinas are a relatively new concept in Mexican waters, and as a result most services and facilities are not up to high industry standards. There are some notable exceptions, such as Cabo San Lucas, and Paradise Village Marina in Nuevo Vallarta, which have had operating marinas for decades, but for the most part recreational boat marinas started springing up only about fifteen years ago, and the marina business is a new endeavor for most operators.

Newer marinas in particular are generally staffed by inexperienced management and employees with little or no marina operations training or experience. The same can be said of most owners and developers of marinas in Mexico, and again generally speaking, they don’t seem to understand the customer service needs and wants of recreational boaters, particularly cruisers. Restrooms and shower facilities are often few and far between, and many advertised amenities are often still in the development stages.

Marina Palmira in La Paz. This marina has been through a number of misguided ownership changes through the years..... Nice place, but many of the support businesses have closed and they still don't get it for some reason.
Marina Palmira in La Paz. This marina has been through a number of misguided ownership changes through the years..... Nice place, but many of the support businesses have closed and they still don't get it for some reason.

The building boom years ago in Mexico included the somewhat misguided development of marinas with an over abundance of large slips in the fifty and sixty foot range, as well as even larger slips designed for the mega-yacht clientele that has yet to materialize. It appears that they were led to believe (usually by US consultants with the same propensity) that all the rich gringos in the world would flock to their new docks with big boats and big dollars, and they built and priced their slips accordingly.

Unfortunately it takes more than slips to create a successful marina resort, and most of Mexico’s marinas have still failed to recognize and develop the services and amenities that draw cruising boaters to marina facilities. Larger vessels in particular, are unlikely to take a slip inside when they can comfortably anchor out and provide their own on-board comforts and amenities with no other reason to be in a marina. Still, if you are starved for land, or shore-power, or an internet connection, or some other household comfort that may be lacking on your boat, you’ll find most of the basics at marinas in Mexico, and rates have been coming down also as the reality of the market has become evident.

The FONATUR (formerly SINGLAR) Marina in Puerto Escondido - Shipyard, store, restaurant, and fuel dock and close to the city of Loreto. The SINGLAR marinas made the mistake of seriously over pricing themselves in the beginning, but new management has
The FONATUR (formerly SINGLAR) Marina in Puerto Escondido - Shipyard, store, restaurant, and fuel dock and close to the city of Loreto. The SINGLAR marinas made the mistake of seriously over pricing themselves in the beginning, but new management has

With the marina market in a constant state of flux it pays to shop when you have a choice. Don’t be afraid to ask about special slip rate deals that might exist now or later. They seldom advertise special pricing, and even their regular rates are often arbitrary and not based on the current market, and as a result have a tendency to change on a whim. I have come into marinas with a plan to stay three days, and upon asking, been offered a week’s stay for the same price. These inconsistencies in pricing and marketing have probably been the most significant reason that marinas in Mexico are still struggling; you never know what to expect, and quite often you’ll get a better deal if you just show up and ask.

The Isla Marina in the Sabalo Estuary, Mazatlan - The "Palapa" restaurant has good food and horseshoes. Like Marina Costa Baja, this marina was built to accomodate all the rich gringo homeowners, who unfortunately have failed to appear.
The Isla Marina in the Sabalo Estuary, Mazatlan - The "Palapa" restaurant has good food and horseshoes. Like Marina Costa Baja, this marina was built to accomodate all the rich gringo homeowners, who unfortunately have failed to appear.

Cruisers can usually find a slip without a reservation, except in the most popular destinations at high season. Reserving ahead of arrival is not always possible, but contacting your next planned marina stop either by email or phone will smooth the waters and possibly ensure a vacancy when you arrive. I have been told a number of times by marinas when I tried to reserve ahead, that they couldn’t guarantee a slip because of their high demand unless I paid immediately, but when we arrived the marina was less than fifty percent occupied. Luckily I didn’t reserve at the rate they offered, and got a much better deal on the spur of the moment.

The Village at Marina Mazatlan - Sabalo Estuary, Mazatlan. This is a nice marina, but is seriously lacking in maintenance and marina operations knowledge.
The Village at Marina Mazatlan - Sabalo Estuary, Mazatlan. This is a nice marina, but is seriously lacking in maintenance and marina operations knowledge.

One area that they do handle very well is security. The gates and locks may not always function, but every marina that I have been in has had 24 hour security guards posted around the facilities. They keep an ever watchful eye on the docks, and there is seldom if ever an issue with theft or vandalism. Most facilities are very well lit and secure, and I have never felt safer than during my visits and stays in a Mexican marina. Unfortunately, a certain lack of friendly customer service and marina know-how seems to emanate from their preoccupation with security.

The docks at Marina Mazatlan - Restaurants, store, and a boat brokerage are some of the services offered. The marina recently added more LARGER slips, so there is now an over abundance of slips in the 50 foot plus range.
The docks at Marina Mazatlan - Restaurants, store, and a boat brokerage are some of the services offered. The marina recently added more LARGER slips, so there is now an over abundance of slips in the 50 foot plus range.

Office staff has usually been friendly and competent as well, though somewhat restricted by bureaucracy, and a lack of boating or marina experience, and checking in is not difficult as long as you have the required current vessel documents, insurance, and crew documentation. The marina will usually take care of your Port Captain check-in and check-out as well at most ports. If you radio ahead when you arrive, most marinas will give you an assigned slip number, and you’ll find dock hands or security staff at your slip ready to assist you with berthing. You can usually depend on nearby slip holders to assist as well.

The docks at night in Marina Mazatlan..... nice ambiance, but the marina lacks basic services, and the utilities and restroom facilities are woefully inadequate.
The docks at night in Marina Mazatlan..... nice ambiance, but the marina lacks basic services, and the utilities and restroom facilities are woefully inadequate.

You will also find that most Mexican marinas provide, what we call in the industry, “double loaded” slips, meaning you will have no dock finger between you and another boat in your double-wide slip. It also means that you will only be able to board from one side, or from the stern if you back in. Most marina fairways, the water between the docks, are also typically narrower than found in the States or other regions, and you should be prepared for tight quarters when entering an unfamiliar marina and slip. It is also not uncommon for slips to not have adequate rub-rail or fendering, and at times I have found the dock cleats to be poorly placed or inadequate, so be sure to have extra dock fenders and dock lines available. Dock carts are another amenity that may or may not be available.

FONATUR (formerly SINGLAR) Marina in Mazatlan - Sabalo Estuary - Great shipyard and boat services available here, and the facilities and management are very accomodating as well.
FONATUR (formerly SINGLAR) Marina in Mazatlan - Sabalo Estuary - Great shipyard and boat services available here, and the facilities and management are very accomodating as well.

The newer marinas have better amenities and utilities on the docks, including wifi or direct internet hookups, but don’t depend on them, and good dock and facilities maintenance practices are something that still seem to be missing from most facilities. It may just be the third world environment, but once something breaks it tends to stay that way for a while. You will also find good laundry facilities on-sight at most marinas, or nearby laundry services that will do your laundry for you at a reasonable price.

Water is something that is especially precious everywhere in Mexico, and even at newer facilities the water system may be shut down, out of service, or non-potable for days at a time. Some of the marinas find it necessary to ration water or limit it to certain hours of the day, and hot water may or may not be available in the restrooms and showers.

The Mazatlan SINGLAR Marina Offices - They ALL look the same! This marina also has a PEMEX fuel dock on site.
The Mazatlan SINGLAR Marina Offices - They ALL look the same! This marina also has a PEMEX fuel dock on site.

Electric shore-power is also not always reliable. Voltage can vary significantly at times and power surges and reverse polarity are not uncommon. Dock circuit-breakers and receptacles wear out quickly due to surges and lack of maintenance, and if you plan to leave the boat for an extended period, it may be a good idea to disconnect your shore-power connections to prevent potential damage to electronics on board. Pressure surges also occur at times in water systems so you may want to disconnect water hoses as well. The marina staff of course will deny that any of these problems exist, usually because they don’t know better. It does appear that some marina managers are learning though, and over the past year I have started to see some improvement in service.

The PEMEX fuel dock in San Blas is right next to the SINGLAR Marina. This is SINGLAR's newest facility and the staff and management are very accomodating. Shorepower at the slips may be a bit of a problem, especially for larger vessels, and the chann
The PEMEX fuel dock in San Blas is right next to the SINGLAR Marina. This is SINGLAR's newest facility and the staff and management are very accomodating. Shorepower at the slips may be a bit of a problem, especially for larger vessels, and the chann

Fuel services and quality are an amenity that has also improved over the past four or five years. All fuel is distributed by the government owned company PEMEX and their bright green signs are easy to spot. Prices are regulated as well by the government and their staff is typically professional and at least somewhat ecology minded. Fuel quality is not typically a problem, and even though I do carry a Baja Filter with me for those rare occasions where I might be required to buy fuel from other than a PEMEX facility, I have never experienced any fuel system problems from Mexican fuel. Most marinas either have a fuel dock on-sight or nearby. While PEMEX does not sell propane most marinas will facilitate that service as well.

After a "chubasco", one of Mazatlan's minnie hurricanes - It only blew 70 knots ! In the summer expect a LOT of rain with numerous thunder (and Lightning) storms.
After a "chubasco", one of Mazatlan's minnie hurricanes - It only blew 70 knots ! In the summer expect a LOT of rain with numerous thunder (and Lightning) storms.

You will find more photos and information in Part 2 of this article at http://hubpages.com/hub/Marinas-of-the-Mexican-Sea-Part-2. If you would like additional information on specific facilities or other Mexican cruising questions please leave me a comment or question here with an email address I can respond to…… Happy cruising!

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Comments 11 comments

dohn121 profile image

dohn121 6 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

I can't wait to sell my novel so I can join you, James! What a well written hub. I feel like I'm getting a tour guide all around the Mexican Marinas. Thank you.


GPAGE profile image

GPAGE 6 years ago from California

James....what a great hub! Looks so amazing there.......I hope you are well. I have been back in the studio recording so less time for me to read......Best, G


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

Envy! Envy! Sounds like the sort of life I could live. Though I know you have had some pretty hard knocks, for which I'm sorry. But all the best and thanks for sharing this amazing Hub. Going on to part 2 soon.

Love and peace

Tony


James McV Sailor profile image

James McV Sailor 6 years ago from Northern California Author

Thanks all.... there will more in the future I am sure.... Sailing on the Edge, JM


Captain Chuck 5 years ago

Hello, and thanks for the info, great stuff and it seems hard to come by. It seems hard to find currant info on Mexico. I have 2 boats, one a 32' Grand Banks I have for sale and I traded my motorhome for a 70' head boat, that I am remodeling for a live aboard. I am less than a year from full time cruising to Mexico from (Mississippi) and maybe Costa Rica, panama, Mexico? I want to do the same, write about my cruising, but I'm not a writer, but with spell check I will get my message across. Thanks and take care.


James McV Sailor profile image

James McV Sailor 5 years ago from Northern California Author

CC.... Thanks for the comments and good luch on your cruise. From Mississippi you will no doubt start on the East coast (?) and then head west? Sounds like a wonderful trip. Best.... JM


GetitScene profile image

GetitScene 4 years ago from The High Seas

Loving reading this. Planning to get down that way myself this year.


Eduardo Corona 3 years ago

Hello! I'm the dock master at Marina Cortez. I am aware that the comments section is not for promoting a business, but given that this article is about the marinas in La Paz and the region, I thought it wouldn't be complete without our new Marina Cortez. Our marina is located in downtown La Paz, and it's the first eco-friendly marina in Mexico. You can find more info at www.marinacortez.com. Thanks!


James McV Sailor profile image

James McV Sailor 16 months ago from Northern California Author

Eduardo.... great to hear about the new Marina Cortez in La Paz. I'm heading there again in a couple of months and will try to stop by.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

There's a big world out there I have not seen. Thanks for taking me along on this journey. Great pics.


James McV Sailor profile image

James McV Sailor 15 months ago from Northern California Author

Thanks Bill.... happy that you enjoyed it.

Mexico is a wonderful area to cruise....

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