Guayabitos and La Peñita, A Study in Contrast
Published Apr 1, 2009 - (Updated Aug 30, 2013)
Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Winter/Spring 2009 issue.
These two neighboring oceanfront towns in Riviera Nayarit, 70 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta, couldn’t be more dissimilar. Guayabitos, a preferred beach vacation destination for Mexican families, features surf so gentle, it is often referred to as “the largest natural pool in the world.” La Peñita, on the other hand, is a no-frills Mexican fishing village, where the biggest draw is its residents, a tight community of local and international folk working together to improve the town’s infrastructure and, thus, its tourist appeal.
Both towns do share a common attribute, however. “People still say, ‘Buenos dias!’ as you walk by, even if they don’t know you,” commented Ja’Qui, a seasoned entertainer who went to school with Jimmy Hendrix and once shared the stage with performers of international stature such as The Supremes and Bill Cosby and has called the region “home” for the past 10 years or so.
Rincón de Guayabitos
The origin of the peaceful town of Rincon de Guayabitos (or simply Guayabitos, as it’s commonly known) can be traced back to pre-Hispanic times. The bay was first explored by the Spaniards in the 1500s and subsequently used by British and Dutch pirate ships looking to benefit from the area’s riches.
It was during the 1970s that Mexico’s government put the area in the limelight with the creation of the Banderas Bay Trust (Fideicomiso de Bahia de Banderas). As a result, Guayabitos was developed as a vacation destination, with a number of small hotels, tourist shops, restaurants, trailer parks and a residential area.
Today, Guayabitos continues to be one of the most sought-after beachfront vacation destinations for thousands of middle-class Mexican families, who flock to the area throughout the year, particularly during Semana Santa, Mexico’s Spring Break equivalent. By the same token, an increasing number of budget-conscious tourists from Canada and the United States are including Guayabitos in their “must-visit” lists as they explore Puerto Vallarta and surroundings.
“We have a large number of return clients from Canada who choose the same suite year after year and even remember our employees’ names,” said Jose Ontiveros, general manager at Mar y Sol Hotel & Suites, a budget hotel with non-budget amenities (wireless Internet) and a strong environmental sensibility — there are two trash containers in each room, for organic and non-organic materials.
Ontiveros, along with other young community leaders, is ensuring the continued viability of Guayabitos by participating actively in the local hotel-motel association, generating national and international promotion about the destination and protecting its strongest draw: a truly spectacular beach, perfect for swimming, sailing, snorkeling or simply walking.
La Peñita de Jaltemba
Considered by many as the service town for Guayabitos, La Peñita de Jaltemba (or simply La Peñita) is located immediately north, only a river separating the two communities, which combined are known as Jaltemba Bay. But don’t think for a moment that La Peñita is not an intriguing destination in its own right! While Guayabitos looks and feels like a planned resort, La Peñita is the epitome of a small Mexican town.
The main avenue (Emiliano Zapata) is bustling with activity, day and night, lined with all sorts of restaurants and small stores offering everything from house wares to clothing and so forth. But perhaps, its most popular attraction is the Thursday tianguis, or street market, by far the largest in the entire region. Would you want to drive all the way from Puerto Vallarta just for a street market? By all means! It stretches more than four blocks and features all the typical items you are likely to find in any Mexican mercado: fresh produce, inexpensive clothing, plastic house wares and much more. A shady main plaza becomes the arts and crafts section of the market, offering a broad variety of Mexican crafts from the region, as well as other areas of Mexico, at surprisingly affordable prices.
Acting as a focal point for the local community (national and international), as well as the many visitors that come to La Peñita for market Thursdays, Xaltemba Restaurant & Galeria is a cozy spot featuring outstanding Italian cuisine and its own art gallery, the only one in town. The brainchild of former TV network manager Eddie Dominguez and artist Roberto Gil de Montes, Xaltemba offers indoor and al fresco dining all evenings but Monday. It is also open on Thursdays for lunch, an added bonus due to its location adjacent to the main plaza. It also double-duties as the town’s cultural center, offering a variety of talks, workshops and literary readings. A number of exhibitions and activities are scheduled on a regular basis and can be explored further by visiting their website, www.xaltemba.com.
Consider these singular towns, together or separately, just for the day or overnight. Regardless, if there is such a thing as a true slice of “Mexicana,” you will undoubtedly get a good taste of it in Jaltemba Bay.
Los Amigos de La Peñita
A good way to discover the rich diversity in this community is by getting involved. Los Amigos de La Peñita is a local service organization dedicated to raising awareness about the town’s most important issues. Among them are recycling, maintaining the water supply and promoting a clean environment, particularly on the beach. Its annual fundraising event, a festive afternoon cocktail party with fine food, entertainment and a silent auction, will take place Sunday, February 8, at internationally renowned interior designer Thomas Bartlett’s home. A committed philanthropist from Napa Valley, Bartlett will underwrite all party expenses for the second year in a row. Tickets are $750 pesos per person. For more information, please visit www.losamigosdelapenita.com.
Vista Guayabitos (Guayabitos)
Unbeatable views from this hilltop restaurant make it an ideal choice to get a bird’s-eye view of Jaltemba Bay. Open for lunch and dinner.
Los Tulipanes (Guayabitos)
Affordable and casual, Los Tulipanes offers traditional Mexican food and regional specialties for breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus a hearty breakfast buffet on weekends.
Xaltemba (La Peñita)
Cozy, stylish and full of ambiance, this is the place to go. Chef Max Farinelli will woo you with unique Italian creations, while bilingual hosts Eddie and Roberto will ensure that you have a memorable al fresco dinner. Also open for lunch on Thursdays.
La Avenida (La Peñita)
Its proximity to the market makes this casual eatery a good choice, particularly if you enjoy traditional Mexican food. Open for lunch and dinner.
Emiliano Zapata & Manzanillo
Thursday Market in La Peñita
(See main article)
Xaltemba Galeria & Shop (La Peñita)
Unique silk-screened t-shirts created by artist Roberto Gil de Montes make a perfect souvenir.
Hamaca Maya (La Peñita)
Egyptian owner Hala Hazzi and her father feature colorful and unique hammocks created by a group of Yucatan women, known for the finest hammocks in Mexico.
Emiliano Zapata 48
Mar y Sol Hotel & Suites (Guayabitos)
This affordable hotel in the heart of town features wireless Internet, cable TV and kitchenettes.
Villa Corona del Mar (Guayabitos)
This bed & breakfast is in the heart of Guayabitos’ residential area.
Casita de La Peñita (La Peñita)
Fully equipped oceanfront suites are available by the week.
Bungalows Don Jose (La Peñita)
These budget bungalows with AC and TV are only two blocks from the main plaza.
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