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Posted by Bret in Portland from 22.214.171.124 (cache-ntc-ab10.proxy.aol.com) on martes, febrero 03, 2004 at 13:18:15 :
We just returned from Melaque, Jalisco. I thought someone here might be interested in a trip report for that area. We have been going to Zihuatanejo for the past several years but airfare costs, rave reviews on the internet, and our obsession with tennis made us want to check out Melaque. And, while it wasn't our Zihua Paradise, we are very glad we went. Thanks to everyone at Jerry & Ann's website and at Tomzap for their help in planning.
Melaque, Jalisco, is about 30 minutes north of the Manzanillo airport. Barra de Navadid is the closest town that most people may have heard of. If you can get a cheaper flight into Puerto Vallartam, Melaque is an easy 4 hour bus ride. By reading the various websites, I got the impression that the area is a big Canadian destination, but I'd never heard about Melaque until I started researching tennis resorts in Mexico.
El Palmar Tennis, where we stayed, was very nice and the tennis, our primary reason for this trip, was great. El Palmar is a beautiful new building within a walled compound located in Villa Obregon (one of the three smaller towns that make up Melaque proper). It has a stunning pool in the middle of the "L" shaped structure and of course umbrellas and lounge chairs, but also two other gathering areas for guests to hang out or read books from the fairly large library. It only has 8 units, so it is very cozy and lends itself to friendly contact with the other guests. There is no restaurant or bar, but each unit has a kitchenette and there is also an outdoor cooking area. The furnishings, decor, and cleanliness of the place is impeccable, perhaps the best I've stayed at in Mexico. The hotel is at the far end of Villa Obregon, away from central Melaque, which suited us perfectly since that area is much less busy than areas closer into town. John, the owner of El Palmar, had bicycles for the guests to use which made hopping into town for dinner or the ATM much easier.
Villa Obregon, the neighborhood where we were staying, probably isn't for everyone. The streets are still dirt, roosters are abundantly obvious in the early morning, men on horseback are seen almost as often as the occasional taxi. A few blocks down, a roast chicken stand is surrounded by those chickens lucky enough not to be on the menu yet. We were checking out El Palmar to see if we should bring a group down next time, but we aren't sure that all our friends would be comfortable in the setting. It might just be a little too..."Mexican"... for some people. We, on the other hand, loved the leisurely pace of life in Villa Obregon. In contrast, downtown Melaque, with it's shops and traffic, seemed almost like a bustling metropolis when we rode our bikes in to visit. I'm not sure we would have been as happy closer in.
Because of the tennis program, most of our mornings were already planned for us. The courts are a few minutes away, so those wanting to play met by the pool at 8:30 each morning to chat before taking the vans over to some wonderful red clay courts. This was our first time on clay but everyone was patient with us and we were having a blast almost right away. Lessons are available and games easily arranged between other El Palmar guests or local players. By about 12:30 on most days it was too hot to play and time for the ride home and a quick dip in the pool. Because the Australian Open was on that week, we usually spent the afternoon at Ava's or Bananarama (two nearby restaurants with satellite TV) watching matches and having lunch. Then we usually had a short siesta, followed by sunset margaritas on the beach at either the San Felipe hotel or Bigotes, a quick email check, and finally a late dinner. Reading this it sounds like our days were rushed, but believe me we weren't ever in a hurry.
One evening we walked the beach to Barra (about 40 minutes) and had our margaritas and dinner over there and later took a taxi home. The margaritas, at Chips, were large and the best we tasted on this trip. We ate dinner at the Italian restaurant a couple of doors down from Chips, I can't remember the name but it is the one with the brick oven and great pizza. Barra was fun for a short visit, but we didn't feel the need to go back on this trip.
On Wednesday we went to Tenacatita to check it out. It is most like Las Gatas beach, I suppose, but without the easy access. We skipped tennis that morning and after discussing the options with people at the hotel, we ended up grabbing a PV bound bus and asking to be let off at the crossroad to Tenacatita. After about a five minute wait we were able to hitch a ride down to the playa on a truck carrying cucumbers. We spent the day lounging at one of the palapa restaurants (sorry, I don't know which except it was third down from the snorkeling end of the beach). We walked over to the RV park and snorkeled over to the "aquarium" from there. There were lots of fish, but the visibility wasn't great that day, perhaps because of silt from all the rain the previous weeks. Also, by the afternoon the wave action and surge was getting a little bit much for Rosaleen, so we were "forced" to go back and relax on the beach some more. When it was time to leave, we caught a ride almost right away from another truck, this on carrying metal parts and bound for Agua Caliente. As we arrived back at the crossroads, the Melaque bus was just coming by and we jumped right on it. Rosaleen timed our trip and it was under an hour each way, and our travel cost to Tenacatita was 20 pesos per person each way for the bus. Plus 120 pesos for an afternoon of drinks and food on the beach. So our total cost for the trip was around $20usd, not bad. All and all a great day off from tennis.
We had great meals at Bogotes, Taco Surf, Bananarama, and Pedro's Fish. Although it was always busy, we were underwhelmed with the food and service at La Buen Gusta. We tried the frijitas and fish & chips at Ava's (neither meal worth repeating) before realizing that almost everyone else was ordering the cheeseburgers, which turned out to be the best we've ever tasted anywhere! We also tried to order food at the San Felipe, but both times the cook couldn't be found. But the beachside bar at the San Felipe is great, the margaritas good (especially at happy hour), and the bartender a treasure. We spent several evenings there, playing chess at sunset and drinking two for one margaritas.
As far as internet service goes, we never did find anything great. The best was in Barra at a little air-conditioned place on the main street. In Melaque the best connection we found was a little storefront about halfway between Bings and the bus station.
So, all in all, we really enjoyed our visit to Melaque. I'm not sure how the town does it but it manages to be a thoroughly Mexican town, with the locals going about their daily lives and business, at the same time that there are lots of gringos wandering about. The two populations are almost completely integrated without sacrificing the needs of each. Amazing. We also found the people to be very friendly, especially the tourists who seem to always have time to stop and chat. As advertised, the place is full of Canadians but I've always found them to be easier to get along with than most nationalities. Perhaps the high concentration of Canadians (I'd guess they make up about 90% of the tourists) is the reason the town functions so well. I'm not sure that the same number of Americans would blend in as easily.
What Zihua has that Melaque lacks are the great beaches. The Melaque beach is pretty, but steep and really not too inviting for lounging. We miss all the small places to lie out under umbrellas next to the water and relax for the day while having food and chilled drinks brought to you. We only found that at Tenacatita (which is a bit of a challenge to get to) whereas Zihua has La Ropa, Madera, and Las Gatas right there and Ixtapa, La Barra de Potosi and Troncones further out. I hope that doesn't sound too spoiled but that's one of the things that a beach vacation means to us.
And of course Zihua is much more beautiful.
Would we return to Melaque? In a heartbeat... but only if we were planning to make tennis the focus again. If we were looking for a perfect beach town, we'd head back to Zihua.
Bret & Rosaleen
Ps. For those interested in El Palmar, here are the websites.
For the hotel in general: www.vacationinmexico.com
And this is for their tennis program: www.mexicotennis.com
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