Friday, October 21, 2005

Camping, RV's and Spas in Chacala

There are different ways to stay in Chacala: beach camping, RV "camping", inexpensive Techo de Mexico family-owned rooms with or without kitchens and patios, family owned mini-complexes with four-six units, small hotels with spas, and other small rentals in varying price ranges. Some with pools. A few with air-con.

Camping on Playa Chacala is often wonderful. Most of the time it feels like being on a tropical island. However, there are times (Sunday afternoons and Semana Santa) when it is very crowded and full of trash. Just a small warning.

Camping on Chacala Beach
There are different places to camp on the beach in Chacala. People genrally camp on the southern end of the beach, south from Chico's restaurant.

My understanding is that each area of the beach (above the high-tide line) is managed by a different person or family under Federal "concessions", which are held by paying annual fees to the Federal government.

There are several camping areas south of the Delphin's Restaurant (where motor home tend to camp in the winter). These include two campgrounds (Esparanza's and Don Beto's) with ramadas and "sweet" (that is, not ocean) water showers and bucket-flushed toilets. And trash cans. Usually electricity is available with your own extension cord. Sometimes the fees for the use of showers, toilets, and electricity are separate from the camping charge, but not always, so ask.
Esparanza's is my favorite camping area. Partly because she has lots of palm trees and its cool and shady, and its the last ramada area on the beach, going south. Don Beto and Dona Lupe have a nice camping area next door.

Most of the camping areas have ramadas (palm shelters), where you can put your tent and set up camp. The ramadas are right on the beach, a lovely setting.

On the days/weeks right around Christmas and Easter the beach and town are jam-packed with campers and buses, etc and it is noisy and crowded. Sundays can also be crowded with day-trippers from Guadalajara, Tepic or Compostella. Not the best time for a camping experience.Some people camp on the beach below the high tide line (and pay at the campgrounds to use the toilets, etc). Often you see people suddenly realizing their tent/camp is about to be swamped by the rising tide, and hurrying to move everything out of the way. There are a few places to park along the beach road where it is quieter and nicer. A person might want to talk to someone at the nearest house and work out an arrangement about parking/camping there. It is worth talking to several people to make sure you are paying the appropriate person for your spot.
Campers/Motor Homes/RV's
One of the beach restaurants collects rents for motor home camping slots on a stretch of beach (mid-beach) at the south end of restaurant row. During January and February there are maybe 35-40 motor homes parked side by side in the beachside slots, blocking the view (and sometimes access) for anyone else camping in that area.

There are showers in that area but I think they are only open during the Easter weeks. Trucks selling drinking water are driving around town every morning (five gallon jugs for 10 pesos).

Trash and garbage has been a huge problem in the area in the past but lately the town has tried hard to contain the mess left by visitors. The trash situation is improving. For one thing, the town has hired people pick up trash around town, with more frequent trash pickups.

The town is also actively discouraging RVer's from digging holes into the sand to empty their black (toilet and shower) water into. That has become popular sewage solution among the gringo (US and Canadian) campers who come to Chacala for extended stays. The hole-diggers are sometimes the same people who explain that they like Chacala because the ocean isn't polluted (yet). Right!!!

In January and February this lovely spot is filled with motor homes
parked as close to the beach as possible.
The rest of the year Mexican families are tent camping here.

Chacala has two new spas, one at each of the small hotels located at the south end of Playa Chacala.

Majahua, at
, has a beautiful spa on the palm and tree covered hillside right above the ocean. The spa itself has a wonderful series of small pools connected by waterfalls, with small private areas for massage and relaxing. The Majahua hotel has a restaurant and a five large guest apartments that rent individually or for retreats for yoga groups, etc. All the buildings are tucked away in the jungle on the hillside overlooking the ocean. It's very beautiful and not be be missed.

Mar de Jade also has a new spa, located in a large building away from the beach and up from the guest rooms. I have only seen it from a distance but it looks very impressive.

With the support of Jose Enrique De Valle (owner of Majahua), a program called Techos de Mexico, at was developed in Chacala about eight years ago. This program helps local families develop a stable source of income by offering construction loans and volunteer building help to create family-run rental units near or on top of the family home. There are currently eigh home owners with about 12 rental units. All are well-built, with screened windows, with glass, hot water showers, fans, tiled floors, security windows, and steel doors and two double beds. Some units have kitchens and most have patios or terraces. They are located all over town and are easy to identify by Techo de Mexico signs at each house.

For more information about Techos de Mexico rentals go to
Techos de Mexico

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Chacala Websites

For those who like to browse the internet, here are some Chacala webites and blog addresses.
Or check out the LINKS on the upper right-hand corner of this page.

For info about budget priced rentals go to Chacala Vacation Rentals

For a list of all the vacation and long term Rentals in Chacala

For a list of allthe locally owned rentals in Chacala

For more info and photos about the Techos de Mexico

For Majahua go to (a lovely small hotel/spa/restaurant on the south end of Chacala)

For updates about what's happening in Chacala

Or to read about gardening in Chacala go to

Or go to Chacala Escape for rentals, surfing, other adventures, including learning Spanish

Or go to Move2Chacala for more high-end rental information

Chacala Kinder (garten)

If you are coming to Chacala you might consider bringing some school supplies/play equipment/games for the kindergarten children. There are 6 children in Kinder this year (2007-8).

They are meeting in the new classroom built by several very generous Rotary groups.
The parents pay 20 pesoes each week to the teacher (about $2USD a week) plus some money for supplies and electricity when needed. The parents clean and operate the building. They have worked on the landscaping, painting, and general maintenance.

The Chacala kindergarten is barely supported by the state school system. However, both the Kinder buildings have been built, remodeled, repaired, repainted, plumbed, reroofed and playground equipment installed by volunteers ( often Rotary groups) who are visiting Chacala, who also donate money for materials.

These children do not speak or read English, so, in my opinion, reading materials in English are not particularly useful for this age-group. Almost anything else is: paper, pens, pencils, stickers, white board pens, special little goodies, whatever. A new computer. Games, playground equipment. etc etc.

The Kinder students, and their younger siblings, are so amazing, and so much fun to watch. They are so full of life, and friendly and affectionate. And they love coming to the Kinder. Especially playing on the big play toy, another Rotary gift.
Only a couple of these Chacala kids are Kinder age

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Chacala: Questions to ask when renting in Mexico

Looking down toward the beach
from in front of Concha's Techos de Mexico rental

Here some questions or clarifications you might want to ask or make when you are considering renting a room in Chacala or probably any small town in Mexico. These seem to be the issues that come up occasionally.

1. Check on the location of the place you are considering. A places you might like the looks of maybe quite a long ways from the beach, restaurants, and stores. Especially if you are walking or are bringing small children to Chacala. Of course that's a good thing for people who want exercise. Chacala, and many small towns in Mexico are not great places for people with limited mobility, although you might be okay if you have a car.There are also noise issues in some neighborhoods (dogs, roosters, traffic, loud music). Or there maybe a loud construction project going on in the neighborhood, during your stay. Usually that means loud music being played by the construction workers, often before 7am. It's worth asking about ahead of time. If the landlady is doing a remodeling project during your stay, you may want to know about it.

2. If you are making reservations, you may want to clarify in advance:
At what point you will be expected to pay the balance of your account (assuming you made a 50% deposit which is very common here during the winter months). Some landladies want to be paid on arrival. That may limit your leverage if there are problems, so you may want to clarify that.
  • About any expectations you and the landlord may have about your deposit. And under what circumstances it might be returned, and what amount might be returned, etc.
  • Whether your rental rate is in pesos or Canadian or US currency. It is obviously to your advantage to understand the exchange rate if the payment is to be in pesos.
  • If the landlady expects to be paid in pesos or US dollars. Occasionally some landlords prefer US currency (maybe they are going on a trip to the States or something).
3. If you are making arrangements by email print out your correspondence and bring it with you, in case there is a misunderstanding.

4. Be sure to clarify in your written emails exactly which unit/dates you are making a deposit on, and you might mention that substitutions without prior agreement are not acceptable (unless you don't care).

5. If you are coming to Chacala between late April and early December you might clarify if the hot water will be working when you are here. Most local folks don't turn on the hot water until December. But often they will turn it on for you if you ask about it. If you are counting on air-con (it's usually here) get specific about extra costs, etc.

6. Make sure the facilities you are interested in will be available during your stay. For example, with the B&B actually be serving breakfast during your stay?
Does the beach in front of where you are staying actually have sand on it?
Is the pool or hot tub actually functioning?
What spa services will actually be available during your stay?
If you are staying the one "all-inclusive", will all meals be served during your stay? And so on.
Forewarned is forearmed. Better to know ahead of time if some facility you really care about won't be available. I am making these suggestions after watching the various misunderstandings that can happen between renters and rentees all over Mexico. These suggestions are not just for Chacala, but for any place you are making rental arrangements ahead of time and sight unseen.

Other Issues to Investigate Prior to Renting in a Small Mexican Village.
This case, Chacala.

1) Are there fighting cocks or roosters on the property, next door, or in the neighborhood?

2) Does the property have a history of problems with fleas or scorpions?

3) What happens if you find the property you rented to be uninhabitable or unavailable upon your arrival? Always check your rental before paying your remaining balance. This is a very unusual situation, but it has happened in the past, but not very often. Plumbing problems, reservation error, etc.

4) If you will be bringing a vehicle, is there off-road parking? Secure parking?

5) Will the facilities you are particularly interested in be available for your use during your visit? Examples: spa services, swimming pool, hot tub, yoga classes, massages, air-conditioning, cable TV, wireless internet connection, meals?

6) Are there guard-type dogs on the property? Next door? In the neighborhood?

7) Is the location noisy for your tastes? Examples are early morning traffic from fisherman or construction trucks, busy restaurant next door, teenage neighbors with loud stereos, all-night fiestas at your hotel.

8) Suggestions for things to bring: If you are particular about your pillows, bring you own if you are staying at one of the basic rentals. No rental allows their bath towels to be taken to the beach. Bring your own or plan to buy one. Or you blow dry yourself in the warm gentle breezes. Check about coffee machines in your unit if that’s important to you. Bring your own coffee or buy it from one of the superstores near the airport if you don’t care for instant coffee. Ditto good chocolate. There are no English language reading materials for sale in Chacala or Las Varas. The Bibliotecha has a selection of used fiction for trade or sale ($2.00 a volume). A bottle opener if you expect to drink bottled beverages at your rental home.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Chacala Info

This is a photo of the intersection of Highway 200, coming north from Puerto Vallarta, and theroadto Chacala. It's about 9 kileometers form here to the beach.


Chacala is a very small tourist and fishing village on the Pacific coast of Mexico, about 2 hours north of Puerto Vallarta. It is accessible via public transportation during the daylight hours. It has about a dozen restaurants, an internet cafe with satellite hookup ( open weekdays, usually), a beautiful sandy beach without rocks, kinder-grade 8 school facilities, several groceries, tourist shops, a couple of higher-end, small hotels at the south end of the beach (see Mar de Jade and Majahua web sites), and a hardware store.

Other services, such as a bank and ATM, dental and medical care, laundry services, fabric stores, internet places, hair salons, shoes stores, and intercity and interstate bus services, etc are located in Las Varas, about 10 kilometer away via taxi or collectivo.

Coming to Chacala and making a rental arrangement face-to-face is probably the best way to find an affordable, short or long-term rental. And that eliminates any surprises. As a word of warning, very few landladies here speak English. And from early December thru Easter week many places have already been rented, so it's probably better to have a reservation for those periods.

Of course, if you are equipped for it, there is always camping on the beach if you can't find a room.

See Chacala Vacation Rentals, for photos and contact info for almost every rental in Chacala. There are two larger places with there own extensive advertising budgets, so I don't include them here.

Or to Chacala Rentals for photos and contact info for all the locally owned rentals in Chacala

Techos de Mexico is a local organization that helps local families build nice and inexpensive tourist rental units.
The units are cleaned daily, with clean linens on request, but generally weekly (but generally not for montly rentals).
They have private entrances, with tiled floors and baths with hot water showers.
The construction is funded with co-op loans and partly built by volunteers.
Some Techos units have kitchens and most have patios or terraces.
All have glass windows with screens. Most units have two double beds.

For more information about Techos de Mexico rentals and photos check out their website

Monthly and Long Term Rentalst
The winter of 2006-07 was the first winter when a number of Chacala landladies became willing to rent by the month, at a seriously discounted rate. There are a number of lower-rent units available longer term in Chacala with monthly rents starting from about $300 USD a month and up. These units are with or without kitchens, cleaning and linen services, beach or ocean views, etc. At the higher end there are very nice units renting for from $USD1300
-1600 a month. These prices are for two-three-or-four month rentals during the winter months.

The best way to find an affordable monthly rental is to come here in early Fall to make arrangments. That's because many short-term visitors make reservations months ahead of time. Or contact me at

Friday, October 14, 2005

Buying and Building in Chacala

I have a few suggestions, and opinions, about buying real estate and building in the Chacala area. Or really, in Mexico. I am definitely not an expert about real estate in Chacala or anywhere else, but I do have some thoughts, or observations, on the topic, for what it’s worth.

1. Chacala is kind of different from most other towns I know of in Mexico. It is surrounded by large blocks of land (federal land and eijido) that aren’t, at this time, available to individual buyers. And another block is the gated development called the “Marina” (for some obscure reason, since there's no marina there) where the lots are very expensive.

Anyway, the federal government owns a large block of land between the beach and the paved road, and between the gateway to Majahua/Mar de Jade up to Chico’s restaurant. The Feds have apparently been trying to sell it to developers for years. The whole area, in one large block. That means more than half of land along the playa, the beach, in Chacala, is not available for individuals to buy. But it will most likely, be developed, sometime in the future.

Much of the area to the east and north of Chacala, no longer including the “Marina”(originally eijido land), is eijido land, owned communally since one of the Mexican Revolutions, by the Las Varas eijido group. I have been told that a few Chacala residents are members of that group.

About 500 small parcels, small building lots, were distributed to eijido members about seven or eight years ago. Some of those lots were re-sold to gringos, and other Mexicans. Some have been sold to visitors more recently. People who didn't know about the various complications regarding titles, building permits, and the current difficulty in getting a Bank Trust and building permits (required by law) for these lots.
At this point it is not possible to buy or sell these lots. Be careful about these lots. Some gringos and Mexicans wanting to sell their lots will tell you, "oh, no problem". But there's a big problems, so be careful.
The rest of the eijido land remains as a very large block of land, mostly to the north of Chacala, but also to the east. The little "colonia" of small vacation homes, is just east of the paved road, kind of uphill from the center of Chacala. These lots were lots from that distribution. Various eijido governments, which change every few years, have different ideas about what to do with the land, including selling it to a developer.

Apparently there are some court cases in progress about the disposition of the lots that were sold by eijido members, and on which maybe six have been built on by gringo owners. The titles for those lots seem to be pretty cloudy. And I don't think they have building permits. Maybe some do. And I don’t think anyone is selling them right now. But who knows? I hope no one is buying any of those lots until the legal issues are resolved.

In any case, with the ocean on one side, and a development with very expensive lots (the "marina"), and eijido land in legal limbo, and Federal land to the south, there aren’t many lots to be sold in Chacala, and the prices seem to be rising rapidly.

There are some lots being sold in Chacala proper, but many local people now understand about real estate prices and are holding off selling. There are some lots for sale up on the hillside to the south and the south east, back towards Las Varas, and up on the hill to the south of Chacala. Those are also expensive, small lots. And are also in the middle of complicated legal issues regarding their eijido status.

Chacala proper is a very small area, and the lots are generally very small, and built on lot-line to lot-line. There are some small, empty, infill, lots available in town. There are water lines along the street to most of the lots in Chacala proper. The water currently runs about 4-6 hours a day, and it stored at each house for household use. Phone lines are available in most of town, and probably ¾ of the houses have a formal, metered, electrical connection. No streets in Chacala itself are paved, except the road that runs from Las Varas to the “marina”. There is no sewage system in Chacala itself. Most of the houses have below ground cement/brick vaults for their waste water. I don’t know how sewage is handled in the development, the“marina”.

There is also a small development (maybe 45 acres) on the bluff on the south end of the beach. I am not sure what’s happening there. The access is from about a mile east of Chacala. No beach. It is/was also eijido land, so who knows, and is just currently installing a water system from a well about 7 miles from the develop. As of Sept 2007 I think there are two buildings being constructed up there.

2. People considering buying and or building in Chacala would do well to do lots and lots of research about owning property in Mexico. Including laws about real estate, history (de-evaluation in 1992), taxes, your legal status, medical care, banking costs and regulations, importing vehicles, importing household items, visas etc.

Banking processes are different, and are generally more expensive in Mexico. Transferring money from the U.S. can be very expensive if you or your realtor don’t know what you/they are doing. Legal protections, and the entire legal system, is different in Mexico. Being a U.S. or Canadian citizen doesn’t offer any protection, although it seems to be a common fantasy among gringos. Ignorance of Mexican law IS NOT an excuse for illegal acts.

Foreigners can not buy land within about 30 miles of Mexico's borders or the ocean.
Your options are to use a Bank Trust at a Mexican bank or to form a Mexican corporation, where a Mexican national owes either 49 or 51% of the corporation. Can't remember.

Also, if you haven't studied up on Mexican history, their last devaluation of the peso was only 15 years ago. 3. Some other thoughts. If you are thinking of living here, or visiting regularly, it’s definitely worthwhile if you go ahead and start learning Spanish. And once you find a lot, look into who your neighbors will be. For example, almost all the “marina” property owners are wealthy Mexicans, who may or may not be interested in socializing with buyers from the U.S. and Canada. Nor non-Spanish speakers.

The north end of Chacala seems to be attracting gringos: I think there are currently maybe 8 gringo-owned buildings or lots in that end of town. That maybe appealing to you, or it may not.

"Corruption" (otherwise known as income redistribution) in Mexico seems to be different than in the U.S.. In the U.S. I think most of the corruption is by the wealthy and highly placed political and business leaders. In Mexico it’s at every level, and much more open. It’s a different way of doing business. And you need to learn that system. The U.S. rules and customs do not apply. Always remember that the rules are different in Mexico, and it’s up to you to figure out what they are. Social customs are different too. The phrase "Mexican Time" exists because it's real and impacts how business and social life happens here.

Don’t assume you understand what’s going on. Ask questions. Get an independent translator to help you if necessary. And don’t hire the realtor’s cousin or friend or whatever.

4. Find a realtor who is recommended by someone you really trust. Anyone can sell property in Mexico. They are no rules. Look for someone who is affiliated with Realtors who have been in business in this area for more than a year or two. The laws of Mexico regarding property ownership are complex are are all the laws and regulations regarding buying and selling property here. People trying to sell real estate in Mexico often seem to misrepresent themselves.

Speaking English may or may not be a good predictor of quality real estate work.

Choosing a realtor is a “buyer beware” situation in Mexico. Be sure to find out if the person selling a home or lot to you has lots of experience in Mexico. Look for someone with the skills and knowledge they need to successfully complete legal real estate contracts in Mexico. Ask specific questions about their experience and background. Ask about who they work with to complete all the legal work, and find out what they think the timeline with be for completing a sale.

5. It might be a good idea to get references and find out how long your potential realtor has been selling real estate in Mexico, and how many transactions they have successfully closed.

Satisfied customers are probably the best recommendation. But sometimes the problems that come from incompetence in real estate transactions don’t show up for years. It’s a tricky business. Someone affiliated with a real estate agency is probably a good recommendation..

But remember that an agency having a familiar name, like “Century 21”, or "Prudential" or whatever, is not protection from malfeasance and errors. The name usually just means the agency paid to use that name. It's not even a franchise. If you get into a bad situation with one of these agencies there is no one to help you make things right. The local P.V. and Guadalajara papers discuss these kinds of situations regularly.

6. And the same holds for hiring a builder or contractor. Look for someone with experience in building in Chacala, or at least in Nayarit. And look for someone who has completed buildings that you can inspect. Hopefully buildings that were completed at least several years ago and have made it through a couple of rainy seasons. Again, speaking English is helpful, but having solid contracting and construction skills and a good relationship with local people, including officials maybe what really counts.

If your contractor doesn't pay all the very complicated payments regarding his employees, the government will come after you when then find out. And it could be years later. That's one of the reason is good to choose a contractor with a long track record.

I also have a strong opinion against allowing the builder to design the building. There are some pretty ugly buildings with structural problems in this area that were built without the help of an architect/engineer.

Hiring someone with experience in this climate and with local construction methods makes the most sense to me. And watch out for lot-line issues. And water drainage issues. Right now, when someone builds on a lot in Chacala with large rocks, they tend to bulldoze them onto the next lot. And if there are serious water drainage issues (during the rainy season), a typical solution it to add dirt fill to your lot, so the water goes unto someone else’s lot. You need to look around and figure out if the lot you are looking are has drainage problems.

This climate requires serious attention to keeping the sun and rain out of the house, and letting the natural light and breezes in. Cross ventilation is a necessary. Unless you are planning to live in an air conditioned tomb. No breezes, no birds singing, no sound of the waves. Outside covered patios are important, and also require protection from the sun and rain. And to allow natural light and breezes into the patios. Houses need to be oriented to the sun, with an awareness of how and where the sun will enter the house during different seasons. The designer should be aware of the prevailing winds and breezes, in order to cool the house naturally.

Chacala is very humid for abut half the year. Bathrooms must have adequate natural ventilation. Not the typical 8"X8" screened hole in the upper wall that is typical here. Bathrooms need natural light in addition to adequate ventilation. Nothing like a mold, damp, smelly bathroom to make your home pleasant. Storage for clothing and linen also need to have access to fresh air and protection from rain and sunlight. Clothes in closets in the summer get mildewy very quickly.

7. I think the bottom line is, don’t leave your brains at home when you are looking into buying real estate in Mexico. Be just as careful as you would be buying property in the U.S. or Canada. Real estate agents, used car salesmen, and lawyers are the same everywhere. Be careful. You wouldn’t make a deal in the U.S,. (I hope) when you didn’t understand what other people were saying to you, nor would you sign papers you couldn’t understand, and you shouldn’t don’t do it here. It’s a tricky business, and it may be hard to tell who to trust.

Do your research. Make sure you understand what you are actually buying, and what your rights are. And about what the taxes are, and how they are paid. And how to set up a bank account, and how to get your visa. And how to get a bank trust, and what it will cost you in the long run. And what you will do if there are problems with your bank. What the situation is with electrical , water, and phone/internet connections, etc. And who pays for what, and what kind of commissions are being paid, and to whom.

It is not rude to make sure you understand what you are getting into, and what it will cost. It’s smart. And if you don’t speak English or understand the system, you are going to have to put your trust and your money some someone’s else’s hands. So make sure you choose carefully who will handle your real estate transactions.

It seems that people have had a variety of experiences with local builders (from Chacala, Las Varas, and Nayarit mostly). I think references from satisfied customers really matters with builders. Builders with a proven track record. Because if you inspect a building that has been standing for three or four years, you can see how successful the builder was. And how well they did at following up on any problems. And if the proper payments have not been made for employees, or the proper permits obtained, you are responsible. And the government may not catch you until years later.

Just my opinion, obviously.