If you’re driving to Barra de Navidad, note your odometer mileage (or reset your tripometer to 0) as you pass the Pemex gas station at Km 214 on Highway 200 at the south edge of Puerto Vallarta . In the open southern country, mileage and roadside kilometer markers are a useful way to remember where your little paradise is hidden.
The trip to Barra de Navidad can take as little as three hours if you drive straight through on Highway 200, or as long as you wish depending on the stops and side trips you choose to make. Either way, it's a scenic road trip.
If you’re not driving, simply hop on one of the many southbound Autocamiones del Pacífico or Transportes Cihuatlán second-class buses just before they pass at the south-end gas station. Let the driver know a few minutes beforehand where along the road you want to get off.
In a beautiful jungly setting, Chino's Paradise  is 13 miles (22 km, at Km 192) south of Puerto Vallarta on Highway 200. It's a great place to stop for a swim, horseback tour, or canopy tour.
At Km 170 (27 mi/44km from Puerto Vallarta), El Tuito  is a friendly, colonial-era town known as the mescal capital of western Jalisco.
Now it's time to cut over to the coastline. Take the road from the southwest corner of the El Tuito town plaza. (Mark or reset your tripometer.) About eight miles (13 km) from the plaza, you’ll pass through the lands of the Cicatán mescal cooperative. The road dips up and down the rest of the way. You can’t get lost, because there’s only one route until a few miles past Los Conejos, where a fork (23 mi/37 km) marks your approach to Aquiles Serdán.
Take the right branch and you’ll arrive at the Río Tecolotlán. The sleepy fishing village of Aquiles Serdán  stands on the far bank.
Back at the fork, continue on the left branch for about three miles and you'll come to another fork (26 mi/42 km). The right branch takes you to Teuhalmixtle  where you can enjoy snorkeling or scuba diving around a sunken shrimp trawler.
Back at the fork, continue southeast on the main road through the villages of Ipala, Peñitas, Mismaloya, and Cruz de Loreto. Head east 10 miles from Cruz de Loreto and you'll be back on Highway 200 at the Km 133 marker, just 23 miles (37 km) south of where you left at El Tuito.
About one mile south, at Km 131, take the turnoff for nine miles (the first 5 miles are paved) to Cajón de Las Peñas Reservoir  where you can go fishing, swimming, boating, and hiking.
Return to Highway 200 and continue south. At Km 88, head six miles toward the shoreline on a signed dirt road to get to Playa Chalacatepec . (The dirt road veers right about five miles along, you should continue straight.) There is good surfing, bodysurfing, and swimming here. Bring your own water.
Back on Highway 200, head south to Km 83 (81 mi/130 km south of Puerto Vallarta) and turn right at the signed Quémaro village side road. Continue three miles west to the gate to Las Alamandas  (tel. 322/285-5500, toll-free U.S./Can. tel. 888/882-9616, www.alamandas.com ). Be sure to make arrangements ahead of time so you are expected, otherwise you will be turned away.
Return to the highway and continue south to Chamela Bay  at Km 72, the actual village of Chamela is at Km 63. Here you'll find honey-yellow sand beaches lining the calm, island-dotted bay and more than a few bungalow-style accommodations.
From Chamela, head south on Highway 200 to Playa Careyes  at Km 52. Although Playa Careyes is a gated beach, you do not need to make advance arrangements to gain access. The El Careyes Beach Resort  is nearby.
From Playa Careyes, Playa las Brisas  lies hidden just a few miles off the highway near Km 36. Take the signed turnoff for Arroyo Seco. Playa las Brisas is just beyond the village.
Just past the Arroyo Seco turnoff, take the paved side road at Km 33 (it's marked with a white lighthouse) to Playa el Tecuán . There's a beautiful abandoned hotel here and some great opportunities for spotting wildlife.
At Km 27, a signed, paved road leads 5.4 miles (8.7 km) to Playa Tenacatita  with a couple of beaches and more wildlife viewing opportunities.
The isolated all-inclusive Blue Bay Club los Angeles Locos  (tel. 315/351-5020, toll-free Mex. tel. 01-800/713-3020, toll-free U.S. tel. 800/483-7986, fax 315/351-5412, www.losangeleslocos.com ) is four miles (6 km) off Highway 200 at Km 20. If you're not planning to stay at the resort, call ahead if you would like to take a tour.
Beyond the Blue Bay Club, Playa Boca de Iguanas  curves along the bay for miles. To get to the beach, take the signed turnoff at Km 17.
Playa la Manzanilla  lies at the opposite end of the bay from Playa Boca de Iguanas. It's a great spot for fishing.
The coast's newest development, complete with access to extensive resort facilities, is at El Tamarindo  (tel. 315/351-5032, toll-free Mex. tel. 800/909-4800, fax 315/351-5070, www.eltamarindoresort.com ). Take the signed side road from Km 8 for two miles to get to the gate. You'll need to have a rservation or an appointment before the guard will let you through.
Back on Highway 200, Barra de Navidad  lies just five miles farther.