A sizable fraction of Barra hotels and restaurants lie on one oceanfront street named, uncommonly, after a conquistador, Miguel López de Legazpi. Barra’s other main street, Veracruz, one short block inland, has most of the businesses, groceries, and small family-run eateries.
Sandwiched between Barra’s two main streets is the modest block-square town plaza, known locally as the jardín, between east-west streets of Michoacán and Guanajuato. At the southeast corner of the jardín, you’ll find the town telegraph office and police station.
Head south along Legazpi toward the steep Cerro San Francisco in the distance and you will soon be on the palm-lined walkway that runs atop the famous sandbar of Barra. On the right, ocean side, the Playa Barra de Navidad arcs northwest to the hotels of Melaque, which spread like white pebbles along the far end of the strand. The great blue-water expanse beyond the beach, framed at both ends by jagged, rocky sea stacks, is the Bahía de Navidad.
Opposite the ocean, on the other side of the bar, spreads the tranquil mangrove-bordered expanse of the Laguna de Navidad, which forms the border with the state of Colima, whose mountains (including nearby Cerro San Francisco) loom beyond it. The lagoon’s calm appearance is deceiving, for it is really an estero (estuary), an arm of the sea that ebbs and flows through the channel beyond the rock jetty at the end of the sandbar. Because of this natural flushing action, local folks still dump fishing waste into the Laguna de Navidad. Fortunately, new sewage plants route human waste away from the lagoon, so with care, you can usually swim safely in its inviting waters. Do not, however, venture too close to the lagoon-mouth beyond the jetty or you may get swept out to sea by the strong outgoing current.
On the sandbar’s lagoon side, a panga and passenger dock hum with daytime activity. From the dock, launches ferry loads of passengers for less than half a dollar to the Colima shore, which is known as Isla Navidad, where the marina and hotel development has risen across the lagoon. Back in the center of town, minibuses enter town along Veracruz, turn left at Sinaloa by the crafts stalls, and head in the opposite direction, out of town along Mazatlán, Veracruz, and Highway 200, three miles (4.8 km) to Melaque.
The once-distinct villages of San Patricio and Melaque now spread as one along the Bay of Navidad’s sandy northwest shore. The business district, still known locally as San Patricio (from the highway, go west two blocks toward the beach), centers around a plaza, market, and church bordering the main shopping street, López Mateos.
Continue two more blocks to beachfront Calle Gómez Farías, where a lineup of hotels, eateries, and shops cater to the vacation trade. From there, the curving strand extends toward the quiet Melaque west end, where palapas line a glassy, sheltered blue cove. Here, a rainbow of colored pangas perch upon the sand, sailboats rock gently offshore, pelicans preen and dive, and people enjoy snacks, beer, and the cooling breeze in the deep shade beneath the palapas.