Puerto Vallarta | Mexico
A building in the shape of a giant half buried Modelo can. A muddy river snaking through a lush tropical landscape. So much green, and surprisingly well manicured. Not at all messy from the air. Our plane touched down in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and as we heard the loud vibrating screech of the brakes, I looked over at my husband and expressed my surprise at the landscape we had landed in. I wasn't expecting mountains and I wasn't expecting everything to be clean and organized. I had expected Mexico to be like the tropical places we had visited in India. I was wrong.
"Pacifico and Tequila, that's what we drink here. And always pay in pesos. No dollars. Only pay in pesos," our cab driver informed us as he took us from the airport to our hotel. He also told us that even though we were taking a federal taxi, which are supposed to be more reliable than yellow taxis, the woman from whom we bought a ticket for the ride ripped us off. She charged us an extra 100 pesos (~$6USD) for paying in US Dollars. We realized after about a day into our holiday that we could have paid even less (about half) had we taken a yellow taxi, but it was our first day and we were unfamiliar with the norms. There was no ATM at the airport, and since we didn't exchange any money before exiting customs, we had no choice but to pay in USD. However, with the exchange rate at about 17 pesos to the dollar, we didn't complain - the trip ended up being quite a bargain.
Let’s face it, Puerto Vallarta is a tourist destination. The coast is lined with resorts and you see much of the same in markets that you see in other places of the world. Instead of turning up our noses at the kitsch of it all, we got over the fact that we were visiting an “on the beaten path” tourist destination and enjoyed it. The mountains are stunning and the beaches warm (albeit a little rocky). Puerto Vallarta is a a great destination for families and/or groups of people with different interests and traveling styles and, as with most places, has a lot more to offer if you scratch below the surface.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel Yasmin | Basilio Badillo 168, Emilliano Zapata, 48380 Puerto Vallarta | +52 322 222 0087 | A bargain at $40-$60/night
We spotted Hotel Yasmin's courtyard through a window while eating lunch in the Zona Romantica at Cafe de Ollo. Three stories of rooms overlooked a courtyard with a pool, each room's window trim and door frame painted a different color - lime green, marigold, and peach. Bright lavender and bubble gum pink paint added even more color to the space. Mini Christmas wreaths adorned every door and a deep green vine covered half of the wall by the pool. Paintings of Frida were sprinkled throughout. Colorful, Mexican decor in a homey setting in the romantic zone and it's only 300 meters from the beach.
Cinco22 | Hidalgo 522, Centro, 48300 Puerto Vallarta | +52 322 222 2904 | $80/night/room or rent out all 8 bedrooms for $479/night
Tucked away in the streets of Viejo Vallarta, Cinco22 invites you in first with it's living wall at street level, and then with it's wood paneled ceiling that you can spy through it's windows from the street. Charming rooms, covered patio, and great views of the city for a fantastic price.
Villa Premiere | Calle San Salvador 117, 5 de Diciembre, 48350 Puerto Vallarta | +52 322 226 7040 | $180-$250/night
If you want to stay on the beach, Villa Premiere is a nice, reasonable priced option. The rooms have been recently renovated, the beds are comfortable, and every room has an ocean view. We liked that it was in walking distance to old town but at the end of a string of resorts, only having a neighbor to the south, so the beach was quieter than other areas. Also, it's adults only. Two thumbs up for that! Champagne and a five minute massage greet you on arrival. Yoga on the beach every morning.
Insider tips: Try to avoid the loyalty program pitch if you can (it's 2 hours long and although they offer coupons, your vacation time is more valuable than the discounts) and get to the beach before 8:30am to claim a cabana (they're free but first come first serve).
WHAT TO DO
EXPLORE OLD TOWN | My favorite part of Puerto Vallarta was exploring old town. Cobblestone streets, colorful buildings and interesting murals. Not to mention shopping and restaurants. Unlike other places I've visited, it seemed that Puerto Vallartans live in old town and the expats live in the hills.
SHOP THE ISLA RIO CUALE MERCADO | The River Cuale separates El Centro (downtown) from Viejo Vallarta (old town) and as it gets close to the sea, separates to create an island that is home to a market and restaurants. It's nice to stroll through the market under the canopy of the trees with the river running beside you, browsing for souvenirs.
PLAY (OR RELAX) ON THE BEACH | This goes without saying really.
VISIT SAYULITA | Take a day trip to (or stay at) this less developed surfing town an hour away.
GET YOUR TOURIST ON AND GO ON AN EXCURSION | If you want to go the tourist route, go on an excursion with Vallarta Adventures. The staff is friendly, helpful and funny. They seem to love their jobs (or are great actors!). If you want a more authentic experience, avoid these tours altogether.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
Pepe’s Tacos | Calle Honduras 145C, 5 de Diciembre, 48350 Puerto Vallarta | +52 322 223 1703 | 1:00 PM – 6:00 AM
Hands down the BEST al pastor tacos we've ever had in our lives. A big hole in the wall with quick service and sanitized veggies. We ate here at least three times and I'm still dreaming about that al pastor.
Cafe des Artistes | Guadalupe Sanchez 740, Col. Centro, 48300 Puerto Vallarta | +52 322 222 3228
Great for your last night here. Gourmet food in an unbelievably charming setting. Make sure to reserve your table at least a few days in advance so that you can sit in the outdoor area - a jungle like cove with raindrop shaped glass lanterns hanging from the ceiling to imitate a night sky. Truly dreamlike. We recommend the cucumber jalapeno martini. It's not spicy, we promise!
El Campanario | Hidalgo 335, Centro, Puerto Vallarta (across from Puerto Vallarta's most recognizable church, Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe)
Authenic Mexican food where you'll be dining with more locals than gringos despite it's location in the Gringo Gulch neighborhood. Five people dining with Pacifico's cost us less than $30USD (but we paid in pesos, of course). Our waiter was also gracious to my spanglish ("dos crispy tacos pollo"). The tamales and pozole were the real hits of the group.
Los Muertos Brewery | Address: Lázaro Cárdenas 302, Emiliano Zapata, 48380 Puerto Vallarta | Phone: +52 322 222 0308 | Hours: Mon-Sun, 12pm-12am
You can get a Pacifico, Victoria, Modelo, or Corona just about anywhere in Puerto Vallarta, but if you get a hankering for heavier, more flavorful beer, head over to PV's first craft brewery: Los Muertos Brewery. The Agave Maria Amber Ale and El Jefeweizen Summer Wheat were our fav
The People's Guide to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - Fathom by Felisa Rosa Rodgers