The last time I visited Puerto Vallarta was in 1999. So long ago, that my memories are fragmented. What remains in my mind are the miles of lush vegetation, the vibrant pastel colours and the salty air. Upon arrival, the welcoming warm breeze carried that familiar salty redolent that brought me back to my first visit. The now unfamiliar landscape had evolved dramatically – still lush, however proof of a region that has flourished in tourism was apparent, and the large expat population – a tell tale sign that there is something here to be desired. On this trip, I set out to rediscover Puerto Vallarta through a new lens.
As I sauntered endlessly along the pacific coast, through the city core and adjoining small towns, I was overwhelmed by the modern infrastructure juxtaposed with the shantytown vibe. On one hand you have all the amenities of any metropolitan city, and within minutes, you are smack in the middle of what a xenophile thrives in – culture, ethnic food and the warm reception from the locals.
I delved right into the colorful landscape with gusto and here is what I discovered:
There is no shortage of delicious food to appease one’s savory, sweet or spicy craving. I loved that many of the taco stands and restaurants were 3rd or even 4th generation operated, with such pride in their work. It is the ultimate farm to table and in some cases ocean to table fare for a paltry sum. Because I want to pack in as much as I can in a short amount of time, I had the best food tour experience through an expat couple that created Vallarta Food Tours. Through their knowledgeable guide, I was introduced to an array of local legends such as: Senor Concepcion, a Tuba vendor – Tuba is a refreshing beverage – in the downtown core and La Tia Anita who is known for her delicious tamales and atole. Tia Anita opens her home to locals and tourists on weekends only, her spacious backyard becomes a restaurant. If you want a rich cultural experience, I highly recommend the Taste of Pitillal Tour. The guides will also provide tips on what to look for when eating lunch or dinner from a street food stand. Quick tips include: 1. Make sure your plate is covered in a plastic bag – they don’t have washing stations so this is the alternative for now and 2: Don’t eat seafood from a stand in the afternoon, the fish was fresh in the morning and without proper refrigeration, you know what I mean….
In the downtown core, this minimalist gal fell in love with La Leche owned and operated by father-son team Nacho and Poncho (Alfonso) Cadena. The restaurant is white – the walls, the floor, the furniture and fixtures are all white with a slight touch of black. The menu? There is no set menu, instead, there is a large vertical blackboard that the staff fills in with the days offering. Presumably, you can eat there every day of the week and have something different. It all comes down to what Nacho and Pancho were inspired by in the market that day.
I met an expat from Canada who owns and operates a luxury chocolate boutique called Xocodiva Artisan Chocolates. She and her partner decided to pack up and move their life after vacationing in Puerto Vallarta. “We spent some time here and loved it. It was not a tough decision. The kids are all grown up and we wanted a change,” shared Charlotte who took a two-hour chocolate making course before opening the first Xocodiva location. They now have three locations and cater to the local community, tourists and luxury resorts in the state.
My home base for the week was Velas Vallarta in the tony marina district. I had a suite complete with two bedrooms, two full bathrooms, a furnished kitchen and living room. Whether you want all inclusive or to cook for yourself, this location caters to your needs. I enjoyed the large pool overlooking the ocean with the resident iguanas and peacocks that wander freely on the expansive grounds. I made the acquaintance of one iguana that I shared my apple with.
This location was ideal for me as I was less than ten minutes from the airport and the downtown core. It also has something for everyone: for singles or couples who want the all-inclusive fare, but are close enough to downtown to enjoy the local nightlife and for families, who want a resort with all the amenities (including entertainment) that will not disrupt the kid’s bedtime. The resort also has a separate kids pool and play area right beside it. And, enough staff to keep the kiddos occupied while mom and dad catch some alone time. For this intrepid traveler, peace and quiet is what I needed in the evenings and Velas Vallarta delivered. I was able to open the sliding door of my expansive balcony to hear the ocean and the occasion squawk from my friend the peacock – it is mating season.
With the waves literally at your feet, boogie boarding and surfing is available. You can take a 30-minute jaunt up the coast to the popular beach town of Sayulita to catch some waves or Stand Up Paddle. On this trip, I ventured out to Canopy River to try zip lining for the first time. This exhilarating half-day trip started at the highest peak, repelling down the mountain and trekking through the jungle. The final zip-line ended in the river followed by a tube ride in the lazy river. We made the long trek to the top of the mountain courtesy of the resident and hearty burrows. Outside of the exciting full morning at Canopy River, I thoroughly enjoyed the drive through the small town watching a mother cleaning the week load of laundry in the river as the local kids splashed about near by. The simplicity of life was beautiful to experience.
Feature image courtesy of Kirt Edblom via Flickr.
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