Where To Go And What To Do In Popular Puerto Vallarta
In this blog post the boss’s sister Amanda goes to popular Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to help a friend celebrate her birthday. There are a lot of different ways to travel the world but Amanda’s the type who likes to get her hands in the dirt. She’s equally at home off-the-beaten-track engaging with the locals as she is sipping margaritas in the Zona Romantica. And as we’ll hear, even in this hyper-visited cruise ship capital Amanda was able to find the authentic nooks and crannies that make every destination unique. She gave me the run down on her trip during a crazy-long call from her home in Port Moody.
Puerto Vallarta need to know
Puerto Vallarta is located in Jalisco State on Mexico’s Pacific coast and is roughly twice the size of Victoria. Jalisco is famous for mariachi bands, tequila, the Ballet Folklórico, the Mexican Hat Dance, charros, sombreros and is one of the country’s most important tourist destinations. PV itself sits in the foothills and beach area of the Sierra Madre Mountains which provide an epic jungle-covered backdrop. Also if Puerto Vallarta is new to you be aware that it’s also referred to as PV, PVR or even just Vallarta by the locals. Sun flights to Puerto Vallarta were halted during Covid, but are now back to normal with tens of thousands of Canadians heading to Jalisco for its sun, surf and beach resorts. Amanda was one of them!
Amanda is a frequent international traveller
From the get go I should say Amanda is a super experienced traveller and going to Mexico is not her first rodeo. She’s been to a lot of different countries, far too many to list here, and she’s also been all over Mexico: Cancun, Cozumel, Tulum, Playa del Carmen and multiple stops in Puerto Vallarta and environs. She also spent her honeymoon in PV, but it’s been more than 20 years since her last visit and she was curious to see how much the city had changed. In part because she has changed as a traveller. Think Anthony Bourdain.
Amanda is a huge fan of the now-deceased celebrity chef, author and travel documentarian. She said he was a kind of mentor who inspired her to become more engaged and less passive when on the road. In other words, nuevo Amanda is looking for more than a few drinks at the swim-up bar and hanging out by the pool. She likes to get in there and mix it up, take risks, try new foods, meet new people and shake that tree of life 🙂
“I’m passionate about travel. I love getting out on the road, learning about other cultures, seeing how other people live. When I get where I’m going I can’t stay still very long, I love the sense of adventure, the newness, I think getting out in the world is a key thing driving my life now you know.”
On and off the beaten track in Puerto Vallarta
One of Amanda’s favourite parts of Puerto Vallarta is historic Old Town with it’s cobblestone streets, churches, cafes, bars, shops and restaurants. Old Town is also known colloquially as the Romantic Zone and is the heart and soul of this former fishing village. At the water’s edge, Los Muertos Beach and the famous Malecon provide a focal point for visitors, but the further you move inland the more you become immersed in local life. Traditional neighbourhoods emerge, tourists disappear and the untouched charm of old Puerto Vallarta reveals itself. It’s what day-to-day life looks like behind the scenes. It’s how the locals live and what Amanda loves:
“It does feel touristy along the Malecon but if you get off the beaten track and explore it’s a totally different experience. I love to walk around the back streets and be adventurous. There are lots of interesting shops selling things like vintage pillows, heavy leather purses and Mexican ceramics. You also see the people. One day I saw a couple of kids playing soccer so I got stuck in 🙂 I did the same thing in Peru! You see lots of young families living authentic lives. One was tending to a taco making machine on the corner of the street cooking them from start to finish. This is real life for this family, not something touristy.”
Having said that Amanda admits it’s difficult to separate the two. Puerto Vallarta’s modern identity depends on tourism and the money it brings in. It’s a far cry from 1963 when no-one had ever heard of PV. That all changed when Hollywood director John Huston and the cast of The Night Of The Iguana rolled in. The paparazzi documenting film star Richard Burton and his famous affair with Elizabeth Taylor put Puerto Vallarta on the map.
In fact, one of Amanda’s stops this trip was to see some of the old film sets — the Bridge of Love, Casa Kimberley and the beach at Mismaloya. The film is about freedom, the suppression of desire and what it means to be human, the sort of thing that would’ve interested Bourdain. But a visit to the sets made perfect sense for Amanda too who works as the Film Coordinator for the City of Coquitlam.
It’s ok to love Puerto Vallarta for what it is: an incredible holiday destination!
Puerto Vallarta’s most consistent and enduring feature is the weather. Amanda and her friends were there for seven days from late October into early November. It was 30°C every day and so most of their stay was spent outdoors. And if you’re outdoors in PV you have to walk the Malecon. The Malecon is a leafy mile-long esplanade where everyone hangs out. It begins at the famous sail at the Muelle de Playa los Muertos in the Romantic Zone, arcs around the Bay of Banderas and ends at The Millennia statue. Amanda said it’s super fun with lots going on, it’s one place you shouldn’t miss
“The Malecon is full of action, a perfect place to walk, run, hangout, eat, drink or people watch. There are musicians playing, cool sculptures, busy bars, shops and restaurants. There are market stalls with beaded jewellery, colourful baskets, Mexican shawls, lucha libre masks, silver, leather goods and other touristy things. It’s legal to drink beer, tequila or margaritas anywhere along the concrete boulevard. There’s live music at the Los Arcos amphitheatre, great street food and not just Mexican food either! One evening we went for a candle-light dinner at Le Palapa near the beach. The whole Malecon was bathed in coloured neon light. Really impressive.”
Day trips around Puerto Vallarta are a great idea
Another thing Amanda says you should definitely do is a day-trip or two and get out of the city. You don’t need to be in PV to go scuba diving, parasailing, snorkelling, swimming or renting jet skis. Amanda mentioned that Sayulita, an hour north of PV on the coast, is a hot spot for exciting Utility Task Vehicle (UTV) adventuring and a perfect day trip. So is sailing to Las Islas Marietas and zip-lining at the Nogalito Eco Park or you can just chill out with a sunset boat tour or even a simple bus trip to see the local countryside. There’s no pressure, and it’s all good 🙂
“One day we took a bus to Boca de Tomatlan about 40 mins south of PV where we jumped on a busy water taxi to Yelapa. Yelapa is actually on the mainland, but it’s easier to get there by boat. If you’re lucky you can see humpback whales on the way over, we didn’t see any this time – although we did see some from our oceanfront timeshare! The town of Yelapa is quaint and adorable, but you also get to see what rural Mexico looks like. A lot of people do the 10km hike up to the Yelapa waterfalls. You have to wade across a river to get there, but it’s definitely worth the effort.”
The Day of the Dead on your winter trip to Puerto Vallarta?
Amanda and her friends were also lucky enough to be in Puerto Vallarta for the Mexican Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. If you’re planning a holiday to PV this time of year, November 2nd is a good date to keep in mind. This is when Mexicans celebrate and remember deceased family members and loved-ones. Yes it’s all about death, but Amanda says it’s also about memory, love and respect and so most of the time it’s a joyous, uplifting and happy celebration of life.
“On the Day of the Dead the Malecon was packed with mourners. It’s true there were a lot of tourists, but there were a lot of locals too. It’s very colourful. Red, blue and black skulls made from papier-mache and sugar are everywhere. There’s a lot of skeletons. You can buy posters of the famous La Catrina and ornate memorials full of flowers, candles and the favorite foods and liquor of the dead lined the entire Malecon – btw: Malecon is Spanish for boulevard. People were very respectful of these memorials. It was a great spectacle and fun to be part of it.”
With everything going on it’s easy to forget that Amanda was in Puerto Vallarta for her friend’s birthday! One celebration took place at Barcelona Tapas Puerto Vallarta, a tapas-style fusion resto on top of the city with expansive views of the Bahía de Banderas and the Pacific Ocean. I couldn’t get much out of Amanda about this dinner or their nights out in the Zona Romantica for that matter – apparently what happens in PV stays in PV 🙂
“Not true! 🙂 The Romantic Zone is loud and a bit brash, full of tourists and ex-pats and an excellent place to enjoy a margarita or two. It’s really welcoming and the centre of all things fun in PV and is also regarded as the most gay-friendly place in Mexico. So there’s quite a few bars there that cater to the LGBT+ community. Barcelona Tapas Puerto Vallarta was much different. Quieter. Elegant. More sophisticated. Three of us shared lots of different dishes. I forget exactly what we had but pork tenderloin, tacos and yes lots of wine :)”
Is Puerto Vallarta safe? Can I drink the water? Do I need travel vaccines?
Just before I got off the phone with Amanda I asked her two questions I can hear my mum asking me about PV: how safe is it, and can you eat the food without getting sick? Here’s what Amanda said. PV is very safe, you can walk the backstreets, take the bus or go anywhere by taxi, and it’s very unlikely you will be ripped off, mugged or robbed. In fact, renowned travel magazine Condé Nast once named Puerto Vallarta as “the friendliest city in the world.” Violent crime rates are low, but Amanda says you should apply the same rules in PV as you would in Vancouver: Avoid going to poorly lit areas, probably not a good idea to be out late by yourself and be smart about it.
On the food and water front Amanda was a lot more cautious. She said you can definitely eat the food – including street food – but to be 100% safe you should get vaccinated and carry the right travel medicines. For instance, Amanda has had a complete set of Twinrix shots which protects her from Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. These illnesses are endemic to Mexico which means you could be exposed to them. She also took Dukoral vaccine before she departed, and put Gravol and Pepto Bismol in her medical kit to manage stomach issues related to food or water consumption. And even though PV has a new state of the art water treatment system Amanda says personally she wouldn’t risk it:
“I would never drink water out of the tap in Puerto Vallarta. Lots of buildings have old leaky pipes. Always drink bottled water even to brush your teeth. To be honest you need to be really vigilant. Ice cubes are made from water and every day fresh food is washed in water which could be contaminated. It’s really why you need to be vaccinated. You just don’t know what’s happening in the food prep area. And you definitely don’t want to end up in a Puerto Vallarta hospital. The medical system in Mexico is not like Canada. It is completely unreliable, you should also definitely have travel health insurance. In Mexico it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
The international traveller’s reality check
This is the section in my blog post where I ask my guest to tell me one thing among all the amazingness they experienced that could spoil, taint or otherwise affect/shape someone else’s experience of the holiday destination we are talking about. As always Amanda is money:
“Is there anything about Puerto Vallarta I don’t like? Yes, the timeshare sellers at the airport! When you get off the plane, just outside customs, you are immediately confronted by a gauntlet of people trying to sell you on timeshares. They are relentless. It can be overwhelming for first time travellers. You can get roped in very easily. My advice: keep your eye on the prize and focus. Be aware of your destination, keep moving through the airport, do not stop and chat, stick to your plan to get to your destination. Believe me these salespeople are annoying ”
Where to next Amanda?
“I really want to go on a safari in Africa, but something different, off the beaten track, unusual. Then there’s Thailand and the Philippines, I love the Filipino people. My middle sister – I’m the oldest of three sisters – lives in the mountains in Bali and likes to take cooking classes which I’d love to try. Again something different as Bali is better known for its beaches. Japan and its islands interest me. Argentina. Oh and the Samoan Islands. A friend of mine used to go there every summer and come back really tanned and I’ve always wanted to go.”
Adios Puerto Vallarta until next time
Overall Amanda said Puerto Vallarta is awesome, especially if you are going to Mexico for the first time. There’s honestly something for everyone. We’ve barely mentioned PV’s famous “all-inclusives resorts,” the bar and nightclub scene, Marina Vallarta, the cruise ship port and all the other things that make Puerto Vallarta a top tourist destination for Canadians heading south. But this was Amanda’s trip 🙂 For more info about Puerto Vallarta in general check out the links below.
How to get to Puerto Vallarta
To get to Puerto Vallarta Amanda jumped on a Flair Jet – one of many airlines offering a 5 hour non-stop service from YVR to Puerto Vallarta International Airport (PVR). At Xmas and spring break expect to pay $500-600 for a flight, but there are some real deals to be had in the in-between periods. A week at a local hotel according to Trivago varies significantly depending on where you stay and how much comfort you require! l’ll leave that up to you 🙂 Otherwise Amanda says all travel restrictions have been lifted in the post-COVID world meaning a valid international passport is all you need to enter Mexico.
Where’s the best place to stay in Puerto Vallarta?
There are A LOT of places to call home in Puerto Vallarta. Here’s where the TravelLemming thinks you should stay. Convenient all-inclusive resorts are a very popular option and even though Amanda isn’t sold on them you can check out 10 of the best here. Amanda’s meet-the-people-approach to travel meant staying at a friend’s beachfront timeshare 5 minutes south of Puerto Vallarta in Conchas Chinos. (That’s Conchas Chinos in the photo at the top). Like a lot of timeshares in PV, it is located in a hotel near the beachfront. The Lindo Mar has regular rooms and timeshares in the same building, classic Mexican decor, a bar, restaurant and swimming pool and looks out to a short beach and the Pacific Ocean. In short, perfectly located to explore the best of Puerto Vallarta.
And finally …
A big thank you to Amanda for taking the time to talk to us about her trip to Puerto Vallarta. Amanda also withstood quite a few no-doubt annoying text messages where I was looking for clarification or photos. The “I-Survived-Ian’s-Interview” t-shirt is in the mail 🙂 Again thanks Amanda.
30 Things To Do In Puerto Vallarta Suggested By Trip Advisor
Top 5 Day Trips From PV According To The Lonely Planet
10 Best All-Inclusives in Puerto Vallarta