A Return Visit to Paradise: Puerto Vallarta

Our Lady of Guadalupe cathedral, view from Bay of Banderras
Our Lady of Guadalupe cathedral, view from Bay of Banderras

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]capulco, Cancun, Iztapa-Zihuatanejo, Tijuana, Guadalajara and Mazatlan are cities in Mexico that I have visited in the past 10 years. The North American Travel Journalist Conference allowed me to spend four days in Puerto Vallarta, which I had last visited 8 years ago as a guest of Continental Airlines. Conde Nast Magazine called it “the friendliest city in the world.” AARP voted Puerto Vallarta the top destination for Americans to retire overseas. U.S. News & World Report voted it the #2 place to visit in Mexico as well as the #4 best spring break destination. There are 330 days of sunshine and the average temperature is 83 degrees. Many airlines fly into the newly renovated and expanded Gustavo Diaz Ordaz International Airport. The Puerto Vallarta Tourist Board through their public relations firm Latitude arranged the airfare. It was Aero Mexico down, through Mexico City and Delta back, leaving from Guadalajara, through Atlanta. Puerto Vallarta sits on the same latitude as the Hawaiian Islands, and enjoys a consistent sub-tropical climate throughout the year with the rainy season limited to June through September.

Puerto Vallarta is located in the state of Jalisco, on the Pacific coast of Mexico. It is the same state where Guadalajara and Tequila (yes, there is a town with that name) are located. The area features 40 miles of coastline and includes tropical jungles, rocky river beds, steep mountainsides and arid flat lands. Its 256,000 residents welcome over 3.9 million visitors a year, second only to Cancun. 1.5 million are visitors from the United States and Canada. It is also a very popular port of call for cruise ships on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. 50% of the population works in tourist related industries. The city is the most gay friendly in all of Mexico. There was an LGBT convention in town while we were there. The city was made famous (or infamous) by the 1964 movie Night of the Iguana, filmed entirely on location. Written by Tennessee Williams and directed by John Huston it starred Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr. Elizabeth Taylor had a relationship with Richard Burton during the filming. Both were married to other people at the time and they purchased a house –Casa Kimberley– that was separated by what is now called “The Bridge of Love”. John Huston was enamored with the city and built a house at a nearby isolated cove called Las Caletas (more of that later) where he lived part time until his death in 1987.

The city is divided into the Marina, hotel zone, downtown, zona romantic and the south. The South Shore is where the Sierra Madre Mountains meet Banderas Bay creating many secluded beaches, coves and rivers. Downtown and Los Muertos Beach is the heart of the city with restaurants, bars, nightlife and shopping. It is very walk-friendly with its cobble-stoned streets, wrought-iron balconies and red-tiled roofs. The Malecon (boardwalk) lines the beach for 10 blocks and is home to much of the sand sculpture and public art. Travel and Leisure Magazine named Puerto Vallarta the best beach in Latin America in 2014. It is there that the Arcos (Arches) lead to the town’s main square with their open-air concerts and performances. The landmark Iglesias de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe church is a must stop here. The Hotel Zone stretches from downtown to Marina Vallarta and includes many high-rise condos, as well as hotels.

Our headquarters hotel was the 345 all-suite, all-inclusive Velas Vallarta Suite Resort & convention center (see my Trip Advisor review- Servicio Fantastico) with some events at the next door sister hotel- Casa Vallarta. Located on the 18-hole Marina Vallarta Golf Course this is an adult only 80 suite all-inclusive property. They both were located in the Marina Vallarta area, Mexico’s largest with 500 slips. There are shops, art galleries and restaurants as well as the golf course. Nuevo Vallarta is a planned residential and resort community just north of the airport. The conference for NATJA brought over 125 travel journalists to town.

The Best of Puerto Vallarta

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Best view from a restaurant of water – Le Kliff

Perched on the edge of a cliff a short drive south of downtown it offers spectacular views of the ocean. The men’s room has a giant boulder formation over the urinals with constant water flowing. Seafood is their specialty.

For more information, go to www.lekliff.com.

Best view from a restaurant of the city – Vista Grill Restaurant and Lounge

It overlooks Puerto Vallarta and Banderas Bay. The temperature controlled wine room is next to the bar. It was awarded a Five Star Diamond Award from the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences. Sit outside on the multi-level terraces for a perfect view of the sunset.

For more information, go to www.vistagrill.com.

Best in-town restaurant setting – Café des Artistes

located downtown with two separate restaurants. We ate in the canopied multi-level garden with vertical lighting reflecting from the trees above the tables. They have a comprehensive wine library. “It is an environment in which patrons are inspired by the relationship between architecture and landscape.”

For more information, go to www.cafedesartistes.com.

Most beautifully decorated restaurant – La Leche

The restaurant is visually amazing. Everything is white on white with milk cans for decoration. The large tables in the middle of the restaurant are communal. Everyone sits together and shares. The bag on top of the plate? That is your bread and it is delicious! Each night the menu at La Leche changes based on the fresh ingredients the chef (Alfonso Cadena) receives from local vendors. The noise level is maddening with the non-padded and very high ceilings.

For more information, go to www.lalecherestaurant.com.

Best art collection and best musical trio – River Café

Live music and a natural environment. Infinity water fountain, tropical vegetation and art work by Oleo. And the food was great.

For more information, go to www.rivercafe.com.mx.


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Most romantic hotel and best place to get married – Hacienda San Angel

14 suites in this luxury boutique hotel located just up from the Guadalupe Church. There is a private chapel across the street for weddings with two suites for the bride and groom and their families.

For more information, go to www.haciendasanangel.com.

Best children’s program & Best Tequila selection – Marriott Casa Magna Resort

The only hotel I have ever heard of that had its own resident clown to entertain the children of guests. The children’s club provides activities for kids 4-12. The hotel has its own Tequila sommelier that oversees their 170-label collection. The property was also awarded top recognition from Mexico’s National Tequila Regulatory Council.

For more information, go to www.casamagnapuertovallarta.com.

Best Spa Treatment – Secrets Hotel

Hydrotherapy water treatments- Hot, cold, swirling, neck, back, shoulders. All self-service and wonderfully refreshing.

For more information, go to www.secretsresort.com/vallarta-bay-puerto-vallarta.

Friendliest staff and best service – Velas Vallarta and Casa Velas

Velas Vallarta (family all suite all inclusive) and its sister adjacent property Casa Velas (adult all suite all inclusive).

For more information, go to www.velasvallarta.com and www.hotelcasavelas.com.

Best hideaway for the 1% – Nemi Eco Villa – Airbnb & Villa Rental

Joe & Nicole Sanchez moved to Puerto Vallarta from Chicago in 2008.  As an architect he designed this 6-bedroom villa from shipping containers and to be environmentally friendly (composting, flowered plants etc.). Rented through Airbnb & Villa Rentals for $800-$1,500 night (3 night minimum) plus the cost of food ordered by the staff (included). Not a hotel, one can rent the whole villa or the top 3 or bottom 3 bedrooms. High season is late November thru late March.

For more information, go to http://nemiecovilla.com.

Best former private home converted to small inn – Luna Liquida Boutique Hotel

14 rooms spread over 5 villas. Added a new section to the owners former home.

For more information, go to www.lunaliquida.mx/en/.

Best new non-chain hotel – Hotel Mousai

72 suite and adult only- AAA 5 Diamond. Opened December 2014 on the property above the Garca Blanca Preserve Resort- 172 room family-friendly. River on the property with the mountains behind the hotel that are part of the hotel. $250 PP all inclusive low season & $750 in high season.

For more information, go to www.hotelmousai.com.

Best new chain hotel – Hyatt Ziva

First hotel for this new concept. Opened December 20, 2014. I stayed at the Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall adult all-inclusive in Jamaica (next to the Ziva). It was a different hotel before being refurbished. 335 rooms- all-inclusive family oriented. There is a 24-hour deli in addition to the other restaurants. Wi-Fi included.

For more information, go to http://puertovallarta.ziva.hyatt.com.


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Best public art – El Malecon

While we were there The Last Supper was on display made from the sand on the beach. There are also permanent sculpture pieces along the 2,854-foot long boardwalk.

For more information, go to www.puertovallarta.net/what_to_do/puerto-vallarta-malecon.php.

Best beach – Las Caletas

Once the private home of film director John Huston, it is now a private beach hideaway (exclusive to Vallarta Adventure customers) on Banderas Bay accessible only by sea. This tropical beach hideaway has places for lunch/dinner, swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, sunbathing or strolling along the jungle paths There is also a parrot, monkey, owl area with opportunities to learn about and pose with any or all of them. Our group had dinner after the show called Rhythms of the Night. Be aware that it is a long uneven walk from the ship to the show & then to the restrooms. I saw several people fall. The crew on the boat was very talented and put on several musical shows.

For more information, go to www.vallarta-adventures.com/tours/las-caletas-day-trip.

Best rock formation – Los Arcos (arches) National Marine Park

Small granite islands that jut out of the water. The largest is 82 feet high and boats can go through those rocks. Lots of birds, snorkeling and diving.

For more information, go to www.visit-vallarta.com/discover/landmarks/los-arcos-national-marine-park.

Coolest way to go swimming – Horseback riding to hot springs

Start out at a real working ranch nestled in the Sierra Madre foothills. Go for a ride, and then stop to bathe in the volcanic hot springs and after the ride, relax at the Hacienda, eat or drink at the restaurant, and learn about how tequila is made. Rocks are slippery.

For more information, go to www.puertovallartatours.net/horse-back-ride-swim.htm.


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Best Airport Lounge used on my trip – Air France JFK Terminal 1 – Part of the Delta Sky Team

Waiting for my early Aero Mexico flight I had a wonderful breakfast, comfortable chairs and free Wi-Fi.

Worst Airport Lounge used on my trip – Amex Centurion Lounge in Mexico City

I had a 3-hour layover and looked forward to using this lounge. My Amex Platinum card gained admission. It reminded me of a hotel lobby; crowded and sterile. You paid for food & alcohol.  What’s that about?

Most under appreciated workers at airports – the people pushing the wheelchairs

I have neuropathy and needed a chair in Mexico City and Atlanta. Please tip them generously (almost no one does). They are mostly mature women paid at or below the minimum wage.

Best non-human visitor – Peacocks that roamed the grounds and slept on balcony rooms of Velas Vallarta

Luckily my room was on the top floor and at the end so I was not awakened by their screeching sounds. All of the staff has to be certified in their specialty and it showed. Think Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton and add 25% friendlier.


The best part of the trip was the reception accorded visitors. We were not treated as “gringos” but as friends. Tourism is the main industry and everyone we met treated us with respect. I can’t wait for another return visit.

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