Ola! Puerto Vallarta
Free Margaritas with Tequila shots at the airport, that is how Puerto Vallarta, welcomed tourists at the arrival terminal; we knew this trip was going to be one crazy ride!
Since it was our first time in the region, it was a task zeroing down a location for a 6 day holiday. A lot of things like climate, activities, visa requirements and of course finances had to be considered. Since we didn’t have much time to get a visa, most of the South American countries were out. After much deliberation between The Dominican Republic and Mexico, we finally chose a more activity based Mexico. DR was more of a “lay on the beach”, not something we would want to do for 6 days straight.
With the Pacific on the west and the Caribbean on the east Mexico has a lot of options. Puerto Vallarta is on the Pacific side of the country and Oh Boy! is it beautiful!
So we set out on this adventure in a plane full of Minnesotans looking to escape the last leg of the winters and also…Spring Break!
The City and the Culture
We booked a studio through Airbnb, and chose to stay in downtown Malecon. Our pretty studio overlooked the ocean and a beautiful church, it was a 2 minute walk from the happening promenade and all the shops and restaurants. Every evening we would take a walk on the promenade which is a motor free zone, filled with tons of street artists and performances. From mime shows to salsa performances, reggae music to caricature artists, the entire stretch is bustling with activity till late in the night and you can literally hop from one performance to another. The promenade is divided into 2 parts -The quiet “romantic point” on the south and the “Bieber Sorry, foam party” on the north. The southern tip, the one that leads you to the river and the beach and has a lot of quiet sea side restaurants, where you can sit and enjoy a drink or a lovely meal while watching the beautiful Puerto Vallarta sunset. The northern walk is all bars and nightclubs (with music blasting on the streets), a lot of street performances and street food (obviously a more popular side). Every night, we would pick our side depending on whether we wanted a quiet romantic walk or a fun high energy party.
All in all Mexico is very rich in its culture and people take a lot of pride in it as well. Local artists are encouraged, local crafts are sold everywhere, local music is popular (also, almost every popular english song seems to have an even better Spanish version). Finally, the people are just so sweet and courteous. You can get by even if you don’t know Spanish as they make an extra effort to understand you and help you. We met some of the sweetest people in Puerto Vallarta and ended up having some awesome conversations with them.
If you have been following our blog, you would be aware that practically no holiday of ours is devoid of adventure, how could this be any different. One of the main reasons that attracted us to Puerto Vallarta was this…
This is the Hidden Beach and is about an hour’s boat ride from Vallarta. We bought our tickets for the Isla Marietas tour. The Marieta islands are a bio reserve and a UNESCO World heritage site, I knew it would be hard for them to keep Aman on the boat so we also paid for 2 tanks of air and decided to dive while we were there. We started out early for our catamaran adventure. With light music on the PA system and muffins & juice we were set for a bright sunny day at Marieta’s.
The first activity was the scuba dive and we were the first set of divers to jump off the boat. The memories of our scuba diving adventures in Gili came back. This time however we were certified and much more confident. In terms of the diving experience, I would say that the flora and fauna in Gili was much more beautiful and diverse. In this dive, we could spot a few fish and did see a spotted ray but hardly any corals. The Carribean side probably has much more to offer i guess.
The next activity was the much desired Hidden Beach. Since this is a UNESCO site, boats are only allowed up to a certain point, after that you need to rely on your swimming skills ( approx.200 mts) to get to the beach. Well! that and a life jacket. So we were dropped to the last point by the boat with our life jackets on. We swam, paddled and jogged through the water along with a 100 other tourists (which somehow was sort of comforting). The entire area looked like a party with people of all ages – kids and old people alike scrambling their way to get to the beach. The good part however was that despite the crowd, everyone was extremely helpful and courteous and not really in a competition to get there first. The last leg of the swim was through a small tunnel where the water got really cold before the waves threw us on to the beach. As soon as we arrived, we were awestruck by this beautiful structure and spent some time chilling by the beach and taking pictures.
The one thing we found worth applauding was the way the locals managed crowd. The hidden beach as such is a small area, therefore its important to ensure that as tourists are coming in, an equal number of tourists are leaving. These guys encourage you to spend about 15 to 20 minutes at the beach and start guiding you back after the designated time.
After our return to the boat, we spent the rest of the day snorkelling and kayaking. Even tried paddle-boarding but fell off a few times (more practice required there).
As the boat prepared to head back, we were served lunch and drinks. Of course, no party is complete without Taylor Swift and The BeeGees blaring and unlimited margaritas on the boat. People quickly got into the groove and started dancing on the deck. Our crew even put up an awesome show for us. As we reached the port, we knew the adventurous day had ended on a high note.
Mexican food! Ah! Known for its spicy and flavourful taste and compared a lot to Indian food. However, thanks to the popularity and demand of Mexican food, we have eaten enough of it in India as well as the US.
As Mexico is famous for its mouth watering street food, most of our meals were at the Malecon night markets. These markets serve all types of authentic Mexican food. Every night, we would walk up to these markets and end up trying different kinds of quesadillas, gorditas and even Mexican pizzas while enjoying dance and music performances.
Mexicans are quite creative with their cocktails as well. Apart from the popular Mexican beers – Corona and Pacifica, we ended up trying some of their really tasty cocktails. One of them being Michelada, basically a super spicy bloody mary made with beer. This drink is so spicy, it hurts. At the same time its super refreshing and yummy because of the tomato juice and tobasco sauce.
The other drink we totally fell in love with was the Vodka aloha strawberry smoothie. This one doesn’t taste like alcohol, it actually tastes like a refreshing smoothie, till its hits you after about just a drink. Yes! that strong.
Another snack we totally gorged on throughout was guacamole and chips , telling ourselves how healthy it was and feeling happy throughout the trip. Avocados are the best! 😉
The Sweet Escapes
Some of the prettiest little beach towns are 1 to 2 hours away from Vallarta. We picked two towns – Bucerias and Sayulita and spent a day in each of these.
Bucerias was about 1 hour bus ride from where we stayed. We just enquired and hopped on a local bus that took us to Bucerias.
This is a small diving village with a lot of beach shacks and street food trucks. A lot of tourists from the US and Canada visit this beach. They even have a Canadian beach shack with the Canadian flag. Since Vallarta is more of a city this provides the perfect getaway with a clean beach for fun, diving and fishing.
We roamed a little in the town and finally settled in a shack by the beach reliving our Goa days of eating, drinking, going into the sea and repeating that! A relaxed day spent well at the Bucerias beach.
Sayulita is to Puerto Vallarta what Gili is to Bali and have I told you how much we love Gili! Sadly we only discovered this when we got there. After an almost 2 hour bus ride from Puerto Vallarta, we reached this quaint little beach town, and fell in love at once.
Flocked by tourists and primarily known as a surfers beach because of its huge waves and beautiful waters, it has a very hippie vibe going on. With boutique cafes, open air bars, colourful shops and pretty touristy hostels and hotels, this place certainly deserves more than a day and we instantly regretted not having spent more time. In fact we even enquired in a couple of hotels if they had any rooms but all of them were booked.
The beach is small but busy with lots of shacks, people on their beach beds/ towels with sea food and beer buckets and even some massage shacks. There is a lot going on in the small town which can be covered by walking. European styled cafes on the sidewalk, artsy open bars, book shops and colourful shops selling locally crafted jewellery and curios.
Sayulita is surrounded by hills and makes for the most picturesque view. I can totally imagine a beautiful day starting with a hot cup of tea/ coffee in a pretty little cafe reading a book while breathing in the fresh ocean air, followed by some surfing lessons in the sea and wrapping up with some fresh cocktails and beers while watching the sun go down on the western coast! Sigh! we can never have enough of beaches and sunsets…can we! 🙂
Here are some tips in case you plan on travelling to Mexico
- Do not convert all your US Dollars as most places accept USDs and will give you a better rate than the bank or the airport.
- Try to stay in a central location if your aim is to explore. Malecon, Downtown Puerto Vallarta are some of the places in the middle of all the action.
- A lot of attractions including the airport can be reached by buses. These are easy to get and way cheaper than cabs.
- Try street food more often. The real flavours of Mexican food can be found on the street. Avoid going to restaurants for food, restaurants are good for drinks and snacks.
- Health conscious? No worries…Keep your health in check by drinking Michelada (one of the healthiest and yummiest cocktails out there) and eating guacamole 😉
- If you are one of those that likes a good hippie-ish town, try and spend about 2 to 3 days in Sayulita.
- Do check for weather conditions before going out to The Hidden Beach. If the tides are high the cave submerges underwater and then you can’t get there. Also, an influx of jelly fish might restrict you.
- Try to stay in crowded areas and usually avoid secluded areas especially at night.
- If you like adventure and local culture, avoid the fancy all inclusive resorts as you will pay a lot of money for a resort that looks like any other resort in the world and is miles away from the city and all the action. Try a hotel in the city or Airbnb.
- If you have an Indian passport and valid US Visa, you don’t need a separate visa to visit Mexico. However, it is best to check with the embassy before you travel.
- Try and learn some basic words in Spanish. While you can get by without knowing it, a few words here and there will help you. Muchas Gracias! 🙂