VIVA PUERTO VALLARTA!:My Insider’s Guide to One of the Happiest Places I Know
I have made Puerto Vallarta, my winter “home away from home” for the past 18 years, even during Covid. Why here? Let me count the ways. The weather is ideal. In all my years here, it has rained twice for a few hours. The average daily temperature is about 80F with a breeze. Nights are cool and balmy. The restaurants and markets provide fabulous food options—from Mexican to Italian to Thai. The service is terrific.
The Banderas Bay region appeals to all types: it is senior friendly, gay friendly, single women friendly, couples friendly, family friendly… even dog friendly. It’s a happy place. You don’t need a car because public transportation (buses, taxis and Ubers) is efficient and cheap. Free WIFI is available all over town.
Here’s my 2022 update of where to save, splurge and make the most of your visit to the Bay of Banderas. You won’t likely find most of these off-the beaten-path discoveries in your average guidebook. Rest assured, this one of the safest, friendliest towns you’ll ever visit. (All prices approximated in Canadian dollars.)
THE “CHEAP THRILLS” SAVE LIST
When I read about Vallarta Food Tours, “An Evening Taco Adventure,” I signed up. Who would know better then the Vallarta food experts about where to enjoy good street food? Our progressive dinner included five kinds of tacos, pozole (a stew of hominy and shredded pork) a shot of Mexcal and a last stop of churros (Mexican doughnuts). Tacos are arguably the best bargain in town and stopping at the various stands is a great opportunity to munch and mingle with locals.
My newest discovery in central Vallarta is Puerto Cafe, a funky little place that takes its beans very seriously. Dee’s Coffee Company, another favourite for a good java jolt and daily fresh home baking, is on Calle Francisca Rodríguez with views of Puerto Vallarta’s stunning pier. Her sticky buns are outrageously good; one is plenty for two. Just up the street from Dee’s, there’s a sweet senior gentleman who operates a juice stand and squeezes fresh oranges and grapefruits while you wait. Should you find yourself in the Versailles area near Costco, Elforoteo (Los Tules 168) won’t disappoint.
Asian Tapas off the Gringo Path
Located in the Colonia Fluvial (near Costco), Bonito Kitchen is a hidden gem. Owner Francie, who was born in Vietnam and lived the U.S. before settling in PV, offers a wondrous list of small plates. Everything on the menu is flavourful. On Saturdays she includes pho (Vietnamese soup) on the menu. Her cucumber salad with toasted sesame seeds is not to be missed. Other favourites include grilled zucchini with pesto, pork/shrimp pot stickers and slow-braised pork belly. You’ll want to pair these tapa-style dishes with creative cocktails garnished with edible flowers and herbs. Francie recently opened a larger version of Bonito in the Romantic Zone (V. Carranza 512) with an expanded menu and beautifully landscaped patio. Try the martini with smoked blue cheese stuffed olives and lobster dumplings.
Saturday is Market Day
The Old Town Farmers’ Market takes place in the Lazaro Cardenas Square in the Romantic Zone on Saturday mornings. It’s full of vendors selling everything from fresh bread and baked goods to organic vegetables to crafts. Plan to have breakfast as you graze from stall to stall.
Meet me on the Malecon
You must stroll along Puerto Vallarta’s lovely seaside promenade, the Malecon. When the sun goes down, watch a folkloric spectacle in the Los Arcos, the open-air amphitheatre. On Sunday nights a live band often plays in the zocalo. Join the locals, young and senior, in a sexy salsa number. On Tuesday mornings at 9:30, meet a guide at the Millennium statue near the Rosita Hotel for a free Malecon sculpture tour (tips accepted to help fund the Los Mangos Library).
Bountiful Botanical Gardens
Hop on the bus that says El Tuito at the corner of Carranza and Aguacate. The scenic ride takes you south along the coast to the Vallarta Botanical Gardens. Wear walking shoes so you can explore the various trails and collections of palms, roses, ferns, agaves, orchids, wildflowers, coffee and vanilla trees. A fascinating variety of birds and butterflies call these gardens home too, so bring your camera and binoculars. Take a refreshing dip in the Rio Los Horcones (don’t forget to bring a towel), then head up to the Hacienda de Oro restaurant for an alfresco lunch. The gift shop is full of unique items, including vanilla beans grown on the property. We visit these gardens every year and each time we discover something new. This year the formerly white chapel has been painted pink on the outside and the interior walls and ceilings are festooned with vivid murals featuring tropical birds and flowers.
Wednesday Night Art Walk
From the end of October to the end of May you can participate in Art Walk every Wednesday evening. About 20 galleries and studios in the historic centre open from 6 to 10 p.m. Most serve snacks and drinks; often they’ll have an artist or two on the premises. Café des Artistes, one of Vallarta’s top restaurants, offers early-bird dinner specials (three courses for about $40) in a lush garden setting.
Joe Jack’s Fish Shack
The atmosphere is funky and casual, but the cooking is superb. Joe Jack’s, located in the Romantic Zone on Basilio Badillo, is a fun spot for lunch or dinner. Shrimp and avocado tostados slide down extremely well with a gazpacho Bloody Mary or Ginger Mojito. On Fridays, they serve all-you-can-eat beer battered fish and chips. My husband and I always share the whole red snapper cooked with lime, chiles and garlic.
A Palapa in Yelapa
Accessible primarily by water taxi, Yelapa provides a taste of rustic Mexico with not an all-inclusive or high rise in sight. You’ll find plenty of aging hippies, artists and laid-back locals. Take a hike or ride a horse to the waterfall, then sprawl out on the golden beach. Buy a slice of pie from one of the lady vendors who balance the homemade goodies in plastic containers on their heads. Boats leave daily from Marina Vallarta, Boca de Tomatlan, and Los Muertos Pier.
THE “YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE” SPLURGE LIST
PV is full of stores carrying silver jewelry, but for something unique, head to Cassandra Shaw on Basilio Bandillo. Shaw’s mission is to display exquisite silver jewelry made in Mexico, featuring a variety of stones, fossils and materials. Many of the designs are one of a kind, designed by Cassandra herself. The store’s mascot chihuahuas also flaunt unique necklaces.
Everything from the rosemary breadsticks to the profiteroles is homemade by chef Chanan who really knows how to pack flavour into his Italian dishes. A huge mango tree makes an interesting centrepiece for the intimate candlelit dining room. This is a favourite with gourmands, so reservations are advised.
Just a few steps off Olas Altas, in the heart of the Romantic Zone, Angie and her team of certified therapists offer fabulous massages for about $50 per hour at the Metamorfosis Day Spa. There are good reasons why her spa is rated number one in PV year after year.
Say Si to Sergio
Perhaps the loveliest jewelry/art shop in Puerto Vallarta is that of Sergio Bustamente. The famous Mexican artist whose sculpture “Searching for Reason” graces the Malecon, also creates miniature sculptures in the forms of rings, earrings, bracelets and necklaces. Bring back a trinket with one of his stylized suns for fond memories when in colder climes.
A welcome new addition to eateries on the Malecon, La Docena Oyster Grill, offers a variety of freshly shucked bivalves served on the half shell or “Rockefeller” style. The menu also includes lots of other fish and seafood options and a deliciously rich oyster chowder. Try to snag a table overlooking the Bay of Banderas.
Star Struck at the New Casa Kimberly
Before John Huston’s 1964 film, The Night of the Iguana, Puerto Vallarta was a sleepy fishing village. All that changed when Liz Taylor arrived to keep an eye on her lover, Richard Burton, while he was filming with the voluptuous Ava Gardner. The publicity buzz about Burton and Liz’s torrid affair, plus the success of the movie, put Vallarta on the tourist map.
During their romantic romp in PV, Richard Burton presented Casa Kimberly (named after the builder’s daughter) as a gift to Elizabeth for her 32nd birthday. The totally renovated and expanded Casa Kimberly opened in 2015 as a luxury boutique hotel.
Several evenings a week, a mariachi group serenades guests with everything from traditional Mexican favourites to classical tunes in The Iguana Restaurant & Tequila Bar.
D’Cortés, a Hidden Gem
You won’t likely find this tiny gem in the Colonia El Caloso during your wanders. But chef’s creative cuisine is well worth the cab ride. Start with the lobster bisque, continue with lamb osso bucco, braised for hours in a rich red wine sauce and finish with a sublime chocolate volcano cake.
In 1987 chef William Carballo travelled to Spain to study the language as well as the local cuisine. He was immediately enthralled by the tapas. In 2000 he opened Barcelona Tapas with outstanding views of the Bay of Banderas. Wash down a fantastic array of hot and cold tapas with a pitcher of Sangria and enjoy a spectacular sunset.
First published at Travel Industry Today