Travel Guide: Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta is a city and popular vacation resort on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. Beautiful beaches, lush jungles and sparkling waterfalls offer many opportunities for the adventurous, while five star resorts, world-class shopping and gourmet restaurants satisfy even the most sophisticated traveler. Stretching from the south end of Old Town to central downtown, a newly extended and refurbished boardwalk along the ocean, called the Malecon, passes by any number of shops, restaurants, and hotels, and often plays host to mimes, breakdancers, clowns and artists.

The residents of Puerto Vallarta are very friendly and generally willing to help with directions and other requests. Old TownVallarta (or the Zona Romantica district) south of the River Cuale is more like a Mexican town and less like a tourist trap.

English is widely spoken, and as a tourist destination prices are higher than many other places in Mexico.

 

How to get in:

Gustavo Diaz Ordaz International Airport (IATA: PVR) is located just to the north of Puerto Vallarta proper, and just south of Nuevo Vallarta. Most major US airlines serve the airport along with Aeromexico, Interjet, Volaris and VivaAerobus. It has been recently remodeled, though waits can still occur when more than two flights have landed.

Note that the arrival area is plagued by timeshare hucksters as you come out from customs. They will offer to arrange a cab for you and try to rope you into a timeshare sales presentation. After you clear customs, walk quickly through the next room - the one housing the hucksters - continue walking past the rope-line. Now look for the official taxi kiosk out in the main airport atrium. You purchase your taxi trip here. All other offers of cab rides you will receive between customs and the kiosk will be from timeshare hucksters. Ignore every one of them. The bad experience of those taken in can ruin one’s first hours in PVR, and that would be a shame. Or hire private transportation.

 

What to do:

Puerto Vallarta has many activities and excursions to keep you entertained. The adventurous can hike or mountain bike in the hills, explore the jungle and hidden trails on horseback, take a jeep safari, snorkel, scuba dive, charter a yacht or sailboat, or take a cruise on one of the many party boats, make a personal photoshoot. Oftentimes they are easily booked online.

Puerto Vallarta’s whale watching season runs from December to March of every year. Humpback whales are the top liners of this fantastic nature show, but you can also see dolphins, porpoises and other animals.

There are five golf courses in Puerto Vallarta, including Vista Vallarta, which hosted the 2002 EMC World Cup Championship.

Puerto Vallarta is one of Mexico’s top scuba diving destinations. There are many rental shops along the beaches.

The beaches in Puerto Vallarta are not ideal for surfing, but a daytrip out of town up along the coast of Banderas Bay will take you to some great surf spots! Passing the Ameca river along the way to these spots, you find yourself in the next door northern state of Nayarit. Such trips can be coordinated with a local surfing instructor or done solo.

The most popular snorkeling areas are Los Arcos underwater caves and Marietas Islands caverns. Vallarta Adventures snorkeling trips combine an extraordinary day of sun, fun, and adventure with just the right mixture of entertainment, learning and challenge, while snorkeling, sea kayaking, and exploring the tropical ecosystems on the secluded islands and beach hideaways that surround beautiful Banderas Bay.

The Mexican Outback in the states of Jalisco and Nayarit offers an opportunity of discovery and adventure: A culturally and ecologically trained guide can take you into authentic Mexican villages and through the sub-tropical forest with its extraordinary ecology and wildlife. Vallarta Adventures´ Sierra Madre Expedition takes you in specially designed Mercedes Benz all-terrain vehicles on an off-road voyage of discovery, past forgotten villages into the heart of the Sierra Madre.

Banderas Bay is the second largest bay in North America, behind Hudson Bay, and is ideal for sailing. The deep, calm waters offer a very rich biodiversity, stunning beauty, romantic sunsets and relaxed sailing.

Kitesurfing is becoming more and more popular in Banderas Bay. Especially in Bucerias, a fishing village north of Nuevo Vallarta, you can see up to 30 people kitesurfing on a Sunday when the wind is good.

You are able to parasail at pretty much every beach. The sky high trip usually last around 15 min. Jet skis can be rented at most beaches by the hour.

Banderas Bay is home to annual Puerto Vallarta International Fishing Tournament held since 1956. Fish types include sailfish, dorado, marlin, bonita and yellowfin tuna, rooster fish, jack cravel, pargo, red snapper and more denizens of the deep, black, blue and striped marlin.

Some tour companies offer educational programs combined with hands-on activities to help save Mexico’s turtles. After the female turtles lay their eggs in nests they create in the sand, volunteers dig up the eggs and re-bury them somewhere safe from predators. After about 45 to 60 days, the eggs hatch. Without help, only about 1 in every 1,000 baby turtles will survive to adulthood because most are caught by predators before they make it back to the safety of the ocean. However, turtle repatriation volunteers keep the babies safe until it is time to set them free to head for the ocean (at night when predators are less active). You can be part of these programs.

There are great hiking trails in Puerto Vallarta but you will be hard-pressed to find information about simple hiking excursions, because no one makes much money from hikers while they are hiking.

 

What to eat:

The rich cultural diversity of Puerto Vallarta is reflected in the cuisine that its many restaurants have to offer. From the most casual taco stands, to tropical beachfront palapas, to upscale rooftop restaurants with panoramic views, there are literally hundreds of restaurants serving exactly what you are hungry for.

However, care should be taken to avoid travellers’ diarrhea. There are many beachside restaurants to tempt you with tropical drinks, but bottled beer is a much safer option. When water taxis or other guides seamlessly hand you off to their “amigos” at a beachside restaurant, do not be bashful about seeking other options, or just order a bottled beer to be opened in front of you. Do not trust that your guide has made a good decision, he will be gone with your tip long before you show any symptoms. Restaurants listed in reputable tour guides are a fairly safe bet.

Chez Elena is a famous hotel and restaurant located in Puerto Vallarta. It has been cited by Playboy Magazine and well known actors such as Peter O’Toole and Elizabeth Taylor.

Epoca is just south of the foot bridge over Rio Cuale. Easy to overlook, hard to forget. Excellent food at very reasonable prices.

Planeta Vegetariano serves a buffet-style vegan meal with a varied and changing menu. All-you-can-eat fresh juices, vegetables, salads, fruit, and many traditional dishes served “sin carne” are to be found. Reasonable prices. They serve a breakfast and lunch buffet, each with different dishes.

Pipi’s has fajitas and enchiladas to die for and also delicious margaritas of all flavors. Be prepared for a long wait. However, it is worth it and you will not regret waiting for this delectable treat. The only downside is that this restaurant is very touristy.

 

Where to sleep:

Accommodations around the Bay of Banderas range from well-known international hotel chains and upscale villas and condominiums in the hotel zone, Marina Vallarta, Nuevo Vallarta, and Punta Mita to moderately priced hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, apartments villas, and condominiums in Old Town Vallarta. The south end of Old Town has a number of gay-friendly hotels.

 

Stay safe:

Puerto Vallarta is a beautiful holiday destination, but this is not an excuse to leave your common sense at home. You should not treat the city as if it is a huge beach resort existing solely for your pleasure.

Exercise caution here as in any place that you are unfamiliar. Keep an eye on your possessions (purses, cameras, etc) at all times. Do not flaunt large amounts of cash and wear a concealed money belt to secure large bills and your passport. Make sure you always have small bills/ coins on hand to pay for small items.

The beaches and hotels have security people who are familiar with the area and tend to ward off most undesirable characters. As in many “tourist destinations”, there are local “tourist police”, who concentrate on keeping the area safe for visitors. They, and the locals, understand the value of visitors and make life very difficult for those who may consider preying on visitors.

Avoid confrontations with the police. In the event you do have a disagreement with them, expect to be treated poorly and expect to pay many a peso to regain your freedom. Respect and cooperation goes a long way with them; disrespect usually will not be tolerated.

Always observe the warning flags on public beaches. There could be a strong undertow.

And never dive into unknown waters as there may be rocks.

Here are some important phone numbers:

Emergency (police/fire): 060

Fire Dept: 223-9476, 223-9478

Police Dept: 290-0507, 290-0512

Red Cross & Ambulance: 222-1533

Immigration Office: 221-1380

American Consulate: 222-0069, 223-0074 - After hours: 01-333-268-2145

Canadian Consulate: 293-0098, 223-0074 - After hours: 01-800-706-2900

 

Text courtesy WikiTravel, Creative Commons License

 

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Published: April 23, 2015 - Volume 14 - Issue 02