After an incredible five days, we were actually sad to leave the quaint little town of Punta de Mita and head to the much bigger city of Puerto Vallarta. Located on the border between the states of Jalisco and Nayarit, Puerto Vallarta is perched on one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. Jungle surrounds the city and red tiled roofs dot the lush mountains. The old part of town, Viejo Vallarta, also known as Zona Romantica, hugs the south end of Banderas Bay. To the north of that is Nuevo Vallarta, a stretch of high rise hotels and mainstream stores, but never mind that. Viejo Vallarta is where you want to be. It is a charming mix of cobblestone streets and colonial architecture dotted with quaint shops, cafes, and street vendors. Life in Puerto Vallarta just moves at a slower pace there and you get the sense that no one seems to mind.
The hype around “the dangers of Mexico” is intense. Before going on our trip, a few people told me they knew a friend-of-a-friend who had been mugged in broad daylight. But within a few hours of our arrival, it became clear that Mexico is full of totally normal people living totally normal lives. The Mexican people are extremely friendly by nature, making a point to ensure visitors feel welcome. The country has a rich cultural history and its people are proud to maintain the customs and traditions of their ancestors. Definitely not the scary land of drug dealers you’ll read about online. Sure, we were cautious and vigilant, but overall we felt completely safe in both Punta de Mita and Puerto Vallarta.
Where to stay:
When booking our lodging for this leg of our trip, we knew that we wanted to stay in the heart of Viejo Vallarta/Zona Romantica ,and Alfredo’s Airbnb Listing was just what we had in mind. This one bedroom, one bath condo overlooks the ocean and is located in a peaceful residential building, known as El Dorado Condominiums. Although Alfredo wasn’t on site like our first Airbnb host, he was very accommodating and easy to contact when needed. With a king size bed, fully equipped kitchen, direct ocean views, and spectacular sunsets, the nightly rate of $82 can’t be beat. We also had access to the amenities of the condo building, including the pool, which we took full advantage of.
What to do:
Horseback Riding through the Jungle:
We only had two full days in Puerto Vallarta before flying home, so we were determined to make the most of our time. On our first day, we woke up early for our horseback ride at Rancho Capomo. This outing begins with transportation from a meet up point near our Airbnb to a ranch in the middle of the Sierra Madre Mountains. The ride to the ranch was scenic, and our guide, Sergio, gave us a lot of great information as we drove along. After about 40 minutes, we arrived at the Rancho Capomo. Lockers were provided to store any belongings we didn’t want to take on the ride. Then, we were paired with a horse that suited our body type and experience level. Once everyone was ready to go, we set off with our group and two guides. The river we had to cross to reach the waterfall was too high for us to do safely, so Sergio said we were going through the jungle instead.
As you travel through the Sierra Madre jungle, you’ll follow streams beneath a lush canopy of trees. Mango, banana and maraca trees line the lush green fields. I always thought that maracas, or rumba shakers, were manmade, but learned on this trip that they are the seed of the maraca tree fitted with a manmade handle. As the seeds inside the pod dry and come loose, the maraca is given its signature sound. There were hills to climb and descend, but the horses are well trained to do so and know exactly where they are going. Just sit back and enjoy the ride. As we wrapped up our journey through the jungle, we passed through the cute town of Las Palmas on our way back to the ranch.
Upon our arrival back at Rancho Capomo, we were treated to a cooking lesson on how to make homemade salsa. Each of us were given the separate ingredients, a cutting board, knife and bowl. Sergio guided us through the preparation of the salsa, and told us which ingredients to add and how to chop them. The final result was fresh and delicious. Afterward, we were shown how one of the chefs at the ranch makes homemade tortillas. She patted the wet masa into a mound on a sheet of native volcanic rock. Then, she picked up a small amount in the palm of her hand, placed it into the tortilla press, and threw the flattened dough onto very large, screaming hot inverted dome. I watched as she repeated this process over and over with the same ease as if she were saying her name. A few minutes later, the first batch had puffed up into little round pillows, and she immediately pulled them off the heat and onto a plate for us to try. On top of that, the chefs of the ranch cooked us a beautiful, authentic lunch before we were driven back to Puerto Vallarta. Our experience at Rancho Capomo was second to none, and tickets only cost $74 per person. In addition to horseback riding, they also offer ziplining and ATV tours. The whole team at Rancho Capomo went above and beyond to make our experience amazing, fun and entertaining.
When our snorkeling trip to Los Arcos was cancelled at the last minute, we were stumped on what to do on our last day in Mexico. Ironically, it wasn’t the lack of options, rather the surplus of things to do that made our decision so difficult. Jetskiing, fishing, parasailing, paddleboarding, and hiking are only some of the options we were interested in doing. We ended up choosing parasailing, because it would still allow us to have the rest of the day to explore the city of Puerto Vallarta. Whereas, some of the other activities would take up more time. We booked our parasailing adventure with Puerto Vallarta Tours, and paid $49 per person.
As someone who’s slightly terrified of heights, I took comfort in the fact that Andres and I would be experiencing this parasailing adventure together. When we got there, to my surprise and disappointment, our guide, Manuel, told us that they only do solo rides. At first, I told Andres that I would just watch him go and skip it for myself. After a few minutes of mental scolding for being such a chicken, I got up the courage to do it. Andres volunteered to go first, but the guides said there wasn’t enough wind for him yet, which is just what you want to hear when you’ve hesitantly decided to go parasailing. To make the situation even sketchier Manuel also informed me that I would be taking off and landing on the beach. The more information I found out about this activity, the more inclined I was to sprint straight to the rental car. Once I was strapped into the parachute, the guides walked with me side by side, and they told me to sit down the moment my toes touched the wet sand. The boat connected to the line of my chute took off at high speed, and I began to rise into the air high above the beaches and coastline. Between profanities, I gazed down at the sheer beauty of the city, and the my hand shook uncontrollably as I tried to record the incredible aerial footage. When I made my way back to the starting point, the guide blew a whistle, signaling me to pull the back right side of my parachute down to my shoulder. Slowly, the chute began to turn and I drifted right towards the same part of beach that I departed from. The boat slowed down and I fell onto the warm sand like a drop of water. I was shaking in fear but also excitement that I had just done something so far out of my comfort zone.
Where to eat:
As you pass by the restaurants and street vendors of Zona Romantica, there is an irresistible temptation to stop and sample the delicious seafood cuisine and international dishes prepared by chefs from all parts of the world.
The day we arrived in Puerto Vallarta was also my better half’s birthday. We’d had a delicious meal at The Blue Shrimp in Punta de Mita the night before, but I still wanted to take him out to celebrate. Because we didn’t want to stray too far from our Airbnb on our first night, we decided to check out La Palapa. This upscale, gourmet restaurant has a tropical setting right on Playa Los Muertos in the heart of Zona Romantica. The atmosphere, service, food, and beachfront location were perfect.
For my appetizer, I ordered the peach and pistachio salad, which was bright and refreshing. Andres had the rich and delicious seafood bisque. For my entree, I had the corn risotto with local shrimp, baby scallops, octopus, and a hint of piquillo pepper. Andres ordered the braised boneless short ribs glazed in guava and chipotle and served with grilled tomatillos, poblano peppers and potatoes. For dessert, we ordered the lemon tart, and the waiter had a note and candle added for the birthday boy. Our toes sunk into the warm sand as we watch the pier light up in different colors. A band played music softly in the background while a gentle breeze blew through the restaurant. It was a perfect setting to celebrate.
On our last night in the city before heading back to the States, we were craving a taste of home. I was reminded of a restaurant where we’d had lunch on our first day called Andale. While they also serve authentic Mexican fare, this place is known for their succulent burgers and variety of tasty toppings. After several days away from home, we were longing for a taste of the good ol’ U.S.A, and Andale delivered. Located right on Las Altas street, it’s also a great spot to sit back and people watch.
Puerto Vallarta has some beautiful architecture, impressive cultural history, and truly, some of the loveliest people I’ve met in Mexico. Despite being in a tourist destination, you can still adventure off the beaten path. Looking back, our trip to Mexico was one my favorite destinations to date, perhaps because I didn’t have any expectations. My eyes were completely open. There were no preconceptions, just what was in front of me. Puerto Vallarta is the perfect destination for a romantic getaway, a girl’s trip or just an adventurous retreat! The best part is that it’s possible to visit this area of Mexico on a budget, and I hope we’ve inspired you to do so!
Here are a few things to remember when traveling to this area of Mexico:
- After you leave customs in the Puerto Vallarta Airport, you will walk through a room filled with timeshare sales agents, who blend in with airport officials. They will do their best to strike up a conversation with you, so they can ultimately convince you to go to a timeshare presentation. Stay alert and do your best to avoid getting caught up in their sales pitch. Once you walk out of this room, you’ll find yourself in a hall where the taxis, shuttles, and rental car counters are located.
- Check the exchange rates before you go on your trip. Exchange Centers are located in the airport, however, they always have a lower exchange rate.
- Leave the converters and adapters at home. The plugs in Mexico are the same as those in the U.S.
- If you’re driving a rental car, be sure to follow the speed limits and other laws. While the cars around you may be going faster than that, you are a target for the police if you’re a tourist driving a rental car so to save yourself the hassle of finding yourself in a “bribe” with the police, and follow the traffic signs!
- If you take a taxi, negotiate the price of the ride before you get in. If you are staying in a hotel, keep in mind that taxis are more expensive if you take the ones that come to the hotels since the hotels will have set taxi rates. If you want to save money, grab a cab outside of your hotel.
- At big hotels and restaurants, the water should be purified, but it never hurts to ask if the ice and water being served is made from “agua purificada”. If in doubt, skip the ice and drink bottled water.
- A 15-20% tip is adequate for restaurants. For the most part, you can tip service staff (bellman, porters, hotel maids, gas attendant, spas, tour guides, etc.) like you would if you were in the US, however, you do not need to tip taxi drivers, unless perhaps he or she is making multiple stops or helping you with your luggage.
- Cash is still king among street vendors, and negotiating is expected. The vendors are friendly and just trying to make a living. They are also used to bargaining and perfectly willing to make deals. Credit cards are accepted at most restaurants and boutiques, and will get the most current exchange rate.
- You’ll notice that Mexican people always start their conversation with a “buenos dias” (good morning), “buenos tardes” (good afternoon), or “buenos noches” (good evening). As Americans, we are used to rushing straight to the point, so make an effort to respect their culture and focus on the greetings first.
Click the link to learn more about the first half of our trip:
Check Out My GoPro Video of Our Adventures in Mexico!