When a friend sends an email with the subject line: Who Wants to Go? you immediately open it. When I read Puerto Vallarta I thought, "eh, this is going to be like a spring break trip" but having been back a few weeks, I couldn't have been further from my original inclination. Puerto Vallarta was green, full of cultural originality and of course the beaches were beautiful.
We boarded the plane in Oakland and headed the three hours down to Puerto Vallarta. In between two lovely Bloody Marys, I couldn't stop staring out the window on the way down. Just miles upon miles of secluded coastline. When I travel I usually take iPhone pics as they geo-track the location so I can look them up later. I was already plotting returning one day for a road trip down the coastline.
Puerto Vallarta is situated on the Pacific Ocean's Bahía de Banderas in the state of Jalisco. Puerto Vallarta is named after Ignacio Vallarta, a former governor of Jalisco. Before it was a tourist destination, Puerto Vallarta was a thriving Mexican village due to it's proximity to the agricultural valley of the Ameca River, and the important mining centers in the Sierra.
Once we landed (the whole plane was in a good mood) we grabbed our carryons (I HEART travel companions who only bring one bag) and deplaned. The line to get through customs was LONG but went fast. The one difficult thing was getting to the right shuttle bus. Once you pass security, everyone wants you to use their car service. Even if you prearranged it. They swear it was them by pulling our their retractable badges and offering you shots. I admire their hustle.
Puerto Vallarta is giant U shaped bowl. The airport is at one end (right-end), town is center and we stayed at Garza Blanca at the other end. We drove through the colonial town center, dia de los muertos flags were still flying and we drove over the beautiful the Cuale River. More on that later. We arrived at our hotel and to one of the most dramatic entrances I've seen. With champagne in hand, we checked in and were officially ON VACATION.
There were seven of us so we split two suites. Each was huge and came with an panoramic view, full kitchen, jacuzzi and hammock. We were all pinching ourselves for sure. For the last few years I've been staying in Airbnbs but have noticed across the board that cleanliness standards are not universal. This place was immaculate.
We decided to go all inclusive so we didn't have to worry about dividing checks six ways from Sunday every time we went out. First night we all congregated in one of the suites and ordered a bunch of food people order on vacation. We sat in the jacuzzi, had some drinks and delved into one another's life stories. The next morning we woke up to this view.
Garza Blanca offers different free activities for guests. I decided to take a guided group hike up the hill behind the hotel with Tito one of the amazing concierges. 10 people showed up and while I thought it was going to be a long slow walk it actually turned to be strenuous. Tito shared his knowledge of the local horticulture and wildlife which roam the forest. At the end, I jumped off the rock into the waterfall. It was a nice reward after charging up hill for two hours.
After the hike, I was prepared to sit by the pool the rest of the afternoon but a few of the ladies headed into town to explore. I'll sleep when I'm dead. There was a bus stop across the street where you can catch the local for just 8 pesos but since there were four of us, we caught a cab to Puerto Vallarta's city center. We walked down the Playa Los Muertos pier. Full of families and locals selling handicrafts. After taking it in for a few minutes, we headed further into the cobble stoned streets of the city.
Massive cement and glass buildings are popping up next to the more original adobe shops and buildings. We walked by the gorgeous boutique hotel Casa Susana Dona. While I loved our hotel, I'd love to stay in a more historical hotel next time.
After wondering around a bit we decided to walk to the Isla Cuale Flea Market on the Rio Cuale river. Only one of us had pesos so we went on a bit of a goose chase to find a bank ATM (one was broken, one was out of cash). We were unsuccessful but we found a vendor selling ice cold coconuts.
We got to the market which was virtually empty for a Friday afternoon. We wandered down and into the River Cafe for a cocktail and a bite. We spotted an iguana from the table and a butterfly landed on our table. We were definitely having a vacation zen moment.
After a full day, we caught a cab back to the hotel and got dressed up for dinner. There were three restaurants on the Garza Blanca property and all were delicious. We fell into a bit of a routine over the next few days. Starting with chilaquiles, then a few hours by the pool, then a nap in the hammock, watching the sunset on the top of hotel overlooking the infinity pool and then off to dinner. I think every single one of us were in bed by 11.
On the last day, we had a long leisurely breakfast, caught a cab to town for some last minute souvenirs for the family. I purchased a couple table runners and wall hangings from a vendor who's family has made them for decades. Between my friend we were able to stuff my purchases into two suitcases. A friend who carries your stuff is true friend indeed.
Just three hours (via plane) Puerto Vallarta is an easy flight down and back, absolutely gorgeous and full of beautiful sights. I can't wait to come back.