Puerto Vallarta/Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico, Trip Report

Amcan Travel takes a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

We rose early, 3am on Friday morning, to start our 6 day-5 night Mexico trip. Our destination is the beautiful Bay of Banderas on the Pacific coast. We managed to get exit row seats Seattle to San Francisco, where we connected for the nonstop flight to Puerto Vallarta. On the second flight we were happy to get window and middle seats at the bulkhead on the 100%-full flight. Our lucky feeling quickly turned sour, once we saw a very overweight disabled (amputee) passenger on the aisle seat. We were trapped for the entire 4-hour flight, thanking the airline for no food and very limited beverage service.

Stepping out of the airplane in Puerto Vallarta felt like walking into a sauna. Traversing immigration and customs was very easy. We got some local pesos out of the ATM, shuttled over to the car rental place, and were soon on our way south towards town in a tiny, beat up 2003 Volkswagen Beetle. We decided to avoid the tourist-trap hotel zone in PV Centro and head south of town to Mismaloya, near where the classic Richard Burton movie, Night of the Iguana, was filmed. We booked our first two nights at the Casa Iguana Hotel (photo, Casa Iguana or see the hotel's web site at http://www.casaiguanahotel.com/main_home.htm). We were lodged in a lovely 2-bedroom unit with full kitchen and rustic local décor (photo, décor), and novel lighting (photo, iguana light fixture). It seems most of the guests at this hotel were Mexican families on holiday, so the pool and Jacuzzi were both crowded. The staff is friendly and there is a lovely pond with lots of golden carp and a turtle (photo, pond). We had some dinner at the hotel restaurant and turned in early.

Saturday morning was quite warm, even in the early morning. We headed down to Mismaloya Beach on foot with our snorkeling gear. On the path down to the beach, a young man named Claudio offered to rent his boat for a snorkeling trip. Within 10 minutes, we were in the best snorkeling water of the Banderas Bay, looking at over a dozen kinds of fish. The fact that we lodged close to this spot proved to our advantage, since there were only 3 or 4 boats out there. After an hour in the water and on the way back, we saw almost a dozen boats coming between the rocks that form the arches "Los Arcos" (photo, Los Arcos).

Back at Mismaloya Beach, we relaxed on beach chairs while Barbara haggled a bit with some of the beach vendors. She finally got some earrings of turquoise and silver, and a matching ring. On the way back to hotel, we saw a couple of big lizards hiding in the rocks near the bus stop; one of them was indeed a big iguana. After resting up from snorkeling, we drove into town and spent much of the afternoon walking all over the little island in the middle of the River Cuale. Endless vendors selling souvenirs and household items, along with some small restaurants and bars, litter the south part of the island. At the south end, there is a museum with sparse but nicely done displays showing the history of Mexican art and the evolution of steel, stone, and ceramics. We saw replicas of ancient pots, jewelry and tools. The northern part of the island is more chic and trendy with art galleries, upscale shops and of course the John Huston Plaza (photo, Huston). There is a municipal culture center at the end with workshops of painting, sculpture, dancing, theater, paper prints and different kinds of instruction (photo, workshops). Unfortunately they were all closed and empty on the weekend. Downtown, we saw the beautiful spires of some small churches hidden among the neighborhood streets. (photo, church spires). Following the recommendation of our guidebook, we went to Cafe De Olla (photo, Cafe), for an early dinner. The book says to skip lunch before eating here, and we knew very soon why. The chips and salsa are so good, we never had anything in back home that is even close to it, and there is plenty before you even start your order. No matter how hard Barbara tried, she could not finish even half of her Mexican Platter, a combination of every kind of local delicacy. Before heading home, we drove south down the highway to Chico's Paradise, a hilly oasis shaded from the tropical heat. The River Tuito flows down over giant smooth boulders, creating deep green pools. There are a lot of birds and some lizards around. One lizard, feeling threatened, raised up his tiny upper body with anger and changed his stomach to a bright yellow flag (photo, lizard). Others just held on to the rock to observe the last of the sun (photo, sunning lizard).

Time sure flies fast when you are having fun. On the third day, we bid goodbye to Mismaloya to drive up to Nuevo Vallarta. It's only about 12 miles north, but it belongs to a different province and has a one-hour time difference. The place we are heading is the most upscale of the whole area, a six star all-inclusive spa resort, the Grand Velas (photos, Grand Velas pools, and facades). The Grand Velas spa has won numerous awards since opening about 2 years ago. At $700 per day for two people, we were a little surprised to find that again this place is 90% occupied by Mexican vacationers. All units have ocean views, and the living room alone is bigger than our Casa Iguana 2-bed room unit. There are three swimming pools with different temperature controls. All-inclusive means that all meals and drinks are on the house. As a nondrinker, it took Barbara a while to figure out that the booze is probably one of the biggest operation costs of this property. We had a buffet lunch and a nice a la carte Italian dinner, capped by an amazing dessert presentation (photo, fancy dessert). We had to take an evening swim to help digest the food. Back in the room, we each occupied a TV, Richard in the living room and Barbara in the bedroom til late.

Next day at the hotel, after Barbara did some yoga and Richard some weight lifting exercise, we took a spa treatment and experienced a couple out of their 80 plus kinds of spa. It is very refreshing indeed. We then realized that this hotel also offers weight loss program with their extremely light and healthy Spa cuisine. Since it was the 4th of July, we celebrated in their Mexican restaurant, Frida, which is equally good and more adventurous than the Italian one. We dined in the style of Frida and Diego. A 4th of July fireworks show in front of the swimming pool was spectacular (photo, fireworks). The lounge bar was decorated with red, blue and white and the band is playing primarily American pop songs.

July 5 was pretty uneventful, we did our yoga and cardio exercise in the morning, ate a big lunch in the seaside restaurant with the beautiful view of the Banderas Bay and pelicans hunting for fish (photo, pelican in flight). We swam and lounged and read in the afternoon and took a short Spanish lesson at the activity center before dinner. This is the day we felt completely relaxed and guilty of not accomplishing anything.

July 6 was our last day in this deluxe resort and again yoga and cardio in the morning, have brunch and check out. Flying back home was also peaceful til we got to Seattle Airport and found one of our check-in luggage was broken during the flight and we got a replacement coupon so we are now in market for a new suitcase, in preparation for our next exciting trip to Oaxaca in less than then 2 weeks.