I Ate the State Special Edition – Puerto Vallarta: THE RETURN

¡Hola!

About a year ago, I visited sunny Puerto Vallarta and it was amazing. The landscapes, the culture, the food – everything was spectacular and I was looking forward to returning someday. I wasn’t planning on returning quite this soon, but when the opportunity arose, who was I to ignore it? My friend had been planning on visiting the area with her sister, but since she was unable to get away, I joined the adventure in her place. Sun-soaked beaches, art-packed streets and delicious margaritas? Bring it on!

~ For a look at last year’s Puerto Vallarta trip – my first ever to Mexico – check out the adventures HERE. ~

The View
Not a bad sight to greet the weary traveler…

Getting an incredibly early start on our day of departure (5:45am!) put us in Puerto Vallarta around 2:30pm. It was perfect as it allowed for a solid amount of time to check into our condo and take care of the necessary “errands” for the week. (i.e. Purchasing tequila, snacks, ice, coffee, etc. You know – The necessities.) That said, getting to the airport in time for a 5:45am flight wasn’t conducive to any sort of worthwhile, preparatory rest. I was fighting off yet another cold (still lingering from my recent Scottish holiday adventures) and my two hours of sleep didn’t really cut the mustard. To say I arrived in Puerto Vallarta a little out of sorts was an understatement.

Bloody Mary
The customary Bloody Mary Kick-off!

Lack of sleep is detrimental to many things; cognitive skills and memory being two such items. These abilities are required for activities such as filling out important immigration forms, carrying on intelligible conversations with foreign officials and remembering ATM pin numbers. Luckily, I was able to successfully navigate the first two obstacles, lack of sleep be damned. The swift recollection of my ATM pin, however, was an entirely different and sad matter…

As was the case with our last adventure, we waited to procure our Mexican pesos until arrival in Puerto Vallarta. While waiting in line to use the ATM, patting myself on the back for appearing mostly composed while entering the country, a thought suddenly struck; like a bolt of lightning, in fact. OMG – WHAT IS MY PIN NUMBER??

For the record, I have never forgotten my pin number. Additionally, I know my debit card and several credit card numbers by heart. The card I’d planned on using was the one I use every day – with my pin number. EVERY. DAY. Yet, as I stood there, mind blank and fuzzy, I couldn’t be exactly sure of the precise collection of pin numbers or their order. I totally panicked.

Still panicking, it was my turn at the ATM. I approached, palms sweating (which could’ve just been the crazy, afternoon heat) and pulled out my debit card. My mind was racing with possible number combinations and my hand was attempting to auto-recall the pattern on the number pad. While I was fairly certain I remembered the numbers, I couldn’t be entirely sure. To quote Pee-Wee Herman in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, “The mind plays tricks on you – You play tricks back…”

After two failed attempts, I stepped away from the ATM. I knew I only had a limited number of tries before the bank blocked my card, so I thought I’d let things settle for a while. Perhaps a bit of rest, reflection and beach gazing would do the trick. Thankfully, my friend knew I was good for it and since she had apparently remembered her pin number, we were able to pay for the taxi to our condo. We were both convinced I’d be able to sort this out later in the afternoon and off to enjoy the day we went.

After a fairly short cab ride to our condo, La Palapa, in the heart of Old Town Puerto Vallarta (aka: the Romantic Zone), we checked in and surveyed the scene. Last year, we stayed a little closer to the main part of the Malecon, but this time we were more in the center of the Old Town and directly on the expansive Los Muertos Beach. I loved where we stayed last year and would probably choose it for my next stay, but being directly on the beach and all of its activity was really quite lovely. (In all fairness, last year’s spot was also close to the beach, but you had to walk all the way across a 10-foot wide walkway (the Malecon) to get there. The horror.)

After we each claimed our respective rooms in the condo and got the lay of things, we set out to take care of important errands. Since I wasn’t feeling quite up to “adventure mode,” my main plans were to spend time resting and relaxing, living out my foodie dreams and maybe getting in a bit of writing. I’d been envisioning myself, ala Hemingway, enjoying the tranquil grace of the Old Town and soaking up the Arts scene. Throw in a spa treatment or two, some good tequila and a few beautiful sunsets and my time in Puerto Vallarta would be perfect. (All of which gloriously transpired.)

Procuring the essentials is of the utmost importance for a well-enjoyed holiday. A few places to help pave the way towards a relaxing and rejuvenating stay in Puerto Vallarta:

  • First things, first. Tequila is important. Good tequila is even more important. Don’t get caught in the tourist-trap tequila shops on and around the Malecon. Instead, head to Vinos América where the prices and selection are much better – and there’s air-conditioning! We visited the location in the Old Town area. A few times… We also found a pre-mixed tamarind margarita mix which was fantastic! I’ve always loved the flavor of tamarind, but had never tried it in a margarita. I’ve been unable to find it at home, but will be buying some tamarind concentrate in the near future to try and recreate the magic.
First margs!
Tamarind margaritas! Just required a quick trip to the store…
  • Just as good tequila is important, good coffee holds equal status. (In my world, anyway.) There are several coffee shops in the Old Town area, but being able to make a great cup of coffee first thing in the morning is an absolute requirement. Sitting out on the deck, watching the ocean, contemplating life… what a way to start the day. Vallarta Factory not only has delicious food, but they carry a great selection of ground and whole bean coffee, sourced from the local mountains. And if that weren’t enough, the adjacent chocolate shop also carries one of the most delicious creations known to the planet: Caramel-coated, roasted cacao beans. I became hooked on them after my last trip and have been dreaming about them ever since. Suffice to say, I brought back SEVERAL bags…
  • The Farmacia Guadalajara in the Old Town is a large drug store and has everything you need in the way of snacks, sundries and more. I’m still excited about my Frida Kahlo Aqua Net score from last year’s trip…
  • Keeping a bag of ice in the freezer is important for so many hot-weather reasons. OXXO mini-marts are virtually everywhere in Puerto Vallarta and it’s likely one will be located close to wherever you’re staying. Stop by for bagged ice, sodas, chips, ice cream bars and more!
  • Pedicures are good for what ails the tired, airport-dashing feet and a fine addition to any restful vacation. The staff at the Wow! Facial Bar, just up from our condo, was very accommodating and gave me an excellent pedicure. (They had a very interesting facial masque treatment I might try next time…) I did have to return the next day for a touch-up, buy they very graciously took care of everything. They didn’t even want me to pay for the touch-up!
  • If you were stuck with someone reclining their seat in front of you for the entire flight, work out your stress at Spa Holistic. Located directly on the beach/Malecon, their staff is excellent and the prices were amazing. You could also go the cheaper route and hit up the roaming foot massage troop working the beach, but an actual spa massage seemed like a better idea to me…
View from the Rooftop
A pretty amazing view from the rooftop

After stocking up on essentials and enjoying a couple of very tasty tamarind margaritas on the deck, it was time to think about dinner. Located downstairs in our condo and directly on the beach was the famous La Palapa restaurant and bar. Built in 1957 and the first restaurant on the beach, La Palapa is still owned by the same family and remains an icon in the Romantic Zone. If you’re looking for fancier dining, directly on the beach, check out the scene at La Palapa. They offer breakfast, lunch and dinner in their dining room or directly on the beach in their private seating area. They also host weddings and events and we watched them set up at least two beach weddings during our stay. Granted, there were only a few nights with sunsets, but the weather cooperated during the ceremonies and no one was rained out. Dreamy.

Since we weren’t feeling terribly fancy after our long travel day and running of errands, we decided to keep it casual that first night. (And most nights thereafter) Since it was Restaurant Week during our visit, we’d put together a list of potential eateries to investigate. (Note: Restaurant week is always longer than a week and this year ran from May 15th thru June 10th) Many cities feature restaurant weeks, but if you haven’t had the opportunity to participate, they’re a great way to enjoy pricier restaurants for more a reasonable cost. They usually feature a few prix fixe meals which offer a good overview of their full menu. On the list was Joe Jack’s Fish Shack, located a few blocks from our condo. Their menu looked tasty and it was a short walk for weary travelers… Perfect combo! The even bigger bonus was just how tasty the menu was. Everything we tried was delicious. The passion fruit margaritas were amazing and I would eat the Shrimp and Avocado Tostadas Louie every day of my life. Every day! We definitely returned for more during our stay…

There are so many stellar restaurants to try in Puerto Vallarta. The list is impressive and you’d need a very long stay to make your way through it, but it sure would be a delicious journey. We didn’t visit nearly as many spots as I’d hoped, but we made a noble effort. I guess the eyes of vacation planning are sometimes bigger than the stomach of time…

Here’s a short list of the places we visited and hoped to visit on this adventure. I suppose the good thing about not hitting every spot is having something to look forward to on the next trip! Because there will definitely be another trip…

  • We visited renowned chef, Thierry Blouet’s Café des Artistes during our stay and it was spectacular. The atmosphere and service were excellent – minus a small banana allergy mix-up – and the food was truly delicious. Their famous Cream of Prawn and Pumpkin soup (ladled from a carved out pumpkin) was fantastic and the ‘Catch of the Day’ was wonderful. (And I am kicking myself for not writing down the fish. It was delicate, white, flaky… Sigh…) And the desserts – Yowsa!
  • Directly next door to La Palapa, you’ll find Si Senor Beach. Quite handy to have great dining options just downstairs. The regular menu was somewhat pricey, but we opted for the Restaurant Week selections and weren’t disappointed. Interestingly, the margaritas we ordered ending up being the same price as our entire meal! (Pro tip: Don’t worry about getting the fancy tequila unless you’re going to sip it. Mid-shelf tequila for margaritas is absolutely acceptable.)
  • Situated on the Cuale River and featuring regular Jazz shows, Le Bistro has been high on my list on both visits – and it remains! They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and feature fresh seafood along with pasta and pizza on their dinner menu.
Le Bistro Cafe
Lovely riverside dining at Le Bistro Cafe
  • Appropriately perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean, Le Kliff features an amazing menu and is one of Puerto Vallarta’s most exclusive dining locales. While we didn’t get to visit on this excursion, my friend has dined there on past visits and speaks very highly of the experience.
  • Di Vino Dante features local cuisine with Mexican wine pairings. Born and raised in Puerto Vallarta, the owner was studying Fine Art in Vancouver B.C. when she also began studying wine. She returned home to showcase her knowledge and has been featuring Mexican and Latin American wines and cuisine at her intimate wine bar in the Old Town.
  • Nicksan features the very cool fusion of Mexican and Japanese cuisine. Sashimi tostadas? They’ve got ‘em! Chiles stuffed with spicy crab and sesame sauce? Bring it on!!
  • Renowned local chef, Joel Ornelas, whose resume includes apprenticeships at Café des Artistes and Le Bistro as well as several well-reviewed European restaurants, puts his own touch on the classics at Tintoque. Their “Creative Menu” features fresh seafood and local produce and changes daily. Located at Vallarta Marina, near the Hotel Zone.
  • Tucked in along a side street near the Malecon, Florios specializes in a tasty blend of Italian and Argentinian inspired cuisines. Pasta and meat – together forever!
Florios
Italian and Argentinian dining at Florios near the Malecon
  • La Bodeguita del Medio was very crowded when we stopped by, but we stood outside and listened to the live Cuban music and I promised myself to try again next time. The Puerto Vallarta location is an offshoot of the same club Hemingway spent so much time at in Havana. (Which is still there!) Located at the heart of the Malecon.
  • Barcelona Tapas was on our list as my friend had visited before and raved about it. I love a good tapas. Who doesn’t?? We didn’t make it there together, but I will definitely be stopping in on my next visit.
  • Jorge’s Hideaway Shrimp Shack is as advertised, most definitely “hidden.” Tucked back into an Old Town neighborhood, you could easily mistake it for a small home. (Which it used to be!) My friend was on a quest for the best coconut shrimp and Jorge’s did not disappoint. Everything we had was fresh and delicious and I’ll definitely return on my next visit.
  • We were feeling peckish after a hot day of walking around and arrived a little early for dinner hours at The Swedes Bar & Bistro. They were very accommodating, however, and we ended up with the whole place to ourselves for dinner! Featuring local ingredients prepared with a European flare, everything we tried was delicious. The lobster bisque was a standout highlight for me. YUM!
  • Tucked into a tiny spot in the Old Town, Tacos Revolucion serves delicious tacos of all varieties and absolutely delicious tortas. They also have “Volcanoes” and “Cakes” – both savory dishes – which I will absolutely be trying on my next visit. I also didn’t get to try the “Meat in Your Juice,” which is described as Beef cooked in its juice with bacon, green sauce, scallion, beans from the pot and handmade tortillas. Guadalajara style. WHAT??? #Heavenly
Tacos Revolucion
I was pretty much full after the guacamole…

And just a few more places that will remain on my list until next visit:

  • Blanca Blue – Contemporary Mexican cuisine and stunning ocean views. Located at the Garza Blanca Preserve Resort and Spa.
  • El Arrayan – Traditional and contemporary Mexican cuisine in the heart of the Malecon scene.
  • El Dorado­ – Located directly on the beach in the Old Town/Romantic Zone area, featuring modern Mexican cuisine.
  • Located at the Grand Miramar resort with a striking, panoramic view of the city, Eugenia features local seafood and produce in an upscale presentation.
  • Perched high in the hills above the Old Town, Hacienda San Angel Gourmet features elevated Mexican cuisine and an amazing view. It is also high on my list to actually stay in one of the dreamy suites at Hacienda San Angel, once owned by Richard Burton. (Note: Due to kitchen maintenance, there is no dinner service for August and September, 2019)
  • Meridia Grill features contemporary Mexican cuisine in the heart of traditional Old Town. Duck tacos!
  • I attempted to visit the trendy La Romantica Churros & Café Bar a couple of times during my visit. It was right around the corner from the condo and featured delicious churros, Mexican hot chocolate and coffee. What more could a girl need? Sadly, on the first attempt, they weren’t opening for another hour and on the second try, they were closed for a two-week vacation! Alas, it just wasn’t in the cards and I’ll have to hit them up next time. If I have to camp out in front, I will…
Cafe des Artistes
Sometimes you just need to get fancy…

And not to be forgotten, here are a few favorites from my last Puerto Vallarta visit:

  • Featuring family recipes, El Mole de Jovita is a must-stop if you’re looking for the rich, addictive flavors of authentic mole. My favorites were the Mole Jovita, pumpkin and green moles. I’ll be back!
  • Pancho’s Takos is amazing. Serving slow-roasted meats, prepared on flame-licked spits, Pancho’s is a must for any taco lover. And don’t forget to add their spectacular sauces and accompaniments to your meal. (Pro tip: Get there early. The line at Pancho’s gets crazy long in the evening!)
  • For the record, I still can’t believe I didn’t make it to Mariscos Cisneros on this trip. This place is delicious and I can’t count the number of times I’ve daydreamed of their fish tacos and deep-fried, cheese-stuffed jalapenos. Whhhyyyyy???

In keeping with one of my major vacation objectives, alarm clocks had NO place in my morning and getting up when I felt like getting up was paramount. Enjoying coffee on the deck, watching the day come alive at the Pier at Los Muertos and knowing I had many more days of this was a completely sublime feeling. Most of the mornings during our stay were overcast, but as I make my home in Seattle, what’s a little cloud cover? Good coffee and knowing I have no commitments for the day is more than enough to make me shout a very happy GOOD MORNING to the world. To make things even more enjoyable, my wacky lovely friend decided she didn’t want the room with the amazing ocean view – complete with the soothing sound of waves. I guess the waves don’t lull everyone to sleep like they do me… I’ll take that ocean view room – no problem! Add in that I was able to eventually work out the forgotten PIN situation and my vacation mode officially set in. (Granted, it required a few long phone calls to my bank and a bit of logistical finagling, but whatever – cold hard cash was mine to spend! And a hearty thanks to my travel buddy for humoring the situation and helping out…)

My Yacht
Now that I had my PIN sorted out, I could buy that yacht…

I don’t often have the chance to enjoy a leisurely breakfast, but vacation is the perfect time to live out such fantasies. There are so many fabulous breakfast and brunch spots in Puerto Vallarta, it was hard to decide where to start the day. It’s a rough job, but someone’s gotta do it. You’re welcome. A few of the delicious early morning (more like noonish) spots we hit up:

  • The aforementioned Vallarta Factory was our first stop on the vacation breakfast train. I was excited to return and had vowed to try something new on this visit, but I failed. The menu is great, but the Poblano omelet I had on the last trip was loudly calling my name – and I listened. SO good!
  • The Pancake House is pretty spectacular and they do indeed serve delicious pancakes and French toast. That said, their Chilaquiles with Verde sauce was out of this world! We came back a couple times during our stay.
  • Barra Light offers delicious breakfast and lunch dishes featuring organic and locally sourced ingredients – and some pretty great cappuccinos. As they were located just around the corner from our condo, we stopped in quite a few times for both breakfast and lunch.
  • Salud Superfood is a standout in the area for organic and vegetarian dishes. We visited on our last trip and the food was excellent. I will be back on my next visit as well!
  • Café San Angel was also a feature of my last visit, but as their migas were so delicious, there was no way I was missing a repeat engagement. They didn’t fail to impress and maybe next time I’ll branch out and try something new. Maybe.
  • Located a block off the Malecon, the Coexist Bistro was the last stop on our vacation breakfast train and positively delicious – And air-conditioned! Set on the ground floor of the very cool Hotel Rio, the dishes were imaginative and well-prepared. I’ll definitely be hitting them up on my next visit. Also, did I mention they have air-conditioning?? #Luxurious

On my last visit, I was so impressed and inspired by the amazing artwork and music all around the city and vowed to more deeply experience the scene during this stay. Every day, after fortifying ourselves with a delicious breakfast, we wandered around, taking it all in, experiencing the vibrancy of the city. Everywhere we looked were beautifully handcrafted arts and crafts and everywhere we listened, strains of live music. It was a feast for the eyes, ears and soul, to be sure. I can’t imagine the creative spirit ever at a loss for inspiration in this city.

The list of artistic possibilities in Puerto Vallarta is expansive and full of variety. What I’ve experienced thus far is just a small cross-section of what can be found. I look forward to continuing my artistic adventures on future trips. In the meantime, a few of the spots we were able to enjoy on this visit:

  • My friend introduced me to Enrique on our last visit and I was happy to again visit him at the shop he manages, Muy Guapo. Located in the Old Town, Muy Guapo features unique antiques and quirky, funky art and jewelry from around Mexico. Enrique is also a fantastic artist and occasionally has some of his own work at the shop.
  • Enrique’s sister, Marisa, is also an artist and regularly displays her paintings at the Cuale Island Flea Market. She features lovely scenes of local life and I was happy to return home with a couple of her miniatures featuring nearby Yelapa. (Marisa’s stall is located in the shade of the Insurgentes Street Bridge pedestrian underpass) Walking along the peaceful Cuale River and winding in and out of the artist stalls and banyan trees is an excellent way to spend the afternoon.
  • My friend was trying to track down a local marionette artist while we were in town, but was sadly unsuccessful. We were, however, able to successfully add to our glassware collections with a stop at Mundo de Cristal in the Old Town. They only had a few pieces left of the pattern I’d brought back on my last trip, but I snatched them up and my collection grows. I can now serve even more tamarind margaritas at my next party!
Tequila and Glasses
You can’t bring back glasses without something to put in them! I’m not a monster.
  • We also returned to spectacular tile and ceramics shop, Mundo de Azulejos in the Old Town. My friend wanted to custom order an address plaque for her home. Since her home is blue, she decided on “La Casa Azul” with lettering appropriately in blue. Unfortunately, after they fired the plaque, the paint looked green. Something on the list for her next visit to Puerto Vallarta, I guess…
  • On my last visit, I brought back a beautiful hand-blown glass miniature of my bass guitar. On this visit, we again hit up Carlos Rosas with a few more requests. Additionally, due to a freak dusting accident, the neck of my bass broke! (Broken bass necks are actually a bit of a personal curse. Two actual bass necks and now a glass one… Eeesh.) Through our email communications and pictures being sent, Carlos came up with amazing renditions of both mine and my friend’s dogs as well as a new rendition of my bass and the most spectacular Hammond organ piece for my friend, Joe’s birthday. And he very kindly fixed my broken bass, which I’d brought along just in case it was repairable… Now I have a backup! Carlos is no longer located in the Old Town and now sets up shop on Wednesdays near the cruise ship harbor with many of the local artists. (Our friend, Marisa included.) Definitely make the effort to find his booth!
  • On my last visit, I found a couple of musical notes created in the Huichol tradition. I love them and was hoping to find a couple more, but none of the shops I investigated had them. Luckily, my friend happened upon Colores Magicos in her own shopping excursions and got their email for me. Through a series of emails and a visit to the shop, they graciously arranged for a local artist to make me a couple of notes during my stay. Cool!! I left it up to the artist to come up with the designs and I picked them up on my last day in town. (After the artist raced into town to get them to me before I left!) I love them! If you stop by, ask for Carlos or Olga and tell them the lady with the musical notes sent you – they’re awesome!
Musical Notes
Two new notes to add to my song!
  • I have a weakness for chunky rings and found the most beautiful larimar ring at the Cassandra Shaw gallery in the Old Town. She is also a painter and animal lover and features many of her paintings in the shop. I love the llama!
  • As my friends are aware (especially those who’ve helped me pack to move), I have a nerdy weakness for glassware, mugs, teacups, shot glasses, etc. If you can drink out of it, I probably have one. On a related note, I’m particularly fond of the You Are Here and Been There series from Starbucks. I have several from around the world and now I have one from Puerto Vallarta. Hooray!
Been There Series
My morning joe with scenes from PV!
  • There is much music to be found around the city. Live music in restaurants and theatres, dance music in the Malecon and Old Town night clubs and scores of roaming musicians around town and on the Malecon. Stop and listen, go inside and enjoy a set – Take in all the amazing sounds the city has to offer. And keep an eye out for seasoned bassists roaming the beach, waiting to play you a tune…

You never know what you’re going to find or what amazing piece of art will call to you as you wander the cobblestone streets and artist stalls along the Cuale. Allow plenty of time to investigate the shops and talk to the artists – and be sure to stay hydrated. There’s nothing wrong with soaking in the sun for a couple hours and returning to the comfort of an air-conditioned hotel room to cool off and get rejuvenated. Of course, it’s also a good idea to throw in a couple of margaritas on the deck and maybe a bit of homemade guacamole, pico de gallo and chips… That’s just good sense. And then resume your meandering, refueled and ready to explore!

When not wandering aimlessly around town, there are many places to add to your sightseeing list. Stick around Puerto Vallarta proper or hop on a tour bus or water taxi to the outlying areas of the city. There are so many amazing places to see and things to do. A mere week or so isn’t nearly enough, but you’ll have an excellent excuse to come back soon. Perhaps the following year! Some of my favorite places to visit so far:

  • Last visit, we took a water taxi from the Pier at Los Muertos to visit the neighboring village of Yelapa. We’d planned on making another trip, but as the weather was sometimes a bit grey and misty, we decided against a choppy boat ride. I fell in love with Yelapa and would love to return for a stay in the sleepy coastal burb, but will have to wait until next time. The water taxis also stop at other villages along the way and I plan to investigate those on my next journey as well.
  • On the way to Yelapa, look out for the rocky arches at Los Arcos Marine Park. I’d love to do some snorkeling in the area and get closer to the arches. Next time!
  • If you’d like to admire the beautiful architecture of Puerto Vallarta’s local parishes, two beautiful examples to seek out while walking around the Malecon are the Parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a little further down, the Church of Our Lady of the Refuge. Both hold regular services and are open to visit during the day.
  • While wandering around the banyan lined banks of the Cuale, we happened upon the Cuale Cultural Center. A beautiful group of buildings with lovely landscaping and scenery, it serves as a center for all manner of Arts workshops and hosts showings and performances. There was nothing going on the day we visited, but I look forward to checking out the scene on future visits. (Note: When we visited the area, it looked like they were still in operation, but their website doesn’t look current. I hope they’re still holding events…)
  • There are many outdoor markets selling a variety of food and goods running throughout the year and all around town. As we did last year, one of the first places we hit up was the Mercado Emiliano Zapata produce stand were we bought fresh vegetables, dried hibiscus flowers, hot sauces and more. (Pro tip: Wash all of the produce off as soon as you bring it back to wherever you’re staying. If you don’t, you’re likely to wake up to an army of tiny gnats marching around your counter-tops. Very common, but easily addressed by a thorough washing.)
  • There are a couple other outdoor markets we attempted to visit, but were sad to learn were closed for the season. The Olas Atlas Farmers Market, also known as the Old Farmers Market is open on Saturdays from November through April and is very worth getting up early to investigate. (9:30am to 2pm)
  • Since we were unable to visit the Saturday market in the Old Town, we decide to walk over to the Saturday Market. Maybe walking on a sweltering hot day wasn’t the greatest of plans as it ended up being closer to the Hotel Zone and what felt like 327 miles away. At least. That said, it was a very interesting walk through the local neighborhoods and we ended up getting to experience a very local market scene. Clothing, both new and used, tools, produce, baked goods, little taco stands – you name it, it was at the market. However, as interesting as it was to walk through the neighborhoods, it was just as interesting to take an air-conditioned cab ride back to the Old Town. But for the record, I got in A LOT of steps that day on the ol’ Fitbit – and probably sweated out a few pounds on top of it. SCORE!
Saturday Market
A true local market – and a long walk from the Old Town!

One of the things we’d been planning on checking out were the local foodie tours and maybe a tequila tour or two. However, since we were both feeling pretty exhausted from all that wandering around town and walking on the beaches… and making deck margaritas… it never really worked out. Oops. That said, I am confident I’ll be returning soon and it gives me more foodie adventures to look forward to in the future. Some of the tours that intrigued me:

There is no one way to visit or enjoy Puerto Vallarta. Lounge on the beach every day and make homemade guacamole and pico de gallo to enjoy with scratch margaritas on your deck. Eat at all the amazing restaurants and imbibe on elaborate craft cocktails. Hit up the night clubs and late-night Malecon scene and dance into the night. Take a water taxi to the tiny inlets outside of the city and enjoy a burro ride around the village. Get daring and go diving – either in the sea or sky! (Well, parasailing anyway…) Write, dream, contemplate the world and what you can do to make it better… There are so many amazing adventures to be experienced in this beautiful city.

Whenever I think of Puerto Vallarta, I recall the spectacular sunsets, the leisurely walks on the beach, the charm of watching the nightly dinner service under the lantern-lit beach umbrellas and the absolute come-as-you-are ease of the Old Town. (Unless it’s Café Des Artistes or one of the upscale hotels, where I recommend kicking it up a fancy notch…) In the years to come, I will always keep a bit of Puerto Vallarta warmth and sunshine tucked away to pull out on those grey Seattle days. This city is now a part of my soul and I hope to experience many more beautiful moments within its borders, whether experienced a year from now or ten.

In closing, if you’re thinking of visiting Mexico, I highly recommend checking out this absolutely lovely city. It’s full of beauty, the locals are welcoming, the Arts scene is rich and vibrant – and there are an unbelievable bounty of tastes, sounds and experiences to sample. It’s a paradise on so many levels! Hey, and no one got pooped on by a Magnificent Frigatebird this time, so that was an extra vacation win!

Until next time – Eat the state!

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I Ate the State SPECIAL EDITION: Puerto Vallarta – The Return! Click HERE to check out the Spotify playlist.

  • Escape (The Pina Colada Song) – Rupert Holmes (from Partners in Crime)
  • Steal Away – Robbie Dupree (from Robbie Dupree)
  • Tequila Sunrise – Eagles (from Desperado)
  • Batida Diferente – Herbie Mann (from Latin Forever)
  • A Horse with No Name – America (from America)
  • Do It Again – Steely Dan (from Can’t Buy A Thrill)
  • Coconut – Harry Nilsson (from Nilsson Schmilsson)
  • Mambo Sangria – Caj Tjader (from Too Late Now)
  • Sicily – Chick Corea (from Friends)
  • Biggest Part of Me – Ambrosia (from One Eighty)
  • The Boys of Summer – Don Henley (from Building the Perfect Beast)
  • Hold the Line – Toto (from Toto)
  • Love Will Find A Way – Pablo Cruise (from Worlds Away)
  • Danza de Gardenias – Natalia Lafourcade (from Danza de Gardenias)
  • Dreamers – Judy Collins (from Dreamers)
  • Águas de Março – Antônio Carlos Jobim (from Antônio Carlos Jobim: Finest Hour)
  • Come Sail Away – Styx (from The Grand Illusion)
  • Still the One – Orleans (from Waking and Dreaming)
  • Sailing – Christopher Cross (from Christopher Cross)
  • Corcovado – Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars – Stan Getz, João Gilberto (from Getz/Gilberto)
  • Drift Away – Dobie Gray (from Dobie Gray – His Very Best)
  • Babylon Sisters – Steely Dan (from Gaucho)
  • Samba De Orfeu – Cal Tjader (from Soul Sauce)
  • Ride Like the Wind – Christopher Cross (from Christopher Cross)
  • Reelin’ in the Years – Steely Dan (from Can’t Buy A Thrill)

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Check out more I Ate the State Adventures:

I Ate the State – Special Edition: Puerto Vallarta

¡Hola!

Welcome to a special edition of I Ate the State: Puerto Vallarta! 

In keeping with my overarching plan to eat North America, I thought it would be a good idea to get started by visiting the southern state of… Jalisco, Mexico, and more specifically, Puerto Vallarta! Being so close to the Canadian border, I regularly get up to the northern areas of the continent, but this was my first time visiting the southern regions of Mexico. (Other than that one time outside of San Diego when I learned I couldn’t take a rental car across the border… gah!) I regret it’s taken me so long to visit as it was truly a spectacular trip filled with wonderful people, amazing food, beautiful scenery and many fine beverages.  (Ohhh, that sweet nectar, tequila… And did I mention the AMAZING FOOD??) Please join me for a little trip across the border and I’ll share with you my adventures!

Traveling from Seattle, the quickest path is obviously by plane. Flights tend to have one layover, but my stop in San Diego was fairly short (both departing and returning) and the overall travel time was only about 6 hours. Not too shabby considering going from rainy-day Seattle to the polar opposite, sweltering heat of Puerto Vallarta. (May was a very nice time of the year to visit. It’s the off-season, but the weather was nice and it wasn’t rainy or overly-humid.) Plus, the layover in San Diego was just long enough to enjoy a rather tasty Bloody Mary in the airport bar. Buenos días, vacaciones!

When vacationing in Puerto Vallarta, many people opt to stay in the resort area in the northern part of the city/coast. There are many great deals at the hotels and all-inclusive resorts in this part of the city, but my travel buddy had visited Puerto Vallarta many times prior and had the lowdown on the slightly less touristy areas to stay.  After arriving at the airport and grabbing a taxi (we caught one around back of the airport and across the foot bridge – away from the throng of tourist-trap cabs), we headed towards Puerto Vallarta’s “Old Town,” also known as the Romantic Zone. It’s still very tourist accessible, but less modern with lovely, traditional architecture and cobblestone streets filled with local artists, shops and wonderful restaurants.

During her recent visits to Puerto Vallarta, my friend discovered a great beach condo in the Los Muertos Beach area. The very spacious (we each had our own gigantic rooms w/private bathrooms!), well-appointed spot we landed in was directly across from the beach on the Malecon and happened to be owned by a farming couple from Indiana. (It’s apparently fairly common in the area for people to own condos on the beach and rent them out when they’re not in town.) My friend found it on VRBO and for the excellent price of $150/night, we were seriously in vacation paradise. Add in a wrap-around deck with pristine views of the ocean and waves lulling me to sleep at night and it was seriously hard to leave. (Pro tip #1: Finding a place with solid air-conditioning is key. Not a lot of the shops and restaurants had AC, so being able to periodically pop back to the condo was a much appreciated respite from the heat.)

Since we arrived fairly early in the day, it was perfect timing to casually acclimate ourselves to the area and do a bit of shopping for the week. As the condo had a great kitchen, we wanted to stock up on the basics like coffee, snacks, ice, etc. and… tequila. (Pro tip #2: Having a bag of ice in the freezer is incredibly important when concocting tasty margaritas.) It was also a great way to initially acquaint ourselves with the lay of the land.

Whenever and wherever I travel, I want to get to know the day-to-day feel of the city and its people. I like to get off the beaten tourist path and experience the actual flow of the city and what makes it unique. Having lived in Seattle for many years, it always makes me sad when visitors only get (or want) to see the Space Needle and Pike Place Market. Granted, those are great spots, but there is so much more to experience beyond those confines. I’d like to think that every city has the same story… Puerto Vallarta was certainly no exception.

And with that, I highly recommend the following local spots for stocking up on necessities for your visit:  (Like socks. Because you (or maybe I) forgot them. And tequila.)

  • Pro Tip #3: Buy your tequila away from the tourist traps on the Malecon. We hit up the Vinos América store a few blocks off the Malecon and got two great bottles of tequila for a total of $20 US! WOW!! Nothing like making a scratch margarita and watching the sunset over the ocean – from your deck!
  • Find exceptionally fresh produce and staples at Mercado Emiliano Zapata. I picked up all the fixings to make a huge batch of guacamole for only $2 US! The fresh guac along with the fresh tortilla chips I grabbed from the restaurant downstairs made for quite a pairing with the deck margaritas. There’s also another great farmer’s market on Saturdays, the Olas Atlas Farmer’s Market. (AKA: The Old Farmer’s Market (Tianguis Cultural)
  • You say you forgot to bring hairspray? Maybe you underestimated your need for SPF 1000? There are many local pharmacy options, but we hit up Farmacia Guadalajara and all our drugstore needs were met. (Including the best can of Aqua Net I’ve EVER SEEN! Which I promptly purchased.)
  • Need a quick spot for beer, ice, snacks, etc.? Check out one of the many OXXO Mini Mart locations in the area. Think 7-11.
  • Missing the halcyon days of the candy and ice cream counters at Woolworth? Look no further, Woolworth is still around in Mexico!! I’m not gonna lie – I was very excited about this discovery. It’s been a long time… (And I got an excellent deal on SOCKS! And cookies…)

After spending the day orienting ourselves and doing some random snacking, it was time for an official meal. To say I’d been looking forward to Mexican food in Mexico would be a mighty understatement. Mexican cuisine has been a cherished staple in my life for as long as I can remember. I feel pretty lucky to have always been surrounded by wonderful resources and examples of Mexican food, art and culture, but being able to experience the beauty of Mexico in person was truly a dream come true. Since we still needed to stock up on one of Mexico’s finest treasures, coffee, and my friend knew of an excellent restaurant which also featured fresh roasted coffee and chocolate along with delicious desserts and hand-rolled cigars, off we went to check out Vallarta Factory.  (A few blocks off the Malecon, heading into Old Town)

Oh, man, was that good!! Our eyes were definitely bigger than our stomachs that night, but it wasn’t too sad an ending as we ended up with a good stash of leftovers for the next couple days. I had to try the Chile Relleno as it is one of my favorite dishes and we also ordered the fried cheese (WOW!), chips and guacamole, a burrito w/home fries (why not?) and several, very tasty margaritas. Everything was delicious! After boxing up our ample leftovers, we stocked up on in-house roasted coffee (beans brought down from the nearby mountains) and practically rolled out the door. Since I knew I wanted to bring home some of the delicious coffee, we came back a couple days later and tried out their breakfast offerings. Again, we weren’t disappointed and the Poblano chile omelet I had was amazing. The topper at the Vallarta Factory, in my opinion, was something I picked up at their adjacent chocolate shop; the caramel coated, in-house roasted cacao beans. (Seriously one of the best things I’ve ever eaten – Also brought down from local mountains.) OMG NOMNOMNOMNOMNOM! I brought back a couple bags and fully intended to use them as gifts, but must report to have failed miserably at that plan. While I did, however, share a small portion of them, I ate the rest of them all by myself. ALL THE BEANS! ALL BY MYSELF.

Selfishness and personal weakness aside, please hear my plea. Regardless of the fact I callously ate the majority of the beans I brought back and likely didn’t share any with you, PLEASE bring me some back if you happen to go to Puerto Vallarta. I will pay you money. COLD. HARD. CASH.  I’ll be your cash ca-cao!  (Thank you, thank you – I’ll be here all week. Try the cacao!) I need some more of those beans…

Since I was just in Puerto Vallarta for a week, I was only able to take in a small sampling of the amazing culinary options available. I had several great meals, but here’s a quick list of some of my favorite stops:

  • If mole is your thing, it’s a must that you check out El Mole de Jovita. My friend knew the very gracious and gregarious owner, Sergio from her past visits and she strongly advised we make a pilgrimage to his restaurant. As I’ve come to understand, mole recipes are highly regarded, prized and often guarded family secrets and this particular restaurant was featuring Sergio’s mother’s beloved mole recipes. I’m certainly glad we stopped in as all the mole versions we tried were positively delicious and potentially addicting. I’m quite sure if I lived in the area I’d be a regular fixture at El Mole de Jovita. It was also a lovely accompaniment to our meal that a very talented guitarist was performing Jazz standards at the front of the restaurant.
  • I am a great fan of migas and was very happy we stumbled upon Café San Angel one (late) morning. We’d been planning to check out Salud Super Food (see below), but they were apparently closed on Sundays. Our initial misfortune was turned happily around when our breakfast dishes arrived on the table. (preceded by a tasty round of Bloody Marys) The migas was a great combination of fluffiness with the eggs and a chewy-crunch of the hand-cut and fried corn tortilla strips. Throw in the spice of the diced Serrano peppers and a healthy dose of hot sauce and I was in breakfast nirvana. Our meals also included delicious baguette loaves on the side with whipped butter and jam. It was the perfect way to start the day.
Migas
One of the most delicious breakfast dishes EVER – Migas.
  • After initially being shut down on Sunday, we hit up Salud Super Food later in the week and were much appeased by their great rice bowls, wraps, salads and very cheerful setting. I had the Thai Super Bowl and Salud salad and was completely impressed with the freshness, flavor and creativity of the dishes. It was also a good break from the heavier dishes I’d been indulging in throughout the week. I didn’t try the smoothies or coffee, but everything I saw coming to nearby tables looked quite delicious. We even ran into a tourist couple that week who stopped us and asked if we knew where this restaurant was. It’s apparently one of the better known spots for offering great vegetarian and vegan options.
Breakfast
A very healthy and tasty breakfast from Salud Super Food
  • One iconic Mexican food I was very excited to partake of in Mexico was the real-deal, non-crunchy-shelled, good ol’ fashioned taco. For the record, I would eat any of the tacos I tried in Puerto Vallarta every day, for pretty much every meal. (Okay – I might break it up here and there with some Chile Relleno or something, but I digress.)  I tried several varieties of tacos throughout the week at several different places, but here are a few of my favorites:
    • Pancho’s Takos
      • Their tacos al pastor are absolutely delectable. The meat is prepared on a spit, similarly to doner kebabs or gyros and is deliciously rich and spicy. The beef top-round tacos were also particularly tasty. The menu overall is quite extensive and it’s safe to say you could eat many meals here and never have the same order.  All of the accompaniments that come with the tacos are equally delicious and a couple were quite spicy. Eat with caution!

        TacosPastor
        Delicious Tacos Pastor from Pancho’s Takos
    • Mariscos Cisneros
      • This place rocked my world, plain and simple. It was recommended to me by a couple I met during my Puerto Vallarta travels and I’m so glad I was able to visit this place. I am a complete sucker for a good fish taco and Mariscos Cisneros had the best ever!  On top of that, their shrimp tacos and their deep fried, cheese-stuffed jalapeno taco were to die for!
        FishTacos
        Fish taco, shrimp taco, deep fried & cheese-stuffed jalapeno taco – ALL DELICIOUS!
    • Tacos Robles
      • While we didn’t actually get to eat here, we did try a couple of times! They had already closed for the day on both attempts and we were rather bummed. I’d been given rave reviews by my new friends who said it was a must-try. They’d stopped by while on the Vallarta Eats food tour and loved it. Next time! (SIDE NOTE: When eating in a restaurant and a guy walks up to your table and offers you shots of tequila he and his wife can’t finish as they’ve already had several shots, don’t question the situation – just take the shots. This was the scene one evening early in our trip. Long story short, they were a lovely Canadian couple, Jen and Jorgen from just across the Washington State border. We ended up sharing a couple of shots at the restaurant and then most of a bottle later on that night – along with many stories and the realization we all had several things in common as well as acquaintances. I also ended up hanging out with them throughout the week and will hopefully get to meet up with them this winter. It really is a small world…)
    • Tacos Revolucion
      • I think this is where we met our Canadian friends for the first time. I don’t entirely know, to be honest… that whole night is a little blurry now. Heh… At any rate, I know Jen and Jorgen went here as part of the Vallarta Eats tour and loved it. And whatever food I ate the night we ran into them was delicious, so I’m just going to officially equate the two! Voila!!
    • In general and overall, there were so many amazing looking taco stands and restaurants in the Old Town area. You’d need several weeks to even remotely try them all. In addition, on nearly every corner there are single-vendor, street food opportunities and little mini-carts selling delicious churros, frozen treats, cold drinks, baked goods – you name it! Don’t be afraid to turn your afternoon into a delicious food crawl. And be sure to stop into one of the countless bars along the way to round it off with a cold cerveza or tasty margarita.

A few additional foodie tips:

  • If you’re not quite sure where to start – or maybe you want to go deep into the foodie under stuffed belly, check out the Vallarta Eats food tours. They are quite extensive and offer many options to help one get to know the Puerto Vallarta food scene.
  • If you happen to be in Puerto Vallarta mid-May to mid-June, check out Restaurant Week Puerto Vallarta We have Restaurant Week in Seattle and it’s always a great – and economical – way to check out that fancy place you’ve always wanted to try. Or just stock up on visits to all your favorites!
  • The Romantic Zone / Old Town area of Puerto Vallarta is packed to the brim with cafes, restaurants, bars, beachside dining, street vendors, etc. It is a veritable smorgasbord of foodie opportunity. The main part of the Malecon and the resort end of the beach have all of the chain dining opportunities, but if you want to experience the beating heart of Mexican cuisine at its finest, head directly to this area and ENJOY!
  • Dining out, on any level in Puerto Vallarta is incredibly economical. TRY IT ALL!

Since I’ve mentioned it a few times, let’s talk about the Malecon

The Malecon is a beautiful promenade stretching about a mile along the stunning beaches of Puerto Vallarta. It is lined with wonderful sculptures and statues and is chock-a-block with (sometimes overpriced) shops, restaurants, street vendors, musicians and even Aztec dancers! While I personally prefer the vibe of the Old Town nightlife and restaurant scene, there are numerous spring-breakesque opportunities and general adventure to be had within the main section of the Malecon as well.  They also have a great community amphitheater area with regularly featured local performers. During our visit, the Down Puerto Vallarta bike race was taking place with the end point being directly on the Malecon. (Crazy race with bicyclists and trick riders rocketing down the narrow cobblestone streets towards the Malecon.) On the whole, the Malecon is always a great place for a stroll and the perfect location for people watching. It is also the definitive spot to take in one of the consistently breathtaking sunsets.

Paradise
Pretty sure this is one of my favorite pictures EVER. And it was even better standing there in the moment…
Sunset2
Sigh…

Tucked just behind the length of the Malecon, the cobblestone streets and squares are packed with beautiful examples of classic Mexican architecture and floral-lined, shop-filled adventure. The nearly 100-year old, Parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe is about a block off the Malecon and if you’re a fan of neo-classical or renaissance design (it has both!), it’s well worth investigating. Lovely little bridges cross over the Rio Cuale as it winds its way to the nearby ocean and you’ll find many swimmers enjoying the fresh river water before it flows into the ocean. Not to be missed on the Rio Cuale is the Cuale Island Flea Market, an amazing and extensive flea market filled with local artisans and is close to great little restaurants, a museum featuring local artifacts and a network of walkways and suspended foot bridges. And if you happen to be walking across one of the bridges, be sure to check over the side towards the riverbank – you might just see a family of (giant) iguanas!

Pro Tip #4: You will also be treated to a plethora of bird-watching opportunities all along the Malecon. Prehistoric looking Brown Pelicans and Magnificent Frigatebirds are everywhere, but be wary, my friends – these are giant birds and with giant birds, comes giant bird poop. My friend had quite a dive-bomb run-in with a Magnificent Frigatebird and it was *not* a pretty situation. Suffice to say she had to immediately go take a shower to get rid of both the large quantity of poop in her hair as well as the very pungent dead fish smell. Yowsa. Remain vigilant when one of these prehistorically giant poop-wielders is flying overhead…

As is definitely the case while hanging out along the Malecon, there are shopping opportunities aplenty throughout Puerto Vallarta. Even though I was only there for a week, I found a few favorites I will absolutely hit up on my next visit.

  • I found the most amazing and intricately beaded pieces at the Tierra huichol gallery along the Malecon. From tiny pieces beaded and embroidered in the Huichol tradition to life-sized busts and large landscapes, the work is stunning. There are a few spots in Puerto Vallarta featuring this type of artwork, but this was my favorite shop. The staff was very knowledgeable and friendly and there were a wide variety of pieces to enjoy. I picked up two beautifully beaded musical notes depicting various Huichol symbols and a small, embroidered piece representing the union of sun and moon. I would have loved to have taken home one of the larger pieces, but I didn’t have room in my luggage. I do, however, think they will ship internationally.
  • One of my favorite purchases was handcrafted by glass maker, Carlos Rosas. Based out of his shop, Glass Design Gallery on Basilio Badillo in the Old Town, Carlos not only designs beautiful glass figurines and sculptures, but will also craft pieces to your personal specifications. My friend had visited his shop on prior visits and he made her several beautiful and incredibly accurate glass figurines based on her dogs. I brought him a picture of my beloved bass guitar and he completely nailed the scale and features.
  • Running a very close second in favorite purchases, are the ceramic tiles I picked up at Mundo de Azulejos in the Old Town. There were so many unique style and designs – I would LOVE to someday decorate a patio or kitchen with them. In the meantime, I made do with these gems:
  • If you’re in need of some beautiful glassware or glass sculptures, Mundo de Cristal is a must for your list. Because of my purchases at this gallery, I was forced to check my luggage heading home. (I hate checking my luggage.) I have no regrets, however, as I absolutely love my new margarita glasses and tumblers. I’m convinced they make everything taste better. It’s just science. I was also happy to learn you can order online and they will ship internationally. GOOD – I can fill out the rest of my collection!
Tequila_Glasses
I love these glasses! I brought back a couple of matching tumblers as well. Tequila courtesy of the excellent Mr. Tequila tasting room.
  • Wow – I guess I officially can’t decide on my favorite purchase as I LOVE these t-shirts… I found these two beauties at a shop selling Karani-Art, just around the corner from where I was staying. (I believe on Lázaro Cárdenas, across from the lovely square, El Parque de los Azulejos.) Not only did they have a cool selection of custom Star Wars designs, it was a veritable nerd-vana with all sorts of superhero and video game designs to choose from. There were also some very lovely floral-based designs should Star Wars not be your thing. (What?? How can Star Wars not be your thing?? I thought I knew you…)
Star Wars!
There was no way I could say no to these guys. The Force was too strong with them…
  • If you’re in the market for something quirky, antique, unique or lovely, do make a stop into the Muy Guapo gallery in the Old Town. The manager, Enrique Zepeda, is incredibly charming, knowledgeable and happy to hang out and discuss local art and culture for as long you’d like.  I picked up a fantastic “poison ring” while I was there and I’ve been wearing it non-stop.  (Disclaimer: I don’t plan on poisoning anyone.) Enrique is also a talented artist and photographer and he and his sister, Marisa also have a stall in the Cuale Island Flea Market.
  • While this wasn’t really a place to shop, it was indeed interesting – and worth checking out. (If you’re not squeamish.) Hit up the Kai Spa, just down and to the side of the stairs leading into the outdoor market, if you’re looking to have your feet nibbled on by a hungry, toothless school of Garra-rufa fish. I did the package which included a (generous) glass of wine, 15-min of fishy nibbling and a very nice pedicure. The glass of wine definitely improved my willingness to allow fish to nibble on my feet, and when was all said and done, I felt pretty relaxed and ready for some more cobblestone pounding.

If you’re in Puerto Vallarta for more than a few days, I highly recommend exploring the neighboring towns and villages. The mountains and jungles surrounding the area are stunning and many can be reached by a reasonable drive or water taxi. The two areas I was able to visit were the coastal village of, Yelapa and the amazing Eden Canopy area near Mismaloya.

For our visit to Yelapa, we took a very reasonably priced water taxi ($17 RT) from the very cool Pier at Los Muertos just past the Malecon. It’s about a 40-minute ride in a small skiff up the coastline. (Where you will inevitably ride along with supplies heading to local villages.) If you’re not good with small boats and somewhat choppy waters, I’d recommend heading further up the road and taking the water taxi from Boca de Tomatlan as it’s a much shorter boat ride. (There are inexpensive bus and taxi options from Puerto Vallarta to Boca. The water taxis typically make a couple of stops along the way at local village piers.) Along the way, we passed beautiful beaches and smaller coastal villages as well as the stunning rock formations of the Los Arcos Marine Park (Las Peñas). Turning into the small cove that protects Yelapa to see the white sand beaches, beach huts and homes dotting the hills rising up from the village was absolutely striking. As we pulled up to the beach and jumped out of the boat and into the crystal clear water lapping at the shore, I knew we were in for an excellent afternoon adventure.

Since we were only making a short day trip of it and there are limited returns to Puerto Vallarta, we only had about four or so hours to pack in our Yelapa adventure.  We started out by enjoying a tasty beverage at one of the beachside huts and things took off from there. While enjoying our drinks under the shade of the hut, we had the pleasure of meeting one of the famous Yelapa “pie ladies” as she made her way up the beach and purchased a couple of slices to take back with us. (Seriously – try the pies!) We also ended up chatting with Clara, a local jewelry vendor and we both came away with lovely, silver rings. There were a few other local vendors and shops on the beach as well – all with interesting goods to sell and stories to tell. After feeling thoroughly relaxed from our beach sojourn, it was time to go for a little hike up into the hills of the surrounding village and see the view from above.

Taking off into the lower village area, behind the beach huts, we followed a trail leading towards the inlet, through jungle groves and towards the upper village. Should you desire, you can hire one of the three modes of transportation in Yelapa to take you up the hill. You’ve got your burro option, your ATV option and your classic, bipedal option. (There are no vehicles in Yelapa.) We chose Option 3 and began to make our way up the trail. Once we got towards the top, the view opened up over the cove and it was simply breathtaking. (Also, we were somewhat out of breath from walking up the hill.) We wandered around for a short spell and I had a great time looking out over the cove, dreaming of commandeering one of the many sailboats anchored in the cove. Sigh… Someday. Right out of Romancing the Stone, I tell ya. Someday…

In the upper village, there is a small handful of restaurant and lodging opportunities, but as we were only there for a few hours, we were sadly unable to do much investigating. I also would’ve loved to check out the upper waterfall, but I’ll have to save that for next time. (And there was a high probability it was actually dry in May…) We did, however, sweat off at least 5 lbs. while trekking around the village, so I guess that was a spa bonus. Woo – it was HOT! Pro tip #5: Make sure you bring water with you. There are indeed a couple of little stands along the path once you get into the upper village, but even walking a mile uphill in the tropical heat can seriously wear you down. Go prepared!

Since our time was running out and we still wanted to grab a snack before leaving, we headed back down the cobblestone and dirt trails towards the beach. After fording the (not so raging) river, we popped back on the beach and made our way back to the shade of the beach huts. After downing some much needed water, we enjoyed a very delicious shrimp stuffed avocado and a large supply of chips and salsa. And of course, some more margarita action… There’s water in tequila, right? And not long enough after our adventure had begun, we were back on our tiny water chariot to Puerto Vallarta.

For the record, the next time I visit the Puerto Vallarta area, I fully intend on spending several days in Yelapa. I’m quite convinced the serene, lush surroundings would be the perfect backdrop to write that sure-to-be-a-classic novel. Or maybe I’d just read a novel while lounging in my beach hut or while drinking a tasty beverage on the actual beach… Tomato / Tomatoe – I think whatever I ended up doing in Yelapa would be absolutely enjoyable. Maybe not productive, but absolutely enjoyable…

Another adventure I was able to enjoy just outside of Puerto Vallarta was an amazing visit to the Eden Canopy near the Mismaloya area. I’ve always wanted to do a zipline tour and the Eden Canopy seemed to have a pretty cool one through the tree tops of the Sierra Madre Mountains. (Where the movie Predator was filmed!) There was a great deal going with the Puerto Vallarta Tours and I decided to get on board. (They had many other interesting looking tours and I fully intend on exploring more options on my next visit. Very helpful staff as well!)

Just two blocks away from where I was staying, I was picked up in an open-air, military style transport vehicle and shipped up the coast towards the Mismaloya area. I was excited to see a little bit of this area as it is not only a big part of the Puerto Vallarta origin story, it was also where the classic film, Night of the Iguana was filmed, starring Richard Burton and Ava Gardner. You can still see some of the movie set from the beach. As the road winds along the gorgeous coastline towards the mountains, it was very understandable how the area could inspire so many artists, writers and filmmakers to incorporate the local beauty into their artwork.

Along this road, I passed by the hotel our new Canadian friends were staying at in Boca de Tomatlan. They’d shown us pictures of the private beach and I have to say it was really quite spectacular. I’d planned on stopping by to visit them on my way back from the zipline tour, but I had a minor incident which caused me to head back to the condo instead…

In a nutshell, it’s important to know how to properly slow oneself down when zip-lining/careening through the jungle treetops. For instance, it’s generally ill-advised to accidentally allow one of your hands to slip off the handlebars as you’re coming in hot to the landing area. (Even if it’s by accident.) It just might cause you to slide into the concrete landing pad sideways on your leg and shoulder, thereby resulting in various scrapes and abrasions. And then, even if you are generally okay after said landing and you prematurely pop up and are like, “Heeeey, I’m fine! Nothin’ to see here – Let’s move onto the next, even faster zipline!” (Gulp.) – It’s probably a good thing when the nice zipline attendants cut you off from any further treetop-careening action.  (Yes, it’s true – I got cut off from doing the very last, super-fast zipline at the very end of the tour. I was bummed, but I did get to do nine pretty excellent lines before my crash down. WOO!) (But I was still bummed. And somewhat embarrassed. And really glad I knew NO ONE on the tour.)

Zipline
I was having more fun than it appears – I swear! This was also before I slammed into the landing area. :-}

After traversing back down through the crazy jungle scene where several times I saw the bushes rustling very suspiciously (Gulp.), we ended up back at the main base and I immediately went to the bar/restaurant to heal my wounds with beer and guacamole. And some very delicious shrimp fajitas. And a lovely serenade by a solo bassist/vocalist.  All’s well that ends well, I guess. And while I would totally do the tour again, I think next time I’ll bring gloves so my sweaty jungle hands don’t slip off the stupid handlebars. Accidentally.

After we said goodbye to the guy sweating it out all day long in the Predator costume and boarded our jungle transport vehicle for home, we learned we were making a pit-stop at the Tequila tasting room down the road. Those scrapes and bruises were quickly being forgotten, for sure! About a mile back down the awesomely bumpy road and through tiny, roadside villages, we landed at the Mr. Tequila tasting room. Score! While I’d tried several types of tequila since my arrival in Puerto Vallarta, I was excited to learn more about the tequila making process, especially since it is almost entirely produced in the very state I was visiting, Jalisco.

Featuring El Paseilla Charro tequila, we learned of the entire process of making tequila, a little about the agave farming process (it takes about 8 years for an agave plant to mature!), the different types of tequila and the aging process and a little about the several generations of the family responsible for El Paseilla Charro tequila. We were then treated to an excellent tasting of several different varieties of tequila, from the younger Silver varieties all the way up to the swanky, Extra Añejo style. (Our tasting room guide explained Extra Añejo tequila is usually only brought out for special occasions, such as weddings… and divorces.) I would’ve loved to have brought back a bottle of the swanky stuff, but my wallet assured me I’d be just fine with a bottle of their very tasty Reposado instead. And as I’m planning neither marriage nor divorce in the near future, it should do quite nicely…

Well, I guess that about wraps up my much-too-short attempt to eat the state of Jalisco and the city of Puerto Vallarta. To say I was completely charmed by the loveliness of Puerto Vallarta, its people, culture, food – the list goes on – doesn’t begin to describe it. Traveling somewhere for the first time is always an awakening – that feeling of experiencing something beautiful and amazing for the first time is completely intoxicating. Making new friends (Hello, Jen and Jorgen!), trying new foods, seeing new sights – There really is nothing like it. As we grow older, that sense of wonder seems more and more elusive and just a little harder to come by, but is all the more poignant when we find it. Traveling internationally further extends that sense of wonder as it allows one to take in culture, people, languages and delicious, delicious food you might not be able to authentically experience in your home town. I know I will always treasure my first-visit memories of the lovely city of Puerto Vallarta and its surrounding treasures and will be on a constant hunt to find fish tacos that come even close to the ones I had at Mariscos Cisneros. Sigh…

And on a more specific food note, I did quite a bit of pondering about the significance of food in my life while enjoying my time in Mexico. I leave you with my thoughts…

Food equalizes. We all eat. We all need food to survive. Food is necessity, just as it is family, culture, peace, and at times, sustenance in times of conflict. While it can bring great joy amongst family and friends, breaking bread with someone can also significantly mean the difference between agreement and strife. And as we often acknowledge the importance of taking time to share meals with family, we should also acknowledge the same importance in breaking bread with our neighbors. Be they next door, in the next state or on the other side of the world and of an entirely different culture, lifestyle or doctrine, we can expand our understanding and the greater good if we simply sit down and share a meal. And who knows, maybe you get introduced to that recipe you never you knew you couldn’t live without – or make a friend with whom you’d never have imagined having something in common. Food is a powerful ambassador and can speak to us all on a very fundamental level. If we heed the message and learn to enjoy its bounty, it has the ability to infinitely expand our palates and our overall understanding of the world around us.

Until next time – Cheers!

A list of tunes that kept me company during my Puerto Vallarta stay – Check it out on Spotify

  • Madre Tierra (Oye)Chayanne (Three words: Chayanne is dreamy.)
  • Ay MamaChayanne
  • Salome (Club Mix-Radio Edit)Chayanne
  • GauchoSteely Dan (Looking out over the ocean, listening to The Dan. Yes, please.)
  • Kid CharlemagneSteely Dan
  • Do It AgainSteely Dan
  • Amor VerdaderoAfro-Cuban All Stars
  • Chan ChanBuena Vista Social Club (Grab a mojito and enjoy…)
  • EsquadrosAdrianna Calcanhotto
  • El Piragüero – Bio Ritmo
  • So Much Trouble in the WorldBob Marley & the Wailers (Wise words from Bob…)
  • Is This LoveBob Marley & the Wailers
  • Uncle John’s BandGrateful Dead
  • From John to JohnnyP. Torres
  • Who’s SmokingP. Torres
  • For ElsaP. Torres (Sitting on the deck, watching the sunset… Sigh…)
  • Mi niña LolaBuika
  • MagalenhaSergio Mendes
  • Patria Ruben Blades
  • Mis Tres NotasOmar Sosa
  • Fiesta Pa’Los RumberosAlbita
  • Highway to HellAC/DC (The zipline tour guide was playing this on our drive up the mountain. Hmmm.)
  • Bye Bye Bye*NSYNC (Ummm, this one, too… Eeesh.)
  • MacarenaLos Del Rio (OMG THEY PLAYED THIS SONG NONSTOP ON THE MALECON IN FRONT OF OUR CONDO THE LAST THREE NIGHTS WE WERE THERE. FOR HOURS ON END. WHHHHHYYY??? Just thought I’d share the joy with you. You’re welcome.)

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