PUERTO VALLARTA Greetings from Margaritaville

About Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

PUERTO VALLARTA Greetings from Margaritaville

I have made Puerto Vallarta, my winter “home away from home” for the past 12 years. Why here? Let me count the ways. The Puerto Vallarta/Riviera Nayarit region boasts ideal weather. In my dozen years here it has rained twice for a few hours. The average daily temperature is about 80F with a breeze. Nights are cool and balmy and we sleep with a ceiling fan; no need for air conditioning.

The restaurants and markets provide fabulous food options—from Mexican to Italian to Thai. The service is terrific. Listen up, Toronto, Mexican waiters really try to please their customers! 

The Banderas Bay region appeals to all types: it is senior friendly, gay friendly, single women friendly, couples friendly, family friendly… even dog friendly. You don’t need a car because public transportation (buses, taxis and collectivos) is efficient and cheap, albeit not what I’d describe as luxurious.  Every bus ride over Puerto Vallarta’s cobbled streets is a free cellulite treatment! 

Free WIFI is available all over town.  Trust me, the Mexican Tourist Board is not paying me to be a spokesperson for Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit. I sincerely love the place and its people and I’m fed up with the negative press that Mexico gets. I feel safer here than I did living in downtown Toronto. 

Mind you, I am not out soliciting drugs or soused on tequila in the middle of the night. 

Here's my update of where to save, splurge and make the most of your visit to the Bay of Banderas. 

Every year, I make it my mandate to discover new things and pass them onto you. You won’t likely find most of these off-the beaten-path discoveries in your average guidebook. 

Sure, the sun, surf and sunsets are free, but how do you make the most of your pesos? Read on. And rest assured, this one of the safest, friendliest towns you’ll ever visit.  (All prices approximated in Canadian dollars.)

THE “CHEAP THRILLS” SAVE LIST

Made with Love from Scratch 

Florios restaurant is located in a traditional Puerto Vallarta house on Calle Galeana, with lots of happy murals on the walls and a centerpiece gigantic wood-burning brick oven. The owners/chefs are Italian and Argentinean so the menu reflects those roots. There are a variety of grilled steaks and other meats plus a great selection of pastas, thin-crusted pizzas and calzones. Everything, from the caramelized onions to the pizza sauce is made from scratch. Florios also offers a selection of more than a dozen fruit and herb flavoured waters, such as strawberry, kiwi and honey or cucumber, pineapple and lime. Very refreshing. The staff here aims to please and succeeds. Their homemade focaccia is outstanding. www.floriospv.com/es

Pamper your Palette and Pinch Pesos 

El Paladar Consentido (The Pampered Palette) serves terrific breakfasts and lunches for crazy cheap prices. I recently had the best huevos rancheros with a roasted chili-tomato salsa and a huge glass of jugo verde (green vitality juice made of pineapple, nopal cactus, parsley and pineapple). For this I paid less than $5. I plan to eat my way through the breakfast and lunch menus. El Paladar Consentido is off-the-beaten path (San Salvador, #419), but worth the detour. The owner speaks fluent English, the place is spotless and the best news? He’s planning to do dinners on weekends.

Taco Crawl 

When I read about Vallarta Food Tours, “An Evening Taco Adventure,” I signed up. Who would know better then the Vallarta food experts about where to enjoy good street food? Our progressive dinner included five kinds of tacos, pozole (a stew of hominy and shredded pork) a shot of Mexcal and a last stop of churros (Mexican doughnuts). Tacos are arguably the best bargain in town and stopping at the various stands is a great opportunity to munch and mingle with locals. www.vallartafoodtours.com

Coffee Chocolates and Cigars 

This is self-confessed coffee snob has finally found the best latte in Puerto Vallarta. I had ignored the Vallarta Factory in the past because I thought they sold only cigars. I was wrong.  They sell hand-rolled cigars as well as homemade chocolates, pastries and terrific coffee. The owners source their coffee beans from Mexico’s prime growing areas (Oaxaca Vera Cruz, Chiapas and San Sebastian, just north of Puerto Vallarta and roast them on the spot. The Vallarta Factory is located on Calle Libertad near the bridge going north over the River Cuale.

A Palapa in Yelapa 

Accessible primarily by water taxi, Yelapa provides a taste of rustic Mexico with not an all-inclusive or high rise in sight. You’ll find plenty of aging hippies, artists and laid-back locals. Take a hike or ride a burro to the waterfall, then sprawl out on the golden beach. Buy a slice of pie from one of the lady vendors who balance the homemade goodies in plastic containers on their heads and chill out. Boats leave daily from Marina Vallarta, Boca de Tomatlan, and Los Muertos Pier.

Java Jolts with Pacific Views 

In the Romantic Zone, Café del Mar offers ocean views from the sidewalk tables. While you’re waiting for your latte and toasted Brooklyn-style bagel, enjoy the art gallery featuring the whimsical works of Guadalajara artist, Rodo Padilla. I now own his Sirena Gorda, (a delightfully plump mermaid ceramic sculpture). 

Dee’s Coffee Company, another favourite for a good java jolt and daily fresh home baking, has moved to a new location nearer the beach on Calle Francisca Rodríguez with views of Puerto Vallarta’s stunning new pier. Her sticky buns are outrageously good; one is plenty for two. Just up the street from Dee’s, there’s a sweet senior gentleman who operates a juice stand and squeezes fresh oranges and grapefruits while you wait. It’s only about  $1 for a large glass.

El Patio de Mi Casa

 Lovely Heidi runs this garden rooftop bar/restaurant where live jazz musicians play weekly. Organic salads, open-faced sandwiches and wood-fired pizzas are all made from scratch. The setting is vintage Vallarta.

Saturday is Market Day 

The Old Town Farmers’ Market takes place in the Lazaro Cardenas Square in the Romantic Zone on Saturday mornings. It’s full of vendors selling everything from fresh bread and baked goods to organic vegetables to crafts. Plan to have breakfast as you graze from stall to stall.Make Friends Drop into the International Friendship Centre in the centre of Puerto Vallarta (Calle Libertad near the bridge) to make new amigos, learn new skills and be entertained. The Centre has a busy schedule of activities including bridge, meditation, yoga and Spanish lessons, movie nights, lectures and home tours. A portion of the fees goes to various charities and good causes.www.ifcvallarta.com

Meet me on the Malecon 

Puerto Vallarta’s lovely seaside promenade, the Malecon, has been renovated, landscaped and widened (so now you can more easily avoid and ignore the timeshare sales people). When the sun goes down, watch a folkloric spectacle in the Los Arcos, the open-air amphitheatre. On Sunday nights a live band plays in the zocalo. Join the locals, young and senior, in a sexy salsa number.

Bountiful Botanical Gardens 

Hop on the bus that says El Tuito at the corner of Carranza and Aguacate. The scenic ride takes you along the coast to the Botanical Gardens. Wear walking shoes so you can explore the various trails and collections of palms, roses, ferns, agaves, orchids, wildflowers, coffee and vanilla trees.  A fascinating variety of birds and butterflies call these gardens home too, so bring your camera and binoculars. Take a refreshing dip in the Rio Los Horcones (don’t forget to bring a towel), and then head up to the Hacienda de Oro restaurant for an alfresco lunch. The gift shop is full of unique items, including vanilla beans grown on the property. We visit these gardens every year and each time we discover something new. This year they are building a charming chapel; weddings in this idyllic setting are very popular. Entrance to the gardens is about $10. www.vbgardens.org

Sensational Sunsets & Mega Margaritas 

Watching the sunset is a favourite Puerto Vallarta pastime and there’s no better place to do it than from Chez Elena. Established in 1954, this vintage Vallarta landmark sits high in the hills (Matamoros #520) with arguably the best view of the Bay of Banderas. Climb up to the rooftop El Nido bar and enjoy the setting sun. With luck you might see the green flash— that elusive brief flash of emerald light that sometimes appears just as the sun is sinking into the sea. 

Sharing the same address, both the restaurant (Chez Elena) and hotel (Los Cuatro Vientos) are run by the gracious Gloria Whiting and her eager-to-please staff. If you are looking for an inexpensive and charming room and a “home-sweet-home-away-from-home ambiance,” complete with Sushi, the hotel cat, you’ve just found it. www.chezelena.com

Wednesday Night Art Walk 

From the end of October to the end of May you can participate in Art Walk every Wednesday evening. About 20 galleries and studios in the historic centre open from 6 to 10 p.m. Most serve snacks and drinks; often they’ll have an artist or two on the premises. Café des Artistes, one of Vallarta’s top restaurants, offers early-bird dinner specials (three courses for about $40) in a lush garden setting. www.vallartaartwalk.com

Joe Jack’s Fish Shack 

The atmosphere is funky and casual but the cooking is superb. Joe Jack’s, located in the Romantic Zone on Basilio Badillo, is a fun spot for lunch or dinner. Shrimp and avocado tostados slide down extremely well with a gazpacho Bloody Mary or Ginger Mojito. On Fridays, they serve all-you-can-eat beer battered fish and chips. My husband and I always share the whole red snapper cooked with lime, chillies and garlic. Muy bueno! www.joejacks-fishshack.com

South Side Shuffle 

PV has long been known for its Wednesday Night Art Walks in midtown. Now the South Side Shuffle, on Basillio Bandillo offers open art galleries, street music and food on Friday evenings.

Derby City Burgers 

When you crave a juicy burger, head to Derby City Burgers on thriving Olas Altas (#356) where they serve up several sizzling versions with wonderful toppings and hand-cut fries. Cost is about $8; one order will easily satisfy two for lunch.

Eat & Fly 

Before your flight home there’s no need to waste your pesos on crummy, overpriced airport food. Check your bags and then head over the pedestrian bridge just outside the airport to Tacon de Marlin. They serve huge delicious fish tacos stuffed with marlin, shrimp, octopus or a combo. Cost per taco is about $7 and it easily feeds two.

THE “YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE” SPLURGE LIST

Heavenly Brunch 

Sunday brunch at the Hacienda San Angel Gourmet (across the road from the main entrance to the boutique hotel) is a stylish affair. Guests are served Mimosas and led into the Puerto del Cielo room with murals depicting angels, cherubs and saints, plus a dazzling view of the crown of the Church of Guadalupe, PV’s red tiled rooftops and the Bay of Banderas. A roving violinist serenades while guests help themselves to a sumptuous buffet: peppercorn crusted prime rib, sushi, shrimps, chicken mole, omelets and crepes flambéed made to order, exotic cheeses, smoked salmon and bagels…and much more. It’s a bargain at less than $40 per person. Book far in advance.

Say Si to Sergio 

Perhaps the loveliest jewelry/art shop in Puerto Vallarta is that of Sergio Bustamente. The famous Mexican artist whose sculpture “Searching for Reason” graces the Malecon, also creates miniature sculptures in the forms of rings, earrings, bracelets and necklaces. Bring back a trinket with one of his stylized suns for fond memories when in colder climes.www.coleccionsergiobustamante.com.mx

Star Struck at the New Casa Kimberly 

Before John Huston’s 1964 film, The Night of the Iguana, Puerto Vallarta was a sleepy fishing village. All that changed when Liz Taylor arrived to keep an eye on her lover, Richard Burton, while he was filming with the voluptuous Ava Gardner. The publicity buzz about Burton and Liz’s torrid affair, plus the success of the movie, put Vallarta on the tourist map. During their romantic romp in PV, Richard Burton presented Casa Kimberly (named after the builder’s daughter) as a gift to Elizabeth for her 32nd birthday. The totally renovated and expanded Casa Kimberly opened in December 2015 as a luxury boutique hotel. 

The “wow” factor starts in the reception area where guests are offered a welcome drink while they admire the crystal chandeliers, ornate wrought iron balustrades, sumptuous Oriental carpets, superb antique furnishings and works of art. The owner’s attention to detail is evident throughout —from the satin-lined baskets holding Bulgari toiletries to the oversized fluffy towels to the linen bathrobes and exquisite bedding. Turndown service comes with a silver tray holding Mexican sweets and heart-shaped chocolatini truffles (in honour of Liz’s favourite cocktail, the chocolate martini). 

The opulent Elizabeth Taylor Suite comes with its own private pool, Jacuzzi and wrap-around terrace. I think Liz would approve of the massive ensuite bathroom and the vintage pink marble bathtub in the shape of a heart where Ms. Taylor herself soaked back in her days in PV. 

Six evenings a week, the twelve-piece Joya de Mexico mariachi group serenades guests with everything from traditional mariachi to Hollywood and classical tunes in The Iguana Restaurant & Tequila Bar. Executive Chef, Eduardo Michaga Lucero’s menu is an inventive combination of gourmet fare with a Mexican twist. www.casakimberly.com

Trio Treats 

Located in a stylish colonial home in Centro, Trio serves Mediterranean-style food with panache and impeccable service. The Lebanese salad is a winning combination of thinly sliced baked beets topped with marinated goat’s cheese. There’s always a special “fish of the day” and terrific vegetarian dishes. You can order main courses in small or regular portions. Either way, save room for the warm chocolate cake.  A friendly sommelier will help you chose from an extensive international wine list. To add to your dining enjoyment, a classical violinist plays background music. www.triopv.com

Artful Dining 

At Di Vino Dante on Basilio Badillo, you dine on the second floor overlooking the courtyard of the Dante art gallery below. Several sculptures and paintings from the gallery are also on display in the restaurant for your dining pleasure. There’s a fine wine list, a choice of tapa-style small dishes and pizzas. I recommend the fresh seared tuna served with cucumber, avocado, sesame seeds and teriyaki. The service during my visit was impeccable. www.divinodante.com

You Too Can Live Here 

Don’t say I didn’t warn you! Life in Puerto Vallarta and the Riviera Nayarit is so simpatico and sweet that most Canadians, after a visit or two, crave more than a week or two of bliss. If you get the urge to buy property, my Canadian ex-pat amiga Victoria Pratt, will find your idyllic abode in the sun—from an oceanfront condo close to or within an authentic Mexican town to an ultra-luxurious secluded residence with private chef and concierge at Punta Mita. 

Ms. Pratt, who originally hails from British Columbia, now lives the dream on the Costa Vallarta and works as sales agent for the Timothy Real Estate Group. www.vallartarealestateinfo.com

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