Since Mexico has been getting a bad rap from the US Government lately, we wanted to share some of the things we LOVE about living in Mexico, and Puerto Vallarta Area in particular. Don't believe everything you read or hear about how "dangerous" Mexico is. Consider the source, there's a pissing contest about a wall. As the saying goes down here, "Relax, you're on the FUN side of the WALL."
Like ANY country in the world there are parts of Mexico that we wouldn't visit, or walk alone at night... there are likely more parts of the US that we wouldn't visit or walk alone at night. Being a TRAVELER means doing your homework and being prudent, NOT FEARFUL of the unknown. We feel perfectly safe walking around downtown Puerto Vallarta (population 200,000) at night. We also drove from Puerto Vallarta to Tucson and back (through Sinaloa) in November and experienced zero problems at all. We stuck to the toll roads and did not intend to drive at nigh. However, an Expedia hotel booking snafu caused us to drive for 2-hours in the dark, and even that night-drive was fine. But we don't recommend it--black cows on dark roads abound. The people we met were very nice and friendly, and the countryside was beautiful, lush, and agricultural.
Most Mexicans don't carry hand guns and they don't have random mall shootings and school shootings here either. Yes, there are cartel turf wars in certain locations in Mexico, and IF you're in the wrong place at the wrong time you could have trouble... just like being in the wrong place at the wrong time in any shopping mall or school in America. Even the cartel fully realize that harming tourists is bad for business.
For the most part Mexico is a LOVELY country full of WONDERFUL people and a VIBRANT culture. Mexicans are VERY FAMILY oriented people who LOVE and ENJOY LIFE to the fullest and use any excuse to throw a fiesta. Any given night you'll see entire generations out walking the malecón (waterfront pedestrian promenade), from the littlest niños (babies) to the oldest bisabuelos (great-grandparents.) They take care of their elderly and disabled at home, not shoving them away to institutions. They embrace their pregnant teens, unwed-mothers and babies, not throwing them out on the street. (Yes there's a big case for birth control here, and we can take that up with the Pope!)
And by the way, Puerto Vallarta has one of the largest LGBTQ Communities outside of San Francisco. It's a very LGBTQ-friendly town with a fantastic Pride Parade every year. So come on down and visit your neighbor to the south. The dolphins are leaping, the whales are breaching, the weather is sunny, the food is delicious, and the water is clean
. All of the large tourist cities in Mexico have clean drinking water these days ~ you can drink the water and eat the lettuce here! (Check the labels on your own produce at home to see where it was grown!?)
There is SO MUCH to see and do here and the peso to US dollar exchange is at a very favorable rate for Americans right now, not quite as good an exchange for Canadians, but there are tons of them down here so it can't be too bad, eh?
So in true Dave Letterman-style, we wanted to share our Top 10 Things to do in Puerto Vallarta Area and invite you down for a visit! (These are based on things we've done or experienced, but there are many things we've yet to discover or experience here. So please leave a comment below if we've missed one of your favs!)
Top 10 Things to do in Puerto Vallarta Area
10. Art Walks
Puerto Vallarta is full of art: on the streets, sidewalks, and stairs, along the malecon, and in galleries. There's a fantastic, FREE Malecón Sculpture Walk
on Tuesday mornings where you'll learn all about the whimsical sculptures along the Puerto Vallarta waterfront as well as some history of PV. There are also weekly Art Walks
in downtown PV and the bi-weekly South Side Shuffle
in Old Town PV. Keep your eyes out for pops of color and art all over town as you stroll the cobblestone streets.
9. Bus Rides
Riding the bus
(besides a great means to getting around) is the biggest bang-for-the-buck entertainment in town. For $7.5 pesos per person (less than 40¢ US each) you often get live entertainment onboard, from solo singers, to guitar trios and reggae bands (They're not all good, LOL!) The people watching is fascinating. And if you catch a Green bus out into the neighborhoods you'll see everything from horses, chickens and pigs (out the window not onboard!) to authentic Mexican villages. The buses themselves are also decorated with interesting combinations of the Virgin of Guadalupe and the Play Boy Bunny. Hope on and take a ride, you won't be sorry.
8. Bingo with Aunt Pearl from Tuna, Texas
Ok, we're not normally bingo fans here, but we first saw Aunt Pearl at last years Pride Parade and had to give it a whirl. As it turns out, Saturday afternoon Cocktails & Bingo at 4pm with Aunt Pearl from Tuna, Texas
is a HOOT. You can win cool prizes at businesses around town, and all proceeds from bingo cards go to a local charity each week so it's a win-win. Besides BINGO, the river-front Incanto Cabaret, Piano Bar & Cafe, just across the bridge on the River Cuale, has world-class entertainment in their 90-seat Cabaret, plus a variety of fun acts at the Piano Bar too. Saturday afternoons at 4pm, Proprietor Tracy Parks, a.k.a. Aunt Pearl, weaves stories of Tuna, Texas, (reminiscent of Garrison Keillor and Lake Woebegone days), between the Bingo call outs "O-69? Anyone O-69? Why are you all laughing?" Great cocktails, food, and fun.
7. Vallarta Botanical Gardens
We've mentioned the Vallarta Botanical Gardens
in another post Botanical Gardens, Panga Tours & Limonada
, and although we've only visited one time, it's still one of the most memorable things we've done here and we're looking forward to going again soon. There are beautiful hiking trails through the lush jungle, including the Jaguar Trail with a sign that reads "Just because you didn't see the jaguar, doesn't mean it didn't see you." The view from the tree-top restaurant is stunningly beautiful with humming birds flitting around as you eat, and the food is very good too. Plus the bus ride from Old Town (catch the orange bus in front of the OXXO on Basilio Badillo) along the coast and through the jungle is beautiful as well.
6. Gastronomy (or Eating Out)
Being Gluten-free and Veg-Aquarian (mostly Vegan but eat fish on occasion) and as organic as possible, can sometimes make it difficult to eat out. Added to the fact that we LOVE our own home-cooked meals, and we cruise on a pretty tight budget, we don't eat out a lot. So when we do it's a real treat and we want the best bang for our buck. Luckily, we've found some fantastic healthy-liciuos food around Banderas Bay. And quite often it's actually cheaper to eat out than to buy the ingredients and cook it yourself! Too numerous to choose just one, here are our favorite restaurants around Banderas Bay for each type of meal:
(Downtown "Centro" PV near Church)
At this quaint little cafe with outdoor seating on a pedestrian way near the Guadalupe church downtown, our friend and proprietor Javier serves up the BEST chilaquiles in town. Chila-WHAT? A Puerto Vallarta breakfast staple (tortilla chips sautéed in spicy tomato sauce or green tomatillo sauce served with beans and/or egg, cheese, and sour cream on top.) We've tried chilaquiles all over town and seriously, these are the BEST. La Tostadaria can make anything veggie or vegan, including their dinner-plate-sized tostadas with a variety of toppings. Javier's recipes are passed down from his family so it's very authentic Mexican food and a wonderful atmosphere underneath the decorative umbrellas.
Part yoga studio, part veggie cafe and juice bar, the food is healthy and delicious! Breakfasts range from oatmeal with toppings, to smoothies and smoothie bowls to gluten-free/vegan cocoa-matcha waffles (OMG!!!) They also have great lunches, like avocado-toast (GF!), Budda Bowls with quinoa, spinach, shredded beets, shredded carrots, sprouts, sunflower seeds and hummus, and veggie sandwiches, plus any combo of juices you can imagine.
(La Cruz de Huanacaxtle)
In the sleepy little fishing village of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle ("Waan-a-cox-tly) there are not one but TWO organic/vegan options! Our amiga Alef at Organic Love serves up some amazing combinations of organic food like fresh spring rolls with grilled veggies (see above), organic omelets, vegetarian sandwiches, and smoothies. The Xocavida smoothie (cocoa, banana, and coconut) is Heidi's personal fav! Alef also makes yummy GF cookies. Everything is hand-made with love so it sometimes takes a while to get your food, but it's well worth the wait. Be sure to tell Alef that Heidi & Capitán Kirk sent you!
(La Cruz de Huanacaxtle)
After your organic lunch at Organic Love, walk around the block to Vegan Paradice, vegan ice cream hand-made with love by Mar and Waipy. SO many unique and delicious flavors to try like lemon-chia, toasted coconut, and the only vanilla ice cream that Heidi has ever liked in her life.
This "8 Mariscos" restaurant is a local PV family "chain" with several around town, our fav is the one at Marina Vallarta. They only serve fish and shrimp, although they do have some good veggie sides and can accommodate vegetarians/vegans. We especially LOVE their guacamole and Mexican Salsa (what most Norte Americanos know of as pico de gallo.) And it's super entertaining to sit at the bar and watch as the bar tenders/chefs sling lime rinds and avocado pits and peels backwards over their shoulder hitting the trash can every single time. Impressive! Word on the street is that restaurant owners from around town come here to eat.
(PV 5 de Deciembre at Paraguay & Nicaragua)
This is our fav dinner restaurant where the food and atmosphere matches the sunsets. Literally ON the beach, toes in the sand you can watch the green flash or look for dolphins jumping, and whales breaching right from your dining table. Cash only, get there early if you want to sit on the beach. Food is great, drinks are unique, view is the best in town...ok, maybe the waiters can be a bit surly but it's worth it.
(Downtown PV, Iturbide near Church)
This little hole-in-the-wall up the hill from the Guadalupe church serves a delicious all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet with tons of options for $105 pesos. Dishes change daily, their lentil soup is one of the best we've ever had, and house special tomato soup with pumpkin seed balls is a fav too. They also serve breakfast and lunch buffets.
(PV, Fluvial near La Isla)
This food truck and container park is a cool concept. Circle the wagons, a.k.a. food trucks, with a variety of cuisine ranging from Pizza to Japanese to Mexican to American burgers and fries. Walk up to each truck to order your food, then pick your table. The center of the park is full of landscaped seating for eating. The Food Park offers something for everyone at reasonable prices, plus servers will bring you drinks from the bar or cafe and bus your table.
5. Thursday Night Marina Market
We stumbled upon the Thursday Night Marina Market
last season purely by accident. When we sailed from La Paz to Marina Vallarta with our friend Sara (Sara Goes to Sea
), we serendipitously pulled into Marina Vallarta on a Thursday afternoon as the Marina Market was being set up. So we checked it out and Sara got her Christmas shopping all done! Every Thursday night from October through May, the vendors stretch along the entire Marina Malecón from one end of the marina to the other. This is mostly an artisan market where you can watch some of the artists creating their wares. Plus there are a smattering of food vendors with everything from excellent Thai food to vegan cheeses (made from nuts) to tamales, Indian food, local ice creams, and more. La Cruz de Huanacaxtle also has a great market on Sundays, a few vendors overlap both markets, but in general there are different vendors, food, and wares in La Cruz.
4. PaddleZone Night Paddle
This was by far one of the coolest things we've done in PV. The Paddle Zone
in Mismaloya offers Full Moon and New Moon night paddles on a paddle board or kayak. You paddle from Mismaloya to Los Arcos (about 2-mi round trip) and through all of the Los Arcos "arches". If you're lucky you'll see bioluminescence, tons of it! If you don't like bats (um, JGC!) this is not the trip for you. The cost of the trip includes a 1hr paddle board lesson if you want it before hand. While we originally thought we would paddle-board, balancing in 18"+ waves proved challenging for Heidi and even more-so for Kirk's recovering balance (although he was able to stand for a good 15 minutes during our lesson!) We opted for sit-on-top kayaks that night. SO glad we did, much more comfortable ride. Afterward, the chef at the Paddle Zone fixes Mexican Hot Chocolate for everyone, and snacks like fried plantains. They can even make Gluten-free Pizza...Heidi was in heaven!
3. Mirador de La Cruz Sunrise Hill Climb
Starting at the Malecon downtown Puerto Vallarta on Abasolo Street, this "hill climb"--which is really more of a "stair climb"--winds it's way up to the Mirador de la Cruz
("look out by the Cross") to the radio towers above PV. We had heard about this hike for almost a year before we actually experienced it when our friend Anthony showed us the way. Traversing the hillside neighborhood to the base of the stairs, there is a sometimes-working funicular (elevator on rails) that holds about four. On the way up you're swearing you'll NEVER do this hike again, and the stairs seem endless. But once at the top, your legs forgive you, for the 360° view of PV. If you want to see the sunrise over PV, start at the Malecon about 30-minutes before sunrise, the hike UP will only take about 20-minutes. On the way down, you can veer left at the bottom of the stairs and wind your way through the Mexican neighborhood on the hill, coming down more stairs onto Arroyo de Pedregoso. We loved it so much, the next week we did the hike again! And we can't wait to do it again. It's a great leg workout! with a spectacular reward.
2. Angél Yoga at Playa Camarones
Sunrise beach-yoga "Trees" blowing in the breeze...Heidi's Tree is going down! :-)
is a friendly, community-based beach-yoga (actually on a concrete platform at the beach), en Espaõl (and some Spanglish), for every ability and person, pay-as-you-can, maybe it's a mango or a coconut, or $50 pesos, or $200+ pesos, everyone is welcome. 8am every Monday-Wednesday-Friday our friend and yoga teacher Sam leads us in a beautiful yoga practice with a backdrop of crashing waves (if tide is high and wave are big, you could get wet!) If you're lucky you may see a whale breach or dolphins leap, mid- tree pose! Palm-trees sway over head as you lay in Savasana, the perfect start to your morning. Don't miss this awesome yoga class in nature.
And the NUMBER ONE BEST THING to do in Puerto Vallarta area is...
1. Juan Bravo Panga Tour
Capitán Kirk with Pichón (Juan's brother and first mate), and Juan Bravo.
We've now been on four Juan Bravo Panga Tours with different sets of visiting friends...each one slightly different then the previous, ALL EXCELLENT. These made-to-order customer panga tours (24' open fiberglass boat with canopy) with our friend and Pangauergo Juan Bravo are a MUST DO to enjoy fully the beauty of Banderas Bay! You can hire Juan and his panga for the entire day for up to 8 people to snorkel, hike waterfalls at Yelapa ride horseback at Quimixto, whale watch, fish, swim, anything you want. If you've been reading our blog for long, you've likely seen some of our Juan Bravo Panga adventures hiking to waterfalls for Kirk's birthday (The Capitán Turns 70!
), and whale watching for Heidi's birthday. Born and raised in Mismaloya, Juan speak excellent English and is a FUN and FUNNY tour guide. He can even pick you up on the beach in PV near your hotel or condo. Call Juan: +52 (322) 116 4625 to schedule his tour. We're working to get him a web presence soon.
Juan Bravo strictly adheres to proximity rules for whale watching, but two humpbacks surfaced 10' feet away from the panga for Heidi's birthday! Awe-inspiring and breathtaking -- literally! A bit too close for comfort, but so cool to be honored by their presence.
Now that you know our fav fun things to do around Puerto Vallarta, come on down and visit like our Seattle sailing friends the Thuesen's did at Christmas. So much fun hanging out with Chris & Eric and girls during the holidays, they even got to experience a Juan Bravo Panga Tour too!
So what have we been up to besides compiling our top 10 most fun things to do around Puerto Vallarta? Our current plans (always written in sand at low tide!) are to be here at least through March or early April.
We are so grateful that Kirk has made a nearly full recovery from his stroke just a year ago Valentines Day. Wahoo!! He is 95-98% back to "normal" (what ever that was!? :-D), and stronger and more physically fit that he's been in years, thanks to post-stroke PT and Pilates Reformer work.
The Capitán is studying to become a certified Primordial Sound Meditation Teacher through the Deepak Chopra Center, and needs reliable bandwidth for his online courses through early April. We had hoped to head south for a few months, but reports of reliable wifi down south are iffy so we decided to stay put. If you'd like to learn to meditate, Kirk is looking for students for his practicum and he'd love to teach you! In between studying, meditation, and yoga, he's got a mile-long list of boat projects going on including a new cockpit shower, new timing belt for the engine, and a new starter battery. Never a dull moment living aboard in the tropics.
Even John, Paul, George, and Ringo think U.K.-based Neal's Yard Remedies ROCKS!
Heidi is growing HappyWellLifestyle
, her online holistic wellness business and creating new online wellness courses, so stay tuned for that. Passionate about providing alternatives to toxic personal care and skincare products (FYI: the US FDA does't regulate that industry at ALL and most products in the US are FULL of toxins!), she's been holding educational organic skincare workshops around Banderas Bay, including showing Unacceptable Levels
. If you get a chance, please check out this award-winning documentary, your body will thank you. She is also working very hard to earn a trip to the UK in August to visit Neal's Yard Remedies
flagship store in Covent Gardens, London, and tour their award-winning sustainable eco-factory and their organic Sheepdrove Farm where many of the herbal product ingredients are grown. If you or anyone you know is interested in using organic, toxin-free, ethical, sustainable, cruelty-free products, Heidi would love to talk with you and would really appreciate your business (shipping to US addresses only.)
As you can see, we're nose-to-the-grindstone the next couple of months with continuing ed and business-building. Gotta pay the bills after-all..."living the dream" is cheap but it's not free, LOL! We hope to head north into the Sea of Cortez by mid-April for a couple of months and get Due West moving again, before returning to Banderas Bay for Hurricane Season (June-November.) At this point we still plan to sail for Central America in November. And speaking of getting Due West moving, we're planning to participate in the Banderas Bay Regatta (daily buoy races) March 20-24, let us know if you'd like to come down and crew?
Tikka and Tosh could hardly be bothered waking up from their naps to make a cameo in this post, but they send their love.
Please keep us posted if you're headed this way, we'd love to see you and show you around Banderas Bay! Oh, and we were recently interviewed for an episode of the Puerto Vallarta Travel Show podcast
, so stay tuned for when it will be live.
Heidi, Capitán Kirk, Tosh & Tikka