Travel | 3 comments
By Zdenko Kahlina
Although Vera and I certainly would have enjoyed staying in any of the “All inclusive” hotels in the Puerto Vallarta Marina district or Nuevo Vallarta, we don’t travel to hang out with people like ourselves. We are more interested in getting tastes of local cultures. We ask every local we meet where they eat out with their families, where they shop and where they swim. For these reasons we decided to stay in the “Old Town” rather than tourist zone in Puerto Vallarta.
This time we traveled with another couple, Andja and Ivan, very good friends of ours, also from Edmonton.
SUNDAY (DAY 1)
So finally Sunday is here, the day when we go to Mexico! Yeahh..No cell phones or computers for 10 days! We left Edmonton for Puerto Vallarta on board one of the America West jets. So long kids! Aste la vista, Mexico! The flight left on time and was nice and smooth. When the plane landed, everyone clapped. I’m not sure why, but I clapped too because I didn’t want to be different. When we walked out of the airport, it was like going into a sauna. Very warm and humid, but we liked it. We passed by all the time share people, ignored the taxi drivers trying to get our attention, and went strait to a Dollar Rent a Car agency.
I reserved a car over the Internet to get a better deal. We did get a good deal alright, but ALL their cars were so old and wrecked, that we didn’t actually have a choice which car to pick. We took what they gave us (Dodge Stratus 1997). The only important thing for us it was big enough for four people and we could fit in our luggage.
Just when we though we have a car and can leave, a new guy shows at the front desk and starts giving us additional discount of $150 dollars for a first week. Too good to be true!? Yes! Only when he asked when we are going to be available to attend their presentation, we knew this was just another time share operation!
After this experience, off we went with our old car which was barely moving (odometer shows 130,000 clicks). Our destination was Old Town, or Romantic zone. After 20 minutes of driving (traffic was not a big deal), we parked in one of the small side streets in the Old Town. We didn’t make any advanced reservation so our plan was to walk around and see for ourselves which hotel is going to have appeal, location and price that we like.
Unfortunately, it was a full season in PV and most hotels were booked, or too pricey. As usually is the case, the first hotel we checked, was the best and after two hours of searching, we returned to the first hotel, negotiated the daily rate and soon after we were in our room at Casa Corazon, in Romantic zone of Puerto Vallarta.
This is a small bed and breakfast hotel style place, overlooking the Playa De Los Muertos. Every room has one wall as a big window, which completely opens to balcony area with a small round table and 2 comfortable patio chairs. The room was really nice and big with the great view from the balcony directly onto the ocean. No TV, A/C or phones, but who needs this amenities on a vacation? The complete room was in tiles and this was a good substitute for not having an A/C as our room was always on a chili side (at least that is what my wife said, and I believed her!). We had a ceiling fan, which we never used. This place doesn’t have a pool.
We really loved the location of this hotel. The area is called Conchas Chinas and it is very prestigious area of PV. You feel surrounded by the mountains and beautiful villas. We could see almost the entire bay. We have watched for the whales from the balcony, but did not see any.. It feels like you have the entire town at your feet and the mountain range all around you. We walked down the hill at least once a day and after a few days could walk back up the hill without stopping.
The bars and restaurants in downtown PV are excellent, the best of everything to suit all budgets. I would never recommend an “All Inclusive” because of what this town has to offer, plus the bars are so much fun for all ages and just great dancing spots.
We went for a short walk around our hotel afterwards, and found nice Italian restaurant (Viejo Vallarta) about three blocks away. We had good and well disserved dinner, cold “cerveza” del Pacifico and went early to bed.
MONDAY (DAY 2)
Monday was a Valentine day and both of us (man) did not forget it! We got up early, had a Mexican type breakfast (lots of fruit, eggs) on the beautiful terrace with the view of the ocean. After the breakfast we went down the stairs to the beach. This is when we discovered, we were in the middle of the gay area. The beach was crowded with gay couples. Our wife’s were the only females on the beach this morning. We stayed, but did not return the following days. Through, I have to admit gay people are very friendly and very social. Sometimes too friendly…if you know what I mean! We did not swim in the ocean there, because the waves were too big. The water was nice and mostly clean but nothing like in the Yucatan peninsula (Playa Del Carmen) on the other side of Mexico.
In the evening we went for a walk all the way to downtown and walked the well known Malecon promenade. Crowded with all kinds of people, it was a very interesting walk. We had a dinner at El Torito Mexican restaurant, just across the (busy) street, and the food wasn’t all that good.
On this side of the street are scores of stores, restaurants and nightclubs. Right across the main street from Los Arcos is the Plaza Principal. This is the city’s main square, bordered on one side by City Hall and on the other by banks and more shops. This large plaza is Puerto Vallarta’s hub and is always humming with activity. It has a large central gazebo with benches where you can sit and listen to the wandering musicians that frequent the square. Wandering the nearby streets we discovered many fine art galleries, quaint tiendas (little shops), and literally dozens of restaurants.
The beautiful Lady of Guadalupe Church can be seen from the opposite side of the square towards the east.
On the way back to our hotel, we stopped at the place called Andale, where they had a very loud music from the sixties playing. We had another beer, danced for a while only to have one lady hitting on my wife and completely ignoring me (!). That just reminded us that we are still in the gay area!
TUESDAY (DAY 3)
This day we reserved to visit our friends in the small town north of Puerto Vallarta, called Rincón de Guayabitos. It was about one hour driving, in a different province (Nayarit) and a different time zone. Puerto Vallarta is in Jalisco province and is only one hour behind of our (Edmonton) time.
The well-planned beachside community of Rincón de Guayabitos is located 85 km S.E. of Tepic on the Nayarit Pacific Coast. Its protected bay offers small, easy-to-manoeuvre waves and stretches of fine, soft sand. Beaches of the area include El Beso, Playa los Ayala, Playa del Toro, Chacala and Freideras. Not many tourist go there, but those who go there can find accommodations much chipper than in PV.
We spent a good time with our friends, who are coming to this place for last twenty years and feel like at home there. Hotel manager knows them by name and always tells them at the end:” See you next year! “Same room, same price!”. Sounds like a good deal to me!
WEDNESDAY (DAY 4)
Next day we went exploring beaches and places south of the city. We drove for about fifteen minutes following a beautiful scenic highway and stopped at the beach “Playa Gemelas”. This beach had everything we were looking for. It was clean sandy beach, with beautiful waves. Not too many people were on the beach, as it was surrounded by condominiums “Girasol Sur”, and it had very private (hidden) steps down to the beach.
We were back in the town in the evening only to watch fantastic sunset from our balcony. Then we explored the old town area again and had a late dinner at La Piazzetta restaurant, where I had the best pizza in my life! It was very tasty and we knew right than that we will be back to this place. And it wasn’t just the pizza. We had a bottle of good Mexican vine…… and weak legs on the way to the hotel.
Around Los Muertos beach, you’ll find several waterfront restaurants like the historic La Palapa, and El Dorado. Most have palapas, lounge chairs and offer beachside service to their customers, often with the live music.
THURSDAY (DAY 5)
Today we are going in to the mountains, and visit old mine town San Sebastian del Oeste. This is a small pueblo located high in the Sierra Madre Mountains about 65 km drive (elevation 4,500 ft.). We’d also heard stories about how difficult it is to get to by car due to poor dirt roads, full of potholes and hairpin turns that flood during the rainy season.
We left after our breakfast at hotel at 10:00 am, and the drive up the hill was surprisingly smooth. We took the brand-new road that will go directly to Guadalajara via Talpa and Mascota. It is almost completed, with just one stretch of construction still underway. They are building a new bridge. There, we only had to wait for around 10 minutes while the road crew allowed oncoming traffic through the single lane before we were given the right-of-way.
I didn’t mind the wait at all, as we were climbing higher into the mountains and the change of scenery was absolutely stunning. The mountains were green and full of splendor with dramatic views of the valleys below.
Continuing on for the last few kilometers the terrain changed once again, greeting us with tall pine trees as the road from Puerto Vallarta brought us into the west side of this historic mining town. As we drove into town, we noticed that the architecture is much different than Puerto Vallarta.
Originally settled in the 16th century, this beautiful mountain village retains its colonial heritage with buildings and structures that have been standing for over 250 years. Arriving at the lovely town square, I had a feeling that I was in a different place and time. I could tell you it was bustling, but with a total population of 600, there were only a few people milling around.
Once a thriving gold and silver mining town populated with about 40,000 people, San Sebastian recently celebrated the 500th anniversary of the municipality. Actually the mines were basically responsible for the start of Puerto Vallarta, or Las Peñas as it was called then. Salt was brought up from the few huts in Las Peñas by mules to the mines and used in the smelting process. The silver and gold was shipped by mule to Guadalajara and Mexico City to Veracruz, where once a year it was shipped to Spain. Some mines are still there – but not active.
On the way out, we also stopped at the Hacienda Jalisco (by the airport), where Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were staying when they wanted some isolation and peace. This is a 200 year old building that has been resorted and is the perfect getaway for anyone interested in seeing the real Mexico. We met a very friendly guide who went out of his way to show us around. Unfortunately I didn’t remember his name.
Tucked away in the foothills about 20 minutes from the hustle and bustle of Puerto Vallarta, near the village of Desembocada is Hacienda Doña Engracia. We stopped there to get some original Mexican Tequila. We took a tour of their factory and they showed us the process of making excellent Tequila the natural way. As a strange coincidence, the guide at the distillery was Beverly, who was from Edmonton. She moved there about five years ago. And of course we bought 2 bottles of good Tequila (each)!
FRIDAY (DAY 6)
It’s already Friday. How fast time goes by, when you are on vacation. By now we already know some Spanish. Hola! It’s funny how everybody, tourist included, says “hola” around here. I met an American on the street and we both sad “hola” to each other, and then started laughing!
This morning we drove about twenty five kilometers north of Puerto Vallarta, to yet another perfect swimming beach in Punta de Mita. Like many major beaches, there is a thatch-roofed, open-sided restaurant, which was very well-populated this morning, when we arrived. We had already eaten (have I mentioned Mexican breakfast we have every morning in the hotel?), but the food looked abundant, authentic and delectable. We decided to go only with their specialty shrimps, Margaritas and cold “cerveza” Pacifico, just to be able to use chairs and umbrellas on the beach.
Swimming was near-perfect. This beach had little waves and we could walk more than 100 feet before we could start to swim. But the real joy of this beach was that we were just about the only gringos on the beach. The place was filled with Mexicans, having an absolutely wonderful time. Children and dogs were abundant and appeared to be equally well-treated.
Often, when I mention my personal love for Mexico and Mexican, I get asked if the place is safe. People are worried about theft, and tainted food and water among other things. It is true, that you need to drink bottled water, and be careful even about vegetables, that were watered to be grown. This is not an issue of sanitation in this area. There is a microbe, I am told in the waters of the pure mountain streams that are unkind to human systems not accustomed to it.
As far as the people go, merchants enjoy a could negotiated settlement, but I find Mexicans to be impeccably honest, and friendly people with good senses of humor. They remind me on my home country, Croatia. Of course everywhere you go, use common sense and be aware of your surroundings like you would do here at home.
SATURDAY (DAY 7)
After a lot of driving previous day, today we went again to the Playa Gemelas beach, south of the city. Plan was to spend a quiet day on the beach. It worked! In the evening we went for the walk in the old city, and do some more exploring on foot.
From the beautiful Lady of Guadalupe Church, turn left and walk one block, go up the stairs to 446 Zaragoza. This is Casa Kimberly, the home that Richard Burton bought for Elizabeth Taylor while he was filming “Night of the Iguana” at Mismaloya Beach. After the pair married, they purchased the house across the street and joined the two homes by a pink bridge. The casa is now open as a bed and breakfast as well as for tours. The pretty bridge remains a favorite place for couples to wed.
SUNDAY (DAY 8)
Another day in the car, traveling south all the way to the Manzanillo. At least that was the plan, which didn’t quite work. We thought it would be a nice scenic three hour drive to Manzanillo. It turned out that after 3.5 hours we were still a long way from Manzanillo, so we stopped at small beach village(s) Melaque (three pueblos in one).
Melaque is a bustling community located two miles northwest of Barra de Navidad in the state of Jalisco along the Pacific Coast of Mexico. This area is actually made up of three beachfront villages; San Patricio, Villa Obregon and Melaque – all generally referred to as “Melaque.” The small village of Melaque is at the western end of Bahia de Navidad and has been a vacation retreat for Mexicans for generations. This is where we stopped and went for a swim. It was another beautiful beach with lots of fish. Every time a seagull went for a dive it came out with a fish! Again, we were the only gringos on the beach.
After couple of hours on the beach, we decided to abort our trip to Manzanillo, and turn around instead to return back to PV. Another 3.5 hours in the car. What can I say, at least the old car was holding good.
MONDAY (DAY 9)
Today we went again to the Playa Gemelas beach, south of the city. It was another beautiful day on the beach playing cards and watching waves.
TUESDAY (DAY 10)
Today we went to the north end of town called Marina Vallarta. This planned community’s focal point is the 500-slip marina, the largest in all of Mexico. Here fishing boats, sailboats and cabin cruisers share the docks with world class yachts. Over two dozen restaurants line the Marina Malecon with shops–Puerco Azul, Huichol Art Center, Jewelry stores and art galleries such as Galeria Flores, Arte de Las Americas and Galeria EM where stunning glass art of all kinds is manufactured. All are located at the base of several condominium projects where many of PV’s year-round residents live amongst the tourists.
Marina Vallarta’s landmark is El Faro, a 110-foot high lighthouse. At the top is El Faro Bar, a circular lounge that features live contemporary music and a spectacular view of the marina. It’s one of the best spots to watch the sunset. Several first class hotels and resorts are in the Marina Vallarta area. The Marriott Casa Magna, Velas Vallarta, Westin Regina and the boutique hotel, Sierra Plaza are all located within walking distance of the golf course and Marina Vallarta.
At the time there were two cruise ships parked in the Marina bay, and another one was docked. They really are big!
At the dinner time we discovered a small restaurant in downtown area, called “Meson de Calderon”. They had a live band with piano, playing love songs and easy rock, for us “lovers”! It was very romantic atmosphere. Our wife’s liked it and that was the most important thing! Especially, since we were heading towards our hotels after dinner.
WEDNESDAY (DAY 11)
It’s our last day in Mexico. All I want to say is this: PV forecast is sunny with temperature of +290, and we heard that in Edmonton they have -160 and snow. Brrrr…
I don’t want to go back!! Kids, our dearest kids….please send us some money, so that we can stay here!
But the reality was different, and here I am writing this report (while it’s snowing outside), so we don’t forget good times we had in Mexico and Puerto Vallarta. Fun was had by all!!!
This travel report is a little too long, but I hope you liked it!