I accidentally missed out on the biggest snow days in Portland by taking a week-long break in Puerto Vallarta. It was my third time in Mexico, having visited Zihuatanejo and Mazatlan before. Puerto Vallarta offers a wide variety of tourist experiences. Finding someone to speak English with you will be no problem, although trying out your Spanish will be met with appreciation and patience.
Hanging out in Puerto Vallarta
I choose to stay at an Airbnb and the condo was great. Hostels and Airbnb are my preferred accommodation styles, but there is no shortage of hotels, resorts and bed-and-breakfasts in Puerto Vallarta to suit any budget. One place I saw that I would like to stay in if I visit again was the Hotel Catedral (Hidalgo 166, Centro).
I’m not big on places packed with tourists, which is why I didn’t hang out too much in downtown Puerto Vallarta proper. Frankly, Americans racing to simultaneously get alcohol poisoning and skin cancer is not my scene. However, there are a couple places I’d like to point out that I think are worth braving the crowds for.
Packed to the rafters and loud as a football game, Pipi’s (Guadalupe Sanchez 804, Centro) does indeed have amazing and huge margaritas. My husband ordered a mango margarita and I had my favorite, a Cadillac. One is enough, and you might even consider sharing one if you’re a lightweight.
If you’re looking for a bit of a refuge on the busy beaches along the Malecon, I recommend Sapphire Ocean Club at Playa los Muertos. There is a $200 peso day use fee for person, but it allows access to their pool, showers and restrooms. They give you a fluffy towel, which is wonderful, because who likes lugging those around? It also comes with two jars of fresh juice or herbal tea and unlimited carafes of water. There is no music and the vibe is more chill than let’s do shots, which is just my speed. The chairs are more spread out, so you actually have some space. Drinks and food are pricier than other nearby spots, but since I never have more than two drinks, it was worth it.
After a couple days in the city, we decided on three day trips: Vallarta Botanical Gardens, Yelapa and Sayulita. After all, we were there mostly to relax and didn’t want to be beholden to too many hard timelines. Traveling in and around Puerto Vallarta is easy and cheap. They have a great bus system and a ride around town is only $7.50 pesos, or about 38 cents at the current exchange rate. The only time we used a taxi was after arriving at the airport. Other than that, we walked or used the bus. Further destinations, like these day trips, are a bit more, but even going to Sayulita was only about $2 USD each way.
Vallarta Botanical Gardens
High season: Open every day from 10 am to 6 pm. There’s also an early opening of 8 am on Thursdays. For off season hours, check their website. Admission is $150 pesos, and allows entry the following day as well if you wish to return. Remember to bring insect repellant, although they do sell it there as well.
Catch the bus to “El Tuito” at the northwest corner of Carranza and Aguacate streets. Buses leave about once every half hour. Bus fare is $20 pesos each way. The trip could be anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic. The last bus departing from right outside the garden usually leaves around 4 or 4:30 pm, so plan accordingly or you’ll have to take a taxi back. The gardens themselves are not huge, so they are easily manageable to tour in a couple hours, including some of the long walking trails. You can swim in the river as well, so bring a towel and your swimsuit if you like. The water’s calm but a bit cold.
Go ahead and plan on lunch at the onsite restaurant, Hacienda de Oro. It’s a little pricier than a standard taqueria downtown, but worth it. A beautiful, tranquil setting, delicious food and attentive service.
During the water taxi ride out to Yelapa, currently still only reachable by boat, we saw whales and dolphins jumping. It was amazing. Catch a water taxi from the new pier at Playa los Muertos. Morning trips usually leave anywhere from 9 am to 11:30 am during high season and even later in the day for tourists wishing to stay in Yelapa overnight. We just walked up, although you can buy tickets in advance from the many trip organizers that call out to you from the street. We chose the boat, La Güera, and I highly recommend them. Their crew was excellent!
Our particular water taxi that departed at 11 am gave us the option to first go to the town side of Yelapa and take a tour, which included the waterfall. Then we got back on after about an hour and they took us to the beach. The same boat brought us back to Puerto Vallarta at 4 pm.
I recommend of all the palapas to head to the Coco Shack for a fresh piña colada. Then just kick back, sunbathe and swim in the sparkling clear blue water. Save some room for the famous pie ladies who walk the beach!
Catch a green and white bus to Sayulita for the day, a trip that takes about 1 to 1.5 hours each way depending on traffic. A busy, funky and crowded little beach town, it was admittedly overwhelming to us at first with the swarms of people. But we headed straight to the beach (after the requisite and deservedly famous Choco Banana in the main square) and found a spot to relax.
The best margarita, the best piña colada AND the best guacamole we’ve ever had in Mexico was at a humble little beach café, La Terrazola. It’s a little bit north of the busiest part of the town beach. Go there and enjoy the lovely food and drinks and swim in the warm, clear water.
We had dinner at Mary’s Traditional Mexican Cuisine because the Sayulita Café was not open yet and we were very hungry. Great food.
Vegetarians and vegans, never fear. Mexico is one of the easiest places to get a meat-free meal. One of the best things about the wonderful hospitality in Mexico is that if you ask nicely, even if a menu at a place has seemingly only meat options, they will mostly likely make you something suitable. I’ve never once been turned down when I ask politely. A plate of beans, rice, guacamole and tortillas is easy enough for even a little rural eatery to put together. A friend recently had mushroom and hash brown tacos in Cabo when she asked, and they turned out amazing. There are more and more plant-based eateries in Mexico every year. Puerto Vallarta has some outstanding choices.
A buffet-style restaurant that changes its menu every day, it has diverse entrees, colorful salads, soups and non-alcoholic beverages. Ask the staff to point out the vegan options. My favorite thing there was a non-dairy vegetable cream soup. I admit I had three bowls, I couldn’t help myself.
Up further north near the Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club complex, this sleek little all-vegan café is well worth the trek. Fresh juices and smoothies, savory breakfasts, hearty sandwiches, and inventive desserts (including a raw option) await you. Try the fantastic chilaquiles!
Another 100% vegan gem. Best tacos al pastor I’ve had since going vegan. Tortas, salad and rice bowls, tacos, soup, “meatballs” — the menu is huge.
Red Cabbage Café – El Repollo Rojo
Admittedly, for all the hype, this place was good, but not amazing. However, the astounding array of vegan and vegetarian options in a slightly more upscale atmosphere is still worth seeking out. The vegan quesadillas were simple but flavorful. Being obsessed with Frida Kahlo, there was no way I wasn’t going to make reservations here. The menu is based on the fiestas Frida and Diego used to throw!
Places that we didn’t get a chance to try:
Restaurant Vegetariano Mary
The Yogi Bar