Just back this morning from PV (Hacienda Hotel & Spa All Inclusive - Air Canada).
Overall a great trip - very good weather Sunday - Thursday mostly sunny and very sparse rain if at all and blue skies. VERY hot, and the humidity just makes you sweat like crazy, but after a day or two you got used to it and it wasn't so bad. One thing I noticed is although I was sweating liters - I still smelled clean. I think with that much going through your pores it must wash out the bacteria that causes odor? Anyways, back to the trip...
Beaches: actually quite disappointing water quality - most of the bay was fairly brown from the rain/rivers washing into the ocean. I tried swimming out in front of the north hotel zone but the water was so brown you just didn't feel good about being in it. The sand was pretty coarse where the waves break and the pitch of the beach was quite steep so the waves didn't roll very high up the shore. We went to Punta Mita, but found the beach dirty and the sand not that great with lots of small stones mixed in the gravel. The beaches and water were not that appealing to me there. We went up to Salulita and it was much like Punta Mita - coarse sand, steep beach and brown / cloudy water. Bucarias, not too bad - sand was better, beach still steep and the water only somewhat cloudy (more grey than brown - but not green. We went to Los Murtos beach and I wouldn't swim in it - the river that flows through town (and doesn't smell very good & contamination warning signs) seems to wreak havoc on all the downtown beaches.
We took a day trip on the ship "Sarape" from the marina for only $25 (others were trying to sell us same trip for$70). We were told to go down to the marina and offer $25 and they would take us and they sure did. Overall a great trip on the boat - first stop snorkeling @ Las Arcos islands. Lots of fun, but not great water clarity (water was green, not brown - but only maybe 10 - 15 ft visibility. Still fun and saw a good variety of colorful fish along the edges of the islands and when they started chucking bananas and watermelon overboard a huge swarm of black & yellow angelfish (?) came to the surface and all around you. That alone was well worth the admission!
Next stop was Quimixto, and it was a bit of a disappointment. The beach was full of trash and the muddy river flowing into the area kind of kept everyone out of the water... Great pie there by the way, but really expensive for other items (2 small water bottles was $5). The "15 minute hike" to the waterfalls was really almost 45 minutes and was a really disgusting if you were not on a horse (that looked very skinny and sickly). There was a long, steep and slippery trail to the waterfall that was so covered in horse crap that it was almost impossible to get up there without getting it all over your feet and sandals. Once finally to the top, it was kind of impressive, but the water was so dirty you couldn't see more than an inch or two into it and the falls were brown instead of the usual white. I wouldn't recommend it this time of year - maybe it cleans up in the high season?
Last stop was Las Animas beach where the sand was clean and fine and the water was fine for swimming in - green clear waters... The only thing that was missing was a gently sloped beach - it was fairly steep so waves didn't wash up very far, just crashed into the edge of the beach. It was the best beach we had found... to that point...
The next day a friendly local told us to go up to a relatively unknown beach called PLAYA DESTILADERAS (10km southeast of Punta Mita). He called it paradise beach, and I must say he was understating how spectacular this beach was. EVERYTHING was exactly what we were looking for - a long (4 mile?) shoreline with the softest, whitest and cleanest sand we had ever seen, water that was clear as gin and a deep green color, almost nobody there (only 6 one day, 18 the next and maybe 20 on Saturday), only a couple beach vendors, and best of all - the beach's slope was almost flat. A wave would break quite a ways out and the flow would run WAY up the beach - I'm sure some were more than 150 ft runout from where the wave broke instead of the 10-20 ft everywhere else we looked. The water was almost hot - the waves running so high up the beach soaked up all the heat of the sand and when you would bodysurf or just stand where the waves were breaking the rush of hot water was startling, even after being there 3 days. We had lots of fish and wildlife visit us there - some kind of tame white crane that would come really close to our beach blanket, a Pelican swam up to us (about 5 feet away, then swam slowly away - surprisingly large birds up close), a few different fish including a fairly large one with a red stripe on its back (maybe a 3 lb fish) a couple small manta-ray looking things - I don't know if they sting or not? They seemed to really want to avoid us, but we still got a good look at them and it was neat to see them "fly" through the water... The only thing we didn't like about this beach was that we didn't find it sooner. We only got to spend 3 days there.
Other than the beaches, we found the locals to be very helpful, friendly and a pleasure to be around. We got around mostly on the bus and it was a great cultural experience - often serenade while riding the bus by talented musicians. The Macelon, flea market and the whole downtown area was great - we spent most evenings there. The pirate ship launched large fireworks each night and there was plenty going on to keep things interesting and entertaining. Very hot into the evenings and when it did rain it was welcome anyways. Only a few sprinkles the nights we were down there. Prices for clothing and other touristy items were good, and the vendors were more than ready to barter. Lots of fun!
We found may restaurants and although they were significantly more expensive than Mazatlan - the food was good and they seemed really clean. The AI food at the Hacienda Hotel & Spa was better than expected, but lacked variety. The service at that hotel was excellent as well as the ala carte meals in their restaurant. A good Mexican experience and I would stay there again. Not the fanciest place, but so friendly and they treat you like family. The "Mexican Fiesta" night was interesting, and the authentic food was a real treat.
We enjoyed our trips to Bucerias - nice small-town feel...
Beware of the Mayan time share presentation. We have never been so offended in our entire life! The promised 90 minute presentation ballooned into 4 hours, and when we refused to buy we were verbally assaulted and accused of scamming them! She called us all sorts of names that I wouldn't repeat here and told us they were not going to give us our $200US. We said that we came in good faith and gave them all that extra time for the presentation and you know what she said? I'm going to bring some of our trainees to practice on you and we were not going anywhere. I stood up to leave and she threatened to call security. By this point I was ready to leave without our $200, and someone from corporate office came in and "rescued me". He asked us to fill out a complaint form and fill out a survey and gave us this spiel how they don't control the sales people and sometimes they get out of hand. After that, and trying to smooth everything over, he had the nerve to pitch a vacation package to us for only $2600! I think the whole thing is a big scam and they plan this all out to get your guard down but whatever you do - don't take the Mayan tour no matter what you are offered. They ruined our day completely - who wants to be insulted and browbeat by some plastic upper-class wannabee? THERE SHOULD BE A LAW AGAINST THIS! It reflects really badly on the area as a destination, and sometimes it is the bad things that you remember. There were so many aggressive people trying to sign you up for a presentation it was ridiculous!
Would I go back again in September? I am pretty sure I would as I now know where to go and what to avoid. It was so enjoyable to swim in the ocean when it was 31 Celsius instead of the cold 23 Celsius water of the high season.
If I have seemed hard on some of the areas, keep in mind that was our experience and your mileage may vary. If we can save people some wasted time, or help the find the paradise beach all the better...
Thanks for a good trip Puerto Vallarta and the Hacienda Hotel & Spa!