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Puerto Vallarta trip report

Yorktown, Va
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Puerto Vallarta trip report

Just back from seven days in Puerto Vallarta and am grateful for the wealth of advice and expertise available on this board! I hope to give some back--especially in the cost analysis area.

Being the tightwad that I am, I scoured the net for days looking for the best price for an air and hotel package for my family of three. Expedia had the best price coming in at $2500ish. We flew out of Dulles on United and stayed at the Marriot Casamagna, which is either a 45 cents pp. bus ride or a ten dollar cab ride away from the Zone Romantica, where many of the restaurants and shops are, but it has the advantage of being located on the Marina, an area that I found preferable to the Romantic Zone. The hotel was immaculate, service was excellent, the pool was large and had a swim up bar, and the beach was ok. More about the beaches later. If you are looking for luxury, the Marriot and the Westin, both on the Marina, would be my suggestions. The Sheraton and Holiday Inn are in the Hotel Zone, which I did not explore, but from the bus, it didn't look inviting. If I were traveling with my more budget-conscious friends as opposed to my spend-like-there's-no-tomorrow husband, I might have considered The Playa Los Arcos Hotel as it was quaint and in the midst of things, but much smaller than the Marriot.

Food is a major incentive for traveling for me, but I must say that I didn't find the restaurants in PV exceptional nor were they the bargains I hoped they would be. This is still the place of the $17-35 dollar entree which I was hoping to escape and after a couple of such meals, I realized that the less I paid for my food, the better it was. Mediocre food was had at El Dorado, Marisco Polo, and

My best meals were at Cafe de Ollo (we went there twice!), The Red Cabbage, Vaca Grill (fantastic arrachera) and the very clean Marisma taco stand at the Marina location. I'll be craving those fish tacos for awhile! Mr. Cream is the place to go at the Marina for breakfast--every kind of pancake you can imagine and wonderful Mexican egg specialties.

Our first night we decided to hit The Red Cabbage as this is the place for authentic gormet Mexican food that goes beyond tacos and enchiladas. A caveat: don't look at a map and think you can walk there from the Romantic Zone. Take a cab. It's hard to get to this place, but it was worth it. Chiles Nogada, like those said to have been served at Frida Kahlo's wedding, a stuffed chile with a very complex cream sauce served cold was a standout, but everything we had was good. Cafe de Ollo is a time-honored spot in the Zone Romatica. My husband and I had the special which was a seafood platter with 4 lobster tails, shrimp, and your choice of filet mignon or fish for $41. It was delicious. Even cheaper was Vaca Grill, a place where our concierge said he goes with his buddies. My hubby and daughter had a big barbecue platter with steak, ribs and chicken for $16. I had the arrachera--perfecto. As for margaritas, maybe I just didn't go to he right places, but none were standouts.

While not planned to be such, this turned out to be quite an outdoorsy vacation--perhaps because we were not at an all-inclusive. Those of you whose top priority for a vacation is the beach may seriously want to reconsider PV and head south of Cancun as the beaches in PV are spotty. You generally do not have white sand; the water can be muddy/sandy; the surf is rough, and to get to a really good beach, it may be a day's work. We took two beach excursions, the first to the beach called Yelapa. To do this, one must go to the pier in the Romantic Zone and catch a Water Taxi ($20 pp). Before getting down there, I had visions of beach hopping as I'd read about several nice beaches (really more like big beach cul de sacs), but once there I could see that that was not possible, and they looked to be pretty much the same anyway. Yelapa was a fun day. As part of your water taxi fare, the guide will take you to a water fall. At the beach, I parasailed ($35) for the first time and ended up landing in the water for which I was pestered for an additional $10 tip since I got the guy's parasail wet. This is also the place where you can get a picture with an iguana on your head for $5. Cheesy I know, but I had to have one.

The water was pretty calm here, so I'd definitely recommend this beach, but there were no pie ladies! Perhaps that's just a high season thing.

Our next outing was a trip with Vallarta Adventures to The Marietta Islands. Breakfast (fruit, juice, and muffins) lunch, and all the booze you can drink after you swim, were included for $85 pp. This trip was typical laid back fun. The islands are actually protected, so you don't walk on them, but you snorkel and kayak around them. The snorkeling was decent, but nothing like Cozumel. After snorkeling they took us to a beach, where the surf was pretty rough. We dug sand out of our bathing suits for days after this beach. Be sure to bring your own towels as there is nothing at this beach but sand and water.

My final adventure proved to be what I imagine will appear to the unknowing to be the pinnacle of my athletic career--ziplining through the Sierra Madre! At one point we were 540 feet above ground, and the longest line is a quarter of a mile. We did this with Los Veranos Canopy tours, and that is an important distinction because there are other tours where you have to walk a ways up in the air on platforms, and nobody in my camp would have wanted to do that. Contrary to my fears, it was not unbearably hot. Just as it got hot, it was time to zip across the jungle-what better air conditioning? The guides were wonderful, and I felt completely safe doing something that could be very daunting. The hardest part was climbing the steps up the jungle, but we managed.

All in all, we had a very active, adventurous vacation. The Mexican people are so eager to make sure you are enjoying yourself, and I never feel unsafe. But in the age old debate about whether to go to Puerto Vallarta or the south of Cancun, I have to cast my vote for south of Cancun for the following reasons: beaches, Playa del Carmen, quality and value of resorts. I equate Playa with the Romantic Zone, the hub of restaurant and shopping activity. Playa is far cleaner and to me seemed more sophisticated. I realize this is perhaps because Playa is newer. The buses (vans really) one takes to Playa are also newer and cleaner and the landscape is relatively undeveloped, less run down. I'm usually all about the authentic bus experience in a city, but after about two days, the buses in Puerto Vallarta just seemed hot and bumpy, and often people were unwilling to move over to make a seat available! I'd never imagine seeing something like this in the otherwise very friendly Mexico, but even my daughter commented on this. The all-inclusive business in PV doesn't seem to be what it is in the Mayan Riviera. I heard people who were staying at AI's in PV complaining about the repetitiveness of the buffets, but I would have welcomed a 5 or 6 star all- inclusive since the food proved to be average for the most part, and those $8 margaritas add up at the swim up bar at the Marriot. Thanks to everyone who posts here to help make this another informed and enjoyable vacation!


Tonawanda, New York
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1. Re: Puerto Vallarta trip report

Thanks for the report!!! Glad you had a good time!!!

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2. Re: Puerto Vallarta trip report

I'm glad to read your report and thank you for checking back. I don't mean to sound contrary but there are a couple things I just can't help from comparing in my experiences:

While you said you were looking for value and a tight wad, the Casa Magna Marriott is far from a budget hotel. I stay at places in Zona Romantica that are under $50 per night, very nice 3-stras with a pool and restaurant.

You had a $41 specialty plate at Cafe de Olla, while I always order the $6 chicken sopas - delicious.

You most certainly CAN easily walk to the Red Cabbage, it takes about 15 mins. if you are on the south-side, head inland and go all the way on L. Cardenas until you see the iron bridge in front of you and Los Arbolitos on the corner, turn right on that street, it's two blocks on the right.

The busses ARE hot and bumpy and the mode of transportation for local people. They are not specifically meant to accommodate tourists.

I agree that Playa is newer and I'm sure the resorts are of a higher quality. People who know and love PV don't return every year expecting white sand, turquoise water, or the highest quality resorts (rather in spite of the lack of those things). There is so much more to the town and its people that draw us back time after time.

But as I always say Vallarta is definitely not for everyone's taste. So I really do thank you and appreciate your thorough, accurate, and thoughtful accessment. I know it will be of help to many others reading here.

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3. Re: Puerto Vallarta trip report

Thanks for the detailed post. We are going in Nov. and a lot of what you wrote about are in our plans. I hope the pie lady was just on vacation. Some of the less desirable things you wrote about will be part of our adventure. We don't expect this to be the best beach we've ever visited, but we do hope it will be culturally exciting, beautiful and gastronomically pleasurable...the more I read the more I doubt five days will be enough. We are alsready tentatively planning a return trip with family in 2007. If we like it like we think we will that is.

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4. Re: Puerto Vallarta trip report

I wish you would have tried exploring the Hotel Zone . I have stayed at the Holiday Inn, Villa Del Palmar , and Cantos Del Sol. This area is full of small shops and great little places to eat. And centrally located to all attractions. Also the mall has been all redone and looks great . My daughter seen the new KFC ( built summer 2005)and had to go there to eat and they have a big play center inside.From the Holiday inn( which by the way has a Sports Book next door the only one in the whole area) all they way down to the Sheraton there are so many places to eat and shop it is unreal. From fast food to elegant dining. Sorry you thought this great area looked so uninviting. As a regular to the area every year I just love exploring all that it has to offer.It is a great central location.

Houston, TX
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5. Re: Puerto Vallarta trip report

Have been to Cancun, Playa, Cozumel and PV hands down my favorite - I think everyone has stressed here until they are blue in the face that if blue crystal water and white sand is what you want, you will not find it here, this is the Pacific and the same pretty much goes for Cabo/Acapulco - Head to the Caribbean then - I live in Texas so our water is kind of gross, :-) so to me PV's water at Los Muertos beach is actually just fine. We found PV to be the most beautiful and charming, the scenary, the jungle, the lush greenery and the views are breathtaking, not to mention those sunsets at night!!! We went for 5 nights and that wasnt enough time for us to do everything we wanted to - we thought the town was so pretty we even looked at some property to possibly invest in, to rent out and use ourselves for the summer - and wow , did we look at some beautiful condos and houses! Needless to say, wee are saving our money and seriously thinking abou it :-0

We are going to back in September to do the things we didnt get a chance to do and possibly look at some more property - cant wait.

However, we do thank you for your sincere report - thank you for taking the time to write this - as suze mentioned , is not for everyone.

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6. Re: Puerto Vallarta trip report

My husband and I are trying to decide on beach vacation the last week of October and seem to have narrowed a bit to choosing between Puerto Vallarta and Aruba (or possibly St. Martin/St. Maarten). I grew up going to Puerto Rico and St. Thomas, and then we have loved going to Hawaii, so when it comes to beaches, I do tend to want white sand and turqoise water. But I am also really concerned about hurricane season in the Caribbean ... AND we are trying to go somewhere where we can find a nice deal on a villa (with a private pool) so the tail end of low season possibility with PV was a plus. And while the water and sand of Aruba is so compelling compared to what I'm reading about PV, I like the idea of the lush greenery and mountains. And I am more interested in the Mexican culture than Aruba ... but not clear how much that is a factor in either place since both feel pretty touristy.

So, interested in others views and specifically, would be interested to know which beaches are the closest to a Caribbean sandy beach with clearer water and snorkeling. Are there any of those coves that are best? Is it generally nicer in the Northern part of Banderas Bay (near Bucerias and La Cruz) or the Southern part (near Conchas Chinas?). We are the type that would not want to be so close to the busiest zone anyway -- but also not so far that we couldn't head that way if we wanted for dinner, shopping or whatever.

Thanks for any specific info.

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7. Re: Puerto Vallarta trip report


We spend the winter in Bucerias but in the fall always travel to the caribbean - St. Thomas, St Johns, St. Lucia, St. Maartin, Puerto Rico. You seem to indicate that you are looking for an area in PV closest to the caribbean - this you will not find. We love the caribbean for the crystal blue water and white sand but PV is on the Pacific and regardless of what people may say there is not anywhere comparable in the PV area. That being said we love the PV area for so may reasons - the contrast of sea to mountains, the wonderful mexican towns and people, the restaurants, the leisurely pace of living. Since you say you aren't interested in nightlife I suggest you look at Bucerias or Sayulita both of which are great mexican towns - Bucerias has a beach that goes on for miles, we don't swim in it our villa has a pool; also lots of restaurants to choose from and a place where you can walk everywhere; it also is not a long bus ride to venture into PV for the day. Sayulita is another great town where you can walk everywhere and has some nice restaurants and the beach here is much more swimmable in my opinion. Not as big as Bucerias but a lovely spot with things to see and do. Never have rented in Conchas Chinas but I believe you need to have a car as this is really just a residential area there is nothing to walk to - someone who is more familar with the area can probably offer more insight.

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8. Re: Puerto Vallarta trip report

turning40...Hi, well it sounds like you and your husband are really looking for a "beach vacation" and it is between Aruba and PV. I can tell you I have been to PV many many times (lost count) and Aruba once (no desire to return), the beaches are nice but I hated the wind and the flat land. They do have one hill that sticks out but for the most part, it is flat dry land.

However, if you are really into beaches, I must say, PV beaches will not compare to the beaches in St. Maarten, St. Thomas, or Puerto Rico....it is not the Caribbean. I love the beaches over there and the snorkeling is outstanding. PV does have wonderful beaches, but they are completely different on the Pacific side, from the color, to the waves, to the sand. St. Maarten and St. Thomas are also some of my favorite places to visit....(PV is still my favorite)

You will see many threads already started as to why so many people love PV - I can honestly say for me it wasn't the beaches, but I still enjoy them. There is just so many more things about PV from the sunsets, to the restaurants, to the mountains, to the jungles, to the culture, to the Mexican people, to the many activities, and much more.

So if you are willing to experience everything PV has to offer, I think you and your husband would fall in love with PV like the rest of us!

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9. Re: Puerto Vallarta trip report

Thanks for the honest and helpful assessments about the quality of the beaches in PV ... and the plus side of more interesting geography and culture.

It was helpful (of course, also further complicates my indecision because the things folks have raised as positives about PV are definitely what I'm more interested in about it ... and in reality, I know my husband has too much ADHD to actually want to just lay on the beach and/or snorkel for seven full days ... and he doesn't gamble so I am just not sure what else Aruba would have to draw us ...

And I know there are other places in the Caribbean that would have more interesting terrain AND culture AND turquoise water/white sand ... I'm just not sure we want to deal with the hurricane risks.

Thanks for taking the time to reply in such detail though (and the specific Bucerias tips).