Rachael here! In July my husband and I both had a week off from work, so we looked at each other and said, “pick a spot!”. We knew we wanted to get out of town, and we decided to combine it with a trip to see family as well. So off to Puerto Vallarta we flew, with just a few days notice. We tried to have a good balance between fun family time and romantic time with just the two of us. Mission accomplished. Here are some of our favorites, for anyone who is planning to visit this beautiful Mexican state of Jalisco.
We went with Air BnB, and sadly ended up with a dud of a place. The apartment and location was great, but the host was a nightmare to deal with. Job is turned off of airbnb because of it, but we’ve had many good experiences with airbnb prior, so I am willing to try again on a different trip. I won’t recommend our exact condo, but as far as locations, it really depends on what kind of experience you are looking for. As for us, we wanted close to the beach, near restaurants, culture, spas, and romantic streets to walk around. Zona Romantica was the best for our needs, and we loved staying in this area. It felt like a really good mix of authentic Mexico (i.e. not a huge resort that could be anywhere in the world), but had some good amenities and things to do for travelers. If you are going for pure relaxation and beach, and don’t care about being close to nightlife/restaurants/spas, etc, we recommend going slightly south to the Conchas Chinas area (still within an uber ride to town), or head quite a bit up North to Nuevo Vallarta to stay. We traveled to all three of these areas and enjoyed visiting each of them. Again, it just depends on what you want from your vacation.
I could go on and on about this. We go hard when it comes to food when we travel. For the few days before we left, we ate really simple, to prepare our palates (and bellies) for all the good food we were going to eat. We also have a pretty strict rule about eating the food of the area wherever we travel. I.e., when we are in Mexico, we are eating Mexican food for every meal (we cheated a few times with gelato, but otherwise were 100%). Sure there are lots of Italian restaurants, and “American Food”, and other types of food, but we want to experience the food of the area we are in! In Puerto Vallarta, that meant a lot of seafood, some interesting local specialties (like torta ahogada), and general Mexican favorites (taaaaaacos!).
A few places we recommend trying while in the area.
Address: Calle Allende 344, Centro, 48351 Puerto Vallarta, Jal., Mexico
This was one of our favorite meals of the trip. It’s a tad “upscale” without being stuffy, and has an awesome environment. The staff was attentive, kind, and knowledgeable, and the food was all spot on. We loved all their salsas, and virgin cocktails, and even made room for some incredible chocolate and cinnamon cake with coffee ice cream. Our maid dishes blew us away (Duck carnitas, and chicken mole). Grab your significant other, and head to El Arrayán.
I’ll talk about visiting here later on in the post, but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t tell you to get a chicken mole tostada here. It was one of the best dang mole tostadas I’ve ever had. Just the right amount of spice, chocolate, super crisp tostone, ahhh. It’s right off the malecon, so easy to hop into for a snack. We tried a few other things here that were “meh”, but I would go back for that tostada.
This is the cutest little hippy surfer town. The beach was too busy at the time we went, but we carved out a little corner and enjoyed it for a little bit. The best part was walking around the little town, looking at all the shops, admiring the colors of the Papel Picado and pom poms made by local women, and eating churros (churros unrelated to Sayulita, I just really enjoyed them).
Take a drive up to Nuevo Vallarta for the beaches, and some great food. We took uber up there several times to see family, and they would very kindly drive us back down to Puerto Vallarta. It’s about 30 minutes without traffic, 45 with.
We didn’t go to Marieta Islands this trip, but some family members have been and enjoyed it. Worth looking in to, but from all I’ve heard, go early in the day to avoid crowds.
There are lots of beaches up and down the coast, and if we had tons of time and a car, we would have tried more. But we got to enjoy 6-7 in our short time there, which is not too shabby. Next time, I want to try out some of the incredible beaches that are only accessible by boat. Here are our favorites out of the ones that we did see and enjoy:
Conchas Chinas Playa
Our all time favorite. The most incredible light turquoise water, quiet and secluded (go early to have the beach to yourself), and perfectly soft sand. There are huge rock formations that form tide pools, and you can search for lots of fun sea creatures. The water was clean, and the waves were so chill, which made it a really relaxing location.
Clean, not so busy, clear water, gorgeous views.
Nuevo Vallarta Beach
This beach had great waves for body boarding and jumping in. It was family friendly and had easy parking. There was a pool for those who want to go from pool to ocean and back.
Things to Do:
- Make your own food tour (see above for ideas of where to go). We interspersed our food tour with three museums.
–Cuale Museum (Archaeological Museum), free. This is on the Cuale River Island and is small, but worth a few minutes to learn about the trade industry in Mexico. It’s fascinating to see how other countries have affected Mexican culture and visa vera.
–Naval Historial Museum, free on Wednesdays, a few bucks otherwise. This was a cool museum! At first, I was wondering if we should skip it but I’m glad we checked it out. It also was a great place to take advantage of the AC during the hottest time of the day.
–ChocoMuseo, free. Calling this a museum is a stretch, but there is a chocolate shop, chocolate cafe, and a tiny area were they some plaques on the wall talk about how chocolate is made. It’s a cute place to hop into, and the chocolate is really good (see also: chicken mole tostada).
- Walk the Malecon. It’s a long boardwalk along the beach and has lots of really cool art sculptures to see and shops to enjoy. Check out playa Muertos while you are here, not to hang out on the beach (way too busy for my liking), but to watch the sunset, and walk the pier. If you are staying in Zona Romantica, Playa Muertos is the closest beach to you. It’s nice to check out, not to spend hours at.
- Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Check out this stunning church as you are walking the Malecon. It has a crown! It’s a really beautiful piece of architecture, and well worth a trip inside as well.
- Palo Maria Cascadas. This is a jungle hike to some impressive waterfalls and swimming holes. Fair warning, it’s a tricky hike (and we followed some locals on a secret back way that ended up being the secret harder way). I would not suggest it for kids of any age, and make sure you are confident in your footing. Once you get to the “trailhead” (it’s just off the road, down from a little bridge) follow the fence for as long as you can, and then follow the river. Our route then took us up a steep cliff for a while to get up to the top pools, but you can also go to the bottom pools much easier, and then from the bottom pools you can climb a rope up to the top pools. Again, I don’t really know why we followed the locals, but alls well that ends well. It was very satisfying to make it to the pools, and the water was clean, clear, and refreshing. It also 100% felt like we were in Jurrasic Park while we were hiking. And that we were on the wrong side of the fence haha. We didn’t see any dinosaurs, but we did catch sight of lots of other local bugs and animals. The flora was stunning.
- Get a Massage Job found a place close to our condo, and he got an almost 2 hour, deep tissue massage for about $50! He went to Metamorfosis. There are tons of places, so just look for one near you, and get your relaxation on.
Let us know if you have gone, or are planning a trip to Puerto Vallarta! We want to hear what you like!