Intro: The Heart of the West Coast
Puerto Vallarta and Sayulita are both very lively cities, with a lot of good vibes and commotion going on around you, but they are lively in very different ways. If you are from Minnesota, it’s almost like comparing downtown Stillwater to downtown Minneapolis. Both are full of life, full of adventures, and offer plenty of places to eat and drink, but they both offer a much different experience of the day (or night). It’s like one main street of nightlife, compared to 30 busy streets of nightlife. Puerto Vallarta is hustle and bustle, but amplified.
Anywhere you go in Mexico is bound to have a lot of tourists, but Puerto Vallarta is the second largest urban town in its state, with only the Guadalajara Metropolitan Area being larger. This area has always been a thriving village, even long before it become an international tourist destination.
Once a mining town called ‘Las Penas’, Puerto Vallarta is known for its warm multi-cultural experiences, strong traditions, exotic biodiversity, exquisite international restaurants, romantic natural landscapes, and it’s vibrant artistic scene.
It makes sense why it’s so popular destination for tourism, doesn’t it?
Recap: PV & I have a past …
I’ve been to PV before, roughly 15 years ago …. [Yes, I was only 13 years old the first time I went to Mexico … hence the obsessions I have with travel] … and I remember it being a lot different. It was less built up of course, less tourists (less people overall), and I remembered it having a lot more beach line. Unfortunately, I can’t recall at all where we would have stayed, but I know we were in an average hotel. I also remember spending a lot of time on a pretty expansive beach, experiencing all the vendors going by.
Puerto Vallarta started it all for me, my love affair with Mexico that is. The trip I took with my mom and her boyfriend to this beautiful, authentic pueblo on the Pacific Coast, dug itself deep, forever pulling at my heartstrings. I fell so in love with the culture, the people, the place, and I just knew I’d be back.
From tequila, to parasailing, to the obsessive way the locals raved about my hair, Puerto Vallarta lit a fire in me, totally igniting my passion for the beach and the ocean. The first time I can recall having alcohol ever in my life, was also in Puerto Vallarta, and was nothing less than a tall shot of tequila paired with guacamole made right at my table. [If this offends you, you might want to stop reading my posts … It isn’t going to get better, it will likely only get worse. #NotSorry]
Other strong PV memories from 2003 include:
- Drinking the water, and several glasses of it
- Passing out on the beach while getting my hair braided
- A kind woman who only spoke spanish, running around the beach trying to get my mom for me
- Posting up in our hotel room, dying
- Going at least 10 years without being able to drink pina coladas again, because it was the last thing I had before going into a throw-up-apocalypse
- Accompanying my mom’s boyfriend as he bought one of everything, from every vendor that passed us by on the beach. [I literally mean everything, he even bought a horse shaped wooden napkin holder]
- Going on a sweet pirate themed cruise on the Bay of Banderas
- Eating lots of great authentic Mexico food
- Walking through the shops of Old Town, being pursued by many older men, sending my mom into panic mode
Recap: Surprises in Zona Romantica
Back to 2018: We traveled to Puerto Vallarta, from Sayulita, by taxi. It took roughly an hour to get to our hotel, mostly due to the fact that we had to travel down a main street and encountered a lot of traffic lights. [I literally thought I was going to pee my pants on the drive over, and a few times I came very close to asking the driver to pull to the side of the road so I could go in the jungle …]
The drive was also longer for us because we stayed at the far South end of the Bay of Banderas, in the Zona Romantica … which at the time of booking meant nothing more to me than a good place for couples and singles, and I also knew it was near Old Town. Well, apparently Zona Romantica is a specific area of PV known to the LGBT community. Specifically, this area is known as the “Gay Zone”, no joke. We didn’t know this at all prior to arriving, but we had a few ah-ha realizations as we figured things out.
First, while checking in, our group asked the hotel clerk if we could get a map. The guide book we were given was set up a bit … romantically … and featured several images of men … being intimate with one another. (This was clue #1)
Next, on the bottom of a map insert, were details such as “gay guide”, “gay beach”, “gay zone”, and many bars with flirty names such as “Daiquiri Dicks” and “Blondies” were located near us. (This was clearly clue #2)
We sort of went all out on our sleeping accommodations here since we were only going to be here for a 2-nights stay. I was able to get some killer deals though my Expedia account, (and even a free bottle of red wine!) Our hotel was luxurious, and featured a rooftop infinity pool and bar, and several rooms even had jacuzzis on their balconies. [Ours was SUPPOSED to have that. But somehow there was a mix up -____- ].
After getting settled, of course we wanted to go check out the rooftop views and the infinity pool, and while venturing up we quickly realized that we may be the only straight group of people in the entire hotel. In fact, us ladies in our group were amongst the only other woman that we saw in the hotel at all. We also seemed a bit … younger. All four of us stuck out like sore thumbs. (…Clue #3)
Honestly, I don’t think we could have picked a safer place to stay. Zona Romantica was definitely an upper class area of PV, and really didn’t give you those overwhelming city vibes. Despite being perched on a large hill, we had incredible views overlooking the entire city and bay. We were within walking distance to many shops, restaurants, the boardwalk along the Ocean, and Old Town. The only possible downside that I can come up regarding the area we stayed in, is the big hill. You have to climb down (and back up) a very LARGE set of stairs in order to really get to any of the walking distance amenities. [Now, don’t get me wrong, I actually DON’T see this as a downside to the area, and I passionately embraced this as an opportunity for exercise – but it really isn’t for everyone.]
We actually learned later on that PV is considered to have one of the best LGBT scenes in the whole World, due to it’s tolerant atmosphere, and Mexican charm mixed with a cosmopolitan touch. I remember overhearing groups of guys say they were from the MN area, and I met people at our infinity pool that were from Colorado. It was a very safe and welcoming community and I can understand how it’s a top LGBT tourist destination. I also thoroughly enjoyed overhearing many different groups of lesbian woman aggressively discuss how much they hate Trump with local shop owners.
Sidenote: Those damn steps!
Speaking of exercise … I didn’t mention much about this (did I mention anything?) in my Sayulita post, but I DID do daily workouts almost every morning, with the exception being if I knew we were planning to hike for the day. My go to was to do sets and routines I know from Beach Body On Demand, from memory, however in PV I used this staircase to my full advantage. One morning I got up early, grabbed my headphones, and climbed in a full circle (there were two sides, I used one for up and one for down), for 10 full sets. This had to have been hundreds upon hundreds of steps. You guys, the staircase was HUGE. It took me almost 30 minutes to fully complete 10 sets, and I’m telling you, I was sore from this for like 5 days straight afterwards.
[They did have a ‘shuttle’ service for the steps, a manned cart that would take you up and down for only the cost of a tip, but I tried to convince the group to walk up them when I could.]
Recap: Mountain & Sea meet with vibrant City
Puerto Vallarta wears its heart on it’s sleeve, beating strongly from every rooftop, garden, and street. The vibe is very artistic, yet still boldly authentic. It’s the perfect combination of big city, meets beautiful sea, surrounded by exotic jungle and mountains. Considering how tourist driven it is, it never felt overpowering. There was still a very healthy mix of diversity all around.
Bae is a real looker. ♥
CHEESY. No seriously, the Bay of Banderas is beautiful blue and turquoise water surrounded by city and mountains on all sides. This is literally a breeding ground for biodiversity from the nearby jungle and sea life living or dropping by this inlet. January is considered winter in Mexico, but just so happens to be the middle of humpback whale season. As they make their migration, they stop here, often seen with new calves. [ One tour company was even soliciting a 99% guarantee that you will see a whale if you use their service. ]
We were VERY fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and got to be apart of a whale spotting, right off the circle pier our first afternoon. Some guys waiting to book people in boat rides pointed it out to us, [right after one of them offered us some drugs]. A mother and baby were spotted off quite a bit in the distance, but visible none-the-less. Incredible moment, as we saw the baby do a little dive, with its cute little [BIG, cause these whales are huge …] dorsal fin in the air.
But those views though, they do NOT get old. Not from the shoreline, walking along the beach, and definitely not in the infinity pool on the rooftop of your skyscraping hotel-on-a-hill. Sun, clouds, or haze, you can still see the silhouette of those mountains both to your right and left, in a crescent shape around the bay. It also makes for some pretty epic sunset views, as you can imagine! The city becomes 10x more romantic at night because the sky turns every beautiful color in the rainbow.
Dude: It’s just so festive, I love it!
The city is buzzing with electric vibes, but at night it REALLY comes alive! If you’re in your hotel-on-a-hill you can watch firework shows from different parts of the bay. On the ground, you can take a walk through Old Town as some sort of vendor fair takes place in the city “parks”. Food vendors and different forms of entertainment line the boardwalk along the Ocean. Every restaurant is outdoors, with vibrant music playing, luring you in. It’s not a boring place to walk around, day or night. There are so many shops and places to stop and grab a drink or a bite to eat. Honestly, it’s just like everyone seems so damn happy! It becomes pretty contagious, and quickly.
We were even walking along the streets one day, and I swore I heard my name called. It took me another few seconds moving forward until I realized it was someone I knew! A previous co-worker, how random to run into a fellow good vibe when you’re so far from home. Puerto Vallarta just feels like a city that brings people together!
Tips & Tricks
Alright fine, we weren’t in PV that long, but here is some helpful information from our stay.
Where we stayed: I booked our hotel through Expedia, and received some VIP perks from my booking. Our hotel was called Resorts by Pinnacle. [There were a few different addresses for it, offering slightly different styles of rooms. It was packed with a lot of amenities compared to most options, and even had free on site parking available.
There was some construction going on near our location, so you could hear it out the balcony, and the rooftop. It wasn’t a quiet town by any means, but it didn’t have roosters crowing either. Just the sound of cars, commotion and construction. A few more high rises are being built, but after that’s done, I can’t imagine there is much space left to build on…
Where we ate: You can definitely just head straight to the Ocean, walk up and down the boardwalk, and pretty much eat anywhere and have a good experience. They all seem to be great options! We didn’t have a whole lot of time to eat it ALL, but by far the best place we went was called Tacos Revolucion. Amazing guacamole, and everyone’s taco selections were bomb. Inspiring decorations too!
- The Blue Shrimp – Right on the ocean, literally, but vendors can still walk up to the sides of this place, so if you’re seated on the perimeter you will be interrupted. Classier atmosphere, upscale menu. We only drank here, and those were pricey too. [But mine was nice and strong.] #MissionDrinkAllTheMargaritas
- La Cerveceria Union Mexican Oyster Bar – Super sophisticated outdoor dining. Took a really long time to get food, but the options were still delicious. Nice, big outdoor seating. We walked here from our hotel, along the boardwalk. It’s a nice jaunt to burn off some of those calories you’re consuming!
- Salud Super Food (smoothies) – Good morning pick-me-ups! Super great flavors, substitutes and add ons. We went here both mornings to get giant [recovery] smoothies. Amongst our groups selections, they were ALL fantastic. Definitely get the one with peanut butter though!
- Coco’s Kitchen – Beautiful outdoor dining atmosphere with foliage and lights, and enjoyable menu options. I was just really upset I never got more coffee, the lady walked around and filled up cups but she never came back to our table and I definitely wanted more. Their coffee was a nice morning treat! And their brunch food was delicious.
- Crepissima (crepe vendor) – Up and down the boardwalk, I’m telling you – there is AMAZING street food. Street food is literally my new favorite thing [ but so far only in Mexico.] It really doesn’t disappoint. I can’t say that I’ve even ever had a crepe before, but this one was amazing!
- Los Muertos Brewing (pizza) – They delivered. We ordered through our hotel concierge. Somehow we accidentally gave the delivery boy a $250 peso tip. [That’s a LOT, in case you weren’t sure.] And then we sat on our huge balcony overlooking the bay and the city and watched firework shows while shoving face with superb pizza!
What we did at night: There are so many places to go to for a lively nightlife experience, especially in Zona Romantica with all the drag shows happening. But both nights we didn’t stay out on the boardwalk late, instead we mostly hung out at our monster hotel. The simple sunset views from the roof were really all we needed. After our small town experience in Sayulita, we really weren’t after anything crazy here. If you wanted it though, it was there! Definitely a lot of options for late night shenanigans.
What we did in general: Honestly, we didn’t really do anything much here, per say. We did a lot of walking around, along the boardwalk (the Ocean) and through Old Town. At night we spent a lot of time in our hotel, on our balcony and at the rooftop, because it was so nice we didn’t want to not enjoy it.
We did not have any reason to use a taxi, except to get to the airport when it was time to go. [And our hotel clerk called one for us.] Essentially, we only went where our feet could take us, and by no means really explored the whole city, as it was just too big to soak it all in on such a short stay.
Snacks were needed, so we also walked up and down streets near our hotel (at the bottom of the steps) until we found a ‘convenience store’. We found several easily, and also had access to money exchange and an atm just a few blocks away. The lines for these were always long, but they went really fast. And they also sold alcohol at most convenience stores! Everything you could need was of very convenient distance.
[The ONLY thing that wasn’t super convenient was el bano. Here you have to pay for public access to restrooms. It’s cheap, ranging from 5-10 pesos (only like 0.25 to 0.50 cents), but you still had to pay. If you were at a restaurant, as a paying customer, then you were able to use their restroom for free.]
No matter what your length of stay is, you definitely have to walk up and down the main boardwalk. There is lots of decorative artwork, for sale artwork, human displays of artwork, statues, ocean, food, vendors, bars and restaurants. There is literally something for everyone! We even walked past a tequila distillery that I’m still really sad I didn’t have time to play at. 🙂
There were so many things I wanted to buy here, so many beautiful paintings. They kept telling me I could have them shipped home, really selling their A-game accommodation options to tourists. If only ….
By far the biggest tourism draw on the boardwalk is the entertainment. There are so many different kinds of it! People paint themselves like statues, stand perfectly still recreating some kind of ‘scene’ or theme, and leave out tip jars. You really want to take pictures with them, but morally can’t (aren’t supposed to) unless you leave them some money. There are also those that perform acts, either from great heights or right in the middle of the path. At night is really when it all comes alive! [And an undeniable perfect time to people watch.]
For more pictures, tips, tricks, and recollections of Puerto Vallarta, check out my Instagram page:
I’m telling you, this is the place to go for dream worthy sunsets …