By Bob Glaze
I enjoyed being back in PV after my first visit 14 years ago when I was there on a cruise celebrating my Father’s 90th birthday. I liked it then and enjoyed on my return trip, though it has grown considerably in recent years. It continues to be a popular tourist destination. With non-stop flights from Chicago, you can easily get there to avoid cold and snow in Chicago. My flight was just over three hours!
There are many things to do, great places to explore, wonderful food and excellent hotels and resorts.
What to do in PV
I recommend visiting the old town, Zona Romantica and its beach restaurants and bars. It has many to choose from. Old town also has some great galleries and shops to explore as well a number of small local bars and restaurants where you can find some great food.
Centro, is a little more elegant and has more upscale restaurants, galleries and boutiques.
Make sure to visit the Cathedral, The Parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and see its crowned Renaissance-style tower. Worth a visit is the large square to the south to watch local artists painting in chalk on the sidewalks.
The famed Malecon or boardwalk is a great spot to walk along the water and see some of its featured decorative sculptures along the way.
Isla Rio Cuale/ Cuale River Island is located in the middle of the river between Gringo Gulch in Centro and the Zona Romantica. It has some nice boutiques, several good restaurants, a museum and an art center offering classes. Restaurant Oscar’s, has a tequila distillery onsite that offers free tastings of their different tequilas and a great mezcal.
Puerto Vallarta has a number of art galleries that you can visit and enjoy. Galeria Uno, as Puerto Vallarta’s original gallery, has been showcasing Mexican artists since 1971 at Morelos 561, Centro. Galeria Pacifico at Aldama 174 opened in 1987. It features Mexican and foreign artists in both sculptures and painting. Galeria Pacifico participates in the Wednesday night Historic Center Art Walk/Camino Del Arte with 11 other galleries from the end of October to the end of May. Make sure to explore and enjoy a meal before or after.
Galeria Omar Alonso, at Leona Vicario 249, Centro, was my favorite for contemporary art. It features works by over 20 artists. Across the street, Corsica Galeria de Arte is also worth a visit at Calle Guadalupe Sánchez 756, Centro. It is across the street from Cafe Des Artistes.
Maracuya Beach, Art & Fashion is a fun store owned by La Palapa and El Dorado restaurants, that features art, clothing and accessories. Púlpito 102-1, Zona Romántica.
Puerto Vallarta has a number of outdoor activities to enjoy including, snorkeling, scenic hiking, mountain biking, zipline tours, whale watching, sailing, swimming with the dolphins, boat trips and jeep tours.
You can also visit the Vallarta Botanical Gardens. Here you can explore the beautiful garden trails and then enjoy lunch in its popular restaurant, Hacienda del Oro.
Where to Stay
From small boutique hotels to beachfront resorts, Puerto Vallarta has many lodging options.
Nuevo Vallarta is an area north of the airport that I found to be a great place to stay. I visited friends at the Marival Residences as their guest. This is a luxury resort with beautiful apartments and five bars and restaurants to choose from. You can stay there, though many have purchased timeshare weeks. They have one, two, three and four bedroom units. You can stay next to the plunge pools, stay in penthouse units or three bedroom suites along with units overlooking the beach.
I found the staff and the service to be really outstanding. They were all so friendly and helpful. The food is really excellent with many great menu items to choose from each meal. You can eat at their new beach club restaurant called Mozzamare, or dining at their rooftop tapas bar, Insu Sky Bar, with small plates and amazing views. Omaggio is a great spot for breakfast outside.
They also have a fitness center and spa along with several pools.
I highly recommend it as a place to base yourself while in the area. It is convenient to the airport and you can easily arrange transportation to visit Sayulita and other towns to the north and likewise you can easily get to downtown Puerto Vallarta.
Hacienda San Angel, located at Calle Miramar 336 in Centro above the Cathedral, is a stunning boutique hotel in a traditional Mexican style. It has beautiful gardens, fountains, three pools, a rooftop restaurant and a wedding chapel. It has a famous history, as Richard Burton purchased the main villa as a Valentine’s Day gift for his wife Susan in 1977. He fell in love with Puerto Vallarta while filming Night of the Iguana in the mid-1960s. Elizabeth Taylor, Burton’s ex-wife owned the house nearby. The hotel is owned by Janice Chatterton who has beautifully renovated the property.
Casa Kimberly, is a lovely nine-suite boutique hotel also owned by Janice Chatterton of Hacienda San Angel. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor chose the casitas after they met on the movie set of Cleopatra. We toured the property after out dinner at Hacienda San Angel. You can see the home owned by Taylor and the bridge, Puente Del Amor or Bridge of Love, which Burton would cross for romance from his home across the street. It is fun seeing the space as well as many photos of Elizabeth Taylor. Calle Zaragoza 445.
For a romantic setting south of Puerto Vallarta head to Yelapa. A close friend in Chicago recommends Verana, a hillside boutique hotel, eco lodge surrounded by jungle and, therefore, is very secluded. You have to take a boat where you hike uphill and your luggage is transferred by mules. The views are stunning. You can go to the spa, take cooking classes, go fishing, hike the jungles, visit waterfalls or explore nearby hidden beaches and remote islands by boat.
Where to Eat in Puerto Vallarta
From casual dining in town and on the beach to wonderful upscale restaurants, you will find it all it Puerto Vallarta. My recent finds and recommendations include:
La Palapa: I had not been to this beach restaurant in the Zona Romantica in over 14 years. When I was back in town, I had to go for another wonderful lunch on the beach. I loved the views of Los Muertos beach and the great food. I enjoyed the seafood ceviche and the seared tuna focaccia sandwich. I highly recommend it when you are in town. They also have a Beach Club where they provide beach chairs, umbrellas and tables for those wanting a fun beach experience. Playa Los Muertos, Pulpita 105 Col. Emiliano Zapata.
El Dorado Restaurant & Beach Club: The owners of La Palapa also have El Dorado across the street. It was the former Vista Grill on the Beach. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, they feature coastal Mexican cuisine. They also have a Beach Club at El Dorado for those wanting to be on the sand close to the water. Playa Los Muertos, Pulpito 102 Col. Emiliano Zapata.
Hacienda San Angel: At Calle Miramar 336, this boutique hotel has a wonderful rooftop restaurant with amazing views, great food plus an excellent Mariachi band 6 nights a week. I celebrated my birthday there last November with childhood friends.
Puerto Cafe: At Calle Morelos 540, this is a fun coffee shop that is well worth the visit when you are exploring the city.
Casa Tradicional Cocina Mexicana: This is a colorful restaurant serving Mexican specialties for lunch and dinner. They also have music and entertainment on certain evenings. Hidalgo 335, Centro.
The owner of Zumo restaurant in San Miguel de Allende, Stewart Haverlack, used to own a spot on the beach in Puerto Vallarta. After I told him I was heading to PV, he gave me a handwritten list of his recommendations of the following spots as some of his favorites in town:
Barcelona Tapas: Located at Calle Matamoros 906, Centro, this restaurant has a focus on tapas and paella.
La Leche: Located just south of the airport in a more contemporary/shopping zone, La Leche gets good reviews. It is a good spot if you are staying in a hotel that area, near the cruise ship terminal or north in Nuevo Vallarta. You will love the sleek white interior. Zona Hotelera Norte, Blvd. Francisco Medina Ascencio KM 2.5.
Cafe Des Artistes: Located at Guadalupe Sanchez 740, this upscale spot has an elegant interior. The menu is a fusion of French and Mexican cuisine with both ala carte and tasting options available. The restaurant also has a sister restaurant, Tuna Blanca on the beach in Punta de Mita, Nayarit, north of Puerto Vallarta. It looks lovely.
TRIO is recommended for upscale Mediterranean cuisine at Guerrero 264, Col. Centro.
Mezzogiorno: Highly recommended is this Italian restaurant located on the beach in Bucerias north of Nuevo Vallarta. Avenida Pacífico 33, corner Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez.
Chicago friends also loved La Leche and the River Cafe on the Isla Rio Cuale/ Cuale River Island at #4. It is a fine dining, spot along the river and away from the beach.
Great Casual Dining in Puerto Vallarta
I have twice enjoyed the San Miguel Food Tours in San Miguel de Allende, MX. On my last tour, my guide mentioned that they also owed Vallarta Food Tours. So when I found that I was going to be there with friends, I suggested that we try one of their food tasting and cultural walking tours. We chose the Original Downtown Vallarta Food Tour. They offer six different group tours as well as private tours. I like trying street food, but am always concerned about food safety. I found that by taking a tour like this that the spots are heavily vetted, which gives me great comfort.
I thought the experience was really outstanding and I really enjoyed getting into the neighborhoods and away from the tourists at the beach. The tour included nine tasting locations. Many were included in the oldest part of the city, the Zona Romantica in the Colonia Emiliano Zapata. I would definitely go back to all of them again on my own. The list included:
Tacos Robles: Established in 1986 at 48380 Calle Constitución, Emiliano Zapata, this is a small casual spot that features their own beef and goat tacos. I really loved trying the goat tacos!! Go early as once they run out of meat for the day, they close.
Mariscos Cisneros: This is a colorful restaurant that is known for its seafood. I loved trying the fish taco, which was one of the best I have ever had! Aguacate #271, Emiliano Zapata.
Caesar’s Coconut Stand: Started in 1968, this is a neighborhood food stand that features coconut water. It is located at Aquiles Serdan #255, Emiliano Zapata. The coconut water was very fresh and refreshing.
Mariscos El Guero: Located at Calle Francisco Madero #291, Emiliano Zapata, this spot offers great fresh seafood including tostadas, fish tacos, shrimp tacos, smoked marlin and shrimp cocktail. I really enjoyed the mahi-mahi ceviche that we tried along with the tasty smoked marlin served with tortilla chips.
Vallarta Factory: At Libertad #100, Col. Centro, this is a store featuring handmade chocolates, cigars and their roasted coffee. We tried a number of chocolates which were all good. I particularly liked the dark chocolate with coconut!
Merida Grill: This is a really fun spot featuring Yucatan cuisine at Venustiano Carranza #219, Emiliano Zapata. They served us a wonderful taco of a pulled pork.
I have been wanting to go to Sayulita for several years after reading many articles about it. As a casual bohemian surfing village, it continues to be extremely popular, particularly on weekends. You may want to go during the week to avoid the crowds. It has a very popular beach with a number of fun bars and restaurants. There is also a main street that has a large number of galleries, shops, bars and restaurants. It is definitely a fun spot to visit. Despite several lodging options, I recommend staying in Puerto Vallarta or Nuevo Vallarta and going up for a day excursion, like I did with my friends.
The area produces a large variety of tropical fruits including coconuts, bananas, tamarind and mangos. Local fishermen fish daily for great fish and seafood, from dogfish, sea bass, snapper, marlin, shrimp and oysters. So you can then enjoy these fresh ingredients in one of the casual, local restaurants.
My recommendations for you to explore include:
La Rustica is a fun contemporary spot for coffee, breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is known for its pizza, salads and pasta. Located at Av. Revolucion 40C, Centro, it is much less crowded than the beach restaurants a short distance away.
Galeria La Hamaca is a local store that features wonderful Mexican folk art and textiles. Revolucion #110 Centro.
Tierra Huichol, at Revolucion #38, features a great selection of Huichol folk art pieces. The Huichol are an indigenous people of Mexico living in the states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Zacatecas and Durango. They are known for their beautiful beaded art pieces. This is a relatively new innovation, with the works made using glass, plastic or metal beads pressed onto a wooden form covered in beeswax. Common bead art forms include masks, bowls and figurines. Like all Huichol art, the bead work depicts the prominent patterns and symbols featured in the Huichol religion. They are great souvenirs to take home.
El Mezcalita Bar, a casual local bar, gets great reviews for its cocktails and mezcal. Calle Jose Mariscal 7. Also good for cocktails is Le Zouave de Hafa.
Wakika Heladeria is a fun, casual spot for ice cream that makes everyone’s top lists. Ave. Revolucion #40.
Buonissimo Cafe and Gelato is a fun spot for great gelato. Manuel N. Navarrete 55
Mary’s Traditional Mexican Cuisine is located at Av. Revolución 36 and is a must for casual Mexican specialities.
The Real Fish Taco at Delfines 9, is a casual spot for some of the best fish tacos in town.
Cafe El Espresso is a casual spot for coffee along with a breakfast and lunch menu. Av. Revolucion #51.
Don Pedro’s Restaurant & Bar on the beach in Sayulita, was founded in 1994. It sits on the beach under a giant thatched palapa surrounded by panoramic views of ocean and jungle. It features Mediterranean-style cuisine with a Mexican influence.
Manantial, a clothing shop across the street from La Rústica, features a great collection of chic, tropical clothing for both men and women. Besides clothing, the store also stocks jewelry, sandals and homewares.
San Pancho/ San Francisco Nayarit
Just north of Sayulita is the small, charming beach town of San Pancho or San Francisco, Nayarit. It is now in its development where Sayulita was several years ago. It has a very nice beach with two restaurants and some casual beach bars. Along the main street there are some great shops, coffee shops, galleries and casual bars and restaurants. It is very walkable and fun for exploring. I really liked the vibe as it was far less crowded than Sayulita. You can stay there in local hotels or by renting a house, but I recommend staying further south in Nuevo Vallarta, Punta Mita or Puerto Vallarta and having a driver take you up for the day.
I recommend eating at Las Palmas Restaurant – Bar. Since 1974, this is a casual beach restaurant where you can sit looking at the water, while enjoying a large selection of seafood. I loved the shrimp ceviche tostado, octopus tostado and the tuna tostado. The piña colada was huge and was one of the best I have ever had!! Ave. 3er Mundo.
Cafe Arte Restaurant & Wine Bar is a small bistro, coffee shop and wine bar in downtown San Pancho. 73 Avenida del Tercer Mundo.
La Selecta is a store carries and large selection of tequila and mezcal. Av. Tercer Mundo #71 They also have a store in Sayulita. Tastings are available.
I hope you enjoy your time in PV, away from the snow in Chicago. Let me know if you find any great hotels or restaurants that I didn’t mention!
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