I chose not to blog about our abbreviated U.S. Leg (Leg 11) to Colorado, New Mexico, Austin, and New Orleans to give myself a break from it, so I’m a bit out of practice after the three month hiatus. But we’re two weeks into our four-week stay in Puerto Vallarta, the first stop on our four-month Leg 11 Mexico trip and writing about it on this blog is the best way for me to record this experience.
We were underwhelmed by Puerto Vallarta at the beginning. First, we had to battle the typical long entry lines into Mexico first for border control, then for customs after waiting for our luggage. We had no issues but it was a lot of standing and waiting following two long flights and an uncomfortably short layover in Dallas. I had researched how to get an Uber from the airport (it involves walking past all the taxis and crossing the pedestrian bridge to across the street where the rental car companies are) but it took forever (i.e. at least 20 minutes) to get a driver to accept us and then pick us up. We almost accepted an offer of a taxi at three times the price but luckily the Uber finally arrived.
Our Airbnb is nice though and we were able to settle in relatively quickly. But once we started venturing out to the Zona Romantica (the neighborhood we live in), the beach, malecon (concrete boardwalk), centro, etc. during the week that followed, we found Puerto Vallarta to be uncomfortably crowded. Especially the beach. However, the crowds have diminished this past week following Tres Reyes (Three Kings Day on January 6), which marks the end of the holiday season in Mexico. But there are still tons and tons of Americans and Canadians in the main parts of Puerto Vallarta.
Over this past less-crowded week, we’ve grown to like Puerto Vallarta more and more. It isn’t as magical as our first Mexican beach stay in Puerto Escondido in 2018. We’ve discovered since then that we chose the ideal beach spot for us on the first try and have never liked any place as much. But the weather is perfect (no rain, sunny, highs in the low 80s every single day) and the food is fantastic.
The food is probably our favorite part of Puerto Vallarta, both what we get dining out and what we can make at home. We do not live near a traditional American-style supermarket but can take the bus to Soriana or Walmart (we’ve done each once). But most of what we buy, we get fresh at the nearby farmer’s market, Mercado Emiliano Zapata, where we can get fresh fish and produce very inexpensively. For other staples like bread and eggs, we shop at a small grocery store in the Zona Romantica called Mercado del Viejo Vallarta. We’ve bought most of our wine from a wine shop called Vinos América. It’s not as cheap or tasty as wine in Europe but not too much more expensive than wine in the United States and we don’t drink a whole lot anyway.
At the fruteria (produce market), the fresh herbs and avocados are kept behind the counter. Due to supply issues, avocados are more expensive than our prior trips to Mexico, which may be why they don’t leave them out for the shoppers to poke at. But the knowledgeable women at the cash register will ask when you plan to eat the avocado and always pick exactly the right ripeness for it to be perfect. Chad’s been making us homemade guacamole, which I never get tired of.
Near the Mercado Emiliano Zapata, there’s a woman with a drink cart who sells interesting local beverages. So far we’ve tried tuba (coconut liquid, apple cider vinegar, walnuts, and chunks of apple) and tejuino (made from fermented corn). We will visit again soon to try her third offering, coconut horchata. We also have a good paleteria in our neighborhood (Mexican popsicles) and a churro cart called The Churros Guy that makes excellent fresh churros in the evenings a couple blocks down the road.
We’ve had several good dining out experiences already too. The best so far was a seafood meal our first week at a little restaurant called Marisqueria Los Lirios around the corner from our apartment. There we enjoyed amazing seafood soup and a plate of seafood cooked in butter and garlic. Another day we had fantastic fish tacos at Mamá Caguama´s Takos & Beer. The tacos from the vegan restaurant we went to were less successful (a shame because we’ve loved vegan tacos in other parts of Mexico). We also really enjoyed the chilaquiles at La Fabrica de Chilaquiles where we went following our snorkel excursion.
The snorkel excursion was a tour we booked through Airbnb Experiences that was part of my Christmas gift to Chad. Our tradition is instead of giving each other stuff, we give each other activities to do together on our travels, set within some specific parameters. This tour took us to Los Arcos National Marine Park to see the rock features and do some snorkeling. It was a fun morning and we enjoyed talking to our guide and the other couples on the tour (review and link below).
One of Chad’s gifts to me was the tasting of these local drinks, including the two mentioned above plus tequila (which originates not far from here in the town of tequila – both are in Jalisco state) and raicilla, another liquor made from agave plants that is local to this area. For the alcohol tasting, we booked another Airbnb experience, this one to an artisanal tequila producer called Noble Corazon. We were the only ones there for our time and really enjoyed learning about the products and just chatting with Pedro, the guide (review and link below).
Summary/More to Come
Puerto Vallarta has certainly grown on us in our first two weeks here and we’re looking forward to the second half of our stay. I have been finding opportunities to speak Spanish to at least one native speaker every day, even though often I have to tell them (in Spanish) that I am trying to practice my Spanish when they automatically speak English to me. So far everyone has obliged and been very patient and kind. I feel like I’m improving. We have a couple more excursions planned for the next two weeks. There’s a lot to enjoy about Puerto Vallarta.
Snorkel Tour – My husband and I really enjoyed this tour and I definitely recommend it. Our guide, Armando, was friendly and knowledgeable. It was easy to identify the small group waiting for the tour by the bus stop – we seemed to be the only group meeting there. Armando found us, checked our names, and guided us through the bus line and aboard the bus. It was pretty crowded on the way down (most of us had to stand) but seats opened up as we got farther out of Puerto Vallarta and the ride wasn’t unpleasant. At Mismaloya, Armando took us to a surf shop to wait for our boat where we had access to a clean restroom before and after the boat tour. On the boat ride, he gave us a lot of interesting information about Los Arcos, Mismaloya, and the history of Puerto Vallarta. The snorkeling itself was just so-so compared to some other places in Mexico, but we saw lots of fish and it was cool being up near the Arcos rocks. I found in my research that you could make this excursion on your own but the price is pretty much the same to do it with this tour, which added a lot of value in having someone to navigate the way to and from Puerto Vallarta and provide all sorts of information. It was a great tour!
Tequila/Raicilla Tasting – Interesting, informative and fun. The guide, Pedro, made us feel very welcome and we learned a lot.