On this trip we were able to redeem frequent flyer miles through American Airlines as John had applied for a British Airways credit card and received 100,000 miles for meeting spending requirements. So we got two free airline tickets and only had to be pay taxes on the tickets, which amounted to about $250 for both of us. Since a flight to Vallarta was running in the $500 to $700 range for one ticket, we felt this was a great value. The only negative was that we had to connect in Dallas on the way down and back, since American does not run direct flights to Vallarta out of Minneapolis.
We departed early Tuesday morning. On the flight to Dallas I ran into a classmate from high school who was on her way to Tuscon, AZ. (Hi Amy!) After a layover in Dallas we were on our way to PVR and we arrived around 2:30pm and made it through customs in the Vallarta airport fairly quickly. We hit the ATM outside of the 'timeshare shark tank" and got a taxi to the Hotel Tropicana. The taxi rate was $260 pesos I believe, which was expected, as they price taxis fares by Zone in Vallarta.
We checked into the hotel and headed off to have drinks at El Dorado on the beach. No idea why we chose that as our first stop, it was a block from the hotel I guess, so it was close. The drinks were OK, nothing all that great. After that we headed to Cuates y Cuetes for buckets of beer. This place was a bit more affordable and more our speed and right on the beach as well. Nothing fancy, it was a busy place and we liked it a lot and would go back.
Our room was in what I believe to be the so called "old tower" at the Tropicana, just above the new pool. Our window did not lock and I was concerned about it at first, because it could be opened from the outside patio very easily. But we ended up sleeping with it open most nights to let in fresh air so we could hear the ocean all night long. I did not think anyone could scale the building to get into the room anyway (I peeked over the side and front of our patio and decided only Spiderman could climb up to the 6th floor) and we were fine all week. We did secure our passports and extra credit cards and cash in a safe deposit box at the front desk. There was a small wall safe in the room but it did not have an operational lock. The surf sounds were quite loud at night and very relaxing to listen to as we drifted off to sleep.
The hotel had beach towels available for daily use. You picked them up right next to the front desk. You could also go out and hold your beach chair for the day with a towel. However, we sat on the beach a couple times and did not arrive until later on and the security guys that worked for the hotel got chairs and umbrellas from a room under the new pool and put them wherever we wanted. So I did not think it was necessary to play the lounger/towel game. Most of the time I saw a few open chairs around the pool as well.
View from our patio overlooking the new pool at Tropicana and Los Muertos beach palapas
View from our room's patio looking to the right.
You can see pilings for the new pier in the middle of the photo.
Tuesday night after happy hour we went to Joe Jack's for dinner. We had visited on our last trip and enjoyed it a lot. We got right in and did not have to wait for a table. We were assuming we'd have to wait!
We slept in on Wednesday and then had breakfast at Cafe de Olla. We've been here before too.
After our trip to the grocery store we headed to Swell Beach Club for the day on Los Muertos beach. Swell is in the location of the former Beach House. It is not quite as great as it used to be, but very close. They have loungers and good food and service. The restrooms are very clean too. We enjoyed just hanging out and watching people, boats, vendors and dogs. http://www.wix.com/promotecnia/swell-beach-bar
I had the calamari. It was good calamari, but the dipping sauce was not very flavorful. Some of the smaller pieces were a bit chewy and overdone, but the larger pieces were fine.
John had a burger and fries. Very good and filling.
We stopped in for happy hour at Marantina. They had two for one martinis during the week. Very good drinks too! They had a nice little patio overlooking the street with 3-4 tables on it. Chocolate martini and cucumber martini are pictured below. www.marantina.com
After much deliberation during happy hour we decided on dinner at No Way Jose. This place is a lot nicer than I first thought it was. It is an attractive two story restaurant with a nice main level and rooftop dining area.
We started the day with breakfast at Memo's Pancake House. This is a great breakfast only spot. We ate here on our last visit to PV and liked it a lot and decided to try it again. They have a great menu and lots of choices familiar to Americans if you are not feeling adventurous.
I ordered the bacon, eggs and pancakes combo. I ordered the eggs scrambled intending to add salsa to them, but their salsa was either super mild tomato salsa or super hot caliente salsa.
The bacon was a bit on the crispy side; I like it that way, but John likes his a bit more rare.
Shot of the back garden at Memo's. I love how so many restaurants in PV have back gardens and rooftop areas that are so peaceful and pretty. No website.
We spent the day at La Carretas beach club, which is next door to Swell Beach club. It was ok, but the restrooms were not as nice as those at Swell. They also only have one type of chair, those sling back types, which are not very comfortable after awhile.
Happy hour at Sea Monkey- they have $1 beers and $1 margaritas all day long!
I follow Trip Advisor pretty closely and one place that everyone recommends is Mariscos Polo's. We stopped in around 7:30pm for a late dinner and had to wait about 30 minutes for a table. It is a tiny place with maybe 10 tables, and I'd heard it gets busy, so I was not surprised we had to wait awhile. It was worth the wait though! Some may find it hard to believe that some of the best food in Vallarta is served by little hole in the wall places that are nowhere near the beach or malecon. Even though the setting is not 4 stars, the food certainly is.
We started Friday with breakfast at Fredy's Tucan. This is the other big player in the breakfast game in Vallarta. We've been here before as well and it is always solid. And busy. We did not have to wait for a table, but there was a wait by the time we left.
Main town square and Church in the background.
The church looked nicer inside than I remebered it. Maybe some restoration has been done in recent years. It looked like they replaced the crown on top of the church agian. It looked like it was made of cement now, but I could be wrong. I beleive it was made of fiberglass before.
Los Muertos beach, working on the pier.....the chairs on the right belong to El Dorado beach club.
After our walk we decided to go back to Swell Beach Club for the day. I should probably mention how beach clubs work on Los Muertos Beach. Most of the beach clubs do not require a fee to use their chairs and services, you just need to order a minimum amount of food and drink while you are there. I'm not even sure what the minimums are for most of the places we went to, since we usually ordered lunch and pop, water or drinks it was not an issue. It seemed like we usually spend around 300-400 pesos for an afternoon on the beach, depending on how much food and beverage we had. I did not think that was very expensive considering they basically wait on you hand and foot!
For dinner we decided to try Cafe Bohemio. It is another place very highly recommended on Trip Advisor and we walked by it every day on the way to and from our hotel. I couldn't help but notice it was busy every night, which is always a good sign. I thought it was it was pretty good and very inexpensive. We arrived early enough for happy hour and most drinks were two for one. I think our whole bill was around $25 US. Very cheap especially since all of the entrees come with soup and bread. I service was very friendly and I think the owner stopped by to check on how we were doing at one point. The whole restaurant is open air, part under a canopy and part under a large tree, which made it a very nice setting. http://cafebohemio.org/Home_Page.php
Later on Friday night we attended a Cantina Crawl on Friday night with Trip Advisor forum contributors. See the link ink below. Thanks to JRin PV for leading the Cantina Crawl!
I was off to a slow start on Saturday thanks to a tequila shot and a bunch of beers I had at the Cantina Crawl. Tequila is not for me unless it is mixed into a margarita!! We started Saturday with a late breakfast at La Palapa.
After breakfast we decided our backs were killing us from sleeping on the beds that were similar to bricks with a bedspread on them. We went to Xel Ha Massage and got right in with no appointment. The massages were pretty good and only cost $450 pesos each. It was not the best massage, but my back felt a lot better afterwards.
After massages we had lunch at Si Senor, which is also right on Los Muerto beach. I guess they also have another location in Centro, up from the malecon 3-4 blocks. This location must be newer.
More steak tacos
Taco salsas and fixings
I had the seared tuna with eggplant cake, spinach and mushrooms and chili mulato demi-glace. This was very delicious. The eggplant cake was pretty bland, but had a nice crunchy exterior. The spinach and mushrooms were a bit salty on their own, but if you added it to each bit of tuna and the eggplant cake it was just right. The chili mulato demi-glace was a very mild chili sauce that just added extra flavor to the tuna.arinated shrimp with ancho pepper, garlic and lime, edamame and potato puree, radish, jicama and green beans. The shrimp had a nice amount of heat and the jicama slaw was cool and crunchy.
Mexican coffee! Nice show!
This was my dessert. This coffee must have a billion calories in it.
We shared the creme brûlée for dessert. It was mango flavored and very good!
Entrance to Vista GrillVista Grill was definitely on the expensive side, but the service, view and atmosphere were all wonderful. They had live music playing for our entire visit and we enjoyed it a lot. The guitarist was very good. I'm not sure if we'd come back to Vista Grill since there are quite a few other view type restaurants in Puerto Vallarta, but maybe we'd come back for a special occasion. http://vistagrill.com/
We went to Colleen's Breakfast Cafe for breakfast Sunday morning. One challenge in Puerto Vallarta is keeping track of what restaurants are closed on which days. We saw restaurants open on days we thought they were closed and found a few places closed on days we expected them to be open. By the end of the week we just made a first and second choice for every meal and hoped for the best. We learned after arriving at Colleen's Cafe that Colleen herself was in the kitchen because none of her cooks showed up on Saturday or Sunday, so she came in herself on Sunday.
John had the french toast, scrambled eggs and chorizo sausage. The chorizo was very spicy and flavorful and not too greasy.
I don't think Colleen's Breakfast Cafe has a website. Another item to note is that is is located in the same spot as Marantina, where we stopped for martinis a few nights before. If you are looking for information I'd check out the restaurant reviews on Trip Advisor.
There was a show on the malecon Sunday night with the giant bike and a giant unicycle.
It's no wonder my feet hurt so much on this vacation. I think we walked back and forth from our hotel to the malecon at least once, if not twice a day. We did a little shopping on Sunday morning after breakfast, had a wild and crazy bus ride to and from WalMart. Riding the bus is cheap, but not at all relaxing! On the way there we got to go through both of the tunnels, which are rather smoggy to put it politely. I'd forgotten how long the one tunnel is too. I discovered I can't hold my breath that long! On the way back from WalMart the driver was flying down the road and everyone in the back of the bus was flying off their seats into the air at every bump. Welcome to Mexico folks! I was ready to jump off that bus as soon as we got to the start of the malecon. We also peeked into the Casino in the sMall Vallarta (small mall). It looked nice, was not very big and smelled very strongly of cigar smoke. Plus in orer to gamble you had to put money onto a card and put the card into the machine. Unusual. The machines looked pretty new, but there were no tables games available at all.
As we walked back toward the hotel we decided to stop at Joe Jack's for lunch. We had a couple of 50 peso off coupons from previous visits and we were allowed to use both of them on our bill. that took almost 50 percent off our tab, which was a great deal!
After lunch I think we went back to the hotel and relaxed on the beach all afternoon. Sunday night we wandered along the malecon again, watched all the action going on and had dinner at Mariscos Tino's.
Overall, I thought the food and service at Tino's was great. However, we were approached by a manager a couple of times and on his second visit to our table, after he asked how our food was, then he asked if we wanted to book any tours during our stay. We honestly told him we had already booked all of the tours we planned to and he asked which tours and he proceeded to tell us that we should not be going whale watching because the whales are gone form the bay. Now, I am not terribly bothered by the timeshare people all over town or people on the beach selling tour, but for some reason, this really bugged me. As you can see below, we saw a bunch of whales on our tour. I suppose he just said that so we would maybe book another tour through him, but I found the fact that a restaurant manager was selling tours highly inappropriate. And the fact that he had no idea what he was talking about made me a bit angry as well. I don't think I'd recommend Tino's unless you want to be a captive audience for the guy selling tours on the side. I did not enjoy the sakles pitch during my dinner and I doubt anyone else would either. http://tinosvallarta.com/
We had to get up early on Monday for our whale watching tour so we grabbed a quick breakfast at Dee's Coffee (I think I had some banana bread and John had a breakfast sandwich both of which I forgot to take a photo of) before leaving for our whale watching tour with Ocean Friendly tours. This was a great tour and I would like to take it next time we visit Puerto Vallarta. I'm sure it is different each time. On this trip we saw 6 whales, all a mama and baby together. I have tons of pictures from this tour, but I'm trying to restrain myself and I'm only posting a few below!
Above is a baby humpback whale breaching.
Mama whale in front and baby off to the left.
Mama and baby came very close to our boat!
We really enjoyed our tour with Ocean Friendly and would book through them again. I think John and I missed a lot of the information about the whales because we were sitting in the back of the boat and everyone else was up front, but I asked a few questions and learned what I needed to from our guide. www.oceanfriendly.com
After whale watching we headed back to the hotel and sat on the beach for awhile. Or did we do some shopping? I think we did both, but I forget the order. I know we stopped by Lucy's Cucu Cabana for some fun magnets and home decor items to take home.
We had a light dinner at Archie's Wok intending to go have some tacos at Panchos Takos later on. We never made it to Panchos as we were too full from dinner.
Chicken satay with cucumber and peanut dipping sauces
Calamari and shrimp fried rice
Archie's Wok was much better than I was expecting for some reason. The chicken satay was excellent; very tender and juicy chicken once more. I liked the two different sauces that same with the calamari a lot. One sauce was a bit spicier than the other one, otherwise they seemed similar to me. The calamari was cooked prefectly too. The fried rice was quite good as well with a lot of shrimp and chicken mixed in. I'd like to return and order full entrees next time. Archie's also has a nice back garden that you'd never know is there unless you'd been inside before. http://archieswok.com/
Our last breakfast in PV was at at Coco's Kitchen and it was great. I wish we would have gone earlier in the week and then been able to go back! Coco's entire dining area is open air. Part of it is under a tiled roof and the rest is in a large garden courtyard between a couple of buildings.
The garden view from our table
I had the bacon, onion and avocado omelet
John had scrambled eggs with hash browns.
The warm Corn bread was very, very good with actual corn baked into it
We did a little shopping after breakfast. We also stopped at Xocodiva and picked up a box of chocolates to take home. They did not make it home. They were amazing! We learned they are opening a second location on Basilio Badillo soon too. The current location will stay open as that is their production facility too.
Olas Atlas is pictured above and you can see some sidewalk construction in the distance....also saw some sidewalk work along I. Vallarta. What a big mess! I suppose the wider sidewalks will be nice when they are all done though. This area is roped off as they were jackhammering farther down the street.
We headed to the airport around 11:30am. They drive to the airport from the Hotel Tropicana did take about 30 minutes since we ran into some traffic in town.
A note on safety in Mexico: We visited Puerto Vallarta even though there was a travel warning issued by the US State Department, however, if you carefully read the warning Puerto Vallarta was excluded from the warning. We felt very safe during our entire visit and I would not hesitate to return. It is a very safe city and everywhere we went it seemed as if many other people were around, even while walking down the street at night. I do recommend using common sense as you would in any large city; don't walk around alone, especially at night and be aware of your surroundings at all times. I would give the same advice to someone visiting Las Vegas, for example. However, I've always felt very welcomed by the people of Vallarta. Most of the taxi drivers and other people we met simply wanted to know what we thought about some of the changes in town since our last visit and asked if we were having a nice time. We enjoyed spending time on the Malecon on Sunday night as well, watching all of the free entertainment options and it seemed like locals were in the crowd, not just tourists. I think that aspect is what makes Puerto Vallarta more interesting than other tourist towns in Mexico, because it is fun to meet locals and learn about the area from their perspective as well. In cities like Cancun and Cabo, I've never felt like the locals mingle with the tourists very much, maybe because there are not many public meeting areas like the Malecon available.
Adios Vallarta! Hope to be back soon!
Also, feel free to email or comment if you have any questions about any of the places we visited or things we did. I can't recommend Puerto Vallarta enough as a vacation destination.