Thursday, March 13, 2014

Puerto Vallarta Trip Report 2/18-2/25 2014 - You Ready?!

This winter in Minnesota has been terrible, so we were very excited to get away for a week. This time some friends of our joined us for the week as well! Luckily for all of us our departure day featured clear skies and trouble-free travel. We used frequent flier miles so our flights cost only $100 or so. Our friends Kristin and Chris arrived about 10 minutes ahead of us on another Delta flight and we spotted them in the customs line just ahead of us. It worked out well so we could take a taxi to the hotel together. For some reason, the ATMs at the airport rejected my card, but John was able to get plenty of pesos, so we could be on our way.

We arrived at the Hotel Tropicana pretty quickly. The first room they gave us was on the first floor, faced the side street, had bars on the edges of the balcony and two beds. We went back to the front desk and asked for a room with a King bed and we were immediately moved down the hall. And for some reason, a lock for the safe was not available the first day. We put our things in the safe deposit box at the front desk for the time being. But seriously, how can they not have enough locks for the whole hotel? Seems like a problem that would be very easy to fix.
Eventually, we headed down the beach for happy hour. Above is a view from our table on the beach, while watching our first sunset. I enjoyed having a beer and watching all of the action on Los Muertos beach from Cuates y Cuetes.
We headed to Joe Jack's for our first dinner.
mai tai and chili margarita to start

I think Kristin had the chicken
fish and shrimp and chips
And Chris had the mahi mahi
seared tuna special for me

Joe Jack's was great once again! The service was very good as well. After dinner we went to Sea Monkey for a beverage and I think we ended up at Andale's to finish out the night. I don't know why we always end up there, but it is a fun place! Always busy! 

The next morning, John and I headed to Coco's Kitchen for some breakfast. Still good! John had eggs with chorizo and hash browns.
I had the avocado, bacon and onion omelet with corn bread. All of the food was really good, just like on our last trip two years ago! There was some noise in the garden from the construction on the new condo building behind Coco's. If you sit near the front it is not as noticeable.

After breakfast we went to Dee's Coffee Shop to use the phone so I could clear up the issue with my ATM card. They allow you to call the U.S. for 10 pesos. After the call, my card worked fine. No idea why it did not work as I had told the bank I was going to Puerto Vallarta ahead of time.

After that debacle, we went back to the room to get ready for the beach. The maid stopped by to bring us mattress pads for the bed. She asked how many sponges we wanted on the bed. lol! I knew what she meant, but it cracked me up! I also stopped by the front desk and they miraculously had a lock for our safe available. So all of the issues from check in were sorted out pretty quickly.

Eventually we headed to the pool where we found Kristin and Chris. We headed down the beach to Swell Beach Club to relax for a bit and order some lunch.
I forgot to take photos of John's food for lunch, but I had the shrimp tacos. The service at Swell was not that great. Pretty slow. 
For dinner on Wednesday, we went to No Way Jose, one of our favorites from the last trip.

chicken fajitas
More chicken fajitas. I think three of us ordered them! So good! The chicken is so tender and juicy.
Kristin and Chris had the fried ice cream for dessert. With a little side of flaming liquor!
I had the sexy coffee for dessert. Love the table side preparation! 

Thursday morning we went back to Coco's Kitchen for breakfast as I wanted to go back and I hoped Kristin and Chris would like it as much as I did.
I had hash browns, bacon and scrambled eggs. They brought a couple salsas to add to the eggs. I loved their hash browns because they tasted freshly grated and were very crispy and not at all greasy.
french toast
chorizo and eggs again for John
omelet for Chris

After breakfast on Thursday, we found a taxi and went to the Puerto Vallarta Zoo in Mismaloya. I decided it would be easiest to take a taxi there as I was not sure how far off the main road the zoo was located. Turns out it was not too far, but it was nice to know since it was our first visit. We took the bus the rest of the day anyway.
hola monkey!
Kristin's favorite. She loves birds. Not.
The lion was roaring just before we got to his cage and it was unbelievably loud! 
Another installment form the funny sign department. Bear at urinal. 
hippo. smelly. 
I did my best Vanna White impression here. I think they meant don't put your hand in the cage. From your friends at the funny sign translation department.
I was really looking forward to feeding the giraffe. It was scary and cool all at once! 

Overall, we were pleasantly surprised with the zoo, even though we had been a bit hesitant to visit. All of the animals looked very well cared for to me, though some of the cages were a bit smallish. It was really fun to feed so many of the animals.

After the zoo, we walked back to the main road, crossed over and had a beer on the beach in Mismaloya. I'm not sure which place we were at, we let a guy take us to "his place" as they all seemed similar.
The beach was very beautiful and we will have to come back for a beach day on a future trip. It is a great place to spend the day. The beach was a bit quieter than Los Muertos beach. But we had other plans, namely, Ocean Grill. So we took the bus to the next town, Boca de Tomalaton.

We were early, so we had time to have a beverage before getting in the water taxi. Luckily, there was a restaurant right at the top of the pier. After a bit of a stampede and much rudeness by other people we finally got onto the third trip by the boat and arrived at Ocean Grill. The views were amazing and the food was excellent. It really surpassed my expectations.
guacamole and chips to start
Catch of the day was mahi mahi with black beans for John
another mahi
ribs and fries
I had the shrimp with plantains
key lime pie, really awesome! 

Overall, we all really enjoyed our visit to Ocean Grill. The food was amazing. I was not sure if it was going to be one of those places that was all view and just average food, but everything was perfect. This was definitely one of the best meals we had all week. I'd certainly return. By the way, the bathroom here is super cool. I'm not going to ruin the surprise and it is hard to capture in photos, but it is really neat. Alfonso came around when we arrived and again before we left to chat with us and thank us for coming. Personal touches like that are really impressive. 

 beach at Ocean Grill
The island at Ocean Grill

We didn't do anything for dinner Thursday night as we were all very full and very tired from our taxi rides, bus rides and boat rides! 

tiny limes from Oxxo for my in-room beverages
Friday we went on a whale watching tour with Ocean Friendly tours. John and I did a tour with this two years ago and enjoyed it a lot, so we used them again this time. One thing that is very nice, is that their boats only hold about 13-14 people so you are not crammed onto a boat with tons of people and it is easy to get a good view of the whales.

baby whale
We were on Oscar's boat this time and we found him to be very enthusiastic and very knowledgeable about the whales. We all enjoyed the tour a lot and highly recommend Ocean Friendly if you wish to go whale watching.
After whale watching, we headed back to the hotel and sat by the pool for awhile. This photo is of the other pool, closer to the building. The other pool is just in front of this one and closer to the beach.
For dinner, we ended up at Si SeƱor for dinner on the beach. We were given a coupon for free calamari.
Cadillac margarita
I tried the red snapper. I've never tried that type of fish before and it was very good. Quite mild actually.
John had the shrimp
Chris had the steak and shrimp
fajitas for Kristin
fajita sides and fixings

After dinner, we walked out onto the new pier, looked at the scenery and decided to go to bed early. We were all pretty tired after being up really early for the whale watching tour. 

Saturday morning John and I went to Vitea for breakfast. On the way, we discovered the Farmer's Market was going on. After breakfast we stopped back and looked at all of the offerings. I ended up buying a souvenir rather than produce though. There was a nice variety of items offered from prepared foods, bakery items and produce to jewelry and other souvenirs. 
John had bacon, eggs and black beans
salsas and toast
I had the French toast. The service was ok. It seemed like we waited a really long time for everything. The food was average at best. Not my favorite breakfast by a long shot. I don't think we will return.

After breakfast, we met up with Kristin and Chris and relaxed by the pool for most of the day.
We took a lunch break at Daiquiri Dick's. Relaxing is very hard work sometimes! I had the fish sandwich. Very tasty!
bacon cheeseburger
fries and chicken sandwich
another cheeseburger

We had a very nice lunch and a hilarious server and I can't recall his name to save my life! He kept stopping by and making funny little jokes throughout our meal. The service was excellent too. 

At the end of this meal, Chris began what would turn into multi-day negotiations for a wooden bull statue with a beach vendor. At first I think we all thought he was joking around, but he kept checking prices on them for the rest of the week. The search for the elusive El Toro was a long process, but he did end up going home with a nice bull statue that is probably now enjoying a place of honor on Chris and Kristin's fireplace mantle. 

Another installment from the funny translation department. I think they mean you must wear shoes. 
None of us were super hungry after a big lunch so we went to Pancho's Tacos for dinner. John had the tacos al pastor.
Mine were pretty much the same thing, tacos al pastor, but on a crisped tortilla. The al pastor tacos were really great. This is a great place for a quick, inexpensive meal. 
chicken quesadilla 
Chris had the chicken tacos. They said the chicken items were ok, but I think I'd stick to the al pastor items.

Friday night we did a cantina crawl with JR in PV, a contributor from Trip Advisor and a group of other people from the forum. We had a really fun time meeting new people and visiting cantinas.
Here is a link to my previous post with pictures from the cantina crawl:

Sunday we went to Memo's Pancake House for breakfast. 
The waiters loved Chris' unique way of eating pancakes from the center to the sides. They kept giggling at him. It was pretty funny! I should have take a picture of that! It looks like I forgot to take photos of their food altogether.
chorizo with scrambled eggs
scrambled eggs with hash browns 

After breakfast we wandered around town and did a bit of shopping. We spent the rest of the afternoon by the pool and had lunch poolside. I tried the shrimp on a stick sold on the beach. The shrimp were really good too.
Some jicama for John and Kristin had some pineapple I forgot to take a picture of.
We went to River Cafe for dinner on Sunday. 
John had the Pacific jumbo shrimp with mashed potatoes and a garlic citrus sauce.
I had the rainbow jumbo shrimp which were pecan and coconut encrusted. They sounded great, but the shrimp were tough and probably overcooked.
steak for Kristin
fish for Chris, I think it was the catch of the day
The atmosphere was nice, the restaurant was very empty and the service was just ok. I don't know that we will return to River Cafe.
Afterwards, we walked along the male con to see what was going on and ended up at Bar Oceano for a drink. And to people watch a bit.
Monday morning we went to Fredy's Tucan for breakfast. John's iced coffee.
bacon, eggs, hash browns for me
french toast
chorizo, eggs, hash browns for John
side of french toast
omelet and hash browns

Fredy's was very good yet again. I think I've been here on every trip to Puerto Vallarta. We ran into some people from the cantina crawl while we were waiting for our table too!

We spent some time on the beach Monday afternoon doing a bit of relaxing and shopping. Gotta love how they bring the goods to you on the beach! I got a scarf and a beach cover up. I found the beach prices to be pretty similar to stores in the area. After a bit of haggling of course. 
That reminds me, I think the MVP of the trip was the always-busy waiter at the hotel Humberto. He was always coming around asking "You ready?" Meaning are you ready for another bucket of beer? He took great care of us all week! He's in white in the photo above. 

Monday night we went to Twisted Palms rooftop for their Martini Madness happy hour. I think all martinis were on special. Great drinks and great service.
They play movies on the wall. I think our feature was a James Bond movie. This was a great little place and I wish we had found it earlier in the week! We will have to go back next time. 
For our last dinner, we went back to No Way Jose since we all decided it had been our favorite form the previous week. Table side Caesar salad above.
finished product here! 
I had the fish, I think it was mahi mahi with a mango sauce. It was ok, but I think I prefer a tangier sauce with fish rather than a sweet sauce.
Kristin had the fajitas again
As did Chris
My last sexy coffee of the trip. I wish more places in the U.S. served flaming coffee! John was not feeling well, so he went back to the room to rest. I think we called it a night after that anyway. 

Tuesday. The day we have to go home. Rats. At least we missed a huge snow and ice storm at home. We had our last breakfast at La Palapa. Great view and the food was very good too. I had the eggs Vallarta. Poached eggs with red sauce and avocado.

french toast for Kristin
Playa del Sol breakfast for Chris
Another Playa del Sol breakfast for John

After breakfast we did a bit more shopping and headed back to the hotel to pack up the room. I forgot to take a photo, but I got some chocolates at Xocodiva to bring home. The chocolates are very delicious and come in some really unique flavors. I highly recommended visiting!

View looking straight out to sea from our balcony.
view to the North.
view to the South.
messy hotel room as we were packing to leave.
TV and the door
AC, closet, safe, and patio door to the left. The AC worked great and got very cold, by the way.

Overall, the hotel was nothing fancy, but it was clean, pretty cheap, right on the beach, the pools were nice and the location was convenient to most of the places we wanted to visit. We only took taxis to and from the airport and to the zoo, so we saved a lot in that area. 

The turtle pond at the Tropicana hotel.
A quick photo of the convenience store across the street from the hotel. We made more than a couple stops here throughout the week. They have chips, snacks, water, soda, chips and guacamole and more.

We had a great trip with lots of relaxation and some new adventures. Our flight home was uneventful, which was excellent. Unfortunately, we came back to more sub-zero temperatures, which took a couple of weeks to finally go away. I look forward to returning to Puerto Vallarta again, hopefully sooner than later!

For some reason writing the trip report is a bit sad and marks the official end of the trip for me. But they come in very handy when friends visit a destination and we like to review them to recall our favorite places and things to do too.

If anyone has any questions on any of the places we visited, feel free to ask in the comments below!


  1. Great post about your trip to PV. I am originally from Minneapolis and left there in 2002 because I HATE winter! I was back last September to see friends and family (and SHOP!) and got bit by a mosquito and ended up with West Nile virus and was in the hospital for over 3 months. If I visit Minnesota again, it will be in summer and I will be bathing in Deet! Glad you had a great trip to my fun little beach otwn :)

  2. Great report. We just got back last monday (11th) and while the weather is "better" here in MN than it was when we left, we sure miss the hot sun of PV. Love your food pics too - makes me wish we were still there enjoying those great restauarants!
    I've heard of the Tropicana, never knew where it was though. You state that you liked the location as it was "right on the beach".... from your pics though, the view from your deck looks like a LONG ways away from the beach. I was just wondering if you were in a tower that perhaps was set back from the others?? When you say, right on the beach, I expect sand & water directly under me! lol Just wondering for future visits. We've never stayed in Old Town as I think it's so noisy with the constant traffic. But I'd like to for convenience. I just can't see hoofing up those hills daily just to get to the beach though. That inconvenience alone makes us choose the hotel zone or Nuevo.

  3. Kris, Our tower at the Tropicana was the one closest to the beach.Not really set back. They have another tower that has the two pools in front of the tower, so that one is set back more. Our view was not the best as we were on a low floor. I think that is why it looked far from the beach maybe. Higher floors would be better I'm sure. There is a beach restaurant in front of it as well, but it is the hotel building that is about as close to the beach as you can get in PVR. The Trop is also a few blocks away from the very busy old town streets so it is pretty quiet down that way and not up a hill. I prefer old town as you can walk all over and no need to take the bus or taxi to get around. Hope that helps!