Off the beaten track in Puerto Vallarta

Updated: Sep 28, 2020

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Buenos días! Last September (2019) we completed our 4th trip to Puerto Vallarta, where we experienced some new off-the-beaten-track tours as well as some well-known favorites.

Puerto Vallarta is beautiful although humid this time of year. Our first week was rainy and the humidity was high as expected, but the lush growth of the surrounding jungle is beyond spectacular. There's no guarantee, but to stay out of the humidity as much as possible, wait to travel in mid-October when it tends to be less humid but still lush with plants and flowers.

Photos by Seguras: Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, Downtown PV, the malecón after the storm, Iguanas!, the Cuale River which separates downtown north from the Romantic Zone, mosaic benches in Lazaro Cardenas Park.

We stayed at three hotels on this trip: The Hacienda Buenaventura and Mexican Charm (All-inclusive), the Villa del Palmar in the Hotel Zone and Paradise Village in Nuevo Vallarta.

Hacienda Buenaventura and Mexican Charm

To be fair, we arrived at the Hotel Buenaventura in sweltering heat. Easy to find on the main drag in the hotel zone, it is barely an 8 - 10 minute Uber or cab from the airport. But, we rented a car. We were advised to park 'behind' the hotel where we were lucky to find street parking available but the hotel was clearly not full. The entrance at the back was not easy to find; no marked door, no bellmen on hand; but we did find a gentleman who showed us how to get in. Then, where to go from there? There seemed to be no direct route to find our room. On our first attempt, we carried our suitcases up three flights, only to find our room number was not on that side of the building. We tried to go around the restaurant with no success. One of the waiters sent us around the pool, but we still couldn't find the staircase, so we headed to the lobby (also not a direct route) and eventually climbed 3 floors again on the street side and, voilà. It was 4:00 pm when we arrived at the hotel and the restaurant was due to close at 4:30 pm, so we rushed over and sampled their buffet. Again, they were about to close, so the buffet was on its way out but in my opinion, a bit disappointing.

Photos by Seguras: The grounds and room at the Hotel Buenaventura

As the name suggests, the hotel did have "Mexican Charm". The grounds and pool area were lovely and well-landscaped and the people, friendly. The breakfast buffet in the morning was very good. The hotel sits a good two blocks from the beach and they did have a 'beach club' with a shuttle to take visitors back and forth. It doesn't open until 10 am however and closes at 6 pm, plus food and beverage isn't available until noon. A word of caution for those who prefer the beach to the pool. Although 'charming', I doubt we would stay there again.

Paradise Village Resort and Spa

This was our fourth time at the Paradise Village, Nuevo Vallarta; about twenty-five minutes north of downtown Puerto Vallarta and fifteen minutes from the airport. The area has been growing in leaps and bounds and while a bit far from the action, it has a relaxing charm all its own. Since our last visit, the hotel has made several upgrades that have really improved its look and feel. There are three pools; the family pool, complete with an alligator water slide and waterfalls, an adult pool and a little lap-like pool. If you like being close to the action, stay in the Tikal Tower. We had an ocean front room with a beautiful view, but beware; the music and entertainment were non-stop from morning until night. To their credit, the noise was well muffled with the balcony doors closed. On our next stay, we'll request the Uxmal Tower, which overlooks the adult pool, but is still ocean front. If a marina view is your preference, Coba Tower, overlooks the marina and is next to the small lap pool, which is very quiet. They've added free, nightly entertainment in the main lobby. Watch out for the timeshare folks...we found them VERY pushy.

Photos by Seguras: Paradise Village Resort and Spa, alligator pool, Tikal Lobby, king-bedded rooms, night views of the pool and beach-front palapas, nightly entertainment.

Villa del Mar and Villa del Palmar

One and the same! We held reservations for the Villa del Mar and using GPS, kept driving right past because the name on the sign said, Villa del Palmar. We discovered they use the same front desk; the Del Mar being the off beach section and the del Palmar, ocean front. Located on the main drag and just 10 minutes from the airport, this is a nice budget option to some of the more pricey hotels. Parking was easy and the rooms were very nice, although the king bed nearly filled the bedroom, wall to wall. Both sections had access to the beach, just a longer walk from the del Mar. Poolside drinks and nachos were pretty good. What most impressed us about this little hotel, was the staff. Every staff from front desk to maintenance, without exception, greeted us like we were family and it felt very genuine. We spoke with some long-time visitors who had been coming to this hotel for over 15 years and wouldn't stay anywhere else. We would consider this for a longer stay on a future visit.

Photos by Seguras: Villa del Mar and del Palmar entrance, pool view of the Villa del Mar, beach club for the Villa del Palmar, nice, but small bedroom for a king size bed

Off-the-Beaten-Track Tours in Puerto Vallarta

Our first week was rainy, hot and humid, but that didn't stop us from visiting the Vallarta Botanical Gardens at the southern end of Puerto Vallarta, near Mismaloya. The city bus can take you there for just 10 pesos or Uber/taxi for about $15 US. We've been there in both dry season and wet, my personal favorite, as the Jurassic park-like jungle is incredible to walk through. Bug spray is a must. Their open-air restaurant features flower-flavored water, a great menu and delightful hummingbirds. A museum-like area features some native history, tropical plants and insects and a slightly over-priced, but well stocked souvenir store to wander.

Photos by Seguras: Vallarta Botanical Gardens on a warm, rainy day

We ate several excellent meals at the Lindo Mar in Concha Chinas. The restaurant sits just above the ocean and is a great place to enjoy a couple of margaritas and cervezas while watching the sunset, or in our case, a few thunder and lightening storms.

Photos by Seguras: Beautiful view and good food at the Lindo Mar Restaurant in Conchas Chinas

Since we were in southern Puerto Vallarta, we booked a Colomitos Hiking Tour through Air BnB because the description sounded like it would be more personal than with a large group. Since we had a car we met our guide, Alejandro, in Boca de Tomatlán. (Otherwise you arrive with Alejandro via city bus.) Since it was off-season, we were pleased to have Alejandro all to ourselves.

The hike wound along the coast, up and down stairs and natural paths, through some jungle trails and at our pace, took about an hour. Little Colomitos beach was beautiful to behold as you descend to its translucent waters. Tour boats come and go, dropping off tourists for snorkeling but it didn't impact the beach. An enterprising local had set up a small 'store', selling water, beer and sodas and Alejandro prepared fresh guacamole for us to eat. He did a great job narrating along the way and was very friendly and fun to be with. We chose, for an extra (small) fee, to boat back instead of hike. Even though the hike took us over an hour, the boat ride back was less than 5 minutes. It was a great way to spend a morning! This tour can be found here.

Photos by Seguras: Colomitos Hiking Tour by Luna Tours

Again, one of the advantages of traveling off-season is getting an accidental private tour. We like to support the local entrepreneurs and this biking tour of Bucerías seemed to fit the bill. We met our host, Pepe, at the Bucerías Bike Shop and were outfitted with our bikes for the day. Recent rains had made some of the streets unnavigable and Bucerías streets are generally dirt or cobblestone making biking for the out-of-shape (me) just a little challenging.

Pepe took it slow (the advantage of a private tour) and stopped at several locations to give some local history and interesting facts about the area. During our 4 hours (about 6 miles) of biking, we stopped at a local coffee shop to sip some fresh-brewed Cafe de Olla, tasted tacos at two road-side stands and sampled fresh juice from a table set up under a highway overpass. I'm sure you're wondering, 'was it safe?' And the answer is, I don't know! The tour description said we would eat like locals and that's exactly what we did. It was all great and we were not the worse for wear.

Photos by Seguras: Street food in Bucerías

Later in the morning we left the streets to venture to more rural areas where we leisurely biked for roughly an hour through pretty countryside. Before heading back, we made a final stop for ice cream and enjoyed getting to know Pepe which was easy as we were just an intimate party of three. The Bucerías Bike and Food tour can be found here.

Photos by Seguras: Biking through the rural areas of Bucerias

During our hike with Alejandro, he told us about a tour he was developing to see how the locals live in three nearby towns. Generally the tour would be by city bus but since it was just the three of us, my husband offered to drive. We visited El Porvenir, San Jose del Valle, and San Vicente; walked through the town centers of each and visited some stately churches.

Alejandro recommended one of his favorite "fondas" in Los Encantos for dinner (Cenaduria Coyoacan), a small, family-owned eatery, with a line waiting for tables that spoke to the tastiness of the food there.

As we were parting company for the evening, we mentioned we planned to head north the next day to see some of the countryside and beaches. Alejandro offered to come along to show us some of his personal favorites and scout out new adventures for future tours. We were happy to take him along and tipped him the cost of a tour when done.

We were glad to have his company, as we would never have found the lovely beaches we visited on our own. The treks to two beaches, Playa Las Viudas and Playa Palito Verde were a little more difficult because of all the rain and flooding, but that just made the short hikes more interesting.

Photos by Seguras: The one-mile hike to Playa Las Viudas

We did a little hiking along the sea cliffs at Playa Las Viudas which had amazing vistas to enjoy. Our second stop at Playa Palito Verde fronted a hotel that had areas roped off for swimming and surfing. The water was delightful after hiking through the humid, jungle-like trail that circumvented the hotel.

Photos by Seguras: In dryer seasons, the trail to Playa Palito Verde would likely not be so swampy!

Alejandro had more to show, but we opted to head to Punta Mita where we ignored the vendors who attempted to sway us toward their shops and eateries, and randomly picked a likely place that over-looked the ocean. It turned out to be a great stop. La Cabana Punta Mita Fish Taco Restaurant had great food and even better views of the bay. No website, but you can find the location, here.

Photos by Seguras: A lovely view and delicious shrimp at La Cabana Punta Mita.

Two to Try Again

We decided to repeat two Vallarta Adventures tours that we had enjoyed some twelve years before; Sierra Madre or Off-Road Adventure and Rhythms of the Night.

As expected after so long, they'd made some changes to both tours that I personally didn't feel enhanced them, but probably would go unnoticed by someone who had not gone before. A guide can make or break any tour but we've found that Vallarta Adventures consistently has quality guides that make the tours very enjoyable. For the Sierra Madre tour, our guide, Pepe, was very personable and knowledgeable about the vegetation and local surroundings, but we often felt rushed (¡Ándale! ¡Ándale! ¡Ándale!), especially on the forty-five minute walk through the jungle terrain.

Photos by Seguras: Scenes from Sierra Madre Off-Road Adventure

Pepe's English was very good, but some of his stories were difficult to understand as they didn't really bear up in translation. In my opinion, we could have avoided the stop to sample chocolate (insert 'sell chocolate to tourists'), but the stop at a traditional Mexican home to see how tortillas were made from ground corn was interesting. Their lunch location was pleasant enough, but not as nice as the beach location from the previous time. Part of the experience, of course, is the ride over rough terrain in their open-air Mercedes trucks. This is fun for a few hours, but it's extremely hard to hear the guide and gets old after 5 + hours. I think most would find this to be a 4 - 5 star tour, but on this occasion, I'd have to go with a solid 3 1/2.

The Rhythms of the Night, which begins with a forty-five minute cruise to Las Caletas Island and includes an excellent show and dinner is well worth the expense ($140 US pp.) Under the direction of Gilles Ste-Croix, the co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, the show is a collection of songs, dances, clowns and acrobats all presented in Cirque style. It is a very professional production viewed under the open skies in an outdoor amphitheater which doesn't have a bad seat in the house. The candlelit dinner (buffet) was very good. For an extra $10 pp you can have open bar, but it's not really necessary as there is open bar on the boat coming and going, and unlimited wine served with dinner. They also offer 'reserved' seating up close and personal, for an additional fee of course.

Photos by Seguras: Entertainment and a beautiful sunset on the 45 minutes boat ride to Las Caletes, a great show and candlelit dinner.

PS: When in Nuevo Vallarta, give Claudio's Restaurant a try. It's on a side street, off the Blvrd. de Nayarit, between the Gymboree and the Blue Shrimp on Prol. Av. Nervo, so not easily seen from the street. They have WONDERFUL food and great margaritas!

Photos by Seguras: Claudio's Restaurant in Nuevo Vallarta

A few random pictures from lovely Puerto Vallarta!

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