Sunday, May 17, 2009

Puerto Vallarta - Perfect Vacation

In February, Candice & I began searching the web for our 2009 vacation destination, and quickly settled on Puerto Vallarta. We wanted to go to a beach resort, but wanted to do something different than the normal Cancun & Cozumel vacation.

Shortly after we booked our vacation, the negativity started. The government issued a travel warning to Mexico for drug war violence. Friends & family started urging us not to go, along
with voicing their opinions & warnings of stereotypical Mexico. We heard warning after warning..."don't drink the water", "don't eat the fruit", "don't take your expensive camera & laptop", "negotiate rates with cab drivers up front" (cause of course, they'll rob you), "don't put anything valuable in your resort's safe" (cause naturally, they'll rob you), etc etc etc. I think you get the idea.

Just in case this wasn't bad enough, about a week before we left for vacation, the Swine Flu scare was up
on us, with origins in Mexico. If you listened to the media and the government warnings against traveling to Mexico, you would have thought we were crazy for going. In my opinion, this was very hypocritical. There were confirmed cases of Swine Flu in New York, California, and Texas at the same time. Not only was there no "United States travel" warnings, there weren't even warnings against traveling to the specific states that had confirmed cases. Our destination, in Jalisco, Mexico, didn't have a case of H1N1 within 360 miles, while our home town of Springdale, AR had confirmed cases 280 miles away. We were closer to the Swine Flu at home than in Puerto Vallarta, yet everybody was urging us not to go. This is one time I'm glad we didn't listen.

It quickly became apparent we were some of the very few who did not heed the government travel warning
s when we were on a plane of about 20 passengers from Atlanta to Puerto Vallarta. Upon landing and catching our ride to the Barcelo resort with Juan from Tukari, our minds were quickly put at ease. Juan was very friendly & proud of his resort town. In between honking at slow drivers and young senoritas along the way, Juan was quick to give us the run-down of Puerto Vallarta, pointing out must-see locations, recommending good restaurants, and finding us a couple of cervezas.

We arrived at the beautiful Barcelo resort in Mismaloya, and could quickly tell that there were going to b
e no crowds here. Day 1 was spent getting the lay of the land & familiarizing ourselves with the beach, the resort, and the restaurants and cantinas within. On Day 2, we went into downtown Puerto Vallarta, where we walked along the Malecon, walked to the old church, sampled flavored Tequila with Carlos, bargained with the locals, and avoided Timeshare appointments like the plague. Dowtown Puerto Vallarta is full of great photo opportunities. Check out The Art of Puerto Vallarta for some shots along the Malecon.

On Day 3, we had a massage right next to the ocean, which had to be the best
massage I have ever had. A couple hours later, we decided to take the short dirt road trip up the mountain to the Puerto Vallarta Zoo. We had heard that we might have an opportunity to actually play with some babies here, and we would not be dissappointed. Unlike zoos in the states where they don't allow feeding the animals, this zoo sells food at the entrance and insists that you feed the animals. They had 2 baby jaguars today, one of them black. There were no crowds, so we were able to play with, and photograph them for a good 15 minutes. That evening, we ate steaks, and drank way too much of their delicious red wine at Los Arcos steakhouse at the Barcelo resort.

On Day 4, we lounged around the resort until late afternoon, when we took a taxi to the Marina for our first excursion with Vallarta Adventures, Rhythms of the Night. We boarded a catamaran with an open bar enroute to a secluded beach south of Puerto Vallarta, where we were greeted by tiki torches, and the sounds of drums & wooden flutes. We were led to a candlelit beachside table, and treated to a full buffet, and of course, an open bar, in an ancient tribal setting. Following dinner & Mexican coffee with Kahlua, we were led up a candlelit trail through the rainforest to the stage setting, which looked like a Mayan pyramid. As the full moon of Cinco de Mayo rose, we watched the show, which included a ritualistic wedding ceremony, a hunt, great dancing and fire play, and was extremely entertaining. Following the show, we boarded the open bar catamaran, and headed back toward moonlit Puerto Vallarta.

Day 5 was supposed to be another early excursion with Vallarta Adventures, but we got home late the night before, so we slept in. We went back downtown, this time to the Flea Market to do some bargaining with the locals. In was apparent the Swine Flu had some affect, as we only saw 2 other American couples shopping, and everybody was trying to make their first sale of the day. Needless to say, we got some good deals. We returned to Hotel Barcelo, where we had dinner at Don Quijote, followed by karaoke at the cantina.

Day 6 was another lazy day at Barcelo, followed by Sunset Sailing with Vallarta Adventures, which had to be the highlight of the trip. The Vallarta Adventures crew were all great, but Idol stood above the rest for us, and helped to make the sailing trip a great experience. This excursion is more of a laid-back, romantic experience than Rhythms of the Night, with only 8 tourists on the sailboat, the captain, Sergio, in the back, and Idol, keeping us entertained with good humor and margaritas. While the low tourism count of the week helped to make more room on the sailboat, we also experienced great weather, a great sunset and a surprisingly good meal to go along with our margaritas. To see the great sunsets from the sailing trip, and other nights in Puerto Vallarta, check out my Landscapes portfolio.

Day 7 was spent lounging around Hotel Barcelo until dinner at El Palomar de los Gonzalez. We had read great reviews of this restaurant before departing for Puerto Vallarta, with some claiming it to be a top 10 seafood restaurant worldwide. We had the highly recommended seafood platter for 2, which was more like a seafood feast for 6. It included mouthwatering lobster, fried calamari, scallops, mussels, fried fish, fried shrimp, boiled jumbo shrimp, and fish filets. Prior to the main course, we had a salad, with the dressing ground out in a wooden bowl from scratch right in front of us. The view from here is overlooking downtown and the bay, and the mariachi band played romantic music from Argentina as we waited for our main course. The food & service were both excellent.

Day 8 was a short one, eating breakfast at Barcelo, and awaiting transportation back to the airport. The weather was perfect every day, with highs ranging from 80-84 with an ocean breeze every day and lows around 70 every night, and not a drop of rain in sight. As Leonard from the cantina said, it only rains in June, July and Septiembre.

If you're headed to Puerto Vallarta soon, I have some advice. Drink the water, eat the fruit, don't worry about cab drivers or hotel employees ripping you off or robbing you. The proud people of this city are what makes this place great, like Juan with Tukari, Carlos selling tequila on the corner shop, Leonard at Barcelo's cantina, and the many other people you'll meet.