Located at the base of the beautiful Sierra Madres, Puerto Vallarta’s cream-colored beaches and engaging culture make it the ideal region for both adventure and relaxation. We spent a week drinking margaritas, eating homemade tamales and fresh guacamole, and relishing in the pacific breezes, jungle canopies, abundant sun, and colorful reefs of the Mexican Pacific.
Though slightly tempting, we opted out of slumbering in the many all-inclusive resorts pervading the northern part of the Bahia de Banderas. They were affordable, yes, and flaunted infinity pools, guarded gates, and five-star restaurants. But that wasn’t my style in the slightest. I much preferred the sleepy, rustic charm of the Old Town where multi-family dwellings nestled among trinket stalls, taco stands, and whimsical cafes.
I found the gorgeous, homey Hotel Posada Roger where for $30 a night we had a lovely private room and bathroom, air conditioning, a pool, and daily maid service. There was also a fountain flowing with fresh, clean drinking water and a rooftop veranda that provided the ideal spot for afternoon cocktails, soft Pacific breezes, and panoramic vistas of the harbor.
Even better was the location of Hotel Posada Roger: two blocks from the beach, next door to the BEST breakfast spot in town, Fredy’s Tucan, and down the street from Joe Jack’s Fish Shack where we could engorge ourselves with guacamole and margaritas. (Tip: try the huevos ala Mexicana, with frijoles refritos y chilaquiles at Fredy’s!)
Day 1 – Our overnight flight arrived at the Puerto Vallarta Airport just before noon, and we cabbed it to the Old Town to check into Hotel Posada Roger. It was hot – crazy hot. And the I-can-hardly-breath type of humid. Sooo, after throwing our bags in our room, we began our Mexican vacation with a quick dip in Posada Roger’s lukewarm pool. Not refreshingly cold, but it sufficed and took the edge off.
Then it was out to roam along the Playa Olas Atlas and the famous Malecon, or seawall walkway. Lucky for us, it was Saturday afternoon, and the Malecon was crowded with local families, sand sculpture artists, and musicians. Following a few jaunts back and forth on the walkway, we found a pseudo tiki hut, ordered icy tropical drinks, and settled back to decompress, watch young couples flirt, and savor our first Pacific sunset.
Day 2 – A tip when wandering around Puerto Vallarta town. There are packs of pushy time share sellers offering free tickets and tours in exchange for attending their time share presentations. If saving some money, getting free drinks, or receiving a free snorkel trip tempts you, go for it. The time share presentations usually only last a few hours, and they will save you a good stack of dollar bills in the end. However, my friend and I didn’t qualify for the “couples” time share presentation since he was not a US citizen so we steered clear of the time share schemes.
Instead, we chatted with some local tour companies along the Malecon, compared prices, tour times and reviews, and booked our zip-lining and snorkeling/waterfall tour for later in the week. I suggest grabbing a few different quotes as the tours wildly differ in time, scope, and accommodations. It is worth the extra $10 – $15 for an “upgraded” snorkeling day trip (which we found out much later!)
After another swim in our hotel’s pool and a siesta under the shade of a palm tree (but of course), we ambled down to the New Pier and watched local fisherman haul goods to the dock. There was a plethora of colorful fishing boats, eager birds scavenging scrapes, and gregarious fishermen. It was a perfect setting to soak in some local atmosphere and spend time outside of the typical tourists traps in Puerto Vallarta.
Day 3 – We rose early to catch a local bus up to the northern marina for our full day boating/snorkeling/waterfall adventure. Our two-deck boat was packed, mostly with local families and vacationing Central Americans. Music was booming, and watered-down, sugary, alcoholic drinks were soon being passed out by the bucketful. Classy? Not really, but it was certainly lively and entertaining!
Our first stop was an anchorage near the Los Arcos marine park. The Bahia de Banderas is one of the deepest and largest natural bays in the world, and both the snorkeling and diving there is top-notch. Our captain allowed a hour or so for snorkeling near the rock formations and caves where rainbow fish, manta rays, parrot fish, angel fish, and butterfly fish cruised near coral-littered depths.
The gentle motor toward our second stop, Yelapa, took another thirty minutes, and we disembarked to eat near Yelapa’s dock. Lunch was actually great – fish, rice, and nicely seasoned vegetables. Then, we had a few hours to play and walk around Yelapa, including a rather muddy hike to the nearby waterfall. Along the way, there were plenty of opportunities to take photos of local kids, horses, and playful pups.
Our tour company was two hours late in arriving back to the marina, and we were exhausted from our full day of sunshine and a bit of over consumption of free alcohol. A quick dinner of fresh corn tamales and a good night’s sleep ended another days adventure in Puerto Vallarta.
Day 4 – Zip-lining with Canopy Nogalito began day four in our Mexican paradise. This fantastic local tour company featured 14 cables that allowed participants to fly through the lush, verdant jungle.
Our tour guides were enthusiastic, well-trained, and extremely safety conscious. Following a quick safety course, we were harnessed into our gear and taught the basics of zip-lining, braking, and “yeeeee-hawwwwwing!” Read more about my experience here.
Tired from our pre-dawn adventure, we decided to take it easy for the rest of the afternoon. Plus, it was the hottest day thus recorded for mid-September in the Mexican Pacific. As a last resort and to escape the heat, we caught a local bus to the movie theater across town, the Cinepolis at the Soriana shopping center. Though there wasn’t a huge selection of English movies, we did enjoy the fresh popcorn and air conditioning. Local movie listings can be found in the Vallarta Tribune or online at www.virtualvallarta.com.
We finished off the day with a seafood dinner in one of the rustic huts lining the beach. Though there were plenty of high-end gourmet restaurants, my friend and I preferred the tasty chiles rellenos, fish tacos, moles, and tamales we found at the mom-and-pop tents.
Day 5 – After a well-deserved sleep-in, some bottomless coffee at Fredy’s Tucan, and a few hours of lounging by the pool, it was time to stock up on souvenirs for our parents and friends. In the effort to save time and energy, the helpful staff at Hotel Posada Roger suggested we visit the Municipal Crafts Market near our hotel.
The colorful – but touristy – market had three levels of stalls to browse. From samples of Mexican vanilla, organic coffee, and flavored tequila to stalls packed with Huichol art, rich paintings, wood carvings, and wool weavings, it took several hours to see everything and settle on some purchases. I wish I had space to buy more souvenirs, but I was limited to packing in my carry-on for this trip. Next time, I will certainly partake in some of the gorgeous paintings.
We wrapped up our final day in Puerto Vallarta with another walk along the Malecon and some final sunset selfies.
So, is Puerto Vallarta safe for tourists? Yes, my friend and I never felt insecure in any part of Puerto Vallarta. Of course, we didn’t carry large amounts of money on us, and we left our credit cards and passports locked in a safe at our hotel.