Highlights from Our Trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
For those of us on the East Coast a trip to Mexico for a long weekend seems like a crazy idea. But, this is exactly what my family and I did. We headed out to Puerto Vallarta, on behalf of Expedia to try the new services being offered to travelers by Expedia Local Expert.
This new feature allows those booking their travel through Expedia to also plan and book their activities before they even arrive to their destination.
Though it’s nice to leave open time for moments of spontaneity or even relaxing, because of our limited time, it was convenient to have everything scheduled and arranged before we got there. I got to see the list of attractions and tours in the area, read about what to expect and schedules, and choose those things that not only fit our tight time-frame, but interests as well.
Also, if after reading this post you feel inspired to visit Mexico, check out my experience in other throughout the country in Mazatlan, Playa del Carmen, Mexico City with kids, and Riviera Maya.
Where we stayed
The Grand Miramar Puerto Vallarta is a luxury hotel located in the neighborhood of Conchas Chinas, which we were told is considered to be the Bel-Air of Puerto Vallarta. It’s a bit off the beaten path, on a hill top overlooking Puerto Vallarta Bay. The cobblestone streets are gorgeous, but make it difficult for large tour busses or vans who pick up tour passengers to navigate over, so keep in mind that depending on the tour you take, you might have to take a cab to a meeting destination off-site. The hotel offers shuttle service to downtown Puerto Vallarta every hour on the hour till about 7pm. Any rides needed outside the scheduled times requires a cab ride. These averaged out for us to be about US$6 dollars a ride, US$11 for the farthest ride way outside of the city center, closer to the Marina (about a 45-minute car ride from the hotel).
We really enjoyed everything about this hotel. It’s quiet and low-key, making you feel like you are on a secluded island, which for us was lovely. The kids enjoyed the many pools and the Mediterranean-inspired menu from La Mar restaurant never ceased to impress us.
You can choose from single rooms to larger luxury suites or villas. But whatever you decide, you will always have those beautiful sunset views.
Tip: I recommend scheduling a dinner at La Mar around sunset hour.
Put those sunsets to good use.
There are many tours to choose from, which is why I think the Expedia LX feature is so genius. It’s online shopping for travel experiences, all of which I did from my couch in my pajamas with no hard sell or anyone trying to up-sell me anything. It was awesome.
We tried a few tours but our very favorites were the Off-Road Adventure and An Evening Taco Adventure (under Puerto Vallarta Food Tour).
The off-road adventure was well-organized and put together. We had all the details covered, from cool towels to cool off after our hike in the rainforest, tons of beverages, lunch, and visits to secluded beaches. We got way out of Puerto Vallarta center and got to explore the outskirts of the tourist center. It was refreshing and beautiful.
Off-road also meant heading deep into the country to try your hand at tortilla-making.
By heading out of the city, we got to explore cute smaller towns in the outskirts of Puerto Vallarta.
Our adventure started at the marina, kick-off spot for many of the tours offered to visitors to the area.
We also got to relax and enjoy a secluded beach free of the touristy crowds.
The taco tour was not just a great way to try out tacos from the best taco stands in Puerto Vallarta, but also a cultural and history walking tour in between. It started at 6:30PM and we ended at almost 11PM, on a beach, drinking mezcal (the kids had lemonade).
This is a great tour if you are curious about Puerto Vallarta’s street food, but are too apprehensive to give it a go on your own. I was so full and soooo happy. A true must!
In addition to tacos, we got to try the best Mexican pozole in town, served at a little hole in the wall that we wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.
It rained during a good part of our taco walking tour. But it was worth it. Always be ready, such is the weather in PV!
Tip: Always bring your own sun screen, mosquito spray, water, and bathing suits, and towels for those adventure excursions.
Puerto Vallarta, an overview
From the moment I announced that I was visiting Puerto Vallarta, my social media streams were filled with messages of how much other people who had been there before loved it. Here’s the thing, while I recognize that Puerto Vallarta has some really beautiful architecture, impressive cultural history, and truly, some of the loveliest people I’ve met in Mexico, it is super touristy.
There are tons of restaurants and bars, a really friendly, welcoming gay-district (known as the Romantic Zone), and there is tons to do. If that is your scene, you will enjoy every second of it. We did like walking around and exploring the city. There are some beautiful spots, such as the malecon and Cuale Island, that we just couldn’t get enough of. The art displayed throughout is also pretty spectacular.
It was tradition for residents of PV to come down to Cuale River to do laundry. A tradition that remains honored in the art of the city.
Cuale Island was created after a landslide that accumulated in the center of the river by the same name. It now hosts a series of art and creative centers, and the vibe of the community is felt throughout.
The taco tour gave me a real sense of the city, from the older, more residential parts to the more lively areas, so that’s a really great choice for those reasons too. But if you aren’t in the mood for all the activities, the party scene, tourist crowd, etc., your best bet is to stay out of the downtown area.
When we saw how distant our hotel was from downtown we lamented that we couldn’t just walk to all the attractions, but we quickly realized that we preferred the separation and the more laid-back vibe.
Go into town for a for a tour and walk around a bit, an authentic dining experience, and a fun night scene, because it is a cool city, but the tours to the island beaches and the outskirts of the area were more our kind of fun, and we were happy to have that choice.
Relaxing at our beautiful hotel after a day out and about in the center of town
The people of Puerto Vallarta were some of the friendliest and most welcoming of people I have met in Mexico thus far. But, in general, I have found Mexicans in general to be lovely every time I visit their beautiful country.
Tip: Puerto Vallarta is a safe city, but it’s still a good idea to keep your valuables close and expect vendors to approach you while walking down the street.
There is a guided city tour that we tried out too. It had more stops at shops than anything else, and while some people enjoyed the opportunity to buy things, we were disappointed that it was less about the city itself and more about the merchants they are partnered with. They did make a fun stop at a tequila factory which we really enjoyed. Also keep in mind that though this particular tour includes a lunch by Nogalito River, the cost for lunch is not included in the tour ticket price.
A word of caution
From the second you pass the last security check at the airport in and past the car rental booths, before you exit the controlled area of the airport in most Mexican cities you have to go through what my family and I have labeled the “ring of fire”. We spoke to several tourists about their experience at the airport and they all had been taken by surprised by the aggressive approach from vendors, mostly of time shares, who try to sway you through methods of misinformation and confusion to sign up for a tour. Don’t.
My advice, unless of course you want to buy a time share, is to keep moving forward. Don’t stop. Be aggressive in your no and be assertive in your pace. They have these in every Mexican airport I have traveled to, but found it worse in Puerto Vallarta.
Tip: Your pre-arranged shuttle driver will wait for you outside with the general public and have a sign with your name on it. Confirm this at time of reservation.
We scheduled our transportation to and from the airport through the Expedia LX service and because I had my reservation paperwork with the logo of the transportation company out and visible (rookie mistake), I became a target for those vendors who claimed to “be the company I was riding with” (they weren’t). Once past the last set of glass doors to the exit of the airport, I had a very easy time connecting with my driver and a very comfortable and lovely experience.
Things I wish I had done
Because our time was brief, we didn’t get to do too much. But after speaking to several tourists whom we met during our visit, there are a few tours that I wish we had taken.
Other tours to keep in mind that were highlights of travelers we met along the way are:
Yelapas and Majahuitas Catamaran Tour
Ultimate Outdoor Adventures Tour
Las Marietas Eco Discovery Tour
I have added them to my list of must do’s for my next visit!
Watch our fun travel video on Expedia Viewfinder!
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In partnership with Expedia. I am a writer for Expedia Viewfinder Travel Blog. You can read more of my travel stories here.
Great article. Such an amazing place. Really enjoyed my stay there. The night is very good here, ideal for bachelor/bachelorette parties.