I’ll admit, the latest Mexico travel warnings made me a tad nervous about visiting Puerto Vallarta. But then again, I’m not a cartel member, so not the target murder demographic. Meanwhile, in the US, the target changes daily, from gang violence one day to ‘wrong place/wrong time’ the next. I suspected the places I’d enjoy visiting in Puerto Vallarta – vegetarian restaurants and yoga studios – wouldn’t be high on the cartel hit list. So, I went ahead with a quick winter break in Mexico and had no problemas whatsoever.
El Centro vs. Resort
The main accommodation choices are downtown hotels or all-inclusive resorts. The advantages of downtown are having a lively, colorful experience, being able to walk all over town, and more integration with locals. Resort advantages include quiet, ease, food and drink included, and plenty of on-site activities so it all depends on personal preference.
I chose to stay downtown in the Hotel Catedral, a darling folk art-themed hotel. I loved the cheerful courtyard, my bright magenta accent wall, and the proximity to shops, restaurants, and beaches. As a woman traveling alone, I felt safe. I’d timed my visit to correspond with the December Guadalupe processions, a 12-night series of religious parades winding up at the Guadalupe church about three blocks from my hotel. The spirited processions and accompanying festival were great fun. However, I hadn’t counted on the church bells ringing till late at night, then starting again at 6:30 a.m.
I also visited Casa Velas, an upscale all-inclusive resort in Marina Vallarta, a 15-minute Uber ride from downtown. This adults-only, 80-room hotel sits in the middle of a golf course and offers a shuttle to its nearby private beach. It was as quiet as downtown was loud. The staff gave me a tour and pointed out the amenities, including a gorgeous pool, separate vegetarian/vegan menu at the excellent restaurant, an organic garden, a choice of 45 spa treatments, and on-site peacocks (including Pancho, who begs for peanuts from the bar). The wellness suite was stunning. I fancied the outdoor massage table beside the personal plunge pool, framed by sweeping bougainvillea. Inside the suite, an exercise bike sat beside the bed and a pair of five-pound weights lurked beneath the double sink. The minibar featured almond milk and coconut water. Guests have seven choices on the pillow menu, and can choose which essence they want diffused in their suite.
The area around Puerto Vallarta offers all sorts of tour opportunities, including boating to the nearby village of Yelapa, snorkeling, ziplining, and hiking. But on my quick, 48-hour trip, I stuck to town.
Strolling the Malecon is practically mandatory for visitors. I made at least three round trips on this mile-long seaside walkway during my brief visit. Frequented by both tourists and locals, it brings together public art, snack and trinket vendors, beachgoers, and general people watching.
Los Muertos beach is at the end of the Malecon. I was there on a Sunday, and it was nuts. A bazillion local kids splashed in the water, Zumba music pouring from beneath every colorful beach umbrella. A little farther and the Latin tunes changed to disco, the male swim attire skewing toward Speedos. Gay Vallarta was in full swing.
I took a morning yoga class with Terry Connell at Yoga Vallarta. Terry, who’s also an acupuncturist, moved to town about five years ago. The pace is much slower than his Boston area home. “There’s a different mindset when you’re here,” he said. Terry led his class of visitors and expats through a slow, alignment-focused flow. He had a discerning eye, busting me for rib flaring and other yogic transgressions. Terry has miraculously taught his two dogs, Sadie and Chuy, to limit their cavorting to before and after class.
Terry recommended the climb up to the Mirador de la Cruz, a viewpoint marked by an old iron cross on the hill above downtown. It turned out to be way more of an adventure than I expected. Not being the most adept at following instructions, I missed or misinterpreted the sporadic signage. Good-natured locals steered me out of their backyards and construction sites. At one point I found myself walking up a steep grade between barbed wire fences and a sign that I think was warning me not to feed trash to pigs. But eventually I summited, dripping buckets of sweat, and admired the coastline and town laid out below.
Shoppers love Vallarta. Roving salesmen with cases full of silver jewelry are everywhere. Folk art and knick-knacks fill the stalls on the little island in the Cuale River, also the best place to iguana watch. My favorite store was Cassandra Shaw Jewelry. This expat designs most of the jewelry herself, but works with 12 other designers and silversmiths around Mexico. Devoted dog rescuers, she and her staff have adopted out 80 dogs from their shop! Chihuahuas serve as jewelry models on shop business cards.
Vallarta has a surprising number of veg restaurants. Planeta Vegetariano, in business since 1995, offers a buffet breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a different menu every day. Dinner features about 15 different salads, most of them vegan, plus a hot bar. It’s cheerful, with bright yellow walls, funny murals, and bossa nova music. It’s a comfortable place to dine alone.
Restaurant Vegetariano Mary is a similar setup, with a different buffet theme every day. It’s a little further from downtown but still close enough to walk. A psychologist-turned-restaurateur owns Veggie Table, an all vegan-restaurant downtown. Salud Superfoods has a full juice and smoothie menu, and about two dozen vegan or vegetarian sandwiches, salads, wraps, and bowl options.
If you go
I booked an Alaska Airlines vacation package for my short trip. At press time, round trip air plus three nights ranged from around $500 per person in a modest downtown hotel to around $1250 per person at an upscale all-inclusive resort.
Hugo, a Puerto Vallarta native, drove me back to the airport at the end of my trip. “We made safest city in Mexico on the list this year,” he bragged. Forget Acapulco or Mazatlán, he said, Puerto Vallarta is best. His hometown pride was contagious. “Great city,” I agreed. And I felt just as safe as I would at home.
This article is a part of the 2018 February / March issue of Whole Life Times.