I was never one to appreciate coffee, just as I was in my mid 20’s before I developed a taste for beer. I totally blame this on my parents. Growing up in small town Minnesota with Folgers instant coffee and restaurants, ok lets be honest and call them truck stops, chosen merely for offering a bottomless cup of bad coffee did not inspire the desire to imbibe. In addition, my parents also drank this bad coffee loaded with milk and sugar as one does, of course, when drinking crap.
Written in cooperation with GoodSearch.
Puerto Vallarta is not new to me. I have spent more time here than anywhere else on Earth but home. While some complain about the vast growth of the city over the years, I find that much of what I love has remained constant over time.
For the vacationer, Puerto Vallarta surely has it all: excellent dining, an endless array of activities, world-class hotels, and fantastic nightlife. In addition to all of the well-known and well-documented choices, I’d like to share a few of my insider tips to make your paradise vacation truly special.
image via Flickr by luckylynda74
Old Town, or the Romantic Zone if you prefer the new moniker, is not a secret. Nearly everyone at some point wanders across the bridge to check it out. Sadly, few take the time to discover the hidden gems, such as A Page in the Sun. Part used book exchange, part coffee shop, A Page in the Sun has been a Puerto Vallarta institution for over 20 Luisyears. Now in a new and larger location, it continues to draw us in for breakfast and friendly conversation.
Weekend Brunch with a View
Many amazing restaurants in town offer lovely views, but for THE best combination of a killer view and a unique experience, take a cab south of town to Casa Karma. This boutique hotel also offers up gorgeous rooms, but we go for the Bloody Mary bar! Each weekend, the Bar at Casa Karma whips up the most amazing “make your own” Bloody Mary bar we have ever seen. You start out with a delicious Bloody Mary, and you can add as many additions as you like — bacon, artichoke hearts, pickled asparagus, pearl onions, blue cheese-stuffed olives, and the list goes on. Admittedly, this is not a traditional take on brunch. You will certainly leave Casa Karma both pleasantly full and happy.
image via Flickr by cogdogblog
A Dress of Many Colors
One of my frequent stops is Luisa’s clothing store. Located on Juarez Street in the Zona Centro, Luisa has been one of the best seamstresses in Puerto Vallarta for years. Her storefront is artistically packed with dresses and shirts and scarves in every color of the rainbow. While you can go in and simply buy off the rack, the normal procedure is that you choose what you like, try it on for fit, and then Luisa will custom-fit that piece for you. Or, if you want turquoise, not green, for instance, she will simply whip up one just for you. She speaks excellent English, is knowledgeable about events around town, and is a joy to work with. Her clothes are well done, comfortable, and ready in a matter of days for a fair price. I am proud to say I have more than a couple of “Luisa originals.”
Of Tacos and Tango
To be truthful, for visitors doing research, El Carboncito is not a secret. However, in all of our trips there, we have rarely seen any tourists, so now the word is officially out. I love tacos, and I especially love tacos al pastor, which is meat slow-cooked on a skewer, served up on a freshly made tortilla with a slice of grilled pineapple, chopped cilantro, and fresh salsa. A squeeze of lime is mandatory.
The very best tacos al pastor I have found throughout Mexico come from El Carboncito, on a small side street in central Puerto Vallarta. Sitting in white plastic chairs, surrounded by chattering locals, eating two, or four, of these gems just makes me happy. For THE perfect evening out, so perfect, in fact, and that it is how we spent our anniversary this year, we walked down to El Carboncito’s for tacos, before heading for mojitos and tango at La Bodeguita del Medio. Technically, it’s salsa, not tango, but nonetheless, this is my favorite bar in Puerto Vallarta. I generally am not awake late enough to fully appreciate the dancing that randomly breaks out, but the live salsa band, excellent mojitos, and friendly staff are enough to keep me coming back for more.
image via Flickr by leduardo
My Puerto Vallarta doesn’t consist of the typical visitor’s experience. Having visited so many times before, I have experienced first-class resorts, and done the sightseeing. These days, I want to meander side streets and find the true soul of the city.
When we re-entered Mexico on the mainland, we crossed at the tiny and simple border of Sonoyta and headed straight to San Carlos. Having visited much of Sonoroa last year, our main goal was mainly to get further south relatively quickly. After Puerto Vallarta, we continued at our typical tortuga pace!
We miss our people, our tribe. Especially now, during in what is low season in central Mexico (although why that is I am baffled), among empty campgrounds, we are missing those we love. With no new overlanders to connect with, our thoughts turn, even more, to friends back home.
Lesson learned. Do not, and I repeat, do not, rent an apartment prior to arriving in town. Our three months in Puerto Vallarta was wonderful.. until it wasn’t. So much of our time was great; We got a lot of work done, writing for me and the launch of Jim’s first amazon product. We had visitors in the form of Jim’s parents and friends Dave and Anne. We swam and practiced yoga nearly daily. We enjoyed an extended time in one of our favorite cities in the world.
“Uno burrito pollo, por favor… para llevar”. I take a seat at the counter, placing my order in halting Spanish, knowing that in mere days I will once again be leaving the tourist hot spot of Puerto Vallarta to head away from the land of the gringo. Luckily, I have been here before, and the nice waitress takes pity on me and responds in English , “we have no chicken. You want pork?”. Si, I will take pork.
Our time in Puerto Vallarta is quickly coming to an end. As ever, I am a bit in awe of just how quickly time can pass us by. Three months. It sounds like such a long time to spend in a city that we have only granted one week stays in the past. Time flys by in a heartbeat. The big question now is … Whats Next?
Eating well has never been a problem for us in Mexico. The indescribable combination of flavors has drawn us to her shores for decades. That said, one reason we chose to drive the PanAmerican highway is so we would have access to our own kitchen, which has done well by us over the last six months, party to save money and partly because I simply love to cook. However, eating inexpensively in Mexico does not mean never eating out. In fact, eating well in PV runs the gamut of prices.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll be honest right up front. I dislike big resorts. Actually, I can’t stand them. Certainly, I can admit I do appreciate a flushing toilet or a shower a few times a week, but when I travel I want to actually experience the culture and meet the locals; and by that I don’t mean just exchanging pleasantries with those bringing me my latest poolside cocktail or cleaning my room. Jim’s parents actually prefer a more “cultured” lodging option as well, however years ago got sucked into the world of timeshares and hence… next thing I knew we were leaving the airport with them to experience Vidanta.