A January 2001 trip
to Puerto Vallarta by g3
Quote: Nestled between the misty Sierra Madres rising to the east and a huge bay to the west, Puerto Vallarta exists because of tourism but has yet to be ruined by it. It is a unique melding of Planet Hollywood-style attractions with the 'real' Mexico just beneath the surface.
Hotel | "Westin Regina"
Our room was on the eleventh floor and we could see all the way across the bay. Sunsets were spectacular from our balcony and we opted to host a daily margarita happy hour on our balcony to watch it. One afternoon, we watched whales breaching in the bay from our balcony as well.
The hotel grounds are impressive, with an intricate network of swimming pools spreading across the meticulously groomed landscape. Literally hundreds of palm trees provide ample shade and several actually have their own islands in the middle of the pools. The beach, however, is unimpressive.
The hotel has several restaurants and, though we opted to eat in town most nights, we found the daily breakfast buffet to be very good--and very filling. The featured restaurant is in a separate building along the waterfront and is known for its quality seafood. I can''t speak for the food personally, but the margaritas we enjoyed while sitting on the second floor deck overlooking the bay were quite tasty.
The rooms are luxurious but simple with Mexican tiled bathrooms and a large open shower. We were visiting in January and opted to turn off the a.c. and keep the balcony doors open, letting the ocean breezes and sound of the waves eleven stories below lull us to sleep each night.
While I tend to prefer a small, intimate hotel with real local flavor, the Westin Regina was a first rate hotel experience and I would most certainly stay there again.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 10, 2001
Club Regina Puerto Vallarta
Paseo de la Marina Sur 205
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico 48321
While we weren't the only gringos here (after all, we did get the recommendation from our resort), we were definutely in a part of Puerto Vallarta that does not exist for the sake tourism; this was the real Mexico.
Tino's specializes in seafood caught fresh from the bay only a few miles away. The house specialty, and a regional favorite, is pescado Zarandeado-- a sea bass that is served whole and cooked in an open smoke bar-b-cue pit. The flavor was fantastic and quite different than the usual American perception of Mexican food. The flavors were subtle; tangy, smokey and delicious.
The place was filled with families from the neighborhood and the service was prompt and spoke better English than we spoke Spanish. We went on a Sunday night and the mariachi band was terrific--although a common trend I witnessed throughout our visit was that mariachis seem to think every American tourist wants to hear La Bamba.
During the balance of our visit, we went to restaurants with better views and more unique atmosphere. But I don't think we had a better meal than at Tino's.
Calle Avenida No. 333, Esq. Revolucion
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Attraction | "Whale Watching"
Our guide, Susan, is a biologist by training who came to Mexico several years ago from her native Holland to study the humpback whales that migrate here each winter to mate and give birth. From the moment we met her until the end of the tour, her enthusiasm was contagious and her knowledge, impressive. Our group met at the Marina Vallarta at 7:30 AM and boarded the boat we would be spending the day on--a 21 foot 'panga'--or fishing boat. No frills here--just an open air motor boat with benches for us to sit on. Several tour operators provide more luxurious whale watching trips, but the panga is the only way to get up close and personal with these amazing creatures and it added to the sense of adventure.
Our trip lasted from 8am until after 4pm. Although it took us over an hour to see our first whale, by the time our tour was over we couldn't count the number of whales we had seen. In addition, we saw a few sea turtles sunning on the bay's surface as well as a manta ray that surfaced near our boat.
Vallarta Adventure has numerous boats on the bay at any given time for their various excursions and Susan stayed in touch with them all over short-wave radio in case a whale was sighted. When she heard of a sighting, our panga captain was able to adjust course and quickly make our way to the location of the sighting. As a result, we were often the only boat around. Mexico does have laws to protect the humpback from humans and we found our guides to be very careful to not get too close.
Mid-way through our day, we visited an isolated beach on the north side of the bay for a chance to stretch our legs and eat a light, delicious lunch of fresh salsa, cold beer and sandwiches. The wind was up and the seas were rough, so getting to shore proved to be part of the adventure as well. Our small group of eight were eager to help our guides and we all got a bit wet in the endeavor.
Scientists estimate that 200-300 whales migrate from the Pacific Northwest to Banderas Bay each year. If you visit during 'whale season,' which typically lasts from November through March, I highly recommend this activity as a way to get upclose with one of the most magnificent animals on our planet.
Vallarta Adventures (Canopy Tours, Scuba, Snorkel, Whale Watching)
Edificio Marina Golf Local 13-c, Calle Mástil, Marina Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico 48354
+52 322 297 1212
Attraction | "Diving Los Arcos"
We picked up our gear at Chico's at 7:30am and were shuttled by panga to the dive boat anchored off shore. The boat was full of snorklers and divers in training. Only six of us were already certified so we were looking forward to getting away from the crowds. The boat ride itself was worth the trip since we cruised just off shore from Puerto Vallarta and got some great shots of the city, the cathedral and the Sierra Madres rising in the distance.
Within twenty minutes we were at Los Arcos, which is a striking sight. Three huge rocks appear to be floating in the bay and hundreds of gulls, pelicans and other sea birds filled the air. Only one other boat was anchored nearby and we geared up for our dive.
Strong surge was the first thing I noticed as we entered the water and we had to descend by holding onto the anchor line. Visibility in the bay during the winter is typically 40-60 feet but the wind and surf were unusally strong during our visit. As a result the visibilty was lousy and our dive master kept us near the rocks instead of taking us to the nearby Canon del Diablo--a 1300 meter deep canyon with the reputation for exceptional wall diving. Due to the vis, most of the dive was spent focusing on staying together, though our dive master did locate a small snowflake moray. Otherwise, the murkiness prevented much fish viewing.
By the time we surfaced, a few dozen boats were anchored near by and the water was filled with tourists. Chico's has a 'first in first out' strategy, priding itself on being the first dive boat out each morning. For our second dive, they actually changed locations to the far side of the rock croppings and away from the crowds. Visibility was better on our second dive, and the fish more abundant.
While our experience was not great, Chico's lived up to their standard as a 5 star PADI dive shop. Their boat and equipment were in good shape and their staff was experienced and a lot of fun. The crowds were a bit overwhelming, but the strategy of first in first out limited our exposure to the masses and worked pretty well.
We were disappointed in the diving, but part of the enjoyment of the sport comes from the fact that each and every dive is unique. We would very much like to return and dive again with Chico's.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on March 10, 2001
Chico's Dive Shop
Díaz Ordaz 772
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
+52 (322) 222-1895
Attraction | "Sierra Madre Expedition"
We met at Vallarta Adventures office in the Marina at 9:30 and after a briefing on the day's activities we were assigned a guide and spilt into small groups of twelve. Each group then boarded a bright yellow Mercedes all-terrain vehicle--actually a truck with benches in the back and an awning over our heads. We were comfortable enough, each of us having a seat belt and bars to hold onto as well as pads on the benches. Our guide, Abel, gave us a brief history of the place as we sped along the highway into the nearby state of Nayarit.
Our first stop was the small town of Valle de Banderas where we toured the village square and the church and learned about life in small town Mexico. The traditions, customs, feast days and history were very interesting and many of the towns people came out to greet the daily arrival of the fleet of SUVs.
From here we left the road and off-roaded it through dry river beds, passing caballeros on horse back leading their brahma cattle and waving at us. Soon we arrived at our next stop, and unloaded for an hour long nature walk along a semi-dry creek bed. Ours was the first group to set out and Abel described the flora and fauna as we went along with the massive termite nests and other interesting natural sites. Cattle wandered freely through the terrain as well.
Back in the truck and onto the highway with our next stop being a secluded beach near the town of San Francisco where a spectacular buffet lunch and open bar awaited. We spent an hour or so wandering the beach, admiring the rain forest that came right up to the shoreline and then back in the trucks for the drive home. But they weren't through with us yet, and Abel soon had us all doing tequila poppers and playing a drinking game. By the time we arrived at the Marina, our group had killed the bottle and were ready for naps.
The trip itself lasted a full day and the combination of natural and cultural sights made it an enjoyable excursion. The tequila might have helped a little as well.
Porfidio tequilas are a world apart from the spring break, margarita mixer stuff one frequently associates with tequila. This is sipping tequila, with a subtlety and complexity much like single malt scotch.
The distillery itself is small, and the tequila is made in small batches. The tour lasts about thirty minutes and takes you through the entire process. Like a winery tour, Porfidio focuses on education and we learned a great deal. Porfidio is 100% blue agave and uses no cane suger (which is what causes those lovely hangovers). The product is aged in oak barrels for up to 5 years for the really exclusive stuff.
The grounds at the distillery are very attractive, with peacocks wandering around and banana trees and agave plants growing everywhere. Each step of the distilling process has its own small building, so the place has a very open, spacious feel. Our three person group got a private tour and got to sample all of their varieties afterwards. Though expensive when compared to Sauza and Cuervo, we found their factory prices to be better than the liquor store across from our hotel as well as the duty free shop at the airport.
I learned a great deal on this interesting tour, and gained a new respect for the art of tequila distillation. Now that's culture!
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 10, 2001
Porfidio Tequila Distillery Tour
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico