When planning this trip we discovered that it pays to check all the nearby airports; there are four in our area: Baltimore, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Newark. Normally, Baltimore is the cheapest but, on this trip, we saved almost $200 per person by using Newark.
We own at Mayan Palace and really enjoy it because it’s near the Marina (easy 10-minute walk), and only about 10 minutes from the airport. It has several restaurants, shops, two pools, and a gym. There is a bus service to town that is inexpensive and safe, plus there is a bus stop directly in front of the Mayan Palace. The bus costs 4 pesos one way.
The pool on the Marina side is less crowded and quieter than the main pool that looks out onto the bay. There is a small grocery store near the condo that sells great ice cream, along with other incidentals. It''s not as cheap as the regular grocery store (Gigante), which has an outlet along the main highway from the airport to the Marina. You can walk there from the resort, if you like walking, or take a taxi to the store/mall.
On Sundays, the locals gather in the main square downtown, and on the Malecon, in front of the church (you can’t miss it--it has a crown on the steeple). There is an open-air theater, Los Arcos, nearby. If you’re lucky they may have a performance on--they''re usually free, but the performers may pass the hat for donations after the show. The day we went in, a local troupe performed ancient native songs and dances. The main square is a great people-watching area and has food available: try the roasted corn, i''s very good and cost about 50-cents.
If you want to see a good fiesta, check out the one at Krystal Palace, which has lots of food, good entertainment, and crafts, and gives an overview of Mexico. The mixed drinks are strong! The sound-system was scratchy the night we were there, but the costumes and singing made up for it. Could do without some of the "contests"--the first one was fun but the second just seemed to drag on.
Viejo Vallarta, Old Town Vallarta, is a great place to walk around. It has some of the oldest houses and architecture in PV, different shops and restaurants off the beaten path, and not a lot of tourists.
Don’t miss the Rio Cuale area. The walk is along a shaded path, there are several restaurants, and lots of vendors selling just about anything you want. Don’t forget to walk to the beach and back east under the bridge. If you’re into it, there is a statue of John Huston here--this is where Night of the Iguana was filmed.
Also, you can tour the upper part of PV and see the houses of Richard Burton and Liz Taylor and the bridge connecting them; it''s something fun to do and makes for a nice walk. Make sure you go up the stairs near the church--you’ll get some great views of the Bay of Banderas and downtown.
We found a tequila tour in Pitillal, on Etziquio Corona. Since it was a small operation, it was easier to ask questions and learn about the agave and tequila-making process. We tasted about seven different varieties; yes, they make flavored tequila--cherry, peach, almond, etc. It isn’t made in large enough quantities for export, which is a shame because it''s really smooth. From there, walk across the street to Mercado Xalisco Restaurant, an open air restaurant with a friendly owner and good food.
We rented a car--it''s probably better to make arrangements before you get here, since prices seemed cheaper online, but I thought we’d be able to do better when we got to PV. We wound up with a pretty good deal but it took some finagling.
I had found there were ruins north and east of PV call Iztlan Del Rio. Head north on Rte. 200 then east on 15D. Rte. 200 twists and turns over the mountains (15D is a toll road). You’ll see lots of agave plants growing along this route, plus tobacco, papaya, and banana trees; the drive takes about 3 hours. The ruins aren''t as well preserved as places like Chitchen Itza (near Cancun), but they''re still very interesting. Plus, there were NO crowds--just the four of us. Along the main road, is a small restaurant and we decided to see what the food was like. We speak a little Spanish but the owner of the restaurant spoke no English, so ordering food was interesting. The food was made-to-order, fresh, very inexpensive, and very good.
There is a Dolphin Encounter located north of the airport in Nuevo Vallarta. If you like dolphins, this is fun. One of the ladies traveling with us got in the pool with them and got a "kiss" from the dolphin.
Another day we decided to head south along the coast and drove into Tuito, a traditional Mexican town. The center of town had a gazebo, benches, trees, and flowers; it was a nice little shaded area for getting together. We encountered a group of children that were fascinated by our companion’s white hair. They didn’t speak English but we were communicating with them using our Spanish. It was wuite an enjoyable side trip--if you’re in the area, check it out!
Heading south, you go through mountains and semi-arid areas, and pass cattle, chickens, mangoes, papayas, and agave plants. The road goes through several small towns--watch for the speed bumps! They sneak up on you. We stopped at Perula Playa beach along the Pacific Ocean. The water was really cold and salty. We ate lunch at a restaurant on the beach with huge servings. This drive took about 3-hours one way.
If you’re interested in them, you can see the cruise ships across from the condos. We saw Princess and Carnival.
We visited Playa de los Marco another day, north of PV, which had a nice beach, and clean, cool water with lots of gulls and pelicans floating on it. There was a little beachside restaurant there, so we had lunch before heading back to the condos.
If you get tired of Mexican, book a tour to Las Caletas, the former home of John Huston. You can snorkel, swim, kayak, sunbathe, walk the paths, meditate, and EAT without worrying about someone pestering you to buy something. The price is reasonable and we got to see lots (and I mean lots) of dolphins following the boat back to port. The only negative: don’t bother with the video. We normally don’t purchase this type of thing but we figured with all the dolphins, it should be good. It wasn’t!!! (We did complain to the owners and actually, after about six months, received a refund for the video.)
Make sure you have a little extra cash. While we were there, they were having difficulty with the phone system and had problems getting approval on credit cards; this happened to each of us at least once during our trip. Mind you, this was the first time in about eight visits that we experienced this problem.
Some good restaurants:
TEQUILAS RESTAURANT, located at juncture of Main Street and the Malecon, near the seahorse statue. Food was excellent, had reasonable prices, and a Mariachi band played while we were there (they were good but loud).
BENEDITTI''S PIZZA, next to the Mayan Palace, heading toward main Marina. Good pizza with sesame seeds on the crust (not sure if I liked them or not).
CHICO''S PARADISE, south of town. A lot of the tours stop here; if you''re not on one, you''ll need a car or you can try taking the bus. It has a great location overlooking falls and pools. You can swim here, too. The food is good and there''s lots of it.
MERCADO XALISCO Restaurant--see tequila tour above.
ARGENTINA RESTAURANT, located in the Marina. Excellent food and great service.