On a bright morning in June, I’m paddling along in the calm waters of Banderas Bay, swaying this way and that as I try to remain standing. After twenty minutes of fighting to control my unwieldy board, the palm trees appear as miniatures on the horizon and the supple curve of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico lays before me — buildings ascending the hills, tendrils of fog climbing toward the Sierra Madre mountains.
The water has been calm and aside from ships zipping to and from the port, my guide and I seem to be the only ones in the entire bay.
“Hay tiburones en la bahía?” I ask. Are there sharks in the bay?
My guide wheels his board around like it’s an extension of his body and laughs. “Por qué? Quieres ver un tiburón hoy?” Why? Do you want to see a shark today?
He raises his eyebrow, a dare. I blink and decide he’s kidding.
“No, solo estaba…curiosa,” I explain.
“You won’t find sharks in Banderas Bay,” he tells me in English this time to allay my fears. (This, I later find out, is true — despite the fact that Puerto Vallarta is where straight-to-tv camp-horror disaster Sharktopus was shot.) The rest of the paddle feels distinctly more peaceful, and soon we’re headed back to shore where I’m staying at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa — outside of the fray of downtown, away from the noise of vendors walking the beach in the hotel zone.
It’s my first day in this coastal town, on the edge of Jalisco, so it’s time for me to post up at the pool and drink a boozy coconut or two. Relax. But if I tire of that, I can head downtown to hit the beer bars, perhaps. If I’m up for chasing the night, I can find live jazz or leave town and explore coffee country.
The world is my ostra. Also ostras are my ostra — because Puerto Vallarta has superb seafood.
This is not what I was expecting from Puerto Vallarta, a former fishing village and subsequent hot-spot for south-of-the-border getaways on the Pacific coast. Growing up, I had an image of P.V. in my head: home of the tempestuous love story of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Home of never-leave-the-property resorts, of tourist bar-chain Señor Frogs. An Acapulco-esque escape. A city turned old and suburban and boring by its refusal to ditch the package tourist model.
I was wrong. It’s 2019 and there’s nothing boring about PV. Not if you do it right.
Day One: Get Active On The Beach, Then Enjoy Some Tequila And Ceviche
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Almost unequivocally when traveling, I spend day one at or near my hotel — getting to know the neighborhood, relaxing, adjusting, if you will. But I arrived early in the morning, and I had energy to burn, so instead, I took advantage of the beachfront and went SUPing. After losing my balance and falling spectacularly into the water, splayed like a starfish and agape, three or four times, I dragged myself onto the board once more, determined to actually stand up and paddleboard. After a few wobbles here and there, I found my balance and followed my guide out as far as we could go, where we could take in the entirety of the bay. We sat on our boards and floated for a while, and I almost forgot how bad I was at SUPing. If you’re a clumsy fool like me, you can opt for kayaking or, hell, just stay on the beach and relax.
After you tire of sand and bright sun glinting off of calm waters, make your way to the Marriott pool, where you can either grab a seat under an umbrella or jump in and pony up to the pool bar. I had a cocktail served in a coconut shell, full of fresh coconut water, gin, and mint, and it was enough to knock me on my ass for the rest of the morning. Fellow lazy travelers, you’re going to love this: when you get hungry, instead of getting dressed up and leaving the hotel, you can just mosey on over to the indoor-outdoor lobby bar, which has a massive tequila list and serves fresh ceviche. I fought my friends for the spicy tuna ceviche, heat and citrus calmed by the fatty glory of a fresh avocado, but the classic white fish was also tart and refreshing in the Pacific heat.
At night, you can either continue your lazy hotel day and hit up one of the other restaurants on the Marriott grounds — a sports bar and a sushi place, respectively — or, if you feel like taking a walk, head down to the Marina, where you’ll find great people watching and even a market on Thursday nights. If you’re hungry, treat yourself to wood-fired pizza, light but powerful arrabbiata, and fresh seafood at La Terrazza di Roma.
Day Two: Explore Downtown And Get Crafty With Local Cerveza Artesanal
The next morning, I woke to the hush of waves in the distance and a sky so bright it was almost white. I could have watched the bay until the end of the world, the gulls wheeling about, people dragging chairs here and there to set up for the mid-morning rush, laughter that somehow pierced the sound of wind and water. But P.V. is too interesting a town to just sit at a beach, so instead, I headed south to the tight downtown core.
Right in the middle of the city, you’ll find Rio Cuale, a cool, narrow rush of water that feeds into the bay — and a glut of cafés and breakfast spots serving up everything from chilaquiles and fresh papaya to croissants fresh from the oven. I headed out to Café Metate, an intimate spot with an industrial vibe that serves up local coffee and fruit picked up from the market that day. If you prefer going south into the Zona Romántica, Dee’s Coffee Company is a no-frills coffee shop overflowing with pastries, and Faro Azul pours a nice, rich cup.
But hey, you’re on vacation. Who needs coffee? Just grab a sun chair and rest more.
If you’re a craft beer fan and a traveler, when you think of Mexican craft, your mind likely goes to Guadalajara — and with good reason. There are dozens of breweries in the Jalisco municipality (which, incidentally, is only a 50-minute flight from P.V.), including industry darling Cerveza Minerva. But P.V. punches well above its weight when it comes to craft, and you can spend a whole day exploring the breweries and beer bars.
First, start at Cervecería Unión, a beer bar on the north side of downtown just off of the malecón. There you’ll find pours from all over Mexico (including a dry, simple lager they made in partnership with Cerveza Minerva), plenty of international brews, fresh seafood, and a view of all the people walking the boardwalk. Watching families and couples walk up and down the beachside is better than television down here.
When you’re done there, walk south down the malecón then head east into the interior of the zona romántica, where you’ll find Monzón Cervecería Artesanal, the latest brewery to open in P.V. They don’t have any one regional focus, per se. Instead, you’ll find wits and kölsches, saisons, Flemish red ales, IPAs, and wheats. There was even a bitter on tap when I was there. I was partial to the Hermanita Session IPA, which had a nice bite courtesy of a suite of mosaic, citra, and amarillo hops but was sessionable enough for the climate. Don’t fill up too quickly, because just around the corner is Los Muertos Brewing, P.V.’s first brewery, which opened in 2012 and has been producing punchy lagers and pungent IPAs ever since.
Of course, if you still have wind in your sails, stay downtown so you can enjoy the nightlife in P.V.
If you’re in the mood to dance, check out C.C. Slaughter’s — yes, the very same gay bar beloved by Portlanders. Just like the original location in the great northwest, P.V.’s C.C.’s has great music, stiff pours, drag shows, and plenty of parties. If you’re looking for live music, Roxy Rockhouse will be your jam. And if you’re in a more low-key mood, check out Bar Morelos, a mezcalería that occasionally hosts live music, or El Soñador, where you can quaff local beers, carefully crafted cocktails and, of course, play pool.
Day Three: Get Outta Town
I woke up mercifully sin resaca the next morning. It was like my body knew I had a big day ahead of me. It was time to leave the comfort of P.V.
Situated as it is on the border of Jalisco and Nayarit, Puerto Vallarta offers no shortage of places to explore outside of town. Whether you’re in a hiking mood or you feel like finding a quiet beach, you can do all that and more. If you did not escape a Jalisco hangover, I recommend taking a 45-60 minute panga from the Muelle de los Muertos pier, right in the heart of the zona romántica, or from the pier in the southern La Boca area, to Yelapa, a small town of about 1,200 people. There’s only one road into town, and for much of the year it’s unusable, so it’s boat ride or nothing. But the bumps and jumps of the boat are worth it once you get there.
Situated in a cove to the south of Puerto Vallarta, you’ll find small beaches with basic beachside bars and crystal clear water. While the tendrils of tourism are taking hold of the village, it’s still worlds quieter than the public beaches in P.V., and, if you start to get antsy, you can hike up to the waterfalls. One is just on the edge of town, and you get there by a cobblestone path through the winding streets; the other is on a four-kilometer trail into the jungle, but vale la pena of an hour walk, because at the end of the trail you’ll find a quiet, cool swimming hole
If you’re looking for a little more adventure without sacrificing beach time, head to the Marietas Islands instead. This spot was saved by famed conservationist Jacques Cousteau when he campaigned to stop bomb testing in the delicate ecosystem, which is home to numerous unique flora and fauna. Today, you can snorkel or scuba, then swim your way to Playa Escondida, a white sand beach tucked into the archipelago that can only be reached by swimming or kayaking.
If you’re in the mood to explore the mountains instead of the beach, head to San Sebastian del Oeste, a small town tucked into the Sierra Madres mountains, where you can visit a coffee plantation (and, yes, try plenty of the chocolate-and-citrus coffee they produce), then hike your heart out. My favorite was the 5.2 mile Las Minas trail, an out-and-back which leads straight from town up to La Bufa observation deck. The ascent is easy, and at La Bufa, you can stare out at the green velvet of the Sierras and really get a sense of scale.
Day Four: Spa-read Your Wings And Pamper Yourself
Relájate. Sueltate tus hombros y respira. Relax. Release your shoulders and breathe.
That was the advice I was given by the therapist who introduced me to the renacimiento therapy at the Ohtli Spa — so named after a Huichol word meaning “path towards perfection and peace.” The spa specializes in treatments taken from the Huichol’s healing practices, and after hiking and snorkeling for an entire day, it’s exactly what I needed to do. Instead of opting for a massage, I instead did the renacimiento in the spa’s pool. I was told to completely relinquish control of my body. Confía en mi, I was told. My therapist moved me back and forth in the water, stretching my limbs and giving me release then alternatively gathering me up into a tight ball. It was almost an hour of being stretched and moved, and by the end, I felt absolutely relaxed.
You don’t have to do the renacimiento if you’re worried about relinquishing control in a body of water. The spa has a long menu of treatments that address mind and body alike. I recommend making an appointment for the morning you leave — depending on when your flight is — so you can be nice and relaxed for the flight home.
If you want to go home, that is.
Uproxx was hosted for this story by Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa. However, they did not review or approve this story. You can learn more about the Uproxx Press Trip policy here.