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.