Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Should Be at The Top of Your Bucket List

Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico

When I tell people our next vacation will be to some location in Mexico, they invariably ask, "Is it safe?"  I have to admit I have no idea where this strange idea that Mexico is full of crime and danger comes from.  Sure, I've heard stories of Mexican cartels, but I hazard a guess that strolling down any street in downtown Los Angeles or New York or New Orleans would be just as risky.  I have never once felt in danger.  Everywhere you look, there are police cars and police stationed in tourist areas with machine guns.  Me, I like having police with machine guns.  If you don't feel safe with that, nothing will make you feel safe!

Regardless, tourism ranks as the top (legal) money-producing enterprise in Mexico, so tourists are treated like royalty.  Jalisco is no exception.  Puerto Vallarta was one of the stops on the old TV show The Love Boat, for good reason.  It is beautiful and exotic and breath-taking.  A tropical paradise in a busy city would be the best way to describe it.  If that doesn't convince you, consider that Jalisco is the birthplace of tequila and it is the only place where tequila can be produced.  If neither of those things convince you to visit, then check out the rest of the blog and the the pictures.  You will soon see why this amazing destination needs to be at the top of any 'bucket list'.

Things to See and Do:
  • By Sea:  Snorkeling at Marietas Islands.  This chain of islands is about one hour away from Puerto Vallarta and the boat trip alone is worth it.  On the way, we saw scads of various sea birds, dolphins that practically jumped onto the deck of our boat, and an entire school of manta rays.  In the winter months, the area is well-known for whale watching and I have no doubt it would be quite an adventure.  We were fortunately there during jellyfish hatching time, and seeing these tiny pink and clear creatures surrounding the boat was a fantasy that Walt Disney could only dream about.  So beautiful!  However, the truly unbelievable sight was the secluded beach at Marietas.  To get to it, you have to snorkel through a water tube.  It was rough swimming and seemed to take forever, but once you get inside, the trip is well worth it.  The islands were once used by the Mexican government as target practice and the leftover damage is now a beach that is inside one of these craters, completely surrounded and only accessible by water.  There is also a small grotto inside that you can crawl to.  From there, we went to Los Arcos that had the best snorkeling we have ever done--and we have snorkeled in most of the Caribbean!  Jellyfish, octopus, 'Nemo' fish--the two hours felt like ten minutes.  We used the local company Vallarta Sol and were given breakfast, lunch, a snack and an open bar.  The staff were amazing and seemed to have a heart for conservation.  There are only a couple of touring companies even allowed to do this tour so plan far in advance.  For more information, visit Vallarta Sol.
  • By Land:  Four-wheeling the Sierra Madre Mountains.  The Sierra Madre Mountains is a group of mountains that extend far into Mexico.  An ATV tour is really the only way to see much of it as it would be inaccessible by regular car.  Tours in the area can be individually on an ATV or in a group with a dune buggy.  The tours last for hours and most of that time is spent traveling through rugged trails straight up into the mountains.  Our tour left from the middle of the city in Puerto Vallarta and we got to drive through back roads of the city and see what Puerto Vallarta is really like, not just the glittering touristy areas.  It was stark and beautiful and heart-breaking with poverty unlike anything we've seen anywhere else.  Our tour took us to a restaurant on top of a mountain with a layover that allowed us to eat some local fare, swim in the river and do a tequila tasting.  The guides were completely focused on our safety, our comfort and our fun. An amazing adventure!  For more information, visit Wild Treks Adventures.
  • By Air:  Ziplining the tropical forest.  The Sierra Madre Mountains is a tropical forest, not a tropical jungle but the foliage and fauna have to be seen to be believed.  The Canopy El Eden forest is home to the most intense, most extreme zip lining I've ever done.  Considering I've zip lined Fremont Street in Vegas and flung myself off the tallest zip line structure in America, that's quite a statement.  Canopy El Eden is the location where Arnold Schwarzenegger's movie Predator was filmed and you can walk in his footsteps and hike those same mountains.  There are over 12 lines that criss-cross the site and hiking up the mountain is very strenuous, but the ride down is completely worth it.  The guides seem to be more monkeys than men, zipping through the trees as if they were born to it and making it look so easy!  When you're finished, end the day at The Eden restaurant sampling authentic Mexican fare and diving into the Mislamoya River, with a convenient rope swing leaving right from the restaurant.  For more information, visit Canopy El Eden.
Places to Eat:
  • I'm going to cheat and recommend both a 'Thing To Do' and a 'Place To Eat' as one in the same.  While in Puerto Vallarta, you must take a trip to Las Caletas.  By day, it is a tropical paradise and private beach.  By night, it transforms into a Mayan fantasy called Rhythms of the Night.   You can only get to the location via a long boat ride but every minute is worth it.  As you pull up at the beach, you are greeted by costumed performers who lead you to the base of a temple/pyramid that is the scene for an incredible show.  The performance showcases traditional dance and music.  The costumes, the dancing--it was all so amazing that I felt like a kid on Christmas morning with my mouth hanging open.  The show ends right at dusk and you then wander down to the beach where tables are set up along the shore.  An authentic Mexican buffet awaits you with plenty of 'American' food for those who might be tired of salsa and guacamole.  There are as many courses as you want to eat and libations are poured liberally.  When you're finished, you are free to walk around the beach.  Each twist and turn of the trail is more amazing than the last and it seems but an instant until you hear the bells calling you back to the boat.  A once in a lifetime experience!  For more information, visit Vallarta Adventures.
  • The Best View in Town.  If you like seafood, you'll have to head inland at Puerto Vallarta.  The Happy Lobster (La Langosta Feliz) has some amazing fresh fish and the best view of the tropical forest you will find.  The entire restaurant is open air with no walls and sitting on the second floor feels just like you're eating in the treetops.  The food was so good and they had the biggest prawns I have ever seen in my life.  Everyone at the table got something different and it would be hard to say what was the best!  What made the place so much fun though is that it was away from the usual tourist streets.  It's on a little side street just outside of town and all the food was authentic.  Most of the people there were locals.  No website but to make reservations, call 322-223-13-09 .
  • Does recommending an Italian restaurant in Mexico seem odd to you?  Me, too, and yet........the youngsters rebelled at eating Mexican cuisine for every meal.  We decided to try La Terrazza di Roma for two other reasons:  #1--its location.  It is located in the Marina area right on the water.  Watching the yachts and boats while eating on a pier overlooking the water was just too much fun.  The open air pier had an air of romance about it.  We were there for breakfast but I can imagine at night, with candlelight, it would be quite lovely.  Reason #2--Well, the pier overlooking the water.  There are lots of restaurants on the Marina and we did try another one but I am a sucker for something fun.  This place was fun.  While we were there, some locals followed an alligator underneath the pier and I have some amazing photos of that.  Alligators under our seats?  Who knew they were even in Mexico?  Maybe they were crocodiles, I don't know.  And, the food? Quite good!  No website, but for reservations or for questions, call (322) 221-0560.