As you may or may not know, every year Paula and I retreat to the tiny little town of Bucerias in Mexico for some well needed “R & R”. Bucerias is located just outside of Puerto Vallarta, which is pretty much a mecca for those who want to experience what they believe the “Mexican” experience is; cheap tequila, haggling for blankets and sombreros at local markets, Señor Frogs on every block – and of course, all you can eat and drink (re:”stuff-yourself-silly”) resorts.
And while these very “Un-Mexican” things have become commonplace over the past 25 years that I’ve been visiting Vallarta, there are still some unique experiences to be had, and sights to be seen – but only if you know where to look. Even better, if you KNOW somebody who knows where to look!
Meet my friend Erin, who knows where to look for these things, and why not? She’s spent much of the past ten years living between P.V. and Calgary, having originally gone down to immerse herself in the culture so as to learn to Spanish fluently, which by the way, she does flawlessly. During our holiday this year we were able to catch up with Erin, and she offered to take us around to see some “unique” sites; and I must say that – despite this being my18th time in Puerto Vallarta – she took us to places I never knew existed!
In fact, showing visitors the “hidden gems” of this amazing little town has become such a frequent occurrence, she’s created a business of it, called “Follow Me P.V.”. What Erin does for clients is to create, and then escort guests through customized experiences in and around Vallarta and the Bay area; this way anyone who wants to get a taste of the “real” Mexico (without the hassles that go along with planning such an adventure) can do so just by showing up, and following her lead… and seriously, how cool is that?
I asked Erin to share with us “white-skinned gringos” her “Top Ten” list of adventures/experiences, and here’s what she came up with. Take it away, Erin!
Erin’s Top Ten “Must-Do Activities” in Vallarta and the Bay area:
- Have a Street Taco – Yep, I know the very thought of this may cause you to cringe, and have you imaging time spent hunched over in your hotel washroom, but fear not! Many roadside taco stands in Vallarta have come a long way in creating a safe, healthy and above all tasty street tacos! Look for those with a source of running water and where lots of locals are chowing down, and you should be fine. Need more proof? Check out Trip Advisor as many people have posted their experiences at various carts and can steer you in the right direction. Besides being very tasty, Street Tacos also are easy on the wallet at approximately 8 pesos each, or $.80 cents each.
- Looking for something a bit less urban? No problem; pack a lunch and head to one of the many gorgeous beaches outside of Puerto Vallarta. One of my favourites is Destiladeras, a hidden treasure that’s mostly only know by the locals alike tend to enjoy. Destiladeras is an expansive hide-away, with spectacular views, warm waters and loads of gorgeous scenery to grab awesome photo opportunities that will make your friends back home jealous! Best of all, it’s only a short 30 minute drive north.
- Speaking of spectacular beaches, no trip to P.V. is complete without a walk along the beach at dusk. Vallarta is famous for its outstanding sunsets, so be sure to have your camera ready! If you like your sunsets with a side of cocktail or cerveza, then slide into (and up the stairs) to The Cheeky Monkey Bar, located on the main Malecon. Watch the sunset from there, and sip on $1.00 (10 pesos) Corona’s or Pacificos… perfect!
- When dining out, choose something off the menu that you’ve not tried before; perhaps fruit sprinkled with chilli tamales; or maybe you’re in the mood for some ” Mexican Style” Vegetarian cuisine? If this sounds, check out Planeta Vegetariano, my fave spot in all of P.V.! Whatever you try, just remember that Mexican cuisine is extensive; just because Ol El Paso doesn’t make it, doesn’t mean it couldn’t be your new favorite thing! I say just find the right spots off the beaten path, and the food will be plenty, tasty and very reasonably priced. At Planeta for example, they’ll load up your dish for less than 100 pesos – or $10.00; and how can you go wrong with that?
- Drive south to Boca de Tomatlan, and take in the spectacular views along the way. Once you arrive, take a water taxi to The Ocean Grill, a unique restaurant in a lovely cove, and enjoy a terrific lunch. The view of the ocean is truly beautiful, but for a really memorable visit make sure you take a dip in it after you finish your lunch! The water taxi charges run around $5.00 (50 pesos) and the bus runs out to Boca for around $2.00 (20 pesos) Check out their site for reservations.
- Take a stroll down Basillio Badillo street in old town and savor a hand crafted chocolate from XOCODIVA. Owned by a Canadian*, this quaint little shop makes the most amazingly decadent chocolates that rival anything you’ll have back home – pop one in your mouth, close your eyes and you’ll find it hard to believe you are in downtown Vallarta! Chocolate truffles sell for around 14 pesos each, ($1.50 ish) and trust me, provide a unique and memorable experience of your holiday. F.Y.I. – I take ALL my clients here for a sweet treat! * Note from David – Not just Canadian, but from Victoria, B.C.! Woot! Woot!
- Spend a day in Sayulita: Originally a small surf town, today Sayulita is full of unique shopping, quaint stores and delicious eateries, such as the famous Choco-Banana known for it’s famous coffee and – you guessed it – chocolate bananas! You can have lunch, take surf lessons or just relax under an umbrella with a cocktail – watching the waves roll in, of course! Sayulita is about 35 minutes from Vallarta by car or taxi; but you want to make it a real adventure, I suggest taking the bus so you can enjoy the local flavour of the ride.
- Take a Food Tour! Organized or not, a progressive dining experience is always a fun and memorable way to spend and evening! It works this way: You start with an appetizer and beverage at one bar or restaurant, then move on choosing new restaurants / bars for each course! Bonus Point: Challenge yourself to try something new to eat! Make sure you and your friends all share you food so if there is something you don’t like, no el Problemo! Someone will eat it! Not sure where to start? Check out Vallarta Food Tours for some great ideas on their various tours, in which they promise to make you a local in 3 hours!
- Spend the day at Los Muertos beach sipping cold beverges and getting your feet massaged to the soothing sounds of the ocean waves crashing on the shores; or, go for the full deal and have a back massage! Vendors charge a VERY reasonable price at around $25.00 (250 pesos) for this blissful and unique experience – and if you like the job they do for you, don’t forget to tip them for their efforts. It sure beats the $90 – $125 per hour massages back home!
- Take a water taxi and spend a night under the stars in Yelapa. A quaint, chilled out small Village, Yelapa will delight you. Take a hike to the waterfalls or snorkel in the warm Pacific Ocean; and if your hungry for fresh, local seafood after your advents, why not enjoy some shrimp quesadillas afterward? For more details check out their website at http://www.yelapa.info/
So there you have it – Ten unconventional and unique experiences for you to enjoy while in the Vallarta and Bay areas of Mexico. I hope you give some of them a try next time you are here, and make your next trip to Puerto Vallarta the best one ever!
While Erin is happy to share these fun ideas for adventure, she’s keenly aware that non-Spanish speaking travellers may not feel comfortable making arrangements with local bus companies, negotiating water-taxi fares or taking hour long journeys on their own; If this sounds like you, just contact her at the email below and ask her to build (and escort) a customized adventure based on what you’d like to do and see. She’ll pre-make all the arrangements – from transport to meals, and everything in between, including ensuring everyone stays hydrated in the hot sun – she does it all! All you need to do is show up, and be ready to have an awesome experience enjoying local Vallarta culture!
Contact Erin at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.