While some places may remain forever uncrossed on the bucket list, Puerto Vallarta was not one of them. In my mind, it was just another tourist-driven Mexican city. I had been to a few already–Playa del Carmen, Cabo, Cozumel… so I ignorantly thought I had done the tourist town gig. I wasn’t in college anymore, sunblock has become a new best friend and tequila shots were never my thing. Though I wanted to set my eyes upon Mexico City, several villages in Central and South America, I didn’t realize what I was missing in the Banderas Bay. A dear friend was getting married here, so there was no way I would miss it. We have them to thank for this unexpected corner of paradise.
A little research brought us to a most incredible hotel in the historical section of Old Town Puerto Vallarta: the Hacienda San Angel. A heavy wooden door creaked open to the sounds of birds and a trickling water fountain that filled the Mexican tiled foyer. A dreamy stream of light poured in and I was at once smitten. We were informed that due to an event across the street where we planned to stay, they would have to upgrade us to the presidential suite. Lucky us.
The room was without a doubt the most incredible I had ever seen. Windows surrounded us as we looked onto the famous iglesia below, the houses on the lush hillside and the ocean before us. It was light, airy and begging us to never step foot outside our quarters. But this hotel did not have an all-inclusive option, so we gladly ventured out to discover this curious city.
Their wedding was all done perfectly–every ‘t’ was crossed. We were taken by boat to Las Catenas island for the ceremony and meal. I watched the bride walk down the aisle to Ozzy Ozbourne. They said their vows on the beach to the glow of hundreds of candles. We had a cozy meal. Did a dance or two barefoot in the sand. Then huddled back on the boat to the mainland. Paradise Village handled it all should you ever care to get hitched and have confidence it will go smoothly.
The next morning, we slept in and lazily walked through town. We read several reviews on the restaurants and town, and I must say, we hardly had a bite we regretted. In fact, we were determined to return to finish our own personal foodie tour. Here is a little recap of the places we recommend you eat the next time you find yourself in Puerto Vallarta:
La Palapa: Right on the beach in the center of it all, this places serves up some lovely dishes. It has the spirit of Mexico in the flavors and the eye for artistic presentation. We had a trio of ceviches, gourmet guacamole, queso fondito in a cast iron skillet loaded with chorizo, mushrooms and onion, followed by seafood enchiladas in an adobo sauce. All the while in the comfort of fans with mist, we sipped on fresh, creative homemade margaritas with cucumber and pineapple.
El Brujo: Take it from the taxi driver and now us, if you want real deal local Mexican food, this corner eatery is the place to go. Our walk there was questionable. We were definitely getting into the neighborhoods a bit deeper and off the beaten track so to speak. The moment we walked in to this warmly lit, family style cantina, we knew we had found it. A bubbling bowl of queso in green chile found its way first to the table followed by sensational fajitas. It only took one massive margarita here, and I found a little stumble in my step. Yikes. Definitely stop at one. Possibly even share with your partner if you are a lightweight.
Joe Jack’s Fish Shack: The name sounds a little touristy, and the menu is by no means written for locals, but the food is authentic, fresh and ahead of the bell curve when it comes to pushing food thought outside the box. We were greeted with a tray of simple radish and cucumber with mexican spices and salt. We moved on to ceviche as well as shrimp and avocado on tostadas. Then, we finished with a trio of tacos–some fish, some shrimp, some battered, some grilled. Hand-cut slaw and vinegar topped the homemade tortillas with a side of the spiciest habanero salsa I have ever encountered. I smiled to see that Bonny Doon was on their very trim but thoughtful wine list.
Hacienda San Angel: Sometimes the best food is just downstairs. We enjoyed some of the best tacos and gazpacho in town poolside at our hotel. At night, they often had a mariachi band sing romantic Mexican standards to more traditional fare, albeit well executed and very fair prices considering you had the best view in town overlooking the ocean, outdoors, with live music in your ears. They even had a few hidden gems on their wine list–a rarity I found for any restaurant in town. We enjoyed an aged Rioja one evening and a white Burgundy from Mercurey another night with fish we caught ourselves and they prepared. Note to self: sail fish is not the tastiest of seafood.
A few other notes from our trip and for next time…
If you care to go deep sea fishing, we really enjoyed: http://www.puertovallartafish.com/
If you are a self-proclaimed foodie like us, we really wanted to check out this food tour, as it received great reviews: http://puertovallartafoodtours.com/
If you want to go hiking, DO NOT choose to go through: Vallerta Tours (http://www.puertovallartatours.net/). We tried to go on a birdwatching tour through them and wound up bushwhacking and climbing boulders alongside a river that led to nothing. We finally demanded to turn around, as our shoes were sopping wet, the guide was not sure where we were going, thoughts of kidnapping were filling my mind, and when I mentioned birds, he laughed and had no clue what I was talking about… Yeah, we will turn around now.
If you wish to go snorkeling, as we were bummed to miss, we would have like to discover the Marieta Islands. Just a short water taxi away, this area is famous for undersea exploring. Such creatures as seas turtles, dolphins, manta rays and octupus are not unusual to find.
If you need to burn some calories between meals, put on your running shoes and climb the stairs by the main iglesia (Catedral de puerto Vallarta). There are seemingly endless and afford you that excuse to try the dulce de leche for dessert.
Finally, we recommend doing what took us to the very last day to do: nothing by the pool for even an hour. We laughed when we realized it was the first time that entire trip we ever really allowed ourselves to stay put and feel the sun.