Hi Guys! Today I want to pen down a few thoughts on my trips to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I visited Puerto Vallarta which is on the Pacific side of Mexico twice–once with my sister and then as a bridesmaid on a bachelorette trip. Both trips were tremendously different and so fun!
My 2006 Trip
In 2006, I had just gotten my teaching credential and was interviewing for jobs. I had done a couple of interviews, but still, it was nerve-wracking waiting to hear from the prospective employers. To calm my nerves and to celebrate, my sister Hina, and I decided to partake in a quick getaway to Mexico. We chose Puerto Vallarta because it is far more economical than the Caribbean side of Mexico. We searched online for some all-inclusive 5-day packages and found a great deal and booked it after a discussion.
We flew into the international airport in Puerto Vallarta and took a cab to the hotel. Let me tell you something about the driving conditions there–they are quite terrible! It’s crowded and maybe it was the driver (or the second driver or the third) but we thought we were going to literally die. The scenery along the way to the hotel was pretty. We drove practically next to the coastline and saw many resorts and hotels. But the traffic there–my God.
We were dropped off at the entrance of the lobby in one piece (thank Gawd!) and then we made our way to our hotel room. The lobby was very cute and tropical. There was Mexican (or island) music playing and the warm, sweet air welcomed us with open arms. The entire hotel aesthetic was built around bamboo. It was quite cute. The hotel room was nice too, but it was the view that had us. We had our own private balcony overlooking the Pacific Ocean! We almost died of happiness. It is a no-brainer, but I always try to get a hotel room with a view. Whether it is the strip in Las Vegas or the Pacific Ocean in Puerto Vallarta, a hotel room with a view changes your entire travel experience.
Anyways, we settled in and went straight to the pool, or was it to eat? Lol. The entire trip was planned around being lazy and spontaneous. We spent the first couple of days lying on the beach or by the poolside helping ourselves to an endless supply of exotic food and drinks (all-inclusive). We met tourists from around the world and belonging to every age group. The staff was super friendly and quite hospitable as well, making our stay a pleasant one. Our nights were spent watching great (and free!) shows the hotel put on.
Water sports were and are endless in Puerto Vallarta. I only got to do parasailing on that trip. And literally, it was a split-moment decision too. I paid only $40 dollars for it. I spotted the boat on the beach a few hundred feet from where we were sunbathing and the next thing I know, my sister was negotiating a price while I was being strapped to the parachute. After the immediate lift-off, I was up in the air for about 20 minutes and experiencing a very different kind of serenity. Amazing experience!
I have some great stories from that trip. One is from when we were bored of the resort life (Yes, and don’t judge us for our then-youthful exuberance) and we took a day trip. We visited a water park. I don’t remember how, but we figured out the route of the public bus that has a stop close to the water park. We could have taken a cab, but we wanted to be adventurous (I guess we forgot about the cab ride from the airport and became even more daring). Anyways in Mexico, there are no physical bus stops. We searched for one and looked as clueless and dumb as possible. Finally, we saw a middle-aged woman standing by the road carrying groceries so we stood next to her. And Mama Mia it worked! The bus arrived and picked the three of us up and dropped my sister and I close to the water park. One thing that helped us here was our background from Pakistan. Pakistan’s public transportation is the same. People just huddle together in a group somewhere on the roads and the bus comes and picks them up. We got a lot of stares from the locals on the bus. Then a Mariachi guitar player boarded and started playing the guitar on the bus and we were like, “whatever” and enjoyed the rest of the ride.
Another day trip we made was for ATV driving. Hotels usually have booking agents selling tours and activities to the visitors. Make sure you book a trip with an agent approved by the hotel. The plethora of activities is endless. Activities include bungee jumping, fishing, snorkeling, and urban tours–we booked an ATV tour. A tour bus took us to a forest area and that’s where we found the ATV cars waiting for us. Most of the other tourists were male. There were only a couple of females besides my sister and I. It made sense because these machines are heavy and dangerous, even lethal if flipped. To be honest, it was empowering driving our ATV with my sister sitting behind me and I was quite proud of myself. We drove through dense forest trees, unpaved paths, and even rivers and yes, everyone gets dirty! I didn’t feel unsafe driving around these wild places because I did the homework and booked the trip with a trustworthy tour company. They even cared enough to give us a handkerchief to keep dust off our faces. The tour lasted half a day and it was wonderful to come back to the hotel, take a shower and look at the sunset by the pool. A bucket list item checked off!
My 2008 Trip
My second trip to Puerto Vallarta was spontaneous and full of drama. It was a totally different experience but loads of fun. It was a bachelorette trip for a former boss of mine. The Maid of Honor lived in Puerto Vallarta for some time so she knew the roads well. This time instead of taking a cab, she drove us around. On this trip, I stayed at a condo/apartment style hotel by the beach with the bridal party. This option costs more than an all-inclusive package, but the experience is totally worth the money! The condo/apartment style hotel was near a market so I had some chances to window shop and do some souvenir shopping as well. There are people on the beach trying to sell you stuff, but please haggle.
On the first night, we had a candle-lit dinner on the beach. It was so beautiful! The sun was setting and the cool, warm air mixed with sweet, live music made us think we were in tropical paradise. This time around we explored some of the nightlife of Puerto Vallarta, meaning we went out at night. Not my cup of tea, but hey its an experience. I wouldn’t recommend doing this with just girls. Looking back I thought it was a huge risk we took and I felt unsafe the whole time. The only thing that kept me together was the fact that we had a former local (the Maid of Honor) who spoke Spanish with us.
On this trip, we did snorkeling and banana boating–both activities tremendously fun! For snorkeling, we hired a boat to take us to a cove where there was plenty of marine life. The boatmen warned us about jellyfishes and they weren’t lying. I spent about two minutes in the water before I was pricked by hundreds of needles. The two minutes I swam with the fish was magical though. The banana boat was cool and adventurous as well. The boat driver asked us if we wanted to be flipped. I was all up for it but, the groom’s sister was hesitant so we told him no.
We took a day trip that was quite memorable. There is a forest (more like a jungle) in a hilly area a few miles away. This is where Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “The Predator” was shot. The drive was gorgeous and the atmosphere was clean and light unlike the city of Puerto Vallarta below! It rained the whole time. We had to cover the hood of our jeep! If I remember right, we had a chance to visit the zoo too, but because of flight schedules, we didn’t.
On both trips, I remember swimming with the dolphins. It was a lovely experience, but now I hear all sorts of horror stories about the mistreatment of dolphins during the training process. So I personally don’t recommend it anymore. I would recommend charter a boat (with a reputable company) instead and watch dolphins in the wild.
So if you are looking for an economical tropical vacation, then Puerta Vallarta is a choice to consider. Cabo San Lucas and Cancun may have the blue waters, but Puerto Vallarta is affordable and less touristy. Pack sunblock because you will get burned here. Like always, book tours and hotels through reputable companies only. Don’t mingle with locals, even those who may appear or say they are tourists like you and try to just stay together with your family or your tour group the entire time.