Rather than visit the typical resort Meccas of Mexico, like Cabo San Lucas, Cancun, or Acapulco (some of which Richelle had already visited), we opted for Puerto Vallarta based on friends' recommendations. Geographically, Puerto Vallarta is roughly at the same latitude as Cancun, so the weather is warm. The five days we spent there in March were brilliantly sunny – a consistent 82 degrees during the day and a calm and pleasant 70-something in the evenings. The ocean water is not quite warm enough for comfort, but that is ok, because the muddy color brought on by the nearby estuary does not make it particularly inviting.
The town also has one of the lowest crime rates in the country. And, indeed, we felt safe everywhere we went, which wasn't far beyond our hotel, the Marina, and one taxi ride to the Malecon. The locals are friendly and seem kindhearted, even though behind the smiles and eagerness to help lies a strong drive to sell you every good or service you could ever want or need.
Timeshares and TrinketsFrom the moment one clears customs, locals are on a mission to convince every visitor that this is the only place on Earth where anyone would ever want to vacation. They expect that anyone with half a brain should know that a timeshare is the most logical method to lock in that sunshine.
Mexico is not for introverts. One cannot go outside for more than a few minutes before being greeted with “hola amigo” and immediately offered a sale or deal of some kind. It made me wonder what the French think of this culturally prevalent use of the familiar. I suspect the French, who have a dedicated verb for being addressed in the informal, would not be impressed, which is probably why we simply did not encounter any.
Although most beaches are private, they are crisscrossed endlessly by entrepreneurial amigos selling everything you could possibly never want: silver, necklaces, rings, Henna tattoos, hammocks, boat rides, and even sunglasses and hats. The latter two seemed especially preposterous since every one of their would-be customers were already wearing them under the bright sun. Clearly, it is difficult for many locals to make ends meet, but they are resourceful and do what they can.
AccommodationsWe stayed at the Marriott, which had the best reviews and reasonable rates, but we were somewhat disappointed by the service and the amenities. Every employee wore a name tag emblazoned with the title “supervisor,” and it is probably due to this unfavorable ratio of supervisors to housekeepers that our room was not ready for a 3pm check-in. With a straight face, and quite unapologetically, the supervisor suggested we try again in a couple of hours.
Embracing the Mexican culture, we did not complain and went to the pool bar to wait for our room to become available, sipping margaritas and watching the cormorants gliding effortlessly over the water, making the occasional but precisely executed fish dive.
The property has a large pool, swim-up bar, uncomfortable beach chairs, and a basketball court, which unsurprisingly, no one ever used. One could hardly call it a resort. Only a mile from the airport, the hotel is a popular choice for airline crew and conference attendees. One also often sees (and hears!) planes taking off.
On a casual walk along the beach on our penultimate night, we unintentionally strolled past the Westin, which we had researched extensively before picking the Marriott. We were astonished by how much nicer it looked, even though they had the same rates as the Marriott. Feeling slightly robbed of higher luxury for the same price, we decided to stay at the Westin on our last night instead.
And better though the Westin was, it still had a Mexican flare to it. Like at the Marriott, all pool areas had built-in speakers that were playing obnoxious pop music uncomfortably loud. It was practically impossible to relax. One either got frustrated from the loud music or from the pestering peddlers on the beach.
Food and Final Thoughts
On our taxi ride from the airport, I asked the driver what his favorite restaurant in town was. He immediately pointed to Ocho Tostadas, just off the Marina. We had read about it in the guidebooks, and the endorsement of a local meant we had to try it. Unlike at most restaurants we visited, the clientele at 8 Tostadas was almost entirely local. Unfortunately, the food left a lot to be desired. They specialize in seafood, yet the fish tacos Richelle ordered were worse than canned tuna. The shrimp tacos were better, but on-par with a Rubio's back in California.
Our final assessment was that Mexican food in San Diego is better than anything we tasted in PV. The best meal we had was in an Italian restaurant on the Marina, which had a peculiar Mexican influence. The on-site Mexican restaurant at the Marriott was also good, and the breakfast buffet there is outstanding.
At the end, the vacation ended up being neither active nor relaxing. We regretted not having done the boat ride and hike to Quimixto beach, taken surfing lessons in nearby Sayulita, or climbed the high, green mountains that make up the scenic backdrop. We decided we had to return to Mexico and explore its more impressive natural wonders, like the venerable Copper Canyon.