Puerto Vallarta. You probably know that Elizabeth Taylor started the whole thing. It was after she arrived in the 1960’s to be with Richard Burton, who was filming “Night of the Iguana” that the word got out. Puerto Vallarta became not just the scene of a movie, but the scene of a glamorous love affair. They built their own love nest, Casa Kimberly, and continued to return to spend time there
But all the credit can’t go to Miss Taylor. With travel to Mexico becoming easier, PV couldn’t have remained a “sleepy fishing village” for very long. It’s location alone makes it a jewel among beach towns. It sits on a deep, wide bay, protected from the raging surfs found a bit farther north of it and facing due west into the sunsets. As places go, it is a pretty perfect picture of paradise.
For many years it was our stop-off place between the airport and the water taxi to Yelapa, the small little beach a few miles south, that can still only be reached by boat. We discovered Yelapa by accident the first time we visited Puerto Vallarta, about 19 years ago. We took a day trip and missed the boat back. We ended up spending the night in a palapa topped beach hut and realized we had found a place we would return to many times.
Whenever we stayed in PV we always preferred to be on the south side of the river that divides the town, so that is where we wanted to go when we drove over for a couple of days and a night this past Monday.
There was so much new development that we saw as we drove in from the north side of town. It had been 13 years since we were there and a lot had changed. So many high rises, condos, and resort hotels. There was no sign of the three-story time share where we had stayed on our first visit.
I didn’t know what to expect as we crossed the River Cuale on our way to our familiar beach, Playa Los Muertos. I was happy to see that even though there are now condos that go all the way up the hills and to the end of the bay, that part of town seems to have changed the least.
We managed to get a pretty nice room in a dog-tolerant hotel right smack in the middle of the beach. Oceanfront view and king-sized bed….where we spent the morning. We spent our afternoons sitting right about where we used to sit all those years ago. Our favorite beach restaurant, La Palapa, hadn’t changed a lot. If anything, it’s gotten better. After our afternoon 2 x 1 Margaritas (it’s always Happy Hour in PV), we saw what might have been the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen.
The beach itself was packed with people. By the way, this is not the beach where “the beautiful people” go. These are the middle-aged, middle-class vacationers happy to be escaping from the frozen north. There are families, gay couples (PV is the Ptown of Mexico), groups of friends, and quite a few Mexicans, who are having a little holiday in their own country. Everyone seems happy to be there–yes to guacamole, yes to Margaritas, yes to beach vendors (or “no, gracias), and yes to wearing as few clothes as possible and enjoying the sun on their less than beautiful bodies. As for the beautiful people, they are probably in the swell resorts at the north end of town, or farther south of the bay in more exclusive spots. That’s one thing I love about Playa Los Muertos…it is definitely not exclusive. Everyone is welcome.
They have built a new pier where the rickety one was where we used to catch the Yelapa Water Taxi. The new one is quite fancy with a crowning structure that looks like a spinnaker and lights up at night. A real landmark suitable for the growing city. I was comforted to see that the water taxi still leaves every morning…..and it looks exactly the same. And even though Miss Taylor’s Casa Kimberly is now a B&B and so much in this town has changed, I was glad that I can still see the magic in PV, even though I see it through much different eyes.
First of all. I am aware my 30 Day Challenge is expanding over quite a few more than 30 days. There is something about being in Mexico, especially on the beach, that makes me realize what “Mañana” is all about. Nothing is so important that it can’t wait until I am in the mood. So here goes with Reason #12:
I love beach vendors. Sometimes the best shopping can be done right on the beach. I am sort of an odd shopper though…I don’t try to bargain people down. I figure this is what they do to earn a living and why should I take pride in screwing them out of a couple of bucks. However, sometimes I know they are starting out with a price that is way too much and they open the door to the bargaining process. Then, if I do really want it and I agree the first price is too high, I will play the game. Sure, sometimes they kinda get on my nerves, especially when the same person approaches me several times in the same afternoon. Maybe they are working on that old sales strategy that says it takes 10 “nos” to get one “yes.” They just think it might work after they have gotten 10 “nos” from the same person.
My favorite vendors are the Mayans from Chiapas. The women (usually young) come to the beaches all over Mexico with their local crafts. They sell what they bring from their South Mexican homes and then take a long bus trip back to re-stock. They wear the black wool long skirts and brightly colored blouses. They are so beautiful to me. I am shy to take their pictures because they usually don’t want you to. On former trips to beaches in Mexico I have formed a couple of friendships on the beach with vendors from Chiapas. For that reason our house in Nashville is pretty full of stuffed woolen animals. I am trying to hold off on this trip from buying things that come from Oaxaca or Chiapas as we will be visiting both of those states soon.
I am rather amazed as I watch beach vendors deal with constant rejection. They just keep moving on. Sometimes they remind me of myself when I first started selling my jewelry. I never engage with a beach vendor unless I’m pretty sure I want to buy something. They are not on the beach to amuse me with a “just looking” shopping trip. I would feel really badly about wasting their time.
Some people get all in a wad about beach vendors. They are the same people who should only come to Mexico if they are going to stay behind fences at fancy resorts. As you probably know by now, I have lots of thoughts about that…..perhaps I will express later.
For the past 20 years or so, Fred and I have managed to have a winter vacation on a beach in Mexico. We did do one of these trips to Jamaica, and one to Costa Rica, but those two trips just reinforced that Mexico is the place for us. We have been to Acapulco (that was decades ago, and I would not recommend it now), Pie de la Cuesta (again, decades ago), Puerto Vallarta, Yelapa, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Isla Mujeres, Isla Holbox, Mahahual (with a day trip to Xcalak), San Agustinillo, Zipolite, and now Sayulita. Most of these beaches we liked enough to visit multiple times, and many I’m sure we will return to.
Our current trip to Sayulita is to find a beach that is a fairly easy drive from San Miguel de Allende, the beautiful little town in the central mountains that we are starting to think of as home.
We arrived on January 1 to a rather overwhelming crowd of tourists. This is a small town and it was bursting at the seams. You could almost feel its systems being overtaxed. The beach itself was jam packed and chaotic. The streets were so crowded it was impossible to drive and we were very happy to find a parking place near our little rented house. Our thought was, “My god, what have we done?” We decided to give it time, and hope that the crowd would clear out by Monday, January 5. And it has. The town seems to now have far fewer people and cars and a sort of sanity has settled in. The weather here is splendid. Last winter we spent 3 1/2 months on the coast of Oaxaca in Zipolite. It was a more beautiful place, but also much hotter. So far the weather here feels like paradise. Our place is up four (yes, four) flights of steps and surrounded by jungle plants. We don’t have a water view, but it doesn’t matter. It is a pretty good hang out. There are lots of places to eat here. It is a funky Mexican beach town; not glamorous at all. That suits me pretty well. Yesterday we drove a friend who was visiting to the Puerto Villarta airport, so this is the first day here that we have had absolutely no agenda. And that suits me pretty well, too. While we are in this area we plan to explore a few other places along the coast. I would like to go to PV one day for lunch at my favorite restaurant on the beach, La Palapa. But for today, everything is just mañana.