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Puerto Vallarta Mini Travelog

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Written by Joel Lowy.

My read ahead about the town included using three major travel guides, Fodor’s, Frommer’s and Lonely Planet and a “specialty” book called Hidden PV. They of course overlap a good deal but each does some areas a little better than the others. Best map – Lonely Planet followed by Frommers for restaurants – but Fodor had great shopping tips. There are several good web sites – just search engine Puerto Vallarta . Adding a category like art galleries or festivals brings up additional info. Below is not intended to be comprehensive or necessarily duplicate what’s in the guides – but a comment on what I discovered and did that was special to me.

People were great and one of the best reasons to go. Both of us, and then I alone, got out of the primary tourist areas. Guarded looks quick turned to smiles with a simple Hola or Buenos Dios (about the extent of my Spanish). In shops and restaurants keeping with the social niceties, good morning, how are you, good, how are you etc. made for genuine friendly interactions. PV is, at least in the old town area, a small town. Rarely, (and mostly in the “big touristy places”) did the smile feel like part of the job. But even then taking time for a bit of a jaw (as a Texan friend said) generally broke the ice.

I always visit local groceries and “regular” stores – Woolworth’s and Lans (local dept store). I get some of my best “for the office and friends” gifts – local candy and hot chocolate this time (oddly no where served traditional water and corn based hot chocolate for breakfast). One “lesson learned” is their food and clothing costs are about the same as DC when converted. Transportation seems cheap to us (taxis are everywhere and 5-6 dollars from Centro to Hotel Zone). Don’t know housing costs. But clearly for service industry folks it’s likely hard to make ends meet. So think about tipping well (service was truly deserving) including when not expected (taxi drivers) – For example never had one who tired to run up the fare. Some had enough English and could have a good chat (see above). Also the town is safe by all accounts – one young hotel staff member told me she was from Mexico City – really liked PV and one best things as single women had no worries being anywhere even late at night.

PV is promoting itself as the place to go for “good eats” as Alton Brown would say. It’s not hype!! The only not so exciting food was the standard fair at an all inclusive, good, but shown up by the much better offerings on the outside. In fairness we had two meals done specially for the conference and those we very well done. Service, venue on the beach, sunset, food good and well prepared and kept that way despite an outdoor buffet- – with special touches (really fun Mexican sweets at one).

Out on our own as we had only 3 days we chose to go mostly towards the high end – after all our one vacation since last year. Places we went included: Café de Artiste (billed as the best in PV), Trio, Daiquiri Dick’s (breakfast and dinner), Esquina de los Capricios (tapas), La Palapa (breakfast on beach) and Kaiser Maximilian for light breakfast. La Palomas for post flight early snack (which did for dinner). I had a late lunch at Barcelona Tapas. Service was great and friendly everywhere. Stand out for us was Trio – had a running conversation with the wait staff about food, PV and the restaurant. They were nice enough after dinner to show us the areas of the converted house not open that night – including the funky cement light up bar (great space for a private party/reception) – as was the roof top. Best dishes from all the places we visited – well all of them – really the food was as good as any of DC’s best – and we’re a very competitive town at the top end. So here is the pick of the litter from the dishes we had – but let me repeat items not mentioned and all the places were very good – these are the exceptional ones that I’ll be pining for some night when all I have time for is a peanut butter sandwich at home, in no particular order Wild mushroom soup with truffle oil (Trio) – Fish on a stick (DD’s) – really fresh – nice char taste – Squash blossom omelet with huitelacoche mushrooms at La Palapa (warning these are very black soft mushrooms are not everyone’s cup of tea – but they are mine – in DC not easy to find – so a “treat”) – Grilled Eggplant with tomato sauce (BT) – Cinnamon Roll & fruit at KM (our 1 st hotel room was just above the café and we kept smelling the cinnamon) – Refried beans “side” to our chili con queso and a bunch of local condiment sauces (La Paloma) – Cheese torta (think pizza with no crust – E de C) – Steak was exceptional (C de A). Best space – the inner courtyard garden space at Café de Artiste – “magical” gets over used but it was. But so was that first breakfast on the beach at La Palapa, watching the pier traffic and magpies (they steal the sugar and hide it).

So here are the ones we/I “walked by” or were recommended by folks around town – sometimes got a look at the food (drool) sometime just the menu – but sorry to have missed out – Guess that means …. Ok – El Aryran – traditional Mexican – Waffle House –Boca Bento – Kaiser Maximilian (dinner menu) – Seafood café (don’t know the name) and the roast chicken places next to GR Supermarket, – Joe & Jack’s Fish Shack – River Café, Oscars, Paris Café – not to mentions the coffee places like PV in the Sun and Coffee Cup. Most of the street food – especially the ones that everyone in the ‘hood flocked to the minute they opened – lots of fun watching the one on Carranza, the one in front of Woolworth’s and the ones near the plaza and up on Allende and Mirimar – Nope didn’t have the nerve to try any of them – so can’t say how they were or if ok for us out of towners (not even the one with the Nuns chowing down – but they were having a good nosh). This is not inclusive – so if some one gives you a recommendation & the posted menu looks good give it a try.

Other fun food – Tequila tasting at La Casa de Tequila. These guys are not (obviously) tied to specific brand. Good start in sorting type for a pure novice and a start on understanding mixers, better mixers from “sipping whiskey – err tequila). Got to try one very premium ($95/liter) and it was gooood – not just smooth but complex start to finish. Prices were pretty close to one another around town – local grocery and wine/liquor store having the best prices – but even the “company” stores didn’t seem like a bad deal. But do learn a bit if, like me you know nothing (blanco vs. anjeo vs. resposado for starters) – and price things at home to better know what isn’t locally available. In our stores we can get a whole lot of brands from $10 to $90 – so without doing my home work I didn’t know what I could get at home and what to load up the suit case with.

OK – I wish I could eat and drink all day – but….So I walked around town. It reminds me of pictures I’ve seen of European hill towns. Steep streets, cobble stones and lots and lots of steps. Warning the up and down is mostly as you go from the shore up the hills – but there are pretty good ups and downs going “cross country” parallel to the beach. But worth the views from the higher streets. And lots of interesting homes – pocket gardens and some fabulous villas tucked into side streets – modern Mexican architecture is some of the world’s best (can I be adopted and live here?). I’ve divided my walks into a couple of different ones. But the central area is really a small town and 2-3 of these can be done in a day. Up Basido Badillo all the way to the bridge at end of the street (this is not the ones crossing the river island – then any and all the parallel and cross streets. This will be lots of the tourist area – but then up into more of the resident’s town. Start at the edge of Centro near the far end (beyond the Hotel Rosita) lots of shops that are for both residents and visitors – the square (Parque Hildago) on Saturday had a great craft market sponsored by a local guild. Explore the older areas of the near beach condos in this section – and the widest beaches. Then walk up hill past the Woolworth’s toward Cafe de Artiste. Walk streets like Mirimar or higher to Guerreo. Walk from the beach the length of the river island. Close to the shore is the Anthropology Museum. Small but very well done exhibits on Pre-Columbian Jalisco. Several of the guide named restaurants are close by. The usual less expensive souvenir open air shops and markets are here. Don’t miss the watercolor painters under the bridge – nicely done for $50 and under. Cross over Insugentes and keep walking. Several very nice cafés art galleries are in this area and home of the PV arts association. One of the few places selling local textiles is the cotton house with a weaver demonstrating the craft. There of course the markets with all the typical jewelry, linen, iron wood and tin ware items. Don’t miss the two swinging bridges. Walk the “Blue Chairs” area – nice little cafes – lots of buff guys. Some of the older condos are here and there are clearly lots of folks hanging out on the beach who are regular visitors – regular beach umbrella, bucket of cold ones, beach cafés for a drink, and a good book or conversation with their neighbors. And of course sun and warmth.

Shopping. First the art galleries – fine or craft. Few enough – looks like more coming but more than enough to make for most of a full day if you stop to really look and chat. Be sure and get the art guide which has a map and do the Wed art walk. Like everywhere lots that is good and a smaller percentage that is amazing. Most are in Centro and most near Cafe de Artiste but don’t miss the few in Romantica. My favorites were Bustemante’s, Galarie Dante, Corsica , Thierre Bouet, Galeria de Ollas, Galeria AL but don’t miss any as your tastes are not mine. Walking down Guerrero near Galeria 8 (closed – but thru the window good stuff) was a working painters’ cooperative (Art Corner). Galaria Dante as well as some others had miniatures of some of the wonderful work along the malecon (great but you don’t need me to find the full size ones) – it and had many rooms and more of the edgy type of work I associate with Mexican fine art.

Other shopping – Peyote People and Gallery of Huichol Indian Art (both near Trios Restaurant) for Huichol and bead and yarn work. Lucy’s Cucu which had some of the best of what I think of as Mexican crafts (a must stop for cat lovers – ask them about the rescue work – good map on their ad card). Galleria Alpaca – great traditional doramas, jewelry and knitted alpaca work. Silver Sun just off Basilo also for jewlery. There is nothing like the Taxo heavy silver jewelry of Mexico – designs, craft and profligate use of the silver makes for great pieces. Again – we do it all so certainly other great shops to find.

We didn’t get out for the night life much. But I did “check out” some spots in town. Lots fun bars in Romantica. Up in the hotel zone is J&B (club inside like the 40’s movies – tables with dance floor and band stand) Blanco & Niger clearly small and intimate. De Santo roof top was pretty quite on a Monday as would be expected – but really nice to be above the city in a techno/trance type space (which was the house sound that night). Barecellona deTapas and Chez Elena would be great at night. And don’t miss Sunday night on the central/church plaza – every one turns out for the local band stand concert, dancing and sometimes special events at Los Arcos amphitheater just across from the main plaza. Sunday that we were there was very professional dance troupe doing a “tour” of regional dances. Interesting to see how much they owe to flamenco without being the same. The crowd was about 2/3 local and having a great time.

So all that I can think of for now – I’d go back in a shot obviously – and maybe this time really try to just sit on the beach with some long necks and…but then there is the bird tours, horse back riding and snorkeling – and I wish I could get to see a manta ray or whale up close…