This post is in partnership with Visit Puerto Vallarta & Casa Velas.
To kick off my summer I spent six days adventuring in the stunning Mexican coastal town of Puerto Vallarta. The idea that all of my adventures, photos, and feelings I incurred while visiting Puerto Vallarta would fit into a single blog post is near impossible, but today I’m going to try. I feel most of my recent travels have been transformative, fitting perfectly into this summer for me.
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” -Henry Miller
Day 1, Arrival, welcome cocktails and “Arte en Popotillo” lesson at Velas Vallarta’s Presidential Suite.
Often times I find that the act of being in transit is never boring and that was certainly the case with my flights to Puerto Vallarta. I flew from San Jose, California to Phoenix, Arizona to Puerto Vallarta. My flight from San Jose was delayed (no surprise there!) so I was worried about making my connecting flight. I’m sure you can relate if you’ve ever done much air travel. Luckily I made my flight and was on my way. Once in PV I met up with my trusty photographer, Kate, and we made our way to the hotel.
After checking in and checking out our well-appointed room, I immediately began to explore the beautiful grounds of Casa Velas. An adults-only 5-star resort located in the Marina Vallarta district, the grounds left my plant-loving heart in a state of constant awe. I just can’t resist a good selection of tropical plants and the grounds here are like a gold mine of beautifully-cared for tropical foliage.
In the evening we headed to a welcome cocktail party in the presidential suite at their sister resort, Velas Vallarta. We joined in during a hands-on “Arte en Popotillo” demonstration. Working with the colored straw was a lot of fun and it earned a new level of respect for how talented the popotillo artists are. The sunset created a magnificent backdrop of red and pink sky to end our welcome party, a warm and colorful way to begin our trip.
Day 2, Historic walking tour of downtown, lounging by the pool, and dinner at Casa Velas Ocean Club.
The air hung heavy with humidity as the sun crested the horizon, spilling it’s warm morning glow on anything in it’s path. Instead of a longer distance for my morning run I opted for a higher incline and shorter duration to help mitigate my inability to handle the climate change. We enjoyed breakfast at Emiliano Restaurant with a selection of fresh-squeezed juices, healthy selections, and other specialties including huevos rancheros, chilaquiles, and macahaca (a personal favorite).
Recently named a protected Cultural Heritage area by the state of Jalisco, Puerto Vallarta’s downtown area is a delight to explore. On our walking tour we learned about the rich history of the area from it’s founding to modern times. The famed Malecon features a plethora of restaurants, shops, bars, and other attractions including popular sights such as the Church of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the central plaza (be sure to catch the dancing on Sunday evening!), and Los Muertos Pier.
We returned to our hotel mid-day to cool off and relax by the pool. Much of our time was spent here as the picturesque oversized pool is so easy to enjoy. It never felt crowded and the poolside service and swim-up bar made it even moreso. I must have adjusted to the lifestyle there quite quickly because I didn’t crawl out of the pool until a few minutes before our evening paint and wine activity at Casa Velas Ocean Club.
The painted waves on our canvas matched the sounds of the waves outside and I must admit that despite not doing much painting in my life, I had more fun than I thought I would. Afterward we enjoyed an other-worldy sunset dinner next to the beach. The sound of the waves and the colors of the sky added to the ambiance in all the right ways as The Moon chased The Sun and Venus followed behind.
Puerto Vallarta, I’m in love and I’ve only known you a couple of days.
Day 3, El Salado Estuary, a relaxing massage, and dinner in the romantic zone.
I always go on trips with the intent to workout every day but I usually end up being so active the whole time that I simply don’t have it in me. Today is the day I officially gave up on planned workouts. A delicious breakfast of coffee, machaca, avocado, and mangos (seriously what my dreams are made of, ha!) made for a terrific start to my day before heading out on more adventures.
El Salado Estuary is located in the heart of Puerto Vallarta and while it features 135 hectares of mangrove and marsh vegetation, the urban estuary is much larger in size. Always cautious of mosquitos (they love to bite me), I loaded up on repellent before a boat ride through the mangrove forest where we got to view animals ranging from a baby crocodile to a flighty Yellow-Crowned Night Heron (above). The tower offers near 360-degree views of Puerto Vallarta and is heavily guarded by vultures (kidding, sort-of). After our boat ride we visited with other resident animals such as a peregrine falcon and rescued raccoon named Valentina with a thirst for toes.
Back at Casa Velas, I had a date for a relaxing massage at the spa. I always love to indulge in a massage while I travel because it helps me to relax and try to get out of “work mode”. A 50-minute relaxation massage was a nice way to wind down before dinner. The romantic zone of Puerto Vallarta is known for it’s smaller cobblestone streets and good eats, and our dinner locale was in the heart of it. Azafrán restaurant opened in October of 2017 and uses fresh local produce in it’s European-inspired cuisine. All of the starters and main courses can be ordered to share.
Day 4, ATV riding, and zip lining through the forest, and street taco tour,
The morning light was soft and forgiving as dawn broke on the eastern horizon. Dew covered most of the plants and the peacocks were quiet, not quite ready for the day. Our group on the other hand, was ready for a day of adventure. We loaded up into the shuttle and took a ride along the Río Cuale to Canopy River Park. Canopy River is an ecotourism company which means they are both socially responsible and committed to environmental protection. They are even a member of the Select Group advised by the Mexican National Forestry Commission.
After getting geared up with helmets and bandanas we went through a brief tutorial about how to ride the ATV’s and we were off on our way. Riding through the Sierra Madre mountains on ATV’s was dusty but lots of fun. During our ATV tour we rode to El Salto waterfall and took turns jumping off of the cliff next to it. The water was refreshing after being covered in dust from our ride. Afterward we rode back up the mountain and across Jorullo Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the world (It’s 1,592 feet long and 492 feet off the ground!).
Our next adventure was on Canopy River’s Zip Line Tour with lines as long as 2,132 feet and as tall as 709 feet high. They suited us up and made sure we were comfortable on a few beginner lines before moving onto the longer, faster, and higher up lines. I am terrified of heights and am prone to motion sickness but managed to have a good time by focusing on the end of the line. There is one line with an ocean view that I looked out toward the ocean for and I don’t regret it one bit. The last line dunks you into a river before you hop on a really cute mule to take you back up to the top of the mountain.
In the theme of adventure, dinner did not disappoint. Lindsay from Vallarta Food Tours did a superb job leading us around downtown Puerto Vallarta to 8 different stops, a new culinary adventure at each one. Being someone who has severe food allergies, I was amazed at her ability to mitigate my dietary restrictions while still being a great host to everyone else that evening. I never imagined one day that beef cheek tacos would become a favorite, but they were amazingly delicious.
Day 5, Thriller jet boat ride, poolside relaxation, and dinner out.
This morning’s agenda included a Thriller Jet Boat Tour by Vallarta Adventures and while I didn’t make it to the tour (see above mention of motion sickness), several from our group did and enjoyed every minute. I find that as I get older I’m not able to handle the kind of motion that I used to.
A lot of the day was spent slowing down after the previous adventures. It was nice to be able to simply relax and enjoy the beautiful grounds of Casa Velas for a day. In the evening the hotel offered complimentary (for all guests) beer tasting and pairings as an activity. Afterward we headed to dinner at Almacen Gourmet, a nearby organic kitchen and bar.
We dined on the patio at Almacen Gourmet while the sun set and the ambiance was perfect. Inside the decor is modern-industrial with a DJ spinning, a plant wall, and one of the most unique bathroom’s I’ve ever seen. The sink is a giant tub filled with an herb garden. It makes me wonder if I can put plants in my shower, ha.
Day 6, Coastal sightseeing, beach club hangs, and a gourmet farewell dinner.
On our final day of adventures we went on a boat cruise across the Bay of Banderas with Mike’s Fishing. It was nice to take in Puerto Vallarta’s iconic skyline from a different view as well as experience some of the wildlife that calls this beautiful area home. We cruised by Los Arcos and went on to enjoy lunch at Mike’s Beach Club. During my time there I ventured to the end of the sandy beach and back, spent some time in a lounge chair, and paddle boarded around the area.
Our farewell dinner was at Emiliano, a casually elegant restaurant inside Casa Velas hotel. While it is casual during the day, it transforms to something much more elegant at night. The nearby Koi Ponds add to the ambiance and the service is impeccable at any time of day.
Day 7, Departure.
“Travel often brings you to learn more about yourself as you learn about the world around you.”
I can’t even begin to sum up all of the feelings and love I have for this trip as they are indescribable, but I hope this post did it some justice.
This post is in partnership with Visit Puerto Vallarta and Casa Velas Hotel who were kind enough to host me while they showed me more of what this beautiful destination has to offer. Thank you for helping to support the sponsors that make life here at Hej Doll a little sweeter.
Photos of Jessica by Kate Skogen.
Have you been to Puerto Vallarta? Any places you would add to this list? I’d love to hear!