Exploring Beautiful Blooms, Boardwalks, and Casual Dining in Puerto Vallarta

We spent the last five weeks of our roving retirement practicing slow travel in Puerto Vallarta, but we did visit lots of places. In our last article, we described the attractions of Riviera Nayarit, the area north of the airport. Here we describe the activities that we thought were interesting south of the Puerto Vallarta airport. The town of Puerto Vallarta was about 20 minutes away from our condo by car, depending on traffic. So it is close enough to go for dinner, strolling, shopping, or a doctor’s appointment anytime.

The Malecon

One of the main tourist areas in Puerto Vallarta (PV) is the Malecon, a 12-block, mile-long beachside promenade. Long a popular spot to hit bars, restaurants, and shops, its appeal increased greatly in 2011 when 80% of the length was converted to pedestrian-only.

Today, in addition to the aforementioned attractions, you can find nearly 20 sculptures.  The Papantla Pole Flyers also perform frequently for tips. Pole flying involves five men who climb a very tall pole. Then four men start spinning around the pole as they lower themselves to the ground, only hanging on by one foot. All the while one guy sits on top of the pole pounding a drum. Such flying goes back to a prehistoric tradition to invoke water during droughts. While strolling the Malecon can be entertaining, better shopping and restaurants can be found along the nearby side and parallel streets. Still, it is certainly worth a visit.

The Romantic Zone

The other main tourist area in PV just south of the Malecon is the Romantic Zone, which buzzes with activity most of the time. This densely populated area is also popular with the LGBTQ crowd, as evidenced by many rainbow murals dotting the neighborhood.

As is often the case with prideful places, there is vibrant energy. I think the bars and restaurants here have a bit more going on than those in and around the Malecon. Diana enjoyed watching pelicans fish near the Muelle de Playa Los Muertos pier there. Another cool spot is a park with colorful tiled benches, reminiscent of our visit to Parc Guell in Barcelona. Definitely another area to investigate if you have the time.

Booze Cruise

Our son and his girlfriend joined us early in our month+ in residence in the area. For a change of pace, we decided to take in a snorkel/booze cruise for the day. The mouth of Banderas Bay is roughly 25 miles wide. So, although we were staying entirely within the bay, it still took 90 minutes to cross the bay from the north part, near where we were staying, to the snorkel area at the Los Arcos Islands in the south end.

The sky was cloudy and silt hung in the water from a recent storm, making underwater visibility poor. As such, the snorkeling itself was nothing special. But we enjoyed the time on the water and caught some whales breaching along the way. Of course, the free-flowing cocktails and a nice lunch made it all worthwhile.

Floral Finds

Another day, we ventured 90 minutes south by car to the Vallarta Botanical Gardens. Had we been staying in the Romantic Zone, the trip would have been half as long. Public buses do pass by periodically, in case you were staying in town sans auto.

We spent a couple of pleasant hours traipsing the grounds, climbing down and back to visit a nearby river. There was plenty of flora to admire with many plants blooming. There is also a well-regarded restaurant, but we didn’t choose to partake. Still, the Salsa Fresca supplies did make it look inviting.

Tune-up Time

Typically, we try to address medical needs when staying an extended time in Mexico. There’s a reason Mexico is one of the top medical tourism destinations for US residents. Simply put, the availability of inexpensive care is considerably better than north of the border. Especially for non-invasive cosmetic procedures, which Diana sampled.

This time in PV was no exception. Diana found a great optometrist, so we both got new, inexpensive prescription glasses. Our son was even able to get a new pair during his week-long stay. We also got our teeth cleaned for $25 each. Appointments were easy to get and there was no need to pay dental or vision insurance premiums.

Diana went further, getting some work done on her knee and picking up some inexpensive meds without needing an Rx and at a fraction of the cost in the US. Her real score was getting steroid and Ozone injections into her back, providing immediate, non-invasive pain relief that may last for years. The procedure is not FDA approved but has been used in Europe and Central/South America for years. Not only did the knee and back procedures cost relatively little, but it looks like our international medical insurance is covering some of it via copay without applying our deductible!

Puerto Vallarta Food

We were a bit disappointed with our food choices when we dined in Puerto Vallarta. The fare and prices catered to tourists. Further, many places focus on shrimp and other seafood, which Diana cannot eat. One of our better finds was a taco fest at the cruise terminal. Seating was a little challenging due to the crowd, but the cheap eats were very tasty.

Our dinner at Pipi’s near the Malecon was fun, with a boisterous crowd of gringos feasting on nachos and fajitas (both of which are from Texas). Everyone enjoyed listening to the mariachis, too (not from Texas).

For my birthday, we went to Sonora Prime, a steak house on the north end of town. The prices are upscale, and the food is as well. We enjoyed some tasty dishes and desserts. I thought the brisket tacos were particularly good, but Diana wasn’t impressed. To each their own (and more for me :-))

Another night in the Romantic Zone, we visited Ok Jose! based on the recommendation of a friend. Perhaps we were there too early, but it was a bit too quiet there. Still, it’s hard to argue with the $12 combo fajitas after seeing what meals cost in the US these days.

Which beach towns float your boat?

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  1. Hi Mike – Not sure if the problem is at my end, but this website now renders with a lot of excess white space and no photos. The text is there but surrounded by pages of white space. The ads show up though. Seems like it might be a .css problem.

    I tried two browsers and tried a previous link that rendered OK before but is now “broken”.

  2. Bart, I just checked and everything seems to be working but I really want to thank you for telling us about the issue.

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