Friday, July 12, 2024

An insider’s guide to a perfect weekend in Puerto Vallarta

A quick Google search of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta reveals a laundry list of the classics: hit the beach, stroll through the Malecon, eat and drink in the Zona Romantica. Those are all solid suggestions and should be on anyone’s first itinerary to Puerto Vallarta — they are classics for a reason. But for those of us who live here, they tend to be a little generic and sometimes a little overplayed.

I’ve been calling Puerto Vallarta home for five years now, though my relationship with the city goes back a decade. Despite that, I still find myself discovering new sides and personalities of this place every time I’m home. What’s even better is when I get to show friends and family my Puerto Vallarta — the things that have become my favorites even after so many years of hitting the same cobblestone streets.

Near Puerto Vallarta, there are quiet beaches to rest from the bustle of tourists. (Meagan Drillinger)

So, if you’re looking for an insider’s guide to a perfect weekend in Puerto Vallarta, here is my personal itinerary, which mixes in the classic highlights with little nuggets that you’d only know if you were truly a local.

Friday

You’ll be spoiled for choice when searching for hotels in Puerto Vallarta, but I always recommend that visitors stay at Casa Kimberly. It’s more than just a fabulous boutique hotel — it’s an experience. The opulent Mediterranean-style villa was a gift from Richard Burton to Elizabeth Taylor, and the two carried on a not-so-secret affair when he was in Puerto Vallarta filming the now-iconic “Night of the Iguana.”

Pass through the wrought-iron gate, head up the stone stairs, and beneath glittering chandeliers — careful not to get locked in the blue-eyed stare of the larger-than-life portrait of Liz hanging in the lobby. Then it’s off to one of the nine individually decorated suites, each of which has sweeping balconies with panoramic views over the terracotta-tiled roofs nestled between ridges of moss-colored peaks, and the cobalt-colored Bay of Banderas below.

After settling in, head towards the buzzy, slightly less touristy 5 de Diciembre neighborhood. This area, brimming with restaurants, coffee shops, and souvenir stands has one of the best beaches in Puerto Vallarta, and with that comes one of the best beach restaurants, El Solar. Grab a table on the sand or the elevated wooden deck for the perfect PV welcome.

Casa Kimberly. (Meagan Drillinger)

The pocket-sized restaurant/bar enjoys one of the best addresses in town, with a prime beachfront location and a menu of fresh seafood, ceviches, salads, and more. I always like to order a Crunchy Salad, Tuna Poke, and the Baja-style Shrimp Tacos. Plan your visit just before sunset so you’ll have the best seat in the house for one of Puerto Vallarta’s epic evening displays.

After you’ve had your fill of fresh seafood, great music, and perhaps a cerveza or two, take your time walking the Malecon back towards Zona Romántica and Casa Kimberly. Be back on your terrace before 9 p.m. to catch the nightly fireworks show over the bay.

Saturday

Morning

It’s an early start to the day as you’ll be taking one of the most beautiful beach hikes in Puerto Vallarta. Walk down from Casa Kimberly’s hilltop perch and follow the cobblestone streets toward Zona Romántica’s Olas Altas Farmer’s Market, held every Saturday. Grab a coffee and a bite to eat at Crema Vallarta, a lovely little coffee shop with hearty breakfast sandwiches and pastries. It’s woman-and-locally-owned, too, which I love to support.

After breakfast, head to the corner of Constitución y Calle Basilio Badillo to grab the white-and-orange bus to Boca de Tomatlan. The bus fare is roughly 10 pesos and the ride is about 30 minutes. From Boca, follow the signs towards the Colomitos hike, which is down the hill from the highway and to the left at the back of the large public parking area.

This 2.5-mile moderate hike takes about two hours from Boca de Tomatlán to Playa Las Animas and hugs the coastline for the entire route. The trail frequently opens up from rocky vistas overlooking crashing surf to some of the most beautiful and undeveloped beaches in the area. You can stop at any of the beaches to take a dip, but I like to save my swimming for close to the end, just before Playa Las Animas.

Afternoon

Before you reach Playa Las Animas you will hit the bohemian beach hideaway of Casitas Maraika. This funky, artsy beach club has a secluded stretch of sand and is only accessible by boat or hike. A collection of hilltop bungalows is available to rent for the night. Still, daytrippers can reserve a table at the beach club for an al fresco lunch that is practically begging to be photographed — impossibly blue water, powder-soft white sand, and a barefoot, boho vibe. This is where I like to spend the afternoon bouncing back and forth between the water and mouthfuls of fish burrito and guacamole.

A delicious shrimp taco at Abulón. (Meagan Drillinger)

When you’ve had your fill, continue to the much more hectic and crowded Playa Las Animas to grab the water taxi back to Boca de Tomatlán. Take a taxi or the bus back to Puerto Vallarta and head to Casa Kimberly for a little rest and refresh before heading out for the evening.

Evening

After a shower (or a soak in your beautiful Casa Kimberly bathtub), head down to the hotel’s The Iguana Restaurant & Tequila Bar for a cocktail. Be sure to steal another glance at that view — it is the best in town.

Then it’s off to dinner — but the good news for your already-tired feet is you don’t have to go very far. A quick walk down the steps just outside the hotel will put you on the banks of the Rio Cuale. Here you’ll find Tintoque, one of Puerto Vallarta’s best restaurants for fine dining. 

I say fine dining, but Puerto Vallarta is a perpetually casual town, so the restaurant atmosphere is far from stuffy, white-glove service. Instead, the dining room is chic, but comfortable, with a lovely al fresco patio overlooking the river. The menu here changes regularly, but expect dishes like tuna sashimi with capers, fresh burrata, or short ribs that fall right off the bone.

If you’re still burning with energy, grab a nightcap at dive bar El Soñador, or dance it out to 90s and early 00s hits at Mr. Flamingo’s. You can also head towards Centro for swanky cocktails and a speakeasy vibe at El Colibri

Sunday

Morning

Today is a day to sleep in, especially if you enjoyed PV’s nightlife to the fullest last night. Have a relaxed coffee on your breezy terrace and watch the boats gently drift back and forth across the bay. 

This morning is about mindfulness, spirituality, and healing at the gorgeous Terra Noble. This jungle-shrouded healing center is nestled in the mountains overlooking Puerto Vallarta. The spectacular space feels like it’s out of a castaway-style adventure with tiered terraces, broad palapas, sparkly plunge pools, and thick jungle foliage showing off every shade of green. The center specializes in everything from massage and sound baths to cacao circles, reiki, and temazcal.

Afternoon

Grounded, centered, and showing off a vibrating, newly cleansed aura, it’s time for one last meal in Puerto Vallarta, except that you’ll make this experience many meals in one with a snack-hopping tour around Versalles.

Versalles is one of Puerto Vallarta’s hottest neighborhoods, particularly when it comes to food. This growing neighborhood of locals and expats has seen a high concentration of restaurants opening up at lightning speed. Easily walkable, you can stroll down any of its European city-named streets for a dizzying array of international cuisine.

I like to recommend a stop at El Puerco de Oro, a humble hole-in-the-wall that specializes in one thing only: a super succulent pork belly taco atop a blue corn tortilla. It’s easy to eat three or four of these, but you’re going to want to save some room because the next stop is nearby Abulón, Antojería del Mar. This outdoor seafood eatery is known for its ceviche, tacos, and tostadas. The shrimp tacos al pastor and La Mulata Tostada (spicy tuna, lime juice, chicharron) are two must-orders.

If you still have space to spare, you can visit Lamara for outstanding ceviches and aguachile, or close it out with one of Puerto Vallarta’s very best fish tacos at Marisma Fish Taco. 

Loosen the belt a notch or two and take a deep breath. After this whirlwind weekend itinerary in Puerto Vallarta, you can say with absolute conviction that you have seen, experienced, and eaten the very best of PV — and you did it in true insider style.

Meagan Drillinger is a New York native who has spent the past 15 years traveling around and writing about Mexico. While she’s on the road for assignments most of the time, Puerto Vallarta is her home base. Follow her travels on Instagram at @drillinjourneys or through her blog at drillinjourneys.com

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