So our first long distance bus didn’t go well, a short time into the trip I got travel sick, and continued to be sick for the whole remainder of the bus ride. Not fun.
We arrived in Puerto Vallarta and it was significantly warmer than Guadalajara, so we stripped off our warmer layers, popped our packs on our back (very gingerly for me as I could barely function) and walked out of the station. Tom hailed a bus and asked if he was going to Zona Romantica, the answer: “Si”, something in Spanish with hand gestures which we interpreted as “Yes, but in a roundabout way”, so on we jumped. I was very, very nervous about getting straight back on a bus (especially a local one) after the previous few hours, but the windows were open for a cool breeze and we were seated right at the front so had great vision. The bus was dodgy and the roads bumpy but somehow I perked up and we made it to our hostel.
We were welcomed enthusiastically by Axel and Gabi at the hostel, they were amazing hosts and so helpful about everything we could ask. Our room was small, with a bathroom that looked as though it had been transformed from a built in wardrobe, but the water pressure was great and the water hot (something I’m learning is infrequent in this country).
It was a gorgeous afternoon and we went for a walk to check out the Malecon; the board-walk which parallels the shore. There are interesting bronze statues dotted about every 100 meters or so to check out, the most famous one being The Seahorse. We soon came to realise how much of a tourist zone Puerto Vallarta is, with street vendors asking for your patronage every few metres. We got very used to saying “No, Gracias” and avoiding eye-contact.
On this particular evening we were still around the Malecon when the sun set, and it was gorgeous: pink and orange sky, palm trees and the ocean.
We were recommended a popular local Mexican restaurant for dinner, it was full and we had to wait outside for a short while until we could be seated. It was a nice meal until a few hours later when our bellies started to rumble ominously. Sure enough less than a week into our travel adventures we had a bout of food poisoning. The next 24 hours was a absolute write-off, we laboriously managed two very short walks, but quickly retreated back to the hostel to lie down. By evening we felt slightly more acceptable and decided to try eat something. Not being able to stomach anything vaguely Mexican we decided on Burger King; the very thought of a taco made us nauseous. Tom ate a Whopper and some chips but all I could manage were two chicken Tenders and a few chips.
The next morning we awoke feeling fresh and back to normal. But this was not where our troubles ended… While getting dressed for the day I realised that there were ants in my pack, lots of ants. We spent the next hour systematically going though my packing cells and shaking each piece of clothing into the shower.
So travel sickness, food poisoning and ant infestation, a bit of a rough start to our time in Puerto Vallarta.
The next few days went by smoothly, we explored Centro and Zona Romantica more, enjoying the beautiful weather. Pizza was the choice for dinner as we were still ‘off’ Mexican.
We took a local bus 30 minutes south to Boca de Tomatlan so we could get a water taxi to Yelapa. As soon as we touched down on the beach at Yelapa we realised that this bay, only accessible by water, was a giant tourist trap! There is a small but beautiful waterfall and some some sunbeds to lay on while you drink your overpriced up-sold drinks. A tip: if you are visiting and a local comes up to you holding an iguana, don’t hold the iguana or get photos of yourself holding said iguana,. Yes we got massively suckered into paying far too much for a lizard. We soon became sick of lying on the beach and went to do what we do best: explore. The small township was interesting and a completely different world to the beach and it’s tourism.
After returning to Puerto Vallarta we were hungry and discovered a panaderia (bakery) swarming in bees but with shelves full of delicious looking breads and pastries…Drool. While walked back down the Malecon stuffing face with custard bun we discovered that the vendors don’t harass you as much when you have food. Maybe they just didn’t want our sticky custardy fingers touching their stuff, fair enough.
The start of December is when Mexican’s celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe, and Puerto Vallarta obviously loves to celebrate. Each night we were there the festivities got bigger and noisier and later than the night before. The main streets were closed off, marching bands played the same tune on repeat as local groups trooped toward the Church and street vendors set up all along the surrounding streets. It was like a giant street party every night we were there. We left before the 12th which is the last day of celebration and most important day and I imagine it will be intense in town that night.
Our next day we took another local bus again to the south to see the Botanic Gardens which are very well rated on Trip Advisor. We picked up some buns from our new favourite place, the panaderia, for lunch and ensuring the insect repellent was in the backpack we hopped on the bus. This bus was a little longer, probably 30-40 minutes away and dropped us outside the gardens. We slathered ourselves in the repellent and set off. These gardens are more like the bush walks we would be used to back in New Zealand, not your typical manicured garden beds. Although saying that they cultivated orchids which were beautiful. The Botanic Gardens have a restaurant on the grounds as well which overlooks the valley with beautiful views down to the river. We ordered some guacamole which I had been craving for days and it didn’t disappoint. I love guacamole, pretty sure I could eat a bucketful of it.
Due to the days we wasted with food poisoning, we extended our stay at the hostel, bringing our total time in Puerto Vallarta to a week. This allowed us to join the hostel tour to Isla Marietas, a group of Islands out in the bay.
Jumping off the boat to swim to the island was awesome, the water was warm enough that I wasn’t a massive chicken complaining about the cold for once. The 100m swim took us through a cave to a hidden beach formed by a sink-hole. An incredible experience, and made us very happy that we had purchased a tough camera. The next stop at the side of another island was for people who wanted to check out a spot good for snorkelling. Tom happily jumped off the boat with his snorkel, mask and the camera but the waves were a little big for me to feel comfortable in doing so. I headed to the beach instead and splashed around in the waves there while the snorkellers made their way back to us.
If you are every in the area this is the one thing we recommend the most so don’t miss out on the islands tour!
Our stomach and brains were once again synchronised and we could eat Mexican again, so we headed to the street vendors. Over three evenings we ate burritas, tacos, cakes and baked potatoes from the street stalls and so far they are some of the best food we have had. For 30-50 peso ($3-5 dollars) each we were quite happy to continue eating this style of food.
In the morning we went out paddle-boarding with some others from the hostel. When I see people doing this sport I always think to myself how relaxing and tranquil it looks. I was wrong in a big way, maybe once you get used to the motions it could be relaxing but I was nowhere near that state. First challenge was to get out past the dumpy waves near the shore without getting slammed into the beach. I managed with assistance, Tom got a paddle-board to the ankle and still showcases an impressive graze from it. Both of us did eventually manage to get out onto the calmer water of the bay and spent half an hour wobbling around on the boards before Tom’s ankle got too sore and we headed back to the beach. I’d definitely give paddle-boarding another go. I don’t feel like the surf conditions gave me a fair assessment, next time I’ll do it on calmer water though.
The time had come to leave Puerto Vallarta and we had two buses booked to take us back to Guadalajara and onwards to our next destination.