Sunday, June 3, 2012

Celebrating 31 Years Lived in Mexico

I cannot believe the month of May is already over. I am sure it went by quickly due to the fact that I was out of the country the last part of April and then leaving the country again two weeks later. May is, naturally, one of my favorite months because it’s my birthday. Not only is it my birthday but the weather starts changing as the days become longer and the sun hotter. Per tradition, Chad and I took an international vacation for my birthday. I was worried he wouldn’t want to go anywhere seeing as I just got back from Costa Rica, but as I suspected he wanted to take a vacation as well. Since they are short handed at work he couldn’t get the whole week off which affected our choice in travel plans. Originally we wanted to go to Iceland, then Columbia, Panama, Guatemala…all those exotic locals. We were basically wanting some place warm with a beach and since we didn’t have a lot of time and wanted a direct flight in and out we picked Mexico.

Oh Mexico. It’s been years since I visited. You hear a lot of negative press about Mexico which makes one not want to go on a vacation there. Tourists being kidnapped and beheaded. Drug Cartels, random shootings. You could visit and never come home. So we decided to go to Puerta Vallarta knowing that it was a tourist town that was safe and over half the population relies on tourism and catering to such. Chad ended up getting a sweet deal on a hotel via hotwire so we stayed at the Sheraton which met my main requirements – on a beach and with a swim up bar.
I had never visited the Pacific Side of Mexico so I was unaware the beaches were not really the best. Where we stayed the sand was filled with rocks and so we spent most of our time poolside. However, when we walked down to the old town or “romantic zone” we saw the beaches were much better. The farther away you stay from the marina the better the beach but we were perfectly happy where we ended up. We could walk to shops and restaurants and were a short cab or bus ride to the marina.
Seeing as we only had a couple of days there we had to make the most of our time. I was unaware that Puerta Vallarta had some amazing night life (without all the crowds). On our first day we stayed at the hotel until close to dinner where we wandered around until we found a restaurant where we could enjoy our meal with a sunset over the ocean. Along the walk through town we found various attractions on the beach as well as shops where people were selling everything from flip flops to tequila. This is the low season for Mexico so everyone was looking to give us a deal to have us dine at their restaurant or buy their goods.

There were lots of clubs along the main strip on the beach that were also looking to get us in their doors. One bar was completely empty and they lured us in with free drinks then a two for one deal. The DJ took all our requests and we kept the shot girls who walked around occupied. At the end of the night our tab was $25 and it felt like highway robbery for how much we consumed. Here was the realization that yes, indeed, we had picked the right vacation destination.
We opted not to do our hotels “all inclusive” food and beverage package so drinking at the hotel swim up bar got a little pricey. We countered this by wandering around town and eating on the cheap. There was a grocery store nearby that had delicious pastries that we consumed for breakfast. For my actual birthday we went parasailing and were able to book the tour with one of the guys selling stuff on the beach. They had a rope up around the property and the vendors were not supposed to cross the rope but all these men would be out there selling bracelets, sarongs, hair braiding etc. and one was selling these tours. He was proud to say he wasn’t affiliated with any time shares which are a big deal down there. Most all the people selling tours also sell timeshares and they will try to get you to sign up to do a time share tour in exchange for a free excursion. In fact, when you leave the airport walk right past every single person trying to talk to you and head outside and find your own taxi. This will save you from paying too much for a cab and falling into the time share talk trap. The parasailing along the beach in front of the hotel was only one person so we ended up taking a cab to the marina for our tour where they could do two people at a time. It was nice to get out on the boat and over the water and to see a different part of the town. We ended up taking a bus back to our hotel which cost less than $2 for two people whereas the cab ride over charged us $10.

At the recommendation of a guest at the hotel we went to TheHappy Lobster for my birthday dinner. I would say this was one of the highlights of the trip. The restaurant is off the beaten path, if you will, and we had a coupon from the hotel front desk for 2 for one margs. The margaritas did not disappoint and neither did the seafood platter which we shared for around $60. The guacamole was fabulous (as it was every place we ate at down there as a matter of fact) as was the strolling mariachi band. Chad told the staff it was my birthday and the band came over and played for me and the waiter gave me a shot of tequila and a piece of flan cake. You can’t beat a birthday in Mexico!
By the last full day at the hotel we had wised up to buy a cooler and fill it with beer and keep it with us by the pool. The hotel staff did not appreciate this but we coerced them into letting us keep the booze on the beach where we would retrieve our beers as necessary. There were plenty of other people by the pool with coolers we pointed out so they couldn’t argue much with us after that. We basically found that whatever we did, and wherever we went, we were treated very well. The service was impeccable at each restaurant and there were deals to be had everywhere. If you stayed away from the time share selling guys you could pretty much guarantee a wonderful vacation in paradise. Our hotel also had a fantastic champagne brunch on Sunday (they have it every Sunday) which would have been well worth the $30 for all the food and mimosas had we not been feeling less than stellar after our night out on the town.

I would highly recommend Puerta Vallarta to anyone considering a vacation but especially if you don’t have a lot of time to enjoy paradise. The people were friendly, almost everyone speaks English, the food is amazing and you can drink like a fish and dance all night if you choose. We walked around at night and never had any issues with anyone bothering us at all. I would say to bring lots of cash with you as the ATM’s there charged me high fees for withdrawing money and cash is the currency of bargaining. Most every restaurant took visa/mastercard but if you are interested in booking tours or buying from the locals you will need cash. The rooms had safes to store everything in and going through customs in Mexico is a breeze. Visit one of the many tequila stores and bring home plenty for your friends as a souvenir and haggle with the locals for jewelry. 
Turning 31 in Puerta Vallarta was a memorable birthday and I am so thankful for my husband for arranging 
this amazing vacation for us. Usually I do all the planning, but finding a hotel was so easy for him he took charge! It was one place I can definitely say we will be returning too sooner rather than later!

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