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As people start to make their holiday plans, we head south of the border for some sea and sun for today’s Destination of the Week to one of Mexico’s all-round best vacation destinations: Puerto Vallarta.
WHAT TO DO
Ever since Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor spent a few languid months in what was then a sleepy fishing village on the Mexican Riviera while Burton was filming Night of the Iguana in 1964, Puerto Vallarta has been on every jetsetter’s map.
Today it continues to be one of Mexico’s most gracious vacation spots thanks to a charming central town with gourmet restaurants and beautiful art galleries (not to mention a healthy dose of spring break-style nightclubs), wide beaches with gentle surf along the expansive Bahia de Banderas, adventure and aquatic sports, a plethora of resort-style hotels, and a balmy climate with year-round sunshine (though it does get rather sticky and humid during the late summer and early autumn rainy season). It’s also been spared the spate of recent violence in Mexico that have depressed tourism numbers in other prominent destinations like Cancun and Acapulco.
Puerto Vallarta is actually several destinations in one straddling the border of the Mexican states of Jalisco and Nayarit. In the center is the town of Puerto Vallarta itself, presided over by a singular cathedral tower topped with a crown, with buildings cascading down jungly mountainsides right up to the water’s edge along the Malecon – a mostly pedestrianized boardwalk fringed with restaurants, bars and shops, where street vendors sell souvenirs and trinkets, and buskers perform everything from mariachi music to puppet shows.
The city has long been a foodie favorite, and popular restaurants include Daiquiri Dick’s for lobster tacos right on the beach, Trio and Café Des Artistes in the quieter streets above town for some of the city’s best gourmet dining experiences, and just across the street, a buzzing little place called Pipi’s that’s gotten quite touristy thanks to sizzling skillets of fajitas and margaritas the size of Spanish galleons that help guests get into the groove with blaring mariachi music.
Try your luck bargaining in the clothes and jewelry shops along Calles Morelos and Juarez just a couple blocks inland from the Malecon, or stroll along Olas Altas and Basilio Badillo streets in the Zona Romantica across the Rio Cuale from the heart of town to pop your head in to charming little boutiques and galleries selling Mexican arts and handicrafts. Puerto Vallarta has long been Mexico’s gay-friendliest destinations, so this area is also the city’s gay nightlife hub.
On your way south out of town, you’ll pass the tony hillside mansions and condos of Conchas Chinas, and then continue around the bay to the quieter beaches of La Jolla de Mismaloya. Stop in for a sunset drink in the hills overlooking the Pacific and the city at Le Kliff.
The airport is a few miles north of the city, and between the two lies the area’s main hotel zone, where most of the resorts are based, and the Marina, where international cruise ships dock for day trips and overnights. The Marina also has tons of shops for gifts and souvenirs, as well as upscale restaurants. It’s touristy, but an easy place to hang out for a few hours when you want to get off the beach.
Continuing farther north past the airport and across the border into Nayarit brings you to Nuevo Vallarta, a new resort development that has become absolutely huge over the past few years and contains all-inclusive resorts, and timeshare-style hotels and condo buildings along wide, sandy beaches.
Finally, about 45 minutes north of there on the peninsula that separates the Bahia de Banderas from the open ocean is the private resort area of Punta Mita, where you’ll find upscale resorts like the Four Seasons and the St. Regis, as well as two golf courses, and a tiny fishing village with a row of restaurants that serve the fresh catch of the day on platters heaped with fish and seafood.
Although it’s easy to just sit by the pool or on the beach as the days go by, Puerto Vallarta offers tons of adventure and nature activities for tourists looking to get out for a few days. From December-March, whale watching is one of the most popular activities. Visitors can also go out to spot sea turtles, snorkel and scuba dive around the island nature preserves of Yelapa and the Marietas, ocean kayak, bird watch, go deep sea fishing, mountain bike and explore the jungle in canopy tours. Among the area’s most respected adventure outfitters are Vallarta Adventures and Ecotours Vallarta, which both offer a plethora of activities at a variety of price points.
With a thriving town center, a vibrant arts and nightlife scene, plenty of nature adventures and family-friendly resorts, Puerto Vallarta is a great destination if you’re considering a Mexican vacation this winter.
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these.
There are many U.S. carriers that offer non-stop service to Puerto Vallarta. Delta offers service from Atlanta, Salt Lake City and seasonally from Detroit, Los Angeles and Minneapolis/St. Paul; American flies from Dallas and seasonally to Chicago and San Francisco. United does its thing from Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, and Newark. US Airways flies direct to Phoenix and Virgin America to San Francisco. Alaska Airlines jets to Los Angeles, Seattle, and seasonally San Diego ( although see how that turned out with a 7-hour flight delay last month). Several Canadian carriers such as Air Canada and WestJet also have several flights a day from Canadian cities seasonally including Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal. Mexican carriers like Aeromexico and Volaris also offer services, including non-stop to Los Angeles and San Diego on Aeromexico. Priority Pass members can access the airport’s VIP Lounge.
The easiest way to get into town is to take a taxi, which will run you about $20, or about $50 for a van if you’ve got a large party with a lot of luggage. Hotels also offer shuttle services, but those tend to be quite expensive – around the $80-$100 mark.
A major resort destination, Puerto Vallarta has tons of points options for vacationers.
Hilton Puerto Vallarta Resort: Just opened in July of this year, this beachfront all-inclusive resort is located between the airport and the city of Puerto Vallarta in the Marina district. All meals including buffets and a la carte dining options, unlimited beverages, 24-hour room service, daytime activities, recreational amenities, and nightly entertainment for all guests are included in room rates. Guest rooms offer private balconies and views of the Sierra Madre mountain range or the Bay of Banderas. Rooms have 32-inch LCD TV’s, safes, mini fridges, and the Hilton Serenity Bed with Suite Dreams mattress. Guests have a choice of the a pools from either the courtyard pool or the oceanfront infinity pool. There is a fitness center and spa on-site and for those renting a car, valet parking is included for all the rooms. Rates in October begin at $299 a night. As this is an all-inclusive property, this is part of Hilton’s Distinctive Awards which require 60,000 Hilton HHonors points per night.
CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa: This waterfront property is also in the Marina and has 404 guest rooms and 29 suites featuring colorful Mexican-inspired decor. The rooms have Marriott’s white Revive bedding and marble bathrooms. There are several pools both indoor and outdoor including a kids club outdoor pool. The hotel has a fitness center and offers many classes such as pilates, yoga and spinning. It is also home to the largest spa in Puerto Vallarta, the Ohtli Spa, which has expansive facilities with hot Roman baths, a sauna, steam room and a cold plunge pool. When it comes to dining, the main restaurant, La Estancia, features Mexican cuisine and is open for breakfast and dinner. There is also a Japanese restaurant called Mikado, a seafood restaurant, Las Casitas, and an American sports bar, Champions. Rates in October begin at $1o9 a night. This is a Marriott Category 5 property, and requires 25,000 Marriott Rewards Points (20,000 with PointSavers) for a free-night redemption.
InterContinental Presidente Puerto Vallarta: Located 10 minutes south of central Puerto Vallarta along the way to Mismaloya, this property contain 97 rooms and 23 suites including newly redecorated oceanview suites, each with a private terrace, and they start at 680 square feet. Dining options include the open-air Frutas y Flores, which serves Mexican and eclectic international dishes all day long. For lunch, there is also the Caña Brava snack bar. The hotel has a on-site fitness center, business center, Aura Spa and outdoor pool for guests to use. Rates in October start at $89 or 30,000 Priority Club points.
There is also the 220 room Holiday Inn Resort Puerto Vallarta which will run you $66 or 25,000 Priority Club points per night.
The Westin Resort & Spa, Puerto Vallarta: This property has 280 guestrooms with Mexican colonial-style architecture and private balconies. Rooms contain amenities like plasma TV’s and WiFi access, and offer Westin’s Heavenly Bed and Bath products. Club level guests and SPG Platinum members have access to the Royal Beach Club which serves continental breakfast, complimentary cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. The Spa at the Westin offers a beachfront setting with both indoor and outdoor treatment areas, whirlpools, saunas, steam rooms, hydrotherapy facilities and a salon. In addition to the two outdoor swimming pools with a swim-up bar, guests also have access to the Westin Workout facilites, tennis courts and kids can use the Westin Kids Club. Dining options includes El Palmar Restaurant and the Arrecifes Seafood & Steakhouse. Rates in October start at $89 a night. This is a Category 2 hotel requiring 3,000- 4,000 Starpoints for a free night.
Sheraton Buganvilias Resort and Convention Center: This massive hotel’s central location makes it ideal for exploring the town of Puerto Vallarta, its restaurants and nightlife. Guest rooms have 32-inch plasma TV’s, Sheraton’s Sweet Sleeper beds and in-room safes. Club level guests and SPG Platinum members have access to the club lounge which serves complimentary breakfast, afternoon hors d’oeuvres and a offers variety of beverage options. The hotel provides complimentary wireless internet access in all guest rooms. Dining outlets include the La Villita Restaurant, Las Gaviotas, and La Palapa Bar. Guests may enjoy the on-site Sheraton Spa, fitness center, four lighted tennis courts, and large pool area with several waterfalls. Rates in October start at $130 a night. This is a Category 4 hotel requiring 10,000 Starpoints for a free night.
The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort: This sprawling property on the Punta Mita resort contains 120 huge rooms and suites starting at over 600 square feet. The rooms have local Mexican art and handcrafted items as well as have private outdoor showers. As this is a St. Regis, rooms come equipped with a host of luxury amenities such as 37-inch plasma TV’s, marble and onyx bathrooms with double sinks, Remède spa products, iPod Docks and wireless internet access. Guests have access to two Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses and tennis courts on the property. For those looking to indulge, the hotel also has a Remède Spa with a sauna, steam room, fitness center, salon, Jacuzzi, cold plunge pools and relaxation gardens. There are also several pools to choose ranging from the two-level family pool, the infinity edge Beach Club Pool, and adults-only pool. Dining includes the Mediterranean-style Sea Breeze Restaurant & Bar, the Mexican-inspired, Las Marietas Restaurant & Bar, and the hotel’s signature restaurant, Carolina. Rates in October start at $399 a night. This is a Category 6 hotel requiring 20,000 Starpoints for a free night. This is also a member of the Visa Signature Hotel collection.
Fine Hotels and Resorts
Fine Hotels & Resorts is a program exclusively for American Express Platinum Card cardholders, who are eligible for extra benefits such as room upgrades, free continental breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more.
Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita: Located in the tony Punta Mita luxury resort development about an hour north of town, the Four Seasons has just 173 guest rooms and suites ranging from garden view casita rooms to one-bedroom oceanfront suites, many of which have private plunge pools and patios for sunbathing. Rooms are simply decorated with a mix of locally crafted artwork and either king or double beds, along with a breakfast table, a private furnished patio with views of the jungle or the ocean, flatscreen televisions, spacious closets and bathrooms with dual vanities, separate WC’s, small soaking tubs and separate glassed-in showers stocked with L’Occitaine products. For casual dining at breakfast and dinner, there’s Ketsi, while Aramara serves Asian-fusion cuisine at dinner and Tail of the Whale has simple bar fare. Down on the activities beach (the other is a longer stretch of sand with lounge chairs and day beds for quieter sunbathing) sits celebrity chef Richard Sandoval’s restaurant, Bahia, where the day’s fresh catch is served in the diner’s choice of styles, along with other upscale options like saffron seafood risotto and fresh amberjack sashimi in ginger ponzu sauce. The hotel has three pools – an adults-only quiet one with private cabanas, a family pool with an infinity edge overlooking the sea, and a lazy river pool popular with families. Guests can also relax at the full-service spa with a variety of treatments including the signature Tequila Massage, or spend their days golfing and playing tennis at the resort’s facilities. Rates in October start at $590 per night.
When cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels program, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire, British Airways Visa, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Plus card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines cards,Capital One Venture, Citi Hilton HHonors and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.
Casa Velas Hotel Puerto Vallarta: This Marina property has 80 spacious guest suites, inspired by traditional Mexican design, with contemporary amenities like flatscreen TV’s and WiFi. Guests have access of the private oceanfront beach club pool and Jacuzzi. Dining choices includes Emiliano, the hotel’s gourmet Mexican restaurant, the Aqua Bar, and the casual Beach Club restaurant. The hotel also offers guests regionally and internationally inspired spa treatments at SPA Casas Velas. There is a fitness center and business center on property for guests to stay in shape and productive. Rates in October start at $236 a night.
Casa San Angel is another popular boutique option in historic houses on the hillside above the central town of Puerto Vallarta where guests are treated to gourmet meals out by the pool overlooking the town and the Bay.