Puerto Vallarta in the Nayarit region of Mexico has everything any normal beach resort or holiday has to offer, sun, sea and of course miles and miles of pure, clean sandy beaches. A lively seafront with daily performances of music, acrobatics and sand sculpting, as well as a variety of shops and art galleries for buying those all-important souvenirs.
With a wealth of restaurants serving freshly grilled seafood, and a selection of bars offering cocktails, wine and of course tequila to quaff during tempting happy hours.
A variety of excursions are on offer, ranging from visiting historic sites with ancient petroglyphs to secluded spots with lines of hammocks hanging on white sand beaches. If an excursion with alcohol is preferred there’s a city tour ending with a visit to the tequila museum to enjoy a tasting session; all can be arranged by local company Vallarta Adventures.
Those visiting to enjoy the beach life will not be disappointed, there is possibly too much choice, but most, at least in April seemed almost deserted. There’s also plenty of options for those enjoying some activity with their sand and cocktails, paragliding, kayaking, paddle boarding, snorkelling, surfing at San Pancho can provide a welcome distraction from the sun-worshipping.
“a place where people ride horses in the streets”
In fact, choosing which beach to relax on each day is probably the most difficult decision many visitors will have to make.
However, Puerto Vallarta and the Riviera Nayarit have so much more to offer than beach culture, especially for those really willing to experience more of the culture. The people are friendly and open, their culture as colourful and diverse as the bright shades of dress many women wear here.
This is a place where people ride horses in the streets, classic cars are still relatively common, locals buy their fruit, vegetables or even meat from the back of roadside vehicles. Here pretty, little girls with braided hair can be seen wearing vibrant, laced dresses skipping down the pavements of many of the small towns
It is a destination where children play football on the beach or down backstreets and dogs laze in the sun or play fight in the shadows.
A destination where the roadside shrines can be large enough to walk in, containing thousands of part melted candles, hand painted images or pottery of Christ or the Virgin and where ladies travel daily to clean deserted monasteries.
This is a colour filled culture, with brightly hued, vibrant fabrics are worn not just by women, but men and children too, or hang from washing lines, in front of shops and market stalls. Pink pickups can be found on the beaches along with stranded fishing boats and more children running and playing tag.
Nature plays its part too, adding spectacularly coloured orchids and other alien looking flowers, magnificent macaws squawk and fly low over the heads of sun bathers on quiet beaches. Pelicans can be found dive-bombing fish shoals in shallow water beyond the waves, or waiting patiently by the boats of fishermen, hoping to be thrown some fish heads and scraps.
“crocodiles feasting on huge chunks of meat”
Frigate birds, the pirates of the air harass other birds forcing them to drop their catch, while turkey vultures soar overhead on thermals, effortlessly gliding, their huge wings outstretched riding the air currents like the monarchs of the skies.
In the mangroves of San Blas, north of Puerto Vallarta the weird, almost prehistoric looking boat-billed heron, an iconic bird of the region can be found. Roosting in numbers in the shadows and upper branches of the mangrove trees.
The Nayarit region is a place where small crowds form at the side of roads, attracted by the sight of crocodiles feasting on huge chunks of meat hand fed to them by workmen from a local site.
Tourism maybe the major industry now, but the culture of Puerto Vallarta was built on its proximity to the ocean, living around and off the sea. Fishing is obviously a major industry, crafts of all sizes can be found everywhere, larger ships at anchor in seemingly deserted harbours, small craft stranded on sand banks and the constant passage of single manned boats up and down the estuaries at sunrise and sunset.
It is also a place where a lone fisherman can be found casting his net in a small, barely running backwater outside of any one of a number of towns in the region, catching hand sized freshwater perch for his cast steel bucket.
This is a resort with dozens of beachside restaurants offering al fresco dining just off the sand, burning coconut shells to ward of mosquitoes and serving freshly grilled seafood. The choice is dazzling, marlin or cazón (school shark), red snapper all marinated and grilled over limes and served with huichol salsa. It’s not just fish of course there’s also octopus or shrimp, and meat lovers can still get lamb or goat birria, or pozole, a broth of pork or chicken, but this close to the sea….. it just has to be fish!
A culture that includes handcrafted artefacts made by skilled artisans, often taking months to stick thousands of coloured beads to produce vibrant jaguar heads, tortoises and a variety of birds, as well as other items. Colourful hand painted masks, “Day of the Dead” skull figurines, and quirky art galleries are scattered liberally around the towns and region. Many operating as cooperatives selling the wares of talented local artisans.
This is where fathers take their sons downtown, shopping for their first saddle or possibly machete, then go next door for some gelato.
Traditional small towns, such as San Pancho or San Blas can be found, a short drive from modern and fashionable Puerto Vallarta. They provide a fascinating glimpse of the way of life in the Nayarit region. Street food vendors selling Dorados, Quesadillas or Churros from carts or three-wheeled bikes in front of traditional style colonial or more contemporary buildings.
“tobacco leaves hung out to dry”
Small haciendas line pot-holed roads, colourful gardens ablaze with blossoming flowers form borders protected by scruffy dogs, barking loudly at passing strangers. Beaten up vehicles avoid chickens running freely in the gutters.
This region on the Pacific coast can even boast being home to the birthplace of the Aztec and Mexican heritage, the small island of Mexcaltitán is the legendary starting point of the ancient journey which resulted in the founding of the great city of Tenochtitlan. The museum details the journey, with plenty of interesting artefacts and there is a pretty church nearby. This gem, now a World Heritage site with its lovely run-down architecture, tiled shacks with children and dogs playing in the old world streets is an authentic view of Mexico.
This is where, if willing to leave the comfort of the pool or beach explorers will discover tobacco leaves hung out to dry near busy roads, soon to be rolled into cigars, almost complementing the colours of a tobacco sky as the sun dips below the distant hills.
Talking of which, the Nayarit region has some stunning sunsets, and sunrises, the equal of any resort, anywhere in the world.
It may not actually be the redefining of the resort holiday, possibly more rediscovering it. Puerto Vallarta has so much more to see, do and experience than lying on a beach or taking the occasional short cruise excursion.
However, the same could be said for many other beach resorts of course, it’s just a matter of what the visitor is seeking from their holiday.
“Travel is to be experienced, the nature of the experience is dependent on the nature of the individual.”
Have you been on a beach holiday, with the intention of relaxing, but once in destination found yourself discovering much more than expected? Tell us about it in the comments.