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On the Road with Nancy Brown: Three Days in Puerto Vallarta

Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown discovers value for dollar during Mexico’s wet season.

Take a dip in Casa Velas pool

All photos by Nancy D. Brown

Non-stop service with non-stop fun

Looking for a quick getaway to an exotic location that requires a passport, but not a layover? The Mexican coastal city of Puerto Vallarta sits on the same latitude as the Hawaiian Island and is an authentic vacation experience with fun, food and fiesta, all accessible within a long weekend—especially with non-stop flights available from San Francisco International Airport. Located along Banderas Bay on the Pacific coast of Mexico, Puerto Vallarta features 40 miles of scenic coastline, lush tropical jungles—bring bug spray—rocky river beds and steep mountains that protect the area from hurricanes.

Alaska Airlines, (800) 654-5669, alaskaair.comtwitter.com/#!/alaskaair

Marina Vallarta

Five minutes south of the airport, Marina Vallarta is a 500-slip marina, surrounded by private homes, an 18-hole golf course, and luxury hotels such as the Marriott Casa Magna and the all-inclusive, adult-only Casa Velas. This 81-suite boutique hotel celebrates the spirit of Mexico in its décor and food. My visit was during the wet season (June through November). And while it did rain—along with spectacular thunder and lightening—Mother Nature’s fireworks were only on display during the dinner hour, with the days filled with sunshine.

Insider Tip: A heads up for your approach to Puerto Vallarta’s Gustavo Diaz Ordaz International Airport—keep your head down! Once you have picked up your luggage, pass through two double glass doors and ignore the brutally aggressive Timeshare hucksters. Instead head to your pre-arranged transportation or a cab outside the airport.

Casa Velas Hotel & Ocean Club, 48354 Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico (866) 612-1097, hotelcasavelas.com twitter.com/#!/hotelcasavelas

Year round golf and everyday spa

While Marina Vallarta offers whale watching (November through March), sport fishing, scuba diving, and snorkeling, land lovers will enjoy golf and spa options. Casa Velas Hotel provides guests access to three world class, 18-hole designer golf courses: Marina Vallarta Joe Finger, and Vista Vallarta’s Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf.Las Palmas, Mexico local.

If relaxation and pampering are what you had in mind for your holiday, book a massage at Casa Velas. My 50-minute holistic massage started with a foot bath ritual, followed by an aromatherapy scent selection and professional hands offering smooth, gliding strokes to tense muscles. The 6,500 square foot spa offers a state-of-the-art fitness club, hydrotherapy pools, and beauty salon for the requisite mani-pedi before hitting the beach.

Magical horseback riding in Las Palmas

For those looking to explore authentic Mexico, Las Palmas, with a population of 14,000, is located 40 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta. I didn’t run into Antonio Banderas—the Zorro movie star has a house there—but I found plenty of great local characters willing to let me take their picture (see right).

Horseback riding at Rancho Capomo was the highlight of my weekend. Our group of six, accompanied by three English speaking guides, went riding along Las Palmas River. I had been forewarned that the mosquitoes could be bad, but they were not an issue. The horses picked their way on the rocky shore as we traversed the hot coco colored river multiple times. We rode jockey-style, with our legs out of the stirrups to avoid getting our pants wet in the fast flowing river. The ranch dog swam the majority of the river crossings as he accompanied us on our ride to El Salto Waterfall. Rumor has it that a cowboy discovered the falls when he was looking for a lost cow. Ever since the discovery, guides have been taking tourists to the waterfall for pictures and a refreshing dip at the base of the fall.

Take a horseback ride to El Salto Falls in Las Palmas.

On our return from El Salto, we were joined by hundreds of brilliant yellow butterflies arching and diving around us. The ride was truly magical. But it gets better. After dismounting and returning our riding helmets, we were ushered to the covered patio and offered fresh homemade chips, salsa, tortillas, meats and cheese, as well as a mini pizza of sorts. Ice cold cervezas (beer) and orange soda added to the fiesta.

For my money, this six-hour adventure, including transportation to and from your Puerto Vallarta resort, was well worth $67.50. Check the website for current pricing, as they also offer ATV rides, zip line tours and sunset dinners with a dancing horse show.

Puerto Vallarta Tours, Rancho Capomo ride, Las Palmas, Jalisco, Mexico (866) 217-9704 puertovallartatours.net/rancho-capomo-horseback-riding.htm

Colorful pottery of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.Downtown Puerto Vallarta

The center and heart of Puerto Vallarta is El Centro (or downtown) and Los Muertas Beach. With its cobble stoned streets, wrought-iron balconies and colorful roof tops, the historic downtown is pedestrian friendly and very safe for visitors. While the malecon (boardwalk) lining the beach was closed for renovation during my visit, I headed to Rios Cuales where the colorful flea market takes place. Take a peek inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the city’s most recognizable landmark and the heart of Puerto Vallarta’s religious life.

For things to see and do in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, check out the video below:


A lifelong resident of Contra Costa County, Nancy D. Brown grew up in Moraga. When she’s not traveling, she lives in Lafayette with her husband and teens. Nancy is the Uptake.com Travel Editor, writes the What a Trip blog and is a Contra Costa Times Lamorinda Sun columnist. Horse lovers will find her at writinghorseback.com. Follow Nancy on Twitter at twitter.com/Nancydbrown