Seven Tips for Getting the Most Out of a Visit to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

by Steve Gillick


From the moment visitors arrive in Puerto Vallarta in Western Mexico, their travel radar picks up the signal that this destination is different from other big cities in the country. It’s a matter of the history, geography, culture, food and the very people who live in Puerto Vallarta that contribute to the differentiation.  

The U.S. accounts for 75% of North American visitors to Puerto Vallarta. Overall American travel to Mexico increased by about 12% in 2016; for Canadians, Mexico ranks as the second most visited destination, after the United States, and before the UK and France.   

While just about every visitor to Mexico has a favorite destination that resonates with their particular lifestyle, travel needs and safety concerns, here are some basic tips to tantalize your clients when it comes to getting the most out of a visit to Mexico and in particular, Puerto Vallarta.  

1. Revealing the Magic

  • Mexico has a Puebla Magico program—Magical Towns, where each of the 111 designated venues must follow a checklist of 150 items established by the Ministry of Tourism. Just a few of the criteria are:
  • A population between 20,000 and 150,000 
  • Located no more than 200 km or two hours from a major tourism destination/city 
  • The citizens of the town should be aware of the designation 
  • The architecture should showcase buildings from the history of Mexico 
  • Keep and maintain traditions and festivities of the town 
  • Maintain local and significant production of handicrafts 
  • Keep the traditional gastronomy of the region.
  • Full information may be found at the Visit Mexico website.

2. Iconic Experiences
With the emphasis on visitors wanting to connect with the destination, it’s important to know the bounties of not only what the towns or cities hold but also what each of the 31 states may offer visitors. In Jalisco, for example, Puerto Vallarta does not qualify as a Magical Town (due to the fact that it’s a city), but there are seven Magical Towns in the state and there’s a joint promotional program to enhance the Vallarta visitor experience with trips to nearby Guadalajara and Tequila. A new highway, scheduled to open in late 2018, will significantly reduce travel times to the towns. And the state itself promotes three icons: Tequila (the national drink, based in the area around the town of Tequila), Charro (the horsemen, and in fact there are Charro festivals/rodeos in Gauadelajara and Puerto Vallarta) and Mariachi (the music of Western Mexico) that can be found at festivals throughout the state (and the country).

3. Cruising into the Future
Construction has already begun on the Puerto Magico, a complex that will enhance Terminal One and turn it into a customer experience-based Hacienda Tequila with interactive opportunities related to the production of Tequila, Mining and Gastronomy, as well as shopping and the largest aquarium in Latin America.  Unlike most Port facilities, the new terminal will be open to both the public and cruise passengers. All the major cruise lines stop in Puerto Vallarta as part of an itinerary that usually includes Mazatlán and Cabo san Lucas and according to Port Agent, Carlos Gerard, the number of cruise ships visiting Puerto Vallarta has increased steadily since 2013. In 2017 145-150 cruise ships will dock for the usual 12-hour visit.

4. Take a Walk in My Shoes
Puerto Vallarta is a very walkable destination. We stayed at the Villa Premiere, which was roughly 20 minutes from the Malecon, the downtown ocean-side boardwalk that’s a hive of activity both day and night. And once in the city, many of the streets are lined with shops, side-walk restaurants, bars and hotels. The Romantic Zone or Old Town, near the pier at Los Muertos has a beach, popular with ex-pats, tourists and pelicans. And “walking in my shoes” implies the friendly reception that visitors receive and the conversations that ensue, whether it’s an explanation of native Huichol beading techniques at Colectiva, an indigenous gallery, or the server at La Cerveceria Union explaining the ingredients of Aguachile, one of their star ceviche dishes, or the bartender at Los Muertos Brewing advising that the seven four-ounce glasses in the artisanal beer sampler may be a bit much to quaff without ordering food to absorb the alcohol.

5. Garden of Delight
Puerto Vallarta is chock-full of special (niche) travel interests. I spent a morning at the Botanical Gardens along with the Vallarta Birders who gather every Thursday morning to spot golden-cheeked woodpeckers, black-chinned hummingbirds, yellow-winged caciques and about 200 other species. The Gardens themselves include Orchids, Cypress, Bursara, Gondo Berries and more. It’s both a gardener’s and a photographer’s dream! Other special interests in the area include snorkeling, scuba,  beach activities, zip line, horseback riding, motorcycling, Jeep safari, hiking, trekking, history, culture, architecture, art, and more.

6. Food Electricity
Award-winning chef Mikel Alonso explained that enjoyment of food stimulates an electrical charge in the brain that produces endorphins that are “the drugs of happiness.” Visitors to Puerto Vallarta tend to be pretty happy and star chefs such as Tintoque’s Joel Ornelas reinforce a searing passion for creative dishes made with the freshest ingredients. Even at Mike’s Beach Club on Playa Las Animas, we are told that we will “feel the flavor” of the dishes before we taste them. And they are right!

7. Smiling and Speaking English
Puerto Vallarta was not created to be a tourism hub.  In fact some say that the customer service ethos of the city is in the blood of generations of Vallartenese who traditionally looked after the needs of the area’s industries: fishing, mining and agriculture. When the Mayor, Arturo Davalos Pena told me that ‘people smile in your face,” he was serious about the welcoming nature of the city. And North Americans can relax in a destination where most of the people they meet will be able to communicate with them in English.

Puerto Vallarta is a comfortable destination. There’s lots of connectivity with major centres in both the United States and Canada, there’s a great variety of accommodation in the city’s 22,000 rooms from luxury to budget, and it’s a destination where visitors can be as busy or as relaxed as they wish. It’s a place where clients can get the most out of their holiday, on their own terms.  

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Tip of the Day

I do think there are possibilities for traveler advisors to make money doing domestic trips. I charge a planning fee for my time and expertise, and then book commissionable hotels and activities that meet the client’s needs.

Terri Weeks

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