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Special Issue

travel world

APRIL 2016


the beauty of

Puerto Vallarta


The Magazine Written by North American Travel Journalists Association Members


Letter from the Editor

TravelWorld International Magazine is the only magazine that showcases the member talents of the North American Travel Journalists Association

Bienvenidos, Amigos! From the moment we stepped into the fabulous Velas Vallarta it was the same everywhere we went. It just wasn’t a phrase of welcome it was a sincere way of life in Puerto Vallarta. It’s been 11 months since our 13th annual conference was held on the shores of Banderas Bay but the memories remain sharp and warm. And as Tim Leffel describes in an essay in this edition of TravelWorld, it was a visit of a lifetime. The experience was so enriching that everyone of us held our breath in October when Hurricane Patricia roared across the Pacific with sustained winds of 165 miles per hour and seemed headed directly at our home-away-from-home. At nearly the last minute, Patricia veered away and made landfall 180 miles south of Puerto Vallarta, which only experienced light rain and no wind. A huge sigh of relief was heard across the city and in the homes of our members. In this special issue of TravelWorld International we try to capture what it meant for members of the North American Travel Journalists Association to visit one of Mexico’s finest resorts. You will see just a handful of the tens of thousands of remarkable photographs our members took from the tiny kitchen at El Arrayan to the zipline zooming through the jungle at Canopy River. Perhaps the single most photographed image was of the model portraying Frida Kahlo, sitting serenely in the lovely gardens of Casa Velas. Her makeup was so well done that many of us looked around to see if Diego Rivera was nearby. It was there that our gracious hosts Eduardo and Juan Vela spared no effort to offer a luxurious and splendid evening for us. Your memories will come alive with the stories and photographs that we have gathered here from the remarkable dinner at La Leche to the street tacos in Pitillal; from the carnival games and mariachis at Canopy River, to the sight of our very own Jeffrey Lehmann showing us how to spell Y M C A as he stood on the bow of the ship taking us from the magical Rhythms of the Night show across the somewhat choppy Banderas Bay. I think the main thing you’ll see in this special issue is the high quality of work done by our members. There is no other group of writers, photographers and videographers which can match the professionalism or enthusiasm of the members of the North American Travel Journalists Association. Bienvenidos! We hope you enjoy this special issue as much as Joy Bushmeyer and I had putting it together. Dennis A. Britton Editor TravelWorld International Magazine


Group Publisher: Publisher: Editor in Chief: Editor: Managing Editor: Art Direction: Operations Manager: Program Coordinator

NATJA Publications Helen Hernandez Bennett W. Root, Jr. Dennis A. Britton Joy Bushmeyer Artistic Design Services Yanira Leon Daniel Saleh

Contributing Writers : Donna Adinolfi Lois Alter Mark Danielle Auvray Ron Capon Rob D’Avellar Michael DeFreitas Cindy Ladage Tim Leffel

Steve MacNaull Douglas Peebles Doreen Pendracs Lisa Richardson Shelly Rivoli Bennett W. Root, Jr. Lucy Beebe Tobias Greg Vaughn

Editorial /Advertising Offices: TravelWorld International Magazine 3579 E. Foothill Blvd., #744 Pasadena, CA 91107 Phone: (626) 376.9754 Fax: (626) 628-1854

Volume 2016.01 Special Issue. Copyright ©2016 by NATJA Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited. Advertising rates and information sent upon request. Acceptance of advertising in TravelWorld International Magazine in no way constitutes approval or endorsement by NATJA Publications, Inc., nor do products or services advertised. NATJA Publications and TravelWorld International Magazine reserve the right to reject any advertising. Opinions expressed by authors are their own and not necessarily those of Travel World International Magazine or NATJA Publications. TravelWorld International Magazine reserves the right to edit all contributions for clarity and length, as well as to reject any material submitted, and is not responsible for unsolicited manuscripts. This periodical’s name and logo along with the various titles and headings therein, are trademarks of NATJA Publications, Inc. PRODUCED IN U.S.A.

Special Issue

APRIL 2016

travel world

Puerto Vallarta


the beauty of

Photography 8 Rob D’Avellar


Douglas Peebles


Shelly Rivoli


Ben Root

20 Greg



Stories & Photos



• The Benefits are Amazing Tim Leffel


• Where the Mountains Meet the Sea Michael DeFreitas


• Wanderlust! PV Spas Donna Adinolfi


• Cooking Class at El Arrayan Cindy Ladage


• Color Me Pink Las Alamandas Danielle Auvray


• Love, Sex, Hollywood, and the Making of Puerto Vallarta Lina Zeldovich


• Flying in Mexico Steve MacNaull


• Botanical Gardens Doreen Pendgracs

Special Issue

APRIL 2016

travel world

Puerto Vallarta I N T E R N AT I O N A L M A G A Z I N E

the beauty of

Stories & Photos (Continued)

• Puerto Vallarta Shines On Lisa & Jim Richardson


• Lunch in a River • Art and Food in PV Lucy Beebe Tobias

57 58

• 5 Unexpected Reasons to Visit Puerto Vallarta • Vacation Like an “A” Lister Lois Alter Mark

60 62

• A Return Visit to Paradise • The Best of PV Ron Kapon

64 66 5

The Benefits are Amazing Last spring I attended my fourth NATJA conference, and it rocked. We partied at the Puerto Vallarta beaches and drank an untold amount of tequila. We went to panels and sessions that made us better (or hopefully wealthier) writers. We made mutually beneficial relationships with people we hung out with for days. Including some major editors. We got to see far more of coastal Jalisco in a week than most vacationers manage to see on multiple trips. As we all gravitate to our own little niche-focused social media groups, there’s the inevitable question as to whether these trade organizations still make sense. In the old days of the past millennium, if you didn’t belong to something like SATW (Society of American Travel Writers), you had trouble connecting with people in your field and meeting editors. If you didn’t belong to something like ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors), you had a tough time figuring out if the contract you were signing was a raw deal just for you or if everyone working for that publication was getting screwed as well. Now it’s very easy to connect with other writers or bloggers. There are a hundred e-mail newsletters, blogs, social media groups, and meet-ups that can link you to your kind. You can send out a tweet or put a question on Facebook and have responses within the hour. So it’s easy to think these organizations don’t matter anymore. Really though, they still do. They might even matter more than they used to. That’s because as it gets easier and easier to connect online, we’re all inundated by more and more information coming through a fire hose. We don’t really need more info or more virtual friends. We need curation. We need face-to-face. We need more colleagues we can help and get help from, not just people who will retweet our blog posts without even reading them.

We need more of what we need and less of what we don’t need. 6

By Tim Leffel NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association) is having a membership drive right now, after coming off their best-attended conference ever. So I’m giving them a shout-out here. That’s the one I belong to and I gladly pay the dues each year. NATJA has always made me feel like the more welcoming, inclusive, clued-in community. There’s not much ego, no real cliques, and no sense that people are trying to outdo each other based on how big the mastheads are where they appeared 20 years ago. It’s far from perfect, as any big organization like this is bound to be, but I feel comfortable recommending it. If you haven’t been a part of NATJA and you want to learn more, contact Yani (at) and tell her Tim Leffel sent you. With all organizations, you get some informational perks in terms of press trip invites and industry connections, plus the chance to hobnob face-to-face at their convention. With NATJA you get a discount on entries to their annual travel writing contest too, which means a big savings and the opportunity to win some sweet prizes. I got three nights at a vacation condo I’ll use with my family this year, three nights at an all-inclusive that I used with them last year. Those are pretty typical first place prizes. You also get a profile page on their site, which means a link back and some visibility, plus NATJA has their own digital magazine that pays and you’re not competing with 3,000 other writers for a slot. So back to the original question of whether it’s worthwhile to join a professional organization such as NATJA. The real question is…are you serious about your career? Joining one is not essential, but it certainly can’t hurt. Is it worth an investment of two or three hundred bucks to maybe meet the editor or partner that’s going to open up a new outlet or income stream for you? That’s a pretty easy return on investment floor to meet. At a minimum, you should attend TBEX if you’re a blogger. But if you want to step it up, joining an organization with a built-in opportunity infrastructure could take you to a new level.


Traditional Mexican design influences some of the work of contemporary artists. This mask evokes Mexico’s “Day of the Dead” tradition.

An artist Frida Kahlo is immortalized in the design of this dress


Catering to elite clientele, art galleries in downtown Puerto Vallarta offer the latest in abstract compositions as well as more traditional Mexican art.

Satire is part of Mexico’s “Day of the Dead” artistic tradition. These statues remind us that death is the great common denominator of all humankind, no matter what station in life one enjoys.

The art in Puerto Vallarta’s historic center sometimes extends to the buildings themselves.




Small luxury hotels, located in the downtown section of Puerto Vallarta, offer a change of pace from the city’s all-inclusive resorts. In addition, they are close to shopping areas, small family-run restaurants and tourist attractions such as Puerto Vallarta’s Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe.


Velas Vallarta Resort, on Banderas Bay just north of central Puerto Vallarta, provided a gorgeous base camp for exploration of the city’s arts scene.

Ben Root


An eagle’s eye could look through PV’s iconic arches and see our beach resort across the bay. On our right was the arts district with its many galleries.


e came to Puerto Vallarta to relax, and relax we did. A couple of lazy days dipping feet into the gentle waves of the Bay of Banderas, soaking up the warm afternoon sun at our beachfront resort, and wondering at a star filled sky after a late night garden stroll soothed our tattered nerves. Our natural Circadian rhythms returned. But soon enough those rhythms brought with them an itch, a desire to explore and connect to the community where a gentle, modulated pace and a genteel attitude encouraged a restorative peacefulness. We found an exciting dynamic between unplugging at our beach cabana and plugging into PV’s rich and diverse community of artists and artisans. PV’s public art is accessible and welcoming. North of the old city, minutes from the airport, there is a wall of mosaics created by local families, businesses, and travelers sharing sentiments and images in the bold colors of tiled designs. Along the streets, on the sides of homes and shops are the posterized colors of murals and even some artful graffiti. Several of the hotels and restaurants give the foodie as well as the general observer an opportunity to experience sophisticated and sometimes playful displays of local artistry both in the cuisine and in the ambiance. Downtown, a walk along the Malecón boardwalk is cliché, of course, but inviting and a teasing gateway to an arts district with more than a few treats and surprises. PV’s private art scene is just an enticing. We found the many galleries just east of the Malecón’s Los Arcos offered a very broad range of paintings, graphics, ceramics and sculptural works by indigenous, local and national artists. There is an established Art Walk on Wednesday evenings (for participating galleries and walking map, see http://www.vallartaartwalk. com/), but a self-guided tour of these galleries and others in the area in the late morning or early afternoon is much less crowded and affords one the chance to talk with the gallery owners and discover the substantial history of indigenous artists.

Ben Root

Traditions old and new were easily accessible and we found gallery owners more than willing to discuss the artists, their work and the vibrancy of the arts community in Puerto Vallarta.

Traditional arts forms are developed to contemporary pieces.


Throughout Puerto Vallarta, design is distinguished by vibrant color and serendipitous line Just south of the airport, this mosaic included contributions from and insights into locals and travelers.


Villa Premiere, an adult hotel and spa downtown, offered a variety of visual art throughout its lobby.


Galeria Colectika features traditional folk art, including bead art of the Huichol Indians from the Sierra Madre Mountains.

An afternoon’s walking tour of the PV galleries offers a wide range of eye candy appealing to a broad range of tastes.


On our way downtown, we stopped to visit Nacho Cadena, proprietor and Executive Chef of La Leche, an outstanding destination both for its ambience and its cuisine.

The halibut was very fresh, beautifully presented and wicked tasty.

La Leche’s motto indeed es la verdad!

Villa Premiere’s Executive Chef, presented plates that were both scrumptious and playfully artistic.


Marina Vallarta, beach Puerto Vallarta

Douglas Peebles Photography

Majahuitas Resort, Beach

Neptune and Nereid sculpture, sculptor C. Espino, The Malecon


The Rotunda on the Sea by Alejandro Colunga, The Malecon

Neptune and Nereid sculpture, sculptor C. Espino, The Malecon

Puerto Vallarta


The Seahorse by Rafael Zamarripa, 1976

Marigalante Pirate Ship Tour

View from Vista Grill Restaurant


Majahuitas Resort, Beach, Puerto Vallarta

Los Arcos National Marine Park, Puerto Vallarta

Fruit and vegetable market, Vallarta Food Tours, El Pitillal, Puerto Vallarta

Canopy River, Tequila, Puerto Vallarta

Birria, Goat stew Vallarta Food Tours

Vista Grill waiter

Ceviche, Pichis seafood reastaurant, Vallarta Food Tours, El Pitillal

Loaded tamale, La Tia Anita, Vallarta Food Tours

Canopy River, Tequila, Puerto Vallarta

Taco maker, Vallarta Food Tours

Fruit and vegetable market, Vallarta Food Tours


Sunset at Playa Los Muertos

Evening on the Malecon



Vaughn Photography Our Lady of Guadalupe church

On the beach at Playa Los Muertos


The oceanfront Malecon


Playa Los Muertos

Playa Los Muertos pier

Velas Vallarta Hotel


Hybrid Mexican orchid Encylia cordigera at Vallarta Botanical Garden

Visitors photographing exotic plants at Vallarta Botanical Garden


Plants in ceramic pottery planters in a window in old town

Woman portraying Frida Kahlo at Casa Velas Hotel

Tequila bottles at the bar in Mantanar Beach Club

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor statue La Fuente del Puente Restaurant & Bar in Puerto Vallarta

Rom路n Meza of La Regional Talabarteria working on leather piece in his shop in the El Pitillal district of Puerto Vallarta

Tamales at La Tia Anita Mexican Restaurant, a stop on the El Pitillal Food Tour

Chef and owner Enrique Robles making tacos at Birrierias Robles restaurant, on the El Pitillal Food Tour

River Cafe, Puerto Vallarta



Rivoli Photography


Los Arcos National Marine Park

“Bailarines de Vallarta� (Dancers of Vallarta) by Jim Demetro [bronze, 2006]

Arches of the Malecon


Carved doors in Gringo Gulch

Iguana mural by Ernesto Garrigos in the Rio Cuale neighborhood

“Caballero del Mar” (sea cowboy) by Rafael Zamarripa [bronze, 1976].

La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe Church) and Old Town Gazebo at the heart of the zocalo (town square)


Fountain in Puerto Vallarta’s zocalo (town square)

Puerto Vallarta’s zocalo (town square) in Old Town

“Eriza-Dos” (sea urchins) by artist Blu (AKA Maritza Vazquez) [iron, 2006].

Mr. Concepcion serving his secret recipe “tuba” on the Malecon

Smoked marlin starter at 3rd-generation family-owned Mariscos el Guero


Puerto Vallarta beach, Puerto Vallarta

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Puerto Vallarta


Puerto Vallarta beach, Puerto Vallarta

Where The Mountains Meet The Sea

Story and Photography by Michael DeFreitas Puerto Vallarta beach, Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta from the hills above the city


Puerto Vallarta’s colorful past shaped its modern-day persona. But its pristine beaches, rugged interior and bountiful ocean remain almost unchanged.

Cruise ship and Catholic cathedral

A pink glow in the eastern sky signaled the start of another picture-postcard day in the seaside town of Puerto Vallarta. The bow of our catamaran slid slowly through the calm Maritime Terminal waters, creating a gentle wake that rocked the other boats.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church

The Malecon


Velas Vallarta Resort

Beyond the harbor, small Pacific swells barely swayed our large Vallarta Adventures vessel as we motored northwest across Banderas Bay towards the Marietas Islands, Puerto Vallarta’s premier diving and snorkeling site. The volcanic islands, made famous by oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, make up the Parque Nacional Islas Marietas, a protected wildlife sanctuary and marine preserve. In 2008, UNESCO designated the four-island archipelago the Islas Marietas Biosphere Reserve. The waters around the islands support a dazzling array of marine life such as 25-foot manta rays, marlin, eels, octopus and even sea horses. The rocky outcroppings are among Mexico’s best bird watching sites, with nesting colonies of 94 aquatic and sub-aquatic bird species including the rare whitecapped marine swallow and the bluefooted booby (found only here and the Galapagos Islands). A loud cacophony of birdcalls greeted us as we tied up to the mooring about 100 yards offshore and donned our dive gear. The snorkelers were already splashing around when we slipped into the water amid a cloud of blue and yellow king angelfish looking for a handout. We dropped down to the bottom and swam out towards the large rock guarding the entrance to the small cove.

Thirty feet above, the sun sparkled at the surface like a giant disco ball. Streams of sunbeams pierced the azure water, illuminating the coral reef. I was trying to photograph a shy pufferfish that was hiding in the Elkhorn coral when my dive buddy nearly tugged my arm off. I spun around to see him frantically gesturing and pointing upwards. About 15 feet overhead, a giant manta ray was performing an underwater ballet of loops and rolls, its enormous wings propelling it effortlessly through the water. The snorkelers were watching the performance from the surface.

Blue-footed Booby (Sula nebouxii), Isla Marietas National Park (Parque Nacional Isla Marietas) a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

Scuba diving in Isla Marietas National Park

Manta Ray

The composition of manta with the snorkelers above on the surface had my heart pounding as I raised my camera. Then it hit me—such a great composition, and my camera was set up for macro, not wide-angle. All I could do was swallow my disappointment and watch the magnificent creature until it disappeared into the blue abyss. Luckily, I did manage to get some manta shots before leaving PV. Scuba diving is only one of the great adventures Puerto Vallarta has to offer. Nestled along the coastal hills of Bahía de Banderas (Bay of Flags), one of the largest protected bodies of water on the West Coast of the Americas, Puerto Vallarta combines the charm of old Mexico with a host of modern amenities. Its stunning Pacific coastline, lush rainforests, dramatic mountains, friendly people and bucolic countryside make it an ideal and affordable alternative to Mexico’s other hot spots. Whether you’re a Gen-X adrenaline junkie, or a stop-andsmell-the-roses rambler, you’ll find plenty of activities to keep you busy in the town the locals call PV.

Colorful fish in the Isla Marietas National Park Getting ready to snorkel in Isla Marietas National Park


THE PAST… PV’s humble beginning dates back to 1524, when Francisco Cortez de San Buenaventura first explored this section of the Mexican coast. His voyage almost ended in disaster when several thousand fierce Xalisco warriors armed with bows and bright-colored feathered banners confronted his small group as they stepped ashore. The tense standoff lasted all day, but both sides eventually retreated peacefully. The sight of all those feathered banners prompted the Spaniard to name the great bay the Bay of Flags. Except for a few seasonal whalers, the bay remained largely unsettled for three centuries. Then in 1851, Don Guadalupe Sánchez Torres established Puerto de las Peñas, a small outpost on the banks of the Rio Cuale. The town was renamed, Puerto Vallarta, when the new governor of the State of Jalisco, Don Ignacio Luis Vallarta, took office in 1918.

Los Arcos and Angel of Hope and Messenger of Peace sculpture on the Malecon La Nostalgia sculpture on the Malecon

PV’s peaceful, low-key vibe ended abruptly when Hollywood came to town in 1963. Director John Huston selected the village as the backdrop for his steamy epic Night of the Iguana starring Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr and Richard Burton. That’s when a married Elizabeth Taylor bought a villa on the hills above the city to be closer to Burton during the filming. Their well-documented affair made the pages of every newspaper and gossip column in North America, providing a steady stream of free publicity for the small town. Since then, PV has hosted the casts, crews and fans of more than two-dozen major films including Predator, Swashbuckler, Puerto Vallarta Squeeze, The Domino Principle, Kill Bill and Herbie Goes Bananas. OTHER DISTRACTIONS The first thing you’ll notice as you fly into PV are all the beaches. More than 40 magnificent strands of soft white sand fringe the bay’s 100-mile-long coastline––from secluded sandy ribbons like 100-yard-long Majahuitas, only accessible by boat, to five-mile-long Bucerias, a favorite with North American visitors. Of course, the most wellknown beach is the sensuous half-mile-long arc of Mismaloya that Huston showcased in many of his 1963 scenes. The original movie set is now a restaurant at the far end of the beach. Besides diving and snorkeling, water sport outfitters offer a variety of other marine diversions including parasailing, sea kayaking, wild dolphin swims and deep-sea fishing for sailfish and marlin.


The Friendship Fountain sculpture on the Malecon

Deep sea sportsfishing for sailfish

The day after our manta encounter, we headed out to sea for some big game fishing with Mike’s Fishing Charters. Just north of the Marietas Islands, the crew put six lines in the water, and before we had time to finish our breakfast snack, one of the crew yelled, “Fish on!” We all dashed for rods, not knowing which one had the fish on. Turns out it was a triple-header. Thirty minutes later, three 25-pound, tailslapping dorado (mahi-mahi) churned the water at the stern of the boat. Sunlight sparkled off their bright yellow-and-blue bodies as the crew delicately removed the hooks from their mouths and released them. What a way to start a day of fishing. An hour later, we hooked our first large sailfish and took turns in the chair reeling it in. The fish took about 300 yards of line with its first run before popping up to the surface to jump and tail walk. Forty minutes later, the 120-pound fish hit the deck. During our six-hour charter we landed three sailfish and a half-dozen dorado.

Deep sea sportsfishing for sailfish

At dinner the previous night, we chatted about our upcoming fishing trip with the cheerful hotel chef, who graciously offered to cook anything we caught. We took one of the smaller fish back to our hotel and that night dined on mouthwatering grilled mahimahi in a red salsa sauce. But it’s not only gringos and sailfish that flock to the great bay’s warmth. Each year, between December and March, about 350 Pacific humpback whales migrate 6000 miles from Alaskan waters to give birth and mate in the bay. You can see the whales from shore, but for a more personal encounter, take one of Vallarta Adventure’s combination whale watching and swim with wild dolphin tours. Landlubbers will find a full range of landbased activities in and around PV. At El Eden you can see the old helicopter and the jungle waterfall where Arnold Schwarzenegger fought the alien in Predator. The park also offers rainforest hiking trails, canopy catwalks and a series of 13 zip lines that crisscross the Mismaloya River rainforest.

Sunset on Puerto Vallarta beach

Local artwork Puerto Vallarta


Nature swamp tour, Puerto Vallarta

Other land activities include four-wheel-drive bird watching safaris deep into the mountains, sea turtle nesting tours (August to January) and rainforest hiking. Or you can join Vallarta Adventures on one of their cultural flightseeing tours to the remote pre-Hispanic mountain villages of San Andres Coamihata––home to the Huichol Indians––and San Sebastian, a rustic 17th-century mining town. Also, within 30 minutes of downtown you’ll find seven championship courses designed by several golf legends. Nestled in the cool Sierra Madre foothills, the Vista Vallarta Golf Club

Vista Vallarta Golf Course


Zip lining at Eden Eco Park

boasts two championship courses designed by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf. Each year the club hosts a number of world-class events including the PGA World Cup of Golf and the Taylor Made Invitational. Unlike many other Mexican resort towns, PV did not develop with an emphasis on modern tourism. It didn’t even have a paved airstrip or access roads until 1968. Rather, tourism evolved around the town’s traditional old world charm. As a result, Puerto Vallarta’s seamless fusion of traditional and modern cultures, rich biodiversity, upscale amenities and numerous adventure possibilities ranks it as one of Mexico’s premier seaside resorts.

Must See... Must Do…

• The sand sculptures along the Malecon (seawall) • Visit the stately Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe • The old local market at the south end of town • Take a step into the past at the Huichol Museum • Take an intimate picnic on Conchas Chinas Beach • And don’t forget ..... there’s always the fabulous food .....

Cuisine of Puerto Vallarta Small bay near Puerto Vallarta at sunset

If You Go… Major airlines have daily flights from U.S. gateways into Gustavo Díaz International Airport (PRV). Vallarta Adventures ( offers dozens of land, air and water adventures. Mike’s Fishing Charter ( specializes in deep-sea fishing. The Velas Vallarta Resort ( is the perfect base for exploring PV. For more information visit Puerto Vallarta Tourism


Wanderlust: Sensory Spa Journey in Puerto Vallarta Story & Photography by Donna Mantone-Adinolfi “We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” – Anais Nin

Grand Velas Flower Petals

Puerto Vallarta had always eluded me…until now. Just saying the name brought to mind the vibrant Bougainvilleas that I longed to see and the expansive beaches. I would often visualize the majestic Sierra Madre Mountains and the blue Pacific and couldn’t wait to finally arrive and experience my own adventure. There’s an abundance of healing and nurturing spas in Puerto Vallarta and during my first visit to this stunning area I certainly made time to experience a few on the list.


No Secrets Here

Secrets Spa by Pevonia

Let’s begin with the first one, adults-only Secrets Spa by Pevonia, located on the beach and within walking distance to the Malecón boardwalk. This 14,000 square foot spa has much to offer to encourage relaxation with over 30 treatments to choose from. My journey included their hydrotherapy circuit and at first I was more eager to experience a massage, however I was truly surprised at the outcome of this unique experience. The circuit included acupressure showers, cascading waterfalls with varying water temperatures and hydrotherapies to rejuvenate and relax. It was a sensory experience and certainly one to include when visiting Secrets Vallarta Bay. The journey continued on to Riviera Nayarit and I couldn’t help but wonder what would unfold over the next several days. If your travels take you to Puerto Vallarta, and I truly hope they do, you’ll want to consider a few days in the Riviera Nayarit area and perhaps explore Bucerias, a charming fishing village and consider exploring the Marieta Islands National Park and Sayulita.

Worldly Experience: Riviera Nayarit offers many spa opportunities, however on this stay there were two to visit starting with Melange World Spa at Marival Residences. Unique and expansive, this spa offers world-focused treatments and after a thorough tour I found myself drawn to the India Shirodhara Experience and the Italy Vendimia Wine Experience. Vendimia translates to ‘grape/wine harvest’ and the décor in the room was certainly reminiscent of the process. This experience includes a wine therapy infused bath (in an original wooden barrel) followed by a full body massage. The treatment rooms conveyed the cultural traditions for each spa service, even the music and aromas. The selection of experiences from around the world also include the Japan Shiatsu, Turkey Hamam, Russia Banya (sauna), Bali Aromatherapy, Thailand Body Work, and the America Menage Spa Experience. The World Spa Experiences go for 85-minutes and they’re priced at $220 each. In addition to these experiences, the spa also offers a full menu of other spa services.

Marival Melange Spa

Grand Velas Spa Service


The Path to Transformation

Grand Velas Hydrotherapy

Secrets Spa at Pevonia

After an exhilarating walk over to the Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit from my base resort I was exceedingly ready for my service, however there were other blissful surprises to experience first. The Spa at Grand Velas would be the last of the spas for this journey and one I longed to visit so my expectations were fairly high. After sipping the customary chia drink upon arrival and strolling past the inviting vessels of pink flower petals, I was escorted to the hydrotherapy area to immerse myself in their signature water journey. Water is life and ever flowing hence the rejuvenating benefits of hydrotherapy. The journey includes the Jacuzzi, Sauna, Eucalyptus Inhalation, and Steam with Chromotherapy (balances the chakras), Hot and Cold Lagoon, Pressure Shower, Hydro-Reflexology (personal favorite). Pampering continued in the Spa’s Relaxation Area and this quickly became one of the most nurturing experiences of my notable spa visits. The team at The Spa fulfilled every need so it was no surprise to hear that about 85% of the resort guests experience a spa visit. After the memorable water journey I was met by Arminda, my therapist, for the Grand Cora Massage. This was one of the Mexican inspired services and one choreographed with a sound ritual and long deep strokes and healing hands. The rhythmic sounds of the instruments (rain stick, maracas, cymbals, and wind chime), the scent of ginger and the trance-like feeling of complete relaxation transformed me for the duration of the service. This sensuous experience more than exceeded my expectations.

Grand Velas Hydrotherapy

The Spa at Grand Velas offers a sanctuary filled with 20 treatment rooms and over 30 holistic treatments ranging from massages, facials, hydrotherapy and Spa Rituals. More information on the above spas:

Secrets Spa at Pevonia:

Melange World Spa:

The Spa at Grand Velas: GVRN_2014_122014.pdf

Donna Mantone-Adinolfi is a travel, spa & wellness writer/ columnist, freelance writer and blogger. She focuses on travel, spas, personal development and wellness and is the founder of Mindful Adventures. She can be reached at:


Student preparing pineapple

Owner Carmen Porras

Carmen & Diego Sanchez preparing the banana leaves for chicken mole

Cooking Class at El Arrayán

PV By Cindy Ladage

Puerto Vallarta is magical and so is the restaurant El Arrayán. Owned by Carmen Porras since 2003, she named her restaurant after a species of tree that bears the small, sweet and tart fruit. Inside the central courtyard a young Arrayán tree grows and this is a constant reminder to Porras of the one that grows in her great-grandmother’s yard. Carmen Porras and her partner Claudia Victoria have a mission to prepare traditional Mexican food using old Mexican cooking techniques. Lucky for us, Carmen Porras was willing to share these recipes and techniques through her cooking classes to a group of excited travel writers during the NATJA conference. The classes offer up cultural facts and history of the Mexican ingredients and allow the participants a chance to try cooking and tasting hands on.

an international flight attendant, who loves adventure as much as I do, traveled with me for this wonderful trip and together we all crowded into El Arrayan’s kitchen to try to capture a bit of the magic of the wonderful aromas coming out of the small space.

were then stacked upright and steamed. For dessert we created a delectable pineapple glaze that was served over ice cream. Lovely Linda turned out to be a whiz at cutting pineapple and her efforts even turned up in the film covering our trip.

Carmen divided us into teams with kitchen and we learned (loosely worded) how to prepare a zucchini mix that is a little like one my mom taught me that we dish up every summer. We also had an adventure in tamale preparation. Chef Diego Sánchez, who was recently promoted from sous chef when we had our class this past May, introduced us to Masa which Carmen Porras explained is basically dough for corn.

It didn’t take long to see that working in the kitchen is a hot job and it was easy to feel a great appreciation for the chefs that prepare such wonderful food in the midst of the steam and fire. After the food was complete, we sat around and enjoyed the fruits of our labor in the cool and lovely atmosphere that El Arrayán had to offer.

“I am obsessed with tamales,” she said. “It uses Mexican staples like corn maize, which is 10,000 years old. The plant evolved with humans from grasses.” The complicated mole sauce we used in the tamales had already been created Without a doubt, Carmen Porras although they were kind enough to has the patience of Job. Allowing our share the recipe. We made tamales using large group into her small kitchen banana leaves to wrap the chicken, mole took some pre-planning and a lot of and masa mix. The tamales were wrapped assistance and as well as a badge of and tied which sounds much easier than courage. My friend Linda Spanberger, it was. The tasty, time consuming, tamales

I have always enjoyed cooking classes and have a deep interest in different types of food and the ingredients used to put them together. As a farmer’s wife I know that fork to table often requires a lot of steps to get to from the field to the plate. Sitting down to the “after” meal gave us all a sense of accomplishment and made us feel like a member of Top Chef. I recommend doing this if you happen to find yourself in Puerto Vallarta. Log onto for details.


Las Alamandas

Alamandas “Copa de Oro� yellow flower

Color Me Pink! Story & Photography by Daniele Auvray Pink walls & dolphin sculptures



ale yellow paths, decorated with stone mosaics wind through gardens fragrant with the scent of gardenias, bougainvillea, and jasmine as well as yellow Alamandas flowers for which the resort is named. Owner Isabel Goldsmith who inherited the place from her grandfather, simply fell in love with this remote paradise and its perfect half-mile beach long, its lagoons rich in wildlife and its setting of low hills covered in trees and cactus.

Gracious Host and Owner Isabel Goldsmith on colorful stairs


sing her own interpretation of the vibrant colors of Mexico, she lavishly spread splashes of Schiaparelli pink around, rather subtly, here and there, complemented by delicate touches of a sorbet color palette, as if a divine hand had engaged into a playful coloring with colored pencil. Creating then a unique festive mood for Las Alamandas, together with an architecture that is unashamedly romantic. Situated on a lonely stretch of the Pacific coast and a 90 mile drive south of Puerto Vallarta in Jalisco, Mexico, the exclusive resort of Las Alamandas take use of color in Mexican architecture to dramatic new levels. Palm trees and a yellow pebbled path lead via a monumental fountain imported from Portugal, to casitas of hacienda style decor, featuring the three magic elements of Mexican architecture: the wall, the courtyard, and the bold use of color. Tiled floors, thick, rendered walls, shuttered windows and high vaulted ceilings set the tone but it is the vibrant color that makes the most impact. Beachfront villa: Casa del Domo harboring an ardent pink painted dome is exceptionally striking against the turquoise blue ocean surf backdrop. Similarly vibrant hues are used on the risers of steps, playfully displayed along curved alleyways conducing to the Casita San Miguel or Casa Isidro villas.

Entrance to the pink ocean-front villa

Serene, and sophisticated enough, the place exudes a simple charm with a touch of class. Only hard work and careful attention to details can produce such elegance and grace which on the surface only, seems so effortless. Primitive, sophisticated and contemporary at once, its architecture serves as a “mise en scene� in which one can sense through its pink walls the reminiscent influence of a Luis Barragan, perhaps, but softened by curved edges. And on such a stage, not unlike quite a few Hollywood Hotshots, you, the guests have now become the star of the show.


Romantic dinner table under a palapa by the ocean


Wild birds on the lagoon

ince all the props are there, it is up to each of you to write your own scenario, and inspiration are a bundle; only your imagination or lack of it is the limit. There are no agenda, and nature is your canvas... The place is huge, and there are discoveries to be made, every single day. A bird sanctuary where more than 100 species of wild birds can be spotted, and while on your way there, you might even cross path with a deer, as surprised as you by the encounter.

Cactus trees and bougainvilleas near the lake

A perfect picnic for two on one of the four secluded beaches, may be, or sunset viewing on top of a cliff while sipping cocktails, perhaps, or even horseback riding at sundown on the seashore, and all of these activities with seldom having a glimpse at any of the other guests. Each guest experience is guaranteed to be unique and each one will leave reluctantly, feeling that for a brief moment they had been the “queen” or “king” of the castle. Difficult to be “blue”, indeed, when waking up at Las Alamandas. Just a glance through the shutters of your half opened window, witnessing the wonderful harmony


Horse riding on pristine Soledad beach

Rocky ocean shore facing La Palapa beach club

between the dash green of the swaying palm trees and the emerald hues of the ocean in the distance, brightens your day. Surrounded by such a beauty, your spirit invigorated, you stroll down the lush alleyways leading to the Palapa beachside restaurant, where you are ready to order some freshly squeezed homegrown fruit juice, accompanied by “eggs’ Isabel” (Isabel Goldsmith own version of Huevos rancheros), meanwhile right in front of your very eyes the pelicans are having their ‘breakfast’ too. Swirling in a strange ballet, spotting their pray from high above, they suddenly zoom in, dive in and catch their fish in a split of a second, as you hear the sound of the crashing waves. In quite a short time, you have reconnected body and spirit, heart and soul, with a simple magic recipe that combined a bit of color therapy, as those pink hues definitely reinvigorated your spirit, the power of nature in the wild revived your senses, while the strong rhythm of the pounding ocean nursed you back to sleep.

Shocking pink jetty pier

Fully rested and relaxed, you are now looking at life on the “rosy” side and ready to face that “gray” world again.


Love, Sex, Hollywood, and the making of Puerto Vallartata By Lina Zeldovich Its weather is gorgeous. Its beaches are beautiful. Its locals are friendly and welcoming. So it’s hardly surprising that over the past 50 years Puerto Vallarta has transformed from an idyllic fishing village into a getaway spot that draws thousands of tourists a year. Yet, not every cute little beach town turns into a renowned travel attraction. What was Puerto Vallarta’s secret recipe that propelled it into vacation stardom? If you trace the city’s history back in time, you’d find that its success arose from a mix of serendipity, circumstance and human emotions spanning over two continents and several decades. PV, as the locals nicknamed it, owes its fame to one break-up story, one love story, and a heavy dosage of Hollywood glamor, drama, and decadence.


In 1940, heartbroken after his male lover Kip Kiernan left him to marry a woman, American writer Tennessee Williams set out for Mexico, seeking escapism in globe-trotting. As Williams himself put it, he was trying to get “as far from New York as I could hope to get on the small funds at my disposal.” After some soulsearching, he settled in a small Acapulco hotel Costa Verde. This unassuming location

became his inspiration for The Night of the Iguana, a short story he published a few years later. The story became a very successful Broadway play, and caught attention of Hollywood director John Huston. Huston loved Mexico so the idea of filming there was a thrill. He just needed to decide on a place. Huston had first visited Puerto Vallarta in the late 1920s when it was still a tiny fishing village of a few thousand dwellers. Historically, Puerto Vallarta was a rather inaccessible piece of land. Separated from the rest of the country by a near-impassable mountain range, the place could be reached only by boat or plane for a long time. Needless to say, not too many planes landed on its grounds in the first half of the 20th century. But in 1954, Mexicana Airlines started flying their Guadalajara-Vallarta route, says anthropologist Teresa Delfin who studies the city’s cultural history. By then Puerto Vallarta was a small but established village— beautiful, welcoming and peaceful. When Huston returned in early 1960s to scout the area for the film, he liked what he saw. He decided to shoot the movie at the Mismaloya Beach, a beautiful

pristine swath of peach sand awash in greenish-blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. At the time, Mismaloya Beach was so remote and separated from civilization that no roads led to it at all. It was accessible only by boats and canoes. But Puerto Vallarta was right nearby, and that was the pivoting point in the city’s history. The Night of the Iguana had an all-star cast—from Richard Burton to Ava Gardner to Deborah Kerr, never mind Huston and Williams themselves. All these bohemian personalities shooting a movie in a tropical paradise, albeit amongst spiders and scorpions, were an irresistible draw. The place became a focal point of celebrity gossip before the cameras began to roll. But what really frenzied the excitement was the fact that Elizabeth Taylor, who wasn’t in the movie but was in love with Burton, followed him to the set. Married to other people at the time, Taylor and Burton’s love affair was a fatal attraction to the paparazzi. Journalists from all over the world were sent to Puerto Vallarta to cover the filming and the stars. “We have more reporters here than iguanas,” one crew member had allegedly stated

back then. Within weeks, Puerto Vallarta had staked out its spot on the map as the place to be and the destination to visit. Not everyone was happy with the Hollywood crews invading the serene shores of Mexico. To some locals, the drinking, snorting, heroin-shooting, scantily clad, libidinous gringos were an offence to their moral and cultural values. A local newspaper Siempre had supposedly published a scathing gringos-go-home decree: “Our children of 10 and 15 are being introduced to sex, drink, drugs, vice, and carnal bestiality by the garbage of the United States: gangsters, nymphomaniacs, herointaking blondes.” The paper called for the gangsters and nymphomaniacs to be sent home as soon as possible while it still wasn’t too late for the “responsible Mexicans” to save Puerto Vallarta. Some hard-core moralists also protested against Burton and Taylor “living in sin.” But the vehement speeches didn’t engender any drastic measures. Puerto Vallarta natives held a very nonjudgmental, accepting view of the world. “Mexico is very regional culturally,” explains Delfin, “so it has these distinct pockets that behave very differently, from one city or state to the next.” The region has always been a pleasant and reasonably easy place to live. The weather was beautiful. The sea was bountiful. The land was plentiful—every seed that fell into the soil grew. The people were generally content with

their lives and weren’t really interested in dictating the affairs of others. So the locals simply waited for the cinema incursion to end. Huston and his decadent crew finished filming the iguana classic and went back home. And the two inflammatory celebrities ultimately became the admired Puerto Vallarta love birds. As they greatly enjoyed the city, Burton and Taylor began to build a love nest on its bucolic slopes. On his inamorata’s 34th birthday, Burton gifted her Casa Kimberly, a charming white stucco casita nestled on a cobblestone hillside overlooking the sea. Then they bought the adjacent casita which boasted a luxurious pool and a roof deck with a magnificent city view. The villas became respectively “hers” and “his,” and visiting each other required crossing the street, which involved the risk of bumping into a reporter or two. So the couple consummated their real estate wows in an overpass that connected both dwellings. The structure, inspired by Venice’s Bridge of Sighs and titled the Bridge of Love or Puerto Del Amor, begot numerous legends of the star-crossed lovers’ life. They kissed on the bridge. They made love on the bridge. They had screaming arguments on the bridge and ran to their own quarters only to meet there again hours later. Puerto Vallarta became the place where the famed duo could have a semblance of a normal life. The locals pretty much let them be, and camerawielding celebrity hounds were less frequent and aggressive than everywhere else. Even

after Burton and Taylor divorced, she still kept visiting Casa Kimberly. Only after Burton’s death, did she finally sell it in 1990. But the villas tied together by the arching crossing into an iconic symbol of their passionate affair are still there today. After having served as a museum for a short time and being closed for a while, Casa Kimberly is opening its doors as a historic hotel this year. While renovated and expanded, the casa kept many touches and details of its eminent past. Taylor’s bedroom and her pink marble, heartshaped bathtub still remain. The azure-tiled pool looks no different from the time the glamorous couple splashed in it. And Puente Del Amor still joins the two casitas together, as if luring lovebirds around the world to indulge in their own unforgettable romance on its elegant ivory curve. The fabled stars are gone, but Puerto Vallarta is still as beautiful as they had found it—albeit less rustic and more chic with all of the modern-day comforts. And while paparazzi no longer raid it in search of Hollywood drama, travelers from all over the world flock to its beautiful shores.

BIO: Lina Zeldovich shimmied with belly dancers in Turkey, took kimono-wearing lessons from geishas in Japan and read poetry with drunken bards at the Russian Woodstock. Along the way, she survived Siberian winter, Jordanian summer and Columbia J-School. She has written for Newsweek, The Atlantic, Hemispheres, and Psychology Today, among other outlets.


Captain Alex on a flyboard

g i o n n i M c y e i x l F

By Steve MacNaull


Channeling my inner George Jetson,

I strap the jet pack to my feet. However, even with the power of flight literally at the tip of my toes, there is not initial success. There are feeble lift offs out of the water and face plants, belly flops and comical backward bails. But before long I’m flying, feeling like a majestic seabird soaring above Mexico’s Banderas Bay.

THIS IS FLYBOARDING, THE NEWEST CRAZE IN ADVENTURE WATER SPORTS. And as the name suggests, you fly above the water on what looks like a modified wakeboard. A 40-foot hose is attached to this contraption from a jet ski and the watercraft’s jet propulsion and resulting rush of water thrusts you skyward. I first see an offering for this $129 adrenalin rush while on holiday in Riviera Nayarit, the luxe vacation spot just north of Puerto Vallarta. Vallarta Adventures promises heart-pounding thrills with safety and success. The company touts flyboarding as having extreme street cred, but if you can stand up and follow simple instructions you can easily soar. After a 10-minute steep learning curve, I’ve got the hang of it and I’m doing 360s (well, more like 270s), lame dips and weaves and the odd dive into the sea to emerge like an injured dolphin.

But I’m still proud of myself, after all, I’m flying. After a half-hour, I return to the boat jubilant to the cheers of Captain Alex, instructor Israel and photographer Jaime. Alex decides to give me a demo so I can grab some pictures. He’s a pro. Immediately he’s high in the air doing front and back flips, backward plunges and perfect dolphin dives. By comparison my flyboarding prowess is revealed for exactly what it was: a middle-aged gringo amateur trying to look cool. Meantime, my wife is back at Grand Velas All-Suites Resort not missing me, or flyboarding, at all. We’ve picked this piece of paradise because it’s the only fivediamond all-inclusive along the Mexican Pacific and a member of The Leading Hotels of the World. And boy, does it deliver. Our ninth-floor suite has stunning views of the elaborate pools complex, golden beach and ocean. After the flyboarding, the serenity massage at the spa is just the ticket. There are only six four-diamond restaurants in Riviera Nayarit and three of them are at Grand Velas. Tourists book in here as much for the food as they do the sun, sea and sand. Signature resto, Piaf, does French well with duck confit and escargot. Italian-themed Lucca does wonders with ravioli and Frida, yes, it’s named after the famous uni-browed Mexican artist, does Latin-inspired beef tenderloin.

Check out, and Grand Velas All-Suites Resort in Riviera Nayarit


VALLARTA BOTANICAL GARDENS A highlight for any visit to Puerto Vallarta


hen you visit a garden at the beginning of the summer growing season, and then again in late fall—and it’s equally beautiful— you know you’re on to something special. Such is the case with the Vallarta Botanical Gardens.

There are actually 1,200 orchid species in Mexico, and the Vallarta Botanical Gardens are actively adding to the list of species they have on site, and act as custodians of confiscated orchids that have been illegally planted in private gardens.

I had the pleasure of a guided tour of the gardens to learn about all the site has to offer in early May. It was stunning. I was equally mesmerized with a late October visit, when I was asked to speak at the Vallarta Cacao and Chocolate Festival held October 17-18, 2015.

“We’re the stewards and caretakers of these plants and will return them to the wild if feasible, but only one third of them will survive,” says Executive Director Neil Gerlowski as he receives a delivery of confiscated orchid plants via the Secretariat of National Resources for Mexico— the environmental police who just happened to attend the garden while we were there. Most people don’t realize that you can’t dig up orchids you find in the wild and transplant them in your own garden. That is considered to be an illegal activity and will result in the plants being confiscated by the environmental police.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary November 14-15, 2015, the Vallarta Botanical Gardens has an active Calendar of Events to keep local patrons returning on a regular basis, and to entice visitors to Puerto Vallarta to take time and make the effort to visit the site, situated at the Km. 24 marker of Highway 200, Carretera Puerto Vallarta a Barra de Navidad, the only road that goes south from Puerto Vallarta (PV). The drive to the Gardens takes approximately 30 minutes from Old Town PV and costs approximately $300 pesos from the Zona Romantica neighborhood of Puerto Vallarta. But it’s well worth the drive! You’ll see up to 300 species of birds here during the peak winter season, as well as 50 different species of Mexican orchids.


By Doreen Pendgracs

But you can certainly enjoy the breath-taking orchids you’ll find at the Vallarta Botanical Gardens, as well as an abundance of native and exotic flora throughout the 20-acre (8-hectare) grounds that make up the gardens. The lily pond is my favorite feature, boasting color year-round with different varieties of lilies blooming at different times.

The Vallarta Botanical Gardens have been voted as one of the top 10 gardens to visit in North America, and are TripAdvisor’s fifth most popular attraction in the Jalisco state of Mexico. Do visit on your next trip to Puerto Vallarta, and feel free to bring your dog! The Vallarta Botanical Gardens is a pet friendly facility. But remember to bring insect repellent. The no-see-ums are prevalent, and even with a light coating of repellent, you may find your ankles to be the flavor of the month for these tiny pests when strolling through the grounds. The best protection is always long pants, but you will find repellent, a great selection of handcrafts, chocolate and books (including Chocolatour!) in the on-site gift shop. You can enjoy a meal or refreshing drink in the on-site restaurant, or venture a bit further into El Tuito village for a truly authentic Mexican dinner or lunch. Make a day of it and you’ll be glad you took the time to explore Vallarta Botanical Gardens and the authentic Mexico off the beaten path. Stay up to date on the happenings at the gardens by subscribing to their beautiful monthly newsletter (called the Leaflet) that is available for free download on their website. The photography is simply stunning!

Doreen Pendgracs (rig the invitation to speak ht) received Botanical Gardens froat the Vallarta m Execu Director Neil Gerlowski tive

es i (right) receiv Neil Gerlowsk scated orchids a load of confi entative of the from a repres tal Police Environmen

Lily pond at Vallarta Botanical Gardens

Beau t louniful vista ge fr Bota at the Vom the nica a l Ga llarta rden s

A rare bromeliad, Ursulaea macvaughii in bloom at the Vallarta Botanical Garden. Photo: Neil Gerlowski

Doreen Pendgracs is a NATJA member, author of Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate, and a big fan of Puerto Vallarta. You’ll find her site at


Puerto Vallarta Shines On by Lisa Richardson photos by Jim and Lisa Richardson We ventured south to explore our neighbor in Jalisco, Mexico, with eyes wide open. Steeped in history and culture, this hilly seaside city of cobblestone streets, swinging bridges and art-studded boardwalk is home to gracious people who capably share tradition. Famed in the sixties when Liz and Dick fell in love during the filming of “Night of the Iguana,” Puerto Vallarta is so much more. Here, the food culture is front and center, enriched by the past and bolstered by today’s faces-young and old. View from our balcony at Velas Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta art-studded Malecon

Los Arcos (The Arches) of Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta is colorful


Evening at Casa Velas

Was it the flair for the dramatic or the outstretched tamarindo margarita that piqued my interest? The boutique gardens were a vivid backdrop for an array of authentic tastes skillfully prepared and exuberantly presented by Marina Vallarta’s Velas Resorts’ restaurants and chefs. The pleasure was all ours, from gourmet fare to exquisite tacos to tiger shrimp, while heralded by twenty-three mariachis.

Exceptional crew at Casa Velas

Ceviche at El Guero’s

Just off the Malecón, that open gallery of gastronomy, Mariscos el Guero’s offers fresh and flavorful ceviche. Four generations are part of this institution on Calle Francisco Madero, which traces to a wooden cart in 1989. At a small table in the center, a former chef methodically shells shrimp. Charming Manuel of Vallarta Food Tours introduces us to ceviche, from the Incans’ siwichi, in which orange was used as citrus to prepare the fish. Here, the tostada was crowned with the zesty combination of mahi-mahi, “cooked” by lime, mixed with onions, pico di gallo, tomatoes, cilantro, cucumber, and topped with avocado. Accompanied by agua fresca de jamaica (hibiscus punch) and sensational salsa casera (house salsa with roasted guajillo and chile de arbol), I’ve never tasted better.

Evening at Casa Velas, Tamarindo Margarita

Velas Vallarta

Aurelia Carillo is a line chef at Restaurant Andrea. “Buen dia,” she says, her smile filling the room. Aurelia Carillo is one reason we looked forward to an early wake-up for breakfast. To a guest at Velas Vallarta, she is the face of Mexican cuisine as she lovingly prepares your choice of tortillas or eggs to accompany chilaquiles rojos or verdes, terrific machaca, sweet breads and tropical fruit. Born in Puerto Vallarta, she has been employed here fifteen years. “Yo soy felice aqui ...con ustedes, practicando espanol.” I made an effort to communicate in Spanish and was rewarded with warmth. It’s no surprise that our son and daughter-in-law were awed by Aurelia and the fantastic breakfast buffet from their stay at Velas Vallarta last fall.

Ceviche at Los Guero’s is fresh and flavorful

Appetizing at Mantamar


Cooking Class at El Arrayán

Introduction and instruction by co-proprietor Carmen Porras at NATJA’S cooking class at El Arrayán

Preparing the banana leaves for tamales

Signature El Arrayán margarita

Glazed pineapple with vanilla ice cream

The namesake tree graces the atrium of the restaurant in Old Vallarta. Colorful tablecloths and Huichol art adorn the walls. Cooking classes are offered at El Arrayán from October to March only, and today we found out why. Donning keepsake embroidered aprons, we checked out our menu and recipe packet (Spanish items, translated to English), and washed our hands. Then, the twelve of us, co-proprietor Carmen Porras, chef Diego Sanchez and a cheerful crew generated mucho heat in the kitchen! The chicken and the multi-ingredient mole poblano were prepared in advance of this four hour class, in order to save time and also to maximize flavors. Organized stations and mise en place awaited. After demonstration, there was equal opportunity for hands-on challenges in masa making, softening banana leaves over the flame, tamale construction and folding technique. We observed the process for cooking, with banana leaves lining and topping our precious bundles, for a flavor and moisture lock. We proceeded to chop zucchini, chiles, pineapple and more for accompaniments. Lunch was a resounding success with homemade chips, salsas, and signature Arrayán Margarita, made with yellow guava-like fruit from this tropical myrtle. Our class projects, a sensational zucchini appetizer, chicken mole tamales, and glazed pineapple with vanilla ice cream knocked our socks off! I’ll return for more true “mera mera cocina mexicana.”


Chicken mole in banana leaves

Cocktails at Vista Grill

The expansive terrace at Vista Grill, home to an award-winning restaurant, allows guests to embrace Puerta Vallarta’s beauty from above. Here, the shimmering Banderas Bay and a promising sunset prepare you for the evening ahead. Imbibe (yet another) margarita, munch an appetizer or two, and mingle. Bet you can’t pass on the selfie!

Ignacio Cadenas’ La Leche

The Terrace at Vista Grill

Tamarindo or maracuyá margaritas

A framed milk-mustached beauty adorns the otherwise stark white interior. Floor-to-ceiling shelves house hefty cans and jugs of milk--all white, of course---branded La Leche. The menu (white chalk on a blackboard) mesmerizes with word play. Q.M.T. is Ignacio-speak for “Quiero My Tuna.” Dressed in white, Ignacio exuberantly greets us with a sampling menu created that morning. Between delectable plates of tuna, beef carpaccio, a tacita of “everything” soup, octopus herbed risotto, veal butt, duck La Leche and sweets, we deduced that Nacho, as he is affectionately called, injects a bit of his soul into each dish. Wall art at La Leche

NATJA tasting menu at La Leche

The incomparable Ignacio Cardenas La Leche

Octopus on herbed risotto

Duck La Leche

Sweet finish at La Leche


Gaby’s Restaurant Bar

The rooftop terrace nearby the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe is well worth the climb, for the city view, traditional food and drink and this radiant family of proprietors. Son Julio Cesar, now chef, was born in 1989, the year Gaby’s was established. Cristina named the restaurant after her daughter. Tequila, chips, salsa, and mole appetizers whet our appetites for classic sopa de tortilla. Friendly servers offered tastes of smoky house raicilla. Next time, I’d like to try Julio’s recommendation: dine while enjoying a screening of “Night of the Iguana” or Linda Ronstadt’s “Canciones de mi Padre” on the whitewashed wall of the building across the street.

Sopa de tortilla at Gaby’s Restaurant Bar

Nightime treat at Velas Vallarta

Free time at Mantamar Beach

Oxana Sawka and Peter Johansen from Ottawa

Mr. Concepcion’s Tuba

One of a select group of vendors, the engaging Mr. Concepcion will make your day with a concoction known as “tuba.” The ingredients listed on his jug are “sap of the palm tree, purified water and ice, apples, strawberries, pecan, sugar, honey.” It’s refreshing! The city opened its arms to NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association) for our 13th annual conference. The people are the core of Puerto Vallarta. They are gracious and creative, with strength of character. Six months later, they demonstrate such resilience.


Hats off to Mariscos el Gueros

Tour of Banderas Bay by Mike’s Fishing


ur bright yellow 4×4 grinds higher up into the Sierra Madre Mountains. The high peaks rise like jagged green jewels above Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico. Under a canvas canopy cover I cling to my vinyl seat, inhale sharp mountain air and wonder about lunch. Already my appetite is wetted by mini food stops. First, a small Panaderia where freshly made buns, stuffed with either chocolate or vanilla, get baked in an oven build onto a large rock. Continuing up the mountain to the baker’s home, his wife makes blue corn tortillas from scratch, filling them with homemade cheese and salsa. Later, we are told, our lunch will be in a river. Eyebrows rise. Our guide, Armando Cruz, grins and says no more.

Lunch in a River Outside Puerto Vallarta By Lucy Beebe Tobias

LUNCH. IN A RIVER. REALLY? Lunch in a river is at Villa Azalea, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The canopy truck rolls to a stop at Villa Azalea, an elegant inn and organic farm high in a breathtaking mountain setting. A complete outdoor kitchen sits next to a gently flowing river. Guests can take a cooking class for $95 each and pick their food choices from the garden. Eat at tables under shade trees or in the river. Today the crew for our Vallarta Advenures “Hidden Mexico” day trip are the chefs. They have cooked us a buffet of authentic Mexican food including the best refried beans I’ve ever had. Before cruising the buffet table, I take off my shoes. Then, with a full plate of food I wade in ankle deep water over to a canopy-covered picnic table firmly embedded in the riverbed and sit down. Every bite tastes exquisite to me. I have written about Puerto Vallarta food and art at my blog but this meal takes me to a whole new zip code. The river flows by. Little fish nibble at my feet. Place and food blend together to take lunch from ordinary to extraordinary.

Lunch in a river at Villa Azalea, Puerto Vallarta

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The smell of salt air hits our senses like a savory spice. We are at the edge of downtown Puerto Vallarta. Does the name sound familiar? This is the small fishing and pearl-diving village that became famous due to a movie made in the 1960s called “The Night of the Iguana”. The movie, the stars, the glam brought bright lights to Puerto Vallarta, a town that kisses the wide curve of Bahia de Banderas in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. Richard Burton, the movie’s star, bought a house here for his soon-to-be-wife Elizabeth Taylor - who perhaps wanted to keep an eye on her yet-to-be- hubby. After all, his co-stars were Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr. Like a black and white movie turned into Technicolor, Puerto Vallarta has grown from the sleepy 1960s into a sparkling, elegant destination with a full plate of cuisines, cultures and celebrations.

Art and Food Go Together in Puerto Vallarta By Lucy Beebe Tobias

Good things begin with food in Puerto Vallarta Then as now, all good things begin with food. And so we sit outside at Villa Premiere, a boutique hotel and spa near historic downtown. Our lunch tables are crisply laid with white linen tablecloths, tall wine glasses waiting to be filled and vases overflowing with baby’s breath. The first course arrives – scallop grilled over mashed potatoes and macadamia nut wreath with turkey sausage and avocado foam. Oh, yes, Toto. We’re not in Kansas anymore and we know it. The dining pavilion opens to a wide view of Bahia de Banderas, a huge bay ringed by peaks – the Sierra Madre mountain range rising tall, pale green and majestic then dropping in breathtaking descent into the bay. It can’t be measured in a measuring cup, but surely a beautiful view like this enhances every bite? Smiles, foodie conversations, flowing wine – by the time we get to dessert – a little taste of Cuba, Habana chocolate and basil ice cream, we’re ready to applaud Executive Chef Tony Martinez and we do. He’s pleased - to us it is one grand lunch but he works his kitchen magic every day. For me, the foodie memories that linger from lunch – the grilled scallop, just so, and my first taste ever of basil ice cream. I will go home and look at my basil plant with new respect. Who knew you could partner a common herb with ice cream and get a winner?


Walking the Art Walk After lunch, we find ourselves walking the walk in Centro Historico – the Puerto Vallarta downtown historic center area with art galleries, restaurants, gift shops, the main square, the cathedral Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe and the Malecon promenade. Good walking shoes are a must as sidewalks are narrow, often cracked plus some hillsides to climb. Our first stop is Colectika, an ancestral contemporary art gallery at Guadalupe Sanchez 858. Co-owner Kevin Simpson shows us prints by Enrique Flores dream images with vivid colors. He then invites us into the Room of the Dead. I hesitate at the door, unwilling to communicate with the dead. But Simpson explains the whole use of skulls and skeletons is about resurrection in Mexican folk art. He shows us a skull covered with beautifully made butterflies. The point - out of death comes new life. More galleries await us. For vacation planning it is good to know that from the end of October through the end of May each year the Historic Center Art Walk happens on Wednesday evenings from 6-10 p.m. Galleries (nine at this writing) are open along with restaurants included two recommended ones – Café des Artistes and The River Café. Free brochures have addresses and a map. Most galleries are open year round and are within easy walking distance of each other. We step into Galleria Pacifico at Aldama 174 Centro. Outdoor spaces have bronze sculptures hanging on walls and perching on pedestals. All are athletes in various poses, lifelike yet somehow very evocative in an ancient way as if they came fresh from the Greek games in Olympia and are simply posing for a selfie with you then they’ll be on their way.

Sculpture walk on Malecon Promenade Gary Thompson owner of Galleria Pacifico guides a free Malecon sculpture walking tour during the season (Oct. through May). Meet Tuesday mornings at 9:30 a.m. at the Millennium sculpture next to the Hotel Rosito. When the walk is over, adjourn to Galleria Pacifico where a sculptor, often Jim Demetro, who created Vallarta Dancers, will talk about his work. At Galleria de Ollas, Corona 176, Centro, the space is small but worth a slow, careful look. Here are works by Mata Ortiz potters, a rural village in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. The intricate designs, all created freehand, are museum quality and unique – unlike anything I’ve ever seen. More galleries are nearby but I opt to walk one block down to the Malecon, a wide promenade along Puerto Vallarta’s waterfront dotted with bronze sculptures and a walkway full of embedded designs. Some of the pebble designs in the walkway are symbols from the Huichol Indian tribe that go back to pre-Columbian beliefs – like corn, a gift from the gods and peyote, a cactus eaten to communicate with the gods. Commissioned sculptures sit like landmarks along the walkway. A sculpture called “In Search of Reason” by Sergio Bustamante, Guadalajara, 2000, attracts tourists this day for a photo moment. Nearby the “Rotunda of the Sea” by Alejandro Colunga, Guadalajara, 1997, has us scratching out heads. But still, shutters click. Memories are being made here. Like the series of dishes at lunch, this art walk is just a taste. There is more, much more.

Eat like a local Consider taking a local culture walking tour with Learn Vallarta. Some tours are given in French and German. To become a local in three hours (I’m not making this up) take a culinary and cultural tour (three to choose from) with Vallarta Food Tours. Go off the beaten path to eateries, taco stands, meet the owners and their staff. It is true you have to rent the 1964 movie to get just a glimpse of the old fishing village yet a walking food tour taken today has ingredients of the traditional Mexican culinary experience. That hasn’t changed. But the population has. Over 40,000 expat residents (15 percent of the population) now call Puerto Vallarta home. And some 1.5 million visitors a year find their way here. Many stay at a ring of well-appointed hotels that dot the northern end of Bahia de Banderas. Tourism employs 70 percent of the city’s workforce. When I asked wait or hotel staff if Puerto Vallarta was home the answers came proudly – yes, this is home, born here, raised here and raising a family here. For me, this was my first visit ever to Puerto Vallarta. I have to say – This is an awesome place. What took me so long to get here? I, for one, am eager to return. Another food tour and more art galleries are on the menu. Note: My lunch companions were fellow travel writers and photographers. We were in Puerto Vallarta for the North American Travel Journalists Association conference. During our stay there were no travel restrictions, incidents or limitations. We were welcomed at every venue.



Puerto Vallarta beach

Unexpected Reasons to

Visit Puerto Vallarta By Lois Alter Mark

For most baby boomers, the mention of Puerto Vallarta conjures up images of Captain Stubing and Julie, the Cruise Director, on “The Love Boat.” The classic TV show, of which we all have fond memories, ran from 1977 to 1987, and made the destination a household name. But the resort town, on the Western coast of Mexico, is so much more than the beautiful beaches for which it’s best known. I recently visited Puerto Vallarta and was amazed by all it had to offer. Sure there was glorious sun and sand and water but there were also so many surprises that I recommend you take the tourism board’s advice and “Live It to Believe It.” 60



Puerto Vallarta is a foodie’s paradise, from the iconic Tacos el Cunado taco stand (order your tacos by threes, like the locals do) to the authentic tortilla soup and addictive mole at Gaby’s Restaurant to Chef Thierry Blouet’s French cuisine at the breathtaking Café des Artistes – one of the most stunning settings in which I’ve ever eaten. Watch the sun set over drinks at Vista Grill, join the “in” crowd at trendy La Leche and sample a little bit of everything on a Vallarta Food Tour. Be sure to taste Tuba, a refreshing and fruity drink made with apples, pecans and coconut, from one of the dozen official vendors.

Although it’s tempting to park yourself on a chaise lounge, it would be a shame to miss the scenery from a zip line, ATV or raft at Canopy River or a hike through the Botanical Gardens, which features the mostvisited public collection of orchids in Mexico. If you’re an animal lover, you must take a river ride with one of the horses at Hacienda Dona Engracia or – one of my all-time favorite experiences – a swim with the dolphins at Dolphin Discovery. Don’t leave Puerto Vallarta without a kiss from Pepe!

ART Bring along an extra suitcase because you’ll want to fill it with one-of-akind reminders of your trip. A vibrant center for the arts, Puerto Vallarta is home to numerous galleries filled with the works of both national and international artists. The city also features an array of public art. Take a walk along the Malecon – the Boardwalk – where the Pacific provides a natural backdrop to the works of more than a dozen sculptures.

LUXURY At Velas Vallarta, the views of the lush gardens and the turquoise water of Banderas Bay from your private terrace are a vacation in themselves! Eat breakfast outside with the resident peacocks and enjoy a massage on the pristine beach. Want more pampering? Head over to Secrets Spa by Pevonia, where you can spend the day indulging in the latest hydrotherapy and indigenous treatments. FYI, “ah” is the same in Spanish.

CULTURE The people of Puerto Vallarta are warm and welcoming, and they go out of their way to make you feel at home. Get to know their rich culture by taking in a free concert or dance performance at “Los Arcos” on the Malecon, and visiting the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, one of the city’s most iconic buildings and prettiest churches. No trip to Mexico would be complete without a little tequila or its distant cousin, raicilla, and it’s well worth the drive through the mountains to tour the lovely Hacienda El Divisadero, where they make this ancient drink of the Gods. While you’re there, you can marvel at the 1200 year old petroglyphs. Set aside one night to take a Vallarta Adventures sunset cruise out to the secluded cove of Las Caletas for the magical “Rhythms of the Night.” This mystical and spiritual performance, accompanied by a delicious dinner buffet under the stars, is something you’ll remember long after you’ve returned home.


Vacation Like an “A” Lister in Eco-Luxury at Las Alamandas By Lois Alter Mark

I laughed when owner Isabel Goldsmith confessed that her biggest obstacle to getting the word out about Las Alamandas, her exquisite, secluded (and safe) luxury resort in Costalegre, Mexico, is that guests don’t want to share it. Although they return year after year, they just won’t talk about it with their friends. And now that I’m writing about it, I’m no longer laughing. In fact, I feel kind of invested in keeping it a secret and am a little wary of revealing this hidden gem. What if it becomes so popular, it’s completely booked when I want to come back? You see, there are only 16 rooms – really, suites and villas – at Las Alamandas. Sixteen gorgeous, spacious, settle-in-and-makeyourself-at-home rooms. Sixteen impeccably appointed rooms that feel like your best friend lovingly decorated them just for you. That means that, at any given time, the maximum number of guests at Las Alamandas is 42. Considering the place is home to 1500 acres of unspoiled nature reserve, it’s like your own private haven. With so much space and so few people, Las Alamandas can accurately be classified as a hideaway. One that oozes comfort, sophistication, romance – and blissful quiet.


Although Las Alamandas regularly hosts celebs like Brad Pitt and Robert de Niro (who was actually the resort’s first guest), the staff is fiercely protective of their – and your – privacy. They aim to please, are quick to say “yes” to any request and they treat you as if you, too, were an Oscar winner. As soon as Augusto, the charming general manager, welcomes you with a cold drink and a warm smile, you will start to feel relaxed. That feeling will only grow stronger the longer you stay. With four beaches, a lagoon, a river and an organic orchard on the property, you can wander endlessly, exploring the raw beauty of Mexico at your own pace. If you just want to view the scenery from something with a cushion, you can stretch out in one of the inviting chairs, hammocks and couches on your own patio, by the beach, by the pool or under the oceanfront thatched palapa. And, on the off chance you get tired of lying outdoors, devouring books, snacks and the stunning views – something I can’t even imagine – you can always go horseback riding, play tennis, borrow a mountain bike, take out a boogie board, snorkel, fish or work out in the fully equipped, airconditioned gym.

You may actually want to consider one of those activities after indulging in the delicious and oh-so-fresh dishes at the Oasis restaurant. Food is taken very seriously at Las Alamandas, and the staff will pack you a picnic lunch to eat anywhere on the property or set up a romantic dinner on the beach just for you. They’ll deliver room service, stock your mini bar and leave you homemade cookies to ensure sweet dreams. With Wi-Fi only available in the Art Gallery/TV Lounge area, Las Alamandas is truly the perfect getaway for empty nesters to rekindle their relationship, for intergenerational family bonding, for writers who need to be inspired without the distractions of social media. The resort is a two hour drive from Puerto Vallarta – where I highly recommend you spend a couple of busy days before retreating to Las Alamandas – or an hour and a half from Manzanillo. You can arrange car service with the staff. In short, if you’re looking for paradise, here it is. Visit their website to make your reservation but please wait an hour or two. I want to make sure I make mine first.

Las Alamandas beachside resort


A Return Visit to Paradise Puerto Vallarta

By Ron Kapon

View of cathedral from Banderas Bay


capulco, Cancun, Iztapa-Zihuatanejo, Tijuana, Guadalajara and Mazatlan are cities in Mexico that I have visited in the past 10 years. The North American Travel Journalist Conference allowed me to spend four days in Puerto Vallarta, which I had last visited 8 years ago as a guest of Continental Airlines. Conde Nast Magazine called it “the friendliest city in the world.” AARP voted Puerto Vallarta the top destination for Americans to retire overseas. U.S. News & World Report voted it the #2 place to visit in Mexico as well as the #4 best spring break destination. There are 330 days of sunshine and the average temperature is 83 degrees. Many airlines fly into the newly renovated and expanded Gustavo Diaz Ordaz International Airport. The Puerto Vallarta Tourist Board through their public relations firm Latitude arranged the airfare. It was Aero Mexico down, through Mexico City and Delta back, leaving from Guadalajara, through Atlanta. Puerto Vallarta sits on the same latitude as the Hawaiian Islands, and enjoys a consistent subtropical climate throughout the year with the rainy season limited to June through September.


Puerto Vallarta is located in the state of Jalisco, on the Pacific coast of Mexico. It is the same state where Guadalajara and Tequila (yes, there is a town with that name) are located. The area features 40 miles of coastline and includes tropical jungles, rocky river beds, steep mountainsides and arid flat lands. Its 256,000 residents welcome over 3.9 million visitors a year, second only to Cancun. 1.5 million are visitors from the United States and Canada. It is also a very popular port of call for cruise ships on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. 50% of the population works in tourist related industries. The city is the most gay friendly in all of Mexico. There was an LGBT convention in town while we were there. The city was made famous (or infamous) by the 1964 movie Night of the Iguana, filmed entirely on location. Written by Tennessee Williams and directed by John Huston it starred Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr. Elizabeth Taylor had a relationship with Richard Burton during the filming. Both were married to other people at the time and they purchased a house --Casa Kimberley-- that was separated by what is now called “The Bridge of Love”. John Huston was enamored with the city and built a house at a nearby isolated cove called Las Caletas (more of that later) where he lived part time until his death in 1987.


he city is divided into the Marina, hotel zone, downtown, zona romantic and the south. The South Shore is where the Sierra Madre Mountains meet Banderas Bay creating many secluded beaches, coves and rivers. Downtown and Los Muertos Beach is the heart of the city with restaurants, bars, nightlife and shopping. It is very walk-friendly with its cobblestoned streets, wrought-iron balconies and red-tiled roofs. The Malecon (boardwalk) lines the beach for 10 blocks and is home to much of the sand sculpture and public art. Travel and Leisure Magazine named Puerto Vallarta the best beach in Latin America in 2014. It is there that the Arcos (Arches) lead to the town’s main square with their open-air concerts and performances. The landmark Iglesias de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe church is a must stop here. The Hotel Zone stretches from downtown to Marina Vallarta and includes many high-rise condos, as well as hotels. Our headquarters hotel was the 345 all-suite, all-inclusive Velas Vallarta Suite Resort & convention center (see my Trip Advisor review- Servicio Fantastico) with some events at the next door sister hotel- Casa Vallarta. Located on the 18-hole Marina Vallarta Golf Course this is an adult only 80 suite all-inclusive property. They both were located in the Marina Vallarta area, Mexico’s largest with 500 slips. There are shops, art galleries and restaurants as well as the golf course. Nuevo Vallarta is a planned residential and resort community just north of the airport. The conference for NATJA brought over 125 travel journalists to town.

Velas Vallarta resort

Peacock at Velas Vallarta resort

Los Arcos National Marine Park



sea. This tropical beach hideaway has places for lunch/ dinner, swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, sunbathing or strolling along the jungle paths There is also a parrot, monkey, owl area with opportunities to learn about and pose with any or all of them. Our group had dinner after the show called Rhythms of the Night. Be aware that it is a long uneven walk from the ship to the show & then to the restrooms. I saw several people fall. The crew on the boat was very talented and put on several musical shows.

Perched on the edge of a cliff a short drive south of downtown it offers spectacular views of the ocean. The men’s room has a giant boulder formation over the urinals with constant water flowing. Seafood is their specialty. Best view from a restaurant of the city- Vista Grill Restaurant and Lounge. It overlooks Puerto Vallarta and Banderas Bay. The temperature controlled wine room is next to the bar. It was awarded a Five Star Diamond Award from the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences. Sit BEST SPA TREATMENT- SECRET HOTEL. outside on the multi-level terraces for a perfect view of the HYDROTHERAPY WATER TREATMENTS sunset. Best children’s program & Best Tequila selection- Marriott Hot, cold, swirling, neck, back, shoulders. All self-service and wonderfully refreshing. Casa Magna Resort. The only hotel I have ever heard of that had its own resident clown to entertain the children BEST & WORST AIRPORT LOUNGES USED ON MY TRIP of guests. The children’s club provides activities for kids BEST: AIR FRANCE JFK TERMINAL 1 4-12. The hotel has its own Tequila sommelier that oversees PART OF THE DELTA SKY TEAM their 170-label collection. The property was also awarded Waiting for my early Aero Mexico flight I had a top recognition from Mexico’s National Tequila Regulatory wonderful breakfast, comfortable chairs and free Wi-Fi. Council. MOST ROMANTIC HOTEL AND BEST PLACE TO GET MARRIED - HACIENDA SAN ANGEL

14 suites in this luxury boutique hotel located just up from the Guadalupe Church. There is a private chapel across the street for weddings with two suites for the bride and groom and their families. BEST IN-TOWN RESTAURANT SETTING CAFÉ DES ARTISTES

located downtown with two separate restaurants. We ate in the canopied multi-level garden with vertical lighting reflecting from the trees above the tables. They have a comprehensive wine library. “It is an environment in which patrons are inspired by the relationship between architecture and landscape.” BEST PUBLIC ART - LE MALECON

While we were there The Last Supper was on display made from the sand on the beach. There are also permanent sculpture pieces along the 2,854-foot long boardwalk. BEST BEACH - LAS CALETAS

Once the private home of film director John Huston, it is now a private beach hideaway (exclusive to Vallarta Adventure customers) on Banderas Bay accessible only by



I had a 3-hour layover and looked forward to using this lounge. My Amex Platinum card gained admission. It reminded me of a hotel lobby; crowded and sterile. You paid for food & alcohol. What’s that about?


I have neuropathy and needed a chair in Mexico City and Atlanta. Please tip them generously (almost no one does). They are mostly mature women paid at or below the minimum wage. FRIENDLIEST STAFF AND BEST SERVICE VELAS VALLARTA

(family all suite all inclusive) and its sister adjacent property Casa Velas (adult all suite all inclusive). BEST NON-HUMAN VISITOR - PEACOCKS

that roamed the grounds and slept on balcony rooms of Velas Vallarta. Luckily my room was on the top floor and at the end so I was not awakened by their screeching sounds. All of the staff has to be certified in their specialty and it showed. Think Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton and add 25% friendlier.


The restaurant is visually amazing. Everything is white on white with milk cans for decoration. The large tables in the middle of the restaurant are communal. Everyone sits together and shares. The bag on top of the plate? That is your bread and it is delicious! Each night the menu at La Leche changes based on the fresh ingredients the chef (Alfonso Cadena) receives from local vendors. The noise level is maddening with the non-padded and very high ceilings. BEST ART COLLECTION AND BEST MUSICAL TRIO - RIVER CAFÉ

Live music and a natural environment. Infinity water fountain, tropical vegetation and art work by Oleo. And the food was great. BEST HIDEAWAY FOR THE 1%- NEMI ECO VILLA

Joe & Nicole Sanchez moved to Puerto Vallarta from Chicago in 2008. As an architect he designed this 6-bedroom villa from shipping containers and to be environmentally friendly (composting, flowered plants etc.). Rented through Airbnb & Villa Rentals for $800$1,500 night (3 night minimum) plus the cost of food ordered by the staff (included). Not a hotel, one can rent the whole villa or the top 3 or bottom 3 bedrooms. High season is late November thru late March. BEST ROCK FORMATION LOS ARCOS (ARCHES) NATIONAL MARINE PARK

Small granite islands that jut out of the water. The largest is 82 feet high and boats can go through those rocks. Lots of birds, snorkeling and diving. Coolest way to go swimming- Start out at a real working

ranch nestled in the Sierra Madre foothills. Go for a ride, and then stop to bathe in the volcanic hot springs and after the ride, relax at the Hacienda, eat or drink at the restaurant, and learn about how tequila is made. Rocks are slippery. BEST FORMER PRIVATE HOME CONVERTED TO SMALL INN - LUNA LIQUIDA BOUTIQUE HOTEL

14 rooms spread over 5 villas. Added a new section to the owners former home. BEST NEW HOTEL (NON CHAIN) - HOTEL MOUSAI

72 suite and adult only- AAA 5 Diamond. Opened December 2014 on the property above the Garca Blanca Preserve Resort- 172 room family-friendly. River on the property with the mountains behind the hotel that are part of the hotel. $250 PP all inclusive low season & $750 in high season. BEST NEW HOTEL (CHAIN) - HYATT ZIVA

First hotel for this new concept. Opened December 20, 2014. I stayed at the Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall adult allinclusive in Jamaica (next to the Ziva). It was a different hotel before being refurbished. 335 rooms- all-inclusive family oriented. There is a 24-hour deli in addition to the other restaurants. Wi-Fi included. The best part of the trip was the reception accorded visitors. We were not treated as “gringos” but as friends. Tourism is the main industry and everyone we met treated us with respect. I can’t wait for another return visit.

For more information: www.haciendasanangel.comn



TravelWorld International Magazine, Spring 2016: Puerto Vallarta Special Issue  
TravelWorld International Magazine, Spring 2016: Puerto Vallarta Special Issue