There is a magic to Puerto Vallarta, which defies explanation. You have only to spend time there and breathe its unique atmosphere to know that it is the perfect honeymoon haven.
This sultry area straddling the bay in the state of Jalisco has a cachet of its own. And unlike other beach resorts in Mexico, downtown Vallarta - as it is know to locals (PV to English speakers) – has managed to escape the inevitable “gringo-ization” of other areas and has retained the unmistakable flavor of the real Mexico.
North of downtown, the Marina Vallarta area has blossomed in recent years into a strip of all-inclusives, internationally renowned resorts and large retail chains – many of them, US favorites. Further north, in the newly dubbed “Riviera Nayarit” newcomers like Nuevo Vallarta and Punta Mita, add a totally different feel to the overall destination, which people still tend to list under the general heading “Puerto Vallarta.”
The Hacienda San Angel a member of Mexico’s Boutique Hotels, provides the perfect honeymoon retreat. An enclave of five Mexican villas (one of which was given by Richard Burton to his then wife Susan as a Valentine’s Day gift) its colonial tiles, fine woodwork and rich antiques, lend credence to the Mexican adage, “mi casa es su casa,” (my home is your home).
Exceptional visual perks are to be found in the hidden gardens, stunning bay views and the landmark Cathedral with its ornate crown, which can be seen from the hotel. Said to be fashioned after a tiara worn by the ill-fated Emperor Maximilian’s mistress, the original crown was replaced after it was damaged in a 1995 earthquake.
While the hotel is not on the beach, its location, just steps from downtown affords easy access to PV’s activities. There is an arrangement with the Hotel Intercontinental Hotel Beach Club on Playas Gemelas where you pay a nominal fee for use of the beach and facilities and the fee is credited back with the purchase of food and beverages.
The original downtown area – the heart of PV - with its small white-washed adobe buildings, red-tiled roofs and steep cobblestone streets winds down from the lush Sierra Madres and spills out onto the seafront making it easy to explore on foot.
The seafront promenade, known as the malecón, always the focal point of life here, boasts an 11-block strip of boutiques, cafes and cozy bistros. At its southern end, a series of lighted arches serve as the stage for live music or performances by jugglers, dancers, comedians and art exhibits.
Some of Mexico’s and the world’s top chefs have set up shop in Puerto Vallarta, resulting in a plethora of delicious dining options.
Los Xitomates, (Nahuatl for “tomatoes”) is well known for the tantalizing nouvelle Mexican cuisine served by award-winning owner chef Luis Fitch and the menu reflects his amazing talent for combing fresh ingredients with indigenous fare.
Later, plan a visit Ztai, the current darling with the late night crowd for romantic dancing. It is part restaurant, trendy lounge and Zen garden all in one - with an ocean view.
Vallarta Adventures offers a tour to Las Caletas, once the private home of film director John Huston – a hideaway he considered “one of the most beautiful places in the world.”
It is accessible only by sea but once there you can spend the day snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming with sea lions or simply kicking back and soaking up the sun or indulging in a wide-range of spa treatments with warm sea breezes and unparalleled views as part of the therapy.
Spas are plentiful in PV but Terra Noble Art & Healing Center, the mountainside retreat created by renowned designer Jorge Rubio is special. A variety of treatments are offered outside, beneath private open-air palapas overlooking the bay. Also available are meditation and art classes.
Marriott CasaMagna Resort’s luxurious Ohtli (“path to wellness” in the Huichol culture) Spa is another option and allows for a foray into the “other” Vallarta – the Marina Vallarta, a planned community whose focal point is the 500-slip marina, the largest in all of Mexico and the Marina Golf Club - one of the area’s most popular 18-hole courses.
Long after your honeymoon has ended, you’ll be dreaming of this wonderful Mexican resort… and longing to return.