Puerto Vallarta Escape – Activities, Resort Tips, and Best Eats
Ready for a tropical getaway? Let’s head to Puerto Vallarta!
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting this beautiful city in Mexico with my friend Abby. She also has the flexibility to work remotely, so the two of us decided to escape Wisconsin and set up shop poolside instead. I worked on my cookbook manuscript, and we took food, “water” (*cough* margarita *cough*), and even spa breaks as needed.
Our home away from home was Casa Velas resort. If you are looking for a tranquil place to lie in the sun, enjoy fabulous service, and eat and drink to your happy heart’s content, this is the vacation spot for you. I’m sharing a few of our favorite moments from the trip, as well as what makes Casa Velas special.
The Location—Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
This was my third time in Mexico for vacation but my first trip to Puerto Vallarta. The first two trips (one of which was my honeymoon), we stayed around Cancun, which is located on the Gulf (east) side of the country. Puerto Vallarta—which I will henceforth refer to as PV, because I had such a dreamy time that I feel like the city and I are on nickname terms—is on the Pacific (west) side, so I was excited for a new experience.
Verdict: I loved Puerto Vallarta and would 100% go back to Puerto Vallarta the next time I’m in Mexico. It’s just as quick and easy to reach as Cancun, the town is charming, it felt less “spring break” (in a good way), and the beach is stunning. The fact that this area in Mexico is mountainous made the setting even more dramatic.
Even though the ocean water was colder than the Gulf, it felt refreshing. I’m more of a pool girl myself, so I was happy to wander along the smooth sand and let the waves hit my feet, then retreat to the resort pool if I felt the need for a dip. Yes, I’m a princess like that, and princess-ing is allowed on beach vacations.
Staying On-Resort in Puerto Vallarta—Casa Velas
I knew I wanted a truly relaxing escape—we’re talking lounge by the pool, drink good drinks, eat good food, “do not disturb”-style—and Casa Velas was the perfect pick. A few things I loved about it:
- It’s small and intimate. There’s no walking down mazes of hallways or past building after building to get to the pool. All-inclusive resorts can feel like mega complexes, but this luxury boutique hotel felt more like I was staying at someone’s (ultra fabulous) home.
Bonus to the smaller size: we never had to fight for a pool chair. I’ve been to other all-inclusives where I felt like I had to set an alarm to score a chair; here, it was never an issue.
- The setting is stunning. Every element of Casa Velas feels lush. The pool is sapphire blue, the patio is open and lively, and flowers and birds adorn the grounds. Everywhere you look, you are reminded that you are on vacation.
Casa Vela’s primary resort location where the rooms and primary pool are located isn’t directly on the beach, but guests do have access to a beachfront “club” that is a part of the resort. It’s only a five-minute drive (the staff will take you anytime you like), includes a pool, private beach chairs, and full-service restaurant, and the views are exactly as fabulous as you are hoping they’ll be.
- SERVICE, SERVICE, SERVICE. I can’t overstate how incredible the service and staff here are. Within moments of sitting down at the pool, someone would appear to see if we needed food or drinks and bring us a pitcher ultra-refreshing spa water—to which my first thought was “Who am I?” and my second was “Spa water is my new favorite thing.”
In addition to the promptness of the service, I was also impressed by the effort the staff made to get to know the patrons. I watched in awe as the bartender remembered favorite drink orders and names.
- Adults-only. While I have no issues with more family-oriented hotels, as someone traveling without kids, the fact that the resort’s primary focus was on adults made for a more relaxed experience.
- The FOOD. Whether you are craving something fancy or more relaxed, the resort has an option to suit your mood (lineup of options here). We munched nachos by the pool, fine seafood both in the hotel’s main restaurant, Emiliano, and the Beach Club restaurant (great for lunch or dinner), and chips and guac at every available opportunity. The resort grows its own herbs, which are used in much of the cooking, another nice touch that you don’t find at larger places.
I also highly recommend doing the in-room dining at least once. It’s a part of the all-inclusive package, and it will make you feel like royalty.
While the dinners were lovely, one of my favorite parts was actually breakfast. It’s made fresh to order, and you can enjoy your meal on a patio overlooking the grounds.
- The drinks. I’m a self-professed margarita snob, and the ones here are LEGIT. Better-quality alcohol is included with your stay, and the staff can easily make and customize drinks to your taste.
- The spa. You’re on vacation. Go for it! The massage, steam room, and sauna were so relaxing, and we were even treated to tea and cookies at the end. (I didn’t know I could crave tea and cookies after a massage, but they hit the spot!)
- The rooms. Clean, bright, and so spacious. The beds were probably the most comfortable of any hotel I’ve stayed in. The resort even offers a menu of pillows so you can pick your firmness. <—Pillow selection was definitely another “Who am I?” moment.
- The fun extras. While I was initially drawn to Casa Velas for the food, intimate size, and setting, throughout our stay, all kinds of little surprises made the experience even more memorable.
From the peacocks that roam the grounds freely (and love nachos), to the fact that guests can casually borrow designer bags for the fun of it, to the live nightly music and themed cocktail nights, Casa Velas makes a point to delight guests with extra touches.
Staying in the City—Off-Resort in Puerto Vallarta
After three fabulous nights at Casa Velas, we decided to venture into the city of Puerto Vallarta for two nights. I don’t have a ton to report since the trip was so fast, but here are a few highlights and tips.
Where to Stay in Puerto Vallarta (Off-Resort)
With the help of a friend who’s lived in Puerto Vallarta, we picked the Zona Romantica neighborhood.
- The heart of the old city, Zona Romantica is packed with restaurants and shops and directly on the beach. BEWARE: If your Airbnb mentions “a walk” or “a hill,” it is no joke. We definitely earned our tacos walking up a long, super-steep hill to our Airbnb.
- It’s also worth looking into staying at a place that gives you beach access. That was a mega downside of going off-resort—unless you have your own beach supplies, you are probably going to need to rent a chair, towels, etc.
Where to Eat in Puerto Vallarta
We did a quick and dirty DIY taco tour. Here are our favorites.
- Old Town Farmers Market. COME SO HUNGRY. More in “What to Do” below.
- Pancho’s Takos. The pork (what they are famous for) is so delicious, I was nearly moved to tears. Arrive no later than 5:30 p.m. so you can have the first seating. (They open at 6 p.m., and there will already be a line). Get more than one taco. Trust me.
- Other Taco Joints We Liked. Taco Revolucion, Tuna Azul.
- El Dorado. Gorgeous beach setting. Go for dinner and watch the sunset.
- Paletas (Popsicles). Be sure to grab a popsicle to cool off while wandering the streets. I don’t remember the name of the shop we popped into, but my fresh watermelon pop was just about the most refreshing treat I can imagine. Skip the carts dispensing the storebought kind and find a place that makes their own.
What to Do in Puerto Vallarta
- Old Town Farmer’s Market. This was my favorite city activity and is worth making an effort to attend. (It’s on Saturday mornings from 9ish to 12ish.) My only regret was that I didn’t eat more! From right-out-of-the-fryer fish tacos to homemade tamales to candy-roasted pepitas to fresh papaya and pineapple to just-juiced coconut water, every bite we tried was more delicious than the last.
- El Melcon. A pedestrian-only boardwalk that stretches along the beach, this is a lovely place to wander and watch the waves.
- Wander the old city. You’ll find plenty of shops. Be sure to stop into the cathedral at the old city’s center.
- Playa de los Muertos. A long, super-packed beach right by the Zona Romantica.
- Nightlife. PV’s late-night game is strong. We stayed in the Zona Romanica area and called it a night long before the rest of the city did.
Puerto Vallarta has far more to offer than this short list. You can do all kinds of excursions ranging from fishing trips to tequila tastings. Casa Velas organizes these trips for guests too. If we had more time, I would have loved to check some out and certainly plan to on a future trip.
A Note on Safety
At no time during my stay, either on- or off-resort, did I feel unsafe. On-resort, Casa Velas is a piece of paradise, protected, and always knows when its guests are on or off the property. They arranged our transportation from the airport directly as well.
Off-resort, Puerto Vallarta is like any other city. Be smart, don’t walk late at night all by yourself, and stay in well-populated areas. The Zona Romantica is geared towards tourists, and while I can’t speak to other parts of the city, at no time during our stay there did I feel uncomfortable.
Thanks for reliving my PV adventure with me! Is anyone else craving some sun? (And tacos?) If you have any favorite warm-weather destinations of your own, I’d love to hear about them. Drop me a note in the comments section below!
Thanks to Casa Velas for hosting us for a portion of our stay! I wasn’t under obligation to write this review, and all opinions are my own. We had a wonderful time, and I hope to return.
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