Escape to this jewel along the Pacific Coast

A the world reopened to international travel, Mexico was the first destination to welcome back American travelers. It’s not surprising, as U.S. residents make up a staggering 81% of guests arriving in Mexico by air, and tourism receipts account for nearly 9% of the country’s GDP.

While Cancun and its neighbor to the south, the Mayan Riviera, grab much of the spotlight, Mexico’s west coast offers a unique brand of vacation, with resort destinations along the rugged Pacific coastline including Acapulco, Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta.

In particular, Puerto Vallarta is on the radar of more families due to a number of factors. For one, its airport is just minutes away from the leading resorts and has regular service from major U.S. carriers. There are literally hundreds of hotel choices, with accommodations from hostel-quality to 5-star all-inclusive luxury resorts.

The pedestrian-friendly downtown with local shops and restaurants connects tourists to the Pacific Ocean with a beautiful harbor and pier. If that weren’t enough, a wide range of outdoor activities encompassing the mountains and beach ensures there’s something the entire family can enjoy. With Puerto Vallarta on the map of American families seeking an alternative Mexico vacation, let’s explore deeper.

How It Began

In the early 1500s, 100 Spanish explorers arrived at Banderas Bay and discovered 20,000 Aztatlan indigenous people residing in the Nuevo Vallarta region, just north of today’s city. Throughout the 16th century, sailors and explorers used the bay as a resting stop on long voyages.

Silver and gold were mined in the mountainous region in the 17th and 18th centuries. By the early 20th century, with the mining economy expanding along with the port that shipped the ore, a municipality called Puerto Vallarta was created. But due to its isolated location and lack of tourism infrastructure, the town was far from a vacation destination.

Photo courtesy of Dreams Vallarta Bay Resort & Spa

Photo courtesy of Dreams Vallarta Bay Resort & Spa

Things started to change in 1963 when Hollywood arrived. Movie stars Deborah Kerr, Ava Gardner, Sue Lyon and Richard Burton were on location in Puerto Vallarta to film the movie Night
of the Iguana. Because of the film and a surrounding scandal involving Burton and actress Elizabeth Taylor, tourism to the region exploded overnight. Everyone wanted to know more about this exciting exotic location.

Modern Day Puerto Vallarta

With a population of 200,000 residents, Vallarta is a working city with offices, neighborhoods and schools intermixing with touristy spots. Its seaside location butts up directly against the Sierra Madre Mountains, so terrain elevates quickly.

A good pair of hiking shoes is welcome on downtown’s cobblestone streets as you explore the shops and restaurants and take in the breathtaking scenery along the Malecon Boardwalk, which shoulders the bay. Touristy during the day, once the sun goes down, the boardwalk comes to life with many bars and clubs catering to young adults.

There’s a full range of watersport activities, including jet skiing, paragliding, surfing, flyboarding and scuba/snorkeling. For land lovers, ATVs, horseback riding, scenic hikes and ziplines satisfy any thirst for adventure.

Eco-Tourism Thrives

Puerto Vallarta takes pride in its designation as a sustainable destination with a plethora of ecotourism activities for all to enjoy

Vallarta Botanical Garden. Just 30 minutes from downtown, this jewel has been rated one of the top 10 botanical gardens in North America. Set on 46 acres, it boasts an outstanding collection of orchids, exotic bird sightings and the Horcones River’s crystal water pools.

El Salado Estuary. This is the only urban estuary in Latin America, with 168 acres of marshland and mangroves serving as a buffer to the harsh ocean waves. Nationally protected, it has flourished as one of the main ecotourism attractions in the region. Wildlife includes 29 types of amphibians and reptiles, and 10 species of mammals.

Los Arcos Marine Park. Due to its light ocean currents, this marine park is a great place to practice scuba or snorkeling. Serious scuba divers will want to try a night dive tour for an unforgettable underwater experience. Los Arcos is also an ideal place to practice stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking, or cave exploring around the huge granite rocks.

Photo courtesy of Dreams Vallarta Bay Resort & Spa

Photo courtesy of Dreams Vallarta Bay Resort & Spa

The Resorts

The region offers an abundance of lodging options, many of which are within close proximity to the airport and downtown. This is a huge advantage of vacationing in Puerto Vallarta. A quick transit from the airport means you can literally be at the pool within an hour or two of landing.

All-inclusive resorts are a preferred choice for families. Two popular all-inclusive options are AMR Resorts’ Dreams Vallarta Bay Resort & Spa and Velas Vallarta, part of the Velas chain of upscale resorts across Mexico.

Dreams sits in an ideal location for families looking to explore Vallarta on foot while still having a secluded feeling. This AAA Four Diamond resort features 327 spacious suites in a contemporary setting, all with stunning views of Banderas Bay
and the spectacular pool and gardens below. The open-air, elevated lobby sets the tone with high ceilings, dark wood, marble floors and ample seating for relaxing and enjoying the ocean breeze.

The resort boasts three awesome pools, one geared for kids with activities and waterslides. A pool more appropriate for adults has a swim-up bar and lounge area.

Seven onsite restaurants and bars include the poolside Barefoot Grill; Capers, featuring authentic Italian cuisine; Himitsu, a tastefully decorated Asian restaurant; and Tamarindo, which cooks up authentic local favorites.

Moms looking for me time will love the world-class spa, which is located at the adjacent Secrets Vallarta Bay Puerto Vallarta. This dream-like oasis includes 20 multifunctional treatment rooms.

The resort also features dedicated kids activities. A fully supervised Explorer’s Club allows kids to have their own clique, and Core Zone Teens Club offers an array of teen-focused group activities.

Spectacular views from the balcony at Velas Vallarta

Vellas Vallarta

Continue north along Banderas Bay and you’ll find the family-friendly oasis that is Velas Vallarta. The impressive Spanish architecture in the fresh-air lobby gives way to tranquil tropical
gardens that weave throughout the sprawling 10-acre property. Enjoy poolside ceviche and a tropical drink, or get in on the fun during a lively game of pool volleyball.

The 345 rooms at the all-inclusive Velas Vallarta are tastefully designed in Mexican decor, with each suite featuring separate sleeping, living and dining spaces along with experience-enhancing amenities for the whole family, including minibars, imported bath products and fully equipped kitchens, all in a breezy oceanfront setting. Everyone in the family will savor breathtaking vistas of the coast, mountains and lights of downtown Puerto Vallarta while lounging on the private balcony.

Onsite activities include learning about Mexican culture and heritage through immersive nightly events like dance shows and fiestas, or get competitive during beach volleyball and ping pong tournaments. Fitness classes include aqua aerobics, guided walks and yoga on the jetty. If you’re a golfer, you’ll be delighted that there’s an adjacent golf course.

Dining at Velas is a multi-culture experience. Andrea Restaurant offers a fusion of gourmet international cuisines in a casually elegant ambiance, with fresh local seafood, Mediterranean dishes, Italian fare and Asian-inspired a la carte menus and buffets complemented by fine wines. The outdoor La Ribera Restaurant boasts incredible vistas of Puerto Vallarta, the Sierra Madre Mountains and oceanfront, serving delicious Mexican, Spanish and international cuisine.

With a unique history, convenient air service, plethora of outdoor activities and first-class all-inclusive resorts, Puerto Vallarta is destined to be on the radar of more families.

Jeff Gayduk is the publisher at Destination Reunions.