Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mexican Culture

I just returned to Puerto Vallarta after spending a week on St. John, USVI with my family.  While the beaches and geography of St. John are beautiful, for me something about our experience was missing.  It took a few days to figure out what it was, but I finally realized that what was missing is a sense of local culture on the island.  Yes, there are island natives living there and it was common to hear “Yah, Mon,” however, it was hard to get a true sense of what island living was all about.  I certainly am not bashing St. John.  The landscape, the beaches, and the water truly are stunning.  But, it just reminded me what I love most about living in Mexico…the culture! If you like to experience and explore local customs as much as I do, here are some great tips about what to check out on your next trip to Mexico:

Puerto Vallarta:  This is where I live so I am a bit biased, but to me Puerto Vallarta is one of the best resort destinations to check out the day to day Mexican lifestyle.  There are art tours, food tours, and constant festivities for any and all reasons. Sunday nights downtown are a hot spot for the locals with dancing in the plaza followed by a stroll down the Malecon.  There are fireworks every night (yes, EVERY night), but for big holidays, the fireworks shows are the best I have ever seen.  The Mexican people truly celebrate life, and every Puerto Vallarta visitor will feel the hospitality and warm welcoming demeanor of the locals. 

Cabo San Lucas:  Be sure to visit San Jose del Cabo at some point during your trip.  It’s close to the airport and about 30 minutes from downtown Cabo San Lucas.  San Jose is a quaint area with art galleries and fantastic restaurants.  Also, take a day trip to Todos Santos, about an hour from Cabo San Lucas.  Todos Santos is a beautiful town full of picturesque colonial buildings and home to the Culture House Museum.

San Miguel de Allende:  The historic center of San Miguel hasn’t changed much in the past 250 years, although these days the town has more of a bohemian feel to it.  Its cultural and artistic reputation attracts visitors from all over the world. The culture of San Miguel been recognized in such publications as the New York Times travel section, Vogue magazine, and Smithsonian magazine.  Don’t miss the Mercado de Artesanias to check out and purchase crafts from local artisans. 

Riviera Maya:  The Riviera Maya is known not only for its crystal blue waters, but also for its Mayan history and spectacular ruins.  Explore Tulum and Xcaret to experience ancient Mayan ceremonial centers and archaeological sites to learn about the Mayan way of life. 

~Stephanie Watts, Destination Expert

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Favorite Things To Do in Puerto Vallarta

For this month, I thought I would offer up my favorite things to do while in Puerto Vallarta. As I started creating my list, I realized that there are a variety of travelers out there who won’t necessarily like the same things that I do.  So, I approached some locals and asked what they recommend to their guests when they have friends and family visiting from out of town.  Here’s what they said:

The Free and Cheap Stuff:

Malecon and the Church of our Lady Guadalupe:  If you visit Vallarta and don’t walk up and down the Malecon at least once, then you haven’t really visited Vallarta.  It’s a landmark, and generally speaking, the place to be.  While you’re there, the church is located just off of the plaza one block over. 

Sunset Boat Trip on the Water:  Grab a water taxi, any water taxi.  They are everywhere and they are cheap.  Take a bottle of wine and you’ve got a perfect start to a romantic evening.  When you return, there are a ton of beachfront restaurants to continue ‘date night’ (I've listed a few suggestions below).

Day Trip to a Different Beach:  Sayulita, Mismaloya, Boca de Tomatlan, Yelapa, Las Animas and several more beaches are located within an hour’s drive of downtown Puerto Vallarta.  Sayulita is a popular surftown.  Mismaloya and Boca de Tomatlan are small fishing villages, great for true local culture.  Yelapa is only accessible by boat (any water taxi will take you).  Las Animas is accessible by boat or a 90 minute hiking trail from Boca de Tomatlan. 

Pre-Package Trips and Tours:

Vallarta Food Tours: This tour is great for first-timers or frequent visitors.  There are about 10 stops, where guests can try all kinds of local food from mole sauce to tacos to ceviche.  For frequent visitors, the restaurants are a bit off the beaten path, so doubtful places you’ve been before.  The 3 hour walking tour gives first-timers a great opportunity to learn the lay of the land and offers a little history about Puerto Vallarta along the way.

Vallarta Adventures: From zip-lining to snorkeling tours, Vallarta Adventures offers up a little bit of everything for everyone.  For those looking for a little more activity, try zip-lining or the Outdoor Adventure.  If you’re looking for something different in the evening, you should do the Rhythms of the Night tour.  They also offer some great snorkeling trips to Las Marietas and Las Caletas.  They crew at Vallarta Adventures has proved to be very entertaining, great for adults or the whole family.

Restaurants and Bars:

One of the best things about Vallarta is that there are countless restaurants and bars, offering any type of food you could possibly crave.  The food is fantastic at all of these places, so I’ve just noted other tidbits.  Some of the locals’ favorites:

Hacienda San Angel:  This place was put on the map by Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton.  The atmosphere is true Mexican hacienda-style and the views are spectacular.

La Palapa:  This one of Puerto Vallarta’s oldest restaurants.  It’s beachfront, so stick your toes in the sand & have a little fresh seafood. 

Café des Artistes: True gourmet, Café des Artistes has been honored with numerous awards over the years.  This is your “get dressed up and go out for a fancy dinner” place.

Sea Monkey:  The complete opposite of the restaurants listed above, Sea Monkey is a super casual beachfront bar that has become a favorite of locals and tourists alike. This is the place for happy hour.  A bucket of Pacifico is only about $5.

Joe Jack’s Fish Shack:  Located just a block off of the beach, Joe Jack’s is a popular spot.  Grab a rooftop table and a killer mojito.  It’s “All You Can Eat Fish & Chips” every Friday and the fish is fresh daily. 

Of course, there are a number of other things to see and do here in Puerto Vallarta, but this is a just a list of some of the highlights.  See you at Sea Monkey at 5pm!  

-Stephanie Watts, Destination Expert

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

All Inclusive Hotel vs. Luxury Villa

One of the greatest misconceptions about villa rentals is that they are significantly more expensive than staying in a hotel. However, that is not the case at all.  As a matter of fact, sometimes they end up being cheaper!  Take, for example, one of our of 3 bedroom homes compared to a popular all-inclusive hotel in Puerto Vallarta. 

Villa Azul Celeste is a gorgeous 3 bedroom home, oceanfront in Conchas Chinas, about a 7 minute drive to downtown Puerto Vallarta.  The rate is $650/night this summer, and there is a great promotion of “Stay 7, Pay 5.”  The total for a week’s stay would be $3250.  This rate includes 2 meals per day, daily housekeeping, and the beach there is shared by less than a dozen homes.  If there are 6 people staying in the home, each person will pay $542 for a week.

Now let’s compare that to the Melia Puerto Vallarta All Inclusive Beach Resort, a beautiful, oceanfront hotel located in the marina area.  The Melia is running a “40% Off” special right now, which brings the nightly rate for an ocean-view room down to $179.20.  The total for a week is $1254.40.  Based on 2 people per room, the cost would be $627.20 per person. 

That means it costs each person $85 MORE to stay in an all-inclusive resort hotel for the week rather than in a luxury, beachfront, fully-staffed villa!   Yes, of course, there are cheaper hotels to compare.  There are also cheaper homes to compare.  Generally speaking, quality for quality, the prices will be comparable between villas and all-inclusive resorts.

In addition to the cost, there are other advantages of staying in a home instead of a hotel:

·         POOL:  The home has a private pool, rather than a large, noisy common pool.  Want to float around on a raft in the pool and read a book all day?  Or perhaps, lay by the pool and take a quiet nap?  No problem!  There will be no one there other than your friends and family to take away from your complete relaxation.

·         FOOD: You can choose your own menu. Instead of choosing from a limited-selection hotel menu, when staying at a villa, you create the menu.  Want fresh seafood caught that day rather than chicken piccata?  Would you like a truly authentic Mexican meal rather than nachos smothered in cheese from a can?  Consider it done!  Plus, a private chef cannot be beat.  I have yet to have a hotel meal that has come close to comparing to the delicious meals prepared by our villas’ private chefs.  (And I eat out a lot!)

·         ACTIVITIES:  Our private concierge will take care of arranging any activity you would like from a private in-home massage to a zip line canopy tour.  You can arrange for activities through the hotel concierge too, but most likely, you will be on a tour bus with 30-40 other people.   It is also common that our vendors (such as in-home massage therapists) cost less than vendors used by big hotel chains. 

·         EXPERIENCE MEXICO:  Let’s be honest…unless you are staying in a quaint, family-owned boutique hotel, you could probably be at any “Big Name Brand” hotel in the world and they will all feel the same.  Unless you leave the property, a Hilton is a Hilton, a Melia is a Melia, and a Westin is a Westin.  You never really FEEL like you are in Mexico opposed to Hawaii or the Caribbean.  Staying in a villa, you will truly know and feel the Mexican experience, which is not an experience you want to miss. Trust me, I live here and the Mexico experience is fabulous!

Many of our guests who have stayed in a villa for the first time swear they will never stay in a hotel again after being pampered and spoiled by the villa experience. So gather up your friends or family, and start planning your next Mexico vacation…in luxury

- Stephanie Watts, Destination Expert

Monday, May 14, 2012

Cinco de Mayo Extended: Mexico’s Many Festivities

One of my favorite things about Mexico is there is ALWAYS a celebration of some sort. In the past two weeks alone, we have had Dia de los Ninos (Children’s Day), Primero de May (Labor Day), Dia de la Crux, Cinco de Mayo and Dia de la Madre (Mother’s Day). Each holiday elicits a fiesta: parades, fireworks, shows on the plaza, or a day off of work. On any given day, you could be driving down the street and stopped for a small parade crossing the street and not even be sure why.  

In addition to all of the holidays, there always seems to be a festival of some sort. There are film festivals, art festivals, and (most importantly) food and wine festivals. One of the greatest festivals of the year, the Atruism Festival, was held this past weekend. 

The best thing about the Altruism Festival is that that the proceeds support more than 20 local non-profit organizations. The next best thing is that more than 40 local restaurants donate food and drink to the attendees. For 400 pesos (that’s about $32 US), you can eat and drink some of the finest foods in the Vallarta area. Restaurants like Barcelona Tapas, Café de Artistes, River Cafe and Daiquiri Dick’s each have a table set up and selections from their menu available. Desserts from Pie in the Sky and other fine pastry shops are offered, and all beverages (water, beer, wine, tequila, etc.) are included. We attended for the first time this year, and all of the food was delicious! 

After we sufficiently stuffed our faces, we were entertained for over an hour by local dancers and a show by the crew of Rhythms of the Night. As with all festivities here in Puerto Vallarta, the evening ended with a fireworks show (we see fireworks here every single night and it never gets old).

Before the end of the month, we have Restaurant Week, the Wind Festival and one of the biggest holidays of the year here, Puerto Vallarta’s Birthday on May 31st. To top off the festivities, the weather is absolutely perfect this time of year. So, pack your bags & come on down, or book your trip now to attend next year’s Altruism Festival! We will certainly never miss it again!

- Stephanie Watts, Destination Expert

To join the festivities click here or call 1.844.258.8144 to speak to a Destination Expert!

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Mexico Tourism Board: Reaching New Heights

Wow! I’m impressed. I know that the Mexico Tourism Board has been working overtime in the past couple of years to create a campaign and a platform that is both inviting and professional. You may have noticed a few tempting TV ads or colorful magazine placements aimed at educating you about “what you’ve been missing” in Mexico. Well, I recently came across their updated website:, and I’m thrilled. 

Not only is this site beautiful, informative and organized, but it’s in English! Are you wondering about current events in Mexico? Curious to hear from the locals? Need travel ideas? The website breaks it all down, clearly and concisely, via categories such as Culture, Economy, Environment, Mexico & The World, and Tourism. Great articles, like SanMiguel de Allende- the most beautiful town in Mexico?"  or World EconomicForum on Latin America- Highlights will help to make you a better informed tourist, businessperson or citizen of the world. Check it out and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Fun Day in Puerto Vallarta

Recently we had the opportunity to book the Marea Baja Villa in Puerto Vallarta.  With that reservation we were provided our own private tour of Puerto Vallarta and it was awesome! Most of the tours have a lot of people in a stuffy bus or van. We were in our own Suburban with our personal driver/tour guide visiting some of the places most tours wouldn’t go to. For example he took us to a little ice cream shop that makes homemade ice cream pops. He also took us to the best markets in town to pick up our souvenirs.

The Marea Baja Villa was amazing. We had our own private beach to swim in the ocean or a pool that overlooked the ocean to swim in if we wanted (see picture below).  

All the bedrooms were very comfortable and well kept. The villa had a nice flat screen TV and a big stereo system so you could listen to music while soaking in the pool or in the kitchen while eating.  One of the bedrooms had a Jacuzzi tub with a window that had an awesome view of the ocean. My personal favorite though was the food. The Villa provided us with Julia, our own chef. After our tour was done we came back and had the best guacamole I have ever tasted with pico de gallo and chips. That night she made us an amazing three course candle lit dinner with the sound of the ocean in the background. It was one of the best meals as far as atmosphere and taste I have ever had. 

If I am in Puerto Vallarta again this is where I will stay!

- Happy Couple, Puerto Vallarta Couple's Retreat 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Celebrities in Mexico

If you follow us on Facebook or Twitter, you have surely  seen several posts regarding celebrity visits to Mexico.  You can thank me for that.  HA!  I am a bit of a celebrity gossip junkie.  But, what I’m really trying to do is show the world that they don’t have to be afraid to travel to Mexico.  In all honesty, one is more likely to experience criminal activity in NYC or Houston, TX than in the resort towns of Mexico.  Some of the more popular locations for celebrity vacations include Punta Mita and Cabo San Lucas.  Everyone from the Kardashians to Lady Gaga, George Clooney and Stacy Keibler, even the President’s daughter can be found enjoying time in Mexico.  So, what are you waiting for?  

Visit or talk to one of our Destination Experts 1.844.258.8144 to book your celebrity vacation today!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Puerto Vallarta's First Annual Salsa/Mambo Festival

This weekend marked the 1st annual Salsa/MamboFestival in Puerto Vallarta. The event included exhibitions, workshops and nights of dancing that would blow your mind. A friend of mine, here in Vallarta, is a salsa instructor, and she invited a few of us to join her at “White Night” at Senor Frog’s (mind you, I haven’t been in Senor Frogs since spring break 20 years ago). So, we got all dolled up in our sassiest white attire and hit the town. What we witnessed and experienced, I wouldn’t have missed for the world. Remember the initial dance scene in Dirty Dancing? Well, it pales in comparison to a full-on salsa experience. The second the music started, the dance floor was jammed packed. A couple of us sat back and just watched in awe. Salsa is kind of like swing-dancing, but sexier. The footwork, the spins and twirls and the swinging hips were spectacular. There were several exhibition dances throughout the evening from local professionals. My favorite was a group of kids, ranging in age from 5-9. They were fantastic! 

Exhibition dancers at the 1st Annual Salsa Mambo Festival

I consider myself a decent dancer. I’ve got rhythm and can pick up a dance step pretty easily. But, I was humbled when I was asked to dance (it’s a couples thing, so the ladies have to wait to be asked to dance). The footwork is fast and if you miss a step, you’re all over the place. Lucky for me, my partner was patient and excited that I wanted to learn, so he taught me a few basics and by the end of the song, I was twirling around like I knew what I was doing. And now, I’ve got the salsa bug! I can’t wait to take some lessons. When the festival comes around this time next year, I want to be on that dance floor and know what I’m doing.  

- Stephanie Watts, Destination Expert

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Best Restaurant in Puerto Vallarta?! My Vote

Photo taken from
We have said it before and it just keeps getting better. Puerto Vallarta is home to some of the best restaurants in the world. With so many options, it’s hard to narrow in on just one. But, I’ve risen to the challenge (I know, poor me) and I’m ready to cast my vote. Barcelona Restaurant, located right downtown on the corner of Matamoros and de Octubre, boasts a hilltop location with panoramic views of the beautiful Bay of Banderas. My suggestion: bring a group, bring a camera, order lots of yummy sangria and try everything! If you aren’t familiar with tapas style serving, you can expect small portion sizes of the most savory dishes, with something to excite every palate. Seriously, I have yet to try a dish that I don’t like. You will relish in the food, the drink and your charming company, yet you will find that you cannot help but periodically lose yourself in the smell of the fresh salt air and peaceful tranquility of the ocean.     

- Noelle Michaud, Destination Expert

Monday, February 13, 2012

Don’t like Tequila or Guacamole? Me either!

Everyone gives me a hard time for living in Mexico and not liking tequila or guacamole. I know it’s odd, but I’ll admit that I’ve always been a fairly picky eater. I grew up in a “meat & potatoes” household, so for about the past 20 years I’ve been trying to expand my horizons by trying different genres of food. Unfortunately, I have a texture issue with some things and avocados and guacamole fall into that category. As for tequila, well, I think many of us can say we’ve had a bad experience with tequila at some point in time. When I uttered the words “I’m never drinking tequila again,” I meant it. 

So, what does one eat if not the fundamentals of a Mexican diet? The answer:  A LOT! There are countless restaurants in Puerto Vallarta, offering a diverse selection of cuisine. Here are some of my favorites:

La Cigale: Crossing the threshold of La Cigale, you will be instantly transported to the streets of Paris. In the short time this French Bistro has been open, it has become a favorite of locals and visitors alike. The menu includes traditional French Onion soup, escargot and ratatouille. The wine list is extensive and the desserts are scrumptious. Tip:  You should make a reservation.  It’s not a very big place and its popularity guarantees a wait if you don’t have one

Barcelona Tapas: If you are looking for a place to celebrate a special occasion, Barcelona Tapas is the spot. This rooftop restaurant overlooks downtown and the food is spectacular. Spanish tapas are small, appetizer size portions, which is a great way to have a little bit of everything on the menu. Some of our favorite selections are baked goat cheese, spicy garlic shrimp, paella, and of course, the sangria. Tips:  Plan on dining around dusk so you can watch the sunset and catch the nightly fireworks around 9pm.  Daily lunch promotions are available from Noon-4pm. 

La Posta: Located right in the heart of downtown, along the malecon, is La Posta a Restaurante Italiano. La Posta offers a casual atmosphere and one of the best pizzas in town. The homemade ravioli is one of my favorites and the risotto is tasty as well. Tip: Pizzas are only 65 pesos on Mondays. 

View of Daquiri Dick's outdoor patio 

Daquiri Dick’s: The award-winning Daquiri Dick’s has been a favorite for 40 years. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, guests can dine on the outdoor patio or on the beach. The menu can be characterized as Mediterranean/Mexican cuisine with an Asian influence. Their roasted red pepper salsa is unbelievably delicious…I could just sit, eat the chips and salsa and skip the main meal!  Tip: Daquiri Dick’s makes their own pastries so be sure to stop by for Sunday brunch. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Safety In Puerto Vallarta: Tripadvisor Knows What's Up

We can say it until we are blue in the face. But, maybe we have a biased opinion. Would you feel more comfortable if you had another informed source to evaluate the level of safety in Puerto Vallarta?, the “world’s largest travel site" that offers reviews on lodging from Switzerland to Canada, is about as informed as it gets when it comes to travel and they are talking about Puerto Vallarta's safety. So, now, you don’t have to take our word for it…

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Puerto Vallart's Boardwalk

If you’ve ever been to Puerto Vallarta, chances are you’ve strolled along El Malecón. The Malecon meaning jetty in Spanish is the city’s boardwalk and is one of the most popular areas in Puerto Vallarta. Almost a mile long and hugging the shoreline, the Malecon is hopping with activity almost any time of the day or night. 

Along the promenade you’ll find restaurants, bars, nightclubs, an array of shops, street performers, local artists selling their wares and numerous sculptures. There is a large outdoor amphitheater called Los Arcos (the Arches) where constant entertainment performs, such as the Xiutla folkloric dancers, live music, cultural events and the ever popular clown shows in the evening.   

With its recent makeover, the Malecon now offers free public Wi-Fi, plenty of new benches to sit and enjoy the view, an abundance of new palm trees all adding to the already tropical environment. A large section of the Malecon is now closed to vehicular traffic, allowing pedestrians to stroll leisurely along the widened esplanade. 

Bird's-eye view of El Malecón

If you love to walk and are an art lover, you should check out the Malecon Sculpture Tour, every Tuesday morning at 9:30am. The tour is free and lasts about 2 hours. Your tour guide is Gary Thompson of Galleria Pacifico, and the tour meets at the Millenia sculpture on the north end of the Malecon. 

For weekend fun, Sunday evening is an especially popular time on the Malecon. Everyone has the day off on Sundays in Mexico, so all of the locals are out in their Sunday best. Big band music is available at the plaza starting at 6pm and many of the locals will be dancing along. You are welcome to join! 

Activities are not limited to these times! Every night and weekend is like a carnival, because special events are frequent on the Malecon.  Be sure to join the festivities on your next trip to Puerto Vallarta! 

For the latest events calendar go to click here. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Puerto Vallarta’s Renaissance

Puerto Vallarta wants everyone to know that it is the ultimate Mexican destination for vacationers. In the upcoming months it hosting two industry events, one for travel and one for economics, to showcase recent town renovations and to highlight what is can offer to.

The Pacific coast resort city of Puerto Vallarta is sprucing itself up as it prepares to host two important events this spring: the Tianguis travel trade fair from March 25 to 28 and the World Economic Forum on Latin America from April 16 to 18.

The biggest project is along the city’s waterfront. In November, the malecon, the promenade fronting Banderas Bay, was reopened after reconstruction and renovation that turned the formerly traffic-filled thoroughfare into a palm-lined, pedestrian-only pathway. At its center is a beachfront amphitheater overlooking the Pacific. As part of the renovation, the city opened a kiosk with bicycles, kayaks and strollers available for rent. Their use is free for the first 30 minutes.

To read the entire article, click here.