Puerto Vallarta: What's New on Mexico's West Coast

The Grand Park Royal Luxury Resort Puerto Vallarta wrapped a major renovation in January. // Photography: Adam Leposa

While it may be famous for its Old Hollywood glamour, Puerto Vallarta’s tourism scene is continuing to move forward with a new cruise terminal and a newly expanded airport.

We recently got a chance to tour the area during February’s Gala Vallarta — here’s our firsthand report. 

What’s New

This summer, Puerto Vallarta is opening a new cruise terminal that will grant an improved arrivals experience to guests on nearly 80 percent of calls to the destination. The terminal will aim for a more locally inspired vibe, tourism officials told us, with hacienda-style architecture and shops selling local products. 

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Air travel to the destination should get easier with the opening of a new airport expansion that will more than double the facility’s arrivals capacity. Also planned: A smoother customs and immigration experience with a scanner that luggage can go through before travelers arrive, so they won’t have to drag their bags with them through customs.

Things to Do

We definitely recommend Vallarta Food Tours, which offers small groups the chance to explore the city’s cuisine.  We tried their newest itinerary, a tour of the up-and-coming Versailles neighborhood — it’s home to a number of young, local chefs who have escaped rising rents in the city’s more touristy areas to found restaurants that will allow them more creative freedom. The result is an eclectic mix of comfort food and more daring creations, such as one octopus and black bean torta that we sampled. Adventurous eaters need only apply.

The tour concluded with a raicilla tasting at a local distillery. Less famous than its fellow agave spirits, tequila and mezcal, raicilla packs quite a punch — almost a moonshine flavor — although it is often mixed with the juice of a squash to smooth out the bite. 

The Newest itinerary from Vallarta Food Tours explores the up-and-coming Versailles neighborhood. // Photography: Adam Leposa

Vallarta Food Tours has a number of other, more traditional itineraries. For special requests, luxury travel advisors can reach out to the company’s owner, Paul Mayer, at 1-888-360-9847 ext. 700, [email protected] or [email protected]

To get a taste of the city’s Old Hollywood history, a tour with Vallarta Adventures is just the ticket. On a boat ride through the Bay of Banderas, we passed the home of famous director John Huston, whose movie, The Night of the Iguana, put Puerto Vallarta on the map. During filming, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were carrying on a high-profile affair, and the resulting paparazzi feeding frenzy drew global interest to what had been a sleepy, beachside town. 

After the boat ride, we disembarked to take in the new Rhythms of the Night show. Set in an open-air amphitheater in the jungle, Rhythms of the Night is a combination of acrobatic dance, lavish set design and a hefty dose of humor. If that description makes you think of Cirque du Soleil, that’s no coincidence — the show is helmed by Cirque co-founder Gilles Ste-Croix. Bookings for Rhythms of the Night are handled by Vallarta Adventures; travel advisors can reach out to Commercial Director Gareth Price at 52-322-297-1212 ext. 1497 or [email protected]

Where to Stay

For families, we were wowed by Garza Blanca, particularly for its suites that include all the comforts of home. We viewed a two-bedroom suite, which had an open-plan living space that includes a large, fully stocked kitchen with granite countertops and an extra-roomy walk-in pantry that the hotel can help stock upon request. Guests can also bring in a private chef if they don’t feel like cooking. There are three bathrooms — a master bath with both a tub and a shower that converts to a steam room, an en-suite bathroom in the second bedroom and a guest bathroom in the hall — and, outside, a large, wraparound terrace with mountain views, an outdoor Jacuzzi and a hammock. There is also an in-unit washer and dryer. For extra pampering, book the Ultra, Penthouse or Grand Penthouse suites, which offer private butler service. 

The resort also offers plenty of activities for families. Set on an 85-acre, private nature reserve some ways out of town, the resort consists of both a beachside and a mountainside section, with a pedestrian bridge and trolley service linking the two. Things to do run the gamut from waterfall hikes to birding to water sports like kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding or snorkeling. Good to know: All activities are included, even for European plan guests. 

The rooftop infinity pool of the Hotel Mousai offers spectacular views of the bay. // Photography: Adam Leposa

Garza Blanca has a sibling property on the same nature reserve: The adults-only, five diamond Hotel Mousai. This hotel is done in a more contemporary style than Garza Blanca, with unique touches like giant chess pieces in the lobby and a black, purple and beige color scheme in the guestrooms. Each room has its own terrace, hammock and outdoor Jacuzzi, but for a true VIP experience, book the property’s Ultra Mousai, Ultra Corner Mousai Suite or Penthouse, all of which offer private butler service. 

The standout feature at the Hotel Mousai, however, is the roof, which is home to both a bar and lounge and an infinity pool with an amazing view over the surrounding mountains and the Bay of Banderas. 

We hear there are plans to open new towers for both Garza Blanca and Hotel Mousai in 2020. Both hotels are members of Preferred Hotels & Resorts. For VIP requests, travel advisors should reach out to Sales Manager Claudia Soto ([email protected]; 322-176-0715 Ext. 5744). 

Another good option for families is the Grand Park Royal Luxury Resort Puerto Vallarta. Set approximately 15 minutes south of the downtown area on the Bay of Banderas, this hotel just wrapped a major renovation project. In addition to a refresh of all 226 of the family-friendly, all-inclusive’s guestrooms (all of which are oceanfront), the project added a new sports bar, as well as a new kids’ pool outside of the existing kids’ club.

The hotel is set on a secluded beach with only a condo building next door, making it a good option for those looking for a quiet respite from the busy downtown area. The Suite Embajador consists of two adjoining corner rooms with a private entryway area connecting them. In the other tower, the Family Suite has two beds, two large couches and an extra-large area for storing luggage. For special requests, advisors can reach out to Sales Manager Paulina Hernández ([email protected]).

The living area of Garza Blanca’s two-bedroom suite includes a kitchen with granite countertops. // Photography: Adam Leposa

Getting There

Direct flights to the Puerto Vallarta International Airport, which is approximately 15 minutes outside the downtown area, are available from a number of U.S. gateways. These include New York (Newark), Atlanta, Los Angeles, Denver, San Diego, Seattle and more.  

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