Rainy Season Bargains
Sunny Puerto Vallarta
Story and photographs by Richard Frisbie
summer through early fall is the rainy season in Puerto
Vallarta, meaning partly to mostly sunny days and usually a rain
storm late afternoon or evening. Often the rain holds off until quite
late. It is a delightful time to visit this popular resort town. You'll
find fewer crowds, no lines and reservations are easy to make. The rates
are lower, too!
Days end dramatically in the tropics. Shortly after
a cinematic rose-colored sunset, the stars came out crisp, clean and
bright. The spectacular day settled into a clear, late summer night,
the speckled darkness above illustrating why early man connected the
dots to make pictures of legends in the sky. As the constellations could
be traced in the natural planetarium above us, from our vantage on the
heights of the western slopes of the Sierra Madres, the week's vacation
itinerary could be traced through the sparkling streetlights below.
Countless ocean swims, spa treatments, walks along the shore and through
Old Town, the cathedral, art galleries, delicious meals of the freshest
local produce and fish, and the pulsing rhythms of the club scene were
all highlighted from the beach-driven days and nights just past. Only
a shooting star could make the evening more perfect.
Instead, perfection of a different sort was achieved
by a sudden clap of thunder and the flash of lightning as storm clouds
boiled up over the mountains and poured down onto crescent-shaped Puerto
Vallarta below, obscuring the ancient stories drawn in the heavens before
rolling out over Banderas Bay to the sea. The sleepy crowd lingering
over after-dinner drinks at Vista
Grill became livelier as the pounding rain on the roof roared in
waves across the covered dining room, its fine spray driven through
the open walls as the scurrying staff tried, almost too late, to lower
awnings and blinds to keep the patrons dry. Suddenly the night was vital
and alive. It was the fitting end to a perfect day in paradise, the
last of several.
Dallas airport is bright and new, efficient in its vastness
and daunting to enter for the first time. But, the signage is excellent,
the staff courteous and the novelty of a Texas twang distracting enough
to make it an exciting, not a taxing, layover. I'd been awake since
2:00 a.m. that morning for a drive from my Catskills' home to Newark
airport that was longer than the first leg of my journey, and the even
longer wade through the TSA security hell created after 9/11. The brief
Dallas layover before American
Airlines' flight to Puerto Vallarta was a welcome change of pace.
I relaxed over a leisurely glass of white wine and a salad, both surprisingly
tasty and fairly priced, before boarding was called.
I found myself in a genial crowd, the plane packed to
the gunnels with a corporate group attending a conference in the Marriot
CasaMagna Resort and Spa (translation: 5 days of party possibly
interrupted by brief meetings at one of Puerto Vallarta's better-known
all-inclusive luxury resorts) and everyone seemed to know each other.
I was quickly included in their camaraderie, which made the flight fast
and friendly. Coincidentally, my return flight later in the week was
with the same group. After casual inquiries of my new "old friends",
I don't think any of them left their hotel grounds. I spent a half day
in the spa at the Marriot CasaMagna Resort and don't blame them. There
was no reason to leave ever! The food, facilities and service
But, there is so much to do in Puerto Vallarta that
it is a shame to spend all your time in one place. I was first booked
into one of the AMResorts
group of hotels, the adults-only luxury all-inclusive resort Secrets
Vallarta Bay, but split my time to stay at the only slightly less
glamorous (meaning less expensive but perfectly fine) Sunset
Plaza Beach Resort & Spa, located a short drive up the beach.
Both had beaches that were wide and lovely, but the
rocky underwater entry made the many pools more attractive for getting
wet. Secrets even had a swim-up bar, my first, allowing me to combine
two of my favorite pastimes. If they served food, too, I'd only leave
the underwater barstool for bathroom breaks. Thinking about that made
me wonder how many people actually left the pool to use the nearby restrooms.
Then I decided to ease my mind in a dry beachfront chaise where the
many roving waiters were more than happy to help in my hydration.
All-inclusive has its perks. Outdoors I lived in a bathing
suit, flip flops and a reddish tan, identifiable only by the credit
card-style room key I stashed in my trunks. A quick change to shorts
and a flashy shirt made me presentable in the many restaurants. (Secrets
breakfast buffet is unbelievable!) Surrounded by unlimited, high quality
food and booze, not to mention sun, surf and sand, I could see why guests
wouldn't want to leave the property, but the lure of Puerto Vallarta
outside the gated hotel tugged at me daily. There is so much to see
and do in this town perhaps best known for Elizabeth
Taylor's and Richard Burton's antics while he filmed Night of
Cobblestone streets filled with places for locals to
shop, as well as craft vendors catering to the tourists, show Puerto
Vallarta's colonial roots. This "Old Town" sprawls inland
from the newly extended, pedestrian-only beach promenade called Malecón,
with rainbow signs identifying the gay-friendly establishments. Old
hotels, funky, their inviting central courtyards visible through the
shaded entrances, announce rates of $15 to $45 a night. Hawkers call
out from the stores, offering goods from tequila to piñatas and
jewelry to clothing, with everything in between colorfully displayed
in the crammed doorways and on the shelves of countless cubicles and
shops. It is a warren of ethnicity and culture and bad taste jumbled
together with native good humor.
A swinging bridge leads to a narrow island in the river
delineating this neighborhood, with a canopied "botanical gardens"
walk lined with shops the length of this 'hippy haven', ending at a
refreshing natural pool filled with local children splashing away the
heat of the day. Here, the river is reunited before coursing under the
Malecón and across the wide beach to the sea, with surfers drifting
in the swells beyond, hoping for the perfect wave. Puerto Vallarta is
truly a picturesque place to visit.
Some tourists complain about the vendors, saying they
are too aggressive. I enjoyed their pitches, politely shaking my head
no and thanking them. I got to speak to many of them just because I
would stop and show an interest, if not in their wares, in them. One
fellow called to me from a shop entrance to remind me that we met at
the airport on my arrival. (I meet and talk to people everywhere I go.)
After the obligatory sales pitch, he wanted to know how I liked his
town and if I was having a good time. Behind the sometimes crass commercialism,
there is an openness and friendliness to the people of Puerto Vallarta
that I grew to love. They share a pride in their home, even as they
work hard to make a living. No wonder so many American, British and
Canadian ex-pats have chosen to settle here the people, the climate
and the scenery are all inviting.
While it is tempting to say that the highlight of my
trip was the free time I enjoyed at Secrets Vallarta Bay, or the incredible
lunch and massage at CasaMagna, or even the fabulous view and delicious
food at Vista Grill, if I were totally honest I'd have to admit that
the sometimes hokey, always endearing and wildly entertaining Rhythms
of the Night show tops the list of best things to do in Puerto Vallarta.
You have to experience it to believe it. It is a sumptuous candlelit
dinner on a remote beach followed by a performance featuring a muscular,
nearly naked, writhing ball of energetic young performers in a Cirque
du Soleil meets Lion King pyramid of drums and fire dancing.
Spectacular lighting, dramatic entrances, intricate
designs painted on the glistening bodies slithering through the audience,
in character and athletically acrobatic, transport you through a collection
of Mexican legends stitched together to make a unifying, if not entirely
historic, story. Spoiler alert young love conquers all. (Wedding
planners all or part of this can be arranged on a private beach-front
altar that is truly WOW! inspiring.)
Not to be outdone, what could be a boring late-afternoon
boat ride across the bay to the remote beach became a fun-filled voyage.
A sure-footed young staff kept the alcohol flowing while they alternated
turns entertaining the quickly lubricated passengers with dances, jokes
and lip-synching old rock anthems. They were a hoot! The ride back was
even more liberating, in a good, clean, family fun kind of way. Not
only can those boys run a boat, they can put on a great show doing it!
All-in-all, Rhythms of the Night is the one thing to do in Puerto Vallarta
above all others then do everything else, too!
To read more about the fantastic things to do in Puerto
Vallarta, see my
article on the mountain top Terra Noble Spa and one on the charming
More links if you need them . . .
CasaMagna Resort and Spa
of the Night
del Carmen Blossoms; Mayan
Ruins, Mexico; Inside
People of Guadalajara; Dick
and Liz in Puerto Vallarta; La
Paz, Baja California Sur