Puerto Vallarta

One of my oldest and best friends is currently studying on a placement year in Washington, and decided to come and visit. Having spent the past 3 months non-stop studying, she suggested a trip to the beach to relax, however our somewhat ambitious plans of visiting Cuba or San Salvador turned out not to be possible for just the weekend, we decided to keep our trip closer to home and travel to Jalisco’s most famous beach, Puerto Vallarta. It’s easy enough to travel the Vallarta from Guadalajara, on a coach for 4 hours (supposedly – it took us over 6 on the way there) and hostels in Mexico are notoriously cheap, so it was a no-brainer to go there for a couple of nights.

Vallarta is such a nice getaway from the city, and such an easy place to relax, which is why it’s one of the most popular places for American ex-pats to retire to. This does mean, however, that a lot of the restaurants and bars are severely overpriced when compared to most other places. Evelyn, however, coming from Washington, had no problem with the prices at which I was aghast, so I decided to pay no attention to it.

The Primera Plus coach to the town of Vallarta is one of the most comfortable buses I’ve experienced, and outshines National Express by a long way. It has leg rests, and personal screens which makes it resemble a long haul flight set-up. Most of the long-distance buses in Mexico are new, clean and comfortable, and often come with good facilities, which almost makes up for the fact that passenger trains don’t exist any more since they were sold by the old President. The malecón- a long strip of pavement that goes alongside the sea front, is filled with restaurants, bars and clubs, so once we’d arrived we headed down for overpriced, yet very oversized margaritas on the sea front.

Walking along the malecón you can see the incredible sun set over the ocean, and we were also lucky enough to arrive just as the voladores began to perform their dance. The dance of the voladores, meaning flyers is a performance that often takes place in small towns of Mexico and consists of 5 men sitting atop a 30 meter pole playing various instruments, until they jump off, and each attached by rope, ‘fly’ round the pole, spinning slowly until they reach the ground, still playing their instruments. I had seen it before a few times, but never at dusk, and it’s a stunning scene to watch the voladores silhouetted against the sky.

Knowing almost nothing about Vallarta, we turned to trip-advisor for restaurant recommendations, and found Barcelona Tapas, a 4th floor terrace restaurant with a fantastic view that turned out to be fancier than we had imagined; there was even a photographer who took our photo and printed it for us as a souvenir of the meal. So, we decided to make the most of the extravagant meal and ate more than we probably should have done – heaps of bread to start, a paella recommended for 3-4 people, and to finish, giant profiteroles. And of course, a bottle of wine to wash it all down. Easy to see why it was so highly recommended. We then headed back to the abundance of bars on the malecón for a few more glasses of wine (obviously). You can often tell the more expensive restaurants and bars as they will tend to be more full of Americans or tourists than Mexicans, so we tried to stick to places where local people tended to recommend.

One thing we weren’t prepared for was the change in temperature from Guadalajara to Vallarta, which is no further South than Jalisco’s capital, but at least 7 or 8 degrees warmer. As Brits, November should be a freezing cold month of coats, hats and scarves, so while bikinis and sunglasses was obviously a nice change, we were shocked. On heading to the beachfront the morning of the next day, it was already 32 degrees, and we both managed to burn all over, despite being covered in sun cream. Once again, strong margaritas seemed to be the best way to cope, and never seemed to be hard to find. Our waiter was especially keen to keep us topped up, coming round every hour with a tequila bottle and looking somewhat confused when we refused further shots.

We decided to take advantage of the abundance of sea food restaurants, and stuck to our rule of finding less touristy places, so we discovered a restaurant, a few blocs from the beach itself, but still with a view of the sea, and amazing food for much less than its sold on the ocean front. Despite it being generally expensive, there are plenty of places that are reasonably priced, just away from the main strip. Fuelled by our masses of calamari and shrimp here, we made the (probably awful) decision to purchase a bottle of Bacardi and spend the evening with some others staying in our hostel on the terrace, before heading out to La Vaquita (the little cow), an unusual club on the beachfront. Needless to say, the coach ride at 10 am the next day wasn’t the most enjoyable journey of my life, but it meant we were back in the city with time for a nap and an explore of Tlaquepaque.

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