“All those hard-partying college kids? We sent them to Cancún,” Joana Grau, a Puerto Vallarta local and guide with Vallarta Food Tours, says with a laugh. Cristina Hernández, public relations and marketing manager at Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa, echoes her sentiment. “That spring break reputation is old,” she says, referencing a time, particularly in the 90s, when the Mexican beach town gained notoriety for badly-behaved undergrads.
What’s actually become of Puerto Vallarta? It’s a destination where the hotels are more considered than ever before, the local food scene rivals that of Mexico City, and Jalisco-style wellness has made its mark. If you haven’t considered the West Coast escape since your college days (or you still equate the place with generic mega-resorts and all-you-can-handle shots), here’s why now is the time to get to know the real Puerto Vallarta.
The Destination's Hotels Double as Cultural Hotspots
Whether you’re looking for a boutique abode or a resort with every amenity onsite, Puerto Vallarta has accommodations for every type of traveler. Plus, hotel size and local character aren’t mutually exclusive here. Take, for example, Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa (rates from $129 per night). The family-friendly hotel, which sits on a sandy stretch of Banderas Bay has 433 ocean-facing rooms, but remains fully committed to celebrating the culture of Jalisco, the Mexican state where Puerto Vallarta is located. This month, the Marriott wraps up two years and $18 million worth of renovations, culminating with a renovated infinity pool, swim-up bar, and beachside lounge that’s sure to be the top spot in town for a sunset cocktail. Rooms have been redone to feature a color palette that pays in homage to the agave plant. (The succulent’s most famous product, tequila, comes from Jalisco.) The renovations also include the new Ceviche & Tequila Bar, where guests can sample 180 different types of the Mexican spirit, including the hotel’s own label, CasaMagna. Sipping here is treated with sophistication, especially if you schedule a tequila tasting with Audrey Formisano, the hotel’s very own tequila sommelier.
Couples looking for utter relaxation may opt for the adults-only Casa Velas (rates from from $260 per person, per night), an 80-room boutique hotel that has reimagined the all-inclusive. Rather than buffet lines, meals here mean fine dining at on-site restaurant Emiliano, or at the hotel’s private beach club overlooking the sea. As the hacienda-style property sits on the greens of Marina Vallarta’s 18-hole golf course, guests can enjoy unlimited complimentary rounds. Casa Velas also offers excursions to a local Huichol village (an indigenous tribe from the area) to meet with a shaman and peruse native art and jewelry, as well as cooking classes and market tours.
For an even more intimate hotel experience, there’s Casa Kimberly (rates from $295 per night), a nine-room boutique hotel that was created by combining the side-by-side homes of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who had a great love affair while he was in town filming The Night of the Iguana. The property oozes Hollywood glamour and sits above the cobbled streets of downtown. It's complete with a rooftop restaurant, tequila bar, pool, and spa.
Gourmands Will Go Wild for the Vibrant Street Food
Travelers tend to think of Mexico City as the country’s top destination for a food-focused trip, but Puerto Vallarta may soon give the capital a run for its culinary crown. For an overview of the city’s most enticing offerings, hop on a walking and eating adventure with Vallarta Food Tours (from $50 per person). If it’s your first time visiting, go with the Original Downtown Tour, which may include seafood-stuffed jalapeños at Mariscos Cisneros, a sampling of PV-style tacos at legendary street stands, barley agua fresca from a sidewalk vendor, mole at Gaby’s, and mahi-mahi ceviche washed down with hibiscus tea at Mariscos El Guero. You can also pick from evening taco tours, seafood-centric ambles, or an exploration of international cuisines in the city’s Versalles neighborhood. If you’d like to indulge in international eats on your own, head to Sen Lin for an Asian-fusion feast of dishes like sashimi, Chinese steamed buns, and bulgogi. The restaurant, which opened in November 2018, is located in Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit, the sister hotel to Casa Velas (located about 20 minutes away by car).
For a truly local experience, Marriott Puerto Vallarta offers a “Jalisco At Your Table” dinner in a private room for six or more. The seven-course tasting menu features ingredients and recipes from the area, such as a deconstructed salad with organic nopal, and birria – slow-cooked beef ribs marinated in guajillo chile. At Casa Velas, you can further explore Mexican tradition through taste with a Storytelling Dinner – a three-course meal that takes place in a local art gallery and mixes Huichol cuisine with a painting activity and narratives about the region.
Self-care Seekers Will Find a Wealth of Wellness Offerings
Puerto Vallarta’s idea of wellness has moved beyond hangover cures, though you’ll still hear plenty of those (sip coconut water or birria broth). In 2017, Marriott Puerto Vallarta added Coco Bar, which serves up chilled coconut water poolside, plus a juice bar just outside the gym in 2018. The resort’s sprawling 22,000-square-foot Ohtli Spa is the largest in town and incorporates ancient healing techniques, including a pre-treatment water ritual with hot and cold plunge pools, an Aztec-inspired chocolate body wrap, and Rebirth Therapy – a meditative experience in which a specialist guides you through rhythmic movements in a private pool.
Over at Casa Velas, pick from healthy poolside nibbles (think protein truffles, jicama tacos, and fresh-fruit ice pops) as well as in-room crudités plates. The hotel also has a meditation labyrinth and meditation pods in the botanical garden, as well as facial yoga classes (in addition to full-body yoga). Anyone who wants to go all-in on wellness should book one of the hotel’s new Wellness Suites – a duplex room that comes with a personal Wellness Concierge to advise on spa treatments; in-suite exercise equipment; a private plunge pool; rooftop Jacuzzi; aromatherapy kit; and a vitamin C spout in the shower that will spritz you with antioxidant, skin-enhancing essential oil.
With so many new wellness features, plus an array of hotel and culinary choices, it’s now possible to return from your Mexico escape healthier and more rejuvenated than when you left – something that might have seemed unimaginable in the Señor Frog’s-centric Puerto Vallarta of yesteryear.