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Puerto Vallarta, Mexico as a Port Stop

An interesting aspect to cruising itineraries that have a number of port stops, is the ability to see and enjoy various places on one trip. As much as I like sea days, I always get off the ship at each port to go exploring. This results in me making discoveries about the port, the people, or the country in general. On a recent cruise, I learned that no matter how much I think I know about a port, there is always something new to learn. Puerto Vallarta is my example. We have owned a time share in that location for decades and any visit to Puerto Vallarta usually involved a minimum of a fortnight stay. During those two weeks, exploration of the city was always a must and certainly the surrounding area was also subject to visits and exploration. As a result, on this recent cruise, prior to our arrival, I wondered if I would learn anything new especially since it was only to be a one-day short port stop.

During my outing, I was quickly reminded that each time I visit a location, I come in contact with different people who may share their experiences or observations. Those contacts may change my perspective on a location and this trip was no different. My husband and I hired a taxi for four hours and the driver drove us to some of his favourite local places. He was born and raised in the area and offered up a local’s perspective as he took us to spots that he and his family love. Stops at new locations (to us), intermingled with return visits to some of the familiar tourist points, combined with the personal history he offered up, provided me with new information. Our one-day port stop proved to be both educational and enlightening.

This port stop is what is generally termed “a walk off” as the ship is docked. Within easy walking distance to the port is a large Walmart which was exciting for the ship’s crew. Our cabin attendant and at least five other crew members told us about the store in advance of the ship docking. Apparently, it is “THE” place to buy much needed items at reasonable prices. One of our dinner companions that night, told us he watched a steady stream of staff members return to the ship with Walmart bags. He himself went as he had neglected to bring long pants on the trip and decided to buy a pair. If you are missing any items, this stop is your opportunity to pick them up.

Before I start to describe our outing, I want to touch a bit on the history of this resort city. Located in the state of Guadalajara, it is the second only to Acapulco in size in relation to cities on the west coast of Mexico. In the early 1500s, when the Spanish arrived, the land was occupied by the Aztatlan indigenous peoples. The story we were told is that the Spanish landed with a goal to conquer the people but soon found themselves outnumbered as 20,000 locals descended upon them. A priest fell to his knees in fear and in doing so, exposed a flag behind him that had the image of the Virgin Mary. This image had been embroidered in gold and silver thread. The sunlight glittered off the image and the dazzled Aztatlans fell to their knees in awe and subsequent submission. It makes for an interesting story but I have not followed-up on it to verify the accuracy of what we had been told.

There are medical clinics and a large hospital in the city. Pharmacies are ubiquitous as are souvenir shops, bars and restaurants. There are also three casinos and as mentioned, the large Walmart and other big brand stores.

Given that we had all the personal items we needed, we directed our driver to take us into the old town. No shore excursion is complete without a stop at a market, so we first headed to the Mercado Municipal de Río Cuale. Being further away from the dock, we knew it would be less busy. Note, it is not a walkable distance so you will either have to take a taxi or a bus, but once in that old town area, there is a lot to see and do. Taxis are in abundance by the dock or you can catch a local bus marked Centro, just outside the Walmart. The bus will cost you just under $1 Canadian or around .50 US cents. As for taxis, the price varies. Note that the city is divided into zones and priced accordingly. Negotiate your taxi price BEFORE getting into the vehicle. People were being charged between $10 and $50 US dollars to go to the same location.

We spent an hour looking at various offerings which were a mixture of the usual t-shirts, souvenirs items and some artisan handicrafts. We purchased two beautiful stained glass window pieces for very reasonable prices. The vendor wrapped them well and both subsequently made it home without incident even though each piece was in our individual checked baggage. We also bought a couple of hand-blown wine glasses as a gift, some ceramics and a t-shirt.

The market is beside the Cuale River which divides the city of Puerto Vallarta in two. There are some scenic spots along the river to photograph and a popular (among the locals), foot bridge.

We were soon off to explore the one and a half kilometer Malecon. If you do not have any mobility issues, this is a fun walk with statues and fountains along the route. Loads of great photos can be taken on this walk. From past experiences, we know it is always busy, especially when ships are in port, and at night there is often a party atmosphere as there are a number of bars nearby. Our walk ended up at the monument at Los Muertos beach which is an extremely popular spot. If you just want to get off the ship and simply have a beach day, Los Muertos Beach is Puerto Vallarta’s most popular beach. You will also find shopping and restaurants in the area.

Puerto Vallarta is surrounded by hills, so we soon headed up one to higher ground to take in the scenic views. No matter where we stopped, there were attractive vistas overlooking the waters of Banderas Bay. Many of the streets were cobbled and the homes surrounded by old world style stone walls. Beautiful, colourful flowers were in abundance.

For those who follow my blogs, you will know that I always stop at cathedrals and museums and so I offer up the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (The Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe), as an interesting stop. Not the most ornate or spectacular church in Mexico, it is nevertheless well worth a visit and has some beautiful features and outstanding carvings inside. The crown like tower dominates the skyline. The church was built between 1930 and 1940 and is located a few blocks from the beach but easy to find. Just look for the crown tower and walk towards it. Once again, this is not something you can easily walk to from the location where the ship docks so you will have to make your way into the old town. The church is described as a neoclassical structure, but the crown tower is more indicative of a baroque period. There are statues and religious artifacts for sale as you leave the church.

Interestingly enough, I learned that the Lady of Guadalupe is seen by many as representing Mexican liberation. I was told that candles lit in front of statues representing her, are not necessarily lit for reasons of religious faith. Although this blog deals with things to see and do in the city of Puerto Vallarta, there are a number of shore excursions that you can do outside the city. I will be doing a blog in the future that deals with a few of these including a few quiet beach locations for those who want to get away from the busy beaches and enjoy some fun in the sun in a more secluded area.

For those who enjoy whale watching, when in season, you can see whales in this area. Check the seasonal migration times before booking any tours to avoid disappointment.

On previous visits, we did the sunset evening dinner cruise and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. The water can be choppy and the boats are small so if you easily suffer from motion sickness, either take the necessary precautions in advance or give that activity a pass.

More to come on Puerto Vallarta.


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