Got Stress? Get to Puerto Vallarta
This popular resort town is just what the doctor ordered. The only decision is whether to unwind with a night of partying or an afternoon on an empty beach. Take seven days and call us in the morning.
To mix things up, we get out of town midway through our week's vacation. There are several great overnight trips from Puerto Vallarta, including the surfer town of Sayulita, the chic beaches of Punta Mita, and the secluded village of Yelapa. We go for the latter because we've heard it's paradise.
We catch a Yelapa Water Taxi from Los Muertos pier (the only way to get to Yelapa). The boat dodges a couple of lazy sea turtles on the 45-minute ride. Our days in Puerto Vallarta have left me relaxed, but as the boat rounds the bend into Yelapa's calm cove, I can just about feel my blood pressure slow to a near stop. Yelapa got electricity all of five and a half years ago, and there are no roads or cars. The largely American and Canadian expat population oozes a Jimmy Buffett-like satisfaction, fully content with a life spent in shorts.
Our first stop after tumbling out of the motorboat is the beachfront Hotel Lagunita. The low-key, rustic hotel, with a yoga studio next door, is the hub of "activity" in Yelapa. We settle in under one the palapas for Coronas, guacamole, and shrimp aquachile: a ceviche of raw shrimp, lime, onions, and hot pepper. Lagunita is booked, but the masseuse, Nancy, who is followed everywhere by her pack of five rescued dogs, rents us one of her spacious guesthouses at Casa Frida.
As it'll soon be dark, we grab one of our casa's flashlights and stroll along the water to the other end of the quarter-mile-long beach. After hiking a couple hundred steps, we're rewarded with one of the outdoor tables at the village's finest restaurant, La Galería. Our handsome waiter brings us mojitos and tamarind margaritas, pear salads, fresh-caught amberjack, and passion-fruit cheesecake, while we enjoy a candle-fringed view of the beach. The bill is under $40. No wonder everyone in Yelapa is in such a good mood.
Back in Puerto Vallarta the next day, we check into Casa Amorita, a chic and warm four-room bed-and-breakfast. And what a breakfast! We have huevos divorciados, eggs fried and served with refried beans and red and green salsas. The owner roasts her own coffee, a special strong blend that's a tad spicy. I wind up buying two pounds to bring home.
A few crucial blocks off the Malecón, behind the Cathedral Guadalupe, the inn has a roof deck with one of the town's best sunset views over the ocean. There's a vitality and authenticity to the neighborhood, too. Downtown, we saw mariachis playing in restaurants; here, we pass the band packing sombreros and instruments into the car trunk at the end of a gig.
It's immediately clear that Casa Amorita's friendly staff knows the city inside and out, and when they tell us where to eat, we obey. Some of our vacation's finest meals are in the surrounding blocks, at Planeta Vegetariano, which offers a scrumptious $6 buffet, and at the simple, sunny tapas bar Esquina de los Caprichos, run by a chef from Mexico and his Spanish wife.
For our last night in town, we head to Casa Amorita's vote for the best Mexican food in town, The Red Cabbage Cafe. Lola Bravo's friends worried when she opened her restaurant 11 years ago on the far edge of the Zona Romantica, a 15-minute walk from the Malecón. Judging from the line of people waiting outside, they worried needlessly.
Inside, the walls are covered in Frida Kahlo prints, paintings of Billie Holiday, old Beatles albums, and stills of Richard Burton and John Huston--whose 1964 Night of the Iguana was shot in Puerto Vallarta. Every table is decorated differently. Ours is painted and stenciled with movie titles with the word cabbage subbed in: Silence of the Cabbages, The Red Badge of Cabbage, Jurassic Cabbage.
Dinner is both delicious and beautiful: Queso Rebecca (a rich appetizer of panela cheese, chipotle salsa, and ancho chiles), grilled mahimahi, and the Maria de Jesus Mexican plate (chile relleno, grilled steak, and enchiladas in mole sauce). While we sip potent margaritas, Bravo greets the diners next to us warmly. Turns out we're eating next to the Mad magazine cartoonist Al Jaffee and his wife and friends.
After dinner, Tim and I walk through the Zona Romantica, passing families congregating around food stalls and a buoyant wedding party spilling out of a church. We follow peals of laughter and music to the Malecón, where the amphitheater is packed with locals and tourists taking in street performances. A face-painted comedian in a Charlie Chaplin getup calls for a man from the audience to volunteer--and then promptly goes into the stands to hit on the guy's girlfriend. The show is in Spanish, but the laughter and energy are so infectious that we stay, standing on our toes and craning our heads with everyone else.