Puerto Vallarta — where Mexico comes to life

If you’re looking for someplace warm to go for the holidays, Puerto Vallarta should be on the top of your list. Once a small fishing village on the shores of Banderas Bay, Puerto Vallarta has grown to a vibrant resort town, yet never forgetting its humble beginnings. From glorious beaches to gourmet dining to great outdoor adventure and fabulous shopping, Puerto Vallarta has more than enough to keep you busy…or happily doing nothing at all.

Having stopped in Puerto Vallarta on a Holland America cruise, I was anxious to come back and explore more. What I discovered on a longer visit is absolutely glorious 85 degree weather; a friendly, welcoming atmosphere and an authentic Mexican experience.

Gourmet cuisine on an international stage

La Leche in the downtown zone

La Leche in the downtown zone

While one would expect great Mexican fare, Puerto Vallarta restaurants have expanded their palate and are now recognized for their culinary expertise. The XV annual Festival Gourmet International is a testimony to their international reputation in the culinary world.

One of the newest dining experiences is La Leche ® Almacen Gourmet. LaLeche means milk in Spanish and this all-white décor creates a singular and irreverent culinary experience in a monochromatic space. Chef Alfonso Cadena’s cooking, which changes daily, is in a word, superb. Everything embraces an element of surprise from a delicious peach salad spilling out of a can…

No, wait, I don’t want to spill any more secrets. But I will tell you some of the highlights of their menu include Portobello Veal Shank and Mahi Mahi, fresh from the bay. Suffice to say, there are many surprises and you’ll just have to enjoy dining here on your own. La Leche is conveniently located right at the entrance to the Fiesta American Hotel in the downtown zone. www.lalecherestaurant.com

Take Three — TRIO
TRIO is a cosmopolitan restaurant in the heart of Puerto Vallarta where you’ll really feel like you’re in Europe. A combination of restaurant, bar and café, Trio is designed with the classic architectural influence of the European Art Noveau. A warm, friendly atmosphere invites patrons to enjoy the “Mediterranean cuisine cooked with love.” Dining is accompanied by a wide selection of international wines.

TRIO uses the freshest local ingredients and a superb touch of Mediterranean touches with a hint of Mexican spices. The menu changes seasonally. Their signature dishes include: seafood antipasto, braised lamb and grilled sea bass. Pastas and heavenly desserts are all home-made daily.

TRIO continues to dazzle both local and food critics. Its culinary experiences, expressed with the pride and creativity of his owners Chef Bernhard Güth and Ulf Henriksson, makes TRIO the pillar of fine dining in Puerto Vallarta

I had to chance to chat with Chef Guth who asked me where I was from. When I told him Highland Park, he replied that he just been in Highland Park, cooking for our mayor. “Highland Park is a sister city of Puerto Vallarta,” he proudly told me. Imagination that!

For reservations, book online www.triopv.com.

Other outstanding restaurants — Don’t miss Chef Thierry Blouet’s Café des Artistes, considered the best restaurant in town, www.cafedesartistes.com. Or, enjoy fabulous cuisine and a romantic serenade, right on the beach at La Palapa, www.lapalapapv.com.

Dining with the kids
Many area restaurants cater to families with special kids’ menus that offer standard American fare, along with smaller portions of Mexican specialties. If your kids are game for fish tacos, let them try!

Have a pirate adventure!

Pirates of the Bay – What a treasure!
Here’s something really fun for the whole family. This fabulous half-day tour included buffet breakfast and lunch, pirate-show fun, as well as a treasure hunt on the island. The morning started off at the Maritime Terminal where we were greeted at the pier by our own personal pirate, Angie, our server for the day. After a breakfast buffet, we took off for seas unknown. The pirate show was very entertaining for adults and kids alike with some stunts that took even me by surprise. We arrived at our destination, the Majhuitas Ecological Island, a secluded beach, accessible only by boat. Here the kids went on a treasure hunt, while the adults laid back and soaked up the sun. After two hours (that went by much too fast), we re-boarded the ship for lunch with more fun and games on the way back. Upon returning to the dock, the kids were loaded down with “loot” and everyone had a great time!

Zipping through the trees at the Canopy Adventure Park
One of the most popular ecological tours in Puerto Vallarta is at the Canopy Adventure Park. Families get a chance to zip from tree to tree, discover jungle wildlife while venturing across suspended walkways and sail through the air on a Tarzan swing. What’s so cool is that it’s a little scary at first, but the view from above is well worth it.

Swim with the dolphins
It has been said that you haven’t lived until you’ve kissed a dolphin and I would agree. The Dolphin Encounter gives kids a chance to learn more about these remarkable creatures through face to face encounters. After a brief presentation about how dolphins interact with people, I waded into a shallow pool and had a chance to touch, rub and actually ride on the dolphin! Kids as young as five can participate.

For still more day-trips in Puerto Vallarta, Vallarta Adventures offers an excursion to colonial San Sebastian in the Sierra Madre Mountains. This tour provides a fascinating look at Mexican history, with a stop at a working coffee plantation.

Beachfront view at the Westin

Beachfront view at the Westin

Did I mention shopping? This is my idea of paradise. Strolling along the colorful malecon, you’ll discover beautiful jewelry, excellent crafts, fine clothing in exclusive boutiques, and of course, bargaining with local beach vendors for bracelets, earrings and pottery.

I have friends who’ve traveled to Puerto Vallarta every year since the 90s. I couldn’t understand why they chose to go back to the same place year after year. Now that I’ve spent a week there, I get it. And I can’t wait to go back. For more information on Puerto Vallarta, visit http://visitpuertovallarta.com

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