Puerto Vallarta Scout-Out

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Continuing from where we left off nearly 18 months ago, the following is a newly published “catch-up” post from our time living in Sayulita, Nayarit.

10 May 2021

We decided a while back that Sayulita wasn’t going to be our “forever” home. I know, hard to believe. By the way, is that actually a thing?

When we moved here, we weren’t sure what the future had in store for us or everyone else, for that matter.

The pandemic was wreaking havoc in a big way on travel, work, school, and daily life across the globe.

My travel blog was on life support and Lori had only secured remote work through the end of 2020 (she’s since gotten an extension through 2021).

Then, it was as if a gate was thrown open and everyone and their mom started making their way down to Mexico. Or, so it seemed here in Nayarit.

By late 2020, Mexico was still one of the very few countries in the entire world without any Covid entry restrictions. And Sayulita felt very much at the center of all that.

Rent and real estate (which was crazy in Sayulita before the pandemic) reached ever higher. The town became a madhouse.

As early as December, Lori and I were eyeing more affordable (and tranquilo) alternatives elsewhere in Mexico.

At one point or another, our shortlist included Puerto Escondido, Guanajuato, Huatulco, Mazatlan, Queretaro, and San Cristobal de las Casas – all very livable places with affordable housing and good bilingual Pre-K schools.

We quickly realized we weren’t ready to trade in the beach, so Guanajuato, Queretaro, and San Cristobal were out. We later nixed Huatulco, and Puerto Escondido due to travel time and cost to/from the PacNW. PE was my long time top pick, so that was hard. But it made sense for us not to consider it right now.

After reconsidering our options, we’ve added two more: Chacala, a small rural village with a good school an hour north of Sayulita; and Puerto Vallarta.

Why PV? Why not!? Lots of expat and nomadic families with young kids have great things to say about it. Beautiful beaches, lots of amenities, reasonably priced rental houses.

There’s just one hang up. We’ve lived an hour away from PV for seven months, but have never actually been there.

Pretty crazy, right? One of the most popular beach destinations in Mexico (and the Western Hemisphere for that matter) right under our noses and we haven’t come close to setting foot there.

The PV airport is the closest we’ve come, which is still a 30 minute drive from the tourist hub of Zona Romantica.

But that all changes tomorrow.

Don’t worry, the three of us aren’t tied up waiting for our ransom to be paid. We’re just waiting our turn at the car rental office in Sayulita.

What’s with the hands behind the back? It’s kind of what the boys do these days when they walk into an office (don’t touch anything, we remind them).

I thought I’d join the cool kids.

Punta Negra, Nayarit

It worked out better for us to rent a car in Sayulita in the afternoon and leave early the next day. That meant we had a set of wheels for an entire evening that could get us beyond the Sayulita village limits!

We jumped on the opportunity and headed down Punta de Mita Highway to check out a new-to-us beach that friends of ours rave about – Punta Negra.

As is the case with a lot of beaches in Nayarit, Punta Negra has a mangrove lagoon, cut-off during the dry season and presumably connected with the sea in the wet summer months. This one looks like a prime spot for exploring by kayak or SUP.

White sands, calm surf, beautiful scenery. But only one fancy, overpriced restaurant along the entire white strand.

So, we headed to a place called La Cabaña in neighboring Coral del Risco for dinner, and weren’t disappointed.

Huge portions accompanied by everything but the kitchen sink, with a stunning view across Banderas Bay. In the morning, we’ll be staring back from the other side.

The next morning, we turn right out of Sayulita and make the slow crawl down Highway 200 towards the state line. Just before Bucerias, the road widens to four lanes and things speed up.

I’ve driven a handful of times in Mexico, and feel fairly comfortable with most aspects of driving here, except for a few oddities.

The left-hand turn from the highway always gets the blood pumping. Like in Belize, it’s technically illegal to make a left-hand turn from the highway if there is other traffic around.

If there’s traffic about, you’re technically supposed to pull off to the right shoulder until the other cars clear, then make your left turn crossing the highway.

There are a couple reasons for this. One, and this is my favorite, has to do with how drivers interpret the left-turn signal in Mexico.

Sure, a left-turn signal means that a driver is signaling to make a left turn. It’s ALSO used for signaling to drivers to the rear that it is safe to pass you. Do you see a problem here?

The other thing that gets me gritting my teeth are laterals, the frontage roads that parallel highways meant for local traffic. Plying the laterals, themselves, isn’t confusing so much as knowing where and how to get on and off.

Fortunately, our trip down to Puerto Vallarta is uneventful, and dare I say, enjoyable? It’s not everyday that I get to drive something rocking more than three horsepower (and air-conditioning).

Bucerias, on our way to brunch at Karen’s Place.

We got to check-in to our Airbnb early, which is always a bonus. That means we can ditch the car and our stuff in a safe place and have more time to explore.

We’re here to play to tourist over the long weekend, but also here on an exploratory fact-finding mission.

Puerto Vallarta is near the top of our list of places to live next school year, so we’ve got a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time.

Lori’s got a half dozen houses lined up to check out, plus a couple of schools.

We also want to spend some time getting to know the town and the various neighborhoods, which will be a bit of challenge given that the town is pretty spread out and traffic can be pretty slow at times.

All of the schools (and consequently, most of the houses) we plan to look at are outside of the the downtown core.

For that reason, we chose to stay close to Centro so we could get some sense of the heart of PV, and maybe stumble upon affordable housing worth the laborious reverse commute to and from the kids’ school.

Our Airbnb is a comfy little townhouse straddling the neighborhoods of 5 de Diciembre and Centro.

Our first impressions of PV are mixed.

There’s a lot more traffic congestion than we’d like, especially coming from a town where we can literally walk from one end to the other.

The traffic isn’t a big deal around our Airbnb here in Centro, as we can easily walk to all of the major attractions.

But knowing that we’d likely have to drive everywhere if we lived in the outskirts (closer to one of the schools) is a bit of a bummer.

PV is also not as charming as I had expected. There are pockets around where we are staying, but the main church and plaza aren’t anything to write home about, and the beaches along fringing the central district are average at best, at least compared to Nayarit.

That said, there are a ton of interesting looking restaurants, bars, and cafes to check out, and a lot of outdoor spaces for the kids to play in.

We’ll see how we feel after the next few days.

We couldn’t take the kids out of town without getting paletas (fresh fruit popsicles). Daddy even got one this time.

Strawberry was a very good choice. Seems I also made a good choice with the color of my shorts this morning. These things are messy.

As we head farther south towards Zona Romantica, things do start to seem a bit more put together. Palm-fringed Playa Olas Altas is the first beach in town that beckons us for a dip.

But first, dinner.

We’re excited to take advantage of cervezerias artesanales (local craft brewpubs) while we’re in PV. If you like that sort of thing, Monzón Brewing Co. is definitely worth a stop.

It’s a perfect evening for taking a sunset stroll along the Malecon. And that’s exactly what we do next.

Isla Cuale is an interesting sliver of a jungle island right smack in the heart of a bustling city on the Rio Cuale. Apparently, there’s a popular flea market and walking trails covering the half-mile-long island. Would love to have more time to explore it, but it’ll likely have to wait until our next visit.

That’s Pirate Ship Vallarta out there, that apparently offers everything from sunset cruises to treasure hunts.

PV’s famous Voladores de Papantla on the malecon.

Built in 1948, Hotel Rosita is the oldest hotel in Puerto Vallarta. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton stayed here during the filming of Night of the Iguana in 1963.

It’s one of the few remaining landmarks in town that pre-date the resort boom of the 1970s and 80s. Walking past, you might never notice the hotel. But it’s there, and still fully operational.

The next morning, it was time to go scout out neighborhoods.

Driving around the center of PV is fairly straightforward. But once you get out of Centro, it gets pretty messy in some areas. Not fun driving at all, which will certainly factor into our decision to rent outside the center, or move here in general.

We have a list of houses to check out over the next couple of days, but are also on the lookout for others as we wind through the different neighborhoods.

Most of the neighborhoods we explore feel a bit lacking to us, with little vegetation and rows upon rows of crackerbox-looking townhouses. A far cry from our current living situation in Sayulita.

We’ll see if that changes any over the next 36 hours here as we make our way around the city.

After a big morning of exploring followed by a big nap, it’s beach time.

There are lots of beaches to choose from in the area, and we knew the best ones were on the southern edges of town.

For the sake of time and ease, we decide to suit up and head west until we hit the water. That led us to Playa Camarones. Not the world’s most beautiful beach, but perfectly adequate for our needs.

We did, however, need to make sure the kids didn’t get clotheslined by the paragliders being launched from the beach every fifteen minutes.

Would be curious to know what the story is behind this dilapidated monstrosity watching over the main plaza in Zona Romantica.

Had no idea these existed. In college, we just used plywood and sawhorses. Good to know for when the boys are a little older.

For dinner, we hit up an Indian restaurant off the malecon (India Gate). Sayulita has no shortage of amazing Mexican food, but definitely no Indian, so it was a nice change.

On our walk back to put the boys down for the night, Noe stopped in front of a place with live Cuban music playing. He begged us to go in. It was getting late and I would have definitely pushed back a bit if I didn’t want also go check it out. I looked at Lori and she said why not.

Turns out Noe has execellent Bar-dar. I couldn’t have picked a cooler place if I’d pulled up TripAdvisor.

It’s a branch of the legendary La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana, birthplace of the mojito and one of Hemmingway’s haunts back in the day.

After a jam-packed three days, it’s time to head back to Sayulita and turn in the rental car.

So, what’s the verdict on PV? We’d love to come back to visit at some point. Lots more to see and do and we feel we’ve only scratched the surface.

As for moving here, well…jury’s still out.

The schools all checked out, and there are some decent neighborhoods outside of the center. But the traffic’s awful and none of the houses we saw jumped out at us. But there’s still time for new rentals to come on the market.

We’ve got one more town to check out later this week before moving forward. I think we’ll have a much better idea after that.

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