Vallarta Botanical Gardens features more than 3,000 plant species. // (c) 2012
Beyond Puerto Vallarta’s seaside promenade, art galleries and fine restaurants, clients can enjoy adventures galore on several easy day excursions.
Sailing to Yelapa Village
A sailing trip to Yelapa, past jungle-clad mountains, is a must. The quaint fishing village just received electricity less than 10 years ago and can only be reached by boat. Clients who book with Pegaso Chartering will sail on the 52-foot teak Tinuviel (maximum 28 passengers). It’s a relaxing cruise out with coffee and sweet rolls while listening to mellow Simon & Garfunkel tunes. About two hillocks before Yelapa, there’s a snorkel stop to swim with peacock-blue damsel fish and other marine critters.
In Yelapa, a cobblestone path leads past a workshop, where villagers carve beautiful rosewood statues, to a waterfall cascading down into a deep freshwater pool (perfect for a cool dip). And few can resist buying a slice of still-warm coconut pie from the original “pie lady,” who has been baking and selling her famous pies in Yelapa for 35 years.
Lunch is served at a beachfront restaurant, followed by sunning and swimming in the crystal-clear waters. On the return, the Tinuviel’s sails are unfurled to catch the breeze, and everyone kicks back with margaritas in hand.
Vallarta Botanical Gardens
Just 11 miles south of Puerto Vallarta, the Vallarta Botanical Gardens features more than 3,000 different species of plants. Getting to the 250-acre preserve, nestled 1,300 feet above sea level in the Sierra Madre Mountains, is part of the fun — the drive by taxi (or local bus, which is inexpensive and easy to catch) winds along lush mountainous coastline.
Much of the gardens consist of natural tropical forest with short hiking trails to a river where clients can swim. Walking past tangled vanilla vines, they will be amazed by the rising and falling symphony of birdsong and cicadas and the variety of butterflies flitting about. Registered with Botanic Gardens Conservation International in England, the gardens also include roses and orchids, a field of 6,000 blue agaves and a carnivorous plant collection.
Clients should be sure to have lunch on the outdoor deck of the gardens’ Hacienda de Oro restaurant. We loved the mojitos, made with basil and mint (picked fresh from the gardens) and organic wood-oven pizza.
Mule Ride and Ziplining
A high-speed Zodiac ride, a jungle drive, a mule ride and a rappel down waterfalls are all part of the adrenalin-fueled “Outdoor Adventure” tour, offered by leading tour operator Vallarta Adventures. It’s also known as the “OMG! What am I doing!” tour. At least that is exactly how we felt about the time we ziplined down the “Wet Chicken Line” (screaming the whole time) into a natural river pool with a gigantic splash.
But first, we zoomed along in a Zodiac to the tiny fishing village of Boca de Tomatlan. There, we boarded yellow Unimogs (open-air Mercedes 4x4s with huge wheels) for a bumpy ride up a potholed dirt road into jungle-like hills. At an agave cactus plantation, we hoisted ourselves atop mules for a 30-minute ride to 2,500 feet above sea level — no small feat, as these mules sometimes had their own ideas of where they wanted to go.
Last came the waterfall rappeling and ziplining across — and into — rivers, including soaring 200 feet above the ground on a 1,000-foot line. We were drenched by the end but exhilarated. And we felt safe throughout, knowing the tour meets the standards of the U.S.-based Association for Challenge Course Technology.
Bird Watching at Las Marietas Islands
A protected UNESCO marine sanctuary, the uninhabited Marietas Islands are one of the few places in the world where clients can see a blue-footed booby (more commonly only spotted in the Galapagos Islands). We chose to visit with EcoTours de Mexico, which takes no more than 12 guests by van and a Zodiac-type boat on biologist-led tours.
The Marietas’ underwater sea caves, lava tubes and corals are also home to a kaleidoscope of colorful fish, sea turtles, eagle rays and sea horses. So snorkeling is a major part of these tours too. But when we visited, the nutrient-rich waters weren’t as clear as, say, the Caribbean. We found the comical blue-footed boobies much more fascinating to watch.
The volcanic islands themselves are also interesting to sail around — tall plumes of spray gush out of blowholes and the water has carved arches under which clients can swim when the tide is right.