Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 18, 2017

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Greetings from Mexico!

An insider’s guide to Puerto Vallarta and the Riviera Nayarit

When we bought a timeshare in Puerto Vallarta 12 years ago, our friends thought we were loco. I thought we would use it to trade for other timeshares around the world. Fact is, we return every year. We have made Puerto Vallarta and the Riviera Nayarit our winter home away from home.

Why here? The weather is ideal. Over our dozen years there it has rained twice for total of three hours. The average daily temperature is about 80°F (27°F) with a breeze. Nights are cool and balmy, and we sleep with a ceiling fan; no need for air conditioning. The restaurants and markets provide fabulous food options from Mexican to Italian to Thai.

The Banderas Bay region appeals to all types: it’s senior friendly, gay friendly, single-women friendly, couples friendly, family friendly, even dog friendly. You don’t need a car because public transportation is efficient and cheap, albeit not what I’d describe as luxurious. Every bus ride over Puerto Vallarta’s cobbled streets is a free cellulite treatment!

I sincerely love the place and its people, and I’m fed up with the negative press that Mexico gets. I feel safer here than I did living in downtown Toronto.

Sure, the sun, surf and sunsets are free, but how do you make the most of your pesos? Here's my insider’s guide on where to save and splurge along the Bay of Banderas.


Star struck at Casa Kimberly
Before John Huston’s 1964 film, The Night of the Iguana, Puerto Vallarta was a sleepy fishing village. All that changed when Liz Taylor arrived to keep an eye on her lover, Richard Burton, while he was filming with the voluptuous Ava Gardner. The publicity buzz about Richard and Liz’s torrid affair, plus the success of the movie, put Puerto Vallarta on the tourist map.

During their romantic romp in PV, Richard Burton presented Casa Kimberly (casakimberly.com) as a gift to Elizabeth for her 32nd birthday. The totally renovated Casa Kimberly opened in 2015 as a luxury boutique hotel. The opulent Elizabeth Taylor Suite comes with its own private pool, Jacuzzi and wrap-around terrace. I think Liz would approve of the massive ensuite bathroom and the vintage pink marble bathtub in the shape of a heart.

Six evenings a week, the 12-piece La Joya de Mexico mariachi group serenades guests with everything from traditional mariachi to Hollywood and classical tunes in The Iguana Restaurant & Tequila Bar.


Taco crawl
When I read about Vallarta Food Tours (vallartafoodtours.com), I signed up for “An Evening Taco Adventure.” Who would know better then the Vallarta food experts about where to enjoy good street food? Dinner included five kinds of tacos, pozole (a stew of hominy and shredded pork), a shot of Mexcal and churros. Tacos are arguably the best bargain in town and stopping at the various stands is a great opportunity to munch and mingle with locals.


A palapa in Yelapa
Accessible primarily by water taxi, Yelapa provides a taste of rustic Mexico without an all-inclusive or high-rise in sight. You’ll find plenty of aging hippies, artists and laid-back locals. Take a hike or ride a burro to the waterfall, then sprawl out on the golden beach. Buy a slice of pie from one of the lady vendors who balance the homemade goodies in plastic containers on their heads and chill out. Boats leave daily from Marina Vallarta, Boca de Tomatlan, and Los Muertos Pier.


Java jolts with Pacific views
Dee’s Coffee Company, my favourite for a good java jolt and daily fresh home baking, is near the beach on Calle Francisca Rodríguez with views of Puerto Vallarta’s stunning new pier. Her sticky buns are outrageously good. Just up the street from Dee’s, there’s a sweet senior gentleman who operates a juice stand and squeezes fresh oranges and grapefruits while you wait — about $1 for a large glass of liquid sunshine.


Saturday is market day
The Old Town Farmers’ Market takes place in the Lazaro Cardenas Square in the Romantic Zone on Saturday mornings. It’s full of vendors selling everything from organic vegetables to artisanal breads to crafts. Plan to have breakfast as you graze from stall to stall.


Make friends
Drop into the International Friendship Centre (ifcvallarta.com) in the heart of Puerto Vallarta (Calle Libertad near the bridge) to make amigos, learn new skills and be entertained. The Centre has a busy schedule of activities including bridge, yoga and Spanish lessons, lectures and home tours. A portion of the fees goes to various charities.


Meet me on the Malecon
Puerto Vallarta’s lovely seaside promenade, the Malecon was renovated, landscaped and widened in 2011. When the sun goes down, watch a folkloric spectacle in the Los Arcos, the open-air amphitheatre. On Sunday nights a live band plays in the zocalo. Join the locals, young and old, in a sexy salsa number.


Bountiful botanical gardens
Hop on the bus that says El Tuito at the corner of Carranza and Aguacate. The scenic ride takes you along the coast to the Botanical Gardens (vbgardens.org). Wear walking shoes so you can explore the various trails and collections of palms, roses, ferns, agaves, orchids, wildflowers, coffee and vanilla trees. A fascinating variety of birds and butterflies call these gardens home, so bring your camera and binoculars. Take a refreshing dip in the Rio Los Horcones (don’t forget to bring a towel), and then head up to the Hacienda de Oro restaurant for an alfresco lunch. Entrance fee is about $10; free for kids.


Wednesday night Art Walk
From the end of October to the end of May you can participate in Art Walk (vallartaartwalk.com) every Wednesday evening. About 20 galleries and studios in the historic centre open from 6 to 10PM. Most serve snacks and drinks; often they’ll have an artist or two on the premises. Café des Artistes (cafedesartistes.com) one of Vallarta’s top restaurants, offers fabulous dinner options in a lush garden setting.


Something fishy
The atmosphere is funky and casual, but the cooking at Joe Jack’s (joejacks-fishshack.com) is superb. Located in the Romantic Zone on Basilio Badillo, it’s a fun spot for lunch or dinner. Shrimp and avocado tostados slide down extremely well with a gazpacho Bloody Mary or Ginger Mojito. On Fridays, they serve all-you-can-eat beer battered fish and chips. My husband and I always share the whole red snapper cooked with lime, chillies and garlic. Muy bueno!


Say si to Sergio
Arguably the loveliest jewellery/art shop in Puerto Vallarta is that of Sergio Bustamente (coleccionsergiobustamante.com.mx). The famous Mexican artist whose sculpture “Searching for Reason” graces the Malecon, also creates miniature sculptures in the forms of rings, earrings, bracelets and necklaces. Bring back a trinket with one of his stylized suns for fond memories when in colder climes.

ALONG THE RIVIERA NAYARIT

I’ve noticed a trend. Folks take a weeklong vacation in Puerto Vallarta. They love it and spend two weeks the following year. Weeks become months and often these folks (myself included) start venturing further up the Bay of Banderas and into the state of Nayarit for the entire winter.

This paradisiac stretch along the Bay of Banderas, framed by the verdant Sierra Madre Mountains, is also a region of splendid contrasts where visitors have choices about whether to “save or splurge” in every town. You can buy a fresh mango on a stick and a home baked muffin from a beach vendor for a $3 breakfast, or dine under the stars at a five-star resort for dinner.


Eat your way through Bucerias
About 20 kilometres northwest of PV, Bucerias is so popular with Canadians, especially those from the West Coast, it’s been dubbed “BC-rias.” Bucerias has the ambience of a traditional Mexican town, but with all the services and amenities that appeal to gringos.

Normally I’m cautious about eating street food, but there’s one taco stand in front of the church on the zocalo in Bucerias that I highly recommend. It’s run by Janie and her mom Raina. Their shrimp and mahi mahi tacos cost about $2 each. What sets this taco joint apart? It’s super clean; the ladies make their corn tortillas and all the sauces — from Hades hot habanera to tamer avocado or tartar — from scratch. Janie won’t divulge the family secret recipe for the light and crunchy tempura-style batter and I can’t blame her.

Walk through the door at Trattoria Toscana Mia (trattoriatoscanamia.com) and you’ll think you’ve been transported to Tuscany. Indeed, the family came from Montecatini in 2008 and the authentic, slow-cooked recipes are from Mamma Pina’s. The aromas wafting from the brick pizza oven are tantalizing. Pasta and most other things on the menu are made fresh onsite. Reservations are advisable.

Reserve a cooking class at My Mexican Kitchen (mymexicankitchen.com) with the dynamic duo of chefs Travis Dietz and Edgar Garcia Cordova, and you’ll be slicing and dicing with about six new friends, and then enjoying the fruits of your labours. Travis and Edgar run several classes per week and they’re constantly changing the menu. The evening ends with Mexican coffee laced with cinnamon and cane sugar and a shot of almond tequila. Cost per person is about $115 and you may bring your own wine.


Cruise La Cruz de Huanacaxtle
This old fishing village is gradually being gentrified and boasts the most modern marina on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. Take a day cruise with Ally Cat Sailing Adventures (allycatsailing.com) to Islas Las Marietas, a wildlife sanctuary and marine preserve. You might spot rare blue-footed boobies, whales, dolphins and sea turtles. The catamaran is equipped with all sorts of water toys. The cost, about $115, includes all your drinks, food and an entertaining crew.

Stop by the Mercado del Mar early in the morning to see fishermen arriving with their catch of the day. On Sundays from October to April this same space becomes a bustling organic farmers’ and handicraft market.


Sayulita’s psychedelic beads
More than a surfer town, Sayulita gives off a relaxed bohemian-chic vibe with temptations for all budgets and ages.

If you want to buy an unusual souvenir, consider an authentic piece of intricate beadwork made by the Huichol Aboriginals. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived early in the 16th century, the Huichols (also known as the Peyote People) fled to the Sierra Madre Mountains where they were able to retain their religion and customs, which include the ceremonial use of peyote. Their hallucinogenic visions inspire their psychedelic art that comes in the forms of intricately beaded masks, bracelets, bowls, animal figurines and more. Visit the Galeria Tanana (Revolucion #22).

Afterwards, test the waves by taking a surf lesson or rent a boogie board from the Sayulita beach vendors. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to ChocoBanana beside the town square where they dip bananas in chocolate and serve them frozen, popsicle-style.


San Francisco for polo, anyone?
Nicknamed San Pancho by the locals, there’s a lot to discover in this laid-back beach town. If you’re keen on watching some earth-pounding chukkas, head to La Patrona Equestrian Center & Polo Club (lapatronaclub.com), the only one in the state of Nayarit, founded in 2000.

Aside from polo, La Patrona Equestrian Center offers facilities and lessons for riding, jumping and dressage. You may also arrange to go horseback riding along the beach or through the jungles of San Pancho.

Sunday Polo Brunches at La Patrona take place from November until April.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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