A Mexico beach vacation is synonymous with this stunning resort town

Samantha Schoech

With its cobblestone streets, towering green mountains, and famous sunsets, Puerto Vallarta is known as the most romantic of Mexico’s resort towns. Many people head north to the huge resorts, but it would be a real shame to miss the town center, a hub for art and food where lots of old Mexico still remain.

Hotels

Hacienda San Angel. To step into the center courtyard of this gorgeous colonial gem once owned by Richard Burton is to enter a fantasy world of babbling fountains, blooming tropical flowers, and total luxury. The rooms are decorated with original Mexican art with views out over the terracotta rooftops of the city to the ocean. $$$$.

Majahuitas Resort. The tiny paradise of Majahuitas beach (the eco-resort is the only thing there) is only 15 minutes by boat but a world away from tourist bustle of Vallarta. The 8 open-air, solar-powered casitas all have views of the emerald ocean and a Swiss Family Robinson ambiance. $$$ (includes meals but no telephones, Wi-Fi, or TVs).

Playa los Arcos. Located on Los Muertos beach in the heart of the Romantic Zone, family friendly Los Arcos is a Vallarta standby with simple, colonial-style rooms (get one with a balcony facing the beach) two pools, and an open-air restaurant perfect for sunsets. $.

Restaurants

Cafe Des Artistes. Modern, gourmet twists on Mexican cuisine served under a canopy of lush plants and twinkling lights. Try the lobster chilaquiles and the shrimp with plum habanero mole and be sure to stay for dessert. $$$$.

Tapas Barcelona. This 3-story tapas restaurant towers above Vallarta and has breath-taking views over city and water. Snag a table on the huge terrace before sunset, order a margarita and any of the many succulent Spanish-influenced small plates and enjoy the best show in town. $$$.

El Carboncito, Many claim these are the best tacos in town and for a place where taco trucks are ubiquitous that’s saying something. Pull up a plastic chair and be sure to order the al pastor. $; Honduras 129 at Avenida Mexico; no website.

Things to do

EcoTours. EcoTours guides are enthusiastic naturalists and biologists. Go birding in the mountains, swimming with wild dolphins, or participate in whale research. They also offer tours to the Islas Marietas, a national island preserve and snorkeler’s paradise complete with a secluded beach and a landscape covered with bat caves and blue-footed boobies. $$$$.

Vallarta Food Tours. For sheer deliciousness and authenticity the Pitillal food tour can’t be beat. Taste local dishes like birria and carnitas in Pitillal, a real Mexican neighborhood that most tourists never get to see. There are other tours too, but this one was a favorite. $$$$.