Puerto Vallarta for less

Charm and bargains in a Mexican beach town ― if you know where to go

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DAY 3: Shops and culture

I got up early for a quick dip in the pool. Then we strolled to tiny Café Catedral, with about 15 tables and a mammoth, gleaming espresso machine. I was looking forward to a real latte, but the huevos con acelgas (eggs with Swiss chard) were so tasty, they upstaged my drink.

We were already moping over our impending departure. We wandered over to the businesses along Río Cuale, browsing the vendors offering ponchos, baskets, T-shirts, and pottery. This region is the spot to practice your bargaining, according to the tourist office.

We kept walking, turning inland and up the steps at Calle Iturbide to Gringo Gulch, named for the number of North Americans who have lived there. The most famous of those, Elizabeth Taylor, owned the Casa Kimberley until 1990; today the B&B is still open to overnight guests. It offers tours of the slightly faded villa buildings with movie trinkets including posters of The Night of the Iguana, the film that put Puerto Vallarta on the map for Americans.

Afterward, Sam wasn't sure that the tour was worth the price. But we liked walking around the hillside neighborhood and stumbled upon a perfect finale for our trip: Esquina de los Caprichos ("Corner of Wishes"), a tiny, blue-shuttered cafe on the hillside with a view of the bay. The chef was there himself and served up a whole range of tapas in a matter of moments: dates, calamari, ham, and a tortilla española. The tiny dining room, inventive food, and cheery blue-and-white interior were delightful.

We had to move along to catch our plane, so we took a final gaze at the cerulean bay and called a taxi. On the ride to the airport, Samantha moaned with regret: "We never got ice cream along the malecón!"

"You'll just have to come back," I said, "and do that with your kids."

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