Our first observations upon hitting the beach of Playa Camarones (Shrimp Beach – I love a beach named after my favorite seafood) were fivefold: very few people, quiet, very clean, beautiful sand and rolling waves. So far, so good. Our playa (beach) is situated between the all-inclusive hotel beaches and the beginning of El Centro, the heart of all the action and is one of many in the half moon shaped Banderas Bay, discovered by the Spanish in the early 1500s. Later in the 17th and 18th centuries the area became a rich mining centre for gold and silver. In the 19th century when silver was discovered in the US, market prices plummeted and agriculture became a focus, taking advantage of the nearby fertile and lush valley. Harvested agricultural products were shipped by boat to other parts of the country. This important port was named Puerto Las Penas and later when a municipality was formed in the early 1900s, became Puerto Vallarta.
Hollywood caught the exotic vibe as word spread about the lush beauty of Puerto Vallarta in its ideal setting surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. Famous director John Huston put PV on the map when he filmed the Night of the Iguana there. During the filming of this iconic movie, Richard Burton brought along his soon to be wife Elizabeth Taylor to the location set and they holed up in a hideway that Burton purchased as the two continued their turbulent, lusty love affair that began when they were both married to others.
Today, Puerto Vallarta is a vibrant, lively city of approximately 325,000 inhabitants and is filled with an abundance of cultural events, restaurants, bars and interesting stores, charming cobblestone streets (see Two Gringos Land in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico For the First Time to read about the cobblestones) and Colonial-era buildings with red-tiled roofs. A stroll along the famous Malecon, the beautiful beachfront boardwalk that gracefully traces edges the beach and ocean, is a must. More on the charms of this delightful city in future posts, but back to our beach.
After walking for a short while in the sun, clearly it was time for some drinks and we were hungry. Where are the margaritas?? The Barracuda Bar came to our rescue and we gratefully plopped ourselves onto lounging chairs under a big umbrella to shade us from 30+ degree sun. We learned that beach goers can sit in their comfy chairs and loungers for as long as wanted, providing some food or drink is ordered. Many groups were all set up and basking in the sun or under umbrellas, in various stages of intoxication levels. We ordered a cerveza (beer) and 2 margaritas. Mine was rimmed with a red salt that was slightly piquant – it was delicious and a new addiction was quickly being formed.
We also ordered Baja fish tacos: two of the orders were grilled and the other deep fried. The tacos were beyond delicious and consisted of three big tacos per order filled with huge pieces of fish and other good things (we had 9 tacos between us). I couldn’t get a picture because we devoured them so fast. After relaxing in the sun and watching the beach life go by, our next delightful surprise was when we asked for la cuenta (the bill). The cost for 3 margaritas, 3 beer (it was actually 4, but they only charged us for 3) and 3 orders of tacos that stuffed us to the brim was $657.00 pesos = $45 CDN or $33 USD. Okay, this place is getting better and better.
As we relaxed and watched the beach life in action, a few Mexican vendors occasionally wandered through the beach bar. We were offered clothing, jewelery, hats, donuts, beach toys, fresh juice, shrimp and fish on sticks and Mexican souvenirs. Hola Amigos!, they all greeted us with as they paraded their wares in the hot sun. I have been to other parts of Mexico and remembered vendors to be quite persistent and unwilling to take no for an answer. But there may be some beach rules here as once you said “no, gracias”, they moved on. Even though we were at a restaurant, the vendors are free to sell food. There seem to be very few rules but it all works and everyone wins. We noted that many Mexican couples, friends and families were on the beach with their chairs, umbrellas and coolers and they were buying some goods from the vendors.
Later we returned to “our beach” for sunset and reflected on our first perfect day in the sun. Gracias Amigos!