Two good friends, Ricia, aka Chicky (Canadian) and Elena (American), have residences in Mexico and have been pestering for us to come and visit. Finally, the stars have all aligned and we are doing it! Follow the adventures (and misadventures) of two gringos in Puerto Vallarta and Rincón de Guayabitos as we explore these truly beautiful and fascinating West Coast areas of Mexico. ¡Vamonos!
Westjet Direct Flight from Vancouver to Puerto Vallarta in 4.5 Hours
Booking our flights within two weeks of our departure, we were very lucky to snag a reasonably priced direct flight and landed in PV (as the locals call it) within 4 ½ hours. We went from 5°C to 29°C in a few hours – now that’s what I’m talking about! Our flight cost $1,200 CDN for two and the return flight is direct too. Can’t beat that. Tip! Flights are usually cheaper on Tuesdays and Wednesdays so always check deals on those days. The best price flight departed at 6 am. Okay, that’s really early but it turned out to be the best option and we would definitely do it again. First of all, the night before a trip excitement is high and you likely can’t sleep that much anyway so you may as well get up early. The taxi got us to the airport in record time as there was no traffic and since there are very few flights that early, getting through security is a breeze. The best part of an early flight: our goal was to land, get settled into our hotel and be on the beach in the early afternoon. Mission accomplished!
Puerto Vallarta Airport and Security
During the flight, the stewardess handed out the declaration cards that we dutifully filled out on the plane. Once into the open air terminal, we handed our boarding cards to an officer. A stern-looking, humourless Mexican official later thrusted another paper into our hands. What is this, we questioned? Several seasoned Canadians in the line explained that this form must be filled out and presented to the immigration officer. They will rip off the bottom of the form and you must keep it for your return flight. And whatever you do, DON’T LOSE IT we were warned. With enough to worry about just filling out this second surprise form while walking in the line (you must find your pen and look up your flight and passport numbers again) we barely fumbled to getting our form filled out before having to present it to an even more austere looking officer. Without a single glance at us to verify our pictures or one word, he stamped, stamped, stamped, ripped off part of the form and shoved the small lower part into our passports and back to us. Later we learned that this is our visa and that extreme hassles can occur if lost. Supposedly mucho time would have to be spent going to your Consulate and getting it all sorted out before being allowed to fly out. This is a hassle we don’t plan on experiencing.
A Bumpy, Lively Ride on Cobblestoned Streets
Humid 29°C temperature slammed into our warmth-deprived Canadian bodies the moment we landed on Mexican ground. Our friend Elena picked us up in her small car and spirited us away in a teeth-jarring, lively ride to our hotel. I say teeth jarring because many of the roads are cobblestone. Cobblestones?? Okay, I have lived in Paris and one of the most charming things about the city is walking on the cobblestone streets which are mostly flat and easy to negotiate. In Puerto Vallarta, these are not carefully laid flat cobblestones but rather are boulders and rocks of various sizes cemented into the ground. Locals go through a lot of shocks on their cars! Later at the beach, we discovered that these large rocks are everywhere so the Mexicans are merely using this naturally abundant resource. One advantage of these bumpy roads: traffic speeds are kept down which is a blessing.
(Not So Much) Fun With Currency: Negotiating Hotel Rates
The ride from the airport to our hotel was a short 15 minutes and went past the marina where the cruise ships dock. If you must, a Walmart is across the road from this terminal. We passed by the big all-inclusive hotels in the Zona Hotelera Norte (North Hotel Zone) with their own private beaches before rocking and rolling down Av. México to our destination.
I had booked our hotel on Booking.com. I love this site for its flexibility and being able to cancel with no penalty close to the travel date if plans change. We entered the Hotel Marlyn and discovered that the hotel clerk did not speak any English. Thank goodness we had our Spanish-speaking friend with us. I had forgotten to print out our Booking.com reservation and couldn’t find it on my phone to show the clerk. Our first mistake. Elena explained that we had reserved our hotel online and elected to pay at the hotel. Later (not much help at the time), I found the screenshot of my booking.
The clerk began doing lengthy calculations and then handed us a slip showing that the cost for 6 nights is $7,259.49 pesos. Then after more calculations he wrote down on a piece of paper $389.62 USD. We had booked for 7 nights I said. More Spanish flying back and forth. Si, si, 7 nights the clerk said but he didn’t change the amount. My friend whipped open her currency app and showed the clerk that the exchange in USD should actually be $362.13. He just kept showing us the hotel receipt. Finally, a young woman arrived at the desk who spoke fairly good English. We explained that the exchange rate was too high for the 7 nights stay. You are only staying 6 nights, no? No, 7! More Spanish and it was finally understood that we were staying 7 nights. Still, she didn’t adjust the peso price on her end. She accepted Elena’s conversion of $362.13 by showing her the app and I handed her $400 USD to pay for the week. I was given pesos change back. More negotiations on what amount in pesos I should receive and 25 tiring minutes later we were finally able to go to our room. In the end, who knows what I really paid!
No matter, in minutes we were walking on the soft, warm sand of the Playa Camarones, our nerves instantly soothed by the surf and a couple of cervezas!
Lesson Learned #1: If you can, pay for your room online at the time of booking to avoid these hassles. Had I been able to show the hotel clerk the Booking.com reservation showing $290.50 USD, we may very well had gotten an even better rate. But honestly, $487.19 CDN for 7 nights works out to $69 CDN per night, a mucho bargain for a large room with big closet and balcony one block from the beach. However, on Booking, the room was listed as $55 CDN. Fun with currencies!
Lesson Learned #2: Before any trip, make sure you have a currency app downloaded on your phone. I use XE Currency which works offline without having to be connected to your phone service.