Welcome to this month’s edition of my Travel Column. Last month in my column, I shared a bit of history on beautiful Puerto Vallarta as well as some tips on dining, beaches, and things to do. For this month’s edition I’m going to share some tips based on my personal experience on notable places to visit while there, what to pack, caveats of renting a condo, and protocol on some of the Mexican customs.
What to pack?
Pack for summer temps. Keep in mind that nights can be breezy so you may want to throw in a few long-sleeved Tees and/or a light sweater.
As usual, I bring too many shoes and basically end up wearing the same two pairs when going out. During the day you will live in flip flops or sandals. When walking any distances, and when walking downtown you will want to have comfortable shoes on. Trust me! The downtown zone still has cobble stone roads. Heels aren’t going to be your friend there. I acquired a new affection for FitFlops after buying a pair to take with me before I left. I plan on getting a 2nd pair and that’s all I really need to wear out. They are ultra-comfortable and very stylish, they even have styles with bling – and that’s good enough for me, lol. Of course, you will want to have a pair of sneakers too.
I mostly live in my bathing suit and cover-up by day and a sundress or a pair of capris and a top by night. I don’t see many people wearing long pants even at night so don’t fill your suitcases with them as they will likely just be taking up space and never worn. The jeans I wear on the airplane are the only long pants I take.
Don’t forget to pack your favorite pillow. If you’re anything like me and are fussy about your pillows, you will be happy you brought yours. See if you can find a smaller travel version of your favorite pillow like I’ve found, which will take up less space in your bags. And don’t forget the essentials: sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses.
Pick up a copy of the local newspaper
Puerto Vallarta has their own local newspaper called the PV Daily Mirror. This little gem is packed with information – especially for tourists. Inside the paper you will find: a bit of history on the city, sponsored ads for recommended restaurants, events going on for the week in the city, available tours, op-eds from other tourist’s discoveries in the ‘Dear Editor’ series where you’ll find recommendations and grievances, a 2-page spread of the city map, directories of important phone numbers, what’s going on in the art scene and local market schedules, real estate for sale, and on every last page, crossword and soduku puzzles.
This little paper also offers in every issue, a list of important phone numbers to have handy such as hospitals, taxis, tourism bureau, police, fire department, consulates, and tourism protection services. I even discovered they have a WordPress blog
Like anywhere else we travel, tipping is encouraged. Mexicans don’t make nearly the wages we make in North America as their cost of living is much lower. Don’t forget to tip your taxi driver – especially when you go grocery shopping and take a cab back home where the driver will happily load and unload your groceries for you. Even in the grocery stores it’s customary to tip the ‘bagger’ of your groceries because they aren’t paid. I usually give them a 10 or 20 Pesos.
When it comes receiving your bill in a restaurant, there are two important things to remember: When you’re ready for the bill, you must ask your server for it as they consider it rude to just leave a bill in front of you, not wanting to signal it’s time for you to leave. Also, check your bill thoroughly. Some establishments have taken to automatically applying a tip on your bill. If you don’t take notice you will be double tipping.
Don’t forget to leave a little something for the maids. They work hard and make a menial salary.
Where to Shop for Groceries
Soriana’s is upper PV’s main supermarket, offering a wide array of products complete with a bakery, meat, and cheese counters. You will also find a pharmacy and some beach and pool toys and clothing at the back of their stores. Further down in town you will find another chain of Mega Super stores as their other chain of grocery stores.
Besides those mentioned, many people, including myself shop at Walmart grocery section. And recently, they’ve opened a new huge supermarket called La Comer, where you can find items of specialty that are a bit harder to find in other grocery stores.
Of course, shopping wouldn’t be complete without the famous Costco and Sam’s Club outlets. Typically, we go to Costco’s once a month to load up on staples like toilet paper, paper towels, cases of water and soda. and of course, all the other stuff we find that were never on our list. The Costco we shopped at was conveniently, a 20 – minute walk from our condo. They also have a lovely section of prepared foods for those days when one doesn’t feel like cooking or going out. Don’t forget to pick yourself up some delicious meat or fish there if you’re up to cooking. The beef in Puerto Vallarta is superb, and so is the chicken and the vast array of fish available.
The drinking water has been approved and deemed safe for drinking for some time now – but that doesn’t mean you should be drinking it. Most restaurants and hotels have a water filtration system installed. But for those places that don’t, even if water is deemed safe, it’s the old pipes that contribute to contaminating the water.
When out and about and off the beaten path, always ask about the water. A good indicator is ice cubes with a hole in them signifies purified. Better yet, when in doubt, drink bottled water.
In the condo we stayed in, you can order big jugs of water from the concierge desk in the lobby. The bellman brings it right up to our unit and it costs a mere 30 Pesos – equivalent of two dollars. And I then tip him another dollar for bringing it up to our suite. We were even luckier in our friend’s condo we stayed in January, they had a filtration system in their condo with fresh water out of the kitchen sink and fridge. I’d pour a cup into a glass to brush my teeth with. One can never be too safe!
When in Puerto Vallarta, you don’t need any other currency than the Mexican Peso. Although they will accept US dollars, it’s best to save those for bargaining because you won’t get the best rate for those dollars in supermarkets or restaurants. Don’t be thinking you have to buy a ton of Pesos either before you leave home. Use the bank machines! And when I say bank machines, I mean the ATMs you’ll find inside the banks. All you need to bring is your bank card from home and approximately $100 dollars in Pesos you should purchase at home at your bank for incidentals such as: taxi fare, snacks, a drink or maybe even a meal to have on you until you get to that bank machine.
When you buy foreign currency at home, you will get a lesser rate than you’ll receive buying your Pesos in the bank machine. I stress ‘the bank’s ATM’ because using a store’s ATM or that of any in a hotel lobby, you will not get the best rate as the bank rate and the service charges can be steep.
For example: Last year I made the mistake of buying $500 worth of Pesos at my bank before I left, and I got a rate of slightly over 12 Pesos for a Canadian dollar. The bank rate I got after visiting the bank machine in PV was 15 Pesos for a dollar! For Americans, the rate has been hovering around 19 and change Pesos for your dollar. Many restaurants will display the rate you’ll receive on your American dollars. Recently there, that rate was 15 to 16 Pesos for a dollar if you paid in US dollars. That’s a huge loss of value. On the same token, you will find many money exchange booths in your daily travels, again, you will receive less value there too when exchanging your foreign dollars.
I’m armed and ready for next year’s holiday back in PV as I bought us $200 worth of Pesos to take home with us in preparation for next year.
Thinking of renting a condo in PV?
If you’re interested in renting a place for your vacation in PV, I’m sharing my list of how to go about the process, what to look for, and things to beware of:
There are plenty of online sites where one can find places for rent in PV, and many property managers who look after several properties can also be found on various websites. But if you’re not familiar with where to begin, my recommendation is to look on VRBO and Air BnB.
One thing that is almost certain is that all rental prices are expected in US dollars. Depending on which service you book through, prices will vary so it’s important to do your homework and check similar offers for similar same sized properties around same locations.
Every place for rent seems to have their own different terms of contract. Some will ask for 50% down and the balance due 2 months prior to arrival, some will only require 20% deposit and balance payable on arrival (those are the only terms I rent a place with), while some offer rebates if you must cancel and some don’t.
It’s important to do an internet check when renting to make sure you’re renting from someone reputable. It’s not difficult to type a name of someone or the name of a condo complex in a Google search bar and take it from there. TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Yahoo are also great places to check reviews from previous fellow travelers who will share their experiences. Personally, I prefer renting directly from owner as opposed to a manager, but there are exceptions. I like to call that person to gather information rather than rely solely on what’s written on the description. This also allows me to get a good feel of the person I intend to rent from.
Make sure you ask about ‘added fees’ such as: security deposit required, clean-up fees, and oddly, some funky other mysterious fees I’ve seen around. If someone is paying for an ad, they should have photos and a good description of the property and surrounding areas.
In Mexico, it seems that electricity is often a separate charge on top of the rental fee. Rarely will you find it included in the price. Depending on the honesty of the person you’re renting from you’ll end up paying anywhere from $50 US per month to exorbitant money grab rates as high as $200 a month. Always ask!
Ask about the rules of the property.
• Do they allow pets?
• Do they allow smoking?
• What are the check in and check out times?
• Ask if there’s a mini safe where you can keep your valuables and passports.
• What amenities does the property offer?
• Is there a swimming pool and lounge chairs?
• Is there a beach bar on premises?
• What kind of security does the property offer?
• What kind of amenities does the unit offer inside?
• Does it have pots and pans and dishes?
• Is there a TV or 2 and WiFi?
• Are there blinds or draperies on the windows to block out the hot morning or afternoon sun heating up the place?
• Is there a pull-out couch?
• Does the place have ceiling fans?
Ceiling fans are the best. Units with them rarely require us to use air conditioning, which of course chugs up the electricity bill. And lastly, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to ask about the views from the unit.
Most places come with standard staples such as: toaster, microwave, coffeemaker, and a debatable amount of dishes and cookware. Every unit is set up according to the owner’s tastes. Some owners actually use their units in-between renters, and those units are usually more equipped with extras. Others buy them for investment to rent out and aren’t too concerned with what’s not in there.
On my recent vacation to PV, we spent January in a gorgeous condo owned by friends of ours who live in the big city of Guadalajara. We met them last year at the pool, became friends and before the trip ended, they invited us to rent from them as they’d never previously rented out their place before. Their place was luxury all the way from the million- dollar view to first class amenities.
In February we had booked another unit in same complex because our friends had previously rented out February. We rented from the woman we’d rented from the previous year, knowing we were going to pay a little too much because we were late renting, and people are greedy. Suffice it to say, the unit left a lot to be desired – no frying pans, no safe that she told me was there, no furniture on the balcony and an extremely crappy view. Oh sure, I made her buy me frying pans and a safe, which were promptly delivered on check in day, but the lounge chairs for the balcony never got there. You must be assertive yet, polite.
Supplies: – If you’re going to be renting for a few weeks or longer, you may want to bring some things with you from home. I always pack a few extra beach towels and pillow cases, and facecloths. Yes, a common thing not to find in these condos are facecloths. I bring some of my spices from home, enough soy creamer for my coffee to last the trip, rubber gloves for doing lots of dishes (since I don’t use the dishwashers – electricity) and basically, there are never enough dishes to fill a dishwasher anyway. Something else I always bring are plastic clips to keep bags that have been opened sealed and fresh, and to make use as clothespins.
Clothespins come in handy for a multitude of things, besides the fact they’re convenient for keeping bags of chips crisp. I also use them for laundry. You can hang up wet laundry and wet bathing suits on the balcony with them, secure in the fact they won’t blow away..
Recommended little town jaunts and local markets
Two little towns I recommend visiting for a few hours exploration when visiting PV are Pitillal (pronounced P T L) and Bucerias. The beauty of these quaint little Mexican towns are they’re both within Puerto Vallarta and not far to get to.
Pitillal is literally a 10 – minute cab ride from the hotel zone. It’s a quaint town that was once its own village but has since merged into part of Puerto Vallarta. This is a hidden gem because it’s not considered a tourist town, although many have discovered it and visit it regularly for the quality handmade products in their open-air market stores, a few quaint restaurant bars where one can get cheap drinks and fish tacos, and the non-inflated tourist prices from haircuts to food.
Bucerias is about a half hour cab ride (for $25 U.S.) or an over an hour bus ride for about a dollar to get to. It’s an old fishing village with five miles of beach stretch, cobble stone roads built by hand, one stone at a time, and a charming feel. This little town is becoming more popular with tourists as the years pass offering that ‘old world’ charm of Puerto Vallarta from 40 years ago before it became a tourist destination. Bucerias has some wonderful restaurants and beach bars and local open-air markets in the center of town. The name Bucerias, is derived from the word ‘buceo’ which means to dive, derived from the initial inhabitants who were traditional oyster fishermen who dove to catch them. Now the town is known for its friendly locals. Some tourists seeking that authentic Mexican town feel of being in Mexico are opting to spend their vacations in this sleepy little town.
Other little towns of note where tourists like to take little day tours to are: Yelapa, a traditional fishing village about 25 miles from PV, which you can only get to by boat, and Sayulita, another small village, known for its good surfing, with some interesting markets and some great beach restaurants. Some people say a lot of ‘old hippies’ have moved there for it’s more ‘artsy’ vibe.
There are also other small little towns to visit when in Puerto Vallarta. The city is growing by the year with its construction growth, ex-pats who continue to migrate there, good food, cheap prices and breathtaking sunsets. What’s not to love?
Have any of you ever been to any of these small little towns in Puerto Vallarta? If so, please share your opinion here.
My thanks to Debby for this detailed report on Puerto Vallarta – and a must read if you are heading to that resort or to any of the other popular destinations in Mexico. It is always important to check out every detail when traveling abroad with up to date recommendations and also government advisories.
About D.G. Kaye
Debby Gies is a Canadian nonfiction/memoir author who writes under the pen name of D.G. Kaye. She was born, raised, and resides in Toronto, Canada. Kaye writes about her life experiences, matters of the heart and women’s issues.
D.G. writes to inspire others. Her writing encompasses stories taken from events she encountered in her own life, and she shares the lessons taken from them. Her sunny outlook on life developed from learning to overcome challenges in her life, and finding the upside from those situations, while practicing gratitude for all the positives.
When Kaye isn’t writing intimate memoirs, she brings her natural sense of humor into her other works. She loves to laugh and self- medicate with a daily dose of humor.
I love to tell stories that have lessons in them, and hope to empower others by sharing my own experiences. I write raw and honest about my own experiences, hoping through my writing, that others can relate and find that there is always a choice to move from a negative space, and look for the positive.
“Live Laugh Love . . . And Don’t Forget to Breathe!”
“For every kindness, there should be kindness in return. Wouldn’t that just make the world right?”
When I’m not writing, I’m reading or quite possibly looking after some mundane thing in life. It’s also possible I may be on a secret getaway trip, as that is my passion—traveling.
Debby has written a book about her travel adventures – Have Bags Will Travel
About the book
D.G. Kaye reflects on some of her more memorable vacations and travel snags, she finds herself constantly struggling to keep one step ahead of the ever-changing guidelines of the airlines–with her overweight luggage in tow. Her stories alert us to some of the pitfalls of being an obsessive shopper, especially when it comes time for D.G. to bring her treasures home, and remind us of the simpler days when traveling was a breeze.
In her quest to keep from tipping the scales, D.G. strives to devise new tricks to fit everything in her suitcases on each trip. Why is she consistently a target for Canada customs on her return journeys?
D.G.’s witty tales take us from airports, to travel escapades with best friends, to reflections on how time can change the places we hold dear in our hearts. Her memories will entertain and have you reminiscing about some of your own most treasured journeys–and perhaps make you contemplate revamping your packing strategies.
One of the recent reviews for Have Bags Will Travel
This might have been one of the shortest books I’ve read in a while, with some of the chapters being only two pages long, in fact I was really disappointed when I saw how thin it was, but as they say – size isn’t everything, and it was way better than I expected.
If you’re team ‘never travel light’ you’ll find a lot of comfort in this book.
This shopaholic author chats away about her travel traumas, random experiences and funny thoughts; it’s as though she’s sitting with you in your living room having cosy natter. I found myself nodding along to much of what she shared about her travel experiences, though I think she sounds a lot worse than me when it comes to shopping and excess luggage.
Thankfully I haven’t been ruthlessly interrogated by customs or witnessed my suitcase coming round the baggage carousel broken and wide open “like an open sandwich”, what a nightmare!!
Turning into a contortionist when using plane toilets – oh yes, every time, and also when I’m trying to turn around in the plane aisle without knocking a few people out in the process!
The joys of travel!!!
‘Have Bags, Will Travel’ is a quick, easy and fun read that’s sure to put a smile on your face!
Also by D.G. Kaye
Read all the reviews and buy the books: http://www.amazon.com/author/dgkaye7
and Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/D.G.-Kaye/e/B00HE028FO
More reviews and follow Debby on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/dgkaye
Connect to Debby Gies
About me: http://www.wiseintro.co/dgkaye7
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/@pokercubster (yes there’s a story)
Catch up with all the travel columns and some exotic destinations: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/the-travel-column-with-d-g-kaye/