This is part two of four blogs discussing extending a package holiday to include independent family travel. Part one, Getting the Most of Your Package Holiday – With Kids, discussed the concept and gave reasons why to consider it.
‘Please return to your seats we will be landing in Puerto Vallarta soon’. We were happy to hear this message, not that we had a bad flight, far from it, but this was by far the longest flight we had taken with our daughter, nearly 2 and sitting on our laps the whole way, and we did not want to push the success we had. The timing of the early morning flight meant we had to wake her up before she wanted to and it also disrupted her nap; we were playing with fire yet the flight went very well. Could we make it through customs and immigration and on to our hotel without hysterics? No, of course we couldn’t. I don’t know how long it took after we left the plane but our hotel room was a welcome sight to be sure. Luckily, being and all inclusive resort, food and a swimming pool were close at hand so spent the rest of the day eating and chilling in the pool before having an early night. We had to do some power relaxing the next day.
This was our first package holiday and since we were going to rent a car and explore the surrounding area during the second week, this first week was to be all about relaxing. We did choose a resort that was only a 20 minute walk, or a 5 minute taxi ride, into town as we wanted to explore the town of Puerto Vallarta from the resort, but for the most part we wanted to play and unwind. For the first couple days our itinerary was not much more than eat, swim, eat, nap, swim, eat, swim, bed. This was fine with us and fantastic in Annika’s opinion. By the time the third day came around however we were craving a little more variety. We are travellers and no matter how much we enjoyed the tourist resort life we just had to break free to explore, even if it was just for a morning.
Puerto Vallarta is a wonderful town to walk around and get lost for a while. Some of the streets are a bit on the busy side but you can easily leave them behind when you have had enough and walk comfortably around some interesting back streets. Before we left for this trip we had heard that Puerto Vallarta was not a stroller friendly town, which turned out to be very true if you want to go beyond the seaside walkway (The Malecón), so we had brought our carrier backpack instead and Annika spent a lot of the time on my back while we were in town. We wove through the tourist markets and walked along the Malecón until lunch (we had left early in the morning). We were already starting to wear out (I would have been hot even without the backpack). Even though there was a buffet waiting for us at the resort we decided to continue our exploration and try some local cuisine. Whether or not the food we had was authentically Mexican or had been modified for tourist tastes will be debated but it was enjoyable nonetheless and a sign that our trip had really began.
The first week of our holiday flew by. We did one more outing in Puerto Vallarta as a family; an evening spent walking the Malecón before and after dinner. Bringing Annika on excursions into town was a lot of fun but we found it restricted some of the activities we could do, so for the final two days at the resort we each had a solo trip to town while the other babysat at the pool and beach. For my trip into town I wanted to explore the steep and winding streets up from the Malecón. I left before the sun came up and walked all over place before it got too hot. Lisa’s trip into town was similar to mine but included some exploring of the local commercial enterprises downtown had to offer.
Once the first week was over, even though we added a fair bit of exploration, we had accomplished what we wanted to at the resort. We had a lot of fun and we were feeling a lot more relaxed. After picking up our tiny rental car and navigating past the panicked drivers of town a sense of exhilaration came over us; we were now in our element. We had a rough idea as to where we wanted to go but no strict itinerary and certainly no accommodation booked. We would not travel far, we did not want any lengthy drives, but we did want to see some of surrounding towns outside of Puerto Vallarta.
Located in the hills directly behind Puerto Vallarta, San Sebastian provided a nice break from the heat and humidity found on the coast. San Sebastian is an old mining town that had a population of over 20,000 in 1900 and now has a population of less than 1000. It would have been nice to hike up to the mines but with Annika in tow we decided to limit our exploring to walking the cobblestone streets in town and playing in the Zócalo. San Sebastian had a very nice feel to it and allowed us to slow our day down and enjoy each other’s company. We stayed in a quaint little ‘bed & breakfast’ and enjoyed our second best, and perhaps most Mexican, meal of the entire trip. The drive back down the hill to the coast the next day was a bit eventful as the windy road got the best of Annika; time to go back to the coast and do some laundry.
Ok, so we couldn’t leave the coast for too long. We wanted to see the hills but this holiday was to be mainly a beach holiday. After driving through the busier Rincon de Guayabitos we drove an extra couple of minutes to the smaller Los Ayala. Both are very popular with the Mexican tourists and Guayabitos does have a couple international resorts as well. Los Ayala had a beautiful beach and was full of activity during the day. We made the mistake however thinking that this activity would last past sunset as when dinner came around the town vacated and there was hardly anyone around, and no hot food to be found. At the crack of dawn the next day everyone magically appeared again and the parking lot behind us became a busy bus station and the beach transformed into a bustling fish market. We spent some time in Guayabitos shopping but spent most of our time on the beach in Los Ayala. It was a beautiful spot.
I was curious about this place as I heard that San Blas could have developed into a major port town and a popular resort if it were not for the bugs, in particular the jejenes (no-see-ums). These bugs are notorious and it took me a while to convince Lisa that this was a good place to bring Annika. The benefit of the bugs is that it attracts a lot of birdlife to San Blas, which is why we really came. We enjoyed the town even though there was nothing spectacular about it; Annika loved playing with the kids in the Zócalo, and we ended up not having much problem with bugs. The highlight, especially for Annika, was a boat trip up the Río Tavara. Lisa and I have been on similar trips before but it was a new experience for us seeing Annika’s reaction to the bird life plus the turtles and crocodiles found on the side of the river. This trip plus a visit to the old fort overlooking the town made San Blas a worthy addition to this holiday.
Sayulita was a very nice town and was a wonderfully relaxed place to end our trip. I could not shake the feeling that it was a bit on the phoney side as it was infused with an American hippy lifestyle that was far too upscale to be really authentically hippy. That being said we had our best meal of the trip and we enjoyed the beautiful beaches and the hundreds of pelicans patrolling the seashore.
This holiday may not have been the most adventure packed holiday we have ever had but that was not what this trip was about. We enjoyed quality family time spending hours in pools and on the beach. While Annika became a better swimmer, we realized that we could create a well balanced holiday that combines fun filled activities and the right amount of exploration (and some wonderful food). It was a slow paced, enjoyable holiday and has provided the confidence needed to try more adventurous family holidays in the future.
Part 3 in this series, Cost Breakdown For Our Trip to Puerto Vallarta, looks in detail the budget of our trip.
Part 4 in this series will look at other similar destinations for this type of travel.