On September 19, 2012Derrik Chinn answered the question:Even though the town of Tequila is just a few hours away, Puerto Vallarta is home to its own brand of agave hooch — raicilla (pronounced rie-sea-ya). And for most of its existence that's exactly what it was, Mexican moonshine, and it hails from the same family tree of tequila and mescal. Only recently did raicilla go from being brewed in bathtubs and backyards of southwestern Jalisco to a legit operation that's now legally sold in stores. Though this alcohol is very strong to the taste, it is a local specialty and a unique gift that you can only get in Puerto Vallarta.
On September 19, 2012Derrik Chinn answered the question:In accordance with most Mexican coastal cuisine, the most memorable Vallarta food experiences spent last night in the ocean. Here is our take on the five best local food experiences:
1. Huachinango sarandeado. Be sure to try this local, signature dish — it is grilled red snapper that has been marinated in a chili paste.
2. Fresh tacos. Beat the midday heat with fresh mahi-mahi tacos and ceviche under a palm tree thatched roof — these casual spots line the shoreline and you won’t have to look hard to find one.
3. Go to the Festival Gourmet International Vallarta. Nearly two decades in the making, the annual festival in November features 10 days of progressive wine and food tastings at more than two dozen restaurants and hotels.
4. Sip on local coffee on Sunday. As you indulge in Sunday brunch (a ritual here, too), a live mariachi serenade will likely be close by. Order up Mexican-style coffee and relax the morning away.
5. Go for late-night eats. Finish a night of bar hopping at Tacos La Cuñada, a Vallarta food cart famous for its tasty tacos.
On September 19, 2012Derrik Chinn answered the question:Two distinct scenes equally dominate Vallarta after dark: one straight, the other gay. For a comprehensive taste of all that goes down in the evening (and early morning), it's best to mix and match locales from both realms when assembling your nocturnal itinerary. Start off uptown at any of the massive discos that line the main road between Marina Vallarta and Zona Hotelera. The party scene is surprisingly sophisticated for being a beach town. If you're still going strong after 1 a.m., grab a cab to Mañana in Viejo Vallarta, a maze of (mostly) gay bars where the party doesn’t often stop before dawn.
On September 19, 2012Derrik Chinn answered the question:Start the day off by doing your body and soul right with an early session of outdoor yoga; instructors abound in Vallarta but we're fans of Kazakh expat Anya Kroth's Iyengar classes held on the roof of Brisas Del Mar. Fuel up with a Mexican breakfast at Doña Cuca's restaurant in the market before heading on foot to the northern end of downtown. Stroll the boardwalk south toward Viejo Vallarta, stopping for lunch at any of the restaurants along the way. If it's too hot to eat or you're still stuffed from breakfast, opt for one of the vendors selling mangos on a skewer and coconut water out of the shell. Wander the entire length of the boardwalk, as far as Playa de Los Muertos at the southern end of Viejo Vallarta. Plop down on in the sand and order a round of palomas while you people watch and bask in the gorgeous ocean views.
On September 19, 2012Derrik Chinn answered the question:Thanks to a saturated art scene that taps into the work of native Vallartans as well as its expat community, the independent galleries dotting the downtown area make Vallarta a collector's paradise. Head to the Mercado Municipal for the traditional roster of crafts as well as gaudy souvenirs, also available downtown on Avenida Independencia. Mundo de Azulejos, a small Talavera pottery factory on Emiliano Zapata, is where you'll find ceramic "mi casa es su casa" signs and loads of kitchen decor options. Keep an eye out for Huichol craftsmen who descend from the surrounding highlands to sell their bead work in the streets — the loud colors and intricate designs make the handcrafted goods nearly impossible to miss.
On September 19, 2012Derrik Chinn answered the question:Snorkeling, sand castle building and swimming are enough to keep the little ones smiling, but we’ve got a few more ideas to add to your kid-friendly itinerary. These five picks from Forbes Travel Guide editors are sure to keep kids entertained:
1. Saddle up for an Eco Ride bike tour. You’ll start in downtown Puerto Vallarta and ride along the Vallejo River into the Sierra Madre rainforest. Any and all sweating becomes worth your while once you make it to the waterfall, so make sure everyone's donning a swimsuit.
2. If the circus is in town, go. Even if you're sure you won't understand the Spanish banter between the tuxedoed ringmaster and numb-knuckled clowns in sequined serapes, it’s still worth a visit. The circus is a chintzy but incomparable cultural experience that takes place under a bright tent. Circo Rolex is one of Mexico's more popular traveling troupes, known for its teenage acrobats dressed in Superman outfits.
3. Go play at Splash Water Park. Near Puerto Vallarta International Airport in Nuevo Vallarta are eight full-scale slides and a lazy river. You’ll also find something SeaWorld-like attractions including dolphin encounters and seal and sea lion shows. The place rents bungalows for overnighters, too.
4. Meander the Vallarta Botanical Gardens. Jalisco is home to more orchid species than any other state in the country, and you’ll see plenty on display here. The botanical gardens is an ideal spot for families traveling with kids, as admission is free for those 10 and under. The jungle paradise is open daily until 6 p.m. except for Mondays April through December.
5. Explore the Puerto Vallarta Zoological Gardens. About a half mile off the main road leading inland from Mismaloya sits this large zoo with some 700 or so critters waiting to be discovered by your little ones.
On September 19, 2012Derrik Chinn answered the question:Puerto Vallarta may be known as a beach town, but there’s plenty to do besides lounging on the area’s spectacular golden sand. Here’s a look at the best things to see and do on the “Gold Coast”:
1. Go surfing. Whether you decide to paddle board or catch waves in the traditional way, you’ll find plenty of surfers as company. Beaches throughout the region have decent conditions; more experienced surfers will enjoy the spots just north of Puerto Vallarta.
2. Try snorkeling. Snorkeling is what usually baits iffy first-timers onto day cruises, which run $30-$70 per person and depart from Marina Vallarta by mid-morning. For those who are scared of jellyfish, hop in a kayak (usually onboard) and paddle the gorgeous blue waters instead.
3. Hatch a turtle. Lend a hand in hatching a few of the 300,000 marine turtles that are born every summer in Puerto Vallarta. Staff members from many of the hotels that line the beach collect turtle from the shore at night and take them to an incubation center. Once hatched, hotels invite guests help release the newbies on the beach so they can find their way to the water.
4. Roam the city center. Don some huaraches (traditional Mexican sandals) and set out at dusk to roam the city center on foot. Gallery-hop the 15 or so spaces at Art Walk if it happens to be Wednesday or the South Side Shuffle, which takes place every other Friday. Both showcase the best of Vallarta's local and expat creative class.
5. Catch a bus to Mismaloya. A 30-minute ride from the Puerto Vallarta's south terminal at Constitución and Basillo Badillo, Mismaloya is known for beautiful beaches and the thick herds of sealife that make their home in the forest-lined cove. No need to grab your own lunch out of the Pacific here — plenty of mariscos palapas lining the beach serve up fresh fish tacos and ceviche tostadas. You may want to scout what's left of the set of The Night of the Iguana, the racy 1964 classic starring Richard Burton and Ava Gardner.
On September 19, 2012Derrik Chinn answered the question:Before you answer, "Where can't I swim in the ocean?" be aware that the currents off the coast of Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo are often worthy of perpetual red flags, which makes many of its beaches good for sunning only. Use extreme caution when swimming at any beach that opens directly to the Pacific, or play it safe and opt for coves like those at Playa La Madera, Playa del Puerto or Playa Manzanillo. The underwater stone wall at Playa Las Gatas works as a barrier to lessen the ocean's pull, making it safe for swimmers and snorkelers, too.
On September 19, 2012Derrik Chinn answered the question:If you're unable to find someone who can freeze-dry a few pounds of the Jurassic-looking marlin you caught yourself, Taxco silver comes in as the runner-up souvenir to bring home from Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, say our Forbes Travel Guide editors. Vendors sell the stuff in either Ixtapa or Zihuatanejo's mercados de artesanias or any of the boutiques in the towns. Just be sure it's legit silver, not alpaca, which is basically pricey nickel. Also of local relevance are the intricately lacquered wooden boxes from Olinalá, a remote town in the Guerrero highlands known as the most important center for lacquer production in the country.
On September 19, 2012Derrik Chinn answered the question:In a fisherman's paradise like Guerrero, where hefty catches often yield more than you know what to do with, it's no surprise that Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo’s most memorable food experiences all involve fresh seafood. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ five picks for the best dishes Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo has to offer:
1. Marisco huts. To get a taste of just how fresh it is, sink your teeth into the morning's catch at one of the marisco huts along Paseo del Pescador. Be sure to try tiritas de pescado (literal translation: little strips of fish), a locals’ creation that involves minimal ingredients: finely sliced fresh fish, strips of onion, Creole pepper, a little salt and lime juice that cooks the fish sans flame.
2. Marlin or mahi mahi. Hang near the docks for the first weekend in May for the Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo International Sailfish Tournament, and keep an eye out for excess amounts of marlin or mahi mahi. When they weigh up to 500 pounds, there's bound to be plenty to share.
3. Food and Wine Festival. Late March brings the Food and Wine Festival in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, a weekend of classes, star chef sightings, house tours and catamaran rides past nearby fishing villages.
4. Mexican cooking classes. If you have a few hours to spare, swing by the Zihuatanejo Cooking School near Playa La Ropa for a crash course in the complexities of Mexican culinary basics like chiles rellenos, quesadillas and black bean soup.
5. Caldo de Cuatete and Guintatán. No matter how high the mercury in the thermometer, be sure to try caldo de cuatete and guintatán — blue sea catfish soup and dried fish simmered in coconut milk, respectively — Guerrero specialties that you’ll find in most any Ma-and-Pa eatery in town.
On September 19, 2012Derrik Chinn answered the question:If Ixtapa after dark is a slingback stiletto, with its large discos full of party-hardy tourists, primped Mexicans in miniskirts and their popped-collared boyfriends, Zihuatanejo nightlife is more on par with a flip-flop — which really should be taken as a compliment in so much that you're able to dip into the best of both worlds in one evening, if you care to do so. Large night clubs or anthros in Ixtapa's Zona Hotelera like Le Rouge, LV Disco Club, Mentiritas and Christine are where you'll sweat to electro-house, hip-hop and reggaeton until sun-up. Meanwhile, over in Zihuatanejo, the sounds of live bands, karaoke showdowns and the occasional bikini contest spill out of cantinas along downtown's main drag like Bandidos, El Canto de la Sirena and Coconuts. Zihuatanejo is more intimate and puts up less of a front, but most places turn in for the evening around midnight — if you're looking to keep the party going, it’s your cue to hop in a cab and deadhead to Ixtapa.
On September 19, 2012Derrik Chinn answered the question:For the best way to see Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo in one day, Forbes Travel Guide’s editors recommend starting with breakfast at one of the stands at Mercado Central in downtown Zihuatanejo — either birria tacos or chilaquiles should set you back no more than three or four bucks. Then rent a bike for the day, starting with a lap or two around a few blocks in the city center before heading onto the paved, 2.5-mile bike path that cuts through the rainforest, eventually arriving at Ixtapa. Once you're there, reward yourself with a swim in the ocean and a siesta on the beach (all of which are public according to federal law, despite the fact that they're seemingly claimed by the surrounding high-rise resorts).
Have lunch at Nueva Zelanda (in the strip mall Manzana 2), a Mexican spin on the roadside diner that serves up tortas (sandwiches) and licuados (fruit smoothies). Then make a pit-stop at Ixtapa's Mercado de Artesanias afterward while you digest a bit — but begin your return trek to Zihua before all the mosquitos commence attack at dusk. Turn in your wheels and head back to your hotel for a shower and a change before hitting the streets again for dinner, followed by beers at Barracuda's, a friendly seashell-clad dive downtown on Pedro Ascencio. Upsize to a caguama, Mexico's version of a forty. You've earned it.
On September 19, 2012Derrik Chinn answered the question:Finding the best shopping in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo is a subjective experience. For instance, both Ixtapa and Zihua have mercados de artesanías — on Boulevard Ixtapa and Calle Cinco de Mayo, respectively — that sell everything that anyone who's ever traveled in Mexico before has already seen: loudly colored blankets, inflatable water toys, oversized T-shirts depicting cartoon frogs in various states of intoxication and hammocks. At more than 250 vendors, Zihua's installment is the larger of the two, which ups your chances of finding a better selection of silver from Taxco, a mining town on the eastern edge of Guerrero, as well as Guerrero-style ceramics.
However, for a more authentic shopping experience, Forbes Travel Guide’s editors recommend heading over to Zihua's Mercado Central on Avenida Benito Juárez between avenidas Nava and González, where locals go for meats, produce and spices. Pick up some fruit for the hotel room and some sea salt for home.
On September 19, 2012Derrik Chinn answered the question:Not surprisingly, most of the best things to do in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo involve the water (and one involves the jungle). There’s no reason not to take advantage of the beautiful seascape and amazing fishing opportunities while you’re here — and Forbes Travel Guide’s editors have searched out the five top things to make your stay a memorable (and pleasurable) one:
1. Sail-fishing at Zihuatanejo. Sport Fishing Magazine ranked Zihuatanejo second among the world's sail-fishing destinations in 2001, a title that has since baited sea-hunter hobbyists from near and far hook, line and sinker. The winter months are a fisherman's paradise, when private boats belonging to snowbirds who come to hunt barracuda, mahi mahi, marlin, wahoo and yellowfin tuna fill the bay and international fishing tournaments fill the calendar. No need to feel left out if you're not a member of the yacht club; affordable charters on small panga boats allow enthusiasts on a budget to have a go at bringing home the catch of the day.
2. Sunning at Playa La Ropa. Playa la Ropa, or Clothing Beach, apparently earned its nickname hundreds of years ago when the cargo of an Indian textile ship somehow accidentally wound up going overboard and later washed ashore. A mile-long stretch of sand located southeast of town, La Ropa's timid waves make it the principal beach for swimming and sunning in Zihua.
3. The Zihua Sail Fest. This event happens annually in February, but vessels start showing up as early as November for the five-day fundraiser to benefit local kids in need. The white-canvased watercraft travel from as far as Alaska and the Caribbean for chili cookoffs, concerts, auctions, exhibition races and a boat parade.
4. Zip-line in an adventure park. Take in a spider monkey's eye-view of the jungle while soaring through the treetops and teetering your way across hanging bridges at any of the several adventure parks between Ixtapa and Zihua. Zip-line tours, preferably done early in the day before the heat kicks in, average two to three hours and run $50 to $70.
5. Go whale-watching. Every winter the entire length of the North American Pacific shorefront becomes a front-row seat for spotting humpback and gray whales en route from Alaska to give birth in the warmer waters off the coast of southern Mexico. The experience is trumped only when the docile giants begin their return migration in March, now with their newborns in tow. The cliffs overlooking the beaches of Ixtapa and Zihua make for prime lookout points, but if you really want to get up-close and personal with the mammoth mammals, hop onboard a whale-watching day trip.
On September 19, 2012Derrik Chinn answered the question:Your kids will be enchanted by the endless wildlife and nature in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, from sea turtles and iguanas to amazing waterfalls and rainforests. Any of Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ picks for the best things to see and do with kids are sure to keep them happily entertained:
1. Surrogate a sea turtle. From May through October, sea turtles come ashore to nest on beachfront hotel property, and staff and trained volunteers proudly take on the role of foster parents by moving the eggs to incubation corrals until they hatch. The newborns go into holding tanks until they're ready to be released into the ocean, and hotel guests and passersby alike are welcome to lend a hand in sending the little guys off into the waves.
2. Croc out. After play time at Playa Linda, stop by nearby Popoyote Lagoon, home to a wild enclave of crocodiles, some of which measure up to 20 feet in length. No need to worry about accidentally stepping on someone's tail; fences safely separate their turf from yours.
3. Frolic in a pre-Hispanic pool. Catch the ferry at Playa Municipal out to Playa Las Gatas, where an ancient underwater wall in the ocean commissioned by a Purépecha chief smoothes what would otherwise be rather choppy waves and keeps sea life from invading your swimming fun.
4. Swim under a waterfall. Bio La Escollera Park, located on Playa Las Gatas scenic route 26-A, is a well-protected wonderland of some 100 varieties of plants, flowers and fruit trees, all of which are crawling with iguanas, tarantulas, snakes, scorpions and other specimens of jungle life most kids see only in glass terrariums back home. But the main attraction is without a doubt the 120-foot waterfall, so bring your swimsuit.
5. Go for a bike ride. Take a tour de flora and rent bikes for a ride along either the 5-mile trail that starts at the Ixtapa marina and passes Parque Aztlan eco-reserve or the 2.5-mile path that connects Ixtapa and Zihua through the rainforest.