For a long time, I really thought I was done with Mexico. However, I now realize after this last trip- I really only knew one part of Mexico until now- the extremely touristy, Spring Break part. I have done several trips to Mexico over my 20's and 30's- actually starting as young as 17! From the east coast- it's not a long flight, and there are usually deals so it's never really expensive. I went to Cancun as a high school senior to celebrate graduation. I couldn't tell you much about that trip to be honest, a combination of it being 20 years ago and the amount of alcohol I consumed on the trip I'm sure. I remember a hotel on the beach that seemed nice for an 17 year old to stay at, pool bars, Pat O' Briens, La Boom nightclub. Years later I celebrated a College Spring break back in Cancun, and you can basically repeat everything I just said and apply it to this trip as well, just sub out 17 for 20. After that, I tried some new spots- Playa del Carmen with an ex-boyfriend, I stopped in Cozumel on a couple of cruises with friends (loved Playa del Sol- a beach that had resort amenities, as well as trampolines and inflatable/climbable iceburgs in the ocean- so much fun). But my basic impression of Mexico was this: beautiful turquoise bath water, lots of chain restaurants in the downtown areas so not much on the cuisine (Senor Frogs, Steakhouses), resorts ranging from 5+ stars- to basic and barebones dotting the beach, a place to get real drunk to celebrate a graduation or break, and then possibly partake in excursions such as swimming in Cenotes (fun!), zipling, checking out the ruins- but that was about it. No hiking, not much to explore, somewhat sketchy when you leave your resort, you will be harassed by beach vendors laying out on the beach, that's my impression in a nutshell.
My husband had never been to Mexico- and from my friends in California I had heard good things about Puerto Vallarta- so we decided to do a 5 day trip to check it out. I was super impressed. It was very different from my previous experiences with the Cancun area of Mexico. A little harder/longer to get to- but worth it. Not everything was better- the Caribbean ocean of Cancun definitely beats out the Pacific Ocean of Puerto Vallarta. Much better swimming in Cancun. Besides that, I would say in a contest between the 2 PV has Cancun/Cozumel/Playa del Carmen beat. I've heard good things about Tulum, Isla Mujeres, and that Cozumel is much better than when I went 10+ years ago- so I could be wrong. But for now out of my Mexico picks- Puerto Vallarta gets my top spot and recommendation.
The first thing we did right- we stayed at Hotel Mousai- which I actually found because I was gawking at one of my friend's Instagram photos- it just looked incredible. He mentioned it on a travel thread and I immediately had to book it. It's probably the nicest hotel I've ever stayed in to date. Super modern, tons of amenities, very luxurious, great location (secluded but a quick cab ride away to the downtown)- amazing restaurants, the most gorgeous pools, and outstanding, friendly service. HIGHLY recommend. Again, a little bit outside of town, but gorgeous scenery, beach access, and everything you would want was on site. It was part of a larger complex called the Garza Blanca preserve- which was 3 hotels with 3 different restaurants as well as pools with pool bars, gyms, free excursions, etc. The staff was also super super nice- over the top. The Mousai building was adults only- which was exactly what I was looking for. It was also the type of hotel that was so nice, I actually wanted to carve time to just spend there- sitting by the rooftop pool (so warm, I love a warm pool), checking out the different restaurants, doing happy hour on the deck of the hotel room relaxing in my private hot tub (yes I repeat- each room had a hot tub on the patio overlooking the ocean OMG). One word- amazing.
The second thing we did right on the trip was arrange transportation to pick us up from the airport when we landed. It is so much stepping off of a plane, to dozens of people yelling at you if you need a taxi. We arranged with the hotel previously for a private transfer to the hotel when we arrived. Was it expensive? Yes, but worth it. After a long plane ride the last thing I want to do is haggle in a second language or a taxi ride where I may or may not get ripped off. Mousai also just included it on our hotel bill which was helpful since we hadn't exchanged any money at that point. Our transfer went seamlessly.
The resort was about 30 mins from the airport and about 15-20 to the downtown/boardwalk area of Puerto Vallarta. We went down to this area twice for sunset and dinner. Really cute area with tons of shops, restaurants, bars, clubs (looks like it can get rowdy at night at some mega-club spots). The boardwalk was about 1.5 miles right along the beach- and had great options for dinner, many resorts, a pier for fishing and boating- very cool. One night we had dinner at Barcelona tapas in town- really good tapas spot on the top of the hill with a great sunset view. Reasonably priced as well. The next night we went to a fish spa on the boardwalk to get the fishies to eat our feet (seriously try this it's like $10 for 15mins, your feet will thank you), and then tried La Palapa on the beach. More expensive, but we were serenaded by a Mariachi band as we ate on the ocean so we were really doing Mexico right in my opinion- worth it. The other 2 days- we did free excursions hosted by hotel mousai during the days- and had lunch + dinner on the property at night. Blanca Blue was our first dinner spot- Mexican themed -great tequila cocktails, and our last night was Bocados STK their steakhouse which was also very good. Lunches we just ordered food off the pool bar menus. As for excursions- the first one was a hike behind the property up the mountain through the rainforest to a waterfall. There you could swim in the small natural pool/jump from the rocks/etc. About 2.5 hours, really fun and challenging. The next day, we did a free yoga class in the morning, tried SUPping in the Pacific (only lasted about 10mins - not easy at all), then did a group kayak to Los Arcos. This was really, really tough. The ocean was choppy, and it was a good hour there and hour back. For about a half hour when we did finally arrive at Los Arcos (rock formations), we tried snorkeling, but the current was extremely strong and there were a ton of boats/other people, that it was really hard to do. Not a good snorkel spot whatsoever. The kayak trip back was no easier than the one there- good thing we spend the rest of the day at the rooftop infinity pool that I still dream of.
So this trip had a really good mix of activity- as well as relaxing. And I gotta say- it made me change my mind on Mexico for sure. If we decide to go back - it would be to PV (we would 100% stay at Hotel Mousai again), or we would be interested in trying out Cabo San Lucas.