Vacationing in Mexico

Puerto VAllarta

Lots of sights to see in Puerto Vallarta

If you mention that you are planning a holiday in Mexico, someone is sure to inform you that it is not safe in Mexico. So, let’s discuss safety first. On our local news lately, we have heard of murders, attempted murders, armed robberies and quite a bit of drug and gang activity. And we live near a small city in Canada where the area is known for agriculture, oil and hard workers. My point is that there is crime everywhere, so how you handle yourself is of great importance.

There are areas in our city where it would not be wise to be wandering around at 1 am, especially if intoxicated. So why do we think it should be different in the USA or Mexico ? Common sense goes a long way in staying safe. In Mexico, tourism is a huge industry, so a lot of effort goes into making sure that tourists can be safe. For the most part you will notice that the Mexican people are a friendly, hard working people who are trying hard to provide for themselves and their families.

Every time that we go to Mexico, we go out from our accommodation in to the community. We go to markets for the tourists and also the ones for the locals. We have been at celebrations and even found some hidden jewels of restaurants. Never have we felt unsafe, but we also limit ourselves to activities during the day and evening.

There are numerous article s that have been written about safety in Mexico, so do some research in the area that you will be vacationing. has a number of forums about specific locations. One thought that is common to all is – Use Common Sense.  Do this and you will be fine.

Now, with safety concerns addressed, let’s focus on Mexico itself. It is a large country with an abundance of wonderful scenery, history and culture to learn and enjoy. Once you decide that you are going to Mexico, then determine what  type of vacation that you would like to experience. Are you looking to be pampered and just have a few days of ‘flip and dip’? Or do you prefer to be among the Mexican people and experience their culture ? Are you staying for a week, a month, or longer?
Many people who are not wanting the big city lights and the night life, but refer to relax and soak up the sun are heading to the Pacific side of Mexico. For this article, I will be focusing on two popular destinations – Puerto Vallarta and Ixtapa / Zihuatanejo, both on the Pacific side.

As mentioned earlier, vacationers do have differing ideas of what they want from their vacation. The all-inclusive is great for those who want everything at your fingertips. All inclusive vacations are usually at a higher end resort; some of them pretty special. All of the food and most of the booze is included, as well as some organized activities. The concierge will also help you if you wish to do some tours.

In regards to the language difference, most of the employees at all inclusive speak passable English. Young Mexicans want to learn English in order to work in the tourism industry, where there are many job opportunities. Puerto Vallarta and area has some excellent all-inclusive resorts, some close to downtown Puerto Vallarta, others in planned communities such as Marina Vallarta or Nuevo Vallarta.

Other vacationers prefer to experience Mexico and it’s culture, so a hotel that is not all-inclusive may fit the bill. There are also numerous vacation rentals available that have kitchens or kitchenettes so that you can be somewhat self-sufficient. However, for the ‘foodies’ out there, you will want to come back again and again to enjoy the wide variety of eating experiences. From high-end semi formal restaurants to little street carts, there are options for every taste and budget.

Puerto Vallarta is situated in a large bay called Banderas Bay. This bay provides many activities for holidayers, such as fishing, water-skiing, seadooing, scuba diving and snorkeling.

Whale watching

Humpback whales in Banderas Bay

There are also lots of tours providing a variety of other experiences. One of the tours that can be amazing is the whale watching tours.

Humpback whales come to Banderas Bay to calve, and can be seen from early December through to March. This can be a highlight experience, especially if you can get up close and personal with the whales. They need to come to you, and not you chasing them. There are strict rules governing this. An experienced tour guide can provide you with a wealth of information.

There is a wide diversity of activities that one can participate in going out from Puerto Vallarta. Zip-lining, quadding, horse back riding are just some of the many options. And of course, since this is the locale where tequila is manufactured, you can quite easily take part in a tequila tour. Several famous movies have been filmed here, so some of the movie sites can still be seen.

Now let’s move south to the Ixtapa – Zihuatanejo area. Why does it have two names ? Ixtapa, which is on the north side of the area is a planned tourist area.


Great snorkeling at Isla Ixtapa

You will find the all-inclusive hotels here, and the area is attractively landscaped. The beach at Ixtapa is a long wide beach, sometimes with large waves suitable for surfing but not so good for swimming.  Ixtapa also includes a large marina and numerous restaurants.

On the north side of Ixtapa, there is a small island called Isla Ixtapa. It is just a short boat ride across to the island, and the hired boats leave every few minutes to and from the island. On Isla Ixtapa there is some great snorkeling, sea kayaking and a number of little restaurants under palapas. While kayaking, you may even see some blue footed boobies ( yes, they are real birds !).

Moving just 4 miles or so to the south is the town of Zihuatanejo. This is more like real Mexico as Zihuatanejo os the center for most of the Mexicans in the area. There is still a lot here for tourists. One noticeable contrast is that instead of seeing large all-inclusive hotels, you will find numerous smaller boutique hotels and vacation rentals.

Also a huge difference between Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo is the bay. Zihuatanejo is situated in a partially enclosed bay. Being in the bay, the deep swells and waves of the ocean are minimized, creating some of the most enjoyable beaches on the West Coast of Mexico. Zihuatanejo is also a fishing town, so every morning you can go down to the beach where the fishermen come in and purchase your fresh fish. They don’t get much fresher.


The beauty of the bay at Zihuatanejo

Surrounding the bay are the numerous boutique hotels and vacation rental units. Along the waterfront there are three beaches that deserve mention. I should also mention that the water temperature is warmer and for many people, more enjoyable than Puerto Vallarta. These beaches are Playa La Madera, Playa La Ropa, and Playa Las Gatas.

Each of these beaches are enjoyable, La Ropa being the nicest with its soft white sand. La Madera is convenient to downtown, while La Ropa is just over the hill and around the corner. Las Gatas has a man-made breakwater, creating some nice snorkeling. The easiest access to Las Gatas is by catching one of the numerous water taxis that shuttle from the wharf in Zihuatanejo to Las Gatas beach and back.

La Ropa

Awesome beach at La Ropa

Again, for the ‘foodies’, there are many, many restaurants to choose from. A number of the restaurants are on the beach so you can eat at the restaurant or just have a refreshing drink  then relax on the beach using one of the restaurant’s lounging chairs for as long as you need it. If you ask around, you will find some very unique and not very expensive places to enjoy a Mexican meal.

You will find that Ixtapa / Zihuatanejo does not have a large selection of activities like the Puerto Vallarta area does. It is definitely not the same party atmosphere. For those who enjoy fishing, there is some serious fishing out of Zihuatanejo. Some like to fish inshore, and others prefer deep water fishing for the big ones. Either way there are lots of happy fishermen ( and women ) coming in with their catches and big smiles.

Both the Puerto Vallarta area and Ixtapa / Zihuatanejo can provide vacation experiences that will be remembered for may years to come. In both locations you will meet people who love the area that they come back year after year.

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