Restaurant recommendations, shopping tips, and money advice for good times in Puerto Vallarta

In Puerto Vallarta when we were meandering the other day, we stumbled upon Planeta Vegetariana – there is a picture below. It’s a small restaurant tucked in the middle of a steep block going up and the sign outside reads “One of the best vegetarian restaurants in the world” – Bon Apetit Magazine. This caused us to stop in our tracks and peer in, but unfortunately we weren’t hungry. We are probably going back there today, so I will edit this post later with my report. HW and I both eat meat, seafood, and basically anything else… but who doesn’t have an appreciation for great vegetarian food? One of my favorite restaurants should you ever be in Ann Arbor, Michigan (where I grew up) is Seva, a vegetarian restaurant. Mmmm.

Anyway, we did go to the best restaurant we’ve been to so far in PV last night as it was recommended by a friend… I also posted my status on facebook that I was going to Los Arbolitos and when we got back, a different friend had commented that this is her favorite restaurant in PV. I could not find it in either of my two PV tourist books with restaurants and maps either – I had to look it up online to figure out where it was. I wonder if that’s because you have to pay to be in those pamphlets, and word of mouth is good enough for this place… or maybe I just did not have the right pamphlets, although one of them is supposed to have everything. Anyway, Los Arbolitos is a family-owned restaurant that opened in 1986 – it sits up in the hills along the river on Calle La Rivera, roughly a 20-minute walk from the beach up. I saw immediately why my friend recommended it – the food was great, the wine selection looked great, and there are even flaming bananas which are good apparently – we didn’t have them though. I also looked it up and on tripadvisor.com, it was rated 4.5 out of 5… it was also rated #14 out of 253 restaurants in Puerto Vallarta on the same site. Our food was sooo delicious – see picture below of my seafood casserole, which the waiter said was his favorite dish. Sarah had stuffed peppers and reported they were the best ones she’s had. She also had a beer, I had a 7-up and we each had bottled water, and the total bill was $38US or 447 pesos – it would have cost us less if we’d paid all in pesos as Los Arbolitos exchanges at the rate of 11 peso/$1 (when the actual exchange right now is 13.83/$1) – but HW had run out of pesos and needed to get more money changed over. Here is the currency calculator. More  money advice below.

The other place I’ve had recommended but have yet to make it there (hopefully Monday, our last day here) is Le Kliff. This is by far going to be the prettiest view as it sits on a cliff overlooking the sea. It’s also the most romantic (this comment is for you Mandy). 🙂 From the research I did prior to coming to PV, I learned the average meal is $21-30US and it’s good to have a reservation. It is pointless to go at night since the view is what you’re there for. I also read two reviews that said the food was good but not great, but that it didn’t matter because the view is sensational, and another review that said the food was really good. I will let you know my opinion on the food if we make it there. I also read somewhere online that this has been called the best view (restaurant-wise) in all of Mexico. I don’t remember where I read that, but I did look in to who said it and couldn’t figure it out, so who knows. I have a hard time believing it though, I would guess along the coast Mexico has many hidden restaurant gems. 

Regarding money – I called ahead of time and found out my credit cards (both) charge a 3% fee for every transaction here, so I brought cash. It works much better if you pay in pesos and learn the money system here anyway. For one, you will pay less every time if you pay in pesos. And two, this immerses you in their culture in a way that only money can. Our meal last night was a great example. If HW had paid in pesos, she would have saved herself a few dollars on a $17 meal. 

Also, when laying on the beach you will be approached nonstop by vendors selling things like dresses, jewelry, mangos on a stick, shrimp on a stick, blankets, etc. Our first day on the beach neither of us felt like shopping and negotiating (which go hand-in-hand here, as I’m sure you are aware) – however the 2nd day, I was in the mood. Here is my story, so you can learn from it. There are these huge blankets I’d taken a fancy to every time the blanket person walked by (see picture below). I didn’t let on to this though because I swear they can sense if you are even remotely interested.  So the day I did decide to buy it I said, how much? And he replied, for you? 650 pesos. I started laughing. He looked at me. I stared up at him. 100 pesos, I said. He looked incredulous. I actually felt bad inside too, I may pretend otherwise but inside I might just be a sucker… So he said no! 550 pesos. I laughed again. No, I said, laying down – I’m not interested. He knelt down beside me. Senorita, he said, how much you like to pay for this? I said, 150 pesos. He started to get up, and I started to turn over. No, no, no,  he said, we will work something out, but not 150 pesos. 500 pesos. And we went on like this. I came up to 250, he came down to 300; for a few minutes I refused to budge from 250 and he refused to budge from 300. When five or ten minutes had passed, I just didn’t feel like talking anymore. So I paid him the 300. Then HW wanted one, and she paid him 300 too (they are nice blankets). I wasn’t thinking, but we should have gotten him to give us two for 500 at least. So the next day inland a few blocks, we walked by a store and saw the same blankets with a price tag of 260 pesos! Sigh. At least we were only 40 off their asking price, but that is a good barometer for how much the vendors mark up beach stuff, which is sold in a lot of stores and at vendors near the beaches. Now the food on a stick, in my opinion, is fairly priced. I didn’t even argue about paying 20 pesos or so for a huge stick of fresh mango (HW had fresh watermelon).. we can’t remember exactly what we paid but I think it was 20 pesos. The fresh shrimp and fresh fish on a stick we had yesterday though, the guy wanted us to pay 30 pesos for. I would have paid that, but I just love negotiating, so I said how about two for fifty – cincuenta. Dos – cincuenta. And he agreed. There’s something about negotiating isn’t there? Next time I come to Puerto Vallarta (yes I am definitely coming back here), I’m going to make a shirt that says “No, gracias” and wear it when I don’t feel like shopping. Then I can just point to it… but they will still ask I’m sure. 

We’ve had such a good time here – I have to say I am so glad we came! It was really busy all over town yesterday and last night – we didn’t get back to our condo until 10:30 or so, exhausted after a long day of walking everywhere and laying on the beach… it’s a rough life. I barely saw anyone in masks again, and I’ve read that only healthcare workers and those that work with food a lot are even wearing them – and that isn’t even true because just about every restaurant we walk by the waitstaff are not masked up. Last night we walked past a sports bar that was packed – I had a quick flashback to walking along a street in the states, seeing TV’s all over inside bars, eyes glued to the latest scores.

One thing I have really enjoyed in PV is the lack of TV’s in restaurants and bars. That sports bar was the first place we saw a bunch of TV’s in a bar – obviously right, it’s a sports bar. There was one TV in Los Arbolitos way up in a corner that they were watching soccer on. Every now and then we’d hear a loud shout – soccer is very popular here.

A few minutes later walking along the boardwalk, we ran in to that couple from Seattle I mentioned earlier this week – they decided to stay and are happy they did. They fly home today.

Today we are going to walk around parts unexplored of PV, but first we are heading to lay on the beach and swim in the ocean, and later we’ll eat at the vegetarian place. That’s the plan at least, but who knows, often days on vacation don’t follow plans right…

I will do at least one more post if not two or three – at the end of our time here, I plan to cover the highlights/things that stood out to me that I have not mentioned, as well as my impressions of their culture and way of life. Nothing too deep, don’t get excited… just my observations, for whatever they’re worth. And if you have questions (like you did Mandy, and thank you by the way, that was what prompted me to write this) that I can answer, I will do my best. 🙂

Friday, later

HW and I meandered around Puerto Vallarta for hours today – we ended up really far away from where we’re staying, up in the hills where there aren’t any tourists. Again, we saw people in masks, but way more people not. In a few doorways (next to the local paper) I noticed a flier warning residents about the influenza.

I have been making mental (and actual) notes about things that are very different here in PV, and one of them is that locals are all very friendly. I’ve done a bit of traveling, and in my experience that is not always the case. When Sarah and I ended up at the top of a hill wandering (not realizing) on to someone’s personal driveway who lived up there, the woman who lived there not only passed us on her way out as we were wandering in, but as we wandered out, she came walking back by with her little girl and engaged us in conversation. Then she said if there’s anything we need, let her know, and she pointed to where they lived. I was so tempted to say I don’t need anything, but can I come check out your pool and see how you live? She’d briefly described her dual views overlooking the city and the ocean, laying by her pool. But instead we made our way back down towards the touristy area.

We took a slightly different route back down just to change things up a little, and stumbled upon a closed school. I took lots of pictures of this. Today I took pictures of whatever grabbed my attention, and I’ll post a lot of them here.

Today is Labour Day so some of the businesses and restaurants are closed… and unfortunately I have a horrible toothache! I tracked down that resort manager I mentioned in an earlier post (he and I have gotten friendly), and he sent me to his dentist, who is not open – but hopefully he will be tomorrow. Since I don’t have dental (or medical) insurance at this point in my life, I suppose getting dental work done here would actually not be the worst thing. 

Regarding a previous question, I said I’d ask about travelers leaving Puerto Vallarta. I’ve seen people leave successfully in the last day, and the people below me are leaving tomorrow… so no problems leaving. I didn’t actually ask an official or anything though, didn’t think of it as we were out today. Things are definitely picking up here though, although it still isn’t that busy… I see more people shopping, walking along the beach, and in restaurants.

Friday morning, and CNN’s ireport

I’m trying to get the word out there that this swine flu scare is overblown… so I posted this here.  I knew at some point I would hear from people who just think we’re being selfish – and I get why they think this. But with respect, I completely disagree.  Anyway – think you have swine flu? 🙂

Today HW and I have decided to stay off the beach. Instead we’re putting on our hiking shoes and going exploring, hoping to get lost… today we will see even more of the city than we already have. Tomorrow is HW’s birthday – we’re looking for a good deal somewhere to go horseback riding, but so far we haven’t found one (and we want to go for more than one hour).

Current encouraging news on the swine flu – and the the sites I visited prior to flying down to PV

I really liked this article and all the comments that came in… read some of it just now (while watching the nightly fireworks here). HW and I are about to have a great homemade dinner.

Here are the main sites I visited and message boards I read before coming down here Tuesday.

Live Puerto Vallarta web cams 

Puerto Vallarta message board   

Reuters blog

Disney Community message board (this was actually one of my favorites to read, there is a woman from Mexico City posting and lots of good discussion around this)

Examiner.com

Chicago Sun Times blog 

Thursday

It’s Thursday in Puerto Vallarta, and things are picking up a little bit (probably because it’s almost the weekend). Last night there were fireworks and people running around more on the streets, and today I’ve seen new arrivals at various condos and resorts right around us. I also saw quite a few booze cruises going out this morning from my living room balcony. 

HW and I spent five hours or so just laying on the beach, and I swam in the ocean for the first time. When we got down to the beach late this morning, 2 employees at a restaurant had masks on. I haven’t seen masks anywhere else though. They seemed nervous and I tried to joke with them a little about swine flu scares, but they just looked at me and didn’t laugh. They may just have had no idea what I was saying. The bartender laughed and rolling his eyes, said he isn’t concerned. A little later I was waiting outside a bathroom next to another woman. She leaned over and asked me if I was scared to come here. No way, I told her… I thought it was overblown and now being here I really do think that. She said yeah, me too. She was from Denver. And this is all the swine flu conversation I’ve had so far today! 

I talked with my friend last night who was supposed to come with us and decided against it. She is now in Key West (she was able to stay with her aunt there), and said on her flight to Miami that had masks on the plane.

Now we are heading out to look for a market…

Wednesday evening

I forgot to mention earlier when we were at the beach the manager of that resort came over and asked us how we were doing (I think he thought we were staying at the resort, but that’s ok). I asked him about the swine flu here and his thoughts, and he said a major reason they closed the clubs in PV is because even though the swine flu is not here what happens when the universities get closed in places like Mexico City is that the students think it’s time to party, and they’ll hop on a plane over to PV and go clubbing. Closing the clubs was partially to prevent this and the spreading of the flu, he said.

While we were out this afternoon (we walked across town to eat dinner at a taco place, which was closed… so we ended up at a rooftop restaurant) I took pictures of what PV looks like right now. I can’t get over how quiet it is here. I saw more people with masks tonight, although most everyone we saw still was not wearing one. I also just noticed no ships are docking, and heard Carnival is not stopping in Mexico now. We’ve only been here for just over 24 hours, but I haven’t seen any other cruise lines either. Maybe they don’t dock in the older part of Puerto Vallarta? Maybe just over by the hotels near the airport around the bay? Since our taxi ride here yesterday we’ve just meandered around older PV, not gotten back over by that resort/hotel strip. There are a lot of resorts over here too though.

We’re still being careful, washing our hands, not playing with swine, etc… glad to be here. In the back of my mind I am thinking about when we leave (Tuesday May 5th) and how I will re-enter life in the U.S. So far my plan involves my brother dropping my car at the airport and me heading home and staying inside for a few days alone. I have a feeling I will be fine – we’re eating well, drinking lots of water, staying clean, and taking great vitamins every day (thank you Cassady) – but I also want to ensure my friends and family aren’t exposed to anything. I may miss a little school.

Meanwhile, fun! HW made sun tea and we’re now just drinking that, hanging out watching the ocean and the sun set over our living room balcony, reading and relaxing enjoying a cool breeze… we may go for an evening swim. I could get used to this.

Wednesday, later

Just spent 3 hours on the beach. I have not seen one person in a mask today… the restaurants along the beach have people dining in them here and there, but not a lot (of course it was pretty early… a lot of people in PV are probably still asleep between 9 a.m. and noon). There are still people drinking everywhere though – and there are a lot of people on the beach, although I suspect there are usually even more. As we were laying there so many locals walked by, nonstop, trying to sell us their merchandise. I so wish I had more money to buy things. The cutest thing happened too, we ended up in the front of a resort drinking coffee first thing this morning – and the resort has two dogs! They were fun. At least I think they go with the resort? Also, we saw two people running by Baywatch-style which definitely added entertainment value… we didn’t get to see who they were rescuing though. Oh – and there was a TV crew interviewing a group of women 20 feet away from us. We’re heading out now in search of good tacos.