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Sky Editor Getaways: Puerto Vallarta with La Familia

Malecón Puerto Vallarta

Photo by Sarah Elbert

The mile-long boardwalk, or Malecón, that runs along Banderas Bay in Puerto Vallarta.

Having left behind the subzero temperatures of the Midwest, our arrival in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, was literally a blast of fresh air. Humid, warm air—just what we wanted in February. But first we had to run the gauntlet. In many popular Mexican destinations, time-share salespeople are like members of a tourism mafia: Friendly people in polo shirts pull you aside at the airport, promising you discounts and even cash to sit through a presentation (sometimes several hours long) about how you simply can’t lose by buying a week or two at such-and-such resort. This can be a good way to get discounts on tours or spa services, but we just didn’t have the heart for it. A man who claimed to work for our resort shuttle company stopped me and pulled out a local map, but when the words “breakfast presentation” came out of his mouth, I scooped up our tired 4-year-old and moved toward the door.

I am a fan of authentic, out-of-the-way destinations, but this was not one of those trips—and that was just fine with me. Our resort, The Grand Mayan, was one of five Grupo Vidanta resorts sitting along Banderas Bay in Nuevo Vallarta, a resort area about a half-hour north of the cobblestone streets of downtown Puerto Vallarta. Long golf carts shuttle guests between the resorts or to the main front gates, where you can walk to local restaurants. Upon checking in, guests are given a wristband to wear all week, identifying you as a particular “class” (my word) of guest. As RCI members (my parents had traded a timeshare in Cabo San Lucas and generously invited us along), we got a red bracelet. Guests or owners of the other resorts nearby had different bracelets; they couldn’t use the pools at the Grand Mayan, but we could use theirs. People who owned timeshares at the Grand Mayan could use the fitness center for free, but we had to pay. I could see the practicality of all this, but still: I had to wear a red plastic wristband all week. Like the ones you get at an amusement park.

Bracelets aside, the Grand Mayan is a lovely resort, and staff members were helpful and very friendly. The resort is huge, and our condo was also very roomy, with simple and modern décor. The pool area had nearly a dozen pools (if not more): There were shallow pools perfect for my daughter, Madeleine, to spend all day being “big sister dolphin,” two wave pools with inner tubes and a fake beach, a water slide and a fun lazy river. In other words: Heaven for families looking to hang out in the sun all day. We ate at only one of the various onsite restaurants—a casual, beachside Mediterranean restaurant—preferring instead the local restaurants nearby. La Laguna, a few blocks away under a giant thatched roof on a tranquil turtle pond, features grilled fish and meat prepared simply and perfectly with few adornments. In the other direction, near the Nuevo Vallarta marina, Eddie’s serves up classic, tasty Mexican food as well as some Middle Eastern favorites you can enjoy outside while listening to live music.

We were perfectly happy to spend our days by the beach and the pool, but we did want to get out a bit. Vallarta Adventures offers full-day excursions to a private island along with whale-watching and snorkeling cruises, a zip-line adventure and various dolphin programs. Since our daughter is obsessed with dolphins, we opted for the latter. I was somewhat conflicted, having seen The Cove, but Vallarta Adventures supports local conservation efforts, and I figured this would only make Madeleine more of an animal lover. We held her on a platform in the water while we stroked the belly of a large female dolphin, felt the ridges along her dorsal fin and learned all about the intelligent animals. It was a unique and educational experience. And Madeleine really loved the pink stuffed dolphin we bought her in the gift shop.

Later in the week, my husband and I headed to Puerto Vallarta for a night. We stayed at the beguiling Hacienda San Angel, a luxe boutique hotel in the shadow of Puerto Vallarta’s iconic cathedral, La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. The hotel is a quiet colonial gem: Ornate antiques and 19th century artwork populate the five villas (14 suites) that make up the hacienda—one of them was purchased by Richard Burton as a Valentine’s Day gift for his then-wife—and the quiet luxury sits at the other end of the spectrum from the Grand Mayan’s allure. After a night of sangria and calamari overlooking the ocean at Daiquiri Dick’s in Vieja Vallarta, followed by a decadent French meal of fresh fish at the restaurant Trio, we enjoyed our morning coffee with a view of the Pacific on the balcony of our Angel’s View suite. It was the perfect escape—not that we really needed one.

See more images from Sarah's trip.

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