July 4th weekend 2016 and 2017, we went to Puerto Vallarta. This was our third trip there, but second with Milana. The first time we took Milana, the flight was direct from SNA and just 2.5 hours, making it a quick and easy trip. This time we flew Southwest out of LAX because it was free. I have the companion pass for Milana and Dave and I have tons of points, so we used SW, one of our favorite airlines. This was mostly a relaxing trip, since we have some travel coming up that’s going to include a ton of sightseeing (Cook Islands and Japan in August), so we were content to spend lots of time by the pool
We stayed at the CasaMagna Marriott which was awesome! We got upgraded to a one bedroom oceanfront suite, with a separate bedroom, dining area and living room. The staff here is amazing, there really is nothing negative to say about this hotel and their reviews speak for themselves.
This was the view from our room:
The first thing we did after checking in was go have some drinks at the poolside bar. Milana loves her pina coladas!
The hotel has a resident cat named Mitzy, who made herself at home here last year after wandering in as a stray. If you happen to find Mitzy wandering around, post your photos to Instagram with the hashtag #HelloMitzy.
The hotel grounds are beautiful and the staff is amazing, definitely one of our better stays! We rented a cabana right by the pool the entire time of our stay, and it was the best choice ever! Lots of privacy and a place to relax in the shade. I highly recommend it!
The pool was a huge hit with Milana. It was huge and warm and we spent many hours just swimming!
There is also a kids club at this hotel. While we didn’t utilize the services (it’s something like $6/hour per child), we did use the kiddie pool next to it. This wasn’t yet built when we came last year, but is now complete. There is a shallow pool for little ones with several slides and sprinklers all around. Milana had fun and made some friends while playing here. There’s also a swing set for those who don’t want to get wet.
If you’re going to a place with a pool, I highly recommend buying the Melissa and Doug frisbee, which is great for the water. The hotel sold these and lots of people had them! Milana also loves to dive, so we always bring some diving toys, our favorites being these diving rockets, dive rings, and diving fish.
Such a hard life she leads! The top pic is from last year, and the bottom from this year. Same spot, same drink, same rash guard!
The food at the hotel was surprisingly good, we didn’t hesitate to order from their menu! The hardest part was choosing what to eat.
La Estancia inside the hotel has some really good desserts too! Order one of each if you can’t decide what to get, like we did. Milana said that the flan was amazing, a girl after my own heart!
The hotel is just 5 minutes from the airport, and a short 5 minute walk to the marina where there are lots of shops and restaurants to choose from. Definitely be aware of crocodiles, we saw one while walking around!
There are also lots of huge lizards walking around the area!
There are a few OXXO (convenience store) located in the marina. Milana is obsessed with Kinder eggs, and they had a ton! Of course, we bought a few.
We had lunch at La Cevicheria. We had the shrimp tacos, fish tacos and garlic shrimp.
After lunch, walked a few doors down to Pie in the Sky for dessert. They had lots of options, and all looked really good. We got a chocolate cupcake and fruit tart.
On Friday evening, we went downtown (El Centro). Lots of shops and restaurants are here, and Milana being the shopper that she is, she was in heaven!
Some shots of the area:
When Milana was younger, I used to carry her around in all kinds of wraps and carriers. Mexico is known for their colorful rebozos, but for some reason, their younger generation hasn’t really gotten into the whole baby wearing thing. I was so happy to spot this woman with this beautiful rebozo!
We happened to be there when vendors were set up and selling street food, so of course we had some. They had elote in a cup. Basically corn with mayo and cotija cheese. So good! The line was long for this vendor, so we chose them and it was definitely a good choice!
We also tried a honey banana from another vendor, which was really good. And tacos (no pictures because we were starving!) that were really good and 4 for about $2.
Our favorite taco lady still sets up shop on the street in the evening, best tacos ever!
One night we had dinner at La Posta and it was really good! It’s an Italian restaurant with an extensive pasta menu as well as wood fired pizza and calzones. And, it’s the most air conditioned place downtown, which made it all that better!
One of our favorite restaurants in Puerto Vallarta is Barcelona Tapas. The staff is here is awesome, the restaurant has great views of the city (you have to walk up 3 flights of stairs to get here) and of course the food is amazing! We ordered the croquettes, bacon wrapped dates and eggplant parmigiana tapas, and the paella valenciana as our meal. The paella was one of the best we’ve ever had!
Another one of our favorites is Porto Bello in the marina. It’s an Italian restaurant, with some really good food!
We had the Caesar salad, bruschetta and of course pasta which was awesome. A nice change from eating Mexican food for day!
We also hung out on the beach in front of the hotel and had ice cream one night, but most of the beaches here have rough surf and not really good for young kids. Though we did find one a bit away from the tourist area that is calm and awesome!
The hotel also has giant games to play, so we played some of those as well. Not pictured is the Jenga, beanbag toss and ping pong.
One day, we were going to rent a car and explore Sayulita however after hearing the horror stories from locals and Trip Advisor about the mystery illness happening there, I wasn’t about to risk Milana or us having an awful rest of the trip so we decided to skip it. When I was researching where we should drive, I came upon Tour with Roberto, a local tour guide who picks you up and drives you in his van wherever you want to go. The price was right and we didn’t have to try to get around ourselves since he knows the area better than we do. It was a totally last minute thing and we were lucky he was available for a few hours Monday morning since he books up well in advance.
Since we weren’t planning to be in a car much, we brought the MiFold car seat for Milana, which fit perfectly in cabs and Roberto’s van. This seat is for kids who are at least 4 years old and 40 lbs and who can sit up straight in a booster without leaning over, sleeping, etc. It folds up super tiny and will fit into your purse or backpack, making it the perfect travel seat for older kids. Unlike traditional boosters which boost your child up to make the belt fit, this one is flat and tiny and positions the belt correctly using clips. We love this seat and will bring it on trips where we won’t be doing much driving or using mostly public transportation. Just note that you have to move the red clip down to their shoulder when using it, which I did after I snapped a quick photo. We were in a hurry so I didn’t have time to adjust before taking the picture! If you get one, instructions will come with it.
Our first stop was for some street tacos! It’s not a trip to Mexico without eating some awesome street food.
Roberto took us to a local market, where they sold lots of fish and fruit. We purchased 2 mangos, 3 bananas and some guava, all for under $1USD. Imagine what that would cost at Whole Foods here in the US! Milana proclaimed that it was the best and sweetest banana she has ever had.
Across the street from the market, was this gorgeous cemetery. I had to walk across to get pictures, the ones here in the US are just headstones and nothing spectacular. This reminded me of the cemeteries in Poland, where I grew up.
After the market, Roberto drove us to this beautiful, secluded beach. This was Milana’s favorite part as there were a ton of beautiful shells to collect. This beach name (when translated) is Shell Beach, so the shells were fitting! They also had tide pools with crabs and fish you can see close up. Great place for kids without the crowds or waves the main beaches have.
Out last stop with Roberto was the jungle. Milana loved seeing the river and skipping rocks. There’s a restaurant near the trail and they have a dog that roams the grounds. He took to Milana right away, and would walk alongside of her on the trail and stop whenever she stopped. It was so cute to see! We only wanted Roberto for 3-4 hours, so this itinerary was perfect for us. He will take you to places that interest you, which we loved, and never with another family.
Puerto Vallarta is by far our favorite Mexican destination. Unlike the popular Cabo and Cancun, PV has more of a local vibe. You can drive away from the city and be immersed in culture unlike in the other 2, which cater more to American tourists. We were sad to leave but will definitely be back for a quick weekend getaway!