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A trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to look at real estate turns into a tour of different neighborhoods and takes a few sightseeing detours. If you’re thinking of moving to Puerto Vallarta, or just want to explore this popular beach destination, tour along with Rebecca and her husband.
This is a guest post by Rebecca Perehudoff (also known as my travelling sister).
Moving to Puerto Vallarta – Should we or shouldn’t we?
A surprise wave tossed me on my head and rolled me around under water like a clam shell. The sun was shining, slicing rays through the clouds on the romantic Las Estacas beach. Another wave caught me, nearly toppling me again. That wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t want to be dragged out to sea away from Puerto Vallarta, I wanted to get to know it better, I was thinking of moving there.
The desire for a tropical lifestyle
About once a year my husband and I decide we want to live somewhere warm. This year we set our sights on Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We know it has stunning natural beauty and a perfect, warm climate. We are hoping it still has some inexpensive real estate we can fall in love with. With the best of intentions, we’re devoting a week to our research. There is a high number of expats here, retirees, surfers and artists – and we’re here to consider the good and the bad.
Hyatt Hotel Ziva Puerto Vallarta
Sarah at Liberty Travel in Chicago, found us a room on the penthouse floor at the recently renovated, all inclusive AAA four diamond Hyatt Hotel Ziva Puerto Vallarta. It is located south of the town in what is known as the Golden Zone. There is room enough for us and our glamorous daughter to use as our base for exploring real estate.
We could have this view
The ideal location in Puerto Vallarta
This magical spot is surrounded by cliffs to the sides, the Sierra Madres mountains behind, Pacific coast Banderas Bay to the front and tropical vegetation all around. I want to live right here. But if we’re serious about moving to Puerto Vallarta, we can’t, obviously, live in a hotel so let’s get started with the hunt.
Except that a surprise wave tossed me on my head…remember? So maybe I’ll just take a day to relax.
I can’t be asked to go out looking for real estate just yet…not when its so lovely and hot. After yoga I rotate between a series of infinity pools at the Hotel Ziva, painting watercolours at the beach and the restaurants but over an afternoon Prosecco in the premium club room, we call some friends who live in Puerto Vallarta and make plans to tour the town.
Where to you start to look for real estate in PV?
I meant to look up all the interesting neighborhoods in Puerto Vallarta but didn’t because, actually, I was busy planning my beachwear. I had my priorities. I also meant to learn a little more Spanish but, well…I didn’t get too far. Thanks to Duolingo I can say, La Tortuga bebé leche which means the turtle drinks milk. I can also say the elephant drinks milk but that doesn’t get you far in a real estate search.
About Puerto Vallarta
Fortunately, the internet has all the information I can absorb in either language. I find out that Puerto Vallarta is located in the state of Jalisco in Banderas Bay, named for the original inhabitants’ habit of carrying flags and banners, and maybe also for the pirates that were a threat to 16th century European explorers.
Puerto Vallarta didn’t take off as a tourist mecca until the early 60s when Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor flaunted their affair during the filming of Night of the Iguana, thus attracting media attention to this pretty part of the world.
Scouring real estate info on the internet, we quickly realize a week is not enough to even begin a thorough search so we decide on the quick version. A gynecologist in the hotel café told us that the best neighborhood to live in in Puerto Vallarta is Conchas Chinas. Looking at the map I realize that from my lounge chair I can see the white villas of Conchas Chinas climbing up the hill beyond the hotel.
The neighborhood appears to be full of steep streets and architect designed houses almost stacked on top of each other and draped in bougainvillea. Not a place for rollerblading, that’s for sure. OK, we haven’t even left the hotel and we’re done with looking at real estate in Conchas Chinas.
From there our attention jumps to the city center where all the restaurants are within walking distance not to mention the boutiques, galleries … oh … and lovely homes with character.
Searching for real estate in downtown Puerto Vallarta
Two friends who moved to Puert0 Vallarta years ago have offered to show us around. Prices have probably quadrupled since they bought a condo here. Everything is changing fast in Puerto Vallarta. The Malecon, which is the renovated oceanfront esplanade stretching for miles along the town center, is where we begin our tour. I seriously don’t recognize the waterfront that I saw a few years ago. It is now spiffed up, closed to traffic and full of art, cafes, sculpture, nightclubs, flowers and street vendors.
Exploring the Old Town
Our tour begins in the center of town which is ‘downtown’, ‘Old Town’, ‘Zona Romantica’, ‘El Centro’ or South side, depending on what side of the River Cuale you are on and on who you talk to. It’s a bit confusing and not much is actually old but the lovely cobblestones give it character.
Where to eat in El Centro
When house hunting in Puerto Vallarta, eating right is essential. We want a restaurant with ‘fresh food’ so our tour begins with lunch at Vitea Oceanfront Bistro (in El Centro as opposed to Zona Romantica) which boasts ‘fresh classic and modern dishes mixed with ingredients and techniques of the region’. The Andaluz Octopus salad with chorizo, tomatoes and potatoes, fortifies me perfectly for looking at houses.
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No car needed in El Centro or Zona Romantica – Let’s move here!
We are seriously trying to get to the real estate part of our tour, really! We head to the Zona Romantica, also called the Old Town (but less old than El Centro) on the south side of the river, an area known for its thriving gay community, good restaurants and creative architectural renovations.
Our friends tell us that local home owners and businesses are mutually supportive and have great community spirit. I love it! Lots of art. Slightly distracted from our mission, we wander in and out of small, intriguing galleries. I fall in love with the collection of masks at Galería Olinalá. Javier Brewster Brockman is the owner, specializing in Authentic dance masks as well as contemporary Mexican art including his own.
Ex pats in Mexico make good use of antique shops and galleries
Our friends explain that a key part of being an ex-pat and renovating a Puerto Vallarta property is haunting galleries, antique shops and construction/demolition sites for artistic gems and unique materials. To prove their point, they have obtained an invite to show us a property that has been transformed into 10,000 square feet of architectural digest-style wonder. We are blown over.
The home is a wonderland of stone walls, intricate Mexican sculptures, sunken gardens, antiques and art. There are handmade glass tiles in rainbow colors, onyx antique lamps morphed into contemporary chandeliers by local craftsmen, as well as Mexican, American and Canadian art.
I decide on the spot that I could live in Puerto Vallarta IF I could live in the intimate Hotel Ziva OR in this particular house which, of course, is not for sale.
Losing steam on the house hunt
Our friends gently point out other options, like more modern condos somewhere up on a hill but the nice ones probably start at a million dollars and we are losing steam. Besides, nothing looks as nice as that house, anyway, so we console ourselves by heading to restaurant Tre Piatti for some unusual and delicious pastas. We love our meal in this casual Israeli-Italian restaurant and love the fact that a tree is growing in the middle of the room.
The Vallarta Botanical Garden
We can’t be asked to think about property the next day. We’re already on overload. Instead we visit the Vallarta Botanical Garden located about a half hour southeast of Puerto Vallarta. Armed with a bottle of deet-laced repellant we wander the jungle-like trails in which orchids have been lovingly installed on trees and contemplate a story we have been told.
The garden is stunning, and if you’re planning to visit here are some tips: Bring your bathing suit and wade in the shallow river strewn with boulders or drink hibiscus tea in the open air café.
Heading north: Looking for real estate in Nayarit
The next day we’re turbo charged to look at real estate…seriously! We’re heading north to Nayarit, the state north of Jalisco. Nayarit used to be the poor cousin to Puerto Vallarta. Then it restyled itself as the Riviera Nayarit and became a mecca for celebrities. Ten years ago we made the one hour road trip to Sayulita, a sleepy little town with an outdoor café on the beach. We want to revisit it because we think it would be an ideal place to find a charming place for next to nothing and enjoy being away from it all.
Spoiler: It’s not sleepy any more.
Nuevo Vallarta and Punta de Mita
Driving north from Puerto Vallarta on highway 200, you pass the airport and enter Nayarit. It used to be that there was a lot of sand and then after a while you would see new hotels at Nuevo Vallarta. Now there is one seamless city. In Nuevo Vallarta everything is apparently new. So we skip Nuevo Vallarta. We don’t want new and modern schools and shopping malls.
We don’t stop till we get to Punta de Mita. (By the way we are skipping some interesting communities along this route that we just don’t have time for). Punta de Mita also used to be a quiet little town with a couple of beach cafés. This has really changed. The beach cafés are still there on Playa El Anclote which is beautiful but not actually Punta de Mita because Punta de Mita is now a gated community enclosing multi million dollar homes, the Four Seasons and other luxury vacation spots. It is a 1500-acre spit of land sticking out at the north end of Banderas Bay.
You can learn to surf in Punta Mita
With all the changes that have taken place we are excited to find that the beach café we sat at ten years ago, El Dorado, is still there and that it even has the same green plaid table cloths. We celebrate with a cold beverage while watching surfers frolic in dazzling azure water. And yes, you can take beginner surfing lessons here. My husband vows to return. We’re also intrigued by what seems to be a friendship between a seagull and a Pelican. They fly around together, fish together and float together.
Exploring Sayulita as a place to live
Next we’re off to Sayulita. If we had more time we could actually do a lot of fun things at Punta de Mita. We could stay at the Four Seasons where there is supposed to be a pool butler who floats drinks to you in the pool. We could also go Humpback whale watching, surf (count me out since I’ve already had my tumble in the waves), snorkel at the Marietas Islands (a National Park since 2005 featuring gorgeous scenery and many species of birds including the Blue Footed Booby.) I am going to put seeing the Blue Footed Booby on my bucket list.
Sayulita, a pretty beach
A half hour later we are at Sayulita and surprise, surprise…this formerly sleepy town is now another celebrity hot spot. I read that it is now home to award-winning restaurants, boutiques, boutique hotels, etc. but we can’t discover it for ourselves because, believe it or not, we can;t find parking. After several passes up and down the main streets we concede defeat. There is no point considering leaving Chicago for a beach paradise if traffic is going to be an issue. Period. But…from the car window it does look like a lot of fun.
San Pancho, a pretty beach with parking
Then on to San Pancho (formerly San Francisco) for fish tacos at another beach café with more bright plaid table clothes. It’s lovely. My husband says ‘Just another beautiful beach’ and I suspect it may not be morally right to take any beautiful beach for granted but at the same time it is another beautiful beach. What we do take for granted is that there is real estate out there for gringos and that by the time we look into it it will have doubled in price. I must work on my positive attitude!
There is parking in San Pancho and lunch!
Winding down the real estate hunt
At this point we’re tired and officially no longer thinking about real estate. We haven’t given up the idea of moving to Puerto Vallarta, but for the time being we’ve decided it’s more fun to vacation a than to search for a home. As we make one more 5-minute drive to our last beach of the day: Lo de Marcos, however, we realize we’ve learned something about hunting for a place to live in Puerto Vallarta.
Each beach is a little quieter than the last and probably a little cheaper – but that likely won’t last long. Lo de Marcos has a modest beach hotel with a big Canadian flag and, as a bonus, a taco stealing dog. This may be the place to buy but we’ve decided to put it off.
Bring on the prosecco
Right now we’re ready to get back to our hotel because. We’re hot. We want our blissful moment in the infinity pool, not to mention that Prosecco. Obviously, you need more than a week to figure out a possible move to Puerto Vallarta – although it can’t be that hard or downtown Puerto Vallarta wouldn’t also be called ‘Gringo Gulch’.
Next trip, I’m going to suggest a stay at the Four Seasons in Punta de Mita where we can check out the pool butler and look for the Blue Footed Booby. Somehow I feel certain that will bring us closer to finding a home.
Travel Tips for Moving to Puerto Vallarta in Mexico
Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta hotel – The Hotel Ziva Hyatt is a 5 star all-inclusive resort on Las Estacas Beach, 3.5 km from El Centro in Puerto Vallarta. Address: Carretera a Barra de Navidad Km.
Vitea Bistro – The Vitea Bistro is at Libertad 2 and Malecon in downtown Puerto Vallarta. Tel: +52 (322) 222 8703 or email email@example.com.
Tre Piatti – Tre Piatti restaurant is located at Lázaro Cárdenas 292, Emiliano Zapata
Vallarta Botanical Garden – The Vallarta Botanical Garden is open every day except Monday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. If you don’t have a car you can take the bus to El Tuito at the corner of Carranza and Aguacate streets in the Romantic Zone. Visit the garden website for info.
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