Mexico - Caribbean Coast
Giant Banderas Bay rules the beach scene in this part of Mexico. Its long coast road strings together beachfront fishing village, Punta de Mita, in the north, and jungle-fringed cove, Mismaloya, in the south, with the seaside city of Puerto Vallarta and laid-back Nuevo Vallarta inbetween. Ocean-skimming jungle, seafront boardwalks and old port towns fill in the gaps.
Stroll south along Puerto Vallarta city’s malecón and you’ll sink your toes into Los Muertos beach – one of the most popular spots on this coastline. Locals and tourists alike unroll their towels on this sandy stretch. And with watersports, ocean-view restaurants and front-row seats for the sunset, who can blame them?
You’ll need a kayak or a pair of flippers to see most of the Marietas Islands, due to conservation rules that ban anyone from setting foot on them. Luckily, one’s still open for business – and it just happens to be the most striking. Hidden Beach is tucked inside a giant cavern and only accessible by swimming through a rock tunnel.
The flea markets in downtown Puerto Vallarta flog everything from Cuban cigars to colourful Mexican wrestling masks. The city’s also chock-full of artisan markets dealing in primary-coloured folk art and fancy leather sandals.
Big, modern shopping malls have set up shop in Nuevo Vallarta. Paradise Plaza is packed with 100-plus shops – from art galleries to fashion boutiques. There are loads of places to stock up on basics, too – keep an eye out for familiar faces like Walmart.
For something completely different, head for Bucerias. Its tiny boutiques are decked out with carved lamps, milky telavera pottery, and scale-breaking onyx coasters. There’s also a Monday market in the plaza that’s filled with knick-knacks for art collectors.
Thanks to its reputation as a Hollywood movie location, Puerto Vallarta has a booming film scene, with both ultramodern 14-screen cinemas and low-key movie houses in town. Nuevo Vallarta, meanwhile, serves up marina-side bars serving cold margaritas.
Downtown Puerto Vallarta is big-night-out territory. Take the beachfront prom, the malecón – it’s lined with bars and open-till-sunrise clubs. Other streets house rooftop lounges and sports bars showing everything from the World Cup to the Super Bowl.
Forget the cheese-flavoured Doritos you get in Blighty – home-fried corn chips smothered in melted cheese, blistering jalapenos, and sweet salsa is how they come here. Sometimes black beans, ground beef, and guacamole are chucked into the mix, too.
These blow-your-top-off Mexican-born peppers were christened by the town of Xapa, or Japa. They’re all over Pacific Coast menus – scattered on top of nachos, mashed into jam, spicing up cocktails, or dished up as an appetiser.
Vintage, extra aged, gold, silver, or rested – every type of tequila is embraced on the Pacific Coast. In fact, by law it’s one of the only places on the planet that can produce the tipple. Woody granddad tequilas are aged in casks, while baby ones will be familiar to those with a liking for Jose Cuervo shots.
Quesadillas are a taco-omelette crossbreed, packed full of Oaxaca cheese, ham, and avocado. They’re also the chameleons of the Mexican food scene, changing shape and colour depending on which state they’re served in.
Tinned cans of Ambrosia just don’t cut it in Mexico. Creamy rice pudding is jazzed up with various combos of vanilla, lime zest, tequila-soaked raisins, chocolate, and nutmeg.
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