From the moment I arrived in Puerto Vallarta, I had been accosted by offers of booze cruises, snorkeling excursions, canopy tours and mass-produced souvenir knick-knacks. To get away from it all (and to kill time while I waited for my correct hotel room to materialize), I took a cab to Mismaloya, a small village where Rio Mismaloya meets Banderas Bay.
Mismaloya found its fame as the site where the 1963 movie Night of the Iguana was filmed. I avoided the film tours and instead wandered around the bay, followed by an apathetic but adorable stray dog as I explored the shore. On the walk back, I stopped for a drink and chatted with the restaurant proprietor while I took in the view:
This one pretty much sums up how I was feeling. Mismaloya helped, but I had to take a cab back into the city to change hotel rooms again.
Back in Vallarta, I walked towards downtown to grab a bite to eat at Coexist Cafe. My ceviche was a curiosity:
Where’s the ceviche?
I spent the rest of the day in the hotel pool, a welcome refuge from the humidity. By evening I was pretty tired and opted to stay in my room and read. No foam parties or dance clubs for me, thanks.
I woke up early on my last morning in Guadalajara to catch the ETN bus to Puerto Vallarta. The journey ended up taking over seven hours instead of five because of bad traffic in Guadalajara. The bus fare included “lunch,” which turned out to be a limp white bread sandwich with mayonnaise and ham inside, but other than that, the bus service was pretty nice.
My troubles began when I checked into my hotel, Playa Los Arcos. They had mixed up my reservation and placed me in the wrong room, saying that they’d move me to the right one in the morning. (Little did I know that the next day, they still wouldn’t have our room ready and would be rude about it to boot. By the time I was shown the correct room, I conceded that the hotel was a far cry from its online description, to put it nicely.)
Defeated, I took a stroll down Playa de los Muertos to check out the new surroundings. Vallarta was not what I thought it would be. I knew it was going to a touristy city, but I never thought it would be as rampant as it turned out to be, especially since I was visiting during the low season. But with a Hooters downtown (opposite a cathedral, no less) and a Senor Frog’s down the street from our hotel, it felt like some kind of tacky endless spring break where I couldn’t help but wonder how the residents feel about it all.
It took a while to adjust to the humidity, so I slowly made my way to La Palapa for dinner. If there is one place in Vallarta that makes up for all the mediocre food, this is it. My only regret is that I didn’t have much of an appetite that evening. Still, my grilled shrimp, salad of frisee and avocado, yam-plantain mash and white corn puree was absolutely delicious.
The service was wonderful too, and I was seated just a few steps away from the beach. As I walked back to the hotel that evening, I made a point to come back to La Palapa again during our stay.
On my last day in the Guadalajara area, I took a bus to Tlaquepaque, opting first for a quick stop in Tonala. What a mistake that turned out to be. I lost track of how many times I got on and off the bus thinking that I had reached the city center. When I finally did, I was so disappointed that I turned around and got right back on another bus after a short walk around the area. I suspect I never really found downtown Tonala, but after another hour’s wait, the bus dropped me off a short walk from downtown Tlaquepaque.
Tlaquepaque is a suburb of Guadalajara and is famous for its pottery and blown glass handicrafts. The first thing you see when you arrive in the center is San Pedro Apostol Cathedral:
I walked a bit further and peeked in the local produce and artisan market, but after all the getting lost and bus changing, I was parched. Luckily for me, there were coconut vendors in El Jardin, the city’s main square. I bought one and quickly drank up the juice inside. I took the coconut back to the vendor and he chopped up the coconut meat for and sprinkled it with chiles and lime for to snack on. Feeling rejuvenated, I started walking down El Parian, Tlaquepaque’s main plaza, which meets Independencia, a street flanked by boutiques and artisans.
The Regional Ceramics Museum is also on this street, and was a nice, air-conditioned break from the hot sun outside. Several intertwining rooms display generations of traditional pottery from Jalisco here.
Tlaquepaque was exhausting, not because it was difficult to navigate, but because I was completely dehydrated. The temperature must have jumped twenty degrees in one day, so by the time I was back in Guadalajara, I went straight to dinner at La Gorda.
I had sopes, enchiladas and tacos, and the most refreshing glass of horchata ever.
I headed back early to the hotel to pack, as I had to be up early the next morning for the second half my trip: the Jalisco coast.
I’m not exactly a fan of tequila, but Jalisco state is home to the city and municipality of Tequila. It is too gorgeous to miss, whether or not you drink its namesake spirit. I’m also not too keen on tours, as they can sound rehearsed and I always wonder if I could have explored more without a guide.
With that in mind, I booked a day trip to Tequila with Panoramex and was pleasantly surprised by the whole experience. Our guide, Jesus, was amiable and kept everyone engaged, all the while conducting the tour bilingually for the gringos and Spanish-speaking travelers alike.
Our bus was to pick us up at Parque San Francisco, but we got there early so we walked around the neighborhood for about an hour while we waited for it to arrive. More churches, fountains, and statues, and I can’t complain. Tapatios actually make use of their parks and plazas, and they’re so inviting and bustling that an hour goes by fast.
It took us a good forty-five minutes before we left the city limits after we boarded the bus, and Jesus told us that our first stop would be Tres Mujeres, a boutique distillery that offered samples of tequila joven and anejo. Both were smooth enough to sip, and I bought a bottle of the anejo.
Once everyone was aboard the bus again, we drove further away from the city and towards the agave fields of Jose Cuervo distillery. At the fields, Jesus described how agave is grown and harvested for fermentation. With a machete and a blade-like metal disc, Mario, a rancher at Cuervo, demonstrated the steps to attaining an agave “pineapple,” which is essentially the heart of the plant:
I tried a piece of the freshly-cut agave. It tasted kind of like jicama, only sweeter and grainier.
Mundo Cuervo was only a short ride away, and struck me as a family-friendly tequila museum meets theme park sort of place, except prettier. Upon entrance, we were welcomed by a giant metal raven statue:
The staff at Mundo Cuervo had us watch a short movie about Cuervo’s history and production that reminded me of the film that’s shown at the Korbel Winery tour in Sonoma County. The tour picked up from there, and we learned about their production method and walked through their facilities, sampling tequilas at various stages of distillation.
We ended the tour with a margarita and boarded the bus to head towards El Mar II, where we had lunch. I ordered the shrimp fajita and yet again got a plate of overcooked shrimp with bacon bits and a side of mushy, unpleasantly sweet rice.
At least their salsas were good. And the view from the restaurant was amazing.
Back in Guadalajara, I spent the evening strolling around Plaza Guadalajara and peeking in the Catedral Metropolitana, which was absolutely impressive from both the inside and outside. After dinner and a short search for Mexican candy, I called it a night.
During the planning stages of this trip, I’d made sure to keep my third day open so I could take the bus to Chapala for the charreada, the Mexican rodeo. No one in Guadalajara could confirm that the event was actually happening though, and given all the changes in the local events schedule due to the mariachi festival, I decided to play it safe and spend the day in the city instead.
I had a leisurely breakfast at El Globo, a coffee shop near our hotel where instead of choosing from a menu, you take a tray and pick what sweets you please and get charged based on the items on your tray. My coffee didn’t come with fresh cream (only powdered!)and the frosting on my doughnut was sickly sweet:
Afterwards, I walked around Plaza de la Liberacion, people watching and taking snapshots. Like all the other plazas in the neighborhood, this one had no shortage of impressive statues and fountains either:
Teatro Degollado faces the plaza, which is where I was supposed to have watched a folkloric dance performance that morning, except that it had been canceled due to the ongoing festival:
I admired the view from outside instead, and began exploring outwards past the historical district until we came across a new market.
Mercado Corona may not be as big as Mercado Libertad, but it makes up for it with the best taco stand ever. I followed the golden rule of going where the line is, and twenty minutes later had four of the best (and tiniest) steak, potato, and bean tacos I’d ever tasted. My only regret is that I didn’t order more!
Encouraged by finding Tacos Don Jose, I looped around to Plaza Tapatia in search of more good street food. About an hour later, I hit gold again with a tamarind paleta:
I spent the rest of the day taking it easy, but all that searching for good food makes one hungry, so I headed over to La Chata for an early dinner. I’d seen long lines in front of the restaurant the day before, so I figured it’d be a safe bet.
The tortillas at La Chata come with a trio of fresh salsas: avocado, tomato-onion-cilantro, and a mystery one that had strong tamarind and chili overtones.
I started with the queso fundido, which was mediocre and too heavy.
My main course, the Platillo Jalisciense, made up for it. It came with pan-fried chicken leg and thigh, pan-fried potatoes, an enchilada, flauta, and a sope. The sope was easily the standout:
It takes a few days to get situated in a new city and find where the good eats are, but it was worth the wait.