Last updated: 10:00 PM ET, Fri February 12 2016

Dispatch: Exploring Puerto Vallarta’s Magical Side

Destination & Tourism | Janeen Christoff | February 12, 2016

Dispatch: Exploring Puerto Vallarta’s Magical Side

PHOTO: The main square in Talpa de Allende. (Photo by Janeen Christoff)

Puerto Vallarta has long been known for its funky, eclectic side and nowhere in the region is that more on display than in the seaside town of Sayulita, which is the latest town in the Puerto Vallarta area to be awarded status as a pueblos magicos, or magical town. It is the first beach town to enjoy such an honor and the first town to receive the status not due to its historical significance but due to its vibe.

Magical towns are assessed on a yearly basis and receive money to maintain the city’s historical significance. Towns cherish the honor – one that can be lost – and the designation also drives tourism. Many of these towns are fairly remote and reaching them is easiest on a tour, with a guide and a driver — one to provide insight into the culture of the town, the other to make the experience of getting to these remote destinations more enjoyable and relaxing.

Vallarta Adventures has been in operation for more than 20 years and it makes sense that they would take clients to some of the area’s most hidden treasures because that’s how they got their start.

“We began as a company by offering tours to Marietas Islands and Puerto Vallarta’s hidden beach,” says Gareth Price, commercial director for Vallarta Adventures. “We only had one customer at the beginning, and we had to give them their money back. But now, the hidden beach is one of our most popular tours.”

In my own experience, the first time I ever visited one of Mexico’s magical towns was with Vallarta Adventures more than 10 years ago on one of their air adventures to San Sebastian del Oeste. It was one of my most memorable tours – I loved meeting the locals and hearing them tell stories, tasting the locally grown coffee and enjoying the opportunity to have a home-cooked meal.

READ MORE: Puerto Vallarta Aims High With Future Tourism Goals

Vallarta Adventures no longer operates that air adventure. New roads and highways have reduced travel times and made these magical towns more accessible by cars and vans. Now, the company has expanded its offerings beyond just this far-flung destination and offers a new tour to two more magical towns – Talpa de Allende and Mascota – the tour has been operating for two months.

“This experience represents what my parents fell in love with when they came to Puerto Vallarta,” says Price.

Every stop offers visitors a glimpse into the local, everyday life of Mexicans living far off the beaten path of tourism. Guests sample local, handmade pastries, traditional Mexican coffee and visit a cheese factory created by an industrious high school student – and that is just in Mascota.

Leaving Mascota, visitors begin to see an increasing number of people walking along the sides of the road, heading to Talpa de Allende. Talpa is a pilgrimage town and many visit its cathedral in hopes of receiving cures and healing blessings.

On our journey, we were visiting during one of the peak seasons for people to make this pilgrimage and we were able to witness processions march through the city streets to vibrant music and into the cathedral where they were blessed by a priest.

Guests also visit one of the candy factories that line the cobblestone backstreets – yes, there are samples – and have ample time to walk around the square and make purchases in local shops – the area is known for its shoes.

On the way back to Mascota, there is a scenic stop at Villa Cantabria, where you can see views of the town of Talpa, nestled in the valley, flanked by extinct volcanoes. The journey winds up back in Mascota, where guests are served an organic meal made from locally sourced ingredients before heading back to Puerto Vallarta.

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