Last updated: 09:00 PM ET, Wed April 01 2015

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  • Nicole Connolly | April 1, 2015 9:00 PM ET

    A Vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

    A Vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

    Photo courtesy of the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board

    Puerto Vallarta (more commonly known as PV) on Mexico's Pacific Coast is a tourist town which has managed to retain its Old World charm and adapt to the new with style and sophistication. More laid back than its more flashy rivals Cancun and Acapulco, its ocean setting on the Baha de Banderas, beside the magnificent forested slopes of of the Sierra Madre mountain range, set it apart. A popular tourist resort since the 1950s, it has continued to grow, partially a result of the direct flights to the local airport from U.S. cities. A lively cultural vibe, good restaurants and clubs has helped establish it as well known gay travel destination.

    Of course, PV is known for its beautiful beaches, and one of my favorite’s is Playa de los Muertos. This is a popular swimming and sunbathing beach, but spacious enough to deal with a crowd plus it rates highly in the people watching stakes. Despite its rather gruesome name which relates to its history as a pirate landing point, it is lively with vendors providing food and drinks. The latter can be a boon but equally an aggravation, so practice a firm "no" if you need to. A favorite among visitors is La Palapa, a restaurant and bar right on the beach. For no cover charge you can eat a snack or meal and then "rent" a towel, take a swim and then chill in your deckchair with a margarita taking in the spectacular sunsets.

    The Baha de Banderos is blessed with beaches. If you want to go further afield, they tend to become a little less populated. Mismaloya, 10 kilometers to the south is one of the reasons Puerto Vallarta grew as quickly as it did. It provided the scenery for superstars Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in the film "The Night of the Iguana." The sleepy fishing hamlet suddenly became a sought-out tourist destination. To really get away from the crowd try the southern most beaches with boat only access, Playa Las Animales and Yelapa.

    The waters of the bay are some of the deepest in the world. They are visited by breeding humpback whales during the winter and spring. From early December until late March, marine scientists take guided boat tours out into the breeding grounds. The whales share these waters with schools of orca and dolphin. For diving and snorkeling take a 90-minute trip offshore from Mismaloya to Los Arcos which is a stunning underwater marine park of small islands. The diving around the reef is excellent.

    For those interested in the variety of exotic plants and flowers growing locally, take a trip 24 kilometers south of PV to Cabo Corrientes. This 20-acre botanical garden is only 10 years old but its setting high in the Sierra Madres make it a worthwhile visit. There are numerous hiking trails through the rainforest along the clear swimmable river, the Rio Horcones. There are some 3,000 plant species on site with Mexican wildflowers, carnivorous plants, agaves, cacti, and an orchid conservation program. Bird watching is also an option, but best in the early mornings and late afternoons.

    For thrill seekers try ziplining with Vallarta Outdoor Adventures. This experience has a definite special ops/James Bond feel about it. A speedboat delivers you from PV to the tiny seaside settlement of Boca de Tomatlan to the south. From here you go off through the jungle in Unimogs, climbing up to 2,000 feet elevation. Mules provide transport along mountain trails to the zipline takeoff point. There are 14 cables making up the zip line which is strung 60 meters high through canyons above the Rio Orquideas. One of cables is 1,000 feet long with drops of 250 feet!

    To settle the nerves try some soothing shopping on the quirky intercity island, Isla Rio Cuale. It is accessed through the south of the old city via chain link bridges. Once you find it, browse the craft and fruit markets to pick up supplies or souvenirs to help remember this special destination. Trust me, you will be back for more!


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Nicole Connolly Suitcase Stories' Luxe Life Travel Tales and Tips

Nicole Connolly Nicole, along with her husband Michael, left her ordinary life behind for a life of extraordinary travel. The couple left Australia in March 2012 and have been traveling ever since. Nicole has a penchant for all things luxury and this shows in their lifestyle. They may live the life of a gypsy but they certainly know how to do it in style. Their goal is to share their experiences and show others how a life of luxury is possible without the big bank account. Follow their adventures at
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