Some friends from Dallas asked us if we wanted to join them for a seven day vacation in PV Mexico - it's impossible to say no to something like that! And over the next seven days we had a blast golfing on three different courses, eating and drinking way too much, enjoying a fast ATV ride up a narrow dirt road, catching some beach and pool time, and zip lining across the jungle, valleys, and a river.
Our friends are RCI (a timeshare exchange company with over 4,300 affiliated resorts in 110 countries) members and they booked a two bedroom suite at the Grand Mayan Resort in Nuevo Vallarta, just 15 minutes from the Puerto Vallarta airport. Nuevo Vallarta is the gateway to the Riviera Nayarit which is a 200-mile stretch of coastline between the historic port of San Blas and the Río Ameca where it empties into Banderas Bay in Nuevo Vallarta.
The Grand Mayan is part of the Nuevo Vallarta Vidanta Resort which is a huge 2500 acre complex with a half a mile or so of beach front on the Banderas Bay. Some of what the Nuevo Vallarta Vidanta Resort encompasses includes:
The drive into the Vidanta is stunning - a 5 mile or so two lane road that twists and turns through some dense native jungle, tropical plants, palm trees swaying in the breeze, ponds surrounded by beautiful landscaping - all of which is meticulously maintained with not a leaf out of place. We finally arrived at a collection point where very friendly staff took our bags, parked our car, and told us which shuttle to take to the Grand Mayan Lobby to check in. It was a short walk from the shuttle drop off point to the lobby and a longer walk (a quarter of a mile through lush landscaping and views of the pools or through the interior of the 3 building Grand Mayan complex) to our building complex and then up the elevator to the 9th floor to our two bedroom suite - I sensed I was in for a lot of walking on this vacation and I wasn't wrong! Maybe I'll lose some weight.
We had a nice suite with a central living area with a dining room table, two couches (which double as hide-a-beds), TV, and a fully equipped kitchen. Off each side of the living area was a bedroom with jacuzzi tub, shower, and double vanity. The best part was the large balcony with chairs and two lounge chairs and a shallow pool (I never did figure out what that was for!) - all of which overlooked the mountains and a nearby marina, and the beach.
As I mentioned the Vidanta is huge and golf cart type shuttles take you where ever you need to go - they are like ants scurrying from place to place on over nine miles of pathways that connect the 5 resort hotels and several of the amenities. The shuttle paths all meander through beautiful tropical landscaping.
Right after dumping our bags we head to the pool bar where we spent a lot of time over the next few days. Primarily because between 1 and 3 they had 2 for 1 drinks. My favorite was a mix of a pina colada and strawberry margarita - delicious. It doesn't get any better than sitting on a bar stool in a pool with an excellent drink, good friends, and beautiful landscaping. Of course I also had to have one of those famous coconut drinks - wow, I'm not sure I know what was in it but it felt good going down. I knew that if I fell off the pool bar stool it wouldn't hurt and it would cool me off and sober me up! After some appetizers overlooking the pool, our next challenge was to pick a restaurant for dinner and then figure out which shuttles to take to get there!
Over the next few days we enjoyed a delicious breakfast buffet loaded with lots of good stuff - no question, the best buffet I've ever had. Dinners included a mexican meal with a very unusual light show over the lake and a good strolling Mexican trio; Italian fare; some good Asian cuisine; lots of ceviche; and a Caribbean meal overlooking the beach and Bay. I think I gained 10 pounds and after one meal I was sure I heard the elevator "I don't think I can carry this guy up..get the fat boy off!".
In addition to the well maintained and manicured beautiful lush tropical landscaping, the good food, delicious drinks, and amenities I loved the staff - all of which were friendly, outgoing, and wanted to make sure we had a enjoyable stay. Every staff member we passed greeted us with a big warm smile and an "Hola" and a hand to their heart - which meant hello from the heart!
After feeding our bellies with food and drink we started to plan our activities and first up was to play one of the three courses at Vidanta. We studied the map (all of the yellow lines are shuttle routes) and ended up taking three shuttle rides to get to the Norman Golf Course which is named after designer Greg Norman. Forecaddies are required and it's a good thing we had one as a back seat driver or I never would have found the first hole. We twisted and turned through the tropical plants, drove across the Ameca River on what is the longest (and very narrow) golf course suspension bridge, and made several turns before arriving about 5 minutes later at the first hole. What a great course - fun and scenic with views of the Sierra Madre mountains and lush landscaping; challenging thanks to water on 11 holes and 98 bunkers demanding raised green complexes; and in very good condition. It's not surprising that the Norman Course was named as #32 in the "Top 100 Golf Courses in Mexico." Here is a link to our review of the Norman Course. I think I landed in half of the bunkers and I had sand in my shoes, pockets, ears, and other orifices. In fact, I left with enough sand to start a sand box for the kids.
After 18 holes it was back to the pool bar and a couple laps on the lazy river then off to appetizers and dinner in the quaint town of Nuevo Vallarta. What should have been a 10 minute drive took us over 45 minutes. The GPS on the phones wouldn't work so we were on our on. We encountered 4 different round abouts and thought we were following the signs to the marina each time but it we took the same 4 round abouts at least twice. Which means we made over 11 u-turns - I was dizzy by the time we got to our destination for appetizers and drinks prior to dinner.
On a subsequent trip into the same area we thought we knew our way but circled the round abouts 5 different times. We finally found a police officer (who of course didn't speak English) and I think he could read our confusion from our trying to understand his pointing hand signals and Spanish directions. So he finally did a hand signal that said "follow me" which we did and after a couple turns he pointed us in the right direction - but it still took one more u-turn to get there. Amazing how dependent I've become on GPS! We had a good dinner and made only 3 U-turns on our way home. I swear I heard the locals say "there go those gringos again." After all those u-turns we decided to park the car and dine at the resort for the rest of the trip.
Next up on our activities agenda was a zip line and ATV tour with Puerto Vallarta Tours and Wild Trek Adventures. They offer a wide variety of tours some of which include: canopy zip line tours, horseback riding, ATV tours, snorkeling or diving trips, sunset cruises, swim with the dolphins, whale watching, and several exciting adventure tours like extreme fly boarding, parasailing, or jet boat rides. It took us three drinks to decide which one we wanted to enjoy and after a heated discussion we flipped a coin and decided on the combo tour with an offroad ATV ride and a canopy zip line tour. Wow, what a blast we had.
It took a few wrong turns before we got lucky and found an English speaking man in a gas station who was kind enough to call and get directions for us - turns out we were only 3 blocks from the starting point. The ATV ride was fast, scenic, and fun as it climbed up the Sierra Madre mountains to over 4000 feet on a narrow one lane twisting and turning dirt road. Over an hour later we arrived at a very cool setting along a rushing river for the start and finish of our zip line tour, a tasty lunch, and several samples of Tequila. Then back on the ATV and down the mountain. Read more about our fun and exciting ATV and Zip Line Tour.
When we got back to the resort all four of us were covered from head to toe with dust and dirt and the resort guests looked the other way as we headed to our room. I heard one guest mumble "what are they doing here and how did they get in!" The very friendly staff said "hola" reluctantly and gave us a strange look. A quick shower and we were back sipping drinks at the pool bar.
The next morning we took the shuttle to the clubhouse to play the Jack Nicklaus designed Nayar Golf Course. Again, thank God for forecaddies - we never would have found the first hole, I would have lost an additional 3 balls, and I would have had 5 putts on each hole instead of 3 thanks to his help in reading the greens. This fun course is surrounded by jungle flora and framed by the majestic Sierra Madre mountains and home to a refreshing breeze from the Pacific Ocean, seven lakes, 49 bunkers, beautiful landscaping, a few crocodiles, lots of birds, and plenty of huge iguanas. On one hole I was sure an iguana stole my ball and took it home with him - cost me a one stroke penalty! To learn more, click on this link to our review of the Nayar Golf Course.
On the way to and from the Vidanta Golf Clubhouse we passed several holes on the Lakes Course - a par 30 10 hole 866 yard course with water on every hole, 11 bunkers, and perfect conditions. From the road it looked like a beautiful 10 holes with well manicured native landscaping, smooth green grass, and water features. I was ready to buy more golf balls and head out to play it only to find out that golf carts aren't allowed and my back wouldn't tolerate walking 10 holes! Darn the bad luck. Here is some additional information and pictures on the Lakes Course.
Since we couldn't play the Lakes Course, we signed up to play El Tigre which is a 10 minute drive to the heart of Nuevo Vallarta. I was excited to play El Tigre but not looking forward to making 5 more u-turns trying to get to El Tigre. Somehow we made it with only 2 wrong turns and we really enjoyed our round of golf on El Tigre. What a joy to play - the course is scenic, well maintained, in near perfect condition, and characterized by 154 treacherous bunkers, water on 15 holes, and some very fun golf holes. Some of the bunkers are so large the El Tigre staff calls them "the beach." And I spent more time in the bunkers than David Hasselhoff spent on the beach filming Baywatch. I left a trail of sand from the car to our room - again the staff gave me funny looks and the guy following us with dust mop didn't seem real happy. Read the review of El Tigre to see why we rated it 9.1 out of 10!
The next morning, I noticed the shower floor was covered with sand and rather than get the Resort staff madder at me, I gathered it and planned on dumping it on the beach at Punta Mita, which is about a 25 minute drive from Vidanta Resort. Punta Mita is a fishing village and luxury resort on a small peninsula on Banderas Bay. It’s stunning views and private estates have enticed celebrities, tastemakers, and high-profile tech executives alike, including the Kardashian clan, luxe lifestyle-guru Gwyneth Paltrow, and Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates who now owns 48 acres of beach front property. Punta Mita is best known for two Jack Nicklaus signature golf courses at the Four Seasons, some good beach restaurants and beach bars and the Marieta Islands with a hidden beach, great snorkeling and with wildlife such as humpback whales and blue-footed boobies. By the way one of Nicklaus courses is home to the famed “Tail of the Whale” – the world’s only natural island green. I would have loved to loose a few balls trying to hit the green!
Our first stop, after 3 U-turns, was at the Four Season's heavily guarded front gate - we wanted to check out the course and have lunch on the beach. When we rolled down the car window the guard wrinkled his nose (must have been because of our smelly golf shoes) and gave us a nasty look like "I'm not letting you guys in here!" We tried several good reasons to let us in, but he didn't budge - so we set off for the closest beach bar and a good lunch overlooking the Bay. That was followed by trying to find another beach for drinks and appetizers and short stop at the marina to check the huge beautiful boats. A fishing tournament had just ended and the two winning huge sailfish were displayed. After more wrong turns we found our destination dinner and loved the 4 piece Mexican band playing rock and roll cover songs in English - they sounded great and played lots of our favorites!
All too soon it was time to pack the bags and head to the airport. With all the weight I gained I was afraid my bottom wouldn't fit in the airplane seat - but I somehow got it in there.. Fun trip!