Picking a special place to propose to Kate was always going to be tricky on a backpacking trip lasting over a year and taking in five different continents. By the time we arrived on the 18-hour overnight bus from Mexico City, I’d spent many hours hoping (praying) that Pueto Vallarta would be a befitting destination – after all, we had just passed through so many great places in South America. However, from studying the photos online and some background research, PV looked to be an excellent Mexican holiday destination on the west coast and a rare place in Mexico that Kate hadn’t visited previously!
Through our recent journey re-jig, we had bought ourselves two extra nights in the coastal resort, staying first at Posada del Roger for two nights then two more at Hotel Belmar Galeria. Comfortable and well-positioned within Puerto Vallarta’s Zona Romantica (see what I did there?) the area has a relaxed charm and is filled with a mix of holidaymakers and full-time residents. PV is very, very popular with migrating middle-aged Americans and it’s easy to see why. With a more liveable feel than Cancun or Playa del Carmen on the east coast, the resort spreads along the Mexican Riviera and has a narrow but beautiful snaking beach.
Prices are also considerably cheaper than the east coast. Grande cervezas will set you back only 24 pesos (£1) in some bars, even with a view overlooking the beach. In beautiful weather, we felt like we were on a ‘holiday’ for the first time in a while and enjoyed sunset beers and cocktails. Food in the area is reasonable too, with typical Mexican fare enjoyed for less than £5 per person in one of the most authentic restaurants we found. As we huddled around tiny tables half inside and half street-side, people queued for a table each night at Pancho’s Takos (ranked 9th best PV restaurant on Tripadvisor).
Puerto Vallarta also has a stunning marina, which we visited on another day of our stay. The bus north from the Zona Romantica takes around 30 minutes and is probably the bumpiest ride we’ve ever been on. A brutal mix of crap old bus with no suspension, a speeding driver and large cobbled streets – it was like sitting on a washing machine with a brick in it. There were plenty of modern bars, restaurants and shops at the marina (as well as a brand new shopping complex we passed on the bus) and everything from craft beer to fine dining was available. With a beer at the top of the (artificial) lighthouse overlooking the marina, it made for a relaxing evening.
After a couple of days of wandering around and enjoying that holiday feeling once again, we then moved to Hotel Belmar Galeria a few blocks further back. In our first evening there, I told Kate that I’d booked a restaurant for us – I think she knew immediately that something was up, as that never happens, especially not when backpacking. With Kate playing along with it in anyway, we cracked open one of our Mendoza Norton wines whilst we got ready in the room (I was sick of lugging it around for the last month or two!).
Leading Kate down to Ocean Grill restaurant, it looked impressive by night as the waiter showed us to a candle-lit table set out on the beach and overlooking the sea. We had an amazing three-course meal with another bottle of Malbec (a real treat for us!).
During the wait for dessert, I asked Kate to walk along the beach. Dropping one knee in the sand, I asked her to marry me, and thankfully she said yes! The waiters brought some champagne over and we toasted our engagement – an amazing way to top off the meal in such a stunning setting.
As our second hotel was a bit basic, I surprised Kate (far more than the engagement itself – which she read like a book!) by revealing we would be ditching Hotel Belmar the next day and moving (again) to the Grand Miramar. This upgrade is set south of the Zona Romantica, up in the hills and overlooking the sea and downtown Puerto Vallarta.
A huge, stunning and pretty quiet hotel, for the first time ever we had the luxury of a Jacuzzi on the balcony to enjoy the incredible view over the open sea. The hotel was spotless, modern and had the ultimate roof-top infinity pool. With PV in low-season before the start of Spring Break, we had the place almost to ourselves.
After dining in town and enjoying more celebratory drinks, we carried on back at the Grand Miramar and even treated ourselves to a bottle of wine from room service. True rock stars. Sticking the in-room speaker and Spotify playlist on full-blast on the balcony, we sang very loudly and very badly into the night from the Jacuzzi – great fun! Not thinking much of it the next day, I was completely sidelined by the hotel manager at breakfast. A very heavy-set Mexican, with the build of a bouncer, wasn’t in a good mood as apparently our singing until 4am could be heard throughout the hotel and received several complaints. Tough crowd. The hotel had even rang our room a few times, but we never heard it over the music and our own voices… what a shame. Sweet talking my way out of paying for the neighbour’s room for compensation, we convinced ourselves that it made sense to book one more night at the Grand Miramar, as we hadn’t enjoyed the views and pools quite enough.
It was a complete wrench to leave. Even with the excitement of new Mexican destinations to explore and the upcoming visit of Kate’s mum and dad, it was horrible having to check out. We didn’t have a chance to explore Nuevo Vallarta – famed for having the best beaches on the west coast. Even without its new sentimental value, Puerto Vallarta is a special place. It is relaxing, with a beautiful coastline, modern marina and good mix between tourists and locals. It is also incredibly affordable too, Grand Miramar aside. We would both love to come back to this side of Mexico again – a future anniversary maybe?
Puerto Vallarta is yet another amazing city in Mexico, with a laid-back vibe, a great beach, and lots of modern bars and restaurants squeezed in between traditional Mexican buildings. Hot and spicy Mexican food can be found everywhere, as well as late-night coffee bars, wine bars, gay bars, and a few dive bars. Exactly our type of place! Strangely, there are not that many hotels in the Zona Romantica, so the Grand Miramar was a real find, and the most luxurious place we’ve ever stayed – well done Rob (even if I was a bit self-conscious turning up with our tatty backpacks and ancient clothes!). It was all worth it. Getting engaged on the beach by candlelight was beyond perfect – I didn’t know he had it in him! We had such an amazing stay in this unspoilt, beautiful place, I just didn’t want to leave. Just another reason for us to return to our favourite country!