Move over, Cancun and Cabo. The A list have a new favourite destination in sunny Mexico – and the year-round sunshine, lively nightlife and vast array of activities on offer make Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit the perfect choice for a luxurious long-haul beach break this winter.
Kim Kardashian, Eva Longoria, Alessandra Ambrosio and Selena Gomez have all been spotted topping up their tans in these neighbouring Pacific Coast regions of late, and thanks to new direct flights from the UK with Thomson Airlines it’s easier to follow in their footsteps than ever before.
HELLO! Online jetted across the Pond to live like a VIP and check out what the fuss is all about…
Pamper yourself like a Hollywood star at Casa Kimberly
It was actually in the 1960s that Puerto Vallarta, located in the state of Jalisco, became a big draw for the rich and famous. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton fell in love with the area - which boasts 40 miles of beautiful coastline, 360 days of sunshine a year and a varied landscape ranging from tropical jungles to the lush Sierra Madre mountains and arid flatlands - while the big-screen heartthrob was filming Night of the Iguana. To keep their budding romance under wraps the Hollywood power couple bought a secluded hideaway in Puerto Vallarta called Casa Kimberly – which has now been beautifully converted into a luxury adults-only boutique hotel perfect for a honeymoon or romantic break.
The views from the hotel, hidden in the hills above the port town, are breath-taking – as is the attention to detail in the décor. The walls are adorned with photographs, signed letters and film posters starring the establishment’s famous former residents, and every one of the nine spacious, well-appointed suites is named after one of their famous movies or characters. A must for film buffs.
Swim with wild dolphins
Talk about a bucket list excursion. Swimming in the open water as dolphins gleefully come and interact with you (swim in circles and they’ll swim around you!) is an unforgettable experience. This tour, which kicks off with an informative talk about dolphins and is led by professional marine biologists, takes you out to visit a school of bottlenose dolphins in their natural habitat.
Explore the town
Take a walking tour around the narrow, cobbled streets of Puerto Vallarta where you’ll take in sights including the beautiful Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, then cool off by buying a cup of ‘tuba’ – a traditional, sweet wine made from the coconut palm sap – from a street vendor on the Malecon (the boardwalk) while admiring the outdoor sculptures.
Puerto Vallarta is the gourmet capital of the Mexican Pacific so why not take a food tour, too? We signed up to a Mex-ology tour by Vallarta Food Tours, where not only did we eat some of the most delicious Mexican food we’ve ever sampled (and try grasshoppers!) but we learned some great life skills – like the correct way to do a shot of tequila and how to make a proper margarita. Once the sun has gone down don’t miss the lively bars of the Romantic Zone, the most gay-friendly neighbourhood in the country which boasts a vibrant café culture and fantastic nightlife.
Pamper yourself at Casa Velas
This luxury adults-only hotel has welcomed famous guests including Drake. It’s not hard to see why the international glitterati are taken by this place; who doesn’t want to lounge on a plush poolside cabana and sip on a cocktail as peacocks regally strut around the perfectly-manicured gardens and pool area? There’s an 18-hole golf course, delicious restaurants and a spa on site, too. Definitely worth splashing out on.
Check out the newly-opened W Hotel
Riviera Nayarit is about to become an even hotter destination with celebrities thanks to the launch of the W Punta de Mita. W Hotels across the globe have attracted guests including Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz and Emma Watson - and this property, set back from Playa Los Veneros, one of the region’s best surf beaches, is truly something special. We were particularly taken with the vibrant, chic interiors, which stay true to local heritage with traditional elements of the Huichol, or Wixarica, culture blended seamlessly with contemporary Mexican touches. Surf boards hanging from the walls of your luxury bedroom, anyone? Needless to say the spa is well worth a visit, too.
Get your surf on in Sayulita
This surfers’ paradise is a must-visit, and not just for those keen to catch some waves on one of the region’s most famous beaches. With its hippy-chic souvenir stalls selling everything from traditional hand-made Mexican dream catchers to leather handbags, hand-embroidered textiles, ceramics and jewelry, and its laid-back beach bars and restaurants, there’s something for everyone in this pretty coastal town that’s known to fans of reality TV as the setting for hit US show Bachelor in Paradise.
If surfing is a bit much (like it was for this HELLO! reporter), try the rather more serene option of paddle boarding. The super-friendly staff at the Lunazul Surf School will give you a lesson in either.
Take a boat trip to Marietas Islands National Park
If you’re in Riviera Nayarit these islands, located a short (and hugely entertaining thanks to the all-singing all-dancing on-board crew) boat trip away from the North coast, are unmissable. Setting off as the sun majestically rises over the Pacific is absolutely worth the 5am wakeup call… and swimming off a deserted, Robinson Crusoe-esque beach while pelicans and 92 other species of birds – including the rare blue-footed Booby bird which is only found here and in the Galapagos islands – play on rocks jutting out of the Pacific is a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. Don’t miss the snorkeling either – there are an incredible 115 species of fish, sharks and rays to keep an eye out for.
Top up your tan
If you stay at the Dreams Villamagna there’s really no need to leave the hotel. Every suite at this vast family-friendly resort has a sweeping ocean view and a terrace or patio furnished with a Jacuzzi, and the activities on offer range from ping pong to movies on the beach. There’s a gym and a beauty salon, and shops on site. Breakfast in the World Café is delicious (we challenge you not to go up for at least one extra helping!) and a sunset cocktail in the Gohan Lounge, located on the ninth floor and boasting views of the Sierra Madre mountains and Banderas Bay, is the perfect end to a hard day of relaxation.
Listen to a Mariachi band
No trip to Mexico is complete without listening to a traditional Mariachi band. We were serenaded by one – and yes, they sang La Bamba – before dinner during a stay at the Grand Sirenis Matali Hills Resort and Spa, where the highlight was the hammock on the balcony in our room overlooking the jungle treetops. Bliss.
Thomson (thomson.co.uk) flies from Gatwick to Puerto Vallarta from £645 return in October.
visitpuertovallarta.com and rivieranayarit.com