Puerto Vallarta Feature
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Puerto Vallarta with Kids
What better way to bond with your kids than splashing in the pool or the sea, riding a horse into the hills, or zipping through the trees on a canopy tour? Puerto Vallarta may be short on sights, but it's long on outdoor activities like these. It also has a huge range of accommodation options: everything from B&Bs that leave lunch and dinner wide open for a family on the go to all-inclusive resorts where picky eaters can be easily indulged and kids of all ages can be kept engaged by activities or kids' clubs.
Places to Stay
Resorts: Except those that exclude children entirely, most of Vallarta's beach resorts cater to families and have children's programs. The Sol Meliá is great for little kids, as it offers lots of games and activities geared toward them; there's not so much of interest to teens here. The Marriott is kid-friendly, offering children's menus at most of its restaurants and kids' clubs for the 4-to-13 set. In addition to things like Ping-Pong, tennis, and volleyball, kids absolutely love liberating tiny turtle hatchlings into the sea during the summer/early fall turtle season.
At the high end of the price spectrum, Four Seasons has plenty for the kids to do, as well as golf and spa appointments for Mom and Dad. The protected, almost private beach here is great for the children, who also love floating on inner tubes in the ring-shaped swift-water swimming pool. The children's center, with loads of cool games and computer programs, keeps kids of all ages entertained.
South of Vallarta, Dreams is a great place for an all-inclusive family vacation, with movies on the beach and loads of activities for adults and children. Kids enjoy the secluded beach (parents needn't worry about them wandering off), the giant-screen TV on the beach for movies or ball games, and the treasure hunts and weekly overnight campouts.
Old Vallarta (El Centro and Colonia E. Zapata, aka Zona Romántica) consists mainly of moderate to budget hotels. Independent families are often drawn to such properties on or near Los Muertos Beach. Playa Los Arcos, for instance, is right on the sand; Eloisa, with its inexpensive studios (with kitchenettes) and suites, is a block from the bay.
Vacation Rentals: Apartments, condos, and villas are an excellent option for families. You can cook your own food (a big money saver), spread out, and set up a home away from home, which can make everyone feel more comfortable. If you decide to go the apartment- or condo-rental route, be sure to ask about the number and size of the swimming pools and whether outdoor spaces and barbecue areas are available.
Funky Yelapa, south of PV, has only a few hotels; most people rent homes—ranging from spartan to less spartan—via the Internet; www.yelapa.info has a wide range of rentals. Boutique Villas (322/209–1992 or 866/560–2281www.boutiquevillas.com) is an excellent resource for quality condos and villas in a variety of price ranges. Even in the winter (high) season, you can get a nice two-bedroom, two-bath condo for $150 a night. Add great locations, satellite TV in every bedroom, daily maid service, and the use of washer and dryer, and the value is obvious. You can even get your own cook who will do the shopping as well.
Los Muertos Beach is a good bet for families who want access to snacks and water-sports rentals, and there are (usually) lifeguards here, too. Families favor the north end near Playas Olas Altas (the south end is the gay beach), but there's plenty of sand and sun for all. The all-inclusive resorts of Nuevo Vallarta rent water-sports equipment for use at a long, wide beach that continues all the way to Bucerías. The scene here is very laid-back, involving more lounging than anything else.
If you surf, or want to learn, Sayulita is a good option. There are also many good surfing beaches off the point at Punta Mita as well as around San Blas and Barra de Navidad.
Year-round you can catch glimpses of manta rays leaping from the water and dolphins riding the wakes of bay cruises. Winter sees whale-watching expeditions on which you can spot humpbacks and, occasionally, orcas.
Turtle season is summer through late fall; children love to take part in liberating the tiny hatchlings. Larger resort hotels on turtle-nesting beaches often encourage guests to participate in this, and wildlife operators offer turtle tours.
There's snorkeling (though sometimes lots of little jellyfish join you in the hot summer months) around Los Arcos just south of PV, at the Marieta Islands off Punta Mita, and at other beaches north and south. Divers haunt these spots, too, in addition to farther-away destinations.
PV's yachts and pangas (skiffs) are available for shore- or deep-water fishing excursions. Nuevo Vallarta has a much smaller fleet based at Paradise Village marina. In small towns like Mismaloya, Boca de Tomatlán, Rincón de Guayabitos, Sayulita, Tenacatita, and Barra de Navidad, you contract with local fishermen on or near the beach for angling expeditions.
Puerto Vallarta proper has a lovely botanical garden with a river in which kids can splash. In the hills behind town, you can go on horseback, mountain-bike, ATV, dune-buggy, or canopy-tour adventures. Golf courses range from private links at Punta Mita to fun and accessible courses in Nuevo Vallarta and Marina Vallarta. There are excellent courses to the south at El Tamarindo and Barra de Navidad.
Nightly in high season musicians, clowns, and mimes perform at PV's Los Arcos amphitheater. Walk along the malecón en route, stopping to enjoy an ice cream, admire the sunset, or pose for pictures beside a sculpture.
Dinner shows often offer Mexican-theme buffets, mariachi music, and, sometimes, cowboys doing rope tricks. The pirate-theme vessel Marigalante has both day and evening cruises that kids love. PV has three modern movie theaters with English-language movies; note, though, that animated films or those rated "G" are usually dubbed in Spanish, as kids aren't fond of subtitles.
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