Definitely one of the adventures in Puerto Vallarta you should not miss. It's now the end of March, and the end of the whale watching season. When planning your trip during the season (December 8th through end of March), budget for a day on the water and choose a reputable company - check out the reviews on Tripadvisor. We chose Ocean Friendly. Their 4-hour tours are hosted by whale expert Oscar, photographer Fred and Captain Tony (pictured). It's a small group in an open boat, and you do get very close to the whales. Oscar provides running commentary in Spanish and English, and a lunch is provided. The only caveat - if you are susceptible to sea sickness, prepare in advance. I'm sure that's true for any Banderas Bay boating experience.
Taking whale photos is not easy. I encountered several challenges:
1. As the boat bobs up and down in the water, it's impossible to keep your lens in a fixed position, especially with a telephoto
2. The whales occasionally breach, but you never know exactly where or when. When it happens, and it only lasts a few seconds, you need to be prepared. Experience (which I don't have) helps.
3. Sometimes the whales are a distance from the boat, necessitating a long lens (say 300-400mm full-frame equivalent). But then at other times, you are literally on top of the whales, and you need a much shorter focal length.
4. You can get a little wet out there, so weatherproof equipment is very useful.
5. Sometimes the boat is positioned in such a way that the whales are directly in front of the sun - almost impossible to frame and focus a shot.
My solution was to bring a big kit with two bodies, three lenses and a tele-extender. I packed my Fujifilm XT-2 and XT-3 with these Fujinon lenses. Despite frantically switching cameras when we were surrounded by whales, I think I managed to snag a few decent shots - not bad for a first-time whale watching experience.
"Don't you get tired of tacos?" a friend asks. In six trips I only had tacos once - the famous shrimp tacos el pastor - at El Barracuda, on the north side of the city, right on the beach. Of course there is no shortage of Mexican food here - but it's real Mexican food, fresh, delicious, and inexpensive. Want to try something different? So many great chefs in Vallarta, with a wide variety of world-class cuisines. The best apple strudel I ever had? Kaiser Maximilian rivals my grandmother. Amazing ceviche right on the beach at sunset? La Palapa. The Tripadvisor page alone lists 957 restaurants in Vallarta - you will never run out of gourmet adventures. French, sushi, steak, Italian, you name it.
There are many sources online to help you choose a place to eat. We have yet to explore so many of them - but for what it's worth, here is our current list of places we have enjoyed:
Mi Café (no website) Calle Francisco I. Madero 505. This is a great little spot for breakfast (we haven't tried it for lunch yet) and is about 5 minute walk from the condo.
see Google Maps.
The Iguana at Casa Kimberly - this is more than dinner - it's an unforgettable experience. You don't have to be a fan of Elizabeth Taylor or Richard Burton to appreciate the way this house has been restored (and improved). The food is excellent, the service impeccable, and the views are stunning. Two warnings: not air conditioned (but you dine al fresco, there are fans and breezes), and you will pay American/Canadian prices; this is not a "budget-friendly" outing.
Café des Artistes - Another amazing fine dining experience - even more expensive than Casa Kimberly. No view here, but the interior is gorgeously decorated (and air conditioned). Everything is done to perfection - an excellent choice for those special occasions.
La Palapa - its location right on the beach (with extensive inside seating as well) might suggest that this is a casual spot for beer and burgers but in fact this is a very sophisticated dining experience. Of course you are dressed for the beach, but the service is professional and attentive, the menu inventive (don't miss the seafood), and the bar service is extensive. Great for an afternoon drink or a torch-lit dinner party with friends.
Kaiser Maximilian - truth be told we have only been there for breakfast, but from what we can tell it is worth trying for dinner as well. The breakfasts are sophisticated and plated beautifully; the service is friendly and prompt (Jésus is a paragon of waiters). Not very expensive, the European touches are surprisingly authentic.
Cocos Kitchen - this is a more down to earth breakfast eatery, close to the beach and with one of the original trees of this arbor around which the restaurant was built.
116 Pulpito Gastro Bar - a funky place with unique food presentations. Close to the beach on Basilio Badillo street ("Restaurant Alley") there are a few tables outside.
These are also great choices (there are far too many to list!)
A little knowledge in advance of your first trip will help keeps things very smooth. Rest assured that the PVR airport is modern, large, air conditioned, safe and well organized. (On the way home you will enjoy the food and shopping opportunities.) Here are the key things to bear in mind, in order of operation (These apply to travellers from Canada at the time of writing. Please check official sites before your departure.) :