Puerto Vallarta in the COVID era

NYE fireworks in Puerto Vallarta.

We returned to our happy place, the Ocho Cascadas resort in Puerto Vallarta, over the New Year’s holiday as 2022 dawned. We sometimes wonder why we didn’t re-up as timeshare owners when we had the opportunity, but then remember that while we love PV we also like our flexibility and so far scoring the occasional rental hasn’t been an issue. This time we rented Villa 5, which is in the middle of the property. Views of Banderas Bay are good from that villa though the living area is smaller than that Villa 6, which we owned in the past.

PV is a very artsy town.
Sand sculpture.

The biggest change was that on our last visit we had rented the two-story penthouse, which comes with a chef and a houseman. Pat and I have stayed in the penthouse on three separate occasions over the last 10 years so we have gotten rather spoiled by the experience. Click here for commentary on our prior experience in the penthouse and Mexico City when we last visited in February 2020, our last international trip together. (I visited Jamaica in late October 2021.) Within four weeks of our return was the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated lockdowns.

Lunch or breakfast on the beach is always pleasant.

This time around we traveled during the latest surge in infections driven by the Omicron variant. The highly transmissible Omicrom and bad weather in North America were severely impacting airline operations, resulting in a huge number of cancelled flights. So the trip was risky, but we were very lucky. All we encountered were two fairly modest flight delays, one on our flight to PV from Dallas-Forth Worth on the way down, and one affecting our flight home from DFW to Philadelphia. Since we tend to fly on American airlines out of Philly, we can’t seem to avoid DFW as it is one of AA’s big hubs. I hate the airport, but it is what it is.

Streets were decked out for the holidays.

We weren’t overly concerned about the virus itself. Each of us is vaccinated and boosted, so hopefully any exposure would have resulted in a mild case (we know of many such cases among similarly situated friends). We felt the biggest risk for exposure would come from time spent in the airport and on the plane, though we had not heard of any big outbreaks tied to either situation. And while in Mexico, everything we did was outdoor-oriented. Ocho Cascadas is mostly open-air living and all of the restaurants we visited either had outdoor spaces, or if indoors were spacious and/or well-ventilated. When in the villa it was just us and our one travel companion Vicki, who introduced us to Ocho and now lives in Houston.

Sailing on the Ada.

Since we didn’t have the chef available everyday we ventured out to several restaurants. New Year’s Eve was spent at Trio, a longstanding favorite but someplace we had not visited in several years. Because of the holiday the only option was a pre-fixe menu that consisted of four appetizer courses, a choice of either a lamb or fish entree, and a desert. (Normally it’s a Mediterranean-focused menu, with a Mexican twist.) It was way too much food, but everything was uniformly excellent. Trio has been open for roughly 20 years and it isn’t unusual for restaurants of such longevity to lose their edge over time, but happy to report that is not the case here. We would continue to recommend Trio for a special meal. It’s in the Centro area of PV, but well off the Malecon (the busy walkway along the water) in a fairly quiet area. We had a lovely table on the second floor near the windows.

Later in our trip we also visited Trio’s sister restaurant, Vitea, which faces a new stretch of the Malecon. It’s also Mediterranean, but more of a traditional Italian sort of menu. The food is good. If you go, grab a table outside and watch the tourists and locals stroll. A new restaurant for us this trip was Merida Grill, also in Centro. It was recommended by an Ocho staff member. It features Mexican dishes from the Yucatan region. I liked the grilled octopus and would recommend it if that is to your taste. The local fish was also excellent.

Speaking of tourists, the first part of the trip was over the NYE weekend and that seemed to bring in a lot of visitors from elsewhere in Mexico. It was interesting to have something other than the usual complement of Americans and Canadians swarming the streets, though they had for the most part cleared out on Monday to go back to work. The one downside to the extra people in town is that there was an unusually high amount of boat and jet ski traffic out in the bay. Humpback whales travel to Banderas Bay each winter to spawn and all of that traffic seems to have driven them farther away from shore. Normally we see whales breeching from our villa, but not this year. The only time we saw whales this year was on a sailing excursion on the Ada. I got the picture below from the boat.

We recommend the excursion. It includes a complete lunch that is cooked in a galley kitchen below deck, and a steady supply of drinks. The food is really quite good, very fresh. Though in the future we might opt for the four-hour tour over the six-hour one we went on. It was a long day by the time we were able to Uber back to the villa. Yes, Uber is available. While taxis are plentiful, it was hard to find an empty one at the marina where the Ada docks. Every cab traveling by on the main road into town was coming from the airport and had fares. So very helpful to turn to Uber.

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