Touring with Toddlers in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
By Bonnie Way
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, is a popular tourist destination, whether visitors are arriving via cruise ships or staying at one of the many all-inclusive hotels and resorts. With 250,000 permanent residents, Puerto Vallarta attracts nearly 3 million visitors each year and is a generous, hospitable city.
It offers a variety of activities, from tequila tasting to zip-lining to swimming with dolphins. On our recent visit, however, my husband and I were looking for something cheap and suitable for a three-year-old and almost two-year-old. With a bit of negotiating, we were able to create our own family-friendly adventure in Puerto Vallarta.
Hire a Taxi
Taxis are everywhere you look in Puerto Vallarta. We were assaulted by multiple offers for a ride as soon as we stepped off our cruise ship, and multiple taxis lurked around every hotel entrance. We walked about twenty minutes down the street before catching a taxi; a city native later confirmed we’d made the right choice, saying that taxis charge more at the cruise ship terminal.If you are arriving by cruise ship, you will want to catch a taxi for downtown, unless you are an avid walker (and travelling light).
Walking is a great way to see parts of the city that you don’t notice when zooming past in a car, and we walked partway each time before catching a taxi for the remainder of the distance. Taking an Ergo baby carrier rather than a stroller made it easy for us to get in and out of taxis quickly; our daughters took turns riding in the carrier when they got tired.If you do walk in the city, be aware that the streets are busy and that Mexicans may or may not stop for pedestrians at street crossings. Look both ways and cross quickly. Some corners lacked street signs, some roads had no lines indicating separate travel lanes.
You can also hold out your hand while standing on the sidewalk to indicate to drivers that you wish to cross the street. Along the highway, there were a number of dogs roaming wild, causing me to keep our daughters close, but none of the dogs caused a problem.
Be prepared to negotiate with your taxi driver, as there are no meters in the cabs. We accepted our first taxi driver’s offer to take us to the zoo and visit viewpoints along the way. Later, another taxi driver quoted us the same price for the same trip, but when we prepared to leave (having just wanted to see if we’d gotten ripped off earlier), lowered his price by ten dollars. Hosea, our taxi driver, took us to several city viewpoints and gave us a history of the city and local buildings while he drove.The kids enjoy a day at the Puerto Vallarta zoo.The Puerto Vallarta ZooWhile doing research on the internet before our trip, my husband discovered the Puerto Vallarta Zoo.
When we asked Hosea what he would recommend for children, he said, “The zoo.” It is located outside of the city, accessible via car, taxi, or bus (plus a bit of a walk through a small village). Hosea waited at the zoo while we toured it and then drove us back to the city.The zoo offers a variety of packages for visitors, depending on how much time you want to spend there, how much you want to interact with the animals, and what souvenirs you like.
We paid for basic admittance and spent an hour following the colourful paved path through the zoo. All of the animals (except the big cats) were extremely friendly because visitors can buy bags of food to offer the animals. The goats and donkeys ran up to the fence to see us; the zebra and hippos opened their mouths for us to drop food in; the monkeys and racoons tried to look cute. We enjoyed the close-up view of the animals, even though we had no food for them.
Signs in both English and Spanish provided information on each of the animals. My husband and I have toured zoos from Alaska to Australia and still saw animals at this zoo that we haven’t seen before. There was a baby zebra hiding behind its mother and a hyena pacing its cage. White deer watched us from a ravine as we crossed the bridge over their sanctuary.
The zoo is located on the side of a mountain, with the path twisting around the enclosures and up and down the hills. There is one path through the zoo, making it easy to follow (and easy to keep our energetic preschoolers close to us). I enjoyed the scenery as well as the animals.While there are washrooms located at the entrance to the park and throughout, bring toilet paper or tissues with you as they are not provided. You may also want to bring hand sanitizer, especially if you plan on buying the food bags for the animals. The paved path throughout the zoo would make it accessible for strollers or wheelchairs.
Downtown Puerto VallartaYou know you are in downtown Puerto Vallarta by the cobblestone roads. The old town centre still has narrow streets (mostly one-way) that are paved with fist-sized rocks set into concrete. Most streets are lined with sidewalks and in some places road improvements were underway.Downtown offers a host of attractions, such as coffee shops (your choice of Starbucks or local coffee companies) and stores (you can find everything from bags to clothes to artwork to souvenirs to North American hockey apparel) and, of course, bars offering specials on tequila. Just outside one store, I told my oldest daughter, “No touch. No touch!” Glancing up, I saw the store owner standing nearby, giving me a funny look.
I realized he thought the words were directed at him and quickly explained, earning a laugh as he nodded.We stopped at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe, located just a few blocks from the waterfront. Inside, there are statues of a variety of saints, stained glass windows, and an immense altar with candlesticks and golden accents. Our daughters enjoyed looking for pictures and statues of Mary.
The church steeple towers over the surrounding buildings, making it a very visible landmark.We also stopped at the Naval History Museum or Museo Historico Naval, located right on the waterfront. The admission was free for all of us and the exhibits included pictures, dioramas and model ships. While all of the plaques were in Spanish, there was a book available with the English translations (for those who don’t have small children who nece
ssitate brief museum visits).Puerto Vallarta Beaches and The MaleconThe Malecon is a mile-long sea wall or boardwalk between the beach and the city. It was built after a tsunami destroyed most of the seafront and waves touched the steps of the cathedral. After Hurricane Kenna hit in 2002, more work was done to the Malecon.
Today, it makes for a scenic stroll between the beaches and shops or bars of the city. Statues dot the Malecon, providing photo opportunities and conversation starters. Look for the statue of a man on a mermaid, which signifies Puerto Vallarta’s attempt to remain in harmony with nature even as the city continues to grow.
Our daughters enjoyed running down the sidewalk watching for sculptures, then posing beside various pieces of art. We also saw the hard work of local sand sculptors on display; we gave the girls a few pesos to drop into the donation boxes near our favorite sand art—one for Our Lady of Guadalupe with flowers around her and another of five faces dedicated to “The Family.” Several sculptors had spray-painted parts of the sand green, such as a lizard sculpture or the fins on a mermaid.At the end of the day, we arrived back at our cruise ship exhausted from all the walking we’d done in the city, but with a camera full of pictures and a lot of good stories to share.
Bonnie Way’s writing has been published in a variety of parenting and writing publications as well as online. She is a book reviewer for several publishers and the editor of FellowScript, a quarterly writer’s magazine. When she’s not writing, she’s busy as a mom and wife.
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