Views from the Casa Velas Beach Club, above, can be spectacular.Photo by photo: Adrienne Jordan
Puerto Vallarta made its debut as a tourism destination in the 1960s when celebrity visits by Elizabeth Taylor and Tennessee Williams launched the town into the eye of international media.
It was left with no choice but to be transformed from a sleepy fishing village on the western coast of Mexico to one of the most coveted vacations spots in the country, yielding a combination of a swanky waterfront, baroque architecture and miles of white sandy beaches.
And when it comes to romantic getaways, it’s hard to find one that fits the bill better.
The Casa Velas luxury all-inclusive resort is built around the world-class Marina Vallarta golf course — while the men play on the Joe Finger-designed links, the women can hit the spa. Walk hand and hand throughout the property and notice the meticulously landscaped grounds lulling you into a zen-like state; even the brilliant feathers of the five resident peacocks add an element of elegance.
A quick shuttle ride to the Casa Velas Beach Club puts couples in the center of a private, secluded beach with a restaurant serving Asian-inspired cuisine.
Before a night on the town, stop by the lobby bar and ask for a cocktail made with fresh ingredients from the hotel garden, including hibiscus, cilantro and mint forming creations such as “Cilantro Margaritas” or “Lemon Refreshers.”
There is also a new Casa Velas “Rent a Rock” program, where women can rent an exotic piece of jewelry for a special event or for a night out without having to make an extravagant purchase.
An interesting spin on a romantic vacation is to act like teenagers for a day. You can fulfill the kid inside you at the Aquaventuras Water Park by signing up for a dolphin encounter, offering a chance to swim, touch and kiss dolphins in a cruelty-free environment. Take turns being propelled out of the water on dolphin noses, or have them carry you from one side of the pool to the other by their fins. Afterwards, you can grab a colorful innertube and race each other on the water slides.
To become immersed in the local culture and captivating scenery, you can take an excursion with Vallarta Shorex, which features ATV rides, hikes, mountain biking, Jeep safaris and horseback rides from the Hacienda Doña Engracia ranch. The hacienda is located 15 minutes from Puerto Vallarta and contains an on-site, family owned tequila factory.
One tour begins with an ATV ride through the Mexican countryside, followed by a stop at an outdoor hot tub filled with the clear, hot spring waters of the active volcano, Volcan Nevado de Colima. After relaxing in the tub, the tour continues to a lake with waiting horses. Couples have the opportunity ride the horse through the lake, essentially swimming with the animal. Your reward for a successful outing is tequila tasting back at the Hacienda Doña Engracia.
The Puerto Vallarta tourism office also organizes complimentary tours of downtown Puerto Vallarta, where you can visit attractions such as the Parish Church of our Lady of Guadalupe, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton’s house, called Casa Kimberley, Los Muertos Pier (technically, “The Dead Pier”), “Los Arcos” (“The Arches”) Amphitheater, and the Boardwalk.
Finally, after a long day of adventures with your mate, you can relax at the Spa Casa Velas. Book the couples massage and start with a water journey that is a combination of sauna, steam room, pressure shower and a chlorophyll drink. Or you can head out to the ocean’s edge for the Romantic Moonlight Experience, sharing a massage with your partner after a toast of sparkling wine and chocolate strawberries.
At night, stroll down the famous boardwalk, El Malecon, and have a drink at one of the many pubs and bars that line it. Barra Bar is an upscale lounge that plays music and videos from the ’70s through the ’90s, while Punto V is an outdoor restaurant with a rooftop lounge. Other upscale bars include Mandala, Roo, Strana or La Bodeguita del Medio, where professional dancers expertly salsa dance to tunes at the live music Cuban bar.
When it’s time to eat, you can travel to the all-inclusive Grand Velas resort, located 20 minutes from Casa Velas. Both are in the family of Velas Resorts, so guests staying at Casa Velas are able to visit and eat at one of the four restaurants at no additional cost.
Choose from the Piaf (classic French), Frida (Mexican), Lucca (Italian Mediterranean) or Azul (international cuisine). Purses have their own foot stool and service is as good as you’d expect at a fine-dining establishment.
For another meal, Café des Artistes is a romantic French restaurant in downtown Puerto Vallarta, with artistic décor both inside and out. The outdoor partition makes for a very intimate and lush ambiance, with lighted trees covering almost every inch of the ground, dangling white orchids that occasionally drop in your lap, and violinists that treat you to a private song. Try the flower pot salad and the prawn and pumpkin cream soup.
Another must-do is the “Rhythms of the Night” voyage to Las Caletas, a private island only accessible by boat. Las Caletas gives you a candlelit dinner — literally, the island has no electricity and is entirely lit by thousands of candles.
After dinner, you can take in a performance under the stars by a talented Mexican dance troupe at the Las Caletas outdoor theatre. The performance will suddenly stop, and all the theater lights dim to showcase a brilliant night sky with millions of stars.