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Mountains of Peurto Valllarta area in distance
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

Riu Jalisco in Neuvo Vallarta (view from the room).
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

Dov Corne on the beach
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

Candyman on the beach
Photo by Rhonda Spivak


By Rhonda Spivak, posted Dec 12, 2014, written November 2, 2010


In 2008, I spent Chanukah in Puerto Vallarta,  Mexico’s second-most visited resort (after Cancun),  which has a unique combination of natural beauty and man-made pleasures. It had gold sand beaches, jungle covered mountains, traditional Mexican architecture, great restaurants and thriving nightlife—but no synagogues, and no Jewish community centre.

But that doesn’t mean there were no Jews in Puerto Vallarta over Chanukah. Quite the opposite was true. In my hotel alone, there were 3 other Jewish families from Winnipeg, and at the upscale hotel next door, there was even a Chanukah party, I was told. Oh yes-and sure enough, at the buffet table the first day, I heard Hebrew out of the mouths of Israelis who live in California, but chanukah in Puerto Vallarta.

I also learned that there was a whole slew of Winnipeg Jews celebrating at a Chanukah party at a condo in Puerto Vallarta (I would have gone if I had gotten an address).

My family stayed in Nuevo Vallarta at the Riu Jalisco Hotel, which was a good choice overall.  As with other all-inclusive resorts that have hundreds of rooms and service multitudes of people, some noise is to be expected and dining experiences are not intimate. But, children can frolic in the pools, with sport activities on the beach, and parents can soak up the sun and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere.  


The original centre  of  Puerto-Vallarta, now a vibrant city of 400,00, still maintains its small-town character  and any visitor will want to explore its  charming cobblestone streets, rows of tiny shops and graceful cathedral situated in the centre of town. There was only one problem, of course, which was that the charms of the city were completely lost on my children (ages 9 and 10 at the time) who, of course, wanted to return to our hotel (In retrospect, my husband and I should have left them with another unsuspecting Winnipeg family.)

Puerto Vallarta, which started off as a port for processing silver brought down from nearby mines, was transformed after 1963, when Ava Gardner and Richard Burton came to the city to film Tennessee Williams’ play Night of the Iguana.  Burton’s new love, Elizabeth Taylor, came along to ensure her romance stayed in bloom, even though both she and Burton were married to others at the time.  The international paparazzi came shortly after, and when they weren’t photographing the actors, they began photographing the natural beauty of the city.  Soon enough, luxury hotels and shopping centres began springing up north and south of the original town.

A visit to the down town Puerto Vallarta isn’t complete without a visit to the malecon, the boardwalk along the ocean, which has interesting public sculptures.  Vendors line up along the malecon offering Mexican crafts, embroidery and jewelry, along with a fair share of tacky T-shirts.  For those looking for more unique folk art, fine jewelry and contemporary fine art, it’s worth meandering around the small shops in the central down town area behind the malecon. Near the malecon is an amphitheatre facing the ocean where in the evening street performers, such as jugglers and colourful Mexican dancers, welcome tourist and resident alike, against the magnificent backdrop of the setting sun.

Ecotourism is flourishing in Puetro Vallarta, and nature lovers will want to arrange tours to go snorkeling, kayaking, diving, fishing, exploring the jungle, whale watching, or boating to secluded beach coves.  The city is also a popular destination for golfers, with six golf courses having opened in the last seven years.

Marina Vallarta, which is north of down town has lots of luxury hotels, condominiums and homes, as well as shopping plazas.  But its beaches are the least desirable, with darker sand and seasonal inflow of cobblestones.

Families with children won't want to miss the opportunity to swim with dolphins (see photo of my daughter below), but it is a pricey experience.

 For those looking for the finest and widest beaches in the area, Nuevo Vallarta about 8 miles north of downtown, (where we were), is the best place to stay. Most hotels in the area are all inclusive, with swimming pools, beach activities, non-stop food and drink, and also come with some fairly cheesy entertainment.

One of my favourite activities in Nuevo Vallarta, was to take a walk about 50 minutes   northwards down the beach, passing beautiful coconut groves and a nature reserve, until   reaching the quaint beach side village of Bucerias.  This stretch of the beach is also a top destination for majestic looking pelicans who fly fancifully overhead or dive down into the deep blue ocean.  Before sunset, it is possible to see the local fisherman of Bucerias taking in their nets after a long day.  In the daytime, it is definitely worth exploring Bucerias, with its slow pace, painted buildings, delightful beach-side restaurant , as well as its market. 

Merchandise from vendors who come to tourist hotels is sure to be overpriced, whereas a walk to the market in Bucerias is a much better bet.

Oh yes-and in the remote market of Bucerias, at the end of the day, I found one Mexican vendor who happened to have one silver Magen David, interspersed among all the silver crosses that he was selling. That in itself seemed to be a little Chanukah miracle. 


 Rhonda Spivak has also written about Puerto Vallarta for the Canadian Jewish News

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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