Vallarta Sun Hotel, Puerto Vallarta
Reviews - Vallarta Sun Hotel
- Age Group: 26 - 30
- From: United Kingdom
- Traveller type: Young Couple
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Top Local Tips for Puerto Vallarta
Take the bus If you're in PV and are going to stay @ the Marina, take the bus. It's about 12 pesos for 2 people. Take the DOWNTOWN bus to go to the Malencon. And take the bus marked MARINA to get back to your hotel area @ the MARINA. The buses run from 6:30am -10:00pm local time.Have Fun!
PV for family with teens Puerto Vallarta for family of five with teens November 21-28, 2009 Here was our itinerary for one week in PV for our family of five; two adults, two high school girls and an 11 year old son. We stayed at the World International Vacation Club (WIVC) Conchas Chinas timeshare resort. IN GENERAL: We were afraid of airport and tourist crowds due to the holiday week but this was never the case (perhaps due to the economy?). Airports had averge crowds, many times we were almost the only tourists in many shops, the beaches were small to medium sized crowds, traffic was light to medium, etc. Weather was high 70s in morning and evenings. Got up to mid/high 80s in afternoon. Not much breeze. Nice for beach so that there was no sand blowing around but can get a little too hot. Some shops and restaurants close up in mid afternoon. Sunday most shops and restaurants are closed all day/night. Great weather all week; most days very sunny and one day a little over cast (very nice!), no rain. Exchange rate was $12.30 pesos per dollar. Costs were reasonable; not cheap, or too expensive. A nice dinner in a local finer restaurant averaged $20 per person including about 4 alcoholic drinks. We spent about $250 for groceries that fed us all week for breakfast a few light lunches/dinners, including about 30 bottles of water and 20 beers. We got cash and pesos at ATMs; usually used the ATM at the HSBC bank next to the river on Juarez/Peru street. The books and credit card companies say to go to a bank counter for exchange but when we did they said we had to use the ATM and that they could not give cash off of a credit card. The problem is then you need to know your CC pin, which we did not. Fortunately our bank account ATM card worked, and we knew that pin, but then we had a daily limit. Shopping/Eating: Most stores, shops and restaurants take American cash and credit card. But all prefer pesos. Gas was about $2.30 per gallon. We paid $10 for typical Walmart type snorkel mask and mouthpiece at a tourist shop by the pier. In general, everywhere, try to bargain down price of things. My husband is good at this but I am not. Even at the restaurants you can ask for 2 for 1 drinks or “an all in one” price for a complete meal; salad, main course and dessert for less than menu prices ($20 all included if you ask). Bought three dresses on beach for $20 each down from $35 each. But then saw them along the river at $10 each! You can never browse anywhere in Puerto Vallarta. As soon as you stop to admire something they are all over you like fleas. Prevents you from buying because you feel you cannot stop to look. Even just walking around in town and on beach, even at restaurants, on boardwalk, on streets, very aggressive and pushy; coming right up to you while you are strolling, even when you are not shopping. There are many Cuban cigar shops in PV and at the airport. It is illegal to bring them into US. They openly offer to switch the cigar bands on the cigars so you can take them home. I don’t remember how much they were in town but at the duty free store at the airport they were $125 for a box of five. Ocean/Beach: The ocean is very pretty and warm. The waters and waves are calm close to PV, get rougher 1 hour further north of PV. But beach sand in PV and close to PV is very coarse; even in the water. Need to wear sandals at all times on the beach and in the water unless you get used to the coarse sand (I never did and my husband’s feet got sore). I would think small children would have a very hard time. And the sand gets searing hot. No shells along beach; some pretty stones but not much. In general I would say the PV beaches are the worst as compared to all tropical beaches I have been to (Cancun, all of Caribbean and Hawaii) due to coarse sand, aggressive native sales people, lack of beachside amenities, dogs and garbage. This does not make the beach bad; it is still nice; just not as pristine and enjoyable as other beach locations. Car Rental: We rented a car and found it very easy to drive around. We did a lot of venturing in town and out of town and highly recommend it. The maps, signs and roads are easy to follow. There are several gas stations in town; be sure to fill up before heading out of town. The roads in town and around the resorts are large cobblestones making it somewhat bumpy. But out of town the roads are very well maintained and smooth. Parking is free everywhere; just need to find a spot along the street; Not too hard to find a spot if you have a small/midsize car. Crime/Comfort: My immediate concern when driving from airport to our accommodations was how rundown PV is. At first it gives one a fear of crime and unsanitary conditions, and a little bit of depression. It is not all commercial and sparkly like Cancun and other tropical areas. But then PV grows on you and is quaint. You feel that you get a taste of the real Mexico while surrounded by beauty; picturesque lush hills and mountains. I also was not sure about leaving the resort without being part of a group or tour. I was concerned about all the news from Mexico about kidnapping, crime, drugs and gang wars; also concerned about language barriers, drinking water, road conditions and directions, gas stations and food. After doing much venturing out, I can say that none of these concerns were realized. You can always find someone who speaks English, plenty of bottled water, places for food and gas, roads are well maintained and easy to find your way, everyone is helpful and friendly. Lots of Americans everywhere we went, even outside of PV. Seemed a lot of Californians have their second/winter home here. No sign of crime or fear for it. Very little homeless and begging (which is better than many US cities!). This experience makes me recommend exploring. Accommodations: I was initially concerned about not going to a full blown resort. WIVC is a timeshare location with only 14 units; so it is small with no onsite amenities; no restaurant or bar for example. Exceptionally nice, friendly, helpful counter staff who are there from about 9am to 10pm, speaking excellent English. The unit suite was perfect; lots of room. Two bedrooms; one was a king and another was twin beds, full kitchen and living room with pull out; three full baths; very nice. I found a great tip online to request a unit at the top floor with a view which we did thank goodness (I found a WIVC email address at the WIVC website). Some tiny ants came out on kitchen and bath counters; Seemed to clear up if I wiped down and left a thick layer of soap to dry. Make sure you clean up all crumbs and sweep up each day. They told us that housekeeping only came twice a week but then it seemed they came about everyday. We were able to get extra beach towels and exchange them each day for clean ones. They did not have any onsite laundry machines but they did laundry for a very cheap price. One load was only 80 pesos (about $7 USD); it was ready the next day. The mattresses, couch, chairs and pull out bed were all exceptionally hard; to the point where it made my back a little sore. The mattress on the pull out bed was formed to the folds in the pull out so my son never had a flat bed; always rounded up or down; even when we laid it on the floor. But it would not deter us from going back. The facility was so quaint with the greatest view of coastline, ocean and sunsets!!! Surrounded by half built and abandoned private homes (strange!); takes a little away from the view but you learn to overlook it. It was quiet. We really enjoyed it, even though you had to drive into town (or bus at the bottom of the hill seems very convenient); you have a better view and sense of peace and privacy being up on the hillside; nice alternative to the crowded resort and in town feel. Good location 5 minutes to town and 15 minutes to Misamaloya. Had an averaged sized pool and hot tub; only saw two people in it on one night. They emptied and cleaned the hot tub daily. Internet is $5 per day. No DVD player in room; but midweek they gave us one for our room at no charge. Nice rec room with 3-4 fitness type machines, pool table, internet access, and DVD player (we brought a couple movies and watched them in rec room). Has a Sunday morning orientation that looked like another hard sell for tourist trips so we took a pass. Facility has very nice outdoor grill. Another person at the resort recommended going to Costco for meat but we don’t have a membership there. We ended up getting meat at the Sam’s by the airport later in the week. The meat was a little tough but OK. Tried to find a traditional Mexican show. Found only one for Weds and Sunday nights at a hotel that was in my travel guide (by Moon publishing); desk manager helped and called what I showed her in the book. $18 per person including buffet dinner. Seems like a good deal. But Weds is also the Art Walk night in PV so we decided to do the art walk instead. And it was already past Sunday. Front desk says the traditional shows are more frequent in September, which is a festival month. We tried to avoid the drinking water; always got bottled or soda, even in restaurants and bought at the store to have in unit. I am sure we were exposed to the water with food, etc but we never got sick. My husband got a tiny peaked one night but he ended up OK after a couple hours, and the rest of us were fine. A few American businesses were around but we never used them though others may be comforted by using them; Subway, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Costco, etc. We did go to Sam’s and Walmart for groceries once. We had local Mexican food everywhere and it was always excellent. The negatives to PV is the very pushy native salespeople (everywhere; tableside while eating, approaching you on the beach, stopping you on the streets), the mangy dogs (especially along beaches and beach front eating) and garbage everywhere (on all street corners), and dilapidated buildings (everywhere). Once you overlook this, the local charm and beauty make it worthwhile. Packing tips: passports, copy of passports (separate in luggage), sunglasses, bathing suits, sunscreen, bug lotion and itch relief, a Puerto Vallarta travel guide from the book store. Bring own map for rental car (try to get one from your travel club like AAA if you are members; good local maps are hard to find). Beach sandals that you can wear in the water (sand is very coarse and hot). Sneakers for jungle hike at botanical gardens. Hats to cover your face in the sun. Know your credit card and bank card pin numbers. And read the tips at the State department’s website: http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/tips_1232.html. Check with your cell phone provider about Mexican service. Sprint provided me with service access for free but each call and text would be at least $1 USD per minute. My husband got an international phone at work but was told it was costly to use also. We never used the phones after all but I felt secure knowing we could for emergencies. DAY ONE; Saturday Flew in to PV, waited in short line for customs (2 lines, one they check passport, then they check luggage through security machine after you pick up luggage); it went quickly. They emphasized the importance of not losing the passport ticket they give you (visa?); you need this to exit Mexico. We never carried our passport during the days and were never asked for it. Once through customs you are immediately attacked (I mean attacked) by hordes of sales people for taxis, tours and timeshares; run away!! Got rental car; Thrifty. First went to the airport counter then waited 15-20 minutes for bus to their dumpy location. Reserved price online was $272. After tax and insurance came to $500+ (your American car insurance does not cover you in Mexico). Did not get the car I reserved but it was probably an equivalent midsized. Took ½ hour to get through paperwork and for them to make sure they had a car. Was directed to timeshare counter, from the car rental counter, for a map. Frustrating hassle! Took us at least an extra half hour to get rid of the timeshare salesperson and flee to our car. Salesperson followed us out to our car trying to push us into deals on meals/trips for a timeshare sales session until the second we drove away. And the map was not even very good! Horrible first impression of PV!! Got a little turned around while driving to our accommodations (due to lack of good map) but figured it out and got around fine after that (good thing we arrived during the daylight). Unpacked and went back in to town to MEGA store on the main street that we passed from the airport (on Juarez/Peru); huge! Everything is here at this store that a person could need (grocery and department store). Free parking garage in back. Wonderful fresh bakery and pastry department; You grab a tray, fill it up from the shelves and then bring to counter to get it bagged and priced. I could get Mexican pastry here every day. Again one of the store sales people acting like they are helping you but then trying to sell you timeshare! Went back into town for dinner and sites. Ate at a great local restaurant within a block of where we parked, somewhat gourmet, average price $15 per person; excellent. Walked to city boardwalk; Malceon. Lots of activity, sites on the boardwalk. DAY TWO; Sunday Headed to the beach. We found out at the counter that we had privileges at the beachfront sister resort; WIVC Casa Del La Playa, in downtown area. Parked for free at front entrance along the street; very convenient. Similar small building like our accommodations and with no amenities. Small pool and outdoor grill. Great location, and friendly counter staff! Very nice that we could use their beach chairs for free and great beach location, plus access to their bathroom at poolside and shower for washing sand off body. Walked to street corner for drinks and snacks. Could walk to shopping, restaurants, etc. Walked down the beach to Bienventura resort. Asked about day passes; $55 each and half price for 11 year old son. Did not seem worth it; pool was not that great (no slides). Includes all you can eat and drink from 9am-6pm. Did not come across any other nicer resorts in this area. Heard Sheraton is popular but have not seen it on the inside; but I would check it out for day passes. Came back to unit, cleaned up and went back into town. Many local shops are closed on Sunday we discovered. Tried walking along river (Isle de Caule) and it was miserable. Walked over suspension bridges; very wobbly and dilapidated; more scary than fun! Lots of groups of locals/kids hanging around along this river walk. Too many junky stalls with very very pushy natives. Would not recommend this walk along the river like the literature says. At end of river walk along the beach there was a very nice bridge leading to the Malceon. Great photo spot on the bridge. Had dinner at a restaurant along Malceon; great view of beautiful sunset. Kids had fun going out to the walkway and taking pictures while waiting for food. Stumbled across a religious celebration after dinner at the arches of the Malceon (it was Sunday night). Lots of music and dancing; many people in traditional costume. Followed a procession to the famed cathedral in town, Watched part of a church service and admired the church architecture; beautiful. Again overtaken with quaint beauty and sense of local culture. Went back and walked along boardwalk. Watched ceremonial event with natives at end of boardwalk, playing flutes, hanging from a very tall pole and whipping around upside down in the air; fascinating! Checked out boardwalk food vendors; mostly fresh roasted corn that they cut off into cups and serve with seasoning or cheese. Did not try it but looked good. Also fresh fruit cups, some with yogurt. Lots of melon and papaya. No taco stands! The Malceon was the most crowded on this night; almost too crowded for us the later it got. All other evenings it was not so crowded. We learned that most people work 6 days per week with only Sunday off. DAY THREE; Monday Ventured out to Yelapa. Went in town to the Pier, found parking right away and a man selling water taxi tickets helped us park and approached us immediately. $20 per person just like book said (son got half price). Very simple old boat with a canvas cover; sat on planks with no backs, lots of wind blowing on face and hair (OK with us). Bigger luxury boats are double priced; I think the bigger boats include food/drinks, snorkel gear for an extra price, and you sit more comfortably indoors, away from wind and in comfortable seats (which may be better for small children and older people). The best part of the water taxi ride was the water view of the coastline. On the way to Yelapa the water taxi stopped for a few minutes at Los Arcos marine park for pictures which was nice. Boats leaves main PV pier at 11 and returns at 3:30; takes about 40 minutes one way. I initially thought I would go to Quixmota because the book said it had nice waterfalls and a wading pool at the bottom. But the water taxi people said it had no beach and fewer restaurants/shops. And Yelapa still had falls too. Later in the week our resort manager told us that we could have taken a water taxi from Misamaloya, instead of from the PV pier, and we have only paid $7 each instead of $20. And we could have gone to Los Animas which she thought was nicer then Yelapa, but they don’t have a waterfall. And Los Animas is closer; still with a beach. So ask the locals and resort managers for advice! Yelapa was not much and I would not consider this a must see or must do like the books say. Very small beach with lots of water taxis; fumes from boat motors come onto beach. Constant (I mean constant) barrage of locals trying to sell jewelry, clothing; coming up to your chairs and even at table while eating; very, very annoying! Quaint outdoor eating (good food) and drinking; great chicken fajita. Lunch and about 8 beers was 600 pesos (about $50). But lots of dirty dogs begging at tableside; Yuk! It was difficult to see the waterfalls. It ended up being a long rugged unmarked walk up and around a steep hillside through a poor village. About ¾ miles each way. You can not do this alone without a local guide. Another option is paying for a ride on dirty stinky donkeys from the beach through the village; $20 per person. Without some type of guide it is easy to lose your way or be fearful of locals. Dirty dogs also followed us the whole way. It was filled with garbage, more cheap stalls and dilapidated buildings. After some beach time and eating, the guide from our boat offered to guide us for a tip and we paid him 70 pesos (about 7 dollars). It was also a little rugged to climb into the small waterfall pool. But the water was great. A little cool at first but very refreshing and invigorating in a nice way. Waterfall itself is not very big; medium sized fall; not majestic but not tiny (so it is not a big deal to see this). But it was great to swim in and under the falls. Small pool at bottom of waterfall, easy walk in chest height water. Now I can cross this off my bucket list! Literature says this is a good area for snorkeling but it is not. Good thing we purchased snorkeling gear before we got on boat at a small market on the pier before boarding; there was nothing to buy or rent at the beach. My son and husband went out from the beach to snorkel and saw some eels and small fish; no coral, etc. Obviously you could go out on another boat in deeper water to reefs for real snorkeling but nothing along the beach here like there was in Cancun. I did not want to do a special trip because my daughter has her arm in cast and cannot swim right now. But the deep water snorkeling and diving sounds great. Went to MEGA for more groceries (and pastries!); warding off another timeshare sales person while in the aisles! Went to outdoor market next to river. Was disappointed that the market was all the same traditional Mexican goods; tons of shell jewelry, Mexican hats, clothes, beadwork, wood carvings. We wanted discount designer jewelry, purses, etc like the carribbean. We found this later in the week at the Flea Market on Juarez, up the street above the river (outdoor sign literally says Flea market). Came home and ate frozen pizza. Not very good. Smells from outdoor grill were great! Wish we had steaks to grill! DAY FOUR; Tuesday We were a little beached out by today so we headed south to Misamaloya for the Botanical Gardens. (Make sure you wear bathing suits, sneakers, hats and bug lotion for the Gardens, and bring a change of clothes.) On the way we stopped in front of Los Arcos rock formation and at some market stalls. This was much better shopping with less pushy sales people. We were able to browse. And there was a stall with designer purses! After bargaining I got two large bags (YSL and Coach) and two matching wallets for $160 USD. My girls each got leather bracelets. Passed many half built home sites and condo high rises along the beach with big for sale signs; most look abandoned. Even though there were signs along the way, we had to watch for the road to turn into the Botanical Garden carefully; easy to miss. Entrance fee was 200 pesos for all five of us (about $9 per person). They were trying to sell bug lotion but we passed and should not have; we all ended up with many bites. The bugs are not like mosquitoes or flies. We never saw them or felt them until we were home and then we were itching the bites for days! Thank goodness I had aloe vera which gave temporary relief from itching. The gardens had several very nice walks through the jungle and along the river. It was a little rugged and steep at times; which was fine for us. Should have worn sneakers; not flip flops. Wish we had worn our bathing suits; could have swam in the river/stream. We walked in it and it was nice, clear and cool; like the waterfall pool. Then we ate and drank in the plantation building, which was spectacular. Food and drinks were excellent. View and sound of rushing river water was peaceful. Kids had great milkshakes, my husband and I had the best mojitos of our lives. They brought all drinks in the largest jumbo size glasses I have ever seen. Drinks were all delicious! Guacamole, salsa, shrimp quesadillas, nachos were all great served natural sticks of sugar cane and cucumber slices. Great service. Was $80 for five of us. I asked about the history and they brought me a typed up booklet that was very interesting about the person who developed the park. On the way back north, towards home, we stopped at the Dreams all inclusive resort to look around. Looked very nice and expansive; lots of areas to relax, eat, swim, etc. Lots of activities for kids. All inclusive day passes were $70 per person 9am-6pm or $95 until 1am. Half price for kids. The pool was big but no slides or waterfalls, etc. Another resort along the way, Barcela, advertised $20 for day passes but we did not stop to look around. Our building manager says Barcela is a very nice resort but still no slides in the pool. The manager told me about a large water park just north of the airport called Aqua something where they also have Dolphin rides and costs about $18 USD to get in; can see it from the main road (we never went). The Los Arcos stall keepers told us where to go for knock off watches; Flea Market on Juarez above the river where we got two Rolex watches for $40 each later this day. There were designer purses there too but they were more expensive than where we bought mine; but more selection. We saw a few purses we really liked but we could not get them below $100 USD each. We were wiped by dinnertime so we napped late at home, relaxed, watched a movie on our laptop and ate in our unit. DAY FIVE: Wednesday Today we ventured north to Sayulita in Nayurit. We followed Rt 200 all the way and it took about 45 minutes. It was a nice ride. First the road followed the coastline and then turned into and through the jungle then back to the coast. The scenery was beautiful as we drove under canopies of jungle fauna. On the way we went through a few towns. The road was well maintained and gas stations are frequent. Typically the road was just two lanes with traffic that moved at good, medium speed. Sayulita is a cute surfer town; brightly painted, narrow cobblestone streets, lacking big resorts and condo highrises. It is like a smaller PV with many surfers, surfer shops and lots of younger Americans. We drove through town towards the beach and parked along a street that ended at the beach (no cost to park). We walked up onto a large group of beach lounge chairs in front of the Don Pedro restaurant that they rented to us for 100 pesos per umbrella with two chairs. This gave us convenient use of their bathrooms. We got there around 10:30am (note: there is an hour time change backwards when you cross into Nayarit) and we got the last five chairs (so it is better to get there earlier). They threw in an extra chair for my son at no charge (that he hardly used, as he was too busy jumping in the waves all day). Even as a surfer town the beach waves were not incredibly high, but higher than PV and Misamaloya. My 11 year old handled them fine but they were definitely over his head. The beach and bay area is medium sized. The sand was much softer and unusually dark. There were a few mangy dogs running around (seems to be a PV area standard!). Again constant selling from natives; now I shoo them away like a pesky fly, without even looking up from my book. We rented boogie boards for the kids paying 200 pesos for 1.5 hours for two; which was plenty long enough (again bargaining helped as the price started at 150 pesos each). Then my son went back out with his snorkel goggles on to tackle the waves more. My daughter got the front half of her head braided for $10 USD. We felt this was the best beach experience so far. My husband and I ventured down the beach and came across locals cutting up fresh cucumber, coconut, pineapple, papaya, etc. They provided salted limes to squeeze over the slices. The branches from the coconut trees were lying on the ground and they had a machete and a stump where they were chopping open the gourds before putting it on a cutting board. They were selling slices in cups, plus carving pineapples out and making rum drinks inside of them! Yum Yum, they were great. One of these super sized drinks each was enough for us for the next two hours. Then we had a great lunch at Don Pedro beach side. My husband had the best seared ahi tuna we have ever tasted, the rest of us had the fish sandwich (Mahi Mahi;); everything was great; with tip it cost 1,100 pesos for five of us. At least the restaurant does not allow the pushy natives tableside but they stand at the wall over looking the eating area trying to get your attention as you eat! On the way back we stopped at Sam’s and Walmart by the airport and got groceries including ribeyes for the resort grill (there were no other cuts of steak but we were glad for these and they looked good). By the time we got home and showered we were beat and did not go to the Art Walk after all. We were even too beat to cook the steaks so we had the cold cut sandwiches (which were already in our fridge) and were happy for that. DAY SIX; Thursday We had all agreed that our Thanksgiving celebration would be a night at Senior Frogs. We saw and heard of many traditional Thanksgiving meals being offered at restaurants but we passed. We had such a great time at Senior Frogs when we were in Cancun so we were eager to relive it. For today, the kids asked for this to be a lazy day. No one wanted to trek out for a drive or go to another beach. We held a couple cutthroat games of billiards for five, watched a movie (Manager gave us a DVD player for our room), went in pool and hot tub. For lunch we ventured for a walk to the bottom of our hill and down the road to a local café that is next to the convenience store (OXXO). Great tacos and we were full for $4 USD per person including drinks. We discovered a back stairway behind the café that led to a secluded beach with rock formations. It is the same beach, sandbar and rocks we can see from our room. Our teens walked the hill up and back for the car and came back for us. Since we were in the car we drove all around our hilltop gazing at the beautiful homes and views. Many of the homes were private with beautiful ironwork, painted stucco and tiles, stained glass and meticulous landscaping. And there were more condos that seemed upscale. Again, lots of properties for sale. That night, we had no problem parking close to Senior Frogs and it did not let us down with another raucous evening filled with Congo lines and dancing (even though we were there during early evening 7-10pm). The girls had been determined to get Senior Frogs shirts since we arrived so they got a couple at $20 each. DAY SEVEN; Friday This day ended up being the highlight of our trip. We really ventured out and headed for the mountains; San Sebastian. It took about 1.5 hours from Conchas Chinas and took about a half tank of gas roundtrip. We followed rt 200 around PV then had to turn right (northeast) onto the turnoff labeled Las Juntas Universidad (no route number) just past the airport. This is rt 70 but was not labeled as 70 until a couple miles in to town at a light. This road turns into many different numbers such as 506 and 544, until you get to Stan Sebastian. It is important to watch for landmark towns that you will pass; Ixtapa, Las Palmas, La Estancia. The road signs use these towns to guide you along the way. The road is smooth and well maintained until La Estancia. Then you turn left onto a somewhat unlabeled dirt/cobblestone road, which turns into a dirt road then cobble again. It is hard to believe that you should turn here when you see the road. On this road you wonder if you have made a big mistake but then you are glad you stuck it out. We were in a normal midsized car and made it fine. The turn to San Sebastian in La Estancia was only identified by a poster on a building wall, so watch for it. Then the next few signs are courtesy of a couple San Sebastian establishments marking the way, thank goodness! All along the way we saw many police and military; all with machine guns and bullet proof vests. Either standing on the road side or riding in the back of military vehicles. They were all going the opposite direction; towards PV. We also passed a large prison on the way. The scenery is breathtaking and majestic. You have to pinch yourself to believe it is real. Mostly undeveloped jungles. Soaring lush mountains and deep ravines, bridges over gorges. Many signs warning for falling rocks and you see much erosion that has fallen onto the road. Sometimes the road is covered with crumbled stone that has fallen. Very little side rails. All a two lane winding road. So this drive is not for the faint hearted driver but it was fine for us. Gas was available until just past Las Palmas but we filled up before leaving PV so we were fine, but we still stopped for a potty break and stretching. Lots of unidentified, unmarked speed bumps; watch for them carefully especially in small towns; good tip to watch cars ahead. You could easily damage your car if you fly over these. Otherwise traffic was medium to fast; frequently cars were passing us. Saw interesting road signs that said to watch for boars crossing, ant eaters/armadillos, cattle crossing then bobcats crossing! Never saw any though. Did see lots of interesting cattle; different shaped bodies and heads and many are white and climbing the mountainside. The books talk about going to two places in San Sebastian, which did not work out for us. One is the mines. We were told in town that you can only drive part way and then it is a long walk (15+ minutes) and you need a powerful flashlight and there is little to see when you get there anyway. I guess the interest is the history. We went down the very rough side road to Hacienda Jolisco and were greeted by a man who did not speak English and was not friendly so we left and headed in town. In town, we walked around the square and into the beautiful church. On the square we were very lucky to stumble into El Fortin café. The owners spoke perfect English and were very helpful about the town and sites. Inside the café was also a great art gallery. Check them out at http://www.elfortin.com.mx. Great YouTube videos of the village and sites (at least a dozen). The husband gives tours and tells of the history. Sounds like he has a very nice tour of the town and surrounding area in his vehicle which seats 4 plus himself, otherwise you can follow him in your own car; for $20 per hour. He explained that there is also a free coffee factory tour nearby that we could do on our own or he would take us. And he could have gotten us a tour of Hacienda Jalisco. At the time we were wiped and wanted to relax and have a nice meal and a bottle of wine. El Fortin was the perfect host. We had the best food so far this week; with curry chicken, fantastic meat loaf and home made pizza and Chilean wine. We also purchased many treats from the shop such as locally made tequila and coffee, dressings and chutney, cookies and candies, plus a handmade cross. Our meal plus shopping was a total of 1400 pesos (about 120 dollars). While food was cooking the kids darted in and out of the local shops surrounding the square. It was a heavenly afternoon!! While we sat eating and relaxing we saw a typical tour group come through and were thankful we were not with them! It would be impossible to get the same experience if you did not make this entire discovery yourself. There was a brochure on the counter for an attractive looking retreat resort/spa (Hotel San Sebastian) that they said was a walkable six blocks away but we never made it there to snoop around; which I would have liked to do. If I were to do this over again, I would go early and/or plan for an overnight stay, and hire the El Fortin owner for a day long tour to all the area sites; mines, coffee and tequila factories, Hotel Jalisco and a few others. We got back home around 6:30 and were wiped. The kids jumped in the pool and we cooked our steaks out on the grill and relaxed for the rest of the evening. We knew we had to get up early to pack and leave the next day. We were still excited and enchanted with our experience that day. DAY EIGHT; Saturday Today we had to check out at 10am and our flight left at 2:00pm. They did an inventory and inspection before we left in order not to get charged a deposit. Concerned about time needed for returning the rental car and customs, we decided to head straight for the airport, which turned out to be a good decision. It took us about 45 minutes to get through the car rental return and take the shuttle back to the airport. The car return went fine. It turned out that the computer was down for United and they had to hand write all the boarding passes. We were in line at least an hour or more. After checking in, we purchased a few duty free liquors; they were at least 25-30% cheaper than US stores. There is a limit of two bottles per person. Duty free is allowed on the plane, but no personal beverages (bottled water) were allowed on the plane, even after getting through security and if you purchase it in the gate area. The 3-1- rule was enforced upon boarding the plane! My husband ran back with the unopened bottles and exchanged them for food. We had a connecting flight before getting home. This means that we went through Mexican customs (where your luggage gets ransacked) to get on the flight from PV, and then we debarked at our first American stop and flight change. We had to claim our luggage here and go through American customs where they looked at our passports, read our declaration sheet, and checked our onboard duty free items. At this point they were very concerned about the dressings that I bought in San Sebastian; did I buy it a reputable establishment, was it properly sealed, etc; but they let me keep it. We then had to pick up our luggage (no extra check but they may have done that behind the scenes) and recheck in at the regular ticket counter for our next flight and get our next boarding pass. Good thing we had a 2.5 hour layover. Though I was told by others they did not have to go through this; they were booked all the way through so they did not need to recheck in; they picked up their luggage then the luggage went through a luggage scan and onto the plane and they had their next boarding pass from PV when they boarded in PV. The duty free has to be put in the luggage for the next flight; can not take it through security. Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments: Best_value_plus@yahoo.com
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