This Is Us!

We are Cyndi and Al and have been married almost 25 years.  We met in 1992 working as IT geeks doing government contract work.  That seems like a lifetime ago.  We have 2 amazing daughters and a very cool Golden Retriever, named Marly.

As for me, I am a photographer who loves to travel.  I have always liked photography since I was a kid with my little Kodak Pocket Instamatic camera.  I was born in Ohio and had never left the tri-state area of Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana until I was an adult!  I flew on my first plane at age 21 (to Hawaii), and on my second flight, I jumped out.  What a Thrill!  Oh, did I mention that I like adventure too?

We got our first real camera in 2005 – a Canon SLR.  My husband just brought it home one day.  We were leaving for China in about 2 weeks to adopt a baby girl.  We didn’t have time to learn how to use it so we set it to auto and starting clicking.  We were thrilled with our results – until a few years later when we learned how to shoot, but we are so thankful for all the memories our mediocre photos have created for us.

I live in Sarasota FL and I’m thrilled about it.  It’s a wonderful lifestyle if you love beautiful sunny days, the ocean, dolphins, manatees, boating, blooming flowers year round…..there’s so much to love.

We love to travel and have been to many states and a number of countries. I feel very fortunate to live this wonderful life.  We have quite a list of places we still want to visit.

Be sure to check out my website and FaceBook:

http://www.sweetmemories.cc/

https://www.facebook.com/GanleyPhotography/

Other blog sites:

http://www.sweetmemories.cc/blog_china05.html

http://getfitnowblog.com/

https://thebestofsarasota.wordpress.com/

https://vegasandbeyond.wordpress.com/

https://vancouverandalaska.wordpress.com/

 

 

And Now……On to Our Fabulous Mexican Vacation

We traveled to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico last October for our anniversary – no kids included.  We had a terrific time – not necessarily because they weren’t with us.  It was just a great trip.

We spent some of our time away from the resort doing fun exciting excursions, and some days hanging with new friends we met at the airport.  We stayed at Hard Rock Vallarta an all-inclusive resort just outside of downtown.  It’s a very nice, luxury included, resort.

 

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Our suggestions include……don’t overpack.  We always do.  Bring a few nice things for dinners, but focus on casual wear for activities, swimsuits/coverups, flip flops, workout wear, sunscreen, aloe, bug spray, umbrella, sunglasses, hat, beach bag, power strip, zip lock bags, bag for dirty laundry, camera, card, battery, charger, phone/charger, laptop, chapstick, meds.

Research tours and excursions before you travel and book early to avoid sellouts.  Make sure you read some reviews.  There is always such a mix, it’s hard to choose but generally the good ones have a lot more positive than negative.  I go to TripAdvisor.  That is actually the first place I go when we’ve decided on a destination.  I want to see what’s popular in the area.

Leave for your trip with a positive attitude – know you are going to have a great time and do it.  See and do lots of new and exciting things.  Don’t worry or stress about things you cannot control – like weather or how you look in a swimsuit.  Pack accordingly and have backup plans if you need them, and a nice coverup.

I like to leave early.  I believe in getting the most out of your time on this earth, so nothing wasted is a nice motto I like to live by.  Sleeping is for after vacation.

 

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This is AM!  After an hour drive to the airport.

When there is a time change, I try to get on the new time as soon as possible and try not to think about ‘home’ time.

So where are we headed so early in the morning?

 

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We flew from Tampa to Dallas to PVR.  We arrived by early afternoon.

Puerto Vallarta is located on the Pacific Ocean’s Bahía de Banderas aka Banderas Bay.  This is a beautiful very picturesque area with views of the Sierra Madre mountains.

 

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Vallarta Map FUN

 

Lots of locals speak English, but if you know Spanish, even better.  My husband and I along with our older daughter have all taken multiple years of Spanish in school, but sadly none of us can have a conversation.

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During the rainy season, the river that separates the states of Jalisco and Nayarit, runs into the Bay making it somewhat muddy.  My older daughter and I went horseback riding along this river in 2006 and it looked like a milky chocolate river.  There were lots of flies biting us all along the way.  Crocs were at the edge of the water, which was interesting to see.  I would not do that tour again – maybe ever – definitely not in the summer.  So many better things to do and nicer things to see.

 

 

 

 

 

What a Pleasant Surprise!

Well, based on the number of Ohio license plates, Florida is the number 1 vacation destination for Buckeyes, but where do Floridians vacation?  There were 4 couples in our van from the airport to the resort – 3 from Bradenton and 1 from the Villages (near Ocala). What are the chances?!?  We were all on the same flight and all went to the Hard Rock Vallarta.  At check in, we met a group from Cincinnati. Then we wandered down to the beach and met 2 more couples – 1 from Bradenton and 1 from Akron. Unbelievable! We’ve met no one else so far! One of the Bradenton couples has a son who lives in our neighborhood.  Small world.

 

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This area is probably the most scenic beach vacation we ever take.  The bay is magnificent and being surrounded by mountains is a bonus.

 

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It’s just WOW!

Fun at the Pool!  Order drinks and food and get them served right at the pool.  The swim up bars are fun too.  Stay cool and enjoy a refreshing beverage.  This is a smaller resort so the walk from your room to the pool to the beach is very short.  I Love It Here!

 

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I just had to post this one from the past (2009)…….you can’t help but smile when you see this little face!

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I think this was our last dinner in Vallarta.

 

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Our friend, Billy, met with one of the chef’s and asked him to make all of us a special dinner, shrimp scampi.  He agreed but was not working on this night, so he left our order for someone else to prepare.  This cook did not know how to make shrimp scampi so he sent some of the wait staff to our table to ask us how to make it.  We gave them some instructions, in English of course, and after a few minutes, they left our table with confused faces.  We all laughed and wondered what we might be getting.  I must say, they did an excellent job for what they knew.  It certainly wasn’t the best we’d ever had, but it was quite tasty and we didn’t go ‘home’ hungry.  What a fun fun night!!!

 

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Our new friends invited us to see Rhythms of the Night.  We traveled across the bay by catamaran to a private beach, lit only by candles and lanterns, where we watched an outdoor Cirque style show.  Pretty Cool.  They had little restaurants set up all along a nice path where they served us dinner.  The boat had great entertainment.  It was so much fun!!!  In the past, we have also taken sunset cruises that are nice too.

 

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We spent plenty of time with our new FL friends – lots of laughs and stories.  This was on the catamaran to Rhythms of the Night.  We all got free tickets by sitting through a vacation package presentation.  It’s a hard core sell.  Painful and painfully long.  We always say we won’t do it again and every now and then, we do.

 

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Rhythms of the Night show.  He had front row seats.  The weather was beautiful.  Dinner was good.  The private beach where they took us was nicely done and the water was WOW!   Even though it was dark when we arrived, the water was lit by the docks and the boats and it was crystal clear.  We could see so many fish, large and small, swimming around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eat the Seafood!

When it arrives by boat on the beach, you eat it.

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Our resort set up big tents and prepared fresh fish, veggies, coconut drinks and other yummies right on the beach for lunch for us.  NICE!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Venture Out By ATV

Four Wheelers are a great way to travel and an amazing way to see Puerto Vallarta and Banderas Bay.  Estigo Tours did a great job for us.  They give everyone a clean bandana to borrow to cover your mouth and nose in case it’s dusty off-roading or just to look cool.  We just used ours to look cool.  I think it worked!  Just look at us!!!

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No experience is necessary to drive the 4 wheelers – just a valid driver’s license.  They teach you how to shift, back up and drive fast.  What else do you need?  If you’re not a fast learner, you do at least have on a helmet.

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This was a great tour around the town and into the mountains.  This was also a private tour with just us and our guide.  He knew the area well and was full of information.  He took pictures all day and then sent them to my email before I was even back to the hotel for FREE.  Nobody gives you pictures for free anymore.  What a great added touch.  I would definitely recommend this company.  Very friendly and accommodating.  They hooked us up with Alberto, our driver for the afternoon.  We did this trip in the morning – maybe 9am.

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Bring or wear sunscreen.  Our tour was plenty sunny!  I love the sun.

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We left the downtown store on the 4 wheelers and drove through town a little ways.  WOW were those cobblestone streets bumpy!  Lots of interesting sights along the way.  Traffic watched out for us.  Not scary at all.  Not even intimidating.

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After the town, we went into the jungle.  I had no idea the ride could get bumpier.  I’ve done ATVs through the jungle before – several times.  I had my big camera with me and only a little hand towel from the hotel and a dry bag.  I don’t know why I wasn’t better prepared.  I am the one who booked the trip so I know what to expect.  I wrapped the camera and flash in the towel and secured it in the bag and tucked it into the trunk compartment.  There was nothing else in there so it was free to slide and bounce around.  I was a little nervous.  Well maybe more than a little.

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About 30 – 45 minutes later, we arrived at our first stop.  I was so nervous to open the trunk and see if my camera had survived.  For the entire off-road journey, I kept hearing a banging noise and I knew for sure that it was my camera bouncing around.  Once our guide opened the compartment, I cautiously opened the bag and pulled out my camera.  All looked good.  I turned it on and took a picture.  YEAH!  It had survived.  The bag hadn’t even moved from the corner I tucked it into.  WOW!  The noise I had heard – the banging – was the lid not being secure.  I was so happy.

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Our first stop was a nice park part way up the mountain and very scenic.  We had time to hike around on our own.

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We went to the last bay town on the road leading out of Vallarta for lunch, Boca de Tomatlán, an authentic Mexican fishing village.  Our guide had told us about the wonderful fish they serve, fresh caught each morning, so I had to have it.  I didn’t even look at the menu.  He ordered it for me and then it arrived!

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Doesn’t that look amazing!

No!  I didn’t think so either.  ‘OMG!  What am I going to do with this?’  That my first question.  I would never have ordered a whole fish, but I was so glad I did after I got over the shock of seeing it on my plate and ate it.  It was delicious and wonderful and WOW!  We have Thai Fry in FL but they don’t put the yummy spicy sauce on and I haven’t yet figured out how to make it.

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This is truly a beachside lunch.

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What an amazing place to have lunch.  We were just feet from the water enjoying fresh seafood, homemade fresh salsa, guac, and chips.  It was just GREAT!  Be sure to visit Mi Ranchito Seafood Bar & Grill.  You won’t regret it.

Here is my review:  https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g664429-d3809416-r534196410-Mi_Ranchito-Boca_de_Tomatlan.html

It’s a 5 star.

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We booked this tour online thru Estigo Tours. They had great reviews and kept in contact with me via email.  All 3 of the tours we booked with them were private.  How awesome is that??  They gave me great directions for our taxi driver and everyone at the store was friendly and helpful when we showed up.  After we returned, they seemed to genuinely care that we had a good time.

 

We had a great time!!!

Here is my review:   https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g150793-d1832312-r534186710-Estigo_Tours-Puerto_Vallarta.html

In case you can’t read it, it’s a 5 star.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yelapa! One of Our Favorite Excursions

We booked a private boat tour with Jet – Jet’s Private Boat Tours – through Estigo Tours.  We had a terrific time on our tour with Jet, the owner. He showed us parts of Vallarta we had never seen.

Here’s my review:  https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g150793-d12357208-r534187052-Jet_s_Private_Boat_Tours-Puerto_Vallarta.html

It’s a 5 star.

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He took us to private beaches and beach towns only accessible by boat, and to snorkeling places with so many colorful fish.

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We explored an abandoned beach house on a beautiful private beach.  It was truly amazing.  Since our tour was private, we could stay pretty much as long as we wanted.  We spent about 4 hours with Jet.
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This could be such a cool place if someone put some money and work into rehabbing it.  Where are Chip & Jo???

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Looking out from the house.

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What an amazing place!  What an amazing day!

 

After cruising along a scenic shoreline, well beyond where there are any roads, We arrived at Yelapa.

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Yelapa is built right into the side of a steep hill. We climbed and experienced a small piece of their lifestyle. They have no cars and no paved roads. Access is by boat only.

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We walked the streets of a quaint Mexican village, Yelapa, that only got electricity 10 years ago and internet 1 year ago.

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We saw so many cool sights along our journey.  Once we arrived at Yelapa, we walked through the town and met some locals. The town bar is a guy with a few beers.

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Jet is friendly, knowledgable, flexible, and fun and easy to talk to. He speaks fluent English and Spanish.

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They have narrow cobblestone streets for 4 wheelers, horses, donkeys, dogs, and pedestrians.

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We hiked up the side of the mountain to a waterfall.  This is where the town’s drinking water comes from.

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More amazing views and good times from our Yelapa day.

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About 1500 people live there. They have a school and a church.

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We crossed a river in our bare feet and headed to the bay town for lunch.  Delish!

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Lunch beachside.

Some of us sampled homemade moonshine. We both enjoyed fresh seafood and guac.

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A quote from my hubby……’I’m always amazed at the things you’ll do withOUT alcohol! I guess I’ll just have to imagine the things you would do WITH alcohol.’

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The Pie Lady is known far and wide and by many – even outside of the town. People at the hotel told us about her and both of our taxi drivers (to and from) love her pies. One of  the concierge girls we met at the resort asked us to bring her back a piece of pie, so we brought enough for us and our new Bradenton friends too.  We tried several varieties – YUM! You buy them right out of her tupperware – right off of her head!

So many very cool experiences!

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Just Cruising.

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You won’t find this in hotel zone or downtown PVR.

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The view from Yelapa looking over the bay.  Gorgeous!

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What an amazing day!

We would definitely recommend this trip.  We hope to return during whale season and book another tour with Jet to go out to see them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoy Your Resort…..Relax A Little

Our first ‘no kid’ vacation in quite a while has begun.
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Amazing Bahía de Banderas!

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Although almost nothing washes up on this beach, we rescued at least 10 sand dollars in low tide (that was for you Abby), but we kept the cone-shaped shells because we’ve never seen them before and they were empty! The water temp was between 86 and 88 – pretty warm!

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We bought a ‘vacation package’ in 2006 while vacationing at the Moon Palace in Cancun.  We have used it many times and the Hard Rock Vallarta is part of that package so we’ve been here 3 times (2006, 2009, 2017).  The rooms are comfy but not overly spacious which is fine because we don’t spend much time there.  We like to be out enjoying and exploring.

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The pools and spa are great.  I usually get at least one massage and a pedicure.  Our girls always get manis and pedis.  The view from the salon is gorgeous.

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This beautiful view makes you forget that someone is ‘torturing’ your feet with sharp instruments – my husband, who hates to get pedicures reluctantly agreed to go.  I think he only cried a little:)

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The resort is all-inclusive which we love.  No need to carry around money or cards – just order what you like – tips are already included too.  If you don’t like what you ordered, order something else.  Drinks are included too.  Even though I always tell everyone that I don’t drink, I do enjoy a few cocktails while vacationing.  I prefer grasshoppers and after I’ve had a few, I like to call them grasshoppas – my Boston accent.

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We like to have fun with the staff and they generally love to have a good time with the guests.  One of our pool waiters ‘borrowed’ a guest’s scooter and used it to deliver drinks.  The man thought it was a riot!  One day, the same waiter jumped in the pool – shoes and all and served drinks dripping wet.  It was a hot day!  The staff is happy that the Americans are there and are very friendly and accommodating.  They go over and above and that makes us want to come back.  We don’t get that kind of service everywhere else that we go.

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The first thing we noticed when we got to the beach was all the tall beautiful palms have been replaced with just a few new smaller palms.

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An arial view of Hard Rock Vallarta.  It is all-inclusive and a super nice resort.  The staff is great – very helpful and friendly.

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In October 2015, Hurricane Patricia, a Category 5 storm, the most powerful cyclone ever measured in the Western Hemisphere with sustained wind speeds up to 200 mph hit near here and wiped out the palms. According to the locals, Puerto Vallarta has never been directly hit by a hurricane.

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The door to……..

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Gorgeous beach front property with amazing views of the Sierra Madre mountains and the massive Banderas Bay.  What a wonderful get-away!!!

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No worries.  There a few of these guys around but they are harmless and much more fearful of us than we are of them.

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I love how their colors change.

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During our first stay here, my 10 year old daughter, Stephanie (who is now 23) and I tried the Vallarta style of parasailing.  You put your harness on on the beach and then run on the sand until the boat lifts you up.  Awesome view from the air!  Then when it’s time to land, they set you down fairly gently on the beach and you run until you can stop yourself.  It seemed very intimidating, but once we did it, we thought it was easy.  I don’t think they do it that way any more.  Since then, we have always been lifted from the back of a boat.

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We visited the resort next door and found this gorgeous area.

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Looking south from Hard Rock.

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See the Countryside

There is so much more to Vallarta than just the resort areas and downtown.  Puerto Vallarta is located on the Pacific Ocean’s Bahía de Banderas aka Banderas Bay.  We love to venture out and see how the locals live, experience their culture and eat authentic food.

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The drive along the coast is amazing and so very different from the tourist areas.  Sometimes you are high above the water and sometimes you are almost at sea level – both giving very unique views.

Over the years, we’ve left the town several different ways (taxi, bus, 4 wheeler, private driver).  Twice we hired a driver.

In 2006 we were vacationing with our 2 young daughters.  Our 2 year old was hot (August) and needed a nap.  Our private driver/tour guide, who we found in a downtown church, drove us around in his Yukon XL (lots of good A/C) while we saw the sights and our baby napped.  It was great.  He knew a lot about the area and then he took us to our resort.  Great trip.  Nice guy.

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Our private driver, Alberto, on our most recent trip (October 2017) took us around the bay, up to the mountains, down to the beaches, out to where the road ends, and around town and made lots of stops so that we could get out and take pictures.

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His English was pretty good, but we spent our driving time teaching each other English and Spanish words and talking about our kids.  He even showed us where to get the biggest selection of tequila for the best price – where the locals shop.  We took some home to our babysitter (that 2 year old is now 13) and dog sitter.

He even circled the Puerto Vallarta sign in heavy traffic to make sure that I got a good image.  He even made an extra stop so we could see some big crocs and arrived at our resort just before a big storm.

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On our 2006 trip, we took a bus out to Los Arcos.  I knew I loved it from the start.  I knew that some day I would swim or kayak or snorkel or paddle board or something…..in that amazing water around those fascinating rocks.

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When our bus stopped for pics of Los Arcos, someone put an iguana on our heads and shoulders so we took pictures of that too.

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He seemed friendly enough – the iguana I mean – I don’t even remember the guy.

Next we toured a tequila farm and some of us even had samples.  The tour was interesting but I don’t like tequila so this little piggy had NONE!

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Downtown PVR

Puerto Vallarta is sometimes referred to as PVR – its airport symbol, or just Vallarta.  No trip is complete without a visit to the old downtown area with its cobblestone streets, beautiful churches, statues along the water, the flea market, sand sculptures, and so much more.

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Before we headed out, we exchanged some US dollars for Mexican pesos.  Our resort had the best exchange rate and did not charge a fee.  It seems that the taxi drivers prefer to be paid in pesos but they do accept dollars.  Check with your hotel valet for expected taxi rates before you leave.  If your rate is too high, you can negotiate.  The flea market and street vendors mostly deal in cash – US or Mexican.

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Downtown is very walkable.  We’ve never felt threatened or scared any time we’ve been in Puerto Vallarta.  The Malecon is definitely the tourist area with plenty of shops, restaurants, street vendors, statues, and even beaches.

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I love the arches.  They are sometimes hard to get without people.

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On this particular day, there was an art show.

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I took this in 2017.

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And this in 2006 – it’s changed a little.  The one with all the letters is hard to get with no people – even during off season.  Be patient.

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The church is just 1 block from the water.  It’s tall.  You can’t miss it.

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The streets are full of cute buildings, old architecture, little shops, cars, bikes, scooters, and tourists.  It’s crowded but not terrible.  Some of the streets are cobblestone – rough ride but cool to see.

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We’ve shopped at the flea market several times.  There are great deals there.  Decide how much something is worth to you and make an offer.  I don’t try to get something for nothing.  I realize these people are here to make a living, so I don’t necessarily try to get them to their lowest price.  I just want to pay what’s it’s worth to me.

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I love seeing the sand sculptures along the beach.

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More street statues.

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Watch for unique ‘ART’ everywhere you look.

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Beware of the street vendors.  They ask you again and again to buy their ‘goods’.  Check out the flea market.  You can find nearly any kind of ‘treasure’ there.  They will negotiate also.

If you just gotta do it…..there are plenty of tourist hot spots.

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If you love lighthouses, don’t plan on seeing any lighthouse tours in your search.  I think this is the only lighthouse we’ve seen in PVR.

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Found these super cute girls just sitting on the wall.

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Here is my review:  https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g150793-d2440853-r534187484-Puerto_Vallarta_s_El_Malecon_Boardwalk-Puerto_Vallarta.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Los Arcos

From the first time I saw Los Arcos, I knew that I wanted to swim, snorkel, paddle board, or kayak there.  I didn’t care which one.  I just knew that I wanted to get in the amazing crystal clear blue water and enjoy the beauty of the rocks rising up out of the ocean.
It did not disappoint!

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Do you see the turtle?

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How about now?

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We saw lots of different kinds of fish and birds and even spotted a Blue Footed Booby.  Thanks to our guide for helping us find the hidden birds and identify them and some fish too.

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The caves have a very distinct smell – maybe it’s the bats that live in there.  Even though it’s dark inside, you can still see into the water.  Outside the caves, you can see all the way to the bottom.

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We loved our time here.  I suggest going early in the morning before the snorkeling boats show up and the water gets choppy.

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Such a cool tour.  Would definitely do it again.

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We booked this trip through Estigo Tours but the company that took us out was Paddle Zone located in Mismaloya.  Our tour was just the 3 of us, my husband, our guide, and me.  Our guide was very knowledgable and friendly.  We stayed out about 2 – 3 hours or so.  It was a good amount of time.  We swam and snorkeled too.  Would definitely recommend.

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Paddle Zone is a little hard to find on the hillside so pay attention closely to the directions.  It’s worth it.  Be sure to sign their guest surf board.

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Here is my review.  https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g1015495-d11824250-r534191735-Paddle_Zone-Mismaloya.html

It’s a 5 star!