Since I first crossed the border into California nearly two decades ago, the sounds, culture, and tastes of our neighbor to the south have pulled me back again and again.

Partial to the coastal resort towns, my work and personal travels have taken me to the touristy hot spots of Acapulco, Cancun, Los Cabos, and my most recent destination of choice: Puerto Vallarta.  Although I would love to keep this gem all to myself, it’s simply too perfect not to share.

Located on the Pacific Coast of Mexico where Jalisco and Nayarit meet, Puerto Vallarta lies in the heart of Banderas Bay—a quick-to-reach destination via a direct flight from my home base of San Diego, CA.  Gracefully mixing tradition with tourist appeal, the region has received global accolades from travel gurus, including my husband and two young sons.

Being a beach girl at heart, my ideal accommodations in Puerto Vallarta are, of course, along the water. There are numerous options, but there’s no going wrong at Garza Blanca Preserve Resort & Spa, which is flanked by the vibrant blue waters of the Pacific Ocean and the tropical forests of the Sierra Madre Mountains. Another personal favorite, just a short drive from Puerto Vallarta, is Punta Mita. Set on a peninsula, this gated community is home to both a St. Regis and a Four Seasons Hotel.  Also, all-inclusive choices, like the Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit, are abundant in Nuevo Vallarta along Banderas Bay, where the water is warm, calm, and perfect for paddle boarding and novice swimmers.

On my family’s most recent visit, we called Grand Velas our home away from home. This AAA Five-Diamond resort is a sophisticated iteration of the all-inclusive experience. Upon arrival at the Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit, the resort’s dramatic entrance—an open-air palapa lobby with 138-foot ceilings—is a stunning welcome and a mere glimpse of the grand things to come. This is the point at which it became clear to me that a visit to the spa would be in order. However, my active seven- and 11-year old travel companions had other plans in mind.

Clearly, this visit wasn’t about spa sessions and sipping drinks on my favorite honeymoon bed. No, this trip would be about adventure, Puerto Vallarta style. Thankfully, Vallarta Adventures Tours & Activities had dozens of excursions for us to agree, or disagree, on.

After much deliberation, our family decided on the Dolphin Experience and the Off-road Excursion. Doesn’t everyone dream of swimming with dolphins? I know it has been a long-time goal of mine. It was a thrill to accomplish this via the expert trainers at the Dolphin Adventure Center in Nuevo Vallarta. It was my family’s chance to cuddle, play, and swim with these charming and gentle creatures. After wading into the clear shallow waters of the pool, we quickly began to enjoy our dolphin swim experience. Our new friend was easy to love, and her skin was surprisingly soft. We were up close and personal with the dolphin—giving playful hugs and kisses, trying our hands at training and, of course, taking a sweet and swift ride.

Our second excursion took us off the beaten path, literally, as we ventured off-road.  This was truly the ideal way to get away from the touristy attractions and explore the “real” Mexico. For this part of our trip, we hopped into a custom Mercedes Benz jeep for a voyage over chassis-challenging terrain, through mountain streams to the heart of the Sierra Madre. We hiked; we bounced (a lot); and we spent some time at a local Mexican home where we enjoyed freshly prepared corn tortillas, beans, and salsas that were handmade on the spot by the resident matriarch. All in all, from a dream-fulfilling dolphin swim to an off-roading wild time in the jungle, our Mexican adventure was every bit the experience we hoped it would be. And, yes, I did finally get that massage and some quality time with my book on that honeymoon bed.

Things to know before you go

Bring your passports.

Passports are required for adults and children. Also, make sure the expiration date of your passport is more than six-months out from your travel date.

– Ready for adventure?

Most of the Vallarta Adventures’ experiences are for children ages five and older. So, if traveling with young children, confirm the age restrictions before booking.

– Book your Vallarta Adventures’ activities online.

When we traveled, we booked our three different adventures online. The special at the time gave us a “buy two, get one excursion free” offer.

– Yes, it’s safe. 

I cannot tell you how many times people have asked me this question, and, in my experience, yes, it is very safe and a highly recommended travel destination for all ages.

– Arrange for transportation through your resort.

Whether to or from the airport or to your various excursions, consult with the concierge or front desk for your ground transportation accommodations.

– Bring Pesos or U.S. Dollars. 

Most places in Mexico’s resort destination towns accept American currency. However, if you pay in dollars, expect change in pesos. Also, bring two different types of credit cards, as some places may only accept certain types.