Pack a bathing suit, mosquito repellent, and comfortable walking shoes: You’re heading to the jungle. First, grab a spicy breakfast at Birriería Robles (Constitución between Carranza and Cardenas, Zona Romantica), where the goat tacos—topped with fresh cilantro, shredded cabbage, pickled onions, and green chile salsa—are a tasty bargain at about 75 cents each. Walk inland two blocks, to Aguacate and Carranza, and look for a bus with “El Tuito” scrawled on the windshield (buses run regularly), pay the driver $1.50, and climb aboard. Heading south on bumpy Highway 200, you’ll pass five-star resorts, luxury villas, and little pueblitos before arriving, about 40 minutes later, at the Vallarta Botanical Gardens ($5, closed Mondays April-December). Hike on trails that wind through the lush grounds, past vanilla orchids and coffee plants and jungle-size tropical spiders, before ending up at a swimming hole in the mountain river. A glass of iced jamaica tea (included in admission) awaits you post-hike at the river-view Hacienda de Oro restaurant, where you can lunch on steak-and-gouda quesadillas ($9) or shrimp pizza ($17) from the brick oven. In the afternoon, grab a northbound bus to the mellow enclave of Boca de Tomatlan, where the river meets the bay. It’s little more than a sandbar with a few restaurants, bird-watching, and clear water, good for swimming and kayaking. When you’ve had your fill of sleepy beach life, board a bus back toward the city and ask the driver to let you off near Conchas Chinas, an exclusive neighborhood that’s Vallarta’s answer to Beverly Hills. Hail a taxi up the hill to the Mondavi Resort, where the Breathtaking Restaurant has panoramic bay-and-villa views that almost make up for the cheesy name. Sip a cucumber margarita and dine on artfully plated fusion dishes while trying to spot the whales that winter in the Bay of Banderas before the sun sets over the water below.
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5. Oddball Day
Published on Jan 27, 2012 as a web exclusive.