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.
5. Oddball Day
Published on Jan 27, 2012 as a web exclusive.