Just across the Avenida Vallarta (downstream) bridge stands the renovated Hotel Encino-Suites Plaza del Río (Av. Juárez 122, tel. 322/222-0051 or 322/222-0280, in Mexico 01-800/326-3600, fax 322/222-2573, www.hotelencino.com). The lobby opens into a pleasant tropical fountain-patio, enfolded by tiers of 75 rooms that go for about $56 s, $62 d high season; ask for a low-season paquete (discount package). Inside, the rooms are tastefully decorated in blue and white, many with ocean or city-hill views. Many large, similarly appointed one- and two-bedroom kitchenette suites (about $82 low season, $110 high) are available in an adjoining building. The hotel climaxes at the rooftop pool and sundeck, where guests enjoy a panoramic view of the surrounding jungly hills above the white-stucco-and-tile old town, spreading to the blue, mountain-rimmed bay. Monthly rental discounts can run as much as 50 percent, and amenities include air- conditioning in rooms (no a/c in suites), phones, security boxes, and restaurant/bar.
Back just south of the river, at the downhill corner of I. Vallarta and A. Serdán, the diminutive Hotel Posada Río Cuale (Av. Aquiles Serdán 242, tel./fax 322/222-0450 or 322/222-0914, riocuale [at] prodigy [dot] net [dot] mx) packs a lot of hotel into a small space. Good management is the key to this picturesque warren of 20 rooms that clusters beside its good restaurant/bar and a small but pleasant pool and patio. Tasteful brown-and-brick decor makes the rooms somewhat dark, especially on the ground floor. Artful lighting, however, improves this. Rentals run $47 d low season, $65 d high season, with air-conditioning; credit cards accepted. Unless you like diesel-bus noise, try to avoid getting a room on the busy Avenida Vallarta side of the hotel.
A few blocks farther south on Playa los Muertos, the seven-story apartment-style Hotel-Suites Emperador (Amapas 114, tel. 322/222-5143, fax 322/222-1767, www.hotelemperadorpv.com) offers oceanview lodgings at moderate prices. Although the hotel fronts the beach, it has no beach entrance nor beach facilities. It does, however, offer guests a small but inviting pool and patio half a block away. The hotel, in two sections (formerly Hotel Las Glorias and Suites Emperador, respectively) on opposite sides of Amapas, offers either hill views ($50 d low season, $65 d high) or ocean views ($65 d low season, $95 d high), with air-conditioning, phones, TV, and credit cards accepted.
Also south of the river, the seven-story high-rise moderately priced Hotel Gaviotas Vallarta (Madero 176, tel. 322/222-1500 or 322/222-5518, fax 322/222-5516, www.hotelgaviota.com) is curiously hidden, though just half a block from the Playa los Muertos. Clean, well managed, and recently renovated, the hotel rises in eight tile-and-brick stories around an inviting plant-decorated interior pool patio. A small Internet snack bar serves guests downstairs, while upstairs, guests enjoy ocean vistas directly from their rooms or from arch-framed breezeways just outside their doorways. The 84 clean and comfortable semi-deluxe rooms run about $50 s, $55 d with fan, $75 and $83 with air-conditioning; add $7 for TV.
Head directly upstream to the Avenida Insurgentes bridge and you’ll find Casa del Puente (Av. Insurgentes, tel. 322/222-0749, from the U.S. 415/513-5313 or 888/666-9540, www.casadelpuente.com) tucked on the north riverbank upstream from a bridge-front sidewalk restaurant. The elegant villa-home of Molly Stokes, grandniece of celebrated naturalist John Muir, Casa del Puente is a lovely home away from home. Antiques and art adorn the spacious, high-beamed-ceiling rooms, while outside its windows and around the decks great trees spread, tropical birds flit and chatter, jungle hills rise, and the river gurgles, hidden from the city hubbub nearby. Molly offers three lodging options: an upstairs river-view room with big bath and double bed ($40 low season, $60 high), a spacious one-bedroom/one-bath apartment ($50 d low season, $90 d high), and a two-bedroom/two-bath apartment ($60 low, $95 high), with wireless Internet access. Discounts may be negotiated, depending upon season and length of stay. Reserve early for the winter season.
Right across the street, check out Casa María Elena (Francisca Rodríguez 163, tel. 322/222-0113, fax 322/223-1380, mariazs [at] prodigy [dot] net [dot] mx, $35 low season, $50 high). Here, eight attractive fan-only brick-and-tile units stand in a four-story stack on a quiet, cobbled side street just a block and a half from the beach. The immaculate, light, and spacious units have living room with TV, bedroom, and modern kitchenettes (toaster oven and coffeemaker). A one-week rental gets a 10 percent discount; longer-term discounts are negotiable. Guests also enjoy the option of in-house Internet access and three weekly hours of free Spanish language or cooking lessons taught by the owner, María Elena Zermeño.
Recent renovations have boosted the venerable Hotel Eloisa (Calle Lázaro Cárdenas 170, tel./fax 322/222-6465, 322/222-0286, or 322/223-3650) from ho-hum to invitingly attractive. Find it two blocks south of the river, on the quiet, bus-free north (cul-de-sac) side of Plaza Lázaro Cárdenas. The hotel’s five floors of approximately 75 rooms ($55 d low season, $65 d high) and kitchenette studios and suites ($20 more) enclose an appealingly light and airy inner atrium. Downstairs, past the small lobby, guests enjoy a modest restaurant/bar and a small but inviting pool patio. Upstairs, standard-grade rooms are decorated with white tile floors, pastel bedspreads, king-size (or a pair of double) beds, modern shower baths, and pleasingly traditional wood furniture and doors. Many rooms open to sunny plaza-view balconies. Studios and suites are similarly decorated but larger, with kitchenettes, one or two bedrooms, and a living/dining room. A breezy rooftop sundeck with a view completes the attractive picture. All rooms have satellite TV and air-conditioning or fans (or both), and it’s only a block from the beach. Discounts for long-term rentals are negotiable.
Another good choice, two blocks uphill from the beach in the heart of the Olas Altas neighborhood, is the Hotel Vallarta Sun (Francisca Rodríguez 169, tel./fax 322/223-1523, vallartasun [at] usa [dot] net, $65 d/day, $1,200/month year-round). Here, about 20 spacious rooms with balconies overlook a sunny pool patio. Inside, rooms are clean, attractive, and comfortable, with modern-standard bathrooms and queen-size beds.
The Hotel Los Arcos Vallarta (M. Dieguez 171, tel. 322/222-0712, www.playalosarcos.com, $62 d low season, $80 d high) is two blocks south, on a quiet cul-de-sac. Its amenities include a rooftop pool patio with a city and hill view. The Arcos Vallarta (formerly Hotel Fontana) is a sister property of (and is reservable through) the Hotel Playa Los Arcos (described later in this section), and has 42 thoughtfully furnished pastel rooms built around a soaring interior atrium; credit cards are accepted.
Vacationers who need beachfront ambience often pick the Hotel San Marino (Rudolfo Gómez 111, tel. 322/222-1555 or 322/222-3050, www.hotelsanmarino.com), right in the middle of the Playa los Muertos action. The San Marino’s soaring palapa restaurant patio opens to an oceanfront pool and courtyard with a sundeck. Occupants of all 160 renovated, marble-floored, pastel-and-white rooms ($90 d low season, $100 d high) and suites ($110 d low season, $125 d high) enjoy city, mountain, or ocean views, with air- conditioning, cable TV, phones, and access to the bar and two restaurants.
A major Olas Altas neighborhood activity hub is the Hotel Playa Los Arcos (middle of the block between Calles Basilio Badillo and M. Dieguez), a favorite of a generation of savvy American and Canadian winter vacationers. The Playa Los Arcos (Olas Altas 380, tel. 322/222-0583 or 322/222-7100, U.S. tel. 800/648-2403, Can. tel. 888/729-9590, fax 322/222-7104, www.playalosarcos.com) is the flagship of a triad that includes the nearby Hotel Los Arcos Vallarta and the apartments at Suites Los Arcos; it handles bookings for all three and guests are welcome to enjoy all of the Playa Los Arcos’s leisurely beachfront facilities.
All three of these lodgings have swimming pools and many comfortable, tastefully decorated, air-conditioned rooms with TV, phones, and small refrigerators in many rooms. The mecca, however, is the bustling Playa Los Arcos, with its compact palm- and vine-decorated inner pool patio, restaurant with salad bar, live music every night, and beach chairs in the sand beneath shady palms or golden sun. The Hotel Playa Los Arcos’s 175 rooms rent from about $90 d low season, approximately $100 d high season, for economy-grade rooms. More spacious superior-grade rooms, some with ocean views, run about $117 d low season, $125 d high season; credit cards are accepted. Many guests pay much less by prebooking bargain air-hotel packages through travel agents or the Internet. Moreover, during low season (May–mid-July, Sept., Oct., and sometimes Nov., and even Jan.) all three hotels often offer special promotions, such as a 20 percent senior discount, two kids under 12 free when sharing a room with parents, long-term discounts, or third night free.
The family-friendly Hotel Tropicana (Amapas 214, tel. 322/222-0912, fax 322/222-6737, standard room $85 d low season, superior $20 more, with breakfast; add about 15 percent high season) is one of the plushest hotels on Playa los Muertos. Guests benefit both from spacious rooms in a brand-new wing and an airy pool patio and a flock of beachfront amenities—sundeck, restaurant, volleyball, and shady palapas—that spread all the way to the surf. Upstairs, virtually all of the comfortable, older semi-deluxe standard- grade rooms and the newer superior-grade deluxe rooms enjoy private balconies and ocean vistas. All rooms have air-conditioning and cable TV, and credit cards are accepted. It won’t hurt to ask for a promotional price (“promoción”), especially weekdays and low season.
The all-inclusive family-friendly Club Meza del Mar (Amapas 380, tel. 322/222-4888, fax 322/222-2308, www.clubmeza.com) that stairsteps uphill from Playa los Muertos. A host of longtime returnees swear by the hotel’s food, service, and friendly company of fellow guests, who, during the winter, seem to be divided equally between Americans and English- and French-speaking Canadians. The Meza del Mar’s 127 rooms and suites are distributed among two adjacent buildings: the Main Tower, a high-rise with view overlooking the pool deck, and the Ocean Building, a three-story tier with views right over the beach. Guests in the preferred rooms, most of which are in the Ocean Building, enjoy private balconies and the sound of the waves outside their window. Other guests are quite happy with the expansive ocean view from the top floors of the Main Tower.
The rooms themselves, while not super- deluxe, are comfortably furnished, many in the Mexican equipal style of handcrafted leather furniture. All rooms have air- conditioning, but no TV or phones, and only limited wheelchair access; all are clean and semi-deluxe, but they vary, so ask to see others if your assignment isn’t satisfactory. Rates vary according to season and grade of room and include all food (not gourmet, but wholesome), drinks, and entertainment in the hotel’s restaurants, bars, pools, and beachfront club. All-inclusive rates for two adults, for a minimum three-night stay, run about $140 ($170 holidays) for a comfortable standard-grade room and $240 ($280 holidays) for a semi-deluxe oceanview one-bedroom suite. Other options include bare-bones budget rooms for about $100 ($140 holidays) and deluxe two-bedroom oceanview suites for $280 ($340 holidays). Ask about promotions, such as “free” nights and “half price” weeks that are often available any time other than holidays. (Note: Although the hotel does accept walk-in guests at the above quoted rates, reservations from outside Mexico must be made through their Denver, Colorado, agent, via U.S. tel. 303/321-7779 or 888/694-0010, fax 303/322-1939, and will differ, principally because they must include air transportation to Puerto Vallarta.)
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Puerto Vallarta, 7th edition