A few years ago my wife and I took a Mexican Riviera cruise. The journey was kind of sentimental, because we had honeymooned in Ensenada in 1957, and drove down what was then a new West Coast highway to Mazatlan in 1958.
Back then we had wanted to go to Puerto Vallarta, which was new and hip and certainly the “in” place at the time. But the road into Puerto Vallarta off the coastal road starting in Tepic was still nothing more than a jungle track. It was impassable for our Chevrolet convertible.
As we got older, and had our kids, we did get to Puerto Vallarta from time to time by air — and fell in love with it. We stayed in hotels and pensions near the south end of town at Playas de Los Muertos. Yes, the Beach of the Dead. Some say the name comes from a drowning in times long past. Others attribute it to a cemetery that was at one time nearby, and still others give credit to a raid by pirates on a nearby town. Who really knows? The cult of death plays a big role in Mexican folk lore, and constitutes a huge day of celebration and remembrance, the Day of the Dead, a big tradition on the day after Halloween.
So, years after our first encounter with Puerto Vallarta, we began considering our next cruise destination, and a cruise to Mexico seemed to fit our needs to a T. Once in port we decided to forego any organized tours and strike out on our own, travelling just as we had so many years before. We had purchased good guide books before we boarded, and felt we could rely on them. We considered the language barrier but figured many locals would speak English because of the number of tourists in the area. And we knew we could always ask the friendly locals should we lose our bearings.
So the moment we debarked from the ship we walked down the pier to the main highway into town. The cruise ship harbor is on the very far north end of Puerto Vallarta. We hopped a municipal bus heading south, and would you know, it took us to a bus staging area within a few easy blocks of our destination, Playa los Muertos. So we walked the short distance, keeping the ocean on our right, and then we were there.
We found an old and now unused pier next to a wonderful old Mexican hotel. Our beach destination was just south of the pier. We walked down the beach a few yards, found a nice spot, rented two beach chairs and an umbrella, ordered a pitcher of fresh margaritas only the Mexicans know how to make, and let the world go by.
We had lovely memories of this spot from long ago. There are good restaurants right on the beach in big palm fronded palapas – basically large huts with no walls. A big and a very good one of these restaurants is, in fact, named “La Palapa.” The water was warm, and the drinks delicious, as was our lunch later. Banderas Bay, on which Puerto Vallarta is situated, is vast. We were in shorts, so we waded along the gentile surf line to our delight.
We rolled up our tent, so to speak, late in the afternoon, made our way to the bus park, found a bus going north and told the driver to let us know when we reached the harbor. As we boarded the ship, we felt we had relived a magical moment in our life.
To this day, we remember our Mexico cruise vividly and with great fondness. What’s even more wonderful, Playa de los Muertos is still there waiting for you.