These images were taken last winter while in Puerto Vallarta, and I recently brought them all together to create a short video, accompanied by a wonderful song (Samba de Puerto Vallarta) about Puerto Vallarta by Alberto Perez of La Palapa Restaurant. Puerto Vallarta is situated inside the Bay of Banderas in Mexico and this video takes you from its southern shores to its most northerly point, covering all the most popular places in between.
In years past I would hire an airplane so I could take aerial images of the Puerto Vallarta region for our print and online publications. When the market was hot I’d have to go up each year as so much would’ve changed because of real estate development. That said, I hadn’t been up since 2010 as the market in Vallarta really leveled off. But it is in full swing again, so it was time to update our aerial image bank. Even though I no longer have the print business, we did keep our MLS service and we make good use of the aerial images there.
In the past I’d usually go up in a small Cessna where the door had been taken off in order to get better quality images. I’d strap myself in well and then hang out, in order not to get the wing in the images. The pilots I flew with got good at helping me out by flying sideways and lifting the wing, giving me a better angle.
But this year I decided to invest the money I’d spend on plane time into a drone instead, and keep myself safe on the ground. It has given me a lot more flexibility to the type of images I can take, and when I can take them. And it is a lot less expensive.
I prefer panoramic images as they look great on full screen websites, and better reflect what a region looks like. To get these images there is a built-in Pano builder that comes with the software of the Mavic Pro, but I’m not happy with the quality it provides for the finished end product. So I build my own by taking 4-8 vertical images that I overlap by about 25%, and then stitch together using Adobe Photoshop Elements. I’ve tried a few programs that stitch images together but found that Elements definitely does the best job. And the price is right at just $75.00. It is easy to use and rarely do I have to make any further adjustments, except to the lighting, contrast, sharpening and color.
Unfortunately the format I use for this blog doesn’t do these images justice. If you want to see them in a larger format, with information about each development, visit mlsvallarta.com.
Downtown Puerto Vallarta
With the “Malecon” promenade in the foreground and the church and plaza behind.
With the new pier and the popular Los Muertos beach in the foreground, and the hillsides of Amapas behind.
This coastline reminds me of the Cote d’Azur, although with a few more high-rises…
A little to the northwest of Vallarta, and before the airport, is the Hotel Zone, which saw a number of residential high-rises go up between 2003-2010.
One of Mexico’s first mega-developments with a golf course, marina and plenty of real estate and stay options.
Vallarta’s second mega development with four golf courses, two marinas, and lots of real estate options available.
A very high-end real estate development on the most northerly point of Banderas Bay.
A very popular and funky surf town to the north of Vallarta.
A favorite getaway of ours, with a nice left-break surf spot, situated on the south shore of Banderas Bay.
When in Puerto Vallarta I like to start the day with a paddle, and the closest place to do so is in the development we live in, Marina Vallarta, which runs along the shoreline of Banderas Bay. It is a short drive for me to the beach where I can easily launch and go east in front of Marina Vallarta and the hotels and condos, or west in front of the airport and over to the Ameca River.
Where I launch my board, the road parallels a golf course, which has a lot of water hazards populated with crocodiles, especially the holes close to the beach. But I’ve always been told they don’t like salt water and stay around the golf course.
Well, this morning I launched out on my board, stood up and started paddling east, following the shoreline. In front of me I saw what I thought was a palm frond laying in the ocean. As I got close to it I could see the “frond” had horns along its back and tail, and that it was moving towards the beach. I slowed down and watched it cross my path and then go under water. A big crocodile, big, 3-4 meters long, similar to the one in the photo below.
I sat down (to be more sturdy in case I was attacked!), and watched to see if he was actually going to climb out onto the beach. He didn’t come up again. So I paddled a little farther out and waited. He came up again and was now swimming parallel to the beach, heading towards the condominiums nearby. I watched for awhile and then he went under water again. I then decided to continue my paddle eastwards.
On the way back two boats stopped alongside me to warn me about it. And I could see the police on the beach. But I had to get out and to my car, where he last was. So I waited a bit, didn’t see him, and then paddled in and got out quickly. Exciting way to start the day!
In the past, I sometimes have stopped before going in and gone for a swim to cool off, pushing the board in front of me. And did it in this spot just a few days ago. Certainly wouldn’t want to meet up with that in the water.
Note: I’ve found out a little more about the crocs since this episode.
- Seeing crocs here is not uncommon. I’ve since talked with people who have seen them swimming out front of Marina Vallarta from their condo terraces. And heard stories of two people who have come across them while swimming here, but the croc disappeared quickly, swimming away.
- And read this: Though crocodiles have no natural predators, other than humans, it’s wise to keep some kind of barrier between them and us. They are not known to be aggressive and attacks on people are quite rare but we leave it to others to test the theory. Oddly enough, reports over the decades of aggression towards humans have usually dealt with trespassers, turtle egg poachers and, quite often, other illegal activities.
- Crocodiles normally hunt at night and prefer limited moonlight but disruption of their normal habits, due to domestic interference, is not a great surprise. Given that, we are aware of instances in which off-leash dogs have been snapped up by crocodiles. When a dog approaches a crocodile, barking and snarling, the reptile is going to be prone to protect himself. Apparently dogs are a real delicacy for crocs, so it’s always a good idea to keep Fido leashed and in line.
- The American Crocodile (the name of the one most commonly found in Marina Vallarta and the area), is the only one of his species that thrives in both fresh and salt water, which seems to be the result of salt glands under their tongue. This is an unusual attribute.
I’ve come to the conclusion that crocodiles have been swimming in this area for some time, but they avoid contact with humans. They don’t seem them as a food source, and would only attack it seems, if they are cornered, or we enter into their territory. That said, I still don’t feel comfortable swimming behind my board out there, anymore!
A friend sent me this short film he made on the crocodiles in the marina area.
Below are some pictures of the crocodiles on the golf course, about 100 yards from the beach and ocean.
The weather in Puerto Vallarta has been spectacular this year, one of the best that I can remember. Back when the real estate market was booming (2002-2010), I would have to take aerial images of the coastline of the region once a year, because there were so many changes with new project being built. Because of the slowdown, I haven’t had to do aerials in about five years, but probably will need to next year.
One of the problems I had with taking aerials is that the best time was in the fall/winter when the mountains were still green and lush. But there was often a mist that hung over the mountains, and the sunlight would reflect off this, wrecking what would otherwise be good photos. And often in the later part of the day, which is the best time to take photos, clouds would roll in from the south, cover the sun and mountains, making it impossible to take good photos.
Well, this year was certainly different. There have been at least 50 great days or more, where I could’ve gone up and took amazing images. For most of the season the air has been blue, clear and crisp, and little mist or afternoon clouds.
I haven’t take aerials this year, but I have been going around and taking pictures of the different regions of Vallarta, to update the regions pages of our website. I thought I’d share some of them.
Lots of activity in downtown Vallarta these days. Old homes and buildings are being torn down to put of boutique condo buildings with rooftop pools, bars and terraces, that overlook the bay. With prices are $250,000, they’ve been quite popular.
About 20 years ago a very good friend of ours (Sylvie) obtained a concession for some land just south of Puerto Vallarta, near Las Animas. It was right on the beach, with a primary home that was more like a tree house, and a few other thatched roof homes that were used when friends visited. Power lines ran close by so there was electricity, water was obtained by running a hose up a nearby creek, and the home itself was completely open to the elements; no doors (except for the bathroom) and no windows. You could only get there by boat, or walk in for about an hour along a coastal path from Boca de Tomatlán.
Sylvie and her daughter Morgan, along with Flo and I and the kids (Ali and Jeff, aged about 4 and 9 at the time), spent many weekends and holidays at Shangrila, as Sylvie called it, living in the jungle and living a little like Robinson Crusoe.
Sylvie had the place for 3-4 years and over this time other friends of ours built homes close by, who also had kids, and so it was kid’s heaven. We enjoyed swimming, snorkeling, horseback riding on the beach, and with our ski boat the “French Kiss”, skiing and boarding. As adults we had a good time as well, often partying late into the night once the kids went to bed. If we ran out of rum or tequila we’d flag down one of the passing panga water taxis and they’d get pick up a bottle at Boca, put it on our tab, and then as they went by again, without stopping, they’d throw the bottle to us and we’d have to swim out to get it!
Recently we went back to visit the place. It is now a small boutique hotel called Casitas Maraika, meaning more people as hotel guests and visitors who came by boat and drop anchor out front. It seems to have become a new “hot spot” along this coast, a little more upscale and hippyish than Las Animas next door.
We also returned in 2010 on the anniversary of Sylvie’s passing, with Morgan, Ali and their good friend Camilla, to release flowers in front of Shangrila. At the time the Mexican actor Diego Luna was staying at the hotel, although we didn’t know it at the time, but when the girls released the flowers he thought that three fans had discovered where he was and were releasing the flowers into the water for him!
Because of the lack of accessibility by road, and that most of the land on this coast cannot be sold, development, fortunately has been curbed. But it is still quite different from when we had most of it to ourselves. And some of our fondest memories of Sylvie will be of the time we shared with her and Morgan at Shangrila.
There are a couple of islands near Puerto Vallarta, just off the northern point (Punta de Mita) of Banderas Bay, called the Marietas Islands. For years we have visited the islands to explore its many caves, both on land and below with scuba gear. It is riddled with caverns and caves. Today, you are not allowed on land as it is a protected bird sanctuary.
But by water, many tour boats regularly bring people who especially want to see the beach in the photo above. It has become something of a hit on the Internet, with photos of it showing up all over, most often of travel places you just “must see.”
You enter it by swimming through a cave; quite easy at low tide, a little scary at high tide when there are waves as well. Once you’ve made it through though, you’ve got half of a beach, open to the sky, and surrounded by steep walls. It is really quite beautiful and extraordinary.
By the way, the Algarve in Portugal offers something similar, noted here.
I read recently on a British travel blog, the Daily Mail, that these “holes” were created by the Mexican Navy who used it as shell practice during WWII (Check it out here). No truth to that, the islands are naturally this way, and unless the Navy were extremely good shooters, there is no way they could have left such perfect caves and openings such as these! This is simply a case of a tourist guide who became bored with his job (happens a lot), and to make it more interesting, he began embellishing the truth.
If you are in Vallarta, be sure to take in the Marietas Island and this open air, cavern beach. Below is a photo of one of the other “holes” in the island, accessible as well by sea, but no beach.
One of my favorite places to visit when in Puerto Vallarta is Isla Cuale, an island in the middle of the Rio Cuale, a river/creek (depending on the time of year you visit) that runs through Vallarta, meeting up with the sea. Although it is in the middle of the town, there is actually very little traffic on the island, it is an oasis in a city of noise and traffic, a getaway from the hustle and bustle of what has been a town in a constant state of growth for a number of years.
There are no roads on the island, just pathways that meander through very old growth trees such as the Huanacaxtle, a few restaurants, galleries, but mostly outdoor shops that offer the most amazing display of knick-knacks you’ll see anywhere. While on the island, all sounds of traffic disappear. There are two bridges that cross it for vehicles (one above and one on), but those walking mostly use the swaying foot bridges that connect the island to the other shore in four different locations, including a new modern one that although linking into one of Vallarta’s older neighborhoods, Gringo Gulch, fits in rather nicely.
At the upper end of the island is a small viewpoint with a concrete bench that looks up the river. Sitting here you’d never know you were in the middle of a town of around 300,000 people. At the lower end of the island there is a connecting bridge up to a much larger pedestrian bridge, built a few years ago, that connects the two walking promenades of Vallarta together (another great walk). And if you are there, do walk the promenade south to check out the new Vallarta pier, shaped to look like a sailboat.
We’ve spent quite a bit of time in Nice, France recently, which reminds me of Vallarta in some ways, at least geographically speaking. Nice, too, has a river running through it that meets the sea, but Nice decided to build over it, so the river now runs underneath. Gardens and walkways, along with a tram, have been built on top, and it’s all rather nice, but I’d take Vallarta’s natural island escape any day.
We have moved into a new period in our lives. It’s been in process for some time, but recently has been sped up because of our need to be in Europe more for family reasons and because of the recent sale of a property we have in Vallarta. We are down to one “home” now, a home that we actually own, however it is located in a place where we don’t expect to be for more than 4-6 months of the year. For the rest of the year, we’ll be renting (and visiting relatives!). (Update 4/4/13) Continue reading
A few years back I flew from Puerto Vallarta to Magdalenay Bay in a small private plane with a group of friends to see the gray whales at “Mag Bay”, as it is sometimes referred to as. It was not a long flight, a couple of hours, landing close to where we could rent a panga and driver and within a few minutes we were out in the bay with mother whales and their babies.
The calves behaved like puppies. They would come up along side the boat, roll over and look at you, then it would roll over on its back so you could rub its belly, just like a dog would do. As you rubbed harder the whale would start to pant, opening its mouth, and it also enjoyed having the inside of its mouth massaged as well. It’s not as easy to pat a whale as it is a dog, and both get a little tiring after awhile. But when you neglected to rub as hard as the calf would like, or stopped, it would roll back over on its stomach and swim over to another boat looking for someone else to rub its belly.
All during this time the mother whale circled our boat, keeping an eye on all the activity. Quite something! We enjoyed the whales for an hour or so, and a few hours later we were back in Vallarta.