Instant Improver

Mexico: Is It Worth A Trip?

"Sterling to Pesos, please."

"Cancun or Mexico City?"

With 2015 billed the 'Year of Mexico' by the UK tourism board, it's a request that bureau de change cashiers have been hearing a lot of lately - but their assumption on destinations needs updating.

While Brits have usually headed to Mexico in search of Spring Break chaos or the hubbub of one of the world's biggest cities, new direct flights have opened up between Puerto Vallarta and both Manchester and London, an 11-hour flight transporting you to a leafy, elective alternative.

We were invited to take part in the Punta Mita Gourmet and Golf Classic tournament - a fusion of jaw-dropping courses, of both the 18 hole and culinary variety. We were sceptical: isn't Mexico in the grip of cartel wars and questionable political dealings? A weekend of nibbles and tee shots didn't fit with (an admittedly pop culture-fuelled) image of gangs and crooks - but it's exactly this image that the Mexican tourism industry is working to counter.

Puerto Vallarta is situated on the Western coast of the Jalisco state - a region famed for the city of Guadalajara, agave crops, its tequila production and the eponymous town of Tequila. The portal town has long been a haunt of US and Canadian tourists looking to escape for some winter sun - mention that you're from the UK and the locals are thrilled at the notion a tourist has flown all this way to visit their seaside escape. It's homely, hospitable, with a great deal more cultural identity about it than the likes of Cancun.

A half hour drive up the coast and you'll arrive in the neighbouring state of Nayarit - a region that caters to back-packers and A-listers alike. The Kardashians are regulars at the St Regis Punta Mita resort, while the Mexican president is said to be building a holiday home on the same stretch of coast - while world-weary bohemians beat a trail to the surf town of Sayulita

From water sports to golfing trips, coastal strolls to reef dives, it's time to rethink your idea of Mexico. Yes - you'll hear stories of clashes between cartels and local police forces, but these are isolated, seldom-seen events. While we were staying in the region there was a minor incident that saw some US and Canadian tour operators look to cancel cruise liner stop offs, but it was swiftly resolved. 

So don't be put off by the headlines, Tweets or images of burnt out cars - if you've pondered what Mexico has to offer besides its vast capital and Spring Break centre, get yourself to Puerto Vallarta and start exploring. 

  • Mexico: Is It Worth A Trip?

    Whale Watching

    Humpbacks, to be specific. The tour books will talk of the Jalisco's Puerto Vallarta and Nayarit's Punta Mita as having some of "the most spectacular coastlines on the West Coast of Mexico", but they're underselling it. If you're a European with even a passing interest in wildlife, the surrounding beaches and hills will stagger you with the casual offering of their exotic sights. Iguanas roam the golf courses of Marina Vallarta, trees team with bird life, and in the cooler months (December through to early April) the humpbacks and dolphins make merry along the coast. There are a host of tour guides looking to introduce you to the surrounding sights, so whether you fancy a horse-back trek through the hills or a spear-fishing lesson in the reefs, there's bound to be a trip to give your camera a thorough work out. 

    short boat ride south of the Punta Mita resort are the islands of Marietas - home of the spectacular 'Lover's Beach', a secluded inlet of sand only reachable via cave channel. As well as the photo-hungry beaches, the islands are also home to the immensely rare blue-footed booby. A must for the twitchers.

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    Golf

    You don't need to be a golf fan to appreciate the enormous variety of courses offered by the coast surrounding Puerto Vallarta. From the immaculate greens of the coast-side courses located a stone's throw (or a well-placed tee shot) from hotels such as the Casa Velas, to the remote climbs of the Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf-designed greens of the Vista Vallarta courses, you'll struggle to kick up a fuss when you lose yet another ball in the stunning surrounds.

    For those looking for a spot of competition, best head to the Punta Mita Gourmet and Golf classic - a long weekend of (amateure) golfing competitions, interspersed with fine dining and samples of local delicacies, from Mezcal to taco platters.

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    Surfing

    If golfing is still a mid-life crisis away, then best skip over the miles of bunkers and clipped grass for the beaches of Sayulita, the finest surfing destination in the region.

    A 50-minute drive from Puerto Vallarta, this distinctly alternative town is a honey pot for Californian surfers and wandering back packers: many who arrive in this dusty, absurdly relaxed beach-side town have been known to stop off for months at a time - setting up a coffee shop or trinket store rather than face the undesirable task of leaving entirely. You'll find an ample array of water sports on offer, from surfing lessons to paddle board hire, and an endless string of bars in which to escape the midday sun. 

    The region also hosts the world paddle board championship, which sees contestants bomb up and down the coastline with a frankly improbably display of agility. Rest assured, not everyone who gets in the water on this stretch of coast is going to be a natural-born boardsman. No one will laugh if you end up arse-over-tit in the surf. 

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    Beaches

    Miles of them. Whether you find yourself on the 42km of Banderas Bay or the private coves of Punta Mita, every water front provides white sand and stunning sunsets. You'd be daft to spend your day at the pool.

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    The Hotels

    The region supplies for a range of budgets, from backpacking cheap to luxurious quality. 

    The St Regis Punta Mita
    A deluxe haven of private pools, isolated beach and luxurious apartments, this hotel in the Punta Mita resort is a holiday in and of itself - you won't need to explore the local surrounds given the distractions offered by its spa, golf course and restaurants. 

    Casa Velas
    An all-inclusive, adults-only retreat, the Casa Velas offers guests access to its own golf course and private beach - though you may never visit them, such is the struggle to drag yourself from the comfort of its spa and pool-side bar. 

    Sayulita B&Bs
    If five-star luxury isn't the focus of your escape, one of the many B&Bs of the Sayulita area should offer you the perfect alternative break. Dozens of colourful options, all offering short walks to pristine sands and rowdy coffee shops.