In August of 2017, Taylor and I went on our first international vacation together! We traveled to Nuevo Vallarta where we were lucky enough to stay at the beautiful Vidanta Resort.
Below is a review of our trip and our recommendations on what to do and what NOT to do.
Believe it or not, this vacation only cost us $200 for 7 days and 6 nights, not including our meals and excursions. How do you ask? In March, we attended an Anaheim Ducks game with friends where we signed up for a free vacation after passing a promotional booth. The free vacation voucher we received was for a 3-day and 2-night trip to San Francisco with flights included. However, since the company was unable to fulfill our request on the dates provided, they offered us a 7-day vacation to Mexico for $200 instead. After asking for a list of available resorts and reviewing the list we accepted this package.
Although the Mexico vacation package did not include flights, we were able to fly there for next to nothing by leveraging points and miles. We flew Southwest from Los Angelos, CA to Puerto Vallarta, MX for $30 each after transferring miles from our chase sapphire reserve card to our Southwest accounts.
Note: Southwest provides cheap round-trip airfare to and from Mexico so don’t forget to check them out when searching for your own flights!
If you think traveling to Mexico is too expensive or out of budget, consider learning how to accumulate thousands of frequent flier points and miles without having to fly or stay at hotels! We created an online course that teaches you exactly how to redeem flights for as little as $5.60.
We paid less than $100 to get to Mexico from California and we flew on a weekend!
When we arrived at the airport it was nothing out of the ordinary. However, once you leave customs things begin to get interesting. Promotion companies prey on clueless tourist traveling through the Puerto Vallarta airport. Luckily for us, Vidanta sent us an email before our arrival describing the logistics of the airport and the shuttle service they had sent to pick us up. The email was as follows:
Reread number 3: “BE AWARE that after you pass through customs, you’ll encounter a number of representatives from other resorts who will offer you free transportation.” This is not a joke! The representatives literally yell and try to grab your attention to lure you into their “free transportation” offer. They are very persistent and will lie straight to your face saying they are your resort’s transportation just to get you into their own sales presentation. Make sure to shut them down quickly or avoid them in general!
In the shuttle to our resort, we asked our driver about the representatives in the airport. He mentioned vacationers often fall for their traps, having to sit through 90-minute sales presentations after agreeing to go with the wrong transportation shuttles. Remeber to always do your research before traveling so this doesn’t happen to you!
Instead of a traditional room key, Vidanta has adopted a relatively new key technology. They use a wristband with a chip that grants you access to your hotel room. Each hotel and pool has its own colored wristband. Unfortunately, some of the hotel pools are restricted to certain color bands (i.e. timeshare owners, etc).
If you decide to rent a car parking is very easy. The resort has a designated valet parking area where you can bring your car and park it for a fee. This is also the same area where you can grab a taxi or shuttle if you choose not to rent a car. From the valet parking area, Vidanta offers a resort shuttle service that will bring you anywhere in the resort absolutely free!
If you want to leave the resort and explore you are able to do so by leveraging the resorts partnerships with a few car rental companies.
We rented a small compact car for the day for about $65 USD. Although it was a little expensive, they delivered the car to the resort and picked it up when we were finished. Fast, easy and convenient so to us, it was worth it.
The weather in Mexico is beautiful. Although it was very hot it was great for spending the day at the beach or pool.
Since our trip was in August, Mexico’s rainy season, it rained almost every night. However, we did not let this ruin our trip! At night we enjoyed listening to the sound of the rain as we drank our margaritas before going to dinner. The only negative effect the rain had on our vacation was the ocean color. Vidanta in Nuevo Vallarta is located on a river mouth so when it rains the river overflows and the runoff/dirt from the mountains and surrounding area flows into the ocean making it brown in color.
Vidanta Resort in Nuevo Vallarta is made up of six main hotels. These hotels include Grand Luxxe, The Grand Bliss, The Grand Mayan, Mayan Palace, The Bliss, and Sea Garden. We stayed at Mayan Palace which features your typical hotel room, one king or two queen beds for example. Other hotels, like The Grand Bliss, offer one or two bedroom suites some even equipt with a pool on the balcony! The majority of these suites are reserved for timeshare owners but we were lucky enough to snag a tour of them during our sales presentation. As you can see from the picture below, the resort is massive and has plenty to offer for all ages.
After arriving at the resort, we checked in then went over to speak with the travel agent about activities we could do during our stay. The travel agent asked us if we wanted to sit through a sales presentation for 10% off our entire stays purchases and a free shuttle service back to the airport. This was a deal we were not going to pass up so we scheduled the presentation for the next day!
After getting settled we headed to the beach to watch the sunset.
After sunset, we decided to go to La Cantina for our first dinner in Mexico. La Cantina is a casual Mexican restaurant known for its live Mexican music and delicious margaritas. Taylor ordered the chicken fajita quesadillas that were out of this world. We would recommend them to anyone going there!
We wanted to get the timeshare presentation over with so we scheduled it for our first full day at Vidanta. One positive of the sales presentation is the free buffet breakfast. It’s absolutely amazing and worth sitting through the tour and sales presentation!
Side note: Vidanta offers two timeshare presentations one for guests 30 and older and one for guests 29 and younger. Luckily we were 25 when we visited Vidanta so we received the shorter version of the presentation. We heard from others that the 30 and over presentation is intense and will keep you for 4 hours. If you’re not interested, we suggest you walk out and leave if they keep pressing.
After the tour and declining to buy a timeshare we headed to the pool/beach to soak up the rays. This is also where we created our social media ad for Banzai Unlimited Air Loungers, check it out below.
We are not one for guided tours, but we chose to take an ATV tour through the forest in Puerto Vallarta. This was a guided tour with Wild Trek Adventures that was offered to us by our travel agent. We road into the mountains on the Rancho Las Vegas Tour that eventually brought us to a restaurant in the woods where we sampled locally distilled tequila of all flavors.
After the tour, we headed back to the hotel for some relaxation by the pool before going to dinner that night.
As much as we enjoy the resort atmosphere, we always try to get out and do some exploring of our own. On our fourth day in Mexico, we decided to rent a car and head north to the surf town of Sayulita. This is the town that hosts Bachelor in Paradise!
On the main strip in Sayulita there is a restaurant called The ChocoBanana that is a must go! The ChocoBanana is known for their coffee and all day breakfast menu. Also, it is a great place to people watch and relax before getting the day started.
After grabbing a bite to eat we walked down the main strip, Delfines Street, and rented surfboards at a small local surf shop called WildMex Surf & Adventure. Sayulita is known as a surf town and has a nice little break right off the rivermouth.
After surfing we headed back to Vidanta to get ready for our next event, Rhythms of the Night. This event was recommended to us by numerous hotel guests and Vidanta staff. In short, Rhythms of the Night is like a Hawaiian Luau. We took a sunset cruise to a secluded beach where we ate a buffet style dinner outside on the beach and then watched an authentic Mexican performance.
Overall we were disappointed by the performance and the event. Maybe we got our hopes too high or had the wrong expectation. For starters, the night did not begin until 7:00 pm and the sunset cruise was about an hour and a half to the island alone. When we arrived at the island it was already completely dark out and by the time we finished eating and the performance started it was already 10:30 pm. We were exhausted from the days’ activities and I even nodded off during the performance! In our opinion, it would have been better if it started earlier allowing tourists to enjoy sunset during dinner while on the secluded island.
We took a cruise along the Bahía de Banderas to Yalepa, a town only accessible by boat, horse or 4wd (if it hasn’t rained in some time). On the way to Yalepa we enjoyed the scenic coastline while sipping margaritas and listening to some authentic Mexican jams.
Once we got to Yalepa we ate lunch and hiked to the Cascada de Yalepa, a beautiful waterfall. The heavily trafficked hike is roughly 1-mile each way crossing a river mouth. Unfortunately, anything that attracts tourism creates a market where locals try to sell goods to make a profit. There are several stands located on the hike that sell items such as necklaces and whistles and even a makeshift bar at the base of the waterfall. Luckily when we got there it wasn’t too crowded and we were able to enjoy the waterfall.
On our last day, we requested a late checkout because our flight was in the late afternoon/evening. Fortunately, Vidanta granted us a 2:00 pm checkout and we were able to sleep in enjoy brunch at the Grand Luxxe Hotel. The rooftop restaurant called Sky Garden is located in the Grand Luxxe has amazing views of the resort and the ocean. We highly recommend enjoying a meal here! The coffee and morning pastries were AMAZING and they even offered us each a delicious parfait before our meal came! After brunch, we relaxed until our free shuttle (for attending the timeshare presentation) brought us back to the airport.
Overall Taylor and I would both agree that our stay at Vidanta was excellent and that we would go back. Vidanta, in general, was beautiful and the staff was very accommodating and helpful throughout our entire stay. We found all the hotels within the resort to be very inviting with quality food and service. Though we do not like to stay at resorts the entire time we travel we can easily see how some vacations never have the desire to leave Vidanta once they check in for their vacation.