Monday , March 4 2024
Part II of a personal travel blog: a week on Banderas Bay in Nuevo Vallarta

From Blizzard to Beach Part II: Riviera Nayarit Awaits

Palm Trees: check. Waves crashing on the beach below our suite: check. Exotic birds flying overhead and just above the water? Check. 

With memories of Chicago’s blizzard quickly fading from memory, we finally arrived at our destination: The Marival Residences and World Spa in Neuvo Vallarta. The area is also called Riviera Nayarit. It is chillier than I imagined it might be, although the difference between standing in the sun and in the shade accounts for a lot of degrees Fahrenheit (although everything is measured in Celsius, as in much of the world except the U.S.).

We are shown into the resort, but not to a check-in counter. We
are shown to Brunello’s Wine Bar, off to one side of the lobby. We’ve left our bags outside, and are told they will be taken care of and to have a seat. “Would you like something to drink? Wine? A cocktail?” Part of me (the stressed out from the airport part) is waiting for the time-share sales pitch. We’re too comfortable in these nice cushy seats on the couch. Where were the forms to fill out? The map of the hotel so that we might find our way to our room?

A lovely young woman approached, asking for our signatures as we sipped our drinks. Wow. They brought the forms to us? Cool. What’s the catch? She explained that we would be shown around and then to our suite—along with our belongings. And we were. No time share pitch, simply a gracious welcome.

I am writing part of this entry Sunday morning sitting on our stone terrace, six flights up and above the Pacific. Through a clearing in the palm trees below, waves curl one after the next before pounding the sand—the percussive music relaxes. I could be happy to simply close my eyes and listen all day.

This is a quiet resort. There are children around, but not many, and besides the calls of birds whose species I haven’t yet identified, the tide coming in is the predominant sound.

The Marival is an “all-inclusive” resort. There are two Marival resorts on this stretch of beach. The Marival Resort is down the road and is as boisterous and energetic as “The Residences” (as ours is called) is sleepy. Staying here, we have privileges at both. (People staying at the sister resort, however, do not have the same reciprocal privileges here.)

A word about “all-inclusive” vacationing

Many people thumb their noses at the idea of doing an all-inclusive resort vacation. You miss opportunities to taste the fine cuisine in town and to go exploring the area. I’ve never really bought into that philosophy. And I think there are times for each type of holiday plan. We wanted to pay upfront and not think too much about where we could (or could not) afford to eat dinner.

Now, there are all-inclusives and there are all-inclusives. There’s one for every budget in Nuevo Vallarta, and whether you want to spend $1,500 for a week or $5,000, I’m sure you’ll find one to suit your needs.

The Marival Residences is definitely on the upper end; the sister resort down the road (where the beach is, incidentally) is essentially the economy model. We opted to live in the lap of luxury and went for a penthouse suite. 

Our suite is built as two levels. On the first level (actually the top floor of the hotel) are our rooms: living room, dining room, kitchen, enormous bedroom and two full baths. The entire front wall of the living room opens to a large terrace overlooking the grounds and the Pacific Ocean. Upstairs, we have a full rooftop terrace with a spectacular, view of all that surrounds us—and our own private splash pool. This is a place we certainly could stay in all week, never emerge except for meals (not even to go to the beach) and have an amazing, restful holiday. (And the wireless broadband keeps us connected very nicely, thank you!)

Planning not to plan

And for the first two days of our vacation, that’s pretty much what we have done. My sleep-deprived husband slept for the better part of a day and a half; I sat on the terrace and wrote. You may think that’s a pretty lame way to start a holiday (wasteful even), but this is why we booked 10 days instead of seven! It’s all part of a plan. Today is Sunday, and we’re both rested and ready for a week of vacationing. Cool, huh?

There is a lot to do in this part of Mexico: it’s whale-watching season; the Sierra Madre Mountains surround us. There is much history here, as well as native culture. How much we decide to do is still undecided. I want to whale watch. I always want to whale watch. I’ve chased those magnificent humpbacks in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Alaska. But here is where they winter, mate, and calve, so the experience might be different. Besides, I have a new camera that seems made for watching whales (and any other wildlife we may encounter). Something for later in the week, perhaps.

I think we’re also going to take a 4×4 tour in the “outback” as they call it of the Sierra Madre. I don’t want to do the driving (which you can on some of the tours), but I’d rather let someone else ford those mighty streams while we watch and take pictures. I’m not really big on shopping, but I’m guessing we’ll hit the town one of the days we’re here (probably while on a day trip) and take in the market. But none of this is why we’re here. We’re here for serious relaxation.

One thing you can do while simply relaxing is to birdwatch. This area is home to hundreds of bird species, and even sitting on a lounger by the pool, or on the terrace, it’s easy to spot pelicans and other water birds soaring overhead. One of my first stops tomorrow will be to acquire a regional bird identification guide. Condors, frigate birds, colorful tropical specialties call this area home, and I hope to catch a few on film as the week goes on. 

I understand that the best place to birdwatch is out in the Marietas Island group. I think I’ll add a day in Las Marietas Biosphere Reserve to our list of activities for the week. 

First stop: the beach

A short golf-cart ride to the Residences’ sister resort and we are on our way to the beach. My plan is to sit on a comfy lounge chair, sip Margaritas, and read all day beneath a large umbrella while slowly working on my tan (very slowly, considering the 45 SPF lotion I slathered on my chest).

I’ve got Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic global warming trilogy on my iPad and I’m determined to get through the first book by week’s end. I was wondering how my iPad would fare on the beach in the bright tropical sunlight of Nuevo Vallarta. I’d tested out my Kindle on early vacations, and it did quite well on the beach with its matte screen and e-ink display. But with the iPad’s shiny screen and computer display, I wondered just how well I’d be able to read. The iPad actually serves surprisingly well, despite some glare, although in the end, I probably spent more time gazing at the curl of the waves as they crashed onto shore, and watching with amusement the para-sailers taking off and landing a few feet in front of me.

The water this time of year is chilly, but not unswimmable, and the sand is very, very fine. It’s much easier on the feet than the beach sand in Chicago (Lake Michigan), but not quite as perfect as the cornstarch-like white sand in the Riveria Maya on Mexcio’s opposite coast. And if you like to soar with the pelicans and sea gulls, the sea breezes are perfect for parasailing. Surfers, some in wet suits, sit astride big boards out on the water waiting for the perfect swell to carry them back to shore. I’m sure there are better places to surf if you’re experienced, but it seems that the fairly gentle curl of these waves make it a safer haven for newbies to “hang ten.”

Back from the beach to enjoy the Super Bowl and a spectacular sunset

It’s now late Sunday evening. Green Bay has won the Super Bowl (sigh). But I suppose there’s some consolation in the fact that the Steelers couldn’t handle them any better than the Bears. We couldn’t get the live U.S. feed from Fox Sports, so we missed all the commercials. But I’m sure we’ll have our chance to catch them on YouTube in the next couple of days.

Much more enjoyable than the Super Bowl (and yes, I’m including the half-time show with the Black Eyed Peas) is the sunset to be had from our terrace. We have a perfect view of the sun as it falls into the Pacific Ocean. Last night there were clouds, slowly fading into the sea, creating for us unique sky paintings each evening. Tonight the sky was cloudless, creating quite a different portrait.

Signing off for now. I’ll be back later in the week with the last part of my travel blog from the Riviera Nyarit.

(All photographs by author)

About Barbara Barnett

A Jewish mother and (young 🙃) grandmother, Barbara Barnett is an author and professional Hazzan (Cantor). A member of the Conservative Movement's Cantors Assembly and the Jewish Renewal movement's clergy association OHALAH, the clergy association of the Jewish Renewal movement. In her other life, she is a critically acclaimed fantasy/science fiction author as well as the author of a non-fiction exploration of the TV series House, M.D. and contributor to the book Spiritual Pregnancy. She Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (

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