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Elinor Florence (Company name) Elinor Florence

Loving Mexico

I am loving Mexico, and that’s why we choose to spend three months in Puerto Vallarta every winter. Here are my top ten arguments in favour of our southern home away from home.

Senior woman with shoulder-length brown hair and glasses grins at camera, resting her chin on her hands, wearing a white top and a beaded necklace, seated behind an Apple laptop computer, author Elinor Florence in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Welcome to Letters From Windermere, a monthly blog in which I write about:

  • HISTORY: mostly Western Canada history, plus anything else that interests me;
  • WRITING: behind-the-scenes info about my next work of historical fiction;
  • BOOKS: my recommended reads.

For the record, I have no problem spending the winter in Canada. I enjoy skiing and skating, and the cold weather doesn’t bother me one whit.

My husband, however, has developed such an antipathy to winter that the sight of a single snowflake sends him into a rage. Hence, Mexico.

(I include this photo only to show you how happy the man looks when he’s enjoying a warm climate.)

Senior man with jolly face and bushy moustache, wearing a straw fedora with a striped hat band and a dark gray checked shirt, grins happily at the camera, while behind him stands a giant tropical plant covered with pink blossoms, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

1. Loving Mexico: Puerto Vallarta

We made our first visit to Puerto Vallarta on the west coast of Mexico nine years ago, and fell in love with the place. This is not your typical beach resort, although it has plenty of beach. It’s a city of 500,000 people situated on the Bay of Banderas, one of the largest bays in the world. It’s a major cruise ship destination, and home to a Mexican Navy base.

The largest group of visitors comes from Canada, followed by Americans, and then by Mexicans on holidays, because they love it here, too. We rarely see a European, since they frequent the east coast of Mexico instead.

2. Loving Mexico: Easy Travel

From Calgary, our nearest international airport, it is a five-hour direct flight to Puerto Vallarta. Maybe we are just lucky, but in nine years (minus one for covid) we have never experienced flight delays, weather events, turbulence, or lost luggage.

Aerial view of Puerto Vallarta International Airport shows main building surrounded by palm trees, the control tower, green fields in background and a line of blue mountains etched against a cloudless sky.

3. Loving Mexico: The Safety

The number one question we are asked is this: how safe is it?

I cannot speak for the rest of Mexico, but Puerto Vallarta is safe. The violence in this country happens where drug cartels are battling for supremacy. That is not the case here. Even if it were, tourists are basically untouchable.

Property crime is present, of course. (I’m thinking about the guy who handed a parking valet his keys outside a fancy restaurant, and never saw either the valet or his car again). However, we have never felt physically threatened in any way.

4. Loving Mexico: The People

This is undoubtedly our primary reason for loving Mexico. The people are unfailingly pleasant and polite. The presence of two million tourists in Puerto Vallarta each year has not dimmed their warmth and hospitality. The Mexicans are also hard-working and family-oriented, determined to achieve a better way of life for their beloved children.

Little girl with curly dark hair and pink headband stands against a low concrete wall, while her brother wearing a blue shirt and white shorts sits behind her with his arms around her neck, both smiling happily at the camera in Puerto Vallarta

5. Loving Mexico: City Life

Since we live in a rural area back home, Puerto Vallarta (the locals simply refer to it as Vallarta) is our city fix. Our rented condo is located near the centre of the old city, called Centro. The heart of Centro is Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral, shown here with the crown.

Staying close to downtown, we visit art galleries and restaurants, and see some wonderful ethnic entertainment. If you want a strictly sun-and-sand-and-margarita holiday, you will probably be happier at one of the all-inclusive hotels springing up all around the bay, such as the popular Nuevo Vallarta (New Vallarta) hotel zone.

The lacy crown that tops Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral in Puerto Vallarta is etched against a glowing sunset sky.

6. Loving Mexico: The Climate

How can you argue with a climate that is so reliably consistent? Every day for three months, the temperature hovers between 25 and 28 Celsius. If the warmth and the humidity and the sea-level oxygen produce flowers like this, just imagine what they do for one’s hair and skin. And there are very few insects, neither fly nor mosquito nor spider! We can, and do, enjoy sitting on the deck far into the night.

A luxurious green palm tree and a brilliant hot pink flowering tree pop out against a brilliant blue sky in the background in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

In the words of the old Raffi song, everything grows and grows. This is the entrance to our seven-storey condo building. We have been lucky enough to find an owner willing to rent to us every winter.

The entrance to a white stucco condo building in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico is reached with a curved concrete path lined with a red flowering shrub and a clump of palm trees.

7. Loving Mexico: Restaurants

Puerto Vallarta is a foodie’s paradise, with a range of restaurants from roadside taco stands to ethnic specialities to fine dining. We practically never eat out the rest of the year, because we are so spoiled for choice during our stay in Vallarta. One of our favorite beach restaurants is El Dorado. Red snapper, pulled fresh from the bay, is often the catch of the day!

A black metal platter holds three complete red snapper fish coated with scarlet sauce and adorned with slices of lemon, while a green margarita in a crystal glass sits at one side at El Dorado Restaurant.

8. Loving Mexico: The Markets

Shopping at the local markets is a farm-to-table experience. Since most meat and produce comes directly from farmers who don’t have the money to spend on steroids and antibiotics, pretty much everything is organic. We eat the most flavourful fruit and vegetables, and the freshest seafood. My husband has his favourite Chicken-To-Go stand, where a guy roasts chickens on a spit and sells them with fresh tortillas. We disinfect our produce carefully, and we have never once had food poisoning!

A blonde woman in a red shirt and denim shorts examines the produce in an open air fruit market in Puerto Vallarta, while a giant bouquet of scarlet birds of paradise flowers stand in a bucket beside her.

9. Loving Mexico: The Ocean

We never tire of our spectacular ocean views from sunrise to sunset. My husband sits on the deck for hours, watching the whales frolic. Some 500 to 700 humpback whales visit the bay each year to rear their young.

Although we rarely sit on the sand (my tanning days are over), we appreciate the fact that the beaches are public here, free for both Mexicans and foreigners. With few exceptions, hotels and restaurants can’t claim any portion of the beach.

Taken from above, this photograph shows a throng of happy people walking along the beachfront in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico while white waves foam onto the sand, a row of high rise buildings in the distance.

10. Loving Mexico: Mountains

This is a tricky one, because many people would say the steep hills are their least favourite thing about Vallarta. Aside from the strip along the beach, almost everything in the city is perched on the mountainsides that surround the bay, covered with lush jungle.

An aerial view of the community of Conchas Chinas in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico shows the broad sweep of the bay and the thick green vegetation on the mountainside surrounding a beautiful white stucco home with a blue domed roof and other red tiled roofs below.

If you aren’t very mobile, either stay on the waterfront or prepare to take cabs. We walk everywhere on staircases and steep cobblestoned streets. It’s great exercise, and we are always much fitter when we get home. These rustic stairs lead to our condo building, which is about 1,000 steps off the beach.

A set of very steep brick stairs is tucked between two walls, and looking almost straight down there is a woman in a baseball cap climbing the stairs and carrying a little girl in a sunbonnet, and lower down on the stairs is a man with a baby in a backpack, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Loving Mexico: The Downsides

I don’t work for the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Department, so here are the things we don’t like. (Obviously we have come to terms with them, or we wouldn’t be here.)

Like everywhere, costs are rising. Expect to pay Canadian prices for almost everything except locally-produced food and personal care (i.e. maid service, massages, and manicures.)

The city is experiencing such an influx of tourists that new construction abounds. The small Spanish-style homes are being replaced by enormous condo buildings, and the air simply rings with the sound of trucks grinding their way up the mountainsides, cement mixers, and jackhammers.

Because this is a large city in a developing country, alongside the expensive shops and restaurants you will also see piles of garbage in the streets, poor people begging for pesos, and stray animals. Some of these sights can be heart-rending.

That’s another reason we choose to spend our tourist dollars here, rather than Arizona or Hawaii: this country needs all the help it can get.

P.S. Update: In January 2024 we spent two glorious weeks in Mexico City. Read about our visit here: Bloody Mexico City.

* * * * *

My Reading Life

I want to share one small victory. I actually STOPPED reading a book! I won’t tell you the title, because it was a perfectly good book by a Canadian author, and it had excellent reviews, but it just wasn’t for me.

This may be the first time in my life I have ever put away a book unfinished. However, reading with intention was one of my new year’s resolutions.

Happily, this month I rediscovered the Whiteoaks series, written by Mazo de la Roche from 1927 to 1960, following the fictional fortunes of a British family who came to Canada in the early days and built their stately home named Jalna, somewhere in Ontario.

Although warm-hearted and well-meaning, the Whiteoaks are colonials – so be forewarned that not all their views will be acceptable to the modern reader. However, the series is very well-written and humorous.

The Building of Jalna is the first book. All are available in ebook form, and your public library can probably track down print copies.

The Building of Jalna, by Mazo de la Roche, book cover is a sold pink color with a sketch of an old house and a man on horseback sitting in front of the house, the first of 16 books in the Whiteoaks series.

* * * * *

Friends, my time in Mexico is drawing to a close and soon we will return to our mountain eyrie in Invermere, British Columbia. We may be leaving the jungle behind, but we’ll get home in time to find the first crocus!

Fondly, Elinor








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