Hacienda San Angel
Puerto Vallarta offers a beautiful balance for meeting and incentive planners, providing a modern group infrastructure while maintaining an authentic colonial charm. We’re maneuvering along the cobblestone back streets past The Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, shops filled with sterling silver and traditional Huichol beaded art, and white stucco homes accented by terracotta roofs and wrought iron balconies draped in colorful bougainvillea.
“Besides our first class tourism infrastructure, Puerto Vallarta is a very peaceful town that feels like the heart of Mexico,” says Norma Furlong, president of Tukari DMC.
Guillermo Ohem, managing director for Puerto Vallarta CVB, says, “What you find here is a beach destination in a colonial setting that’s rich with incredible history. Planners have access to a huge program of festivities and activities like gallery walks and gourmet safaris featuring celebrated chefs, who have made us the country’s #2 gastronomical scene behind Mexico City.”
Once the private home of film director John Huston, Las Caletas estate is tucked inside a nature preserve on Banderas Bay. Vallarta Adventures DMC has exclusive access to the isolated cove, where it brings groups to enjoy special events, cultural experiences and full day experiences on land and underwater.
Huston’s coveted seclusion is a fantastic escape for planners seeking a postcard tropical experience. Las Caletas offers a “Rhythms of the Night” evening event specifically designed for groups. Since it’s accessible only by sea, we depart from PV’s marina aboard a catamaran while bartenders pour margaritas and mingle with the group.
Arriving onshore, we’re swept away by the flickering tiki torches illuminating the beach set against a backdrop of hammocks, dining palapas and towering palm trees. After our candlelit buffet dinner laden with fresh seafood and local desserts, the sound of haunting flutes and pulsating drums summon us to an amphitheater where a pyramid rises up between the palms.
Performers clad in ancient Aztec attire perform a hypnotic dance with a touch of Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics, by far the best performance we’ve ever watched in the region.
VENTURING OUT IN VALLARTA
A 24-mile swath of mountains, rivers and gorgeous beaches, Puerto Vallarta is one of the most biodiverse areas in Mexico.
“Here you have pristine beach venues only accessible by boat and others on a mountain 20 minutes from downtown,” says Furlong. “Or you can hike through a jungle for lunch in a hillside palapa overlooking Banderas Bay.”
We explored a few popular ecotourism options like the Sea Turtle Rescue Program at CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa. The endangered Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings resemble little Oreo cookies while guests and staff help protect them on their journey from their beach burrows into the surf during sunset from June through December.
At the Vallarta Botanical Gardens, we make the short hike to Rio Los Horcones where we’re greeted with an explosion of orchids, anthuriums, agave and flowering trees. For lunch at the onsite Hacienda de Oro Restaurant, the chefs prepare handmade tortillas in an authentic Mexican country kitchen, filled with garden fresh peppers, onions, jalapenos and thick homemade tomatillo salsa.
In 2010, UNESCO honored Mexican cuisine with “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” status. And that makes for some tasty group grazing.
We try out Chef Thierry Biouet’s delicious octopus carpaccio and roasted sea bass in the rooftop garden at the 120-capacity Café des Artistes. We also attend a pairing dinner at the 12-pax La Cava private dining space at the CasaMagna Marriott. Resident tequila sommelier Audrey Formissano details the different flavors for each, surprising us with the subtlety and character of her best selections.
Following that, we join Executive Chef Dagoberto Arriza at The Westin Resort & Spa, Puerto Vallarta for a 20-pax culinary class showcasing dishes like a perfectly pan-seared salmon with a chocolate and vanilla bean sauce.
A host of culinary DMCs like Vallarta Food Tours and Vallarta Eats escort groups to a variety of street food vendors to sample authentic delicacies.
“A real wow factor for our tours is how people open their eyes to wonderful food and those preparing it,” says Lindsay Prime, founder of Vallarta Food Tours. Three hours and eight feedings later, we’ve tasted a wonderful assortment of mole poblano, fresh shrimp ceviche and birria (goat) tacos made with tortillas hot off the press.
For private dinners, the Hacienda San Angel home in the Gringo Gulch neighborhood is absolutely fabulous for cooking classes for 10 pax, courtyard receptions for 70 and rooftop dinners for 90, with panoramic views of the city and Pacific Ocean.
Secrets Valarta Bay Lobby Bar
VALLARTA ROOMS & SPACES
There are now 21,000 rooms in the hotel zone near the 161,500-sf Puerto Vallarta International Convention Center. We checked in at the 271-suite, all-inclusive Secrets Vallarta Bay, Puerto Vallarta, adjacent to its sister all-inclusive resort, the 327-suite Now Amber Puerto Vallarta. Secrets is adults-only market; Now Amber is geared toward groups traveling with children. Together, they’re a great fit for incentives with disparate attendee demographics.
“What makes these resorts so unique is the fact that they’re next to each other, and share a variety of restaurants and space without taking the exclusivity away from Secrets,” says Ana Santos, convention sales manager. For our Mexican Independence Day fiesta, the 7,000-sf Grand Ballroom hosted a wonderful evening soiree with folk dancing and mariachi music.