Travel

The Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit: Good for Nothing

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by David  Perry
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World-class spa? Check.

I’ve always been dubious about massages. They usually end up like bad straight sex: clumsily done and over in five minutes. The prospect of an additional 75 minutes was a little daunting.

Nevertheless, after a guided hydrotherapy experience that included showers, an herbal steam room and a dip in a two-temperature lagoon (that’ll wake you up), I put myself into the hands of a masseuse whose gung-ho attitude for her job equaled that of Jason Voorhees for a slutty camp counselor.

No clumsiness here: I had my pick of music and was instructed to cup in my hands a butterfly as a symbol of my "transformation" before climbing onto the table, whereupon every kink, knot and clench was found out, chased down and obliterated.

There is more than one way to embrace nothingness, it seems. Particularly when you are in a liquid state.


Triple-decker infinity pool overlooking the ocean? Check check check...and check

The Grand Velas is shaped like a chalice, and the pool is the sapphire-hued wine within. There is even one of those cool bars you can swim up to, with the sweeping panorama of Banderas Bay to set the mood. If there was a place to actively do nothing, this is it.

Throughout all this aggressive nothing-doing, I was perfectly aware that a stone’s throw (or a cab ride, which the English-fluent concierge is happy to arrange) across the Ameca River rises the party-hardy-polis of Puerto Vallarta, Latin America’s gay-friendliest beach destination.

What Fire Island is to New York, or Palm Springs is to Los Angeles, Puerto Vallarta is the laid-back Grand Velas’ frenetic opposite. It has all the high-octane bars and clubs, even a circuit party (Vallarta Fever -- I recommend it) that nail the city to the LGBT map.

Above the city, the vales of the Sierra Madre offer up delights of a no-less-disorientating nature in the form of agave plantations and tequila distilleries (something else I recommend, provided you bring insect repellant that is as wrath-of-God as the mosquitoes are).


But for all of Puerto Vallarta’s energy, I found myself enticed more by wind, wave and the teeming life of Banderas Bay, a regular drop-in for dolphins, sea turtles and whales of all sorts, as well as a cluster of small islets, the Marietas. In the humid air of the bay, they appear, enchantingly, only at sunset.

Vallarta Adventures, a top-rate eco-tourism firm with excursions all over the local landscape (and seascape), takes daily trips onto the bay and to the Marietas themselves.

A cluster of volcanic rocks jutting up into the northern fringes of the bay, the Marietas’s wild, rocky lines seemed at odds with the polished contours of the mainland shoreline until I was informed that they were used as a bombing range for the Mexican navy. (If you want a picturesque, albeit suspiciously circular, grotto of a beach, all you have to do is pick some seafront property, launch off a military-grade thermite charge, and voila!).

Since then, the Marietas have prosaically reincarnated themselves as a national park and now shelter more than 90 species of birds. True fact: There is a bird called a "booby." At the Marietas I found myself in a veritable booby bonanza; big boobies, small boobies, brown boobies, white boobies and boobies with blue feet.


The bomb-made beaches are as far as one goes on the mainland of the islands -- some snit about unexploded ordinance -- but the waters and reefs are fair game for snorkeling, kayaking and free diving among a full-blown spectrum of fish that put any dentist’s office to shame.

That the Marietas were a favorite of Jacques Cousteau is little wonder: Float still enough in the glass-like water and sparks of neon yellow, and fluorescent-purple wonders will swim right up to your fingertips.

The trip definitely rates as an "A," and when Charles, one of the Vallarta Adventure deck hands, took off his shirt, it was an "A+." In the middle of all the nothing I planned on doing, that was really something.

Getting there

For air travel to Nuevo Vallarta, all visitors come through nearby Puerto Vallarta International Airport. Aeromexico, Mexico’s flagship carrier, offers flights to Puerto Vallarta via Mexico City from 17 U.S. gateways, including New York, Chicago, Miami and San Francisco.

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This article is part of our "Winter 2013" series. Want to read more? Here's the full list»

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