On some vacations, I want to run around big cities like Barcelona and Rome and explore everything from famous architecture to off-the-beaten-path restaurants. Other vacations, I just need some rest and relaxation so I can unwind and recharge my fizzled batteries. When I turned the BIG 4-0 earlier this year, I had just made the monumental decision to quit my 6-figure corporate job with a Fortune 10 company to travel more so I knew I wanted to celebrate with a mellow girlfriends getaway at a beachfront all-inclusive resort. I can always count on Mexico for my quick beachy escapes, and found excellent reviews online for the Riu Palace Pacifico in Puerto Vallarta. Done!
On the last Friday in March, my friend Abby and I shared a flight from Phoenix, while my cousin Jackie flew in from San Francisco and my friend Jaclyn from Chicago. We timed our flights to arrive within 45 minutes of each other and lo and behold it actually worked! We all met in the Puerto Vallarta airport lobby and grabbed the private shuttle I had prearranged to drive us to the resort. Easy peasy.
The Riu Palace Pacifico in Puerto Vallarta
When we arrived, we learned we were a bit early for check-in. So while we were waiting for our room keys, we decided to explore the resort property and grab some lunch. As our foursome walked through the lobby and out the glass doors, we simply had to stop for a moment and marvel at the gorgeous scenery: A luscious palm-tree lined courtyard with multiple water fountains, perfectly manicured shrubbery, and a massive swimming pool. Beyond that we could see the beach and rolling ocean waves. Needless to say, we were all thrilled with the resort’s vibe and excited to spend a long weekend Living La Vida Loca.
We walked over to the buffet restaurant, and put our belongings down on four chairs. Our server quickly appeared with four bottles of Dos Equis — we must have looked as hot and thirsty as we felt! With a quick “gracias” we took a few gulps and headed straight into the buffet. Once our plates were piled high with mouth-watering fajitas, beans, rice, chips and guacamole, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch over girl talk.
When we were stuffed, we grabbed our keys and headed up to our two rooms — which were large and well appointed, with a separate seating area. We not only had a mini bar, but also a cabinet featuring upside-down bottles of liquor we could use to make cocktails in our room. Bonus!
I immediately gravitated toward the balcony, excited to see the “ocean view” room I’d upgraded us to. It did not disappoint — what a magnificent vantage point to truly appreciate the property. Clearly, it was time to do a closer inspection, so we changed into our beachwear and headed out to catch a few Puerto Vallarta rays before it was time to wash up for dinner.
Rest and Relaxation
The next morning, we began what would become our daily ritual — sleeping late and then enjoying a leisurely champagne brunch. I know, life is tough on vacation. After we gorged on everything from breakfast tacos to crepes, we would choose a spot on the beach to soak in the sun. Unlike some other resorts I’ve visited over the years, there was no shortage of available lounge chairs in the sand — in fact, we had our pick of palm trees under which to position ourselves when we were ready for some shade.
One morning after brunch, we decided to walk up and down the beach collecting seashells. This is one of my favorite activities to do on beach vacations, because I proudly display my collection of shells and glass (from beaches all over the world) in my beach-themed master bathroom (what else did you expect me to have?). I was pleased to find a gorgeous assortment of options and carefully chose the prettiest ones to bring home.
As you’d expect on any beachfront resort, vendors walked up and down all day long selling their wares. In Puerto Vallarta, they aren’t shy about approaching you, but if you tell them you aren’t interested they leave you alone. Now, I’ll admit I kind of thrive on haggling with vendors in other countries — it must be the thrill of the chase. So, I ended up purchasing a pretty ring and an abalone shell after a few rounds of negotiations, of course.
I should also mention the pool, which was large and lovely. The swim-up bar was a great touch. Resort workers led the poolgoers in a daily game of BINGO and recruited other guests for volleyball on the beach. You could join in the fun or just as easily tune it all out. There was always fun music playing on big speakers by the pool.
On our final afternoon (my actual birthday), we took turns getting massages in the Riu’s outdoor spa, located right by the beach. If you’ve never experienced a massage while inhaling the warm ocean air and hearing waves crash in the distance, you are missing out. It’s incredibly relaxing to connect with actual nature, instead of listening to the fake noises most spas pipe in on their speakers. The massage therapists worked their magic for nearly an hour, at a fraction of the cost of the indoor spa. Honestly, if I had discovered this earlier in my visit, I would have booked a massage for all three days.
Each night, we chose a different “specialty” restaurant to dine in, making sure we experienced everything this resort had to offer. While they were all good, the fusion restaurant stood out as the frontrunner, so we ate there for two out of our four dinners.
And here comes my one and only complaint about this trip: There was no nightlife at this resort. As you might imagine, four girls (all of whom left their boyfriends at home) want to go dancing! But alas, there was no disco at our property. What?! The place literally became a ghost town after the show ended at 10pm — it was like everyone just went to bed. Lame.
So for the night of my 40th birthday, we took the advice of our concierge and walked half a mile to our resort’s sister property to visit its nightclub. We pushed open the doors to the disco, excited to dance — but were immediately taken aback. The disco smelled vile (like the sweat of 10,000 tourists mixed with stale beer and a little vomit). We tried our best to ignore the stench while hovering around the dance floor waiting for just the right song to start shaking our groove thangs … but the dance floor was filled with a gaggle of teenage girls clearly having their first unsupervised trip. We decided to just watch that train wreck for a while, but quickly grew bored. Just as I was about to say, “Let’s get out of here” my cousin starts jumping up and down freaking out — a cockroach had scurried across her foot. Ok, now it was time to skedaddle for real. And without ever having stepped on the dance floor, we found ourselves walking half a mile back to our odor-free and far less cockroachy resort. So much for that adventure.
The Riu did a wonderful job of making me feel special on my big day, starting with a multi-layered cake made out of towels (calorie-free!) and a festive sign wishing me a happy birthday. When we were getting ready for dinner, they brought me the most delicious chocolate cake I’ve ever eaten (minus any forks or spoons — and I’m not too proud to admit that me and my drunk friends literally ate it with our fingers). I smugly walked around the property all day in my neon pink “40 and Fabulous” tank top, before trading it in for a “I’m 40, Bitches!” sash to adorn my dress that evening. At dinner, they brought out a special dessert (like I needed another one after that chocolate cake) with candles and sang to me.
All in all, this girlfriends getaway to Puerto Vallarta was the absolute perfect way to ring in a new decade of my life — I’m so lucky to have great friends to share these milestones and experiences with.