Puerto Vallarta is beautiful. Period. The main city sits on perfect beaches and is surrounded by stunning mountains. As you look out to the west from the city, the beaches end and the mountains begin to fall into the ocean.
Tourist cities don’t provide many options for camping and Puerto Vallarta was no exception. Since we planned to visit Puerto Vallarta the next morning, we passed through town and ended up camping about 10 miles west of the city in a town called Boca de Tomatlan. The entrance into the city was very steep and we barely snaked our way down the streets as cars were parked on both sides of the street but eventually we found a place to camp for the night. It was a quaint little town that is most certainly missed by the majority of tourists so we were happy to enjoy a nice walk through town. Aside from the dozens upon dozens of roosters crowing and dogs barking all night, we enjoyed our visit.
It continues to amaze us that we can find parking for our truck as easily as we do. So far, we have been able to find parking a few blocks off the main streets right on a corner and this was the case once again in Puerto Vallarta. It was even shaded to boot!
Many coastal cities have areas called “Malecon” which we have come to realize is the boardwalk area along the beach. La Paz had a Malecon and now Puerto Vallarta so we agreed it would be a great place to start our visit. We strolled along the Malecon for nearly an hour poking our heads into art galleries and shops that perked our interest. It wasn’t much different than any other tourist town we had visited this far but enjoyable nonetheless.
As we headed away from the beaches, the streets became smaller and quieter. We began seeing tiles on the stair rises on sidewalks as we neared the old city and we couldn’t get enough of them. Everything from cactus and flowers to suns and palms were painted on the tiles. My favorite was the pelicans on one set of stairs.
It became hot after we visited the church in the center of town so we popped into Los Muertes Brewery for a microbrew and some shade. Next we grabbed some lunch at a touristy restaurant and we really liked the salsa they made right in front of us. As a side note, my electric toothbrush needed charged as it died the night before and Laughlin wanted to charge it at our table but I wouldn’t let her inner ‘crazy dental person’ take control!
Our visit to Puerto Vallarta wasn’t long, nor was it fancy, but having spent only $40, we both agreed it was probably the least expensive visit one could make! That is one major benefit of overlanding!
Around 3pm, we left and headed towards Manzanilla where our friends with the Alaskan, Peter and Mary Kay, indicated they would be spending the next couple of months. We figured that if they had been going back to the same campground for 8 years, its was probably a pretty special place to we decided to give it a try.
We found Peter and Mary Kay at the El Horno campground just north of town as dusk was setting in. After saying hello, we decided it would be good to set up the Alaskan while we still had a little light. As I began to pump the hydraulic jack to lift the roof, I was pulling down and then, whack! The bar could move freely and I smashed my finger pretty bad. After a brief inspection, I realized that the two screws on the back of the pump which hold the mechanism down to force hydraulic oil into the rams had sheared off completely rendering the pump useless. Nearly and hour later with Peters help and my shirt soaked from sweat, we were able to temporarily set a screw in the pump just good enough to lift the camper roof. It came dislodged immediately after the roof was raised but at least we had a place to camp for the night. The cold beer was greatly appreciated that evening!
Getting our pump fixed was the highest priority the next day and we set out mid morning. As we were preparing to leave, our neighbor, Bob, looked at the pump and we were able to find a way to drill new holes in the bottom plate, rather than drill out the broken screws and tap the new holes which proved to be a much easier fix. With the help of some very friendly people in town and 6 pesos later, we had the hardware that would allow us to fix the pump. By 1:30 that afternoon, we were enjoying the shade from the palapas on the beach. It was quite a relief. As you can imagine, it was pretty tense so we didn’t take any photos!
El Horno camp ground was an amazing place allowing us to camp right near the water with palapas, toilets, showers, electricity and garbage service. Its proximity to town was also perfect being only a 5 minute walk. We were able to visit with Peter and Mary Kay and our neighbors, Bob and Jackie from B.C. We walked the two miles to the end of the beach in the warm sun, swim in the warm water and walk the terrifyingly unstable walkway around the crocodile exhibit between El Horno and town. It appeared that the crocodiles were contained in the swampy area, but a large section of fence was missing allowing them to swim freely into the ocean. Fortunately, we did most of our swimming before this realization.
We loved El Horno and Manzanilla so much, we stayed three days. We did end up leaving as the excitement of the monarch butterfly sanctuaries and Mexico City were quickly approaching so we said goodbye to our friends and drove to town for some quick Wifi to better prepare for our next few days.
Right when we were leaving El Horno, I glanced down at the rear tire and noticed it looked wet. Further inspection revealed that we were leaking something and by the way it was being spun around the tire, I concluded that it was an axle seal leaking gear oil. I was deflated and Laughlin was furious as we had all 4 axle seals changed before leaving Casper. Grrr! Fortunately we were able to locate a Dodge dealership in Manzanillo while we had Wifi in Manzanilla. We will cover the fallout in an upcoming blog post!