THE BLOG
09/20/2013 11:58 am ET Updated Nov 20, 2013

Puerto Vallarta & Riviera Maya: Eat, Sway, Love

Emerging from a cool plunge in the deep blue sea of Banderas Bay, I settle back in our little motorboat, which gently rocks side to side as it glides towards densely forested cliffs and an intensely azure grotto. The sun is high overhead, its warmth lulling me into a dream-like state of sheer bliss. Bobbing in the bay, I revel in the fact that I'm incommunicado, far away from shore, unavailable, unreachable and suspended in time.

Banderas Bay, on the west coast of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, is considered one of the most beautiful bays in the world, framed by the majestic Sierra Madre mountain range and 40 miles of pristine coastline. This city, while being home to a popular tourist destination (thank you Liz and Dick), a plethora of cultural festivals and a thriving art scene, accomplishes the seeming impossible - it retains the character and traditions of the small fishing village it once was.

I came here last November to attend this town's gourmet festival, and their 19th Annual Puerto Vallarta International Gourmet Food Festival takes place again this year from November 14-23. It's an ten-day whirlwind of cocktail and after-parties, cheese, wine and tequila tastings, cooking classes, concerts, conferences, chefs' gala dinners and ends with awards ceremonies for the Chef's Hall of Fame. The festival is the brainchild of Thierry Blouet, chef of the city's renowned restaurant Café des Artistes, Heinz Reize of Hotel Krystal and Silvan Muller of Nestle. As the culinary scene here is superior to almost anywhere else in Mexico, their thought was to promote this city's vibrant restaurants on a world stage and to enrich the profile of its gastronomic scene locally and abroad. Today, the festival attracts the top names in global gastronomy, as well as some of the world's most promising rising stars. There will be more than 30 star chefs representing national and European restaurants and the festivities begin with an inaugural event at the newly renovated Los Muertos Pier, followed by a Chef's Welcome Cocktail Party at Hotel Fiesta Americana. High spots will include Chef's Table & Winemaker's Nights, Gourmet Safaris, Cheese, Beer and Chocolate Tastings and Brunch Buffets at participating restaurants in Puerto Vallarta, Riviera Nayarit and Tepic. The festival will also offer cooking demonstrations and a Gastronomic Debate for those interested in learning more about the latest cooking styles and techniques.

Besides eating, there's much to keep one busy in Puerto Vallarta. During my visit I did some deep sea fishing, rode a sweet Palomino named Daisy along the beach, and went whale watching. Actually, I prefer to call it whale searching as I saw nary a one. I did see a blow spout far out in the distance. Does that count? We strolled through Vallarta's colorful, historic downtown where we found the famous icons - The Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the famed Malecon Boardwalk. This walk is lined with sculptures by well-known local and international artists, a veritable open-air gallery. One of my favorite artworks is by an artist from Jalisco - Rafael Samaria's sculpture of a boy riding a seahorse. It is much loved by locals and has become the symbol of Puerto Vallarta.2013-09-18-SeaHorsestatueBanderasBay.JPGOur walk ended at Los Arcos, a beautiful open-air amphitheatre overlooking the sea that hosts dance, music, theater, and folkloric presentations.

Shall we do a little cooking right now? Let's pair together this special destination by the sea with salt water, sugary sand, island spice and Mariachi music. Pepper with the world's finest chefs, preheat to 350 degrees and what do you have? The perfect recipe for a vacation. You'll leave with some wonderful and very tasty memories. However, if a Mariachi band is not your idea of the perfect music to sway to, then go east - to Playa del Carmen - for this year's Riviera Maya Jazz Festival, November 28-30.

Riviera Maya, located in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico, extends 81 miles along the Yucatan Peninsula coastline from Puerto Morelos to Punta Allen. It is minutes away from a host of tropical natural wonders, an emerald green jungle, the incomparable turquoise sea, countless lost cities of the ancient Mayan civilization and a unique system of underwater caves and caverns considered sacred in the Mayan culture.

The Riviera Maya Jazz Festival hosts some of the best national and international jazz artists and - great news - It's all free!! The festival, by its musical quality, is one of the top 10 jazz festivals in the world. When I attended, I found it lived up to its reputation. Here we were, sitting on an extraordinary beach, swaying to music by some of the world's most important jazz musicians and, in the background, the calming sounds of the sea. The icing on the cake - sharing all of this with one very cool crowd. 2013-09-18-timthumb1.jpgThere were 10,000 people attending the concerts on Mamita's Beach each evening and I reveled in the warmth and camaraderie of this group of like-minded jazz aficionados. Even when the concert ended and thousands left the beach, it was done in a calm, peaceful way. Good vibes. If you attend either or both of these exceptional November festivals, here's my promise: you will eat, you will sway, and you will love Mexico!

If You Go:
Puerto Vallarta Tourist Board
www.vallartatourcenter.com

Riviera Maya Tourist Board
www.rivieramaya.com

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