About Renee Blodgett

Renee Blodgett

Renee Blodgett is the founder of We Blog the World. The site combines the magic of an online culture and travel magazine with a global blog network and has contributors from every continent in the world. Having lived in 10 countries and explored nearly 80, she is an avid traveler, and a lover, observer and participant in cultural diversity.

She is also the CEO and founder of Magic Sauce Media, a new media services consultancy focused on viral marketing, social media, branding, events and PR. For over 20 years, she has helped companies from 12 countries get traction in the market. Known for her global and organic approach to product and corporate launches, Renee practices what she pitches and as an active user of social media, she helps clients navigate digital waters from around the world. Renee has been blogging for over 16 years and regularly writes on her personal blog Down the Avenue, Huffington Post, BlogHer, We Blog the World and other sites. She was ranked #12 Social Media Influencer by Forbes Magazine and is listed as a new media influencer and game changer on various sites and books on the new media revolution. In 2013, she was listed as the 6th most influential woman in social media by Forbes Magazine on a Top 20 List.

Her passion for art, storytelling and photography led to the launch of Magic Sauce Photography, which is a visual extension of her writing, the result of which has led to producing six photo books: Galapagos Islands, London, South Africa, Rome, Urbanization and Ecuador.

Renee is also the co-founder of Traveling Geeks, an initiative that brings entrepreneurs, thought leaders, bloggers, creators, curators and influencers to other countries to share and learn from peers, governments, corporations, and the general public in order to educate, share, evaluate, and promote innovative technologies.


Latest Posts by Renee Blodgett

Top 10 Travel Guide to Chattanooga Tennessee

July 12, 2016 by  

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Truth be told, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a new southern city on my destination list that I just visited for the first time this past June: Chattanooga Tennessee. As a swing dancer and fan of Big Band music, I have to admit, I was excited to see the city that made the Chattanooga Choo Choo famous. To top it off, I was slated to stay at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel, which has it’s fair share of history. See my top 3 STAY article which has suggestions on where to stay for chic and hip, quirky and historical and elegant and classic.

I was fortunate to try a number of fun activities during my stay, from experiencing the cultural and art scene and hearing live music (see my Thriving Music Scene in Chattanooga article) to white water rafting, hand gliding and dining (be sure to read my Foodie Guide to Chattanooga).

Above, the wondrous Ruby Falls

1. Hang Gliding

I have always wanted to go hang gliding and finally had an opportunity to do so over Lookout Mountain, on the outskirts of Chattanooga. Lookout Mountain Flight Park offers the opportunity to fly above the mountains and valleys that surround Chattanooga in tandem with a certified instructor. It really does feel like you’re flying as you float below the clouds and take in the breathtaking views. Apparently Chattanooga has one of the largest hang gliding schools in the country, a fact I never knew.

Unlike many hang gliding places where you have to jump off a mountain, you depart from the ground. They fasten you in on ground level and an ultralight plane pulls your glider up into the air to around 2,000 feet with your instructor and you attached. After you reach the right height, the cord is disconnected and you fly above the mountains. So so cool! See my standalone piece for more photos from my experience. For more photos including a short video, check out my standalone adventure travel post on hang gliding and rafting.

I always try to get out in nature on each and every trip regardless of whether it’s a  nature focused trip or not. There are always opportunities to get to the outskirts, talk to locals and take in some of a destination’s natural beauty, even in large cities like New York. Nature can be so grounding and transformative, which is so important when you’re on the road. I encourage you to take a deep breathe, center yourself and be present with nature on every trip you make. Below, it was so easy to get lost looking out over Lookout Mountain before we made our way to the site where we’d get rigged up to fly. Seeing this magnificent view from here put flying into perspective an hour later.

2. White Water Rafting

If you’re an adventure seeker or a nature lover, you’ll want to try white water rafting in the middle of the Tennessee Mountains — what a way to take in the state’s natural beauty! And, who doesn’t love the thrill of a fast flowing river? We went on both Class III and IV rapids down the Ocoee River, which was the site for the canoe slalom races during the 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta.

Located just north of Chattanooga in the Cherokee National Forest, the Ocoee River flows through a beautiful gorge surrounded by scenic wildlife. Count on a half day for the experience — you’re brought up to the entry point by bus and your “team” of six carries the raft down to the beginning of take off, where you start off with a Class IV rapid. Fun, fun, fun! We went with Outdoor Adventure Rafting (OAR) who also offers tubing float trips, rock climbing, rappelling, paintball, and low & high ropes courses.

On your way back into town, a fun lunch spot is the traditional Ocoee Dam Deli and Diner near the Parksville Dam. It is family owned and operated and they have plenty of classic Southern dishes on the menu like Fried Steak, okra, green fried tomatoes and chicken and slaw. For more photos, see my post dedicated to the rafting trip and hang gliding the same week.

3. Cycling

Bike Chattanooga is a 24/7 bicycle transit system with about 300 bikes at 33 stations located throughout the city. Each station has a touch screen kiosk system, map and docking points which release bikes using a member key or ride code. A pass will buy you 24 hours with unlimited 60-minute station-to-station trips. You simply lock the bike back up at any station dock and wait for the green light to confirm the bike is secure. More information can be found at www.bikechattanooga.com/stations.

Credit: World Cycling Atlas.com.

It’s a fun thing to do day or night and easy to navigate — I strongly recommend it as the best way to see the city. It can be one of those romantic afternoon things to do or a fun activity to do with kids in tow. I wished we had more time to take in the beauty of the river, or even have a picnic alongside it. It tends to get very hot and humid starting in June so your best non-sticky months to go are late April through end of May or anytime in the Fall for opportunities to explore both the outdoor and indoor activities that Chattanooga has to offer.

4. Thriving Music Scene

I wrote about Chattanooga’s thriving music scene at great length, including a whole list of great venues to explore while you’re in town, so be sure to take notes. A highlight of the trip was meeting Shane Morrow, the co-founder and director of an initiative called Jazzanooga. It was founded in 2011 as a citywide celebration of jazz. While it draws from the cultural relevance and history of Chattanooga,  it also provides a festive platform where diverse communities can gather and celebrate the city’s extraordinary jazz heritage.  Their feeling is that Jazz transcends race, religion and national boundaries and unites all audiences.  It speaks to the heart, mind and spirit, and is universal. They do regular performances in its downtown space and provide music education.

I’d recommend taking the Big Nine Walking Tour, which is a historical and cultural tour of the MLK District, which used to be called the Big 9 District. The tour includes cultural and music history, historical buildings and the public art that makes the neighborhood pop. More information can be found at www.jazzanooga.org.  Below are some shots I took on the walking tour.

Local musician Matt Downer was jamming away at Rock City (See #10 on this list) while we were there — he was participating as part of Rock City’s Summer Music Weekends. Pulse Magazine called Matt “one of the last, best examples of the oral tradition in American folk music.”  He performs traditional old time music on fiddle, banjo and guitar. Growing up on Sand Mountain, Alabama, he learned to play music from his grandfather and the elder musicians of the area.

A veteran performer, he has played at various venues and festivals including – Rock City, Tivoli, Nightfall, Riverbend and the International Stringband Festival, performing with legendary artists such as – Carolina Chocolate Drops, Pokey Lafarge, Jack Rose, Michael Hurley and Norman Blake. His most recent album was recorded without electricity, directly to wax cylinders, on a 1906 Edison Gramophone at the MTSU Center For Popular Music. I have a video of him performing in my Chattanooga Thriving Music scene article, so be sure to check it out.

5. Drinks & Dining

As a foodie, I’ll always put food towards the top of any “To-Do” list and even though I shy away from carbs and traditional Southern fare typically doesn’t, there are far too many yummy dishes that you must try when heading to anywhere in Tennessee. See my Foodie Guide write-up for specific recommendations on restaurants and food experiences. To whet your appetite, have a look at some of my favorite “tastes” during my trip. It also includes which bars are fun and for what, i.e., Artisan drinks vis a vis beer, Martinis and so on.

Try the ribs at Clyde’s on Main

Above, the onion soup at Hennen’s

Brunch at The Daily Ration

6. Tennessee Aquarium

The Tennessee Aquarium is located on the banks of the Tennessee River and includes two buildings where you can interact with scuba divers, discover otters, alligators, prehistoric-looking sturgeon, a tweeting electric eel, sharks, stingrays, colorful reef fish, penguins, a butterfly garden and more.

We had what’s referred to as a Backstage Pass, which gives you a behind-the-scenes tour and special access to the animals, including seeing the baby animal nursery in the Q-room, which is not yet on exhibit. You can also take in an IMAX 3D movie as an additional choice. More information can be found at www.tnaqua.org. Enjoy some of my shots below.

7. Tennessee Stillhouse

You can’t go to Tennessee and not explore the whiskey scene – after all, this is where you’ll taste some of the best whiskey in the country. Located in the Southside District across from the Chattanooga Choo Choo is the Tennessee Stillhouse, a micro-distillery and tasting room. Yum!

When Chattanooga’s whiskey game was at its peak in the pre-prohibition days, there were 20 distilleries from Market and Main Streets to the Riverfront. Chattanooga Whiskey helped re-write century old laws and today, they are making the first legal whiskey distilled in Chattanooga in over 100 years. Tours include a lesson in how whiskey is made from “grain to glass” and a chance to peak into the process, as well as taste different blends at the end. More information can be found at www.chattanoogawhiskey.com. 

8. Theaters & Museums

Chattanooga has three beautiful historic theaters, all located in the heart of downtown. Tivoli Theatre, Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Auditorium, and Walker Theatre were all important examples of early 20th century civic architecture by renowned architect Reuben H. Hunt.  The Tivoli Theatre, also known as the Tivoli and the “Jewel of the South”, has been open since 1921.

Credit: TimesFreePress 

In 2016-2017, The Tivoli Foundation will present a five-title Broadway Season at the Tivoli Theatre called “Broadway at The Tivoli.”  John Prine was performing at the Tivoli when we were there however acts change all the time so be sure to call ahead or check the schedule prior to your trip.

Photo credit: ChattanoogaFun

The Hunter Museum of American Art

While there are other museums you can experience in Chattanooga, the one that most impressed me after a bit of research is the Hunter Museum of American Art, which is perched on an 80-foot bluff on the edge of the Tennessee River. The Hunter has American art from the Colonial period to the present day, and the collection includes paintings, works on paper, sculpture, photography, mixed media, furniture and contemporary studio glass covering a range of styles and periods. A few of the artists whose work is represented in the Hunter include Thomas Cole, Fitz Henry Lane, Winslow Homer, Robert S. Duncanson, Mary Cassatt, Childe Hassam, Robert Henri, John Marin, Thomas Hart Benton, Helen Frankenthaler, Louise Nevelson, Jack Beal, George Segal, Duane Hanson, Robert Rauschenberg, Sam Gilliam, and Andy Warhol.

I loved the work of contemporary glass sculptor, Stephen Rolfe Powell. Powell, who is recognized both nationally and internationally for his colorfully patterned pieces, draws his inspiration from nature, and ancient Italian murrini techniques. A Birmingham native, Powell began his artistic career as a painter and ceramicist. He had his first experience with glass blowing in the early 1980′s, and has been devoted to the medium ever since. Powell’s Jellies: Living Art, was shown at the Tennessee Aquarium and is a joint exhibition between the Hunter and the Aquarium.

There’s also a unique Art Space in town where we saw the work of pop surreal sculptor Matthew Dutton (his work below).

Entrance to a separate room in the Art Space where they hold independent and unique films on a regular basis in Chattanooga.

9. Rock City Gardens & Ruby Falls

A great day trip is an excursion to Rock City Gardens and Ruby Falls which is nearby. Rock City is on Lookout Mountain on the outskirts of Chattanooga and is well known for the many barn advertisements throughout the Southeast and Midwest that have the slogan “See Rock City” painted on roofs and sides. Apparently, Clark Byers painted over 900 barn roofs in nineteen states for Rock City from 1935 to 1969. Rock City claims that it is possible to see seven states from Lover’s Leap, a point in Rock City, but this has not been proven. It is incredibly beautiful however and a great family travel choice.

Known for its unique geological and botanical wonders, this enchanted 4,100-foot walking trail is a true marvel of nature, featuring massive ancient rock formations and it feels as if you’re below in a mysterious cave even though you’re not that far from the ground.

 

There’s also a 140 foot waterfall that cascades down Lookout Mountain, a panoramic view of seven states and a Swing-A-Long Bridge that spans nearly 200 feet — this is a great morning or afternoon activity and I’d recommend pairing it with a visit to Ruby Falls and making it a full day.

Ruby Falls is America’s deepest commercial cave and tallest underground waterfall open for public viewing. Some 1,120 feet below Lookout Mountain, there’s a 145-foot waterfall. Ruby Falls is listed in the National Register for Historic Places and is committed to sustainability through a concerted effort to reduce their environmental footprint.  They tout four main environmental initiatives: the production of renewable energy, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, recycling and waste reduction, and land use planning. They have apparently made enough progress in these four areas to be the first U.S. attraction to successfully complete the Green Globe International environmental certification process. Bravo to them!

Credit: Green Globe Travel 

10. Chattanooga Market  

On our last morning, we took a stroll through Chattanooga’s local market, which is the region’s largest producer-only arts and crafts and farmers’ market. It is held every Sunday from April to December at the open-air First Tennessee Pavilion in Chattanooga. There are tons of handcrafted works by local and regional artists being shown at different booths, live entertainment, chef demonstrations, fresh bakery and produce items and apparently a different theme for each week.

I’m not sure what the theme was when we were there, but my favorite part of the visit was talking to the local craftsmen, from beautiful teak wood and hand blown glass to homemade soaps and sheep-wooled hats.  And, of course, tasting some of what was on offer, from white tea and tacos to sheep cheese and gelato from Milk & Honey. (we’ve listed them as a great dessert spot on our Chattanooga Foodie Guide).

Below, DB Reisen hand spins at the market — her focus is on luxurious-thermal-affordable gloves, hats and scarves made from wool, Alpaca and Angora fiber. More info at www.BoPeepsBlackSheep.com.


Here, I have a chat with DB about her craft.

A few articles to read before planning your trip to Chattanooga:

 

Busy Lifestyle or Always Traveling? The Dyson V6 Absolute is a Godsend

July 11, 2016 by  

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Dyson has been around for awhile and no doubt, if you love a clean home, you’re heard of the brand. Why? They’re known to have “super suction” and have a variety of stand-up models, including cordless models. Dyson machines now have smaller multiple cyclones than ever before, which create greater centrifugal forces and capture more microscopic dust (this is critical if you have allergies) than any other cyclones. Those if you who have had to push one of those heavy vacuums around know, they’re clunky, hard to move around and can’t make it under tough to reach spots.

I’ve always struggled with finding a great vacuum and two I purchased in the last ten years still don’t work that well. As you know if you’ve ever had to push one of these around, normal upright vacuum cleaners have fixed wheels and run on a fixed axle. They also move in straight lines, a bit like a push mower. A Dyson Ball machine is different in that it rides on a ball, pivoting on a single point, which allows the machine to move in any direction. That’s the first godsend but once you get down to different models, there’s a whole lot more.

Meet the Dyson V6 Absolute, which we’ve been testing out recently. It looks like there’s a lot of moving parts, but we’ll walk you through why!

One of the coolest parts about this upright machine which comes apart, is that it’s cordless, the first godsend for avid travelers. Let’s face it. For those of us on the road a lot, the last thing we want to deal with when we get home from a trip is vacuuming the house and dealing with cords when we do.

What’s sweet about the V6 is that first and foremost, it’s very quick to get through one room, largely because it IS cordless and because it’s much lighter than traditional stand-up vacuum cleaners. We love this feature and anyone with a busy lifestyle will too! There’s also a lot of options to choose from when cleaning, including a soft roller cleaner head, which is invented for hard floors, another feature that we love! The soft roller cleaner head removes large debris and fine dust simultaneously. We were surprised how quickly it picked up the dust on our hardware floors — we tested it on two rooms, the kitchen floor and a hallway. One thing to note is that because it has such strong suction, you’ll typically have to change the container sooner than you normally would – in our case, we had to do it once for coverage of two rooms and a small hallway. How often you need to clean it will depend on how clean your floors are to begin with and how often you clean.

Next up is the Direct-drive cleaner head, which can be used for very thin throw rugs like the one I’m working on below, or  more standard wall-to-wall carpets. The Direct-drive cleaner head drives bristles deeper into the carpet to remove even more dirt and its carbon fiber filaments remove fine dust from hard floors.

One thing worth noting also is that it is so low that I could easily get it underneath furniture that traditional vacuums simply can’t. While there’s no doubt, I’m in love with Rocky, our iRobot Roomba and have recommended it to everyone, what I like about the Dyson is how deep it goes into the carpet to extract even more dirt. What I’d recommend is letting your Roomba run around your house twice a month and the other two weeks, using a Dyson for even deeper cleaning – this is the best formula I know for a super clean house while easing the load of having to clean so hard. Remember that the Dyson is lighter and faster as well and because it’s cordless, you can move from room-to-room more efficiently. It’s a winning duo for any house.

Another thing to note about the Dyson is its whole machine HEPA filtration, which is an added plus for anyone who has Asthma and Allergies. Truth be told, even if you don’t have allergies, dust can cause irritation and frankly, shouldn’t be something you ingest on a regular basis. Dyson is certified asthma and allergy friendly — as an aside, sufferers may also want to know about the useful uHoo air filter which has eight dedicated sensors to ensure you know what you’re breathing in real time. Dyson V6 Absolute uses patented 2 Tier Radial cyclones, a post motor filter and a sealed system to ensure that the air that leaves machine is cleaner than the air you breathe.

The Dyson V6 Absolute cordless vacuum cleaner. The Dyson digital motor V6 creates the most powerful cordless vacuum.

The other thing you need to know about is Dyson’s power! Dyson cordless vacuums are powered by the Dyson digital motor, which uses digital pulse technology and a neodymium magnet to spin at up to 110,000 times a minute. Its small size means that the machines it powers can also be smaller and lighter, a benefit I’ve mentioned a few times.

While we’re talking about power, let’s move onto its suction, which I also mentioned above — it starts strong and it stays strong. I was a bit confused when we first tried the Trigger release motion, but the reason for it is to reserve battery power when you’re not cleaning — you can go full force for up to 16 minutes with the motorized floor tool attached.

Additionally, there’s the extra power push, which provides 6 minutes of higher suction for more difficult tasks. Although we don’t own a pet, I would imagine that this standalone tool would be a great option for cat and dog hair which builds up so easily on floors and on furniture. Remember that because all the pieces come apart, you can remove the long tube and use this as a hand vacuum. Yes, really — talk about a flexible tool, right?

Dyson calls it their Mini Motorized Tool, which they recommend for tough tasks. I’d suggest that it can be used for any task. Because it’s handheld, we tested it out on a throw carpet that we have on the patio and it worked wonders. In fact, I’m not sure that carpet has ever experienced that level of suction with another tool, so much so that the color looks more vivid and brighter than it has in years. Ahhh yes, the small things that bring a smile in life and this one certainly did.

It’s also a godsend for removing pet hair and ground-in dirt from furniture, car seats and tight spaces. Other add-on’s include the Mini Soft Dusting Brush, which they recommend for gentle dusting around the home. I used it for desks and dressers on the handheld tool, but you can also use it for stairs as shown below — it’s so quick to take pieces out and add others.

Ready for one of my favorite benefits of the handheld? You can easily snap in the smaller crevice tool which is great for getting to corners and those hard-to-reach nooks and crannies. Besides stairs and room corners, where would this be the ultimate cleaner? You betcha – your car! LOVE LOVE LOVE this feature!

Now, here’s something you absolutely cannot do with a traditional vacuum — clean blinds, windows and ceilings. What’s nice is their attention to detail, right down to the fact that the wand is a lightweight aluminum wand, making it easy for smaller women to use as well. Let’s be honest: even though I go to the gym and tone my arm muscles, doing housework like this can be exhausting, so the lighter and more flexible the tools, the better.

The last thing worth mentioning is their docking station, which makes it convenient to store. Rather than take up floor space in a closet, there’s charging station that you can screw into the wall near a power outlet and simply hang up. Because it’s always charging, whenever you need to do a quick cordless clean, it’s ready to go, which is as the Brits would say, “brilliant.”

The images below are useful for background of what’s actually in your air. Did you actually realize how much can get trapped into carpets and furniture? Everything from pet dander and industrial emissions to bacteria, mold, pollens and allergens. If you’re sensitive to any of these, having the most powerful vacuum is one way to keep you healthier. It begins with awareness….everything does!

Another thing that makes Dyson unique is their carbon free footprint. Conventional electric motors haven’t changed much apparently in 100 years in that the brushes wear down and emit carbon dust. The Dyson digital motor is different in that it is controlled by a microchip and spins up to 98,000 rpm — five times faster than a modern Indy car engine. Because of its speed, the digital motor is half the size and half the weight. With no brushes or fixed magnets, that also means that it doesn’t emit carbon either.

So, what’s in the box?

What else is cool and I didn’t realize before, is that Dyson machines are exhibited in various museums around the world, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, Zurich’s Design Museum and others. More information on them can be found at www.dyson.com.

Go on, get a Dyson V6 and simplify your life! We love its power and what it can do!

CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa, an Easy Escape from America’s West Coast

July 10, 2016 by  

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There are places you know you’ll always return to even if you haven’t been hadn’t been to in awhile and Mexico is one of those places, even more tourist-visited hot spots like Puerto Vallarta, largely because it’s easy and quick to get to from San Francisco. Recently, I headed down for a food and culture getaway and stayed at the Marriott, which is conveniently located right on the coast.

For those into getaways, it’s useful to know that the property is near the airport. Nestled between the Sierra Madre Mountains and Banderas Bay, CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa is apparently ranked as one of the top 10 Pacific Riviera hotels by Condé Nast Traveler.

What’s nice about its location is that while it’s a stone’s throw from the airport, it feels cut off from an overpopulated area. It also means that you can leave the airport at 4 pm and be checked in and swimming an hour later. Part of the hotel’s facilities includes a nearby golf course, shopping and nightlife. The beach itself is lovely which I had an opportunity to stroll down every morning before our daily activities started. Palm trees swaying, fishermen off in the distance and people lounging nearby with drinks in their hands, even by mid-morning. It’s a place of lounge really and while they do attract couples, it’s known to be a great place for families and corporate retreats.

Think golden sand in front of comfy lounge chairs, umbrellas and kayaks. The pool area is central to the entire property and there’s a swim up bar for those too lazy to get out of the pool when a piña colada is calling. For those not into serious white rum and coconut, can go for coconut water in a freshly cut one right on-site or one of their many Margaritas — you’d be missing out if you went to Mexico and didn’t take advantage of the fresh tequila, which unlike so many bars in the states, is 100% agave.

A margarita is always better with fresh Ceviche of course and the Marriott served the best I had all week, which included five other restaurant stops in central Puerto Vallarta, one of which was supposed to be known for their mixed seafood ceviche.

While the property itself may seem quite large at first glance, the area is actually compact. While it may not be a boutique property with small bungalows spread out with tables facing the sea, the walk between your room and the pool or beach is only a few minutes and you’re greeted with beautiful flowers and palm trees en route.

The Rooms

Guest rooms feature balconies, marble bathrooms, Internet access and plasma TVs.  Below is the view from my room of the pool area and ocean beyond, which is a great place to have your morning cuppa Joe and bring the day in. Or, you can take a stroll along the beach like I did — great joy!

You can also request room extras when you book. They offer a variety of room choices, such as a king or two doubles with a garden view, a pool view or an ocean view, which I had. There’s also a Junior Suite, with a Banderas Bay View, an Ocean view, or an Aztec Tower room with a balcony.

Want an upgraded experience? They have it! Be sure to stipulate what you want in style, view and features. You can opt for the Emperor Executive Suite, an even larger Diplomat Suite or the Governor’s Suite — in my opinion, the best part about suite options are the terraces, hot tubs and views…..have a look!

Fitness & Outdoor Activities

They have a great Fitness Center at the spa on the premises, which has a combination of cardiovascular equipment, free weights and high tech cardio and weight training equipment. They also offer fitness classes, a stretching class, an indoor lap pool, a kid’s club outdoor heated pool and a hot tub. In addition to athletic opportunities inside, you can go kayaking, paddle boarding, play table tennis or tennis, volleyball or take in a sauna. There’s also a Solarium on-site and plenty of kid’s activities, making it a great family stay. The Marriott Kid’s Club has an educational and entertainment program designed for kids aged 4-12 who want to have fun on site. Also worth noting is their Sea Turtle Rescue Program, which is a seasonable offering. From June to November, you can attend a baby turtle’s release ceremony. Yogis will be happy to learn that they have yoga, spinning and pilates classes as well.

The Ohtli Spa

Be sure to read out write-up on the spa, which boasts more than 22,000 square feet of space and is slated to be one of the best spas in Mexico. They have Aromatic showers, steam and sauna rooms, dipping pools, a relaxing lounge area with cucumber and lemon infused water and teas, robes and an indoor relaxing pool area where you can also swim laps.

One of the more unusual therapies they offer is Rebirth Therapy, which is performed in water, and entirely focused on meditation and relaxation. Your therapist will guide you through a series of rhythmic movements that relax your mind, muscle tissue and joints, allowing you to gradually drift into a meditative state. With regular treatments, you should experience improved flexibility and a strengthened immune system.

Yelapa-Reiki Touch Therapy is another service they offer, which is worth mentioning. It’s a light touch therapy that integrates Huihol Shamanistic meditation with western polarity therapy. As the rich scent of copal incense fills the air, your therapist guides you through conscious breathing and into deep relaxation. I had the Rosemary-Peppermint Therapeutic massage – I am a fan of rosemary since it stimulates circulation and peppermint soothes and cools muscle tissue. Two thumbs up! Below is the indoor pool they use for Rebirth Therapy.

Dining

The Marriott has a few options on-site, from the Estancia mainstay restaurant where I spent a chunk of my time (below), which is focuses on Mexican Flavors to Las Casitas, where they offer more contemporary Mexican seafood grill and steaks.

Outside dining and views at Las Casitas!

There’s also a deli on-site, La Cava Wine Cellar which is home to their home brewed Casa Magna Tequila and their Japanese restaurant Mikado, where you can get exquisite specialties and beyond at the sushi bar. The real treasure however is outdoor dining at their private Herb Garden, which can be set up for small groups at an authentic homemade wooden table in a courtyard area on the property, not far from the sea’s edge. Oh so exquisite, oh so elegant, oh so perfect!!

And well….the food wasn’t bad either. Be sure to read our Puerto Vallarta foodie write-up which includes many of the scrumptious dishes at the Marriott.

The chef, sous chef and team came out towards the end of the night to say “hey.” Tres tres delish! Details of what we had are in our foodie write-up. (top Puerto Vallarta Restaurants / Puerto Vallarta Food Guide).

Details:

CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa

Av Paseo de la Marina Norte

435 Marina Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco

México CP 48354

www.puertovallartamarriott.com

Phone: +52 322 226 0000

 

Note: I was hosted by the Marriott but all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Hang Glide Over & White Water Raft Past Tennessee’s Valleys & Hills

July 9, 2016 by  

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This is a must do for the adventure travel seekers out there. From the mountains and the sky to the rivers and trees, start your morning flying over Tennessee’s Lookout Mountain and by the afternoon, be floating down the Ocoee River in a white water raft, taking in the wonders of the trees and bird life around you.

White Water Rafting

Why not indulge in Class III and IV rapids down the Ocoee River?  The very same Top Ten rated river which was the site for the canoe slalom races during the 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta. Located just north of Chattanooga in the Cherokee National Forest, the Ocoee River flows through a beautiful gorge surrounded by scenic wildlife. Count on a half day for the experience — you’re brought up to the entry point by bus and your “team” of six carries the raft down to the beginning of take off, where you start off with a Class IV rapid. Fun, fun, fun! We went with Outdoor Adventure Rafting (OAR) who also offers tubing float trips, rock climbing, rappelling, paintball, and low & high ropes courses. It is considered to be one of the best natural stretches of whitewater in the country.

You go down the Middle Ocoee, which is approximately .5 miles of nearly continuous Class III – IV whitewater, with over 20 rapids. Upper Ocoee is the section of the river that includes the exciting Olympic Course run. The rapids are Class III – IV with a few that are considered to be more challenging than those on the Middle Ocoee. The scenery is absolutely stunning in the gorge. On your way back into town, a fun lunch spot is the traditional Ocoee Dam Deli and Diner near the Parksville Dam. It is family owned and operated and they have plenty of classic Southern dishes on the menu like Fried Steak, okra, green fried tomatoes and chicken and slaw.

Hang Gliding

Lookout Mountain Flight Park is the largest and most popular full time hang gliding school and resort in the United States. Truth be told, I have always wanted to go hang gliding so it was a great thrill to experience flying over Lookout Mountain, on the outskirts of Chattanooga. Lookout Mountain Flight Park offers the opportunity to fly above the mountains and valleys that surround Chattanooga in tandem with a certified instructor. It really does feel like you’re flying as you float below the clouds and take in the breathtaking views. Unlike many hang gliding places where you have to jump off a mountain, you depart from the ground.

They fasten you in on ground level and an ultralight plane pulls your glider up into the air to around 2,000 feet with your instructor and you attached. After you reach the right height, the cord is disconnected and you fly above the mountains. So so cool! See my standalone piece for more photos from my experience. If you’re interested in more, they teach, certify and solo five times as many pilots as any other school.

The company offers a 100 acre mountain resort with camping and lodging conveniently located in their landing zone. Amenities include cabins, clubhouse, bunkhouse, bathhouse, swimming pool, volleyball court, shaded pavilions and more. Students learn can learn at a variety of levels, from a weekend course to more advanced. While Lookout Mountain Flight Park is only 20-30 minutes from Chattanooga, it’s technically in Trenton Georgia.

Above, a pro jumps off the top of the hill.

Below, a quick video snippet before we were ready to take off.

Part 2: I am all suited up and about to go up in the air with instructor and guide Jason.


Top Golf Courses in the Caribbean & Mexico

July 8, 2016 by  

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Truth be told, we haven’t done a lot with golf or reviewing golf courses – Golfweek is great for that since they specialize in it. That said, we’ve been thinking about adding golfing experiences to the editorial calendar for 2017, as golf can be transformative in nature when you’re present with your game and of course, pick golf courses with spectacular views and incredible nature. Since we’d also like to expand our coverage of the Caribbean in 2017 and beyond, below is a top 50 list of some of the best golf courses in the Caribbean and Mexico.
 Cap Cana Punta Espada - photo credit: Golf Zoo. 
SO, here’s the 2016 list that Golfweek curates and produces, for the best in the Caribbean and Mexico. Since beginning its rating system in 1997, Golfweek has developed the most respected ranking structure in the industry. Golfweek’s expert team of course raters, which currently boasts more than 850 evaluators, rates each nominated course on the basis of Golfweek’s 10 strict standards of evaluation. Collectively, Golfweek raters have turned in more than 55,000 votes. Golfweek’s Best Courses lists include: Modern, Classic, Casino, Municipal, Campus, Residential, Resort, Canadian, Caribbean & Mexico, Great Britain & Ireland and Courses You Can Play. Enjoy!

Cap Cana (Punta Espada)

Cap Cana, Dominican Republic, 2008

Jack Nicklaus

Avg. rating: 7.77


Sandy Lane (Green Monkey)

St. James, Barbados, 2004

Tom Fazio

Avg. rating: 7.75


Dunes Course at Diamante

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, 2009

Davis Love III

Avg. rating: 7.70


Casa de Campo (Teeth of the Dog)

La Romana, Dominican Republic, 1970

Pete Dye

Avg. rating: 7.54


Querencia

San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, 2000

Tom Fazio

Avg. rating: 7.48

Querencia


Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita (Bahia)

Punta Mita, Mexico, 2009

Jack Nicklaus

Avg. rating: 7.48


Apes Hill Club

St. James, Barbados, 2009

Chris Cole, Jeff Potts

Avg. rating: 7.31


Mid Ocean Club

Tuckerstown, Bermuda, 1923

Charles Blair Macdonald, Seth Raynor

Avg. rating: 7.26


Royal Westmoreland

St. James, Barbados, 1994

Robert Trent Jones Jr.

Avg. rating: 7.24


Abaco Club on Winding Bay

Abaco, Bahamas, 2006

Donald Steel

Avg. rating: 7.21

Photo credit: MyOutLandIslands.com


Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita (Pacifico)

Punta Mita, Mexico, 2008

Jack Nicklaus

Avg. rating: 7.17


Corales GC

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, 2010

Tom Fazio

Avg. rating: 7.05


El Dorado Golf & Beach Club

San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, 1999

Jack Nicklaus

Avg. rating: 7.03


Cabo del Sol (Ocean)

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, 1994

Jack Nicklaus

Avg. rating: 7.03


Quivira

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, 2015

Jack Nicklaus

Avg. rating: 6.96

Photo credit: Nicklaus


Vista Vallarta GC (Nicklaus)

Vista Vallarta, Mexico, 2001

Jack Nicklaus

Avg. rating: 6.95


Santa Maria G&CC

Panama City, Panama, 2012

Jack Nicklaus

Avg. rating: 6.80


Mayakoba (El Camaleon)

Maya Riviera, Mexico, 2006

Greg Norman

Avg. rating: 6.61


Albany

New Providence, Bahamas, 2010

Ernie Els

Avg. rating: 6.55

Photo credit: www.telegraph.co.uk.


Vista Vallarta GC (Weiskopf)

Vista Vallarta, Mexico, 2001

Tom Weiskopf

Avg. rating: 6.55


Playa Grande GC

Rio San Juan, Dominican Republic, 1996

Robert Trent Jones Sr., Rees Jones

Avg. rating: 6.54


Canouan Resort (Grenadines Estates)

Canouan Island, St. Vincent & The Grenadines, 2002

Jim Fazio

Avg. rating: 6.53

Photo credit: TSIVacations.com.


El Cardonal at Diamante

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, 2015

Tiger Woods

Avg. rating: 6.52


Port Royal GC

Southampton, Bermuda, 1970

Robert Trent Jones Sr.

Avg. rating: 6.45


Iberostar Playa Paraiso GC

Maya Riviera, Mexico, 2002

P.B. Dye

Avg. rating: 6.43

Photo credit: American-Development.com.


Casa de Campo (Dye Fore)

La Romana, Dominican Republic, 2003

Pete Dye

Avg. rating: 6.42


CuisinArt Golf Club

Rendezvous Bay, Anguilla, 2006

Greg Norman

Avg. rating: 6.38


Palmas del Mar CC (Flamboyan)

Humacao, Puerto Rico, 1998

Rees Jones

Avg. rating: 6.38


Ritz-Carlton Resort (White Witch)

St. James, Jamaica, 2000

Robert von Hagge

Avg. rating: 6.36


Reserva Conchal GC

Guanacaste, Costa Rica, 1996

Robert Trent Jones Jr.

Avg. rating: 6.26


Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo

Guanacaste, Costa Rica, 2004

Arnold Palmer

Avg. rating: 6.20


Bahia Beach Resort & GC

San Juan, Puerto Rico, 2007

Robert Trent Jones Jr.

Avg. rating: 6.20

Photo credit: bahiabeachpuertorico.com.


Cabo del Sol (Desert)

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, 1998

Tom Weiskopf

Avg. rating: 6.17


Trump International GC Puerto Rico (Championship)

Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, 2007

Tom Kite

Avg. rating: 6.08


Tryall Golf & Beach Club

Montego Bay, Jamaica, 1958

Ralph Plummer

Avg. rating: 6.08


Puerto Los Cabos (Norman/Nicklaus)

San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, 2008

Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman

Avg. rating: 6.05


Sandy Lane (The Country Club)

St. James, Barbados, 2004

Tom Fazio

Avg. rating: 6.02


Casa de Campo (La Romana CC)

La Romana, Dominican Republic, 1985

Pete Dye

Avg. rating: 6.00

Photo credit: Women’s Golf and Travel


Dorado Beach GC (East)

Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico, 1961

Robert Trent Jones Sr.

Avg. rating: 5.93


Royal Isabela GC

Isabela, Puerto Rico, 2011

David Pfaff

Avg. rating: 5.93


One & Only Ocean Club GC

Paradise Island, Bahamas, 2000

Tom Weiskopf

Avg. rating: 5.90


Cabo Real GC

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, 1994

Robert Trent Jones Jr.

Avg. rating: 5.86


One & Only Palmilla GC (Mountain & Arroyo Nines)

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, 1993

Jack Nicklaus

Avg. rating: 5.84

Photo credit: LivePalmilla.com.


Moon Palace GC (Lakes & Jungle)

Maya Riviera, Mexico, 2005

Jack Nicklaus

Avg. rating: 5.84


Royal St. Kitts GC

Basseterre, St. Kitts & Nevis, 2004

Thomas McBroom

Avg. rating: 5.84


Puntacana Resort (La Cana GC)

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, 2001

P.B. Dye

Avg. rating: 5.84


Trump International GC Puerto Rico (International)

Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, 2008

Tom Kite

Avg. rating: 5.83


Lyford Cay Club

New Providence, Bahamas, 1958

Rees Jones, Dick Wilson

Avg. rating: 5.80


Rose Hall Resort & CC (Cinnamon Hill)

Montego Bay, Jamaica, 2001

Robert von Hagge

Avg. rating: 5.77

Photo credit: IslandRoutes.com.


Club Campestre

San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, 2008

Jack Nicklaus

Avg. rating: 5.77

The 2016 AfroSolo Arts Festival

July 8, 2016 by  

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I love the diversity of San Francisco’s art and music scene and while it’s no New York, I am always surprised by new organizations I learn about who are trying to make the world a better place. Introducing the AfroSolo Theatre Company whose mission is to nurture, promote, and present African American and African Diaspora art and culture through solo performances and the visual arts. They’ve been around since 1993 to give an authentic voice to the diverse experiences of Black people in the Americas. Through art, they bring people of different ethnicities together to explore and share the human spirit that binds us all. Love it!

This year, they are celebrating their 22nd season for their Arts Festival, which will take place from August – November 2016. Their theme this year? “Black Matters!”

Phtoo credit: Everfest.com.

They chose “Black Matters!” because it can be broadly interpreted and expressed and this latitude will provide their artists the freedom to embrace diversity and give voice to all of our varied experiences through theatre, dance, music, poetry, as well as the visual and literary arts.

Although still in development, the festival will consist of a free jazz concert, a visual art exhibit, and their seminal Black Voices: Our Stories, Our Lives Series, Project Empowerment, a youth inspired initiative plus more.

In additions to the festival, they will continue developing their Project Empowerment initiative that includes: a) an anthology of letters written by Black men to uplift, inspire and motivate young Black men and boys to successfully transcend youth to adulthood, b) a mentorship program and c) a guide on having a successful police stop.

 

Puerto Vallarta’s OHTLI Spa Boasts 22K Square Feet of Pampering

July 7, 2016 by  

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On a recent getaway to Puerto Vallarta, I had an opportunity to soak up some R&R time at Puerto Vallarta’s Ohtli Spa (be sure to read the write-up on my STAY).  With more than 22,000 square feet of space, Ohtli is slated to be one of the best spas in Mexico. They have Aromatic showers, steam and sauna rooms, dipping pools, a relaxing lounge area with cucumber and lemon infused water and teas, robes and an indoor relaxing pool area where you can also swim laps.

One of the more unusual therapies they offer is Rebirth Therapy, which is performed in water, and entirely focused on meditation and relaxation. Your therapist will guide you through a series of rhythmic movements that relax your mind, muscle tissue and joints, allowing you to gradually drift into a meditative state. With regular treatments, you should experience improved flexibility and a strengthened immune system.

Yelapa-Reiki Touch Therapy is another service they offer, which is worth mentioning. It’s a light touch therapy that integrates Huihol Shamanistic meditation with western polarity therapy. As the rich scent of copal incense fills the air, your therapist guides you through conscious breathing and into deep relaxation. I had the Rosemary-Peppermint Therapeutic Massage – I am a fan of rosemary since it stimulates circulation and peppermint is fabulous for soothing and cooling muscle tissue. Below is the indoor pool they use for Rebirth Therapy.

The therapy rooms are equally divine — relaxing and meditative in every way with dim lights, candles and tranquil music while you have your treatment!

A wall insert on the way from the locker room to the spa pool area – I loved this!

Some of the more special treasured treatments they offer are listed below:

  • Sensorial Swedish Massage features a traditional Swedish massage technique with warm massage oils infused with citric essential oils — think grapefruit, orange, tangerine and lemon.
  • Yelapa-Reiki Touch Therapy is a light touch therapy with deeply relaxing benefits, which integrates Huichol Shamanistic meditation with western polarity therapy for a profound journey into a peaceful and relaxed state of mind. As the rich scent of copal incense fills the air, your therapist guides you through conscious breathing and into deep relaxation.
  • Rosemary-Peppermint Therapeutic — deeply penetrating deep tissue work massages away stiff, sore and tired muscles. Rosemary stimulates circulation and the peppermint soothes and cools muscle tissue. Bravo — my favorite!
  • Coco-Lima Effleurage is a lighter touch massage, which is meant to warm the skin allowing the hydrating coconut oils to penetrate and soften. The fragrant lime energizes and tightens the skin for a fresh appearance and reduces the appearance of dimpling and uneven tones.
  • Piña-Mango – essences of pineapple and mango combine to create a tightening and toning oil blend. Combined with our specialized firming massage of gentle kneading and acupressure; this therapy will soften muscle tissue while creating a fresh toned skin appearance.
  • Reflexology -- an application of pressure point massage, this ancient healing technique applies pressure to the reflexes on the soles of the feet to release tension and fatigue and improve the body’s physical balance.
  • Soft Shiatsu Spa -- an ancient Japanese acupressure techniques which through energy balancing, will revitalize and enhance your overall well being.
  • Fire Opal Balancing Stone Therapy -- Mexican Fire Opal is said to stimulate circulation and provide energy during stressful times. This session begins with a traditional Huichol ensalmo (incantation) for peace. The therapist then cleanses your body and spirit, through placement of healing fire opals. As the opals transfer their positive energy through your body, the therapist uses smooth warm basalt stones to provide a deeply relaxing massage. The combination of therapies and sensations will clear the mind and relax the body at once.
  • Thai Massage — this traditional treatment is an ancient therapeutic procedure which provides relaxation; balance in various body centers, healthy blood circulation, and an overall manipulation of the physical form and structure of the body. Thai massage works pressure points, energy lines, and basic body forces which together produce a highly therapeutic effect.
  • Rebirth Therapy is performed in water and focuses on meditation and relaxation. Your therapist will guide you through a series of rhythmic movements that relax your mind, muscle tissue and joints, allowing you to gradually drift into a meditative state. With regular treatments, you will experience increased flexibility and strengthened immune system.
  • Blue Agave Syrup & Sea Salt Body Scrub uses gentle exfoliation with some of nature’s most plentiful and powerful resources smooth the body and leave behind fresh radiant skin. The coarse sea salt removes dead skin cells while the agave syrup and light coconut oil base seals in moisture and soothes the skin.
  • Honey Hibiscus Cocoon is a super hydrating and fragant body masque. This therapy wraps your body in a sweet and warm cocoon of honey hibiscus infused moisturizing cream. A cocoon of warm blankets allows pores to open and absorb maximum hydration.
  • Grapefruit Mango Body Treatment is a gentle exfoliation treatment that uses a mix of mango combined with the fresh aroma of the Mexican grapefruit and provides a high level of hydration.
  • Hydrating Tequila Coconut combines Tequila and Coconut which helps to hydrate the skin.
  • Aromatic/Anti-cellulite Wrap is a perfect combination of essential oils with a draining or firming massage. It restores the flexibility of tissues and improves their appearance. A plastifying mask is applied to enhance the benefits, finishing with a specific contouring body cream.
  • Chocolate Indulgence is an ancient recipe made with indigenous ingredients as Cocoa seeds, highly appreciated by our ancestors. Natural cell renewers and antioxidant elements are combined to create a journey to the past.
  • Clarity Bath is a full body scrub that will remove dead cells from your skin leaving it soft and fresh. Clarity will come as you soak in a warm blend of rosemary, peppermint and sage.
Fabulous right? There were a number of lovely fine touches in the spa, such as the basic flower assortment and natural cucumber platter below between the cold dipping pool and the hot tub.

Inside, cold and hot dipping pools sit across the fairly large jacuzzi, which was a godsend for my muscles after snorkeling one day on one of the local day cruises.

Oh so luxe, oh so pampering, oh so relaxing…….two thumbs up!

All treatments and experiences took place after soaking up the sun at the pool with coconut water and their fabulous margaritas, both beautifully presented — well worth the experience and only 3-4 flight from San Francisco and even less from LA.

Details:

OHTLI Spa

Av Paseo de la Marina Norte

435 Marina Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco

México CP 48354

www.puertovallartamarriott.com

Phone: +52 322 226 0000

 

Note: I was hosted by the Marriott but all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

The Ultimate Foodie Guide to Puerto Vallarta Mexico

July 6, 2016 by  

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Foodies, get ready to get take notes for your next trip to Mexico. Meet me in Puerto Vallarta and let’s start tasting! There’s more than meets the eye in this popular Mexican destination. Here’s a list of recommendations and I’ll start with one of my favorite presentations before we even go deep.

Cevicheria El Guero

They do a great job with basic but delicious tacos, chicken, fish and jalapenos of course, but what they’re most well known for is their Ceviche, most notably the Mahi-Mahi ceviche, which was top notch. Yum! We also tried Smoked Marlin as well. They cure many of their ceviche dishes in lime — also carrot, green pepper and green chili. Oh so wonderful! It’s been around since 1989 and they’re open every day until 7 pm.

Local Taco Stands

Two taco street stands worth call outs include TACOS ROBLES, which is a Birria Taco Stand on Constitucion Emiliano Zapata. This was by far my favorite spot for standard classic tacos — it is a family run taco stand and it’s obvious that the grandmother is the artistic genius behind the recipes. It’s been around since 1986 and is still popular today. Two thumbs up!

There’s the ever so authentic TACOS EL CUNADO on Francisco Rodriguez which has been around since 1968. They were so fresh and so delicious – be sure to try their sirloin strip steak, play with their add-ons too, go for the extra spices and add a pinch of salt.

Cesar’s Coconut Stand

This corner stand on Aquacate 271 has been around since 1968, through three generations. It is still a family run business, they care about quality and it shows – the coconut juice is oh so pure and freshly cut open while you wait.

Tortilleria La Gloria 

This is another stop on the Puerto Vallarta Food Tours, which I’d strongly recommend doing. Here, you’ll discover how tortillas are made at the local tortilla factory in town on 5 de Febrero. It’s open every day starting at 6 am.

Gaby’s

One of my favorite spots for both atmosphere and food is Gaby’s, a popular Mexican restaurant in town on Mina #252. Attention to detail is one of the things you’ll notice first about this quaint romantic spot where you can dine both inside and out.

We did a fun tequila pairing here with their Green and Dark Mole, which is a popular dish in Mexico. There are only three basic steps to making green mole: Whip up a purée of toasted pumpkin seeds, tomatillos and chiles in a blender; sear the purée in oil and cook it until it thickens slightly; then add chicken stock and simmer until the mixture is creamy. Mole Verde is also common in Mexico, which is also known as “Pipian” or “Pipian Verde” in some places of Mexico. It can be made with chicken or pork, and you can also add vegetables like green beans, chayotes, nopales, zucchini, and sometimes, even sweet peas. Many cooks add a small amount of corn masa to thicken the sauce. Below, Gaby’s version of both green and dark mole prepared by chef Julio Cesar Castillón Pérez.

Originally from Puerto Vallarta, Julio Cesar Castillón Pérez was born in a practically all culinary surrounding along with the founding of the then, Gaby´s, a Mexican fast food, in 1989. “It was a time in which downtown Vallarta was full of life and all the government offices, banks and stores were concentrated in the center of the city, thus, in its first stage, this Mexican fast food was becoming famous even offering the traditional three course meal like many small restaurants called “fonditas” did.”

Some of the dishes they offer include Stuffed Avocado with shrimp,mix lettuce and creamy avocado dressing, Tortilla Soup with fresh cotija cheese, Aguachile Shrimp which is cooked in a spicy cucumber-chili lime sauce, Ceviche Vallarta which they serve with a pico de gallo sauce, Mussels Dona Concha, which is prepared menier sauce in a creamy chile chipotle sauce with rice and veggies,and Veracruz Style Plantain Empanadas, which they fill with black beans, sour cream and topped with both gouda and cotija cheese. Yum!

El Arrayan

Located in the center of town, this Mexican restaurant makes delicious salads, tamale, meat and fish dishes. Their fish ceviche was scrumptious, made with orange juice, guajillo chili and cilantro mayonnaise. Their Chayote Salad is made with Mexican oregano-lime dressing and a crumbly cotija cheese, which is very popular in this part of Mexico.

For mains, we tried the Pork Tamale in a banana leaf wrapper with black beans and tomatillo zucchini, the Oaxacan Wedding Beef Stew with sweet fruit mole and steamed veggies and the Achiote Boneless fish filet with rice and stewed beans. Their desserts were oh so delicious as well, from homemade sorbets and Baked Banana Flan with vanilla beans to their luscious Lime-Tequila Layer Cake which they serve with Maria cookies.

Xoco Divas Chocolates

This well known Artisan chocolate shop along Basillio Badillio has been around for years, but the owners (2 women from Victoria Canada) are retiring soon, so their store location will no longer be around sadly. News on the street has it that she will be showcasing their chocolates at markets periodically however. There are no fillers, it’s all organic and they use 70% Cacao – oh so delish!

Outdoor Dining & Tequila Tasting at the Marriott

The Puerto Vallarta Marriott offers outdoor patio dining in their Herb Garden. On a beautiful summer night, it’s the perfect thing to do.

Their food is exquisite as well – in fact, I thought their Ceviche was better than the options I tried in town. We tasted a variety of things while we were there, but on our last night, we had a pre-fix menu which included Roasted Beet, field greens, orange segments, goat cheese and caramelized Macadamia Nuts, with a Citrus y Balsamic Vinaigrette to start, followed by a Roasted corn cream Caviar Cuilacoche (cake), followed by a Crab cake with mango sauce, red onions and a chilli sauce, with our main entree being a Filet Mignon with Marrow crushed caramelized onions, foam goat cheese in a demi glace. WOW!

Warm chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream with a strawberry compote was served for dessert ….. AND, we paired all of it with both California and Mexican wines. For Mexican white, I went with the Chardonnay Reserva La Cetto and the Chardonnay Varietal Santo Tomas.  A few of the dishes I sampled during my stay there are shown below.

They do tequila tasting at La Cava as well. We sipped and learned about the tequillas we were tasting from the resort’s tequila ambassador Audrey Formisano. We started with the Casa Magna Tequila Joven which was a young one year old tequila and we paired it with a mozzarella salad. Then came a seafood and avocado dish which we paired with the Casa Magna Tequila Reposado, which had been aged around 9 months in oak. We finished off with the Casa Magna Anejo (aged) tequila, which had been aged in an oak barrel for 4-5 years. With the most aged tequila, we had a chicken dish before moving to our main dinner in the courtyard. I’d strongly recommend doing this when you’re in Puerto Vallarta.

The Blue Shrimp

The Blue Shrimp gets their shrimp, lobster, fish and oysters delivered daily from local fishermen. The restaurant is located on the most popular beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Los Muertos. They offer shrimp served over 30 different ways and the menu also includes authentic Mexican specialties, steaks, salads, soups and more.

The Blue Shrimp was founded in 1999 and was one of the first restaurants in Banderas Bay targeted toward families. It has a fun interior design and also a very mean coconut shrimp which we tasted on our foodie tour. Loved it – bring on the Margaritas and I could have eaten the whole plate poolside!

Aside from the designated stops you make, there are plenty of fun things to take in along the way — food is everywhere on Puerto Vallarta streets, so foodies, beware!!!

Other tequila that I tried while I was in Mexico…..

Other fun suggestions include:

  • Sea Monkey: this spot largely has bar food, so not the stop if you want a serious meal.
  • Coco’s Kitchen: offers traditional Mexican cuisine along Pulpito.
  • Kabuki Sushi Bar: Classic Japanese food and sushi on Olas Atlas.
  • La Yarita Bakery: On the main Basilio Badillo drag, it’s a fun stop for the carb lovers among you.
  • Hacienda Alemana: this is a German restaurant also on the main drag of Basilio Badillo.
  • Joe Jack’s Fish Shack: contemporary seafood offerings in town.
  • Page in the Sun: a great place for coffee, pastries and deli sandwiches.
  • Cerveceria Union: great spot for oysters and beers on Paseo Diaz Ordaz.
  • La Cigale French Bistro: for classic French cuisine, this is a good spot on Hidalgo 398.
  • Cafe Des Artistes: this is a great contemporary spot for fine dining on Guadalupe Sanchez 740.

NOTE: Be sure to also read my See, Do & Eat Travel Guide to Puerto Vallarta, as well as my Marriott hotel write-up!  Would love to hear about your experiences in Puerto Vallarta or other parts of Mexico as well in the comments below!

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