Puerto_VallartaIf you live on the east coast, heading to Cancun, Mexico, is an easy get-away. From the midwest or west coast, though, Puerta Vallerta is much easier. We recently met up with my hsuband’s family, from the midwest, but scattered throughout the country, in Puerta Vallerta. Oddly, while getting there involved two flights and an overnight in Houston, we did get a non-stop flight home. a strange quirk that you can’t fly non-stop both ways.

Puerta Vallerta turns out to be easy to navigate. The airport is about 15 minutes from the beach, where beach front hotels and restaurants cater to families and couples. We stayed at the Molino de Agua condos, which had gourmet kitchens and deluxe bathrooms and furnishings. The pool even had a large wading area, though it drops off into deeper water without a barrier, so you have to be vigilant.

We rented the condos through Timothy Real Estate. The company, with an office right on the corner, can also arrange excursions. The three bedroom condo had extra beds that were super comfy, but one of the bedrooms was barely a room, with frosted glass doors that didn’t block light or noise.  You could bathe an entire preschool class in the giant tub; there were also three stone showers with hand-held rainshower heads.

The condos also have a private beach area, which some kids treated as a giant and box. The condos have lounge chairs, but if you go a few few further to the public beach (and ocean) there are no chairs.

You can spend your days playing in the beach and sand, and vendors come around with  fruit, drinks and freshly caught seafood. But young peddlers selling sticks of gum also abound, which kids (and parents) might find disturbing. Very small children are out late at night, selling roasted corn or jewelry with their families.

Artists make elaborate sand sculptures, and you are encouraged to drop a few pesos in collection buckets. In January, we saw a sphinx, an iguana, and, in a nod to the season, Santa and his reindeer.

On the beach, you can see whales frolicking, particularly in the morning. To get even closer, we took a whale watch with Vallarta Adventures, which included a marine biologist telling us about the whales, lunch, snorkeling and kayaking.

The Marietas Eco Discovery tour uses a spotter plane, so the boat, seemingly like magic (we didn’t know about the spotter beforehand) took us right to a spot where humpback whales cavorted. We also so dolphins, colorful fish (especially when snorkeling) and lots of birds.

You have to be at least four for the tour, and kids ages four to 11 get a discount. The whale watch includes breakfast, lunch and an open bar.

Los Veranos Canopy Tours take you into the rain forest, where you zip along the tree tops at up to 30 miles per hour. You see tropical birds, iguanas and exotic flowers. The tours, restricted to kids over age six, takes at least four and a half hours, but you may stay longer; you can swim in the river (bring a suit) or see the squirrel and marmoset monkeys in the small zoo.