I recently wrote a blog post about my experience travelling to Cabo San Lucas during the pandemic in both July and September. I included my experiences on flights, airports, snippets from the resort we stayed at and shared a bit of the downtown experience. I thought it would be interesting to compare my Cabo experience with my most recent trip to Puerto Vallarta in November for Thanksgiving. Can you guess which destination I felt safest regarding COVID-19? Spoiler alert, it’s not the one you would think.
FLIGHT: ALASKA AIRLINES SAN DIEGO –> PUERTO VALLARTA
Like I mentioned in my Cabo San Lucas post, Alaska Airlines is my favorite domestic airline. Obviously I’m biased since I live on the west coast and Alaska Airlines is readily available for most of my needs especially when it comes to traveling to Mexico. They have it covered! From San Diego, the flight is about 2 hours and 45 minutes. It’s an easy peasy flight so it doesn’t necessarily make too much of a difference if you’re sitting in the main cabin, premium or first class due to how short the flight is.
I booked my boyfriend and I a main class ticket for this trip. I’m currently MVP Gold 75K with Alaska Airlines so I knew my chances of getting an upgrade were pretty high. They are so good at upgrading their elite members. It’s very rare that I don’t get any kind of upgrade. After booking, I was upgraded to premium class right away. However, we didn’t get the upgrade to first class until we were literally about to board our flight. Even though it was nerve racking because I knew there were available seats, Alaska Airlines came through once again!
Because of such a short notice on the upgrade, they didn’t have enough breakfast meals loaded on the plane to give us one which we were totally ok with. From what I could tell, it looked like some kind of omelet however, I don’t believe it was served hot so I definitely wasn’t mad about missing out on it. When snacks came around I was ecstatic to find it was their cheese plate which is hands down my favorite snack they offer in first class! On our way to Cabo, they just gave out Mediterranean tapas boxes which were just meh. Like the Cabo flight, all alcohol was in single serve bottles for first class and premium class. Beer and wine were the only options for this. No mixed drinks. Alcohol was also not for sale in the main cabin.
PUERTO VALLARTA AIRPORT ARRIVAL
After a quick flight, we landed in beautiful Puerto Vallarta! We deplaned and like Cabo, we were all shoved into a bus to take us to the terminal. Not exactly COVID friendly but everyone was respectable and kept their masks on. If you read my Cabo San Lucas blog post, you would have read about the chaos that ensued when health forms to nowhere were passed out as we walked down the stairs to the bus. I’m happy to report that this did not happen at the Puerto Vallarta airport. There was no health declaration passed out upon arrival.
Once in immigration, we quickly noticed how packed it was. There must have been a couple other flights that had just gotten in before us so there was quite a long line. There were social distancing stickers on the ground but, and I’m not sure if this related to COVID-fatigue or not, people were not paying attention to these stickers. Everyone was crammed in this small room and while we kept our distance from the people in front of us, I can’t say the same for the people behind us.
As you wind your way through immigration, there is a temperature check with a big screen showing your body temperature as you walk by. The man standing by the screen wasn’t really paying attention so I’m not sure if there was someone with an elevated temperature walking though that he would even notice. There was no beeping to signify a difference and he never once pulled someone aside for further testing. I for sure thought out of all these people in that room that someone would need to be pulled aside for additional testing.
The line actually moved pretty quickly so once our passports were stamped, we were quickly on our way to baggage claim. Baggage claim was simple, social distancing stickers were on the ground and it looked like most people were paying more attention to these ones than in immigration. Once bags were collected, we quickly made our way through the time share hallway of doom trying our best to avoid eye contact with anyone and everyone. I quite admire these time share agents’ tactics to get you to their desk. They’re ruthless!
AIRPORT TANSFER TO THE ST REGIS PUNTA MITA
While in Puerto Vallarta, we stayed at two resorts with the first being The St Regis Punta Mita. We arranged private transfer through their concierge. We easily spotted the driver as he was in the exact spot the hotel said he would be waiting which is always a great way to start a trip. Stress-free!
As we always do in Mexico, we had the driver pull over for some road beers as the drive to The St Regis Punta Mita is almost an hour. We of course asked if he was comfortable with us removing our masks during the car ride and he had no objection. He kept his on the whole duration. We stopped at a small Corona store right outside of the airport and ran in for some beers. We were startled to find that we were the only ones in the store wearing a mask. Not the cashiers, not the shoppers, no one! I guess that should have been my first sign.
HOTEL ARRIVAL: ST REGIS PUNTA MITA
The drive to The St Regis Punta Mita is beautiful. The landscape change from the city to the jungle is so different than the desert views in Cabo San Lucas. I was in awe. As we pulled up to the resort, we put our masks back on and started the check-in process. They put all of our luggage off to the side and sanitized the outside of it while we were directed toward some mats on the ground that disinfect your shoes as you walk over them. Our temperature was also taken as well as a squirt of hand sanitizer. Once we were sterilized, we were offered a delicious complimentary margarita and the check-in process officially began. I will be writing a more in-depth review of The St Regis so stay tuned!
HOTEL ARRIVAL: GRAND FIESTA AMERICANA PUERTO VALLARTA
The second resort we stayed at was the Grand Fiesta Americana Puerto Vallarta. Our arrival was pretty similar to our arrival at The St Regis when it came to COVID precautions. We walked on the sanitation mats, temperature check, used the hand sanitizer provided and we were whisked away to a special check-in area since my mom is a time-share owner. A complimentary margarita was given! I think this should be mandatory for hotels when checking in. It just makes the process so much more enjoyable.
ROOM: ST REGIS PUNTA MITA
Upon entering our room, we immediately noticed a small Ziploc bag sitting on the table that included two masks, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes. The best part is that these are replenished daily if you decide to use them! Housekeeping here is optional. If you want housekeeping, you schedule it with the front desk at check-in. Just give them a preferred time and they will schedule it for you for the rest of your stay!
ROOM: GRAND FIESTA AMERICANA
Housekeeping came as usual at the Grand Fiesta American Puerto Vallarta. There was no need to schedule but I’m sure if you wanted to opt out you could definitely arrange that and just call down when you need fresh towels, etc.
RESTAURANTS: ST REGIS PUNTA MITA
Restaurants were operating about the same as we were used to in California (at least at that time). You could sit either inside or outside, tables spaced out and masks worn until you’re seated. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the breakfast buffet was open in the mornings! The only difference was that you waited until one of the waitstaff was available and they walk you through the buffet and you just let them know what you would like! This way, they were the only ones touching serving utensils, etc.
RESTAURANTS: GRAND FIESTA AMERICANA
I wish I could say the same about the Grand Fiesta Americana as I did about the St Regis but restaurants were definitely ran a little more relaxed here. You could sit inside or outside, masks worn until seated however, tables were not spaced out much. This hotel definitely had a higher occupancy and the hotel didn’t hide that they wanted to accommodate everyone they could. Their breakfast buffet was also open which was nice. Their approach was you stood back at a safe distance and kind of yelled at the person at each station what you wanted as you held your plate out. It was pretty comical yelling at each other at a distance with masks on. It made for some funny miscommunications but still safer than everyone handling the same serving utensils I would think.
POOLS: ST REGIS PUNTA MITA
The St Regis has three pools. Out of the three only two had service. The only one that didn’t have service was the family pool which caused people with kids to migrate over toward the pool located by the main restaurant. The pool closest to the lobby was an adult only pool which is where we spent most of our time as well as the beach where there was also plenty of service.
POOLS: GRAND FIESTA AMERICANA
There are also three pools at this property all located right next to each other. The first pool was what I would call the “party pool.” There were so many people crammed into this pool, drinks flowing, loud fist pumping music with many games and competitions throughout the day. This pool was definitely a breeding ground for COVID. We stayed far away from this pool and alternatively spent our days lounging on the beach on the opposite end of the COVID infested pool water.
SPA AND GYM: ST REGIS PUNTA MITA
I will admit that I did not make it to the gym this trip but it was open for guests as long as a reservation was made in advance. Masks are required while working out. It’s a smaller gym but there’s enough to get in a good quick workout to help balance out the delicious margaritas and food!
The Remede Spa at the St Regis Punta Mita is stunning. You thought lounging by the pool and beach here was relaxing? Just wait until you spend just a few minutes in the spa’s gardens and waiting room. I’m not sure if they are spacing treatments out to be COVID safe but I only saw one other guest the whole time I was at the spa and she was on her way out as I was on my way in. There were outdoor showers available and the jacuzzi and cold plunge were open for use as well.
The therapists wore masks at all times and they give you a few options to make sure you are comfortable. My therapist asked if I preferred if she wore gloves or not and left it up to me if I wanted to wear my mask the whole time or keep it off during the massage. I really appreciated them giving options as it can be tailored to anyone’s personal preference. I personally opted for her to not wear gloves and I did not wear my mask during my massage.
SPA AND GYM: GRAND FIESTA AMERICANA
Again, I did not make it to the gym while here (shocker), but from what I saw by taking a quick peek inside, it had the essentials. Enough to get a quick and efficient workout in. I didn’t see anything about making an appointment, but I never saw many people in it whenever I walked by.
I also didn’t get a spa treatment during our stay at The Grand Fiesta Americana so I can’t really speak on what precautions they are taking. However, I imagine it is similar to the precautions resorts in Cabo and Punta Mita are taking.
DOWNTOWN PUNTA DE MITA
Downtown Punta De Mita is so quaint and cute! We went into town on a Saturday night for dinner at DeMita and the streets weren’t very busy. The restaurant filled up pretty fast but once you step outside, it was dead. Many people, depending on where you’re staying, rent golf carts and cruise into town for meals and shops. However, taxis are readily available. Most people were wearing masks however we did notice some locals hanging around the taxi stand sans masks. Some of the restaurants looked pretty empty as well so I can imagine this wasn’t a Saturday they were accustomed to pre-COVID.
DOWNTOWN PUERTO VALLARTA
Downtown Puerto Vallarta is a whole different story than our trips to Cabo and Punta Mita. Downtown PV was a free for all. The streets were packed, restaurants were packed and bars were overflowing with people. I would have to say it was a 50/50 chance someone was wearing a mask or not. PV was definitely more relaxed on the restrictions. We even found out bars and clubs were allowed to stay open until 4am!! Quite the difference to our 10pm closures in California.
Luckily the two restaurants we chose for dinner in downtown Puerto Vallarta were adhering to COIVD dining guidelines and tables were spaced out, masks worn and hand sanitizer at your disposal. Our dinners at both The Iguana Restaurant and Café Des Artistes were incredible and I highly recommend both of them for different reasons. I will get a blog post up about the restaurants we ate at on this trip to go more into detail. I honestly had no idea Puerto Vallarta had such a good food scene!
PUERTO VALLARTA AIRPORT
The Puerto Vallarta airport is a bit bigger than the Cabo San Lucas airport and they seemed a little more technologically advanced. Checking in our bags at the Alaskan Airlines counter was the first time we had been approached about health check forms. The nice part about their health declarations is that it could all be done online after scanning a QR code. The best part was that only one person in your party had to fill out the form for everyone. This saved some headache of four of us trying to scramble with using cellular data and filling out forms.
The TSA lines were pretty long and once again we found ourselves in a room where no one was social distancing. However, masks were being worn. I think this took a bit longer because agents had to check your online health form submission. There were quite a few people that didn’t know about it and had to leave the line to fill it out.
Once we were through, we found there were quite a few spots for food. Right after TSA, there’s a small food court with different cuisines available. Tables were spaced out and masks were being worn. We were looking for a more sit-down style restaurant so we kept exploring the terminal. Surpisingly, the only sit-down restaurant we could find was good ol’ Bubba Gumps. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised as Cabo’s airport only had one sit down restaurant as well. We didn’t even attempt the airport lounge as they aren’t quite as useful during the times of COVID. Service and food is severely limited.
As I concluded with my Cabo blog post, did I feel safe in Punta Mita? 100% yes. Did I feel safe in Puerto Vallarta? 100% no. Haha. Punta Mita is much smaller and I felt they did a great job with COVID guidelines. Puerto Vallarta on the other hand is much bigger and I definitely felt like it was more of a free for all there. Life looked pretty much back to normal downtown.
In terms of COVID safety precautions I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Cabo San Lucas and Punta Mita as travel destinations during this pandemic. Although all three destinations can be as secluded as you want them to be, I felt Cabo and Punta Mita’s safety was more effortless if that makes sense. I didn’t really have a moment where I thought, “Wow this is sketchy.” Where in Puerto Vallarta I had quite a few of those thoughts. My guess is that this is because Cabo San Lucas and Punta Mita are more secluded than Puerto Vallarta. With more accessibility comes more people and then it just kind of all unravels from there. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed Puerto Vallarta and I would love to go back and explore more of the beaches and food scene, but I think I’ll be waiting until everything settles down before I head there again. As for Cabo and Punta Mita? I would go back tomorrow if I could.
Have you been to Punta de Mita or Puerto Vallarta during the pandemic? What were your thoughts?