My watch ticks 11:30pm as I step out of the cab and up to the double French doors of the boutique Rivera del Rio hotel. A warm ocean breeze threatens to blow off my beach fedora. With just the slight crackle of the trees and the faintest crash of Pacific waves blocks away, Puerto Vallarta is calm tonight.
Before my knuckles meet the door with a knock, it swings opens, “You have my pizza? You’re two hours late!,” exclaims an exasperated woman in her late 60s. A gray streaked brunette with a flush pink shade of lipstick smeared just above her top lip standing before me in a simple white nightgown; it’s been a long, fabulous day for this woman. Its late. She’s hungry, tittering on desperate. A reflexive “no” quickly leaves my mouth as another door opens, but this time from the side of the facade. I can see the eye-roll before seeing his face. “No Ruby! This is Ryan.” Fading blond, shoulder-length hair, reading glasses, shorts and a T-shirt, this man with deep, raspy voice informs Ruby I’m a writer here to check out the hotel. Meet Grant, one of the hotel managers.
Grant graciously offers a margarita as we walk up the steps to the second floor lobby. I’m immediately struck with the simple grandness of it all. Two sofas and a coffee table center the room. A circular dining room table sits near the front with an open laptop and some paperwork, a makeshift late-night check-in desk. A reflecting pool to the right with three painted wooden ducks floating near the turquoise faux painted walls. Large French doors at the front of the room, open to the trees and the Rio Cuale river across the way. Filled with unintended kitsch, the Rivera Del Rio is a warm, old-world charm of an oasis just off the popular beach path nestled into Puerto Vallarta’s Old Town, more recently as the Romantic Zone.
We climb another set of stairs and pass a large portrait of the villa’s original owner, ‘Silva’ Maria Cortez. She stands proud and elegant in her navy dress with feathered boa and beautiful diamond earrings, a slight smile on her face welcoming guests to her once home. As we walk Grant tells me of the rich history of the hotel. Cortez, a designer and 1960’s socialite would often host Hollywood celebrities of her day. I can almost hear Cortez and close friend Elizabeth Taylor in the atrium, martinis in hand, dishing about their days and the men in their lives, laughing through till sunrise. This is the type of place where a vibrant past looms large and is felt in the air.
The next morning I wake to crisp sunlight bouncing off the jungle mountains surrounding Puerto Vallarta. My room, the Alejandro Penthouse Suite speaks intimate luxury of a bygone era. Its elegant and refined. I spend an hour out on the balcony reading, sipping coffee, enjoying the new day as the city slowly wakes.
Heading downstairs for breakfast, I’m immediately greeted by Oskar, the other hotel manager. He passes on a warm greeting from Alexander Killen, Cortez’s grandson and current owner of the hotel. I’m offered a seat at a balcony bar overlooking the river. While enjoying a delicious meal of fresh fruit, pastries, huevos rancheros, a fresh Ruby enters the lobby area and asks to join. Two travelers sharing not just a meal but a quickly developing a shared bond, I learn of her much of her life; born in Canada, living in San Francisco and New York and now spending months of each year exploring Mexico. Her husband soon joins with even more colorful stories and advice.
I take a moment to savor the conversation grateful for unique personalities and take in my surroundings. This is the Rivera del Rio at its core. Its that charm that comes from character, from celebrating the past, comfortable in who and what we are, the stories we’ve lived and lessons we’ve leaned; truthful in who we are, not trying to be something we aren’t.
If the Rivera del Rio is about old world charm then its sister property, Garlands del Rio, a quick stroll away speaks to a more modern day. Here, like the Rio, each room is decorated in its own style. This is the type of place designed to get lost in. I spend part of the day moving between the hidden passage ways; scouting the nooks, the rooftop patio, the quiet places to settle in while I get lost with a great novel. Back down at the pool I sip a ice-cold cocktail and forget about time until I notice the clock tiled into the pool floor reminds me its late in the afternoon and there’s much more to explore here in Puerto Vallarta.
The city on the beach known to many for its big-resorts continues to surprise with its fine luxuries and lesser-known adventures just off the sand; with its local markets, its thriving artist community and its historic churches, including the towering Our Lady of Guadalupe. As walk through the Isla del Rio Cuale river park, evening rays of pink and orange hit the scattered buildings. I stop to greet a group of local elderly men playing bocce and there behind the trees and across a charming suspension bridge the Rivera del Rio welcomes me home with sophistication and class.