Sunkissed with serenity

There’s more to Puerto Vallarta than tequila, but the tequila is muy excelente


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One step inside the El Baston del Rey distillery and I quickly discovered I’ve been doing tequila all wrong since, well, forever.

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One step inside the El Baston del Rey distillery and I quickly discovered I’ve been doing tequila all wrong since, well, forever.

The whole lick-the-salt-and-suck-on-the-lime routine? Strictly amateur hour.

Everybody on the tour of the family-owned facility, located along a winding, mountainous road through the jungle about 30 km south of Puerto Vallarta, was given a quick tutorial in how to do tequila right.

This is not a postcard, it’s the view every day from your oceanfront room at the Rui Palace Pacifico. (Geoff Kirbyson / Winnipeg Free Press)

First, you’ve got to breathe deeply. Take a few breaths in and out before you take a sip — or entire swig — of your drink.

Second, DO NOT go anywhere near limes or salt. If you feel the need to numb your tastebuds that way, you’re drinking the cheap stuff.

“Our flavour is so smooth, we consider it perfect by itself,” says Hugo Maldonado, tequila presenter at El Baston.

He’s right.

The tour features mini-shots of every kind of tequila that El Baston makes. Maldonado outlines the ingredients and characteristics of each one as he moves up the menu. As he gets to the third-most expensive variety, “Reposado,” he tells his guests that it’s the perfect drink to serve to your friends.

The second-most expensive bottle, “Anejo,” is so good you’ll only want to pour it for your family.

And the best one, “Extra Anejo”? Well, you keep that one for yourself.


All three were so delicious and so smooth that I asked for seconds, a request that was granted immediately.

In fact, they tasted like no other tequila I’d ever had before. Rather than choking it down as quickly as possible and scrunching up my face, I sipped them to let the oak barrel-flavour swirl around my mouth. As an added bonus, I didn’t wince for even a second as I tried each one.

Maldonado has one last piece of advice — try as many different kinds of tequila to determine which one you like best.

“There is nothing like a favourite tequila,” he says.

Puerto Vallarta is much more than a resort area. Among the picturesque streets and buildings of the town itself is the market adjacent to the Centro Cultural Cuale, the local culture centre. (Geoff Kirbyson / Winnipeg Free Press)

Amen to that. But what if you’ve got two favourite tequilas?

Well, that’s what the gift shop on the way out is for. El Baston’s staff will happily bubble-wrap your bottles so they’ll make it back safely to your liquor cabinet back home.

Tequila is much more than just something to drink while you’re relaxing in Mexico. It’s an integral part of the country’s economy and national pride. It’s derived from the blue agave plant and is native to the state of Jalisco in southwestern Mexico. You don’t have to look far for blue agave at El Baston, a few of the plants are growing right by the front door.

The El Baston tour is just one of the sites you can visit in Puerto Vallarta if you venture outside of your resort. And trust us, your Mexican experience will be that much more enjoyable if you set foot in shops and restaurants that don’t care about the coloured bracelet on your wrist from your all-inclusive resort.

Consider using the 80-20 rule. Spend 80 per cent of your time lounging around the pool or on the beach with ice cubes clinking around in your umbrella drink and use the other 20 per cent to go off campus.

When you venture off-campus, make sure you bring some extra pesos to order dos cervezas. (Geoff Kirbyson / Winnipeg Free Press)

No trip to Puerto Vallarta is complete without some shopping, so on our way back from El Baston, we stopped into the market adjacent to the Centro Cultural Cuale, the local culture centre.

This vibrant market sells everything from jewelry, clothing and hats to hammocks and tourist-friendly licence plates with sayings in individual letters sliced off actual licence plates such as “TEQUILAPORFAVOR,” “SAVEWATERDRINKBEER” and “NOMONEYNOHONEY.”

The Malecón boardwalk is a great place to people watch, breathe in the salty air and buy home-made honey drinks from local vendors. There is also a made-for-tourists photo site featuring “Puerto Vallarta” in colourful four-foot-high letters overlooking the ocean.

If you’re a fan of Cercle Moliere or Club Tropicana shows, you’ll love the Rhythms of the Night extravaganza. Your evening starts off with a half-hour sunset cruise to Las Caletas, a beach located across the Bay of Banderas. There are two seatings for a candle-lit buffet dinner — one before the show and one after — overlooking the water. The show begins with a minstrel telling his story and then the performers take over. The gravity-defying acts include a quintet of acrobats first on a teeter-totter and then a giant swing, a trio twirling giant flaming batons and a human pyramid constructed by people who appear to be made entirely of rubber.

The fun continues on the cruise back as the entertainment staff — who on the way out didn’t do much more than tell you about the show you were about to see — suddenly don sequinned jackets and other fancy outfits for a lip sync and dance show. Even the bartender had his own choreography while he poured drinks.

Tequila, please. Neat, no lime, no salt.


Dancing Queen!

I’m a fan of (don’t laugh) Dancing with the Stars and the salsa is my favourite dance out of all the styles.

Therefore, it only makes sense that I was daydreaming of being a salsa dancer while I was lounging in the RIU Palace’s pool and swilling pina coladas, which were dutifully brought to me in very quick succession by my very own cabana boy (Geoff). And it was at that moment when I made a slightly inebriated and sun-induced decision to learn how to dance the salsa. But who could teach me?

As I floated serenely in the water pondering that deep life question, I suddenly had a magnificent vision of epic dancing proportions, and it wasn’t from having too many frozen adult beverages. It was real and it was fabulous. An effervescent young man was busting dance moves all around the pool to the music pumped out by the bar.

It was BRUNO!!! Bruno Palomera is one of the RIU’s entertainment staff and he was hyping-up my fellow sun worshipers in the pool. His dance moves and undeniable charisma was bringing them to a frenzy worthy of Menudo. Surely, he must know how to dance the salsa.

I wondered if Bruno would be willing to teach me a few steps. But he was a RIU celebrity and his groupies were many. How would I even get close? I decided it sounded like a job for my socially-connected cabana boy to make it happen. Upon delivery of my next pina colada, I convinced Geoff to broker a deal with Bruno and he did!

I met Bruno outside the activity centre and he was extremely kind, fun, gracious and patient while he introduced me to a few basic steps and combinations “Salsa Cubano” style. The salsa is a fusion of various latin dance steps taken from the mambo, cha-cha-cha, tango, flamenco, as well as the rumba. Just like the sauce of the same name, it’s served up SPICY! There are also many styles of the salsa including, but not limited to, the Puerto Rican, New York, Miami, LA, Colombian and Cuban styles.

With the beautiful backdrop of the ocean and the breeze blowing our hair – picture a Beyonce music video – Bruno hit the music and the magic happened. While Bruno displayed the footwork of three-time world salsa champion, Jorge Martinez, I awkwardly struggled with the sultry dance moves in my flip-flops. But it was all great fun and such an incredible experience. Although I won’t be getting any offers to appear on Dancing with the Stars any time soon, Bruno did make me feel like a dancing queen for a few fleeting moments and that was everything!

— Tara Senne


Food fiesta

When you walk into the main dining hall at the Riu Palace Pacifico and the chefs and serving staff greet you with an enthusiastic version of the “Himno Nacional Mexicano,” you know it’s Mexican night.

(The national anthem is sung on Saturdays.)

Everything on the menu — and we mean everything — is Mexican. And we don’t mean the kind of food you ate at Chi-Chi’s Mexican Restaurante in the 1990s.

The staples of the Mexican diet — rice, beans and tortillas — can be found at virtually every buffet station. But that’s just scratching the surface.

There’s a taco station, quesadillas, tamales, enchiladas (featuring 27 different ingredients), tostadas, camarones, tipos, mole (Mexican curry), Mexican stew, mahi mahi, octopus, seafood casserole (featuring fresh shrimp, calamari, squid and mussels), fajitas, stone crab claws, roasted pork, cole slaw with jalapeños. Even international favourites such as pizza are done with a Mexican flair — try a slice of shrimp or jalapeño and cheese.

If it all sounds a little daunting for your palette, corporate chef Victor Perez would like to remind you that Mexican food is not spicy.

“It is hot, though. You can always ask for the spice but you don’t have to have any spice at all,” he says, noting that his staff goes through 120 kilograms each of avocados and tomatoes and another 40 kilograms of lemons and limes every single day.

Of course, you can accessorize everything on your plate with a wide variety of different peppers and salsas.

There are also plenty of vegetarian options, including corn, zucchini, spinach and French fries made from — what else? — Mexican potatoes.

There’s no shortage of fresh fruit, much of which is picked just down the road, such as watermelons, pineapples, honey dew, cantaloupes, grapefruit, apples, pears, mangos, strawberries, kiwis and passion fruit.

“You know what they say about passion fruit?” Perez asks. “It’s the Viagara of the Caribbean,” he says with a hearty laugh.

There is no — repeat, no — Mexican fried ice cream. But if you’ve somehow managed to save room for dessert, you can sample cakes, tarts, candied apples, puddings and pastries and cover them with a few ounces from the focal point of the entire dining hall — a chocolate fountain.

— Geoff Kirbyson

If you go…

The Riu Palace Pacifico is a luxurious hotel located on Playa de Flamingos beach on Banderas Bay (which opens into the Pacific Ocean). In addition to the main dining room, there are a trio of restaurants just in case Mexican food isn’t your thing. Kyoto’s Japanese cuisine, the Krystal fusion restaurant and La Toscana steakhouse are a slower pace and don’t have the same crowds — or children — that the main dining hall does.

The property’s focal point is the Olympic-sized swimming pool, located between the hotel and the beach, featuring a swim-up bar and whirl pool areas.

The sports bar offers pool tables, snacks and if you’re lucky, the bartender will be able to find your favourite team’s game on the satellite dish.

If you don’t feel like getting out of your swimsuit before eating, there are pool-side barbecues every day at lunch offering chicken, pork, hamburgers and jambalaya.

The Riu also offers a number of water sports, including kayaking, windsurfing and body boarding. There are 445 rooms but only the select ones on the top floor have outdoor hot tubs ideal for watching the sunset.

There are plenty of entertainment options once the sun goes down, too. The main stage features nightly shows of local and international music and dance. If you’re lucky, you can catch the tribute to Michael Jackson.

The staff is incredibly friendly and will happily indulge you if you try to speak broken Spanish to them. They provide children’s programming, dancing lessons and aqua-fit classes.

Sunwing Excursions: The local Sunwing representative can book you a spot in one of its excursions, including catamaran rides, speed boat rides, jungle walks, snorkelling, zip lining, water sliding, rapelling, eco-tours and a mountain excursion aboard a mule.


Updated on Saturday, January 21, 2023 2:20 PM CST: Updates deck

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