It’s just a 30-minute car or taxi trip from the Hacienda but the internationally renowned Vallarta Botanical Gardens is a world away—and a paradise we recommend adding to your must-see list in PV. Set on 20 acres of dry tropical forest high in the Sierra Madres, the reserve is home to 3,000 (thousand!) different plant species, many rare and all native, as well as a prize-winning conservatory of Mexican orchids—did you know that vanilla comes from an orchid indigenous to Mexico? Indeed. And you can catch a demo starring the ancient aromatic beauty on April 24 at 1 pm in the conservatory, where it grows alongside cacao and coffee plants. Visitors are welcome six days a week (the Gardens are closed Mondays between April and December) and can join a tour or make their own way along the well-marked trails. Either way you’ll come across remarkable mini-habitats of palms, roses, tree ferns, agaves, magnolias—even a collection of carnivorous plants! Tranquilo, it’s insects, not humans they’re after. Winged escorts abound, from whirring hummingbirds to the elusive yellow-eyed trogon citrealus, not to mention butterflies and praying mantises (who can make full revolutions of their heads when searching for a snack, fyi). Pack a bathing suit and cool off with a dip in the spring-fed Rio Los Horcones, a lazy, boulder-punctuated stretch that meanders through the property.
After absorbing all that natural beauty, you may want to recap and unwind over lunch on the upstairs patio of the reserve’s highly-rated restaurant, Hacienda del Oro. Continue on with more botanical exploring, or head back to the Hacienda for a sunset swim and/or cocktail. That, nos amigos, is one fine way to spend a day.