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Before I stayed at the Hilton Vallarta Riviera, I have to admit, just the idea of staying at an all-inclusive resort made me pretty nervous. When I thought of all-inclusive, I pictured bland food and stale pizza, watered-down drinks, and a rowdy environment of drunk party-goers because, well, it’s all-inclusive. It’s just not my style. When I go on vacation, I want to have a luxurious experience away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. I’m willing to pay for my own food, drinks, and excursions, even if it costs a bit extra.

I also want to ensure I have an authentic experience, not just an Americanized version of the destination. It can be hard to find that balance. A few weeks before staying at the Hilton Vallarta Riviera, I was in Cancun. I stayed at a resort with an all-inclusive option that I did not pay for, but we decided to eat at the resort a couple of times. The food was definitely below my standards, and one meal was so awful we left the restaurant after only having a few bites of food. The few times we ordered room service because we were too lazy to go out, I found the food bland in a country known for its bright, bold flavors. The Hilton Vallarta is doing things a bit differently, using the town’s natural beauty and culture, which makes for a unique stay.

“I think we have this idea of an all-inclusive being, we’re just hanging out by the pool, have four hamburgers and two hotdogs, and bring all the margaritas and all the Pina Coladas,” says Monica Gonzalez, director of sales and marketing. “Hilton has just entered into the all-inclusive area, and we want to do things differently. And I think the best way of doing that is bringing the local culture into the guest experience, not only for the food and beverage but also in the entertainment product. And having something that’s special for every single member of the family.

The Hilton Vallarta Riviera property

all inclusive resort in Puerto Vallarta

Photo: Olivia Harden

The hotel is about a 45-minute taxi ride from the Licenciado Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport. You can also set up a ride through the hotel prior to arrival. Once there, I walked into one of the most gorgeous lobbies I’ve ever seen.

Many of the hotel common areas are open-air bringing the beauty of Puerto directly to you, which is why the first thing you get is an incredible ocean view met with the sounds of the waves. I headed to check-in, where I received a traditional cocktail upon arrival, a card that was good for one beach towel, a wristband with a wooden charm that doubled as my room key, and a way to signal to hotel staff that I had all-inclusive access. Most all-inclusive hotels tend to be adults only. However, since Hilton began managing the property, it is now family-friendly, which could be helpful if you’re a family on a budget. Still, it did make me nervous about kids running around everywhere. However, my room was located in an adults-only tower, which I think is a smart way to let both solo adults and families enjoy the experience.

“What we’re trying to do is, for example, if we have night entertainment, we will have something for kids, something for teens, and we will have something for parents,” Gonzalez says. “So our rally cry is to experience the joy of connection. What we’re trying to pursue is that when the kid, the teen, and the parents just come together, they start to talk about what they just experienced, and we are creating memories.”

I headed to the adults-only tower, noticing that the tower had the same feel as the lobby. Instead of traditional windows, natural-looking openings offer views of the ocean and poolside area, letting you enjoy a sea breeze. I headed up the elevator and arrived at my room. The room was an oceanfront room with a king-size bed. At the Hilton Vallarta, every single room in the hotel has an ocean view, which means no one misses out on something so special about the property.

Puerto Vallarta Hilton

Photo: Hilton Vallarta Riviera

The room was beautiful and tranquil. The marble bathroom has a rainfall shower, and the bedroom hosts a king-size bed with crisp linens, a grey lounger, a flat-screen tv, and a dining room table set. But the balcony with the ocean view and two lounge chairs is the obvious focal point. But if I’m being honest, the room isn’t what makes the property special. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful and a great landing point during the day, but there are plenty of beautiful hotel rooms all across Mexico. Puerto Vallarta has a different history than other popular spots in Mexico, like Cancun and Cabo.

“Don’t get me wrong, I actually love going to Cancun,” Gonzalez says. “However, I think everything gets built for tourism. It was a land that started 40 years ago, and everything was created from scratch for tourists. Cabo, it was pretty much the same thing — being so close to the United States, it became a really popular destination for Americans to come and visit. Puerto Vallarta was a fisherman village that was founded 100 years ago, and tourism started to grow around this.”

Puerto Vallarta has kept the spirit and tradition of that village, Gonzalez adds, even with celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor who visited and loved the destination.

“Everything you taste, everywhere you walk, it’s Mexico,” Gonzalez says.

While I enjoyed the property, I spent some time at the pool and beach. This family-friendly resort has an adults-only pool, but it’s pretty close to the family pool, so don’t expect an abundance of quiet. I also spent time in a reserved private cabana with a super comfortable daybed, but there were few cabanas that actually offered a view of the beach or any sun, which was a bummer. However, the hotel does offer great beach access. You can’t go too far out, but I enjoyed a leisurely walk and some time in the water.

Puerto Vallarta Hilton pool view

Photo: Hilton Vallarta Riviera

If you’re looking for a relaxing experience, I would definitely recommend the eforea Spa. I decided to get a mud wrap — an 80-minute luxurious treatment that included a full-body exfoliation followed by mud that softened the skin. When it was over, I found myself so relaxed that I could’ve stayed there forever. Booking a treatment also grants you access to the spa’s amenities like the hydrotherapy pools, a steam room, sauna, and whirlpools.

What to eat at the Hilton Vallarta Riviera

all inclusive resort in Puerto Vallarta, ceviche

Photo: Olivia Harden

Hilton’s approach to food the all-inclusive resort in Puerto Vallarta means you can enjoy the cultural significance of Puerto Vallarta without ever leaving the resort. Remember how I said I was nervous about trying food on the property? I’m happy to report that almost everything I ate or drank was really tasty. My biggest tip? Skip any buffets. In the age of COVID-19, I still find buffets to be a less sanitary option, and the food subpar. Why go to a breakfast buffet downstairs when you can have freshly made chilaquiles delivered to your room for a lazy morning eating on your balcony while taking in the waves. You definitely don’t want to miss the Mojito Lounge located on the fifth floor. The specialty is mojitos in several different flavors (although I had a regular one because I’m pretty boring) and they were paired with yummy appetizers.

all inclusive resort in puerto vallarta, chilaquiles

Photo: Olivia Harden

My favorite place to eat was Cocomar. The restaurant was highly recommended by the hotel staff for the several types of ceviche they had on the menu, and all three I tried were delicious. My favorite was the traditional Vallarta ceviche made of ground white fish, lemon, carrot, a Mexican sauce, and mayonnaise served with crackers and chips. I honestly could’ve eaten the whole bowl by myself. Another great restaurant is La Luce, which serves Italian cuisine. I enjoyed the Ai Funghi, a mushroom risotto. And of course, you can’t come to Mexico without eating chips and fresh guacamole, which I ordered poolside.

What to do at the Hilton Vallarta Riviera

all inclusive resorts in Puerto Vallarta, Mexican show

Photo: Olivia Harden

The Hilton Vallarta is jam-packed with activities including ping-pong tournaments, water fitness, Latin dance lessons, beach volleyball, and more. I took a morning sun salutation yoga session at the Sky Bar which is located on a rooftop deck with a gorgeous view of the ocean. The session was not a typical Americanized yoga session. Instead, the experience included shaman rituals with a smoke cleanse, rhythmic drums, and knowledge of Indigenous people’s interaction with nature. This is a perfect way to start your day. Another activity I loved was the tequila tasting. I’ve done tequila tastings before, but never like this. Each tequila was paired with proper accompaniments, and I learned the history of tequila in Puerto Vallarta and across Mexico.

I also recommend the Mexican Show held poolside. There is a buffet, which I would suggest you eat beforehand, but the performances are really special. There was an amazing Mariachi band and, later, a dance performance where the dancers showcased each of the 32 states of Mexico. For each state the dancers changed into different costumes and showcased traditional dances that highlighted the diversity of Mexico. Following the show was a silent disco located at the Sky Bar where I was fitted out with a pair of headphones for a dance party with music on two different stations.

When it’s time to head home the hotel makes it really easy to schedule a COVID-19 test for your return. However, I opted to bring my own. eMed’s BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card Home Test is easy to use and travel approved, as it is still the only at-home test approved for returning international flights.

Overall, I would definitely return to the Hilton Vallarta Riviera. While I always recommend traveling off property to immerse yourself in a destination, this hotel is a great all-inclusive resort in Puerto Vallarta with tasty options and entertainment that is in tune with Puerto Vallarta’s culture and won’t break the bank.