Escapes: Taking a different path in Puerto Vallarta

A trail that hugs the shore takes hikers from Boca de Tomatlán to Quimixto in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

We travel to escape the noise, the numbers and the words that don’t make sense, as William Wordsworth wrote in “When the World Is Too Much With Us.” But sometimes, when we arrive at our destination, the noise doesn’t stop. Time for Wordsworth’s “womb of Mother Nature,” which is the delight in our lead story this week about a place beyond beloved Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

We offer other safety valves as well, from free museum visits to an off-season trip to a watery wonderland in the desert Southwest. We add ideas on safety if you’re taking a pleasure boat excursion, a guide to the best that oyster bars in Vegas have to offer (it’s not oysters) and an article brimming with ideas on how to save money here and abroad with passes. Then there’s a guide on how to spend money — correctly — on tips so you ensure you’re taking care of those who are taking care of you.

All of this and more, plus a peek inside the excruciating process of preparing our annual summer vacation photo issue.


Step aside, world. We have places to go and things to see.

Get outta town

Writer Barbara Ramsay Orr loves Puerto Vallarta, so much so that she and her husband have escaped their last nine Canadian winters there. “We have come to know the place well and continue to value the vibrant culture and relaxed lifestyle,” she said in an email. But sometimes it overflows with expats.

One day, she stumbled on the signs for the hiking path she describes in her piece on escaping the city’s din.

“I was astonished at the untouched beaches and pristine jungle trails. … I felt I had found a slice of real Mexico at its best. Since then I have dragged every guest who visits us along this hiking route, and they have, without exception, fallen for its seductive charms as completely as I did. It is as if I have shared a secret with them.” And now she’s shared it with you.

88 museums to visit for free

Mark Sept. 21 on your calendar. That’s the day you can be admitted to 88 museums for free. By registering, Mary Forgione writes, you get, thanks to Smithsonian magazine, a ticket good for two to such institutions as the Autry Museum of the American West in Griffith Park, the Catalina Island Museum and others farther afield, including one of my all-time favorites, the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas.

The National Steinbeck Center explores the life of famed writer John Steinbeck and his hometown of Salinas, Calif.
(National Steinbeck Center)

And speaking of saving money

George Hobica loves travel and loves helping people save money, he told me recently. The proof: He has assembled a list of money-saving passes that bundle into one ticket museum attractions and the like, and also a list of rail passes that can cut your costs. (Having recently used the SwissPass, which he mentions, I can attest to its money-saving prowess.)

Saving in the off-season at Lake Powell

Whether you’ve sent the kids off to college or want a family escape that won’t cost a fortune, think Lake Powell Resort, Jay Jones writes. You can enjoy spacious accommodations that can house a few or a flock, and with a wonderful water view. Plus, a chopper can take you on an amazing journey.

Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters can take you to Tower Butte in Page, Ariz.
(Gary Ladd / Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopter)

A guide to tipping in Vegas

Tipping need not be an awkward exercise. Jay Jones offers this guide to tipping in Vegas that reduces the anxiety of how much and to whom. If you’re still tipping a buck for a drink? You need to read this.

Questions you need to ask

The tragic fire that killed 34 people on the dive boat the Conception raises questions about the safety and security of such vessels. Christopher Reynolds helps you ask the right questions as you assess the safety of such excursions.

What do you order at an oyster bar? Um, guess again

Michael Hiller talks about three noteworthy oyster bars in Las Vegas, but he suggests not ordering the oysters there — not because they’re not good but because if you slurp up a whole bunch of the bivalves, you may not have room for the real star of the show. A pan roast, he writes, is an “alchemy of seafood, roasted tomatoes, clam juice and a kick of spice, all bubbled in cream.” Yes, please.

Jacqueline McMillion cooks pan roasts at the Oyster Bar at Harrah's Las Vegas.
Jacqueline McMillion has been cooking pan roasts at the Oyster Bar at Harrah’s Las Vegas since the restaurant opened 13 years ago.
(Michael Hiller)

Read us, reach us

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What we’re reading

Everything on our reading plate this week seems to have to do with water. To wit:

▶This is now on my bucket list. Cenote Xlacah, about 17 miles from the Yucatecan city of Mérida, Mexico, is a double pleasure: You can admire Maya ruins while swimming in a cenote, or sinkhole, one of many you’ll find in the Yucatán, Atlas Obscura reports. And you know those little fish that nibble dead skin off your feet? They’re said to be present here. That may or may not be a bonus experience for you.

▶A lack of water has led to the discovery of Spain’s Stonehenge. There is such a drought in the Extremadura region that the Valdecañas Reservoir has shrunk and uncovered the Dolmen of Guadalperal, about 100 megaliths that are seven millennia old, Alyssa McMurtry writes, also in Atlas Obscura. Given how weird the weather is all over the world, the time to see these is now, lest Mother Nature send restorative rains.

▶After wreaking massive destruction in the Bahamas, Hurricane Dorian uncovered some Civil War relics in South Carolina, Meilan Solly writes in Smithsonian. Two people walking on Folly Beach, about 12 miles south of Charleston, found what they reportedly thought were rocks but turned out to be cannonballs. But since no one knows whether they are the kind that smash holes in ships or actually pack an explosive, they may be destroyed.

Civil War-era cannonballs found in Folly Beach, S.C., after Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.
After Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, Civil War-era cannonballs (pictured in this 2016 file photo) were found in Folly Beach, S.C. After the recent Hurricane Dorian, a couple combing the same beach found more of the projectiles.
(Charleston County Sheriff’s Office via the Associated Press)

End paper

Thanks for the misery, readers.

Let me explain.

Each year, we ask readers to submit their best summer vacation photos. We set out rules. We create a deadline. We tell you how. (We tried a new method this year and it worked really well — maybe too well.)

In a few minutes, I’ll step away from this newsletter to join a group of editors — of photos and of words — in evaluating the hundreds of beautiful pictures you shared with us.

When I say “evaluating,” I mean that half a dozen of us will try to find the best of your best and also try not to get into screaming matches.

Yes, it’s happened, and here’s why: We are passionate about the pictures that tell your travel stories, but we all bring different ideas of the ways that story should be told.

We try never to lose sight of the most important thing, and that is presenting you, the reader, with the photos that capture the spirit and the substance of travel.

Watch for the Sept. 22 print edition, along with a broader selection online at

And remember, if you’re out gathering memories, photographic or otherwise, travel safely and well and know that we will always be here to welcome you home.