The Vacation Experiment – Staying Healthy in Puerto Vallarta

Hola amigos!

We just returned from a pretty amazing vacation (5 nights, 6 days) in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. PV is a cool little port town filled with historic buildings and cool sculptures and art — and of course, lots of resorts and gorgeous beaches.


This was my second time here but Ben’s first time to Mexico. This vacation was important because it’s the first we’ve ever planned more than a few weeks in advance, and fully necessary for my ailing adrenals (I have Stage 2 adrenal fatigue going on up in here). A beach vacation is exactly what we needed to relax and take a break. My plan: do absolutely NOTHING.

Was it successful? ABSOLUTELY!

Here’s the thing, though. Hashimoto’s (an autoimmune thyroid disorder) runs every aspect of my life. I don’t go more than 10 minutes without thinking about something related to “Am I feeling alright?” or “What do I need to do now to ensure I’m going to be ok 5 minutes from now?” I’ll get more into the actual details some other time, but I’ve done an awesome job of managing it, if I do say so myself! I pack and cook all of my own food, I bring my own water, I sleep when I need to no matter what has to be done or who is around, and I need to be selfish about everything that I do. One mistake could easy set me back by months to flare up an autoimmune attack and make me sick again.

This vacation was important because, well, I never thought I could take a vacation! That’s how limited I feel sometimes with Hashimoto’s. I can’t always do whatever, eat whatever, or go wherever I want and when I want — guess that’s what happens when you get “old” and in your 30s. ;) If you’re wondering how I eat, the short of it is that it’s like Whole30 or Paleo on steroids and way more random (to avoid the random foods I’m sensitive/intolerant to – like beets or bananas!).

I started searching for resorts and hotels that could accommodate food allergies. These are the types of kitchens and staff that are trained on how to properly prepare food & avoid cross-contamination. I stumbled on some online articles & TripAdvisor threads, and of those, the most desirable, affordable, and geographically feasible for us was Secrets Vallarta Bay in Puerto Vallarta. I cashed in on the Southwest points I’d unknowingly been hoarding, so even our flights were free. (Direct flight, what!!)

The rest of this post is vacation photos, so if you have autoimmunity like me, are stressed about it, and don’t feel like you can travel, this post is for you. And the hotel is beautiful. A smallish property, but beautiful.

Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 1.57.17 PM

Fooding: I emailed in advance, but found out quickly after check-in that all I needed to do was get a dietary card from the Concierge that I’d carry around with me all week and show to servers before ordering. I need to skip gluten, dairy, soy, corn, beans, and sugar to “stay right” and not destroy the progress I’ve made with leaky gut, thyroid autoimmunity, blood sugar management, and adrenal dysfunction.


The hotel property is actually 2 sister hotels (Secrets & NOW) that share some but not all restaurants. One hotel is family friendly, one is adults-only. This sharing gave us a lot of choices (if we’d tried them all at least) like French, Japanese, Mexican, Italian, Steak & Seafood, and a good stand-by buffet. Based on my limitations, some weren’t really an option — Japanese has a lot of soy & rice (which cross-reacts and acts as gluten), while French and Italian were very gluten heavy and/or used cream & cheese. We did the seafood & Mexican restaurant a lot, and the food was always amazing fresh. Menus were designated with vegetarian and gluten-free legends so you knew. I’d have loved to see a dairy-free menu icon, but I’m thankful that they even did what they did! I got pretty sad a few times in discovering that there were no considerations made for gluten-free desserts (like not even a bowl of fruit or berries easily available) in the sea/menu of chocolate, cake, and dairy-based goodies. We were offered lime sorbet once, but it wasn’t actually on the menu. Again, putting it in perspective… at least I could come and eat dinner here. I’ve done my fair share of going to restaurants to hang out despite awkwardly not being able to eat there, which always makes me feel like more of an outsider.

So, I didn’t really have to eat like a weirdo and I could eat at select places. During my more restrictive times (more than now), none of this would even have been possible.

Puerto Vallarta Secrets Food

My favorites… lots of ceviche – even a make your own ceviche bar at every lunch buffet. Mango tower with smoked marlin, and always-fresh salsa & guacamole, fruit, and veggies at every meal. Presentation was amazing.  Everything made from scratch.

I loved breakfast the most — I can’t eat eggs, but it was nice to start with a green juice, some fruit, some steamed veggies and eat my weight in smoked salmon & avocados. It’s always about the smoked salmon.

Once I found dinner dishes I liked at the Mexican restaurant (fajitas) we kept going back because of the server’s best knowledge and positive attitude in accommodating – even sometimes bringing out stuff for us that wasn’t even on the menu. Miguel was the best!! In fact, every single staffer at the resort was beyond friendly and willing to help with anything you asked. This restaurant also had live mariachi music each night.IMG_8109

We spent most of our days on the beach. You know how it’s like a shark tank when tourists step off of a cruise ship? Where all the Cheap Charlies lie in wait, while smacking their lips, waiting to pounce for those US Dollars? Well, that didn’t happen here! Even the beach vendors (vendadores) were chill in PV – not aggressive whatsoever. And even so, there was a resort security guard posted on the beach to ensure that guests were not hassled by the vendors. They’d come over if we were looking at stuff, and ask, “Everything ok?” just in case. But it was always ok. In fact, we thought it was entertaining to watch & see what types of products they’d be walking by to sell. This guy was selling photos with an iguana wearing a sombrero.


Beach vendors walk up and down the beach showing their goods to resort guests, hoping they’ll get flagged down for a purchase. Our resort was a good spot to take a break before the next stretch.



These vendadores work hard. And they’re in the sun all day. Hats, horseback rides (as in, they towing their horses with them at that moment!), henna tattoos, massages, bracelets, silver jewelry, parasailing rides, sandals, shrimp on a stick, blankets, dresses…. you name it, they were selling it. It was just so awesome how it all came to you – no need to get into town, just sit on the beach!!

I bought this coconut for $5 from a guy walking the beach with a machete and a bucket of coconuts.



He came by 30 minutes later to hack the shell in half so I could have the coconut meat inside!

Speaking of foods we never eat… how about this: the mini bananas at the breakfast buffet! LOVE. (Because don’t we all feel like a whole normal-sized banana is usually too much banana??? They’ve even solved a problem I didn’t even know I had!!)

IMG_8089Oh yeah – the beach.
This was the view from our beach chair & cabana each day… I only wish I could have captured the blue and aqua colors as they actually were.
IMG_8099 The resort has an activity schedule every day, and we participated in the cornhole tournament, yoga, and archery. They do kayak, beach walks, and all sorts of poolside games & fun throughout the day. At night, they have live shows and live musicians. I liked listening to the singers from weddings that were going on down below.

We took a one-day break from reading and sleeping on the beach to walk about 1.25 miles each way to the downtown areas. I know, so much work.

“OH MY GOODNESS!” one might say, “You guys walked the streets in Mexico?? Isn’t it kind of… kidnappy???!!!” If you’ve not been to a touristy city in Mexico, I can see your line of reasoning. People get kidnapped all the time in movies! But Puerto Vallarta is a super clean city and doesn’t smell (NYC I love you but… garbage.). It’s safe – in fact, I’ve definitely felt more uneasy walking around in Indianapolis or Bloomington than I did here. Unless you’re doing something or buying something you shouldn’t be…. there’s absolutely no need to worry about your personal safety in a city like this. And especially not in this part of the city. Your biggest danger there is tripping on a stone paver.


The anti-scary.


Once we got to downtown, we saw stuff like this:


This sand sculpture was at least 12 feet tall.


Don’t forget the sunblock. Pretty mosaic benches.


Cool tile painting by a local artist 


I wish you could see the railings & flowers on this building! Beautiful architecture all around.


City building

We walked through some parts of downtown called the Malecon (the boardwalk along the ocean/bay) to see the artists, tchotchke shops, beachfront restaurants, and historic buildings & architecture. We passed through and also hit Zona Romantica/Old Vallarta which has a little more of a laid-back boutique beach town vibe than the resort area where we stayed. A cruise ship had just arrived in port that morning, so the downtown area was packed with cruise passengers who’d sailed from Los Angeles (hmm – vacation idea??).


Strolling the Malecon


Sculpture along the Malecon. I (choose to) believe this is an alpaca.

Other random stuff:

All my life I’ve never felt like I would ever be able to (afford to) come to a place like this, so it was really cool to kick back, relax and be thankful for…. life — that we can have this experience!

And, guess what this is?


It’s an ashtray.
Brushed, stamped, and flowered. WE FANCY.

And ok, how about this, my safety geeks? The guy in the middle is mopping the lobby’s glass ceiling while tied off…. to the other guy near the ladder…. who’s tied off to that pile of rope sitting next to him. OY. {head desk}

In the background you can see the suites – every room in the hotel has an ocean view & balcony!


Also, we kinda chuckled at the “airplane speed trap” going on here while we were sitting on the PV airport runway.


Just as with any vacation, it ended almost too soon. It was all definitely made possible by the fact that Secrets resorts can accommodate special dietary needs – it made me realize how much mental and physical energy I spend on eating, cooking, and preparing/thinking about eating and cooking. It was like a weight lifted off for a few days!

Above all, this trip was worth celebrating as the first time I’ve not been an Energizer bunny (go go go and do do do) while I’m supposed to relax… and I could get used to that. This is the first time I didn’t need a vacation to recover from vacation.


We’ve agreed that this needs to happen wayyyyy more often, and (food) success on this trip opens up doors for more travel. Except we’re not sure where we want to go yet for our next beach vacation. Any ideas or suggestions??

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3 thoughts on “The Vacation Experiment – Staying Healthy in Puerto Vallarta

  1. Carl Sturm
    March 6, 2016 at 6:19 pm

    OMG! You look just like your mother! lol Such a great review on PVR. My husband and I have been going there for the last 20 years. 2 months this year! 10 weeks next year. We stay in the Zona Romantica. It’s the greatest place to be.
    There is a wonderful vegetarian restaurant next to the Cathedral. Maybe the next time you can try it. They have breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s a buffet.
    When you go again (I know you will) have your mother contact me and I can give you ideas of interesting places a bit out of town for you to visit. Sights and small towns that haven’t changed much in years.

    Again, thanks for the glowing review of PVR.

    1. Steph
      March 6, 2016 at 11:54 pm

      Hi Carl! PVR is amazing… it’s such an easy trip for us coming from the West Coast too — <2.5 hours direct flight! I will definitely take you up on your restaurant recs next time we’re there. We were right in the thick of the mega-hotels, but we had a good time walking around as we headed toward Zona Romantica. It’s beautiful :) Jealous you guys get to stay there for that long!

      Thanks for reading. Glad you enjoyed my review!

  2. Katie
    August 9, 2016 at 12:09 am

    Just stalking your blog. A few things: were they selling green abalone shell necklaces? Still lamenting mine from SB2K7. Also, this word kidnappy. I like it and plan to use it as often is possible in day-to-day conversation. This likely isn’t much but hey! It’s cool!! Anyways, glad you had a fantastic trip… Because wait for it… You deserve it.

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