The lobby at Rivera del Rio.
The lobby at Rivera del Rio. Photo Credit: Meagan Drillinger

I travel to Puerto Vallarta more than to any other place in the world, but it can still surprise me. Case in point: Rivera del Rio, a quirky boutique hotel inside an old mansion located right in the heart of one of the city's best neighborhoods.

Its camouflaged existence is only one of the many surprises about Rivera del Rio. Wander through the cobblestone streets of the Emiliano Zapata neighborhood just over the bridge from Centro, then head east along the Rio Cuale and eventually you'll stumble upon an unassuming townhouse facade. The hotel is intricately designed and is a stylish hodgepodge of colors, styles and antiques.

Walking up a narrow staircase reveals the funky, almost oddball elegance of old Puerto Vallarta. The lobby overlooks the street from an open balcony, where travelers can enjoy a welcome margarita and freshly prepared guacamole. From there, the surprises continue as guests are led up and down narrow staircases, through small corridors and out onto terraces on a winding adventure toward the guestrooms.

The Carlotta Suite, which has its own street entrance, displays Rivera del Rio’s quirky style. The boutique hotel’s eight guestrooms are all uniquely designed.
The Carlotta Suite, which has its own street entrance, displays Rivera del Rio’s quirky style. The boutique hotel’s eight guestrooms are all uniquely designed. Photo Credit: Meagan Drillinger

There are only eight guestrooms at the property, and each one is like its own separate, eclectic apartment. Start with Mariposa 119 Steps, which is the smallest of the rooms but lacks nothing in design and decor. A small balcony overlooks a tiled garden, and the room itself has a beautiful mosaic-tile floor. The room has been refurbished with mirrored walls over a gas fireplace and a crystal chandelier. The bathroom has a blue sunken tub and a mosaic-tile sink.

The Carlotta Suite is one of the hotel's most spectacular, and it is truly like its own space thanks to a separate entrance on Calle Aquilas Serdan. The wooden doors open to an elegant living room with ultrahigh ceilings and a Venetian grand chandelier that is similar to the one that hangs in Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City. The living room is separated from the kitchen by a fireplace with mirrored walls, and in the kitchen travelers will find a refrigerator, range and oven. The bedroom has another entrance out to a small garden patio.

The most glamorous room in the hotel sits at the top of a fern-covered stairway. With the best views at the property over Bahia de Banderas and the affluent Gringo Gulch neighborhood, the Alejandro Penthouse Suite has double wooden doors that open to a living room with a pop of purple from the couch and divan. A full kitchen and spacious closet are off of the living room and sliding glass doors open up to a patio for private events.

The Roman bath-style, 10-person whirlpool tub has views of the Zona Romantica.
The Roman bath-style, 10-person whirlpool tub has views of the Zona Romantica. Photo Credit: Meagan Drillinger

One of the best perks of the hotel, aside from its location and design, is its social, family-like atmosphere. While the rooms act like private apartments, the public spaces encourage socializing. A rooftop pool has views of the mountains and overlooks downtown. A small bar area is self-service; guests write down in a book what they consume so they can be billed. There's also a tiled, Roman bath-style whirlpool tub that can seat 10 and has gorgeous views of the Zona Romantica.

While there is no restaurant on the property, the small lobby kitchen turns out made-to-order breakfast daily. And travelers will want to take advantage of the location, which is walking distance to the nightlife and restaurants of both the Zona Romantica and Centro. The malecon and beach are also just a short walk away.

Rates start at $89 at Rivera del Rio.

Garlands del Rio

If Rivera del Rio is full, just down the street is its sister hotel, Garlands del Rio. Also located in a renovated townhouse decorated with the same quirky style and with plenty of hidden corners to discover, this is a great alternative to Rivera del Rio. This hotel has 17 individually designed rooms, all clustered around a central pool and a kitchen with a vaulted ceiling.

The Rivera's rooftop pool overlooks downtown Puerto Vallarta and has mountain views.
The Rivera's rooftop pool overlooks downtown Puerto Vallarta and has mountain views. Photo Credit: Meagan Drillinger

The Penthouse Marquess is the highest room category here, with a large closet, writing desk, outdoor living room and a bathroom with bay windows overlooking the river. For a bird's-eye view of the action below, the Arlecchino room overlooks the courtyard. The studio's walls are made from stained glass, and there are two balconies.

For something a little roomier but with equally entertaining pool views, the Penthousito has a mini-
penthouse feel and a private balcony that also overlooks the pool and courtyard.

La Sala de Calabaza is the orange-and-white living room decked out with gorgeous paintings. It is equipped with Netflix, as are the smart TVs in each of the rooms. An adjacent banquet hall can accommodate more than 20 guests. The 1930s Portuguese blue-and-white-tiled kitchen, where breakfast is served each morning, has 22-foot ceilings. A small bar overlooks the pool, and out back there is a shaded terrace and river deck that overlooks the Rio Cuale.

Rates at Garlands del Rio begin at $66. For more information, visit www.rivera delrio.com

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