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Go west for MAGICAL MEX; Find hidden treats on the Pacific coast; Travel.

Byline: Rosie Hopegood

I APPEAR to have landed in a parallel universe - where Jesus is my butler and I keep him busy bringing me streams of margaritas.

Jesus (that's the butler's name) has loyalty that knows no bounds, even at 4.30am when I arrive tipsily back in my room to discover six bluebacked crabs on my tiled floor.

Despite flapping a flannel at them I failed to usher them outside. So I called Jesus, who was there in a jiffy, calmly picking up each one with a stoic: "Don't worry, Miss Rosie."

But this isn't a parallel universe, it is Mexico, and I'm here to see a whole new side to the country.

When most people think of a holiday here, they think of Cancun - hordes of sunburnt Brits and American students on spring break. This is about to change, however, as direct flights to the Pacific coast open up from the UK.

Keen to soak up some of the rich culture and luscious beaches the region is famous for, I flew 12 hours from Gatwick to Puerto Vallarta. This bustling coastal city is set against the majestic Sierra Madre mountains, home to isolated Huichol Indians and exotic wildlife.

Nearby is St Regis Punta Mita resort, a five-star celebrity mecca that has welcomed the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lawrence and Jack Nicholson. And now me.

It really feels like I've landed in paradise. The sprawling beach hotel is beside a tropical forest and there's a golf course for those who like that kind of thing.

This area is renowned for its wildlife. You can spot anything from humpback whales to sea turtles if you come at the right time of year.

Just a boat trip away are the volcanic Marieta Islands, where you can snorkel and scuba.

The city of Puerto Vallarta is jampacked with incredible restaurants, including Robbie Williams's favourite Cafe des Artistes that mixes Mexican with French food.

It is also an excellent place for cramming in activities - such as the Hidden Mexico tour. This involved climbing aboard a truck and driving up into the mountains.

Here we saw a side to the country that you would miss if all your trip is spent on the beach.

Rattling around in the back of the wagon we had the bright blue sea on one side and the jungle-like forest on the other.

We're in the home of the Huichol people and our guide fills us in on their history and culture.

The tour leads to a mountain plateau of green fields, where exhausted-looking cows twitch their ears in the blazing sun.

But a closer look reveals the rocks dotting the fields are covered with spectacular Aztec carvings.

They were discovered only recently when a cow pulled strips of moss from the rocks - much to the mo delight of a team of international archeologists, I'll bet.

The tour takes a whole day and includes lunch at a boutique hotel.

The afternoon featured a visit to a small-batch tequila distillery.

Eight shots later and I'm giggling my way around the mountain top. So when I was chased by an irate honking mountain goose I felt I'd had a proper Mexican experience.

I'm a beach lover at heart and one of my highlights was a boat trip with Mike's Fishing Charters and Tours (www.pvmikesfishing.com).

After we spent a gorgeous morning sunbathing on the boat, our captain anchored in a bay with a tiny beach nestled between towering cliffs.

Swimming ashore, we discovered a staircase carved in the rock, slowly being swallowed by vines. Hermit crabs scuttled over the sand, while hundreds of butterflies fluttered by. To top the day off, a pod of dolphins joined us on our way home and we watched from the bow.

After a week in Mexico my clothes were tight, my complexion resembled a tortilla and I couldn't shake off the vague whiff of tequila.

And I couldn't help missing life with a butler and dolphins

FACTFILE: One week with Thomson in Puerto Vallarta costs from PS714. One night at the St Regis Punta Mita costs from PS325 (www.thomson.co.uk, www.starwoodhotels.com). For more on the Hidden Mexico tour see www.vallarta-adventures.com.

TRAVEL TIPS

LEARN how to make Mexican cuisine with a cookery lesson at El Arrayan Restaurant, Puerto Vallarta, then eat what you make (www.elarrayan.com.mx).

DOUSE all your margaritas in tajin, a powdered flavouring mix made from chillies, limes and salt.

IF surfing - or surfers - are your thing, head to the hippie chic town of Sayulita where you can surf to your heart's content or buy bohemian art and jewellery.

CAPTION(S):

SHORE CAN: Rosie on beach

FEATHERED FRIENDS: Rosie meets the locals

SEA FOR YOURSELF The exclusive Pacific coast is home to many quiet beaches
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Aug 23, 2015
Words:801
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