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Going Gaga for Puerto Vallarta; With the launch of a new direct flight from the UK, Puerto Vallarta is set to grow in popularity. LISA HAYNES puts on her sombrero and explores the highlights of the Mexican riviera championed by Lady Gaga.

IHAVE discovered an instant cure for seasickness. Transfixed by the spectacle of a whale courtship ritual, I totally forget about my ocean-induced nausea.

Tails thrash ferociously against the waves and gargantuan oil-slick bodies breach from the water, with a cluster of competitive males vying for attention from the single female they are trying to impress.

There's calm as the whales retreat underwater for a few minutes, then suddenly emerge, blasting water from their blowholes.

It's hard to estimate how many majestic humpback whales we're watching from our boat on Banderas Bay. The pod fluctuates as unsuccessful males retreat and others join to try their luck.

Once the acrobatics end and whale tails disappear from view, Riviera Nayarit's 192 miles of Pacific coastline has plenty of magnificent sights, all laced with Mexico's enchanting culture and traditions.

And when new direct flights from the UK to Puerto Vallarta with Thomson launch in May, the number of Brits falling for its charms is likely to rise.

History is everywhere you look, from the native Huichol handicrafts through to nature's own handiwork.

We cruise to the volcanic Marieta Islands to witness the world's most picturesque bomb site.

I snorkel past tropical fish through a short, dark tunnel following beams of sunlight to a secluded sandy beach not much bigger than a back garden. Light streams through a large hole which appears to have been blasted in the rock.

Only agile snorkellers with waterproof cameras tucked into their swimming trunks can capture the idyllic spot.

Some believe Playa De Amor, or Hidden Beach, formed in the early 1900s after being used as a site for military target practice by the Mexican Government. Now, thanks to conservation efforts the uninhabited islands are protected as a national park.

On a boat ride along the coast, we whizz past the never-ending wall of rocky islands as flocks of birds soar gracefully overhead.

I'm told that Riviera Nayarit has the second highest number of North American birds in one location, as well as being home to many endangered species, such as blue-footed boobies and green macaws.

Like bird watching, celebrity spotting is also common here. Lady Gaga has tackled the Mexican wave surfing in Puerto Vallarta, while Jennifer Aniston and the Kardashian clan are regular visitors.

Puerto Vallarta first rose to prominence in 1963 when Banderas Bay was used as the setting for Hollywood film Night Of The Iguana.

There were no roads, no telephones and limited plumbing and electricity. Fifty years on, the popular resort city is much more developed but still retains much of its natural beauty.

During a morning bike ride from my hotel, the newly opened Iberostar Playa Mita, north of Puerto Vallarta, I had fully expected to get sweaty shifting gears in the searing Mexican morning heat. But our trip is much more relaxing and scenic.

My cycle guide tells me the flat, pristine pathways and roads of the Litibu gated complex were "nothing but crazy jungle" less than five years ago. We spot at least three female workers on the cycle path sweeping wayward leaves - the only evidence of overgrown palms that sit opposite the designer 18-hole golf course.

It's a similar contrast on Litibu's beautiful 10km beach that fronts the Iberostar Playa Mita. Stroll away from the sun loungers and lifeguard tower and in no time you're dodging fallen coconuts and stumbling upon a sea turtle conservation ground.

I see the region's extremes for myself aboard a Unimog jeep on Vallarta Adventures' Offroad Adventure that promises to uncover 'the real Mexico'. We stop off at Valle de Banderas, a vibrant town where locals pick up supplies from the Tortilleria, street cafes play toe-tapping Mexican music as tourists wolf down tacos, and market stalls sell colourful native Huichol arts and crafts.

Our yellow jeep sets off for the heart of the Sierra Madre. You feel every bump in the terrain but the openness allows you to absorb the sights as well as greet adorable local school children and families, who excitedly wave at us as if we are Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

We pass watermelon fields, take pictures of vivid jackfruit hanging from trees, and spot a camouflaged green iguana clinging onto a branch.

There's no drinking and driving but we're introduced to family owned distilleries in the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains, revealing the process of making tequila, from agave plant to bottle.

The biggest butterfly I've ever seen (a white morpho locals nickname guardian angel) flutters past our jeep as we enter the sub-tropical forest.

On foot, as we hike through the dense canopy of the trees, our paths are regularly crossed with a flash of colour from lightning-quick blue-tailed lizards.

They have every reason to be timid as our guide leads us to a bulging termite nest, estimated to be 10 years old, and picks up one of the tiny insects to eat. He tells me termites are packed with protein, but I politely decline the forest feast.

Instead, I save my appetite for a home-made local delicacy. We stop off at a tiny village called San Ignacio where fresh tortillas are warmed over a fire-lit outdoor stove.

They're served with beans, salsa, guacamole and prickly pear salad that taste so deliciously authentic rolled up together that we go back for seconds - and then thirds.

In Sayulita, I stumble across an artisan in traditional dress quietly weaving with varying shades of green thread to create a trinket for his market stall. He's one of many Huichol Indians who display their colourful crafts on tables in the town's cobbled plaza.

I immediately feel at home in this bohemian-chic surfer town as I stroll the bright bunting-lined streets leading to the beachfront.

Nearby, a group of musicians perform as a female dancer moves wildly to the beat outside a taco restaurant, drawing a crowd.

We get talking to one of many ex-pats clapping along, now in his 50s, who moved to Sayulita as a teenager for the surf and never returned home. In his words: "Bitten by the Mexico bug."

I can see what he means. But unlike my seasickness, this is one illness that really needs no cure.

NEED TO KNOW LISA HAYNES was a guest at the new all-inclusive Iberostar Playa Mita hotel, which offers doubles from PS211 per night. See www.iberostar.com.

Aeromexico return flights to Puerto Vallarta start from PS629 per person, via Mexico City. From May, Thomson will offer direct flights to Puerto Vallarta from Gatwick or Manchester, with an Iberostar Playa Mita/flight package from PS1,166 per person. Visit www.thomson.co.uk | For more information on Riviera Nayarit visit www.RivieraNayarit.com

CAPTION(S):

| Humpback whales at Banderas Bay

| Lady Gaga, above, and a blue footed booby, left

Puerto Vallarta beach on the Riviera Nayarit, Mexico
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Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Geographic Code:1MEX
Date:Apr 5, 2014
Words:1135
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