The name “Playa Grande” probably has most of you thinking of a stretch of sand along Banderas Bay. In this case though, the name is taken from a community along the Río Pitillal and the bike route follows this river from the fringe of our urban sprawl up into some beautiful stretches of forest.
Despite some climbing, this is a great route for just about anyone, starting with beginner mountain bike riders. For something so close to town, it also affords some surprisingly magnificent views. This time of the year, early morning rides there are most advisable before the sun and temperature start to climb beyond normal comfort zones.
Since I live in Puerto Vallarta’s Versalles neighborhood, I start my ride from my house skipping having to load my bike in a vehicle and saving on gas at the same time. Beginning my ride at 7:30 am at this time of the year means that I start pedaling along cobblestone and pavement just at the start of twilight but have sufficient natural light by the time I’m riding on dirt road.
From Versalles I take Avenida Fluvial across Avenida Francisco Villa (after which it becomes De Los Tules). Continuing on that until it comes to a T, turn left on Av. Paseo de Marlin then a right on Calle Pavo Real (peacock, or “royal turkey” street in English!) then a left on Calle Playa Grande.
Calle Playa Grande soon becomes a dirt road and after this point the lines between city and country life begin to blur. As the sounds of traffic fade in the distance you’ll hear more roosters crowing their morning greetings. Then you’ll begin seeing the effects of country life as you pass some rustic horse corals, maybe, if you’re lucky, even catching some newborn foals enjoying breakfast.
After a glimpse of the Río Pitillal you’ll pass through the center of the Playa Grande community. The most direct route is a 90 degree turn to the right here (Venustiano Carranza) then, when that ends, a left on Libertad for just a moment before climbing the steep dirt hill forking off to the right (La Pedrera). Despite its steepness, this climb is quite short so push yourself to pedal to the top without dismounting and enjoy the fun ride down the other side back to the level of the river.
By now you’re likely to have the road all on your own if you’re on a morning ride. At the time when I normally take this route, I’ll usually come across a few joggers and occasionally another cyclist, but very few others.
This area is popular and much-visited by locals on weekends because, when water levels are normal, shallow natural pools are provide perfect spots for families to play while barbecuing carne asada and swigging down a round of chelas. Unfortunately, the “pack it in, pack it out” or “no trace” ethic has not yet become the accepted norm in these parts, meaning the full scenic potential of this natural area is distracted by an overabundance of unnecessarily discarded trash.
A little further the road is armored in concrete to protect it from seasonal washouts. Up ahead the road crosses the river, which can be an option for you if you’d like to get wet, or, if you continue straight on a dirt trail you’ll arrive at a very convenient suspension bridge. Despite a few rotten boards that can be maneuvered around, the bridge can easily be ridden without dismounting.
Not long from here the property gate of the Kalí Ecopark is normally closed blocking further passage, so that’s what we’ll consider the end of the route for now. If you visit the ecopark when they are open and bring chains or cables to secure your bicycle, you can have breakfast there and enjoy some short hikes to scenic viewpoints including a waterfall.
From the Costco on Avenida Fluvial, this trek is about 7.5 km one way or 15 km as an out and back. Depending on your condition and whether or not you’d like to stop for breaks and photos, an hour is probably sufficient for your round trip. A downloadable map posting this route is available at: www.aequilibriumbikes.com.mx.
Are you an avid biker looking for an adventure this fall? Then mark your calendars for the weekend of November 16 and 17 for the annual Puerto Vallarta to San Sebastián Challenge—a 70 kilometer route climbing from our coast up to a Pueblo Mágico of nearly 1,500 meters (5,000 feet) in elevation. Register today:
www.aequilibriumbikes.com.mx. If you don’t feel quite in shape for that much of a climb, now just might be time to buy an e-bike or install a conversion kit!
Remember: keep Puerto Vallarta safe and friendly by always sharing the road with care and looking out for bicycles.