By Sigurd Neubauer
Puerto Vallarta stands out as a high-value destination for those interested in authentic Mexican culture combined with fine dining and numerous outdoor recreational opportunities such as swimming, boating, whale safari, and hiking, among others.
The city is idyllically positioned off Mexico’s Pacific coast and is easily accessible for international visitors as there are 18 direct daily flights from the United States and 14 from Canada. From Europe, TUI Airlines Netherlands offers direct flights as well.
With the easing of U.S. pandemic-era restrictions in November 2021, Puerto Vallarta quickly emerged as a primary tourist destination as it received over 1,190,700 visitors during the first half of 2022. This compares to the 831,300 visitors in all of 2019, accounting for an increase of 43.2 percent, according to the Association of Developers and Touristic Promoters of Timeshare.
The city’s charming boardwalk– known as El Malecon – lies in the very heart of downtown with the ocean on one side and bars, restaurants, and shops on the other. Formally known as Zona Romantica, the downtown is also known for its architecture and charming cobblestone streets. Contributing to the city’s allure – where oceanfront, architecture, and art meet – are the various maritime themed bronze statues and sculptures erected on the El Malecon. Puerto Vallarta also has numerous charming art galleries featuring local artists.
Among the plethora of cultural activates in the city, is an active theater life – mostly cabaret – where shows dedicated to celebrating the legendary contemporary artists such as Lady Gaga, Elton John and Freddie Mercury are available in mostly English. “There’s always a fiesta in Puerto Vallarta,” explains Yvonne Kalman, a local fixture and proprietor of Casa Yvonneka.
The charming El Malecon boardwalk is known for its elegant sculptures and beautiful statues. Photo credit: Visit Puerto Vallarta
Born in Vienna, Austria, the naturalized-American is passionate about promoting Puerto Vallarta.
“My father first called me Yvonneka, and now everyone calls me that,” she explains.
Yvonneka, the daughter of celebrated Hungarian operetta composer Emmerich Kálmán (1882-1953), enjoys a life-long love affair with Mexico.
While his music is known for its joie de vivre and humor, Emmerich’s popularity rests on the fusion of Viennese waltz rhythms and the fiery strains of the csárdás, a Hungarian folk dance.
Yvonneka has spent a lifetime dedicated to celebrating her father’s unmatched musical legacy.
Puerto Vallarta is known for its rich cultural life, including its various cabaret show celebrating contemporary artists
Recreational activities, sightseeing and fine dining
A popular activity in Puerto Vallarta is whale safari, which is available during the high season from November 1 through May 1, Yvonneka explains.
Having just returned from one, she proclaims enthusiastically how “incredible touching” it was to witness the mothers and the baby whales enjoying the warm water. It is during the winter months, especially in January and February, that the whales give birth to their babies, she adds.
Yvonneka also recommends visiting the Islas Marietas – a protected marine life reserve – for day trips where one can spot “an enormous amount of wildlife, including fishes.” Snorkeling is also a popular activity, she adds.
Los Arcos – five small islets of Puerto Vallarta – are accessible by paddle boating; it is a natural sanctuary for pelicans, sea hawks, Blue Footed Booby birds and swallows. Los Arcos is a protected marine life reserve.
For those interested in sunbathing or a day at the beach, Puerto Vallarta’s beaches stretch from the hotel zone in the north but the ones further south – which tend to be more popular among locals – have cleaner water and different landscapes. One of them, Playa Punta Negra, is known for its near-perfect white sand and azure-colored waters.
For those inclined towards adventure, the pristine beaches of Caminata Boca de Tomatlan a Colomitos y Las Animas, Quimixto, and Yelapa, are highly recommended and are accessible by boat.
One of Puerto Vallarta’s alluring charms come alive during the rainy season, which runs from June to October. “At night we enjoy wonderful thunderstorms with lightning, but during the morning, the sun comes out and it is incredibly beautiful. In the afternoon, it gets humid right before the thunderstorms erupt, and then the cycle repeats itself. It’s just magical.”
Also known for its cuisine, Yvonneka recommends the following restaurants, which are all within walking distance from her villa: Tintoque, which requires advanced reservations due to its popularity; European restaurant Trio; and the French restaurant Cafe Des Artistes, which is a short cab ride away. The latter is also well known for its beautiful gardens and terrace, she adds.
Casa Yvonneka and love of Mexico
If you’re passionate about history, classical music, and looking for the ultimate vacation experience: Casa Yvonneka, a 14-bedrom villa overlooking Puerto Vallarta, might just be for you.
Some five minutes by foot from Zona Romantica, Yvonneka has built Casa Yvonneka, her namesake villa, which elegantly sits on a hill overlooking the city and Banderas Bay.
While Puerto Vallarta is known for its majestic sunset and peaceful sceneries, – which can all be devoured from Casa Yvonneka – the city also hosts a marine life reserve. In recent years, it has even become one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world.
For Yvonneka, her love affair with Mexico began in 1940 when the family of five fled the Austrian Nazis during World War II via Paris and Mexico before first settling in Los Angeles and later in Manhattan. “I have loved Mexico ever since,” she recalls.
The Casa can comfortable host up to 28 people: Yvonneka
It is this initial love story that brings her to Mexico.
“Casa Yvonneka can comfortably host up to 28 people,” Yvonneka says, but quips: “if there are children, for example, who are willing to share two king beds, the villa can accommodate a total of 32 people.”
Her villa has become a popular destination for families celebrating milestones – whether it is a birthday, an anniversary, or a corporate retreat – Casa Yvonneka can accommodate extended families and friends as it provides a haven away from the hustles and bustles of everyday life.
The villa has a day-time concierge, a staff of eight people and provides 24-hour service.
“We provide a complimentary cocktail party followed by dinner for the newly arrived guests. Before they depart, we provide a complimentary Mexican fiesta where the staff bring out their instruments for a sing-along. The atmosphere is simply magical,” Yvonneka explains.
Before the guests arrive, they’re provided a list of food that they can choose from. Next, the fridge is stacked, and the guest is billed daily for whatever he or she consumes.
“The staff provides what the guests want before they even know what they want,” Yvonnka says while adding: “Staying at Casa Yvonneka is like having your own private resort.
The in-house chef prepares dinner for his guests, allowing them to choose between a variety of cuisines. “I am very proud of my staff; they always think of whatever the guests may want or desire.”
“It is because of them that we have the reviews that we have,” Yvonneka says while expressing pride and gratitude. Casa Yvonneka is the second highest ranked property on Tripadvisor in all of Puerto Vallarta.
Many of the guests keep coming back, Yvonneka explains. One recent visitor, for example, wrote of her experience from October 2022: “This is our 3rd time staying and we would love to do it again! We had 9 couples this time. All the rooms had great ocean views. The staff was the same all 3 trips and are just amazing and so attentive. Fantastic views, and an amazing property!”
Another recent visitor noted: “Everything about our experience at Casa Yvonneka was magical…Thank you to the entire team at Casa Yvonneka for making this vacation so incredibly wonderful! We can’t wait to visit Puerto Vallarta and to see you again! It’s with a smile on my face that I recall our stay. I know my entire family would agree when I say we recommend Casa Yvonneka wholeheartedly!”
A third visitor – out of the 300+ reviews on Tripadvisor – added: “The single most enjoyable hotel stays my family has ever experienced. Casa Yvonneka is an art museum with an infinity pool overlooking beautiful Puerto Vallarta.”
There’s always a fiesta in Puerto Vallarta: Yvonneka
While Yvonneka’s love for Mexico goes back to 1940, it was an initial tragedy that brought her back to the country some three decades later.
In 1971, her home in Malibu, California, burned to the ground. She lost invaluable artwork by Marc Chagall (1887-1985) and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), along with Italian furniture she had brought home from Rome. Yvonneka’s neighbor, in whose home the fire had initially erupted, invited her to visit Puerto Vallarta to console her during the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.
She’s never looked back. It was at that point that she purchased her parcel of land on which Casa Yvonneka would be erected.
Some 20 years later, following her husband Helmut Klumpp’s retirement in 1991 from Lufthansa, where he was a top executive, the couple returned to Los Angeles after having spent a decade in Australia. “California winters were too cold for him, which led us to rent several homes in Puerto Vallarta before we started the construction of the villa,” Yvonneka recalls.
“Even my mother, who was suspicious of owning property after the Nazis had seized their family villa in Vienna, implored me to build on the land. It was just so beautiful.”
At the time of construction, Yvonneka’s long-time friend, Shannon Beston, encouraged her to turn the villa into a rental property, a suggestion Helmut initially rejected, Yvonneka says with a laugh. “But Shannon kept her promise and has successfully rented it out all these years.”
After a lengthy construction process, Casa Yvonneka was completed in 2009 with nine bedrooms. The additional five bedrooms were added over time with the last one completed in 2021. The latest editions include the royal and imperial suites, respectively, along with another jacuzzi.
Yvonneka also takes pride in overseeing the interior design and the various art pieces gracing the villa, which also happens to be handicap accessible and has two elevators. Every bedroom has its own colorful design – its own unique name – and a different color scheme.
For guests with children of all ages, the Villa is also well-equipped for their needs: In addition to its infinity pool, ping pong and pool tables are available; along with various other board games; and a brand new karaoke machine.
“Puerto Vallarta is known as the friendliest place where people are truly warm and very friendly. “We take great pride in providing the Casa Yvonneka experience to our guests,” she concludes.
Yvonneka's love affair with Mexico goes back to 1940