Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Vallarta Botanical Gardens/Vallarta Jardin Botanico


We visited the Vallarta Jardin Botanico in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, way back in April of this year. I'm finally getting around to posting about it. I'm WAY behind.

 I was first made aware of the botanical garden during the North American Conference of the International Garden Tourism Network, when they were named one of the Top Ten North American Gardens Worth Traveling For.

While at the conference, I briefly met Jesus Reyes, then the Gardens' Director of Operations. I mentioned I would be visiting Puerto Vallarta in just a few weeks from then, and he encouraged me to visit.

I convinced my friend Jay, whom we were visiting in Sayulita, to take the trek out to the Gardens. He'd never been there, but knew of it and had friends that were volunteers there. He's got a fantastic garden and is always up for learning more. It's a much different plant palette than what he uses in NYC on a terrace.

It was nearly a two hour drive from Sayulita. It's about 45 minutes south of Puerto Vallarta itself (and Sayulita is a good 45 minutes north of Vallarta!). Beautiful drive along the coast though.
We got there and were given a tour by Executive Director Neil Gerlowski (naturalist, writer, wilderness guide, former Arizona park ranger). Neil gives a good tour and we were able to ask lots of questions. He's energetic, enthusiastic, and filled with plenty of garden knowledge – still learning the ins and outs of Mexico's tropical plant culture. There's a lot to know.

It is definitely one of the most beautiful botanical gardens I've visited. Most botanical gardens are all about the facilities – based on the European model of housing exotic plant collections in fantastical domed opulence. This botanical garden is all about introducing the visitor to the LOCAL plant culture in an easy, laid back Mexican style using interpretive settings and signage to increase conservation and environmental awareness in the area.

The main building looks more like a great hotel lobby (and hosts many weddings and receptions). The gift shop (where plants can be purchased!), offices, and a very good restaurant are all located here. Other outbuildings house different collections of plants. There's a bus that runs to the Gardens from Vallarta. They have a very well done publication/newsletter (in English). There is a swimming hole at the end of one of the trails. All this for just 80 Pesos - that's just $4.82!

Jesus gave a presentation at the North American Garden Tourism Conference and I was very impressed with their marketing efforts. Not having much of an marketing budget, especially in its early years, the gardens were very entrepreneurial in their efforts. In one case, Jesus and the gardens' co-founder, Robert Price, approached the Puerto Vallarta Airport and asked if they could put up photos (signage) around the airport in exchange for also putting potted plants (and their maintenance) throughout the airport for visitors. I've forgotten how much that one simple (and virtually free) tactic cost, but it increased their traffic by around 40% (if I remember correctly).

They are also diligent about handing out business card-sized reminders for visitors to go to TripAdvisor.com and leave a review/comments. Most travelers use TripAdvisor when traveling and the gardens went from not being on any list to being Vallarta's #4 tourist attraction (out of 193 things to do).

They are a non-profit organization and are registered as a non-profit in the U.S. as well. That way visitors are able to make tax-deductible donations while in Mexico.

I love hearing about small-scale and low-effort marketing that have huge returns for an organization.

The gardens were founded (in only 2005) because, even though Puerto Vallarta is a major tourism destination, there were no other Botanical gardens anywhere near – I believe the nearest is in Mexico City. More orchid species are found in the state of Jalisco (where the gardens are located) than in any other Mexican state.









Every botanical garden should have a place for a nap!

Climbing the tree in a ziggerat fashion is a vanilla plant.
Vanilla.
A building in progress.

A VERY GOOD restaurant overlooks the valley, trails and swimming hole.
A pool fills the main courtyard.

Mexico has, let's say, a broader assortment of insects than Buffalo, NY.
Tiled stairs. A great way to recognize donors.

Nice gift shop.
Unique and intriguing presentation of plants and flowers are throughout the complex.

Men's room sign. I'm juvenile. I found this funny. You won't find this in a botanical garden in the States!






There were jungle trails to follow. Some short, some longer. Bring bug spray - it is the jungle.



From a trail below, looking up at the main building and restaurant.





This captivated us. It's a Jade Vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys). No way I could grow it here in the north, but it is lovely.

A jadey-er Jade Vine.
And a Jade Vine flower was the garnish in my Hibiscus Tea.






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