Puerto Vallarta has grown up since its Hollywood scandal and backpacking hippie days.
By Andrea Granahan
Puerto Vallarta, the sunny port on the Pacific in tropical Mexico, has been beckoning visitors ever since the 1960s when Liz Taylor and Richard Burton were steaming it up with their torrid affair. He was filming “Night of the Iguana”. She was along for the sex.
They weren’t the only movie stars having an affair. Emotions ran so high on the film set that John Huston, who was directing it, gave each cast member a gold revolver with a gold bullet engraved with another cast member’s name – fortunately, none was ever used. But the press flocked to the area to cover the juicy stories and stayed in Puerto Vallarta. Word got out that Huston had discovered a paradise.
These days Vallarta, with a population of less than 300,000, has been well discovered with lush resorts to the north and south of the picturesque old downtown. There are lots of reasons to visit PV and here are just seven of them
1. It is safe. While some parts of Mexico have had drug vs. government wars, it is a large country, and other parts of Mexico are safe. Americans, the most easily spooked travelers in the world, needn’t be afraid. Vallarta is fine for several reasons. It is a naval base so the Mexican Navy patrols the bay continually making it hard for smugglers to get in. There is just one main road connecting PV to the rest of the country because the steep Sierra Madre Mountains cut off easy access from the eastern interior making it hard for drug dealers to get away. There is also a lot of employment in PV. People are moving there from other parts of Mexico because of its tourist-fed prosperity. PV is as safe as any same-sized city in the US.
2. The winter weather is balmy with temperatures in the low 80s Fahrenheit . Winter is also the driest season thus November through March is the high season there. In mid-summer it is just plain hot so that is the low season. The electrical supply is reliable and everyone has air conditioning.
A sunset sail complete with margaritas.
3. Beaches. There are miles of perfect beaches on the palm shaded coast. Swimming, diving out at the lovely Arches islands, sunset sailboat rides, kayaking, parasailing – there are all sorts of ways to enjoy the delights of Banderas Bay. You can even take a water taxi to the remote cove of Yelapa if you want beaches without crowds.
Laid back Yalapa is just of the many superb beaches.
4. Great food. Foodies love PV because of the fresh seafood, tropical fruit, and terrific cooks. Vallarta Food Tours promises to make a local of you in three hours with its tour of downtown eateries and it delivers. The tour even includes taco stands that have been in the same family for three or five generations, making just one type of taco. It introduces you to the families running small hidden gems of restaurants cooking grandma’s recipes. The beachside palapa roofed seafood restaurants in the Zona Romantica get the catch still wriggling, straight from the boats. Some of the local specialties include ceviche, a marinated seafood treat and grilled marinated red snapper. Local candies made from jungle nuts and wild vanilla are also very good, and there are some excellent candy shops.
A fifth generation stamd specializing in just one kind of taco. Go early, the lines get long at lunch time.
5. Shopping. PV has some local craftsmen, most notably glass blowers, but the busy market on an island in the middle of the Cuale River offers a wealth of handcrafts from all over the country and even has the colorful, elaborate beadwork of the Huichol Indians who live outside of PV but come to the market. Oaxaca wedding dresses and colorful blouses, modern Mexican high fashion, beach wear – it’s all here. Kids go crazy for the los luchadores masks that Mexican wrestlers wear. The market spills on to the mainland in a large building and onto the nearby streets. If you are lucky you might come upon a quinceanera in progress. That’s the important holiday when a Mexican girl turns 15 and is made a princess for a day. The teens like to parade through the market in their gowned finery on their special day.
The colorful artisans market on the island in the river in the heart of town.
6. Beauty. The pretty waterfront pedestrian-only stretch called the Malecon provides views not only of the beaches but of the jungle-clad mountains reaching down into the bay. An elegant statue of a seahorse ridden by a youngster is the symbol for Puerto Vallarta and it graces the Malecon. There is a remarkable wild mangrove swamp called El Salado right smack in the middle of PV. There are now boat tours that will show you the rich bird life and the crocodiles that make the 169 acre wetlands surrounded by high rises and resorts their home. A short bus ride will also take you to the spectacular botanical gardens outside of PV. These lush gardens have wild jungle trails that lead you into the mountains or down to the swimming holes on the crystal clear river. A beautiful restaurant and gift shop has a view of the river and is famous for its margaritas. You can see a dizzying array of tropical flowers and see the vanilla that has become such an important crop in Mexico.
On the malecon – the symbol of Puerto Vallarta – a boy riding a seahorse.
7. Acceptance. If you are gay this is the resort city for you. Gay marriage is legal in Mexico, surprising as that may seem in a Catholic country with a machismo tradition. But the revolution was not just against the government, it was against the church. Gay couples are welcome and there are gay clubs, even one that does not admit women. Tourism is all important since it provides more than 50 percent of the economy, so no one wants to interfere with it. If gays want to vacation there, that’s just fine with the locals. Ever since those naughty movie stars attracted tourism in the first place, the locals have developed a “live and let live” attitude. There is a large expat population. Male or female, gay or straight, they find a peaceful home in Puerto Vallarta.
There are more reasons to visit the lovely city in the state of Jalisco, such as nightlife and theater, but these seven are reason enough to draw you to one of the world’s prize resort cities.