Puerto Vallarta was once a sleepy fishing village along Mexico's Pacific Coast. This started to change in 1963 when Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were romantically involved there during the filming of John Huston’s "The Night of the Iguana." The publicity from this affair started the flow of tourists and changed the focus of Puerto Vallarta’s economy from fishing to tourism. Many visitors still make the pilgrimage to Casa Kimberley, the home once owned by Elizabeth Taylor. My own recommendation is to skip this trip because there is nothing to really see at this private residence that is closed to the public. Fortunately, this area has retained some of the flavor and charm of its past with many fine homes on the hillside overlooking the bay. Puerto Vallarta is nestled in a tropical setting. It has lush, green hills and a picturesque bay, Bahía de Banderas (Bay of Flags). Hotels line the bay’s curving beach. The bay is generally calm but sometimes the water can have a brownish-green color during the rainy season when rains and rivers carry soil from the surrounding hills into the bay. One can find clearer water south of town at Los Arcos and elsewhere. The arched rock formations of Los Arcos are a popular stop for dive and snorkel trips. We went with Chico's Dive Shop, a local institution on both snorkeling and diving trips. They maintain a presence at the larger resorts offering short lessons at the swimming pool and introductory dives for beginners.
Downtown is the original Puerto Vallarta pueblo (village) known locally in Spanish as "Viejo Vallarta" (Old Vallarta) or more frequently "El Centro". This old part of town is the part that is so attractive to artists and romantics because of its quaint, old-Mexico Casas (houses) with their red clay-tile roofs and bougainvillea spilling from balconies. Along the picturesque cobblestone streets that run throughout the hills of the village, some of the street scenes you can see today could easily have taken place 150 years ago if you squint your eyes and ignore the hordes of tourists! "La Plaza" or the town square, is where you will find the "Palacio Municipal" or Municipal Center and the 1929 Guadalupe Cathedral, the pride of all the local people and Puerto Vallarta's most famous landmark. Its pretty crown-shaped bell tower can be seen for miles around.
Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.Isabelle Eberhardt
"El Cerro" (the hill) which rises steeply up behind the Guadalupe Cathedral offers a spectacular panoramic view of "Old Town" and the Bay. A mile-long "boardwalk" known as the "Malecon", runs along the downtown oceanfront and the oceanfront street, Paseo Diaz Ordas. There are several blocks of shops, galleries, gift shops, restaurants and night clubs across the street facing the ocean. And this is "the" place where residents and visitors, shoppers, diners and lovers stroll along the ocean from morning to night. In the morning, about the time a few joggers are out running along the beach, fishermen set up an open fish market at one end of the "Malecon" near the Hotel Rosita (Puerto Vallarta's first hotel) where they sell their catch-of-the-day to the public. At the other end, there's an open-air theater called "Los Arcos" (The Arches) where different kinds of free performances such as mariachi bands and puppet shows are given in the evenings, beginning at about 5:30 PM every Sunday and on special holidays. Local artists who paint scenes of the town square and the Guadalupe Cathedral set up to sell their paintings nearby.
Along the southernmost edge of the downtown area is the Rio Cuale. And there's a long thin island in the center of the river that divides it, running from the oceanfront to the street that goes to Mismaloya (Insurgentes) and beyond. It is a beautiful place to walk and you'll find cute shops, top restaurants, the Cuale Museum, John Huston Plaza and even a botanical garden. It's a favorite walking area for most of the visitors to Puerto Vallarta. There are even a shaky small wood plank and cable footbridge crossing one side of the river, for those who wish to go to Rizo's Supermarket or the town's most popular tortilla factory across the street from them.
With the influx of tourists, the town now has a Hard Rock Cafe and a Planet Hollywood though I have never been to each one. In addition there are many bars and discos that can lure the unsuspecting. I would suggest you head for the river walk area and south of the river. It's a little quieter there and you can find a few nice restaurants. We ate there one night and were serenaded by a young troubadour who of course offered to sell us a CD of his biggest "hits".
Just north of the Puerto Vallarta International airport is the residential-resort development of Nuevo Vallarta, a project begun by the federal government over 10 years ago. Nuevo Vallarta consists of a 1,150-acre site with 2.9 miles of beachfront. There are many homes that have been built along its windy canals and beautiful beachfront. Elegant villas and estates line the channels, each with their own docking pier and manicured gardens of bougainvillea, hibiscus, and birds of paradise. Yet the ecology of Nuevo Vallarta is well preserved. The residential dream homes give way to a five-mile stretch of tropical lagoon and estuary frontage for homesites with private docks. South, the channels weave their way through impenetrable tropical foliage.
In the last few years, major hotels have been constructed such as the Radisson Sierra Plaza, Diamond Resorts and Paradise Village Resort along the expansive beach of Nuevo Vallarta. An 18 hole golf course is now complete. A shopping center has been built but the tennis clubs are still in the planning stage. Nuevo Vallarta is surrounded by water on three sides, and a new marina (with 300 slips) is under development.
Paradise Village is our home resort and is now the biggest development in Puerto Vallarta with its million-dollar homes and condominiums included. We try to visit it at least once every three years. We are very happy with it and always feel at home when we are there. Usually we bring friends and there is never a shortage of those when we tell them where we are going! Most often we go at the beginning of June but next time we hope to go there sooner since that is the beginning of the rainy season. At least we don't have to worry about hurricanes. This year my brother, Jeff was able to join us and besides a few slips here and there he had a fine time. It was nice to share our Mexican timeshare with him. We also had our friends the Truong family including their son Benson who is around the same age as my son Carlin. This was his first time in Mexico but soon he was able to fit right in with the natives.