Until the 1960’s, Puerto Vallarta was a quiet fishing village lying next to Banderas Bay on Mexico’s Pacific coast. Hollywood changed that. In 1963, Elizabeth Taylor tagged along with Richard Burton for filming of “The Night of the Iguana.” Paparazzi reels and the resulting film showcased Puerto Vallarta’s beautiful beaches and scenery. A new star was born. Today, Puerto Vallarta is Mexico’s second most popular beach tourist city with resorts following the beaches beyond city limits and state lines. Don’t let the sprawl discourage you – PV still maintains a quiet, clean small-town feel.
While the beaches are the biggest draw, no visit to Puerto Vallarta would be complete without a visit to her downtown area. Buses make stops near most resorts and can take you cheaply (but not necessarily comfortably) to downtown. The business owners and residents keep the cobbled streets clean. Everything to see downtown is easily walkable. The most recognizable bit of architecture downtown is the Cathedral of Our Lady Guadeloupe. It is adorned with a fiberglass tiara as the original was damaged in an earthquake in 1995. Most of the upscale specialty shops are located near the Cathedral.
A stroll down the Malecon – a walkway alongside the bay – is a must. You’ll walk past several sculptures, most notably one of a boy riding a seahorse. It has become a symbol of Puerto Vallarta. The Malecon went under significant repair after damage was sustained in 2002 by hurricane Kenna. At the Western end of the Malecon is the mouth of Rio Cuale. Walk a few blocks upriver and you will find two huge markets of peddlers selling food, hats, blankets, and other handicrafts. Try out your Spanish and work a deal on some handmade souvenirs. Also, the small Rio Cuale Island Archaeological museum is in this area. It exhibits artifacts from the area’s pre-Hispanic residents.
If lying on the beach only holds your interest for parts of your vacation, you are in luck because the Puerto Vallarta area offers other activities to keep you busy. The land around Puerto Vallarta encompasses several ecosystems. All tourists see the tropical shoreline, but within 45 minutes’ drive, one can see almost all of the biomes that Mexico has to offer. For each ecosystem, there is an activity or two in which to immerse yourself. Tour companies offer horseback riding, hiking, jeep safaris, bungee jumping, canopy zip lines, and ATV rides through the jungles and mountains. Seaside, there are several snorkeling, sailing, fishing, and wildlife viewing opportunities.
Puerto Vallarta has several opportunities year-round to view wildlife. Bird watchers can view 350 species of birds in and around PV. Whale watchers have high rates of success seeing humpbacks and killer whales on their annual migration in the months of December through March. Some tour boats even have sound equipment for you to listen to the songs of the whales. Dolphins love to follow the wake of boats in the bay and it’s not uncommon at all to see them play. From late summer to fall, visitors to Puerto Vallarta have the chance to witness mother sea turtles laying eggs in the sand. Those that take the tour will be able to release some hatched baby sea turtles into the wild. For a chance to see wildlife underwater, Banderas Bay has a few locations for snorkeling and scuba diving as well. Los Arcos are islands that have been set aside as a wildlife refuge. The area around them can be explored and lucky snorkelers may see dolphins, manta rays, and maybe whales.
If you can’t go to a beach destination without dreaming of landing a lunker, Puerto Vallarta’s world famous fishing grounds can fulfill your angling fantasies as well. Bring a sunhat and sunscreen and one of several charter fishing outfitters can get you on tuna, marlin, snapper, mahi mahi, and sailfish. Charter companies can arrange for your catch to be frozen to send home, or have a replica of your fish made for display at home.
Depending on the time of year your trip brings you to Puerto Vallarta, you may find an opportunity to take part in one of a few annual festivals. The Mayo Festival throughout the month of May is a traditional festival featuring musicians, painters, and other artists all over town. In November, Puerto Vallarta hosts the Gourmet Festival. Chefs from around the city and around the world vie for the attention of judges and culinary experts. Also in November, the annual Marlin and Sailfish Fishing Tournament is held. Thousands of participants fight huge fish for cash prizes. The tournament has attracted fishermen from around the world for over 50 years.
Whether you come to Puerto Vallarta for endless sun and relaxation, to get an adrenaline rush, or anything in between, PV has something for you.