Sunbathing and sipping margaritas is just one of many ways to spend a vacation in Puerto Vallarta. Mexico's prettiest resort town is also one of its most diverse. Old Vallarta—El Centro and the Zona Romántica—is a goldmine of quirky boutiques and winding cobblestone streets. In Marina Vallarta, shopping centers and deluxe hotels spread around the city's yacht marina. And from Costalegre to the Riviera Nayarit, miles of sandy beaches and scores of stellar restaurants and lively nightclubs, surrounded by historic mountain towns, keep visitors returning again and again.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Costalegre is a series of bays, white-sand beaches, and capes located south of Puerto Vallarta in Jalisco. Different beaches that form part of Costalegre are also known as the virgin beaches, and are definitely worth visiting.
Marina Vallarta is a beachfront model tourist community located next to the Puerto Vallarta International Airport, between a golf course and a marina. It was created at the end of the 1980s and was quickly "copied" by other tourist destinations such a Cancún, Los Cabos, Mazatlán, and Ixtapa. It functions almost as a self-sustainable entity, where tourists can find absolutely everything they may need during vacation including restaurants, bars, shops, and the Plaza Marina shopping center with a Comercial Mexicana supermarket.
Marina Vallarta is a pleasant area to visit on a lazy afternoon. If you arrive by car, you will first notice a big whale sculpture at the main entrance, designed by Octavio González in the 1990s and sponsored by local Marina businessmen. You may park your car at the Nima Bay building, which has numerous shops, cafés, and restaurants that cater to both tourists and locals. Nima Bay opens to a marina promenade, where the main attraction is a lighthouse with a bar at the top, at the end of Timón Street. The promenade stretches along modern vessels and offers numerous restaurants for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This is also an ideal place to go on a fishing tour. Renting a boat is extremely easy, and you will surely be approached by many people offering you one.
If you come with your own boat, Marina Vallarta rents many slips on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis with all basic services such as electricity, satellite TV, honey barge, water, laundry services, an 88-ton travel lift, and security. For more information contact the Harbormaster: 322/221–0722.
Sports lovers will appreciate the 18-hole golf course designed by Joe Finger that offers a typical Vallarta experience with stellar ocean and mountain views.
Mascota's cool but sunny climate is perfect for growing citrus, avocados, nuts, wheat, corn, and other crops. Fed by the Mascota and Ameca rivers and many springs and year-round streams, the blue-green hills and valleys surrounding town are lusciously forested; beyond them rise indigo mountains to form a painterly tableau. This former mining town and municipal seat is home to some 13,000 people. Its banks, shops, and hospital serve surrounding villages. On its coat of arms are a pine tree, deer, and rattlesnake. The town's name derives from the Nahuatl words for "deer" and "snake."
Nuevo Vallarta is one of the fastest growing beach destinations of Mexico and has the second-highest number of hotels in the country. The countryside is composed mainly of vast golf courses, exclusive condominiums, luxurious restaurants, marinas, and miles of golden beaches. This is a great place to try all kinds of water sports such as surfing, scuba diving, kayaking, and paddle- and kite surfing. The hotels and resorts in the area also hide world-class spas and renowned restaurants.
The golf courses of Nuevo Vallarta are among the best in the world. El Tigre (par 72), designed by Robert von Hagge, has 18 holes, 144 sand traps distributed over 7,329 yards of Bermuda 419-covered terrain, and nine artificial lakes. Even the most experienced golfers find it challenging.
The Grand Mayan development has the Nayar Golf Club, another spectacular course designed by Jim Lipe and redesigned by Jack Nicklaus. Here you get 6,936 yards with nine holes and fine Bermuda 417 grass.
Two marinas, Nuevo Vallarta Marina and Paradise Village Marina, are also worth a visit. They can accommodate around 500 vessels and the latter is certified as the cleanest marina in the country. Beautiful ships, natural surroundings, and luxurious properties alongside should be enough to attract your attention. But if not, the marinas are home to numerous species such as herons, ducks, pelicans, and seagulls, as well as enormous crocodiles that swim freely between boats. If you don’t disturb them, you shouldn’t be disturbed either.
Nature lovers can also enjoy turtle releases. Olive Ridley and leatherback turtles come to the beaches of Nuevo Vallarta to lay their eggs, spurring the development of a turtle sanctuary near Bahia del Sol Resort that guarantees their protection. From August to January nightly releases are organized if any eggs have hatched. To participate, ask the reception staff at Bahia del Sol (322/297–9527) for details.
On the southern board of Puerto Vallarta, just behind the famous Los Muertos Beach and the new pier, you will find the upscale residential neighborhoods of Amapas and Conchas Chinas. They are located on both sides of Highway 200 and enjoy either the whitest beaches of the bay or the best panoramic ocean views. The beaches are fun to visit and explore, with impressive boulders, little coves, and rocky grottos, and you can access them from the highway or on foot from Los Muertos Beach via a small trail. However, the lack of restaurants, showers, toilets, and other facilities don’t make these beaches ideal for long stays.
The higher zones are incredible observation points and can be easily accessed through one of two entrances on the left side of the road. Simply take either of them and drive as high as you can, stopping whenever you feel like. At the top, turn round and get some spectacular shots of the bay or of the high-end villas.
Riviera Nayarit has been gaining recognition in the last few years and is now seriously competing with Puerto Vallarta for visitors. It boasts 322 km (200 miles) of pristine beaches, luxurious resorts, and dozens of little laid-back towns loved by artists, hippies, surfers, and celebrities. There are some areas that deserve special recognition for everything they have to offer.
Many travelers come here looking for Old Mexico, or the "real Mexico," or the Mexico they remember from the 1960s. New Spain's first official Pacific port has experienced a long, slow slide into obscurity since losing out to better-equipped ports in the late 19th century. But there's something to be said for being a bit player rather than a superstar. Industrious but not overworked, residents of this drowsy seaside city hit the beaches on weekends and celebrate their good fortune during numerous saints' days and civic festivals. You can, too.
Physically, there are only about 80 km (50 miles) between Puerto Vallarta and San Sebastián, but metaphorically they're as far apart as the Earth and the moon. Sleepy San Sebastián is the Mayberry of Mexico, but a little less lively. It's the kind of place where you feel weird walking past people without saying hello, even though you don't know them from Adam. The miners who built the town have long gone, and more recently, younger folks are drifting away in search of opportunity. Most of the 800 or so people who have stayed seem perfectly content with life as it is, although rat-race dropouts and entrepreneurs are making their way here along improved roads.
All the way to Mismaloya, the hotels of the Zona Hotelera Sur hug the beach or overlook it from cliff-side aeries. South of El Tuito, Cabo Corrientes hides tiny towns and gorgeous, untrammeled beaches.
Another tranquil town surrounded by pine-oak forests, Talpa, as it's called, has just over 7,000 inhabitants but welcomes 4 million visitors a year. They come to pay homage or ask favors of the diminutive Virgen del Rosario de Talpa, one of Jalisco's most revered Virgins. Some people walk three days from Puerto Vallarta as penance or a sign of devotion; others come by car, horse, bicycle, or truck but return annually to show their faith.
Puerto Vallarta is a tourist destination with all kinds of accommodations to enjoy, but you will find the greatest concentration of hotels in the Hotel Zone. Zona Hotelera, as the locals call it, stretches along Francisco Medina Ascencio Avenue, from the Puerto Vallarta Maritime Terminal to the Sheraton Buganvilias Resort. The creation of the Hotel Zone moved the tourist accommodations outside the downtown boundaries, allowing the historic center to remain relatively untouched.
Although most of the hotels are not brand new, they are all on the beach and offer spectacular ocean views over Banderas Bay, making them highly popular among Vallarta visitors. The latest additions to the area are numerous skyscrapers with oceanfront exclusive condominiums that are often available for short-term vacation rentals.
Zona Hotelera is loved by joggers. They often start their route at the beginning of the river walk, located between Plaza Peninsula and the Holiday Inn, and continue to a calm residential area called Fluvial Vallarta across the street. Another option is to follow Medina Ascencio to the city’s public stadium, Agustin Flores Contreras, at the very end of the Hotel Zone (in front of the Sheraton Buganvilia Resort). Medina Ascencio is partially closed at certain hours on Sunday, when cars are replaced by bicyclists, walkers, and joggers.
Beach lovers will enjoy the many interconnected beaches of the Hotel Zone. There are several points of access along Medina Ascencio Avenue, but the easiest way is to park your car between Plaza Peninsula and the Holiday Inn. Plaza Peninsula is also the biggest shopping plaza in the area, perfect for buying souvenirs.
The Romantic Zone is one of the hippest areas of Puerto Vallarta, popular not only with tourists but also with local residents, ensuring a buzz all year round. The area has many of Puerto Vallarta’s must-sees.
The recent renovation of Basilio Badillo Street marked the beginning of its climb to fame. It was widened and lit up. All the establishments got on board with the transformation and worked on reinventing their images. Every other Friday in high season, the whole town seems to be on Basilio Badillo; from 6 to 10 pm the Southside Shuffle occurs. The idea is to shuffle between art galleries, boutiques, and other venues, enjoy what you see, and shop. And all that with free wine and delicious appetizers.
The oldest Farmers’ Market in town is also in the Romantic Zone and takes place from 9:30 am to 2 pm at Lazaro Cárdenas Park (only in high season). You can buy all kinds of freshly baked products, artisanal foods, handmade clothing, jewelry, and crafts.
Another attraction in the area is a series of events called Viva Vallarta, celebrated at the Lazaro Cárdenas Park every Wednesday in high season. From 7 pm to 11 pm, you get a great opportunity to get to know Mexican culture and folklore through shows and games, and also to meet local artists. Gourmet food and drinks are sold through the evening and are catered by the best restaurants in town.
Don’t miss the relatively new pier, Los Muertos Pier, inaugurated in January 2013. The spot was where the first wooden pier of Vallarta was built in the 1960s for the cast and crew of the film The Night of the Iguana. That ramshackle construction was replaced 30 years later by a concrete structure, which became the departure point for boats going to southern coastal destinations. In 2010, the city decided to renovate again. The result was the current sleek pier, resembling a soaring sail that projects 320 feet into the ocean. Apart from serving as a landing dock, it includes pedestrian pathways, plenty of seating, colorful lighting, and a waterfront promenade.