Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, masterfully plays the part of a remote tropical getaway, even as it grows into a larger city that’s connected to the outside world by multinational chain stores and a steady stream of jets and cruise ships.

Puerto Vallarta’s success has a lot to do with looks. Although in recent years, unchecked development along every inch of Puerto Vallarta’s beach has gradually turned the once-quaint fishing village into a mass-market destination for the hoi polloi as well as the moneyed few.

Still, there remains much beauty in Vallarta (as it is known to the locals and habitues). Whitewashed walls and terra-cotta-tiled roofs are nestled along Banderas Bay, with the ornate crown of the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe serving as a focal point. The lush, green foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains make for a beautiful and dramatic backdrop.

Puerto Vallarta’s style is another key. Even as more and more travelers have arrived, and more and more hotels have been built, Puerto Vallarta has somehow managed to retain—or at least appears to retain—a cultured grace that’s rare in heavily touristed areas.

Artists, architects and chefs flourish in this rarified climate of tropical creativity. The restaurants, galleries and shops in Puerto Vallarta are some of the best in the country, drawing talent from Mexico City, Guadalajara, Italy, Switzerland and the U.S.

Geography

Puerto Vallarta lies at the coastal center of Banderas Bay, an immense semicircular inlet on Mexico’s Pacific coast. The oldest part of the city is the Centro (also referred to as Viejo Vallarta, Old Town or downtown). The Malecon, a bustling promenade, runs along the waterfront there. Near the start of the Malecon is Plaza Principal, and one block east of that is the city’s main church. West of the church and several blocks inland, in the hills, is the neighborhood known as Gringo Gulch.

At the southern end of the Centro is Rio Cuale. Isla del Rio Cuale is a thin island in the middle of the river. South of the river is another old neighborhood called South Side (or sometimes La Zona Romantica). That’s where you’ll find the most popular downtown beaches—Playa Olas Altas and Playa de los Muertos (which the government and tourist agencies prefer you call by the much less sinister-sounding Playa del Sol). Just south of Playa de los Muertos is the hillside neighborhood of Conchas Chinas.

Developments and villages dot the bay’s coastline. Heading north of downtown takes you to the oceanfront Zona Hotelera (hotel strip), Marina Vallarta (the cruise-ship and yacht harbor, as well as a hotel and shopping district), the airport and the main bus station. Continuing north, you’ll find Nuevo Vallarta, after which the relentless waterfront development becomes, well, a bit less relentless.

Nuevo Vallarta marks the end of Puerto Vallarta (and the state of Jalisco) and the beginning of the state of Nayarit and Riviera Nayarit, a separate tourist destination running nearly 200 mi/322 km north along the coast and Banderas Bay. Beyond Bucerias lies La Cruz de Huanacaxtle and, at the northern tip of the bay, Punta de Mita, which are quaint seaside hamlets less visited by tourists, although they are beginning to see some development by luxury resorts.

South of Puerto Vallarta are several beach areas, including Mismaloya and Boca de Tomatlan. Farther down the coast, and reachable only by boat, are Las Animas, Quimixto and Yelapa.