Puerto Vallarta offers visitors an eclectic mix of the old and new. Original pueblo architecture remains intermingled with modern, luxurious beachfront resorts. Whether you choose to frolic with the crowds or find a secluded hideaway, there is much to see in Puerto Vallarta.
The Bay Puerto Vallarta has a wealth of natural beauty, friendly people, glorious sunsets, world-class sport fishing and great cuisine. Not to mention first-class resorts, shopping, diving and sailing. The gorgeous Bahia de Banderas serves as Peurto Vallarta's playground. It begins where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean, forming one of the largest bays in the world and the largest in Mexico. The "Bay of Flags" extends from
Playa Play First, let's explore the main reason most people come to Puerto Vallarta: the "playas" or beaches.
Heading into town proper, visitors will find
Viejo Vallarta A narrow island in the middle of the Cuale River divides Old Vallarta. On the island, people can visit quaint outdoor shops, museums and an arboretum. Speaking of trees, dine in a treehouse overlooking the river at
Art lovers will find the works of internationally known Mexican artists featured at the
Visitors can also enjoy the architecture of the
Hotel Zone Boulevard Francisco Medina Ascencio runs north to south through the city and is aptly dubbed "the Hotel Zone." On the north end, the
Tours Maybe the best way to see Puerto Vallarta's sights for the first time is to use one of the many tour services available. Nature lovers will enjoy
Puerto Vallarta offers visitors a wealth of things to see and do, whether it's shopping, scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing, golfing, clubbing, visiting ruins or just plain relaxing on the beach. Regardless of what your budget is, or what your interests are, “Vallarta” offers unlimited fun, day or night.
Sun and Fun Puerto Vallarta has 26 miles of the most beautiful beaches in all Mexico, maybe even the world, and these beaches are one reason that this area has been dubbed, the “Mexican Riviera.” Banderas Bay is the focal point and popular gathering place for visitors, providing easy access to many beaches. Virtually everywhere you turn there's a beach vendor renting everything from boogie boards and water bikes to jet-skis and wind surfing equipment. Thrill seekers (who don't mind heights or spending $25 per each 10 minutes), might want to try their luck parasailing. Try Club Bananas Water Sports Center at the Las Palmas Hotel. The view from aloft is a spectacular panorama of the city and the miles and miles of surrounding coastline and jungle terrain.
Each local beach is unique in its own right and seems to serve a different purpose. Playa Los Muertos is a centrally-located, lively restaurant and vendor-strewn hot spot, regardless of its ominous-sounding name. To the north there is Punta de Mita, which has beautiful white coral beaches, making it extremely popular among sunbathers. Playa Anclote, nestled within a small cove, is perfect for swimming and surfing. Playa Pontoque offers visitors crystal clear waters, making it perfect for snorkeling. To the south (and accessible only by boat) are three beaches worth making the trip to: Playa Las Animas, another cove protected, white-sand beach popular with swimmers and sunbathers and those with small children; Quimixto another beach perfect for snorkelers; and, Vallarta's southernmost beach, Playa Yelapa, located in the well-known, once hippie-inhabited town of Yelapa.
Cruising Along the Deep Blue Sea There's always a sense of intrigue and adventure surrounding taking to the sea in ships. Maybe it's something we dream up on our own, or maybe it's something Mother Nature instills in us. Whichever the case, it has become a pastime that many people enjoy, and while in Puerto Vallarta, there is no reason not to indulge this whim.
Hop aboard the 116-foot Alegre Cruise ship for a day of fun in the sun or a romantic sunset cruise. Ecological cruises have become increasingly popular in these waters and elsewhere; Humpback whale enthusiasts may fancy a whale-watching voyage with Sailing and Fishing Unlimited. The first time you see a whale it's sure to leave you speechless, and the waters surrounding this area is rife with just such opportunities from mid-November to mid-March. Those with adventure in their blood (and a playful nature) may want to try their luck aboard the pirate ship Marigalante, a day-long, round-trip voyage that's guaranteed to make you dream of pieces o' eight.
Back on Dry Land Puerto Vallarta's rich art culture dates back centuries to the Aztec culture and much of the artwork you'll find here—from the pottery of its indigenous peoples to gleaming streamline modern sculptures—is steeped in historical significance. One gallery not to be missed is the Galería de Ollas, which is devoted to exhibiting and selling the works of art created by the areas finest Mata Ortiz potters. Pre-Columbian and Talavera designed pottery is the trademark of Studio Terra Cotta Ceramica. This gallery also offers lessons to visitors interested in learning the trade. At Museo Munoz Acosta, visitors will see the exceptional plastic panorama handiwork that famed Ernesto Munoz Acosta has been perfecting since the 60s.
More contemporary works can be seen at the Manuel Lepe Museum Gallery, which showcases the work of the area's most renowned artist. Lepe's colorful works of art (dating back to the 60s) allow you to see a more natural side of Puerto Vallarta, a side that only Lepe has been able to bring to life. The Galeria Pacifico is a great starting point for novice art enthusiasts, offering an eclectic array of paintings and sculptures by up and coming local artists.
Shopping opportunities abound despite the fact that there are no major shopping malls here. In fact, many of the bargains to be had here come directly to you as you relax on the beach. Locals, hawking their wares, offer a wide variety of souvenirs, necessities and local folk art to visitors as they relax in the shade of a palapa—be sure to haggle over the prices, it's expected.
For those who simply must get a little browsing in while on vacation, be sure to stop by the municipal market in the Rio Cuale area. Everything from the mandatory souvenir T-shirt to fine silver jewelry is available there. If you get hungry while shopping up a storm, check out the food market upstairs; it serves some of the best traditional Mexican dishes around. Once fortified, you'll be ready to do the town.
Dance the Night Away Puerto Vallarta's nightlife used to be pretty tame, but within the last couple of years there has been a surge in the dance party scene. Take the Malecón, for example. This area used to be filled with shops and restaurants, but not anymore. Nowadays it's the place to come dance ‘til dawn. Carlos O'Brian's and Star's are the area hot spots and great places to get your party started.
Those who think disco is dead are in for a rude awakening. The area's hottest nightspot is The Christine Discotheque and Disco is still king here. The laser light show and pulsating Donna Summeresque music keep the crowds boogying until the wee hours of the morning. Drag queens (and kings) can be found strutting their stuff across the runways of Club Paco Paco three nights a week (Friday-Sunday). This mind-boggling show packs the house every weekend. If you arrive early you may be able to participate in the “Ranch Hands Show” (run three times nightly).
For those who appreciate a less raucous form of nighttime entertainment, the Marina Vallerta section of town may be more suitable. Dozens of martini bars and jazz clubs offer a more subdued repose from the day's activities. Love is in the air--110 feet up in the air, to be precise--at the El Faro Lighthouse Bar. Mostly couples can be found here enjoying a panoramic view of the city and listening to live jazz music.
Another way to wind down your day is to attend one of the “fiestas” hosted by several of the local hotels. These productions combine costume, lights, music and food while giving visitors a glimpse at Mexico's diverse culture. Some of the best are the hosted twice weekly by the Krystal Vallarta Hotel.
Day or night, Puerto Vallarta offers plenty of opportunities for visitors to do it all—or nothing at all.
A Port in the Storm Since the 16th century, when Spanish soldiers first landed on the shores of the Banderas Bay, it has been known as a safe haven. During that era, the need for ships to find shelter along the Pacific Coast was of vital importance. These safe havens helped to provide ships with shelter if pirates and renegades were to attack. They also provided ships with a place to seek repairs and to stock up on needed supplies such as food, water and firewood.
In the late 16th century, Captain Pedro de Unamuno proposed that a settlement be built on Banderas Bay; however, he was not he first to suggest this. Other navigators such as Gonzalo de Francia, Sebastian Vizcaino and Lopez de Vicuna had proposed ideas that such colonies be constructed, but their requests never received any formal attention. However, in 1644, a shipyard was built in what is now known as Mismaloya. Two of the ships constructed in that shipyard were built for Bernardo Bernal de Pinadero and were used to help colonize the southern region of California.
A City is Created During the 19th century, mining companies from Cuale and San Sebastian used the area to load and unload materials and mining supplies. At that time the area was known as Las Peñas. Halfway through that century, the area was dubbed Las Peñas de Santa Maria de Guadalupe. This formal name was bestowed by Don Guadalupe Sanchez Torres (he delivered salt to the mines, which was needed in order to refine the silver). He named the area this because he arrived there on December 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Don Guadalupe Sanchez Torres was so fond of the area that in the latter half of 1851, he brought his entire family there to live. It wasn't long before other families began to arrive and a small village began to emerge. Each family did their part to help the local economy grow. Some brought salt while others devoted themselves to agriculture and raising cattle. It was during this time that the French and Germans began to appear in this area in search of Brazil wood, a strong wood that they processed in order to acquire dyes.
By the year 1880, Las Peñas had a population of 1,500 inhabitants. Families from various places including Cuale and San Sebastian, came to Las Peñas to make lives for themselves. Within a few years the port was officially known as Las Peñas thanks to Admiral George Dewey's report to the U.S. Naval Hydrographic Office, which was used to establish the exact geographical positions of cities along this coast in order to make an accurate map.
In 1885, Las Peñas was open to national maritime traffic and on July 23rd of that same year, a Maritime Customs Office was established. In October of the following year, the town was given its official political and judicial standing by the State Congress. Over the next 20 years, Las Peñas flourished thanks to the collective efforts of Don Guadalupe and the many families who settled there.
Growing pains In Puerta Vallarta The people of Las Peñas also suffered their share of setbacks. In mid-1888, a pot of grease, which was being heated over a fire in local restaurant, burst into flames and set the structure ablaze. The fire spread quickly, destroying more than half of the homes in town. It is said that the fire would not have caused such extensive damage had nearly all the town's male inhabitants population not been at a cockfight. In 1911, a waterspout hit the village, leaving more than 100 inhabitants homeless. In 1922, an outbreak of Yellow Fever spread through the city, causing more than 150 deaths.
In early 1911 Las Peñas' first post office was opened, and later that same year a telegraph was installed. In 1889, the port of Las Peñas was upgraded to a municipality. It was at this time that the settlement's name was changed to Puerto Vallarta, in remembrance of the Governor of Jalisco, Don Ignacio L. Vallarta.
Thirty-five years later, the Montgomery Fruit Company purchased 70,000 acres for banana plantations in the neighboring town of Ixtapa. Because of the surplus job opportunities created by these plantations, Puerto Vallarta began to flourish. Eventually, a railway was built in order to transport the bananas to El Salado and eventually onto the United States. Unfortunately, in 1938, the company was forced to leave the area due to new laws and restrictions that had been put into effect. Other products such as beans, coconuts, corn and tobacco continued to be grown and shipped to national markets.
The World Discovers Its Beauty Unlike some other cities in Mexico, Puerto Vallarta was not created for tourism. However, in the 1930's, the city got its first taste. Those who visited the area loved it so much that they began returning year after year. Word of Puerto Vallarta's beauty quickly spread, and each year the number of tourists grew. By 1950 the city was known internationally, but what really put Puerto Vallarta on the map was the movie Night of the Iguana (filmed in 1963) and the steamy romance between film stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Thousands of tourists flocked to the area, eager to see the location where the movie was made. That exposure helped the city grow quickly. Transportation improved, hotels were built and the city now had a new primary income source, tourism.
Because of that growth, Francisco Medina Ascencio, governor of Jalisco, and Sr. Jose Vasquez Galvan as mayor of Puerto Vallarta, pronounced decree No. 8366, which elevated Puerto Vallerta to the status of a city. Puerto Vallarta has come a long way since 1930. Today, hotels and restaurants line the beaches. Cruise ships come into port on an almost daily basis. Tourism, which was once nonexistent, now draws in more than half a million visitors a year, turning this once a tiny fishing village into a sought-after vacation destination.
Puerto Vallarta is a city rich with history and an integral part of that stems from its cuisine. A few hundred years ago, as the city was just beginning, inhabitants didn't have the luxury of dining at four-star restaurants. Residents had to rely on their own knowledge and experience in order to feed their families. Through trial and error, a great number of the recipes that Puerto Vallarta cherishes today were created. Many of those same recipes have been handed down from one relative to the next, for generations. Some families have taken their prized recipes and opened restaurants. Today, many share them with locals and tourists alike.
Today, finding a restaurant in Puerto Vallarta is easy. The only foreseeable problem is which restaurant to choose. There are the typical chains and fast food restaurants such as McDonald's, Subway, Burger King, KFC and Taco Bell, if that's what you're in the mood for. Places like Planet Hollywood and the Hard Rock Café are around for those who want to drink in a familiar environment. There is also a wide variety of international restaurants and bars in the city—German, Italian, American, Asian, South American and Moroccan are just of few of the types you can expect to find. There are also the more regionalized Mexican restaurants and taverns that seem, logically, to be the biggest draw.
Northern Puerto Vallarta North of the downtown area and the Cuale River are a number of popular eateries and taverns. Abadia Basso (on Hildago) is one of the area's most romantic and frequently visited restaurants. The Mezza Luna (also on Hildago) is Vallarta's premier Italian restaurant. If you head a little closer to the downtown area, you're bound to find Chez Elena (on Matamoros); the best time to dine here is in the evening, when the garden is illuminated. On Paseo Diaz Ordaz there are a couple of tasty choices: for burgers and traditional Mexican cuisine in a casual atmosphere, there's Cheeseburger in Paradise; Old-World Italian cuisine can be found at La Dolce Vita. Over on Morelos is Mickey's No Name Café, the areas best BBQ hands down; be prepared for a wait here regardless of when you arrive.
The Downtown Area In the downtown district choices include hip nouveau eateries and small out of the way places. One of the more trendy places to dine is Café des Artistes (on Guadalupe Sanchez). Its combination of French cuisine and original artwork creates a serene atmosphere that is unmatched anywhere else in town. International fare has become quite the trend amongst Puerto Vallarta's restaurant community, and Cafe Maximilian (on Olas Altas) is no exception. Memo's Casa de Hotcakes (on Basilio Badillo) is where virtually everyone in Puerto Vallarta goes for breakfast, so there's always a wait to get in. Vegetarians will enjoy Papaya 3 (on Abasolo) serving only 100% all-natural cuisine. For some truly authentic Mexican cuisine there's only one place to go downtown, Café Olla (on Basilio Badillo). Be prepared for a wait, as it does not accept reservations.
Southern Puerto Vallarta To the south of the downtown area is Olas Altas, also known as “Restaurant Row.” It is the most heavily visited street in south Puerto Vallarta, due mainly to the sheer number of restaurants located there. Some of the eateries in this area include Chianti's, where fresh homemade pasta is always the house specialty. Just down the road, party-goers will find Daiquiri Dick's, renowned for its frozen daiquiris and Sunday brunch. Papaya 3, the vegetarian eatery, has a second location on this street. Another popular stop is Rosie's at Santa Barbara, well known throughout the city for its authentic American-style cuisine. Located just a short walk from Olas Atlas is Café Frankfurt (on Basilio Badillo). The German cuisine and open-air dining experience is what customers come here for.
Banderas Bay Scenic views, spectacular sunsets and an abundance of romantic intentions are what you can expect if dining along the Banderas Bay. Bombo's (on Matamoros) has a beautiful view of the bay and is perfect for those interested in gourmet cuisine and a romantic interlude for two. Spectacular sunsets and jazz music at El Manglar (inside the Buenaventura Hotel) is just what the love doctor ordered. Tropical plants and an impressive waterfall surround you at El Palomar (on Aguacuate). International cuisine with a Mediterranean flare is the specialty of the house at Coco's Tropical (on Olas Altas).
Cuale River Area If you enjoy dining with a view, there are plenty of places to choose from along the Cuale River. Cuiza (on Isla Rio Cuale) is a popular spot for couples, especially those with marriage on their minds. If you enjoy dining in an open-air restaurant that overlooks the river, Caruso's (on Insurgentes) is your best bet. Avid jazz enthusiasts can often be found dining at Le Bistro Jazz (on East Bridge). An enchanting spot for two is Las Brias (on Calle Aquiles Serdán), a tree-house restaurant that overlooks the “Gringo Gulch.”
One last bit of advice—If you're having a hard time deciding, ask the hotel management where you're staying or one of the local store owners. Do not ask the cabdrivers; many of them get paid to recommend specific restaurants.