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Puerto Vallarta

by Walter and Cherie Glaser

Puerto Vallarta! PV, as the town is known to North Americans, is today the second biggest tourist attraction for foreigners in Mexico. Here the tourist is king. He is the prime reason for PV's existence. You will find none of the smog of Mexico City, the slums of Acapulco, or the comparative artificiality of Cozumel. In this town it is famous for brilliant weather, excellent facilities, Mexican friendliness, good hotels and restaurants, and all those feel-good factors that make Americans and Canadians know they've chosen the right place for a relaxing holiday. Originally, Puerto Vallarta was just a pleasant fishing village with a
typically Mexican touch. In the fifties, it became a popular getaway for
California's flower-powered fringe. Then film director John Huston fell in
love with the place and built his home there, after which it became the
location for the Richard Burton/Ava Gardiner smash hit, 'The Night of the
Iguana'. Burton was so captivated by PV that he and Liz Taylor then built their
relatively modest house here. That mix of celebrities and publicity put the
town on the map for most Americans. Suddenly it became a 'hot destination'. Fortunately, unlike some other resort towns that 'lost the plot' as they grew, the changes that have taken place since have almost all been positive.The best way to arrive in PV is on a direct flight from USA or Canada. That way you arrive fresh, full of anticipation, and ready to holiday. But most governments and airlines have a perverse streak that makes the visitor arrive by the most devious route via those hated 'hubs'. The only flight I was able to obtain from Washington was via Miami, Cozumel and Mexico City. Try that on an old Mexicana Fokker, have the same unappetizing menu of a ame biscuit on each sector, and you will wish that you had arrived some other way. By the time I staggered into the airport terminal after a whole day's flying that should only have taken 3 hours on a direct service, I wasn't sure if the town was really worth the trip. But within an hour, PV had embraced me and worked its magic. The North American winter and the bad flight was obliterated from my mind. The weather here was perfect and the charm, the facilities, the hotel, and most of all the laid back Mexican welcome, had captivated my mind and heart.The Westin Regina Resort was only a few minutes from the airport, in an area that was jungle just a few years ago but has been developed with amazing care and good taste. Sleek yachts lay at anchor in the adjacent marina. Stylish apartments surrounded it. A substantial beach frontage and four huge swimming pools competed for my attention. It was the sort of place which, although it is vast, sprawling, and painted in a shade of pink that at first impression bordered on the garish, grew on me very quickly. In a shorter time than it takes to say 'manana', I found myself slowing down and switching into laid-back Mexican pace. The smiling staff were friendly. In the lobby a large woman in a bright red
dress seemed to be towing her small Stetson-topped husband and two children behind her. A Japanese honeymoon couple wore bright T-shirts with incongruous slogans in Japlish. I passed lily-white, newly arrived Canadians and other gringos whose colouring ranged from freshly sunburnt to golden-tanned. But everybody looked happy. The air was moist and tropical. The sound of a distant Mariachi band was faintly audible, yet almost subliminal. I felt as if I had come home.To walk from one end of the property to the other proved to be all I needed for my daily exercise. Unlike the elegant hacienda-style I had experienced at many Mexican hotels in other cities, this one tended towards the modern, the sleek and the international, losing much of the Mexican character in the process. But there were some serendipitous touches as charming as they were unexpected - a whimsical batch of sculptures here, a corridor of colourful paper mache animals there. But at this stage all I was interested in was my user-friendly room and its
remarkably comfortable 'Heavenly Bed'. Westin claim to have tried hundreds of mattress combinations before selecting this one as their standard. I dropped onto it to test their judgement and found mysezzzzzzzzzzzzz.Next morning I felt bright, refreshed and ready to check out what made Puerto Vallarta tick.As I headed into the nearby 'old town', my taxi passed a life-sized statue of
a humpback whale. That was okay, but behind it was a building that looked like a cross between a nightmare and a schizophrenic architect's design for a church. The building, which turned out to house a mall, not a church, was topped by a large figure of King Neptune holding his pitchfork. The result has to be a gold medal winner in the Weirdo's competition! I guess every city has its monstrosity. To my mind this was PV's.But perhaps this had been 'planted' for contrast, because from there
everything was quite charming. The short road into town was wide, buildings modern, and the infrastructure clearly aimed at the tourist, but nicely so. Soon we were crossing the Rio Cuale (Cuale River), flanked by attractive gardens and had reached the old town. This had changed little in the 20 years since my previous visit and had managed to retain its character and charm.There is always something interesting to see and do in the old part of town.
Silver is the big shopping attraction - inexpensive, and with a vast range of
designs that run from the exquisite to the garish. Almost every shop offers
some and almost every tourist (including this one) takes some home. As I
passed the window of a shop that must have held a minimum of five thousand items I suddenly thought how glad I was that I didn't have to clean them all! Lots of other things vied for my attention. The usual kaleidoscope of
designs in T-shirts, resort clothes that stretched from the interesting and
stylish to the kitsch, the ubiquitous blue-rimmed hand-blown Mexican
glassware, dolls, postcards, knick-knacks, paintings, pottery…But among the ordinary there was also the exceptional. Sergio Bustamente is arguably Mexico's best-known modern ceramic artist, and his three outlets in Puerto Vallarta (one in Juarez St and two at the Malecon) are as good if not better than their equivalents in Mexico City. His figures are a feast - a delirium of design and colour that overwhelm the senses and bring imagination to life. In the shop I visited, a whimsical mermaid serenaded the moon that was at her feet. Another rode a nautilus shell, while two gnomes took the slow road atop a giant snail. Every figure told its story. Here one could also buy some of the most elegant silver jewellery in Mexico. Shopped out, it was time for a coffee or a margarita. No shortage of good
restaurants for this with choices like Maximillian's, Trio, Adobe Café or
Café des Artistes. This was a great opportunity for people-watching at the bar. On one side of me two first-time American margarita-tasters were
screwing up their faces when they realised that what they had thought was
sugar on the glass rim was actually salt. They were contrasted by three
tough-guy native Mexican cowboys, charros, who spurned the margaritas,
preferring to put salt on the side of their fist and belt down a slug of tequila as a chaser that would be enough to put a horse to sleep.The nearby Plaza Principal is the site of the town's Zocalo, or town square,
which under Spanish rule was mandatory in all Latin-American towns. This is where people come to relax at the end of the day. Mothers exchange gossip and recipes with friends while keeping their toddlers fixed in their peripheral vision. Old men relive the past, young men go there to ogle the senoritas, who promenade the square to be ogled. It's very much a part of Mexican life. In PV the Plaza Principal is dominated by the cathedral, famed for its colourful 'crown' of what looks like wrought iron. A knowledgable local friend confided that the top of the cathedral was formerly made of brick, but succumbed to an earthquake that hit the region in 1995. The city fathers hired a famous local sculptor to make a quake-proof top that would be spectacular - out of fibre-glass but looking more authentic than the original. And it does!Mexican Mariachi bands -- joyous, brassy, loud but still romantic -- make up in volume what they never quite reach in musical cohesion, but that is much of their charm. Mexican men who are some of the most macho and male chauvinist anywhere, get tears in their eyes listening to lyrics about Pedro whose Rosita has walked out on him and broken his heart. Watching the crowd reaction to a Mariachi serenade is as interesting as the music itself. Every now and then I had the opportunity to hear a band that is musically outstanding. One such in PV is Real de America (American Royalty), a group dominated by the Lupercio family of gifted musicians. They were a joy to listen to. As the sun went down, the whole town seemed to come out to stroll the
seafront at Banderas Bay, the picture-postcard seafront that everybody loves to walk along. Puerto Vallarta has something for everyone. For me it has tender memories of a place that warrants many happy returns.


Puerto Vallarta has the same latitude as Hawaii - wet summer, dry winter -
high humidity from June to October. Activity choices range from diving to fishing, mountain-biking, kayaking and snorkelling, boat cruising, horseback riding, off-road Jeep safaris, visits to Huichol Indian villages, hot-air ballooning and parasailing.
Whale-watching is Dec to March when Humpbacks come down from Alaska. Bird watching tours are also popular.INSIDER'S HINTS FOR PVThere are many beach-side food stores and stalls along and just behind the
waterfront. The food there can be excellent or just-so, but watch out for
'Moctezuma's revenge', a form of dysentery that particularly affects
foreigners. Lomotil or similar medication should get you back to normal quite quickly.FINE DINING
I particularly enjoyed the outstanding cuisine and incredible bay views at:
El Palomar de los Gonzalez
Agucate 425
Col. Altavista
Tel: ++ 322 22 20795, ++ 322 22 22795Other excellent restaurants in PV areGARIBALDI'S RESTAURANT (seafood, and Mexican and international cuisine)
At the Westin Regina Resort
Paseo de la Marina Sur 205
Marina Vallarta
Tel: ++ 322 22 61100TRIO (Mediterranean cuisine)
Guerrero 264
Downtown Vallarta
Tel: ++ 322 22 22196CAFE MAXIMILLIAN (European cuisine)
Olas Altas 380-B
Downtown Vallarta
Tel: ++ 322 22 23228LA PALAPA (Tropical cuisine and seafood)
Pulpito 103
Los Muertos
Downtown Vallarta
Tel: ++ 322 22 25225
This is an experience that is not to be missed. Ten superbly-trained dolphins (one male and nine females - lucky him!) in a large pool where visitors will play and swim with these wonderful creatures. Go for it!
Vallarta Adventures
Nuevo Vallarta
Tel ++ 322 29 71212
www.vallarta-adventures.comTHE SPA EXPERIENCE
If you want the very best, try two. The first is at Terra Noble (Tel ++ 322
22 30308), Spa, Art and Healing Centre (any taxi will take you there). The
house is a touch of architectural serendipity, and the massage is healing and
wonderful, but don't expect any hanky-panky.The same applies to the spa centre at the Westin, known for its excellent
treatments.BEACH CLUB
A wonderful place for families to visit is the Villa Vera, Club Regina's
beach complex. It offers mini-zoo with animals that range from deer to
colourful, noisy macaws. The club also has a wonderful sea-side pool, an
excellent restaurant and an outstanding children's pool. In it stands a
two-metre tall giant mushroom, a large green frog big enough for children to climb into its smiling mouth, and an octopus whose tentacles double up as squirting fountains - all enough to warm the heart of any youngster heading for the nearby water-slide. The pool is guaranteed to give parents a total respite from their youngsters.
Club Regina
Veneros Beach
TEL: ++ 322 22 227282ECO TOURISM
Banderas Bay is not only a favourite with tourists. Turtles nest here from
June to September, and the best hotels have got together and established a
remarkable conservation project which can be best observed at the Westin
Regina Resort. Eggs are collected just after being laid and transported to
safe, protected areas (ask to be shown to the one in the Westin grounds).
Fifty days after laying, turtles hatch and are released into the sea in a
ceremony in which tourists can participate. BAY CRUISES
There are many options for bay cruises, the most popular being on the tourist boat, SV Bloodhound, a replica of an 1874 sailing ship, the Marigalante, that came to these waters.ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM
A small museum on the River Cuale Island in the downtown area displays some of the Precolombian artefacts found in this area. PV was one of the most important archaeological sites in Western Mexico, and a team from the National Institute of Anthropology and History is shortly due to begin
excavating a thirteen hectare area in the town.PRIVATE HOME TOUR
If you want to see how locals really live, and stroll through the most
beautiful homes in Puerto Vallarta, this is possible on Wednesdays and
Thursdays from November through to April. Volunteers from the International Friendship Club conduct these tours to raise money for charity. For details phone Susan Austin on ++ 322 2232794. TWO FABULOUS GETAWAYS FROM PV
Two elegant hideaways easily accessible from Puerto Vallarta are:El Tamarindo - a luxury beachside Resort with excellent golf
KM 7.5 Carretera Melaque y Puerto Vallarta
Cihuatlan, Jalisco, Mexico 48970
Phone: ++52 315 351 5032
Fax: ++52 315 351 5026
Website: www.luxurycollection.com
El Careyes - a stunning beachside resort
Costa Careyes
En Cd. de Mexico
Phone: ++01 315 351 0000
Fax: ++01 315 351 0100
Website: www.luxurycollection.com

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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