World ? Caribbean & Central America ? Mexico ? Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta: Introduction

885km (549 miles) NW of Mexico City; 339km (210 miles) W of Guadalajara; 285km (177 miles) NW of Manzanillo; 447km (277 miles) SE of Mazatlȥn; 239km (148 miles) SW of Tepic

No matter how extensively I travel in Mexico, Puerto Vallarta remains my favorite part of this colorful country, for its unrivaled combination of simple pleasures and sophisticated charms. No other place in Mexico offers both the best of the country's natural beauty and an authentic dose of its vibrant culture.

Puerto Vallarta's seductive innocence captivates visitors, beckoning them to return -- and to bring friends. Beyond the cobblestone streets, graceful cathedral, and welcoming atmosphere, Puerto Vallarta offers a wealth of natural beauty and man-made pleasures. Hotels of all classes and prices, over 250 restaurants, a sizzling nightlife, and enough shops and galleries to tempt even jaded consumers make this town a perennial favorite.

Ecotourism activities flourish -- from canopy tours to whale-watching, ocean kayaking, and diving with giant mantas in Banderas Bay. Forty-two kilometers (26 miles) of beaches, many in pristine coves accessible only by boat, extend around the bay. High in the Sierra Madre, the mystical Huichol Indians still live in relative isolation in an effort to protect their centuries-old culture from outside influences.

Vallarta (as locals refer to it) was never the "sleepy little fishing village" that many proclaim. It began life as a port for processing silver brought down from mines in the Sierra Madre -- then was forever transformed by a movie director and two star-crossed lovers. In 1963, John Huston brought stars Ava Gardner and Richard Burton here to film the Tennessee Williams play Night of the Iguana. Burton's new love, Elizabeth Taylor, came along to ensure the romance remained in full bloom -- even though both were married to others at the time. Titillated, the international paparazzi arrived, and when they weren't shooting photos of the famous couple -- or of Gardner water-skiing back from the set, surrounded by a bevy of beach boys -- they photographed the beauty of Puerto Vallarta.

Luxury hotels and shopping centers have sprung up north and south of the original town, allowing Vallarta to grow into a city of 350,000 without sacrificing its considerable charms. It boasts the services and infrastructure -- and, unfortunately now the traffic -- of a modern city, while still retaining the authenticity of a colonial Mexican village.

Cool breezes flow down from the mountains along the Rȷo Cuale, which runs through the center of town. Fanciful public sculptures grace the malecɃn (boardwalk), which is bordered by lively restaurants, shops, and nightclubs. The malecɃn is a magnet for both residents and visitors, who stroll the main walkway to take in an ocean breeze, a multihued sunset, or a moonlit, perfect wave.

If I sound partial, it's not just because Puerto Vallarta is my favorite of Mexico's sunny resorts; this has been my home for the past 16 years. I live here in good company -- there's a considerable colony of American, Canadian, and European residents. Perhaps they feel as I do: that the surrounding mountains offer the equivalent of a continual, comforting embrace, adding to that sense of welcome that so many visitors feel as well.

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