Fab Vallarta

The Pacific Coast of Mexico remains the undiscovered coastline of Mexico and Puerto Vallarta is undoubtedly one of its gems. For a long time the resort was underdeveloped as a tourist destination and a poor relation to the world famous Acapulco further south on the Pacific coast of Mexico. But now as Acapulco moves more and more towards tackiness, Puerto Vallarta is emerging as the more sophisticated holiday option, especially for honeymooners.

Tourists really started coming to Puerto Vallarta only after John Huston filmed the Tennessee Williams’ classic play Night of the Iguana here in 1964. The film location was about six miles south of the town. The paparazzi and the world’s media flooded down Mexico way to try and catch glimpses of the steamy tropical dalliances of Richard Burton and Elisabeth Taylor (who although not in the film was along to enjoy the Pacific Coast sunshine). The presence of Burton’s statuesque co-star Eva Gardner added another dimension to the potential glimpses of passion on show. Ever since tourists and movie buffs from the US have been flocking to the site, perhaps to capture some of the spirit of the romance that the Hollywood superstars left behind. Unfortunately, the remains of the building used in the film seem a little sad and deserted in comparison to what they must have been like during shooting.

Puerto Vallarta is on the beautiful Bay of Flags (Bahia de las Banderas in Spanish), which is one of the largest natural bays in the world and may have been created after the eruption of a gigantic ancient volcano. There are miles and miles of pristine sandy beaches all along the bay. The best ones are to the south of PuertoVallarta. It really is an ideal destination if you wish to lie on the beach all day and sun yourself while reading a not too taxing novel. There are plenty of acres of sand for you to choose from and you can even find a deserted beach for yourself if you hire a car and venture a few miles northward. But it is not just a place for beach bums. So if you are the type that gets bored after half an hour sitting on the beach waiting to burn, then you can have yourself an adventure holiday too.

Every conceivable water sport activity is on offer from bodysurfing to windsurfing and sports fishing to diving. The bay is teeming with marine life and if you dive or snorkel you will be rewarded with resplendent views of creatures that live below the waves. The best places for snorkeling, Los Arcos (just off the coast of Mismaloya) and Islas Marietas, where you might spot a giant manta ray float over your head are a boat trip away from Puerto Vallarta. In the bay you are likely to see dolphins and if you are really lucky and it is in season you may get up close and personal with a few whales. Pilot, grey and humpbacks whales all frequent the area at various times during the year and the colonial Spaniards once called it Humpback Bay. Taking a boat out to one of the more remote beaches is a must. Yelapa is the most popular beach, but it can get a bit crowded. If you want solitude you can hike up a trail to a small waterfall where you will leave most of the others behind on the beach. The exotically named Beach of the Spirits (Playa de Los Animas) is the most exclusive and secluded beach and it is a bit special.

A variety of activity choices are available on land too. Most of the relatively cheap hotels have their own golf course attached, so if you’re a swinger then you will be happy here, as you won’t be dodging those freezing raindrops that are common back home.

The town itself retains some authenticity, as it has not been destroyed too much by resort complex construction. Most of those are concentrated in the north of the town in Nuevo Vallarta and Marina Vallarta with its impressive and exclusive marina. The town’s attractive whitewashed adobe buildings with their red roofs are atmospheric. The cathedral (Templo de Guadelupe) in the central square has a crown on top of it and is called Templo de Guadelupe. From the central square there is a picturesque walk along a promenade (the malecon), which is lined with some attractive marine fantasy sculptures. Here the locals promenade, as they do in Spain, in the early evening before supper.

The beach in the centre of town is an excellent place to watch the sunset and the locals have renamed it beach of the sun (Playa del Sol) from its original rather macabre name of beach of death (Playa de los muertos). This macabre name has nothing to do the shark attacks, which in the past have been known to plague some parts of the Pacific coastline. If you are swimmer you will be comforted by the fact that there are no sharks about in the Bay of Flags. This is because the dolphins stand guard and mount a patrol at the bay entrance to keep the sharks out and to protect their young (I always liked dolphins!) Pelicans are plentiful on the beach at Puerto Vallarta and it is quite amusing to watch these elegant gliders inch lower across a golden sunset sky only to crash clumsily into the ocean as if they didn’t see it sneak up on them from below.

Every superlative that there is has been used to describe Mexican food and if you are a fan, then you will be in for a sensory treat in Puerto Vallarta. As well as all the traditional familiar fare, the fresh fish tacos and the local specialty of grilled fish on a stick cooked on the beach are to die for, especially after you have spent an hour or so bathing in a luke warm sea.

Mexicans are a friendly bunch, especially when they realize you are Irish, and in Puerto Vallarta most of them speak English. Most of their trade is with their northern neighbours from the US. Speaking a little Spanish does help break down barriers and expect a smile and a little help from the locals if you pronunciation goes horribly awry.

There are plenty of souvenir shops and fancy art galleries in the centre of Puerto Vallarta. One particular gallery you should not miss even if it is just to look and not buy is the Arte Magico Huichol, which showcases the intricate beadwork of the Huichol Indians (you can see a demonstration in the shop). The Huichol have one of the last remaining intact indigenous Indian cultures in all of Mexico and they come from high in the Sierra Madre Mountains. Some of their extremely colourful bead representations of animals are for sale, but anything that is important for their religious ceremonies is not. Don’t bring too much in your suitcase, as you are guaranteed to want to fill it with great Mexican souvenirs.

Puerto Vallarta has everything if your dream honeymoon is to relax at sunset on the beach with a large cocktail in front of you while being serenaded by a Mexican Mariachi band. As an orange-red sun sinks into the azure Pacific Ocean you will imagine you have been transported to heaven and after a few margaritas you will be more than half way there.


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