Puerto Vallarta is a 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 mountain biking the Sierra foothills 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 250,000 without sacrificing its considerable charms. It boasts the services and infrastructure of a modern city as well as the authenticity of a colonial Mexican village.
Cool breezes flow down from the mountains along the Río Cuale, which runs through the center of town. Fanciful public sculptures grace the boardwalk, or malecón, which is bordered by lively restaurants, shops, and bars. The malecón 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.