Built around the half-moon shaped Bahía De Banderas, the town of Puerto (Port) Vallarta located in the Mexican state of Jalisco has long been a favorite among Americans seeking tranquil waters, beautiful beaches, quaint shopping, and vibrant local culture. Located just a short 20-minute cab ride north of Puerto Vallarta, the emerging community of Nuevo (New) Vallarta in the adjacent state of Nayarit just across the Rio Ameca is giving travelers new reasons to head south of the border.
While Puerto Vallarta has retained the same charm and allure that it has for decades, it was Nuevo Vallarta that brought me down this time and the opening of the new resort Villa del Palmar Flamingos Resort and Spa built by the Villa Group.
This area is still in its infancy as were Cancun and Cabo in their pre-boom days with just a small smattering of hotels, resorts and golf courses. Even so, the resort is impressive upon first glance with Mexican-style architecture, lush landscaping and inviting water features that lead right down to lovely Flamingos Beach.
I arrived late in the day but was invited to one of the resort’s beachside entertainment shows that included a sumptuous buffet. I was amazed at the quality of the presentation that featured professional lighting techniques and top-notch dancers wearing elaborate Mayan costumes.
Each of the 190 suites at the resort offers balconies with ocean views. Other on-site amenities include room service, washers and dryers (standard in one, two and three-bedroom suites), baby-sitting services, and a large well-stocked market complete with pharmaceuticals, bakery items and hot and cold to-go dishes. This latter feature was very welcome as most resorts usually just have a token amount of the usual fare that includes chips, soft drinks, water, and a few magazines. I found browsing in this market to actually be an experience in itself. The resort also boasts a cyber café with at least six computers that allowed me to quickly check my email.
The resort’s 17,000 square foot European-style Tatewari Spa includes a fully equipped gym, Jacuzzi®, sauna, steam room, beauty salon, and a host of body treatments.
As for fun, there are classes for kiddies (pottery, language and pool activities) as well as off-site trips that can be arranged by your concierge. Golf, ATV rides, whale watching (in season), snorkeling, and sunset cruises are all close by in Puerto Vallarta.
Rather than just lie around the pool all day sipping piña coladas, I took a cab into Puerto Vallarta. To me, the true taste of any place lies beyond the borders of the resort and into the heart of the city. Puerto Vallarta is home to about 300,000 residents and the central downtown area is alive with activity. Cars crowd the narrow streets, tourists wander in and out of local shops looking for bargains and the locals congregate around town squares and walk along the Malecon (boardwalk) that borders Banderas Bay. This is actually the second largest bay in North America with more than 100 miles of coastline.
While there are many areas to explore, I found myself wandering around the areas known as Gringo Gulch, the Flea Market and an area across the Rio Cuale known as the Romantic Zone. The latter is accessible by crossing a wooden footbridge suspended by cables that moves with every motion of the body. I’m not sure if this walkway was built for the entertaining purpose of watching the expressions of those crossing the bridge as we try to maintain our balance but young and old seem to enjoy traversing its length.
Puerto Vallarta is a shopper’s delight and you can find everything from fine art to jewelry to locally made handicrafts in every nook and cranny. Don’t be afraid to bargain as many local vendors will negotiate in order to close a sale. I found some great boat-shaped planters that weren’t too large to take back on the airplane and will make a great addition to my garden.
If Puerto Vallarta has a heart, it would have to be the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This brick building can be seen for many city blocks and is an important local landmark. The top is adorned with a crown that is supposed to represent the one worn by Empress Carlota who ruled in the late 1860s. Each year the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe is celebrated in December with a parade and special events.
While most tourists opt for taxis as a mode of transportation, I decided to mingle with the locals and take one of the local buses that are easily accessible and also less expensive. Bus service here and in many parts of Mexico can be an adventure as you never quite know what to expect. On one of my excursions, our driver was quickly darting in and out of stops as people rang the bell. At one point, he cut the wheel a little too close and sideswiped another bus. While this may be a big deal back home, he just paid no attention and moved on down the road.
Getting to Puerto Vallarta is relatively easy as most air carriers have service from San Diego. Once you arrive, cabs are plentiful and it is just a short drive to Puerto Vallarta.
Maybe it’s just the smiles on the faces of the locals or the fresh salt breezes coming off the ocean, but there is something special about this part of Mexico that will enchant you as it did me. Whichever Vallarta you choose, you will find your own reasons for falling in love with Mexico all over again.
(Note: All accommodations, meals and attractions were sponsored by the Villa Group Resorts).