Night of the Iguana, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico

PUERTO VALLARTA, MÉXICO — The Village that Grew — 

 

The Pacific coast state of Jalisco has given the world mariachis, tequila and some of the best known folkloric dances in México. Combine these with a dash of the latest trends in gastronomy and the arts and you’ve got a feel for Puerto Vallarta. Did I mention the laid back atmosphere?

 

From the instant hotel bellman Pedro opened our limousine door to welcome us I knew this was going to be good. Our tour group was split among hotels Velas Vallarta, Marriott and the Westin, all in the ‘hotel zone’ at the north end of the bay.

 

As recently as 20 years ago this area was cattle farms and citrus groves. But Puerto Vallarta is growing. Fast. The regional population was 800,000 in 2012 with an expectation of doubling rapidly.1954 counted only 250 residents for a fishing village that was still almost inaccessible by road. Economic rankings now count tourism as Number 1, construction second and agriculture third.

 

My room overlooked the green hills across the Bay of Banderas, largest bay in México (and as I found out, second largest in the world!). Before calling it a day I watched a cruise ship glide slowly into port on the evening tide. It would sail by mid morning next day.

 

The Westin Resort & Spa breakfast was a Mexican-American buffet which I plundered ravenously, but a simple bowl of yoghurt, fruit and nuts was a good start.

 

The quintessential expansive hotel grounds fronting the beach were trimmed and treed, providing a poolside spot to begin decompressing from whatever ailed me.

Actually, nothing ailed me; it was just an excuse to soak up some warm sunny sea breezes. Vendors plied their wares on the beach outside the hotel grounds.

 

Complimentary massages were offered in the lobby. My colleague Gillian succumbed while I exercised my optical eye with several of the more intriguing sculptures strategically placed everywhere.

 

No one gets lost in the downtown. It’s too small. It’s also very safe, because residents value tourism. Half the visitors are Mexican, which helps to retain a local flavor of authenticity.

 

The Malecon boardwalk by the water is dotted with some impressive artwork, including live performances to tempt a dollar or two from your pocket. How about 2 men playing chess at a table — covered in sand to look like a one-piece sculpture? Narrow streets support a thriving artistic community, as evidenced by a cluster of high quality galleries, restaurants and boutique hotels.

 

A white 4-story corner building on the Malecon is where Richard Burton and Liz Taylor divorced for the second time. Their scandalous romance during the 1964 filming of Night of the Iguana put Puerto Vallarta on the map just as the sleepy fishing village linked to the outside world. The 1970’s were boom times, with several Hollywood names moving here, including Taylor, Burton and film director John Huston.

 

The site of the film and also a restaurant that closed in the 90’s quietly decays beside the road in Mismaloya at the south end of the bay. Here the route becomes rough from mudslides during the rainy season from mid June to mid October, but it can test the springs of a vehicle anytime.

 

Continuing past the big iguana will bring you to Le Kliff restaurant and bar with its magnificent views of the bay — a perfect place to watch the sun set while sipping a frosty margarita.

 

As surfers rode the last wave of the day, we retired to a restaurant for dinner and entertainment featuring an unusually talented group of young musicians plus a rousing dance troupe that almost had me dancing on the tables.

 

Puerto Vallarta Tourism  www.visitpuertovallarta.com