Puerto Vallarta’s Got it All!
Article and photography by Steve Gillick
Puerto Vallarta’s Malecon is a gathering place from dawn to dusk. As the sun starts to rise, joggers and walkers accompany the noisy Brown Pelicans and swooping Magnificent Frigatebirds along the oceanfront boardwalk. At dusk the crowds converge on the food stalls and gather in clusters around vendors selling snacks, souvenirs and colorful balloons, often to the accompaniment of pick-up musicians playing everything from traditional Mariachi to contemporary International. Statues come to life as buskers entertain locals and visitors who are searching for that perfect selfie: duelling with a Pancho Villa look-alike, sharing a glass of sand wine with the Sand People, or trying to escape the clutches of the creature from the movie ‘Alien’.
But the Malecon is also where visitors pose alongside the letters of the vibrant Puerto Vallarta sign and interact with the Malecon sculptures. On the Vallarta Art Walk, which covers the art scene from the celebrated art galleries, to street murals, to the intricate Huichol drawings embedded in the pavement on the Malecon, our guide Kevin Simpson, who also owns the art gallery Colectika, spoke about ‘Nostalgia’. The bronze sculpture by Ramiz Barquet features a man and a woman, sitting together, obviously in love, and looking out to the sea, the mountains and the city. However, unlike some of the fantasy sculptures, such as “The Boy on the Seahorse’ or “The Good Fortune Unicorn’, ‘Nostalgia’ is a true story!
Ramiz met Nelly when they were both in their teens. They wanted to marry each other but as the expression goes, “it was not meant to be”. Each went their own way, got married and had children. Twenty-seven years later, they re-met by chance, and re-kindled their love. Ramiz declared that if Nelly would marry him, he would build a monument to ‘what it would have been like living together for all those lost years’. ‘Nostalgia’ is located on the actual spot where Ramiz and Nelly used to sit together and gaze out at Banderas Bay.
Puerto Vallarta is one of those destinations where age is a state of mind. While there are 45,000 American and Canadian mostly Baby-Boomer ex-pats who call the city ‘home’, the destination is a magnet for fun seekers, foodies, adventurers, birders, beachers, shoppers and those who want what they consider to be a meaningful get-away. In a meeting with Luis Villaseñor, the Promotion and Public Relations Director for Puerto Vallarta, he suggested that the millennials (those born after 1980) tend to look for things on their holidays that make a difference, and they find it here. Some still cling to the old travel acronym FOMO—Fear of Missing Out, but many are also adopting the newly-coined acronym, JOMO – The Joy of Missing Out, that involves being disconnected from cell phones, computers and your usual daily routine. Either way, Puerto Vallarta’s got it all.
For visitors who find their comfort zone in adventure, companies such as Canopy River offer hiking, zip lines, rappelling, Tarzan lines, ATV tours, horseback riding, mule back riding and more. Cruises on Banderas Bay, with companies such as Vallarta Adventures, range from leisurely sunset and cocktail excursions, to role-playing on a Pirate Ship, to scuba, snorkeling and whale watching. Many of the secluded beaches just south of the city are only accessible by boat and once you arrive, the rewards include delicious local foods and cultural events. In Las Caletas, we watched the evening performance of Rhythms of the Night, a dazzling spectacle created by Gilles St. Croix, the co-creator of Cirque du Soleil.
And the theme of culinary bliss is driven home in Puerto Vallarta’s eclectic mix of restaurants. At Barcelona Tapas, the owner, William Carballo, told us about the natural fresh ingredients prepared in the open kitchen where there is no ‘chef’; only a team who have worked together for the past 18 years. The restaurant, displaying the work of local artists and commanding a panoramic view of the city, served a delectable fusion of Spanish and internationally inspired dishes: potato and beet salads, luscious grilled shrimp, delicate mushrooms with goat cheese, bacon-wrapped dates, beef skewers with peppers, and all united through sips of refreshing Sangria.
But there are a host of foodie stars in Puerto Vallarta. At La Cerveceria Union, the Guacamole is yummy, the Octopus is tender and succulent and the grilled Blue Shrimp are addictive. In the Zona Hotelera, about a 20 minute walk away, no lunch can compete with the smoked Marlin Tacos at Tacon de Marlin, an unassuming corner establishment where, if you prefer something other than soft drinks, you first visit the OXXO convenience store down the street to pick up some cold Dos Equis beer to accompany your meal.
In the Versailles area, the idea of local street food with an added dash of international inspiration creatively prepared by young chefs in open kitchens, explains the line-ups outside many of the restaurants. Amanda, our guide with Vallarta Food Tours pampered our taste buds at some choice places that included the Barbacoa tacos at Hidalgo Restaurant, Birria tacos at Maritiera, the Bahia Tostada at Lamara, Octopus tacos at Bocachica Ceviches, Shrimp Al Pastor at Abulon and the Short Rib tacos at Ajo Negro. We finished the tour at La Lulu Raicilleria where we sampled Raicilla, similar to Tequila but nicknamed “Mexican Moonshine” for its 50% to 80% alcohol content. The recommended snack kind of jumped out at us: crunchy, dried crickets! (and they were hopping good!)
Puerto Vallarta’s variety of hotels cater to just about every vacation style. In the Zona Hotelera, the Sheraton Buganvilias is a large, comfortable property with easy access to the Old Town by foot or taxi. For those who prefer to be ‘where the action is’ (the FOMO crowd), the Hotel Rosita is a friendly, traditional property, located where the Malecon begins. And for the JOMO group, the hotels in the area known as South Side offer a bit more seclusion from the hustle and bustle of the city. The 5-star Hotel Mousai, in the Garza Blanca Resort offers amazing jungle and beach views from The Rooftop as well as a host of nature-focussed activities. The pet-friendly Westin in the Marina area promotes the wellness brand where morning yoga, Pilates and meditation combine with healthy foods and stunning views of the Bay.
And when it comes to nature, Puerto Vallarta is the hub for ‘outdoor appreciation’. Humpback whales and Bottlenose Dolphins are frequent visitors to Banderas Bay. Nature lovers and birders flock to the area to view and photograph endemic and migratory species, as well as appreciate the flowers, trees, marshes, lagoons, and the beauty of the caves and arches at Los Arcos National Marine Park. While the incredible Botanical Gardens are about 45 minutes south of the city, you can spot colorful birds, Iguanas and even American crocodiles near the south end of the Malecon.
It’s nice to know that from most hotel rooms around the Bay, you can gently fall asleep to the cadence of the crashing waves and wake up to the onomatopoeic songs of “Great Kiskadees”.
Bill, a retired Ophthalmologist from the Philadelphia area, lives in Puerto Vallarta most of the year. He suggested that in the United States, a familiar expression is “Time is Money”, but here in Puerto Vallarta, the expression is “Time is Life”. It’s a more relaxed atmosphere in a wonderfully warm climate that rates high on the Global Happiness scale. Whether you are FOMO or JOMO, active or passive or seeking a creative combination of vacation experiences, Puerto Vallarta’s got it all!