Friendly Puerto Vallarta
Get a taste of the real Mexico
story and photos by GREG COATES
Living up to the moniker of being the world’s friendliest city – as named by Condé Nast magazine – may be a challenge, but one Mexico’s Puerto Vallarta is taking in stride and living up to as shown by the number of travellers flocking to the sun destination each year.
Located on Banderas Bay in Mexico’s Jalisco state, Vallarta is a charming seaside resort town surrounded by mountains and known for its beaches, culinary scene and nightlife.
Old Town, also known as the Romantic Zone, with its cobblestone streets, boutique shops and numerous restaurants, as well as the Malecón, the town’s seaside promenade, and the landmark Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, make a walking tour of the city a pleasure. Taking in a sunset somewhere along the coast, be it sitting at an outdoor patio having a cool beverage – think margarita, or tequila if you must – or a lounge chair on the beach, is not to be missed.
It’s often said the art is in the detail and if, conversely, the detail is in the art, then Puerto Vallarta is definitely on the right path. The tourism hot spot is home to one of the most dynamic and fastest-growing arts scenes in Mexico – with more than 30 art galleries displaying works by local, national and international artists. Guided art walks are held year-round and are an integral part of the local social scene.
Attracting approximately 500,000 Canadians annually, Puerto Vallarta remains a powerhouse in Mexico’s tourism industry and the early numbers for 2017 are very positive.
The Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board (PVTB) recently unveiled preliminary occupancy rates for the destination’s hotels – showing a 4% increase in tourism arrivals, as compared to 2016 when the destination had its most successful year in hotel occupancy since 2008 with an 80% occupancy rate.
“2017 looks to be another record year for Puerto Vallarta with the first two months of the year already showing positive numbers and as per our hotels’ data, this February, Puerto Vallarta received the highest number of visitors for the month since 2008,” said Agustín Álvarez Valdivia, director of the PVTB, during this year’s recent Gala Vallarta-Nayarit.
In January, Vallarta hotels reported occupancy levels of over 90%, and the airport reported a 6.1% increase in national arrivals and 9.9% increase in international arrivals.
Much of this success is due to the people and the welcome they give to visitors.
Alvaro Garciarce, president of the Puerto Vallarta Hotel Association, says visitors will feel very welcome and find an endless list of attractions to keep them busy.
“We have the mountains. We have the sea. We have the town and, most importantly, we have friendly people. They’re always smiling,” he said. “We also have food and culture. It’s very authentic, you can taste the real Mexico here. It’s also very safe when compared to some other cities.”
Alessandro Stifany, general manager of Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel & Romantic Getaway, described Puerto Vallarta as charming and authentic.
“The people are friendly and accommodating,” he said. “They love to serve.”
Things not to be missed while in Puerto Vallarta:
While touring around the city is fun, be sure to catch the view from Banderas Bay either by water taxi, a scheduled tour or boat charter. The coastline is magnificent, as is snorkelling at the nearby Los Arcos (Puerto Vallarta’s version of Los Cabos’ famous arch). Agents should also recommend heading to Playa Las Animas, where lunch at Mike’s Beach Club is sure to be memorable. Try the fresh red snapper (fire grilled with Achiote) and homemade guacamole.
Vallarta Botanical Gardens, about a 45-minute drive from downtown, is set on 20 acres of land, with botanical collections featuring more than 3,000 different plant species.
The gardens are within a unique dry tropical forest ecosystem at 1,300 feet above sea level. The Gardens are also the site of the 2017 International Peace Garden, which rises towards the entrance of a recently constructed chapel. The visitor’s centre Hacienda de Oro offers mountain views where visitors will also find a restaurant, Hacienda de Oro, featuring brick oven pizzas, salads and Mexican specialties.
Vallarta is also very GLBT-friendly and sometimes called the gay beach capital of Mexico. The city will host the Gay Games in 2022.
Puerto Vallarta is a foodies’ paradise and second only to Mexico City as the country’s food mecca – from taco stands and beach vendors selling fresh shrimp and fish dishes to gourmet restaurants. Highly recommended in the latter category are Café des Artistes (be sure to sit in the multi-level garden section) and the trendy, all-white La Leche. Those interested in Mexican food can also sign up for market tours and cooking classes.