Kerryn Boogaard Kerryn Boogaard
Beverly Goldsmith Beverly Goldsmith
Zoe Bingley-Pullin Zoe Bingley-Pullin

72 hours in Puerto Vallarta:

South of the border down Mexico way, you'll find Puerto Vallarta is a resort town that still has charm and personality.
By Anita Bulan
Date: March 16 2013
Tags: travel,
Editor Rating:

“Siete pesos, gracias.” Seven pesos for the ride. We board the “chicken” bus — which probably saw better days in the 1960s — heading to town.

The driver smiles widely as my daughter comes forward. “Ay, que hermosa! How beautiful she is! Where are you from? Australianos? Bienvenido a Vallarta! Welcome!”

We inch down the bus as fellow passengers — locals, tourists, expats, and a roving Mariachi band — nod a morning greeting as we head down the hill into “PV”.

Puerto Vallarta likes to call itself the “friendliest city in the world” and while that may be a predictable marketing line, this Mexican tourist town has definitely managed to keep its original charm and personality, especially around “Old Town,” a part of the city also called the Zona Romatica.

Romance is where it all began here. In the mid-60s, The Night of the Iguana, featuring Richard Burton, was filmed just down the coast in Mismaloya.

Elizabeth Taylor’s infamous affair with Burton during filming became international news and put Puerto Vallarta on the map. Liz and Dick were not the first “gringos” to have homes in Puerto Vallarta but they were definitely the most well-known.

Today, Vallarta is a base for many Mexican and foreign artists and writers, as well as “snow birds” who escape the North American winters. It’s also the home to a vibrant gay scene and cruise ships that arrive almost daily. While other tourist-reliant areas like Acapulco suffer from the effects of escalating drug-related violence, this part of the country has been consistently safe.

Puerto Vallarta probably isn’t the first Mexican destination that comes to mind for Australians. But if you’ve already come this far, the city is worth as much time as you can give it. And as evidenced by the bus driver at the beginning of our journey, Australians are a bit of a novelty here (Americans and Canadians are not).

The energy of Vallarta beats strongest on its boardwalk, most alive on Sunday evenings when locals and visitors alike head out for their weekly promenade, or paseo.

Known as the Malecon, this mile-long paved walkway wraps the Bay of Banderas, and features beach restaurants, an impressive collection of contemporary art and sculptures by well-known Mexican artists, wandering mariachi bands looking for their next customers, and tour guides pitching whale-watching expeditions.

Oh, and time-share salesmen. You’ll begin to recognize them from a distance.

While there are a multitude of food and fresh-fruit drink vendors on every corner, for some of the tastiest empanadas in town — perfect for more promenading and snacking — Panaderia y Pastelaria Yarita on Basilio Badillo in Old Town is tried and tested…probably too tested. It became a daily (and sometimes twice-daily) stop during our visit.

From taco stands and beachside fish shacks to family-run restaurants and five-star gourmet eateries, Vallarta boasts some of the best quality and variety of food in Mexico.

Naturally, local specialties are seafood-focused: grilled red snapper, ceviche and fish tacos. For traditional Mexican food, visit Bejamin Torres’ La Ronda. The small restaurant, on Aquiles Serdan, offers simple, well-priced dishes and warm service. My daughter was promptly whisked to the kitchen by mama Torres, who showed her where the delicious meals were made. Look out for Scoobie, the restaurant’s mascot dog.

On Friday evenings during the peak tourist season, nearby Lazaro Cardenas Plaza right on the beach hosts free performances of traditional Mexican folkloric dances. If you can nab a seat, it’s worth sitting through the two-hour show.

If not, stay for a few short dances—children can squeeze their way to the front easily for a better view.

Saturday mornings bring the local expat community out in droves for the “producer only” farmer’s market in the Old Town. All stands feature products made or grown within 50km of Puerto Vallarta.

For an inexpensive but unique souvenir or gift, stop by the stall ofMiriam Flores, who is also the executive chef and cooking instructor at La Luna, to pick up a jar of delicious chili caramel.

To get to Puerto Vallarta, we took a five-hour journey on the first-class ETN bus line from Guadalajara. There are also many direct flights from major cities in the United States. The airport, across from the intercity bus station, is a set-price, 20-minute taxi ride to downtown.

Although this is most definitely a resort town, there are plenty of non-resort accommodation options for every budget, from small,1950s-style inns, five-star adults only escapes with private beaches and countless swimming pools, as well as private apartments. Elizabeth Taylor’s former house — she maintained residence here for decades — is now empty and derelict, so if you’re looking for a renovation project, well, there’s maybe another reason to come to town.

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