Life's sweetest memories often require considerable effort in the making. The trip to Puerto Vallarta is no exception.
Puerto Vallarta offers amenities not readily available in any other part of the world, let alone a resort destination. Temperatures hover in the mid 80's throughout most of the year. The rainy season, from late June to the first week in October, offers a respite from the hotter weather of the summer months, and the streets and sidewalks delight in being clean. There are electrical storms that produce an orchestra of lightning that dances across the sky. Then, it's back to those glorious sunsets which produce "visitantes" on every rooftop across the town, counting down to see if there will be the proverbial "green flash" as the sun sinks beneath the surface of our beloved Bay of Banderas.
"What Puerto Vallarta has is history," says hotelier and tourist bureau president Gabriel Igartua. "It was a quaint village before it was a tourist destination."
At its traditional core is a pleasant plaza where kids chase pigeons and shoeshine stands do a brisk business. At one end, the oceanfront walkway (newly refurbished after 2002's Hurricane Kenna), attracts sandcastle artists, jugglers and musicians. On the other, the crowned tower of Our Lady of Guadalupe church rises like a beacon. Narrow, cobblestone streets snake up into the hills where red-tiled rooftops peek from a lush tangle of tropical foliage.
This is Old Vallarta, where a lively dining and arts scene (with 22 commercial galleries at last count) has developed. Here, you can listen to jazz at a riverside restaurant, attend a Pilates class or order Dom Perignon by the $50 glass. A short stroll to the south side of the Rio Cuale, which bisects the old town, leads to what's known as the Romantic Zone. It houses an eclectic mix of establishments that cater to both local needs and tourist tastes.
Regular and special events give visitors an opportunity to mix with the community. In high season, twice-monthly after-hours art gallery tours attract a local crowd. Twice-weekly tours of private homes raise money for charity. A culinary festival each November draws acclaimed chefs. And this year it will overlap with the first Puerto Vallarta Film Festival of the Americas, Nov. 6-14.
"Vallarta isn't contrived. It's a living town," says the city's cultural director, Maria Jose Zorrilla. "We do live on tourism, but we produce our own art."
They say that paradise is a state of mind, but when all the ingredients are right, it can also be a place. Puerto Vallarta is such a place.
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