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Normally I tend to shy away from places you might term "tourist traps." And Puerto Vallarta has certainly had its bread plenty buttered by tourism -- in fact, it seems that half the city is geared toward freespending gringos. And yet... there's no doubt that PV is one of Mexico’smost popular tourist magnets for a darn good reason. Several, actually – starting with its wide, wonderful beachfront on the crescent-shape Bahía de Banderas (North America’s second-largest bay). What makes Vallarta stand out among Mexican resort cities is that it really does have a little bit of everything: superb dining from budget to budget-busting; interesting shopping including a plethora of art galleries; locally-based eco and adventure activities on both land and sea (this was the first place I ever tried a zipline); and a hopping music and nightlife scene both general and gay. Maybe you would be thinking that all the above seem like par for the course in any number of beach destinations, like Acapulco, Cancun, and Los Cabos, to name a few.
But for me what clinches the deal is El Centro (literally, of course, “the center”), Puerto Vallarta’s romantic old quarter, climbing from the city’s main plaza up the slopes of the Río Cuale Valley. It’s a mighty picturesque bit of business, with cobblestone streets, sidewalks raised high, bougainvillea-draped colonial architecture, and cool shops. All in all, a very appealing package.
A good part of Vallarta’s dynamism comes from its local expat community; there’s always something going on, from golf and fishing tournaments and regular art exhibitions to festivals of music, theater, food, and more. If you happen to be visiting this month in June (or actually, any time through September), a highlight you won’t want to miss is the arribada, when thousands of giant sea turtles pull themselves onto local beaches to lay their eggs, and a couple of months later, the baby hatchlings scurry back to the water to continue the great cycle of life; for humpback whale-watching, plan to come down December through May. Whenever you come down, though, just come down – you’ll be as charmed as I still am by PV.
photo: Harvey Barrison/Flickr