Most travellers have a place far away that they consider a home away from home. For me one of those places is Puerto Vallarta: goodbye winter, hello sunshine.
To me, Puerto Vallarta is a perfect place in Mexico to relax and chill out while the northern world just chills. It’s a beach resort with a community attached, a little old, a little new, and to me, it all just works.
If you don’t know Puerto Vallarta, here’s a quick overview. Basically it’s a small colonial city that grew into a tourist destination after Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor made a movie called The Night of the Iguana here back in the 1960s.
Hotels and restaurants started to spring up, and they’ve never stopped. These days, modern resort hotels stretch north of the city for a couple of miles along the Pacific shore, and the towers of a spin-off destination, Nuevo Vallarta, can be seen a mile or so beyond that, heading toward the beach towns of Bucerias and Sayulita.
But it’s the old town of Puerto Vallarta I like, with its leafy public square and the nearby Church of Our Lady of Guadelupe, topped with the crown of Carlota, mistress of the Emperor Maximilian. Narrow, steep streets lead up the hill behind, to the spot where Burton and Taylor owned homes joined by an overhead wallkway. And beyond, there’s a lookout point where you can see the Sierra Madres rising up behind the city.
it’s in the old hotel district just south of downtown that I like to stay, in the old Mexican hotels with tile floors and dark wooden furniture and a patio on the roof. There’s a lot of snowbirds there who spend their winters every year, and a lot of people who come every year for a week or three. And here I am among them again, by the beach called Los Muertos (the dead), for some reason no one is really sure of.
The beach itself is broad and white, and filled with familiar sights: the red umbrellas and the sunbathers, the beach restaurants, the hawkers selling jewellery, wooden toys and fish on a stick, the brave gringos strapping up to go parasailing off the beach.
But there are new things, too. The weather-beaten pier has been torn down and replaced by a graceful, winding one topped by a huge, sail-like structure (below) — it even lights up at night. It’s a pleasant sight as you’re enjoying a sunset cerveza in one of the busy bars along the boardwalk.
Some restaurants have changed, too. There’s a new microbrewery pub, and A Page in the Sun, the iconic coffee shop/bookstore, has sprung up again right next to my hotel, the Eloisa. But otherwise the old place seems much the same, filled with life and more than a bit noisy on a Saturday night.
After dinner I like to stroll downtown along the broad malecon, past the street performers holding forth in the town square, and continue on to where the city’s glitzy discos jump and thump all night. At one called La Vaquita, people swoop out over the sidewalk on a long, illuminated swing, startling the outrageous statue of a flying cow that hangs in the doorway.
Then I walk back, past the tequila shops and the guitar players and the food carts selling roasted corn and delicious-looking cakes, and maybe have a cerveza in a patio restaurant amid the late-night crowd on Olas Altas. It always feels good to be back.