by Peter Wells Scott
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. When folks from Vancouver complain of 60 straight days of rain, and folks from Phoenix talk of plus 100 degrees of heat, and East coasters dig themselves out of snowbanks, the planes heading south are full carrying visitors to fulfill their dreams of a respite in paradise. And we are not talking about Florida. Humidity and people sitting on park benches awaiting their maker are not what we are about.
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.
For those who choose to dance upon the surface of tourist attractions, there is an unending source of attractions, be it sailing, surfing or snorkeling, sportfishing, golf, a trip on a balloon to gain a strategic sight of the city above the madding crowds, and restaurants galore. There is the marina where the boats hang out and the Malecon where the gals stroll up and down on Sunday nights, brandishing their newly sewn dresses.
Marina Vallarta has come of age with its host of European owned hotels. It has been compared to the "Zona Hotelera" of Cancun, but unlike the latter, it is but a 15-minute drive to the busy Malecon. In Cancun, it requires a 45-minute drive to experience anything authentically Mexican.
The town of "P.V." is filled to the brim with authentic Mexico. From the airport south to Mismaloya, adventure abounds. It used to be that folks got off the plane, found their way to their hotel in the Marina or Zona Central, and never got to the south side. All that has changed. The "Romantic Zone" with restaurant row centered along Basilio Badillo has been discovered and rediscovered with every new restaurant added. The shops along Olas Altas, the homes reaching into Gringo Gulch, and the introduction of exquisite homes along Amapas and stretching into Conchas Chinas has made a bonanza of jeep renters.
Puerto Vallarta has the traditional marks of gringo progress. Walmarts, Sam's Club, Mac Donalds, even Home Depot has given rise to many a "double take." The roots of Vallarta, however, go much deeper than the surface trimmings. There is the family life that huddles around an outdoor taco stand, and Los Muertos Beach that fills with tents and sleeping bags during the ceremonial times of Semana Santa and Semana de Pascua.
Outlying trips to Sayulita and San Sebastian await the more curious. The streets there, mirroring Vallarta, are filled with natives who proudly display their culture. Just remember. The whales are not standing in line at MacDonalds, awaiting an order of a double cheeseburger and french fries (freedom fries).
By Jayne Clark, USA TODAY
Posted 1/15/2004 9:37 PM [Original Article>>]
PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico — Up at Casa Kimberley, the vacation hideaway where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton drank and cavorted and fought and drank some more, life is good.
The famously fractious couple abandoned the villa ages ago, of course. But the curious still come, ushered in at $8 a head by the current owners who encourage them to make like Liz and Dick, posing for photos on the patio or relaxing in Liz's violet-hued bedroom.
There's a grandmotherly sort from Canada in there now. Egged on by others in her tour group, she reclines on the flowered bedspread, her tight gray curls tilted back, one knee bent coquettishly, one new white Ked arched and pointed.
"Nice, eh?" she asks, as the cameras click.
It's been 40 years since the release of The Night of the Iguana, the movie that put this then-remote Pacific coast fishing village of 12,500 souls on the map. Director John Huston had staked out a location south of town on a rocky outcropping accessible only by boat. Burton, the star of the movie, arrived with Taylor in tow (both were married to other people at the time). Co-stars Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr and Sue Lyon (the nymphet of Lolita fame) also were in residence. So were hundreds of paparazzi hoping to record the star-studded fireworks.
But in the end, the image that endured was that of this coconut-palm-fringed setting on sweeping Banderas Bay where the rugged Sierra Madre tumble to the brink of the Pacific Ocean. And today, that vision remains, albeit in altered form.
After the filming, the Taylor-Burtons stayed on. (He had bought her Casa Kimberley for $57,000 as a 32nd birthday gift.) Other glitterati followed. And by the late '60s, Puerto Vallarta was taking off as a tourist hot spot.
Naturally, a lot has changed since then. Wildfire growth has spread north. First in the 1980s with the construction of a marina, now the locale for sprawling brand-name resorts. Then to Nuevo Vallarta, a separate community farther up the bay. And finally, to Punta Mita at the northern tip, 35 miles from downtown, where luxury homes and a Four Seasons resort have taken root.
Despite the development, Puerto Vallarta's historic heart remains pure. Or as pure as a beach town with a population of 250,000 and an annual visitor count of 5 million can be. And that heart is the key to its longevity. Newer Mexican resort developments such as Cancun, Los Cabos, and Ixtapa may be more fashionable or more popular, but they're the creations of government planners and land speculators. Puerto Vallarta evolved.
"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."
Old Vallarta's charms
The old town is better regarded for its art, history, and scenery than the quality of its beaches. Still, the cognoscenti gravitate to Old Vallarta. Decades-long regulars convene for bridge and backgammon at their usual spots under thatched umbrellas on Los Muertos Beach. Among them is Jack Rolfs, a retired ad executive from San Francisco and one of a large American contingent of part-time residents. He discovered the place in 1957 back when a horse-drawn cart ferried sunbathers from the sole hotel to this beach.
These days, upscale restaurants set out linen-clad tables for candlelight dinners on the sand. Nelly Barquet is eating lunch under the soaring thatched roof of one of them, El Dorado, which she opened in 1960. The restaurant scene has become increasingly sophisticated, she says.
"There were no (schooled) chefs here 43 years ago. Now I can't count them all," she says. "If you don't have a chef, you're kaput."
Barquet is the matriarch of one of the First Families of Vallarta's resort era. She arrived in 1957, "when there were about 15 tourists." It was her former husband, the late Guillermo Wulff, who led Huston to Mismaloya, where much of The Night of the Iguana was shot. He also built the hotel and other buildings that served as the set.
No other film made here has created the buzz that Iguana did. But a group of organizers hopes to keep the memory alive with the film festival, which invokes the names of Huston, Burton, Taylor, and others associated with the movie.
Robert Roessel, president of the fledgling event, is driving south along the winding coast road that leads to the film location, narrating as he goes. He weaves past the walled villas of Conchas Chinas, Vallarta's old-money neighborhood. "That's Mrs. Fields' — of the cookies — house. And they shot For Love or Money over there," he says.
He passes the turnoff to the film site of Predator, where a giant roadside sign features a ripped, machine-gun-wielding future governor of California. And finally, Roessel arrives at the rocky cliffs of Mismaloya, where a namesake restaurant of the movie that would forever change the tiny fishing village occupies the former set. Other than cement skeletons, however, little else from the original set remains. No matter, he says.
"The whole story behind The Night of the Iguana is the torrid love affair (between Taylor and Burton) and the fact that it created this sensation," he says. "Puerto Vallarta has lost some of that. We're trying to get it back, to create a stir."
Banking on movie nostalgia
Back at Casa Kimberley, an arriving group is greeted by the sight of a blown-up photo of Taylor resplendent in a Cleopatra headdress. Inside, it's a Taylor-Burton love fest with movie posters, Passion perfume ads and old magazine covers displayed throughout. The tourists listen attentively as Maurice Mintzer holds forth on Burton's prodigious drinking, on the couple's quest for privacy, on their bickering.
His wife, Toy Holstein Mintzer, bought the place from Taylor in 1990, which included the house across the street and is linked by a pink aerial "love bridge." She says after Burton's death in 1984, the actress never returned. Left behind were furniture, books, clothing, cosmetics, even letters. The next year Mintzer opened the six-bar, nine-bedroom, 12-bathroom house to overnight guests. The public tours commenced a year later.
Sometimes the visitors stay late into the night, drinking on the terrace at the Richard Burton bar adorned with 16 hand-painted saints. Sometimes they make outrageous requests, such as the one from the woman who asked Mintzer to snap her photo sitting on Liz's toilet.
"I will never do that again," he declares. "There is class. And there is no class."
His wife recently put the house up for sale. The couple is in their 70s. There are too many stairs. Maybe even too many visitors.
As the tourists file back over the pink love bridge and down into the narrow street to their waiting van, they can hear Mintzer's booming voice starting the next tour. "When the house sold, it was the end of an era ... " he is saying.
The population of Puerto Vallarta managed to nearly double between 1980 and 1990 due, in large part, to a sudden devaluation of the peso at that point in time, this attracted to this harbor a large number of visitors from both Canada and the United States, when their purchase power increased considerably from one day to the next.
While observing this sudden growth in tourism, the Guitron Martinez brothers decided to start an important and visionary residential and business development the one we now know as the Marina Vallarta, where you would be able to buy and enjoy marinas, hotels, condos, houses, schools and top-level maritime amenities that could even welcome luxury cruises, and the largest marina in Mexico.
This luxury class development is located just 15 minutes from downtown Puerto Vallarta and only 5 minutes from the Puerto Vallarta International Airport Gustavo Diaz Ordaz.
The luxury of Marina Vallarta
If you wish to visit Marina Vallarta, there are plenty of options there, both activities as well as accommodation. There are Grand Tourism hotels all along the beach, such as Westin, Marriott, Velas Vallarta and other that offer the best restaurants and spas to relax and pleasure your senses, and, of course, there are also villas, condos and other hotels throughout the Marina area that cater to the specific tastes and needs of each visitor.
There is also the beautiful promenade of the Marina Vallarta which is suitable for a walk, a bike ride or to visit one of the shops or restaurants and enjoy a delicious meal. Of course, there are all kinds of water activities available in the area, but other than those you can also enjoy other landbound activities like tennis and golf which can be enjoyed in the now famous 18-hole course that covers a large part of the Marina area, with luxury condos and houses surrounding it.
In the Marina, you’ll also find a lighthouse, where you can enjoy the beautiful sunsets of Puerto Vallarta. This place has a restaurant at the top where you can sample delicious local and international dishes or maybe sip on a refreshing cocktail while delighting on the beautiful view of the Marina both during the day or at night. Some nights, the area also offers live music and various events, including theater.
For those traveling with youngsters, there is also fun for them here. Marina Vallarta has a large water park with slides and wave pool for children, so they can also spend a memorable vacation.
Another attraction for young and old is the bronze sculpture at the entrance to the Marina called "The whale and her calf." This sculpture was installed in 2000 as a tribute to the whales that visit the harbor and the Banderas Bay each year, according to the locals it is the largest bronze sculpture in the world.
The Marina also has a complete marina that adapts to all types of motorboats, sailboats, and yachts. It has over 500 slips, which can be rented for docking ships during long or short periods.
If you like sports fishing or boating, Marina Vallarta is one of the best places to carry out these activities and to find equipment or charter a fishing trip. If you prefer a cruise around the bay, this site also offers the opportunity to experience this enjoyable experience.
In short, if you just want to enjoy a holiday in luxury, visit the Marina in Puerto Vallarta, it is definitely one of the best options you can find in the area.
by Peter Wells Scott
Life's sweetest memories often require considerable effort in the making. The trip to San Sebastian is no exception, especially if you travel overland. Some say that the trip can be made in two and a half hours from Puerto Vallarta, but that depends on where you start the clock. The small village of Las Palmas is the actual starting point. The road from the airport to Las Palmas is actually quite uneventful. You'll get a look at the new jail, the university, and the town of Desembocadas on the road leading to Las Palmas.
Once leaving Las Palmas, you will be enchanted by the rainforest which will be your companion for much of the trip. Vallarta Adventures has its famed CANOPY, which is a series of platforms connected by ropes that strand through the forest. Their participants' age from "8 to 80," but you may not want to complete both events on the same day. The road winds and winds with stops often necessary to allow for passage of a vehicle going in the opposite direction. God forbid you would have a flat tire. A small pond on the left looks very inviting, but it is quicksand. Teak trees grow on the right. About midway, you approach the canyon with precipitous drops edging the road. Then there is nature's own infinity pool, which is an excuse for most folks to stop for a "breather." From there to the town of Estancia the road is quite moderate. There are a few family owned restaurants in Estancia which will please you with an order of tacos or quesadillas. A few more hairpin curves and you're almost there.
San Sebastian, some four centuries ago, was a mining town with a population approaching 40,000. Most of the workers slept up in the hills on leaves spread out. Only the jefes were afforded the luxuries of the town, which did not include bath facilities. Just outside of town is the San Sebastian airport. Stopping there, the gate was locked but the Aerotron plane was stationed there with the cockpit door open. Yelling at the tower produced a young fellow who informed that "Juan had gone into town to Christie's." Asking how he had got there, the lad said: "he walked." We decided to follow. Twenty minutes later we were having an afternoon snack at Christie's.Juan advised us that he had to clear out for he was going to take the short 45 minutes ride to a Bufa. The latter is a landmark of San Sebastian. On a clear day, you look far below at the shoreline of Puerto Vallarta. The view, or is it the altitude, literally takes your breath away.
At one end of town is La Quinta, a family-owned coffee plantation. At the other end is a homemade distillery which produces a clear tequila drink called raicilla. La Lupitas restaurant is near La Quinta. Looking for a place to "bed down" generally starts in the town square. Our first attempt was a lesson in Mexican futility. There were 4 or 5 beds to a room and each bed had its respective price, depending, of course, on how many people each bed would accommodate. When we went upstairs to look at rooms on the second floor, and returned, the prices had inexplicably doubled. We ended up at La Posada, where the price was a standard 100 pesos per person. There are 3 or 4 nice little hotels each with its series of legends. Friends stayed at the inn next to the Posada. At
midnight they were awakened by a loud knock at the door. Opening it, no one was there. Ghosts routinely make their rounds in San Sebastian.
Pachita is an 80 year old poet of quiet distinction. Her family came to San Sebastian when she was four. Her verses include "Un Jardin Hermoso," "La salida de la Luna," "Madre Tierra," and "El Vestido de Jesus Nazareno."Time seems to stand still in San Sebastian. Even the clock in the church tower seems to honor that. It has read 20 minutes after seven since anyone can remember.
And, oh yes, you can take the airplane to San Sebastian from Puerto Vallarta. It's a less stressful 20 minutes depending on whether you are going or coming. Returning to Vallarta you'll be treated to a spin along the south shore. July will see a modernization of the runway in San Sebastian. All the comforts of home in this mysterious little town carved out of nature's turf.
A trip to be remembered whether by land or air.
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