THE MAGIC OF PUERTO Vallarta defies explanation. It’s hard to say whether that magic fueled the fiery attraction between Liz Taylor and Richard Burton when he was filming The Night of the Iguana here in 1963 or whether it prompted the movie’s director, John Huston, to claim Puerto Vallarta as home until his final years. Nevertheless, the torrid affair and onslaught of paparazzi put the place on the international map. Puerto Vallarta has been drawing Hollywood types and savvy Sybarites ever since. Vallarta, as this sultry area straddling the bay in the state of Jalisco is known to locals (PV to English speakers), has managed to retain the unmistakable flavor of colonial Mexico— the real Mexico.
Author Michelle da Silva Richmond Photography Lisa Sacco
DAY ONE / Your home for these three perfect days is Hacienda San Angel, a member of the Mexico Boutique Hotels collection of small luxury accommodations. Tucked into an enclave of five Mexican villas, one of which was given by Burton to his wife Susan as a Valentine’s Day gift, the hotel evokes a long-gone era, with colonial tiles and fine woodwork and antiques, while providing stunning views of the bay and the landmark crown atop PV’s cathedral.
Just steps from downtown, the location affords easy access to your activities. Around the corner sits Casa Kimberley, given by Burton to Taylor. He subsequently purchased the house across the street, and a bridge links the two to this day. The seafront promenade, known as the Malecón, is the focal point of local life, with whimsical sculptures lining an 11-block strip of boutiques, cafés, and cozy bistros along the shore. At its southern end, a series of lighted arches is the backdrop of an outdoor stage for musicians, jugglers, dancers, comedians, and art exhibits.
Breakfast today is at Las Palomas, where you order huevos rancheros and a typical café de olla before setting out to explore the Malecón and all its treasures.
Your first stop should be The Opal Mine, a store/ museum/factory built to resemble a mine and dedicated to the enigmatic stone. The designs are unique, and custom-made jewelry can be crafted in just three days.
Art galleries run the gamut in Puerto Vallarta; you’ll find locales representing pottery from across Mexico, as well as individual artists selling their own works. During the high season, from November to mid-April, the art galleries of both Marina Vallarta and Vallarta Viejo offer art walks. Once a month, galleries inaugurate new exhibits with cocktail events. Those attending are given maps to the galleries, all within easy walking distance of each other. These openings are the highlight of the season and have a large following.
At Sergio Bustamante, take a look at the whimsical sculptures and distinctive jewelry by the gallery’s Guadalajara-born owner and namesake. His signature designs are known worldwide.
Stop next at the Huichol Collection to see bead art created by the Huichol Indians, who make up one of the few ancient tribes in the world that have managed to maintain their culture through the centuries. The Huichols’ art is highly symbolic and reflects a deep relationship with nature.
Walk back to your hotel, passing the small main square. On Sundays, it comes to life with locals dancing to live concert bands in the ornate gazebo. Treat yourself to a snack of elote, grilled ears of corn slathered with mayo and sprinkled with chile powder.
Grab your beach gear and take a taxi for the short ride to one of PV’s most beautiful beaches for lunch and fun in the sun at Playas Gemelas. Hacienda San Angel has an arrangement with the Presidente Intercontinental Puerto Vallarta (you pay $20 for use of the beach and the hotel’s facilities, and the fee is credited back with the purchase of food and beverages).
When you’re well-done, head back to your hotel to change for the evening’s events, which start with frosty margaritas on the balcony of Viejo Vallarta and a front-row view of the Voladores de Papantla. This colorful ceremonial rite takes place several times on weekends. It began 1,500 years ago in central Mexico as a prayer to the sun god for fertility and a good harvest.
Some of Mexico’s and the world’s top chefs have settled in Puerto Vallarta and opened restaurants. Culturally and gastronomically speaking, PV ranks second only to Mexico City. Tonight, taste some of the local creations for yourself at Los Xitomates, which serves tantalizing nouvelle Mexican cuisine from award-winning chef Luis Fitch and offers an extensive tequila and wine list. Start off with salmon and mango ceviche, followed by Poland chile cream soup and Torreón-style steak with cactus plant and grilled onions. The restaurant’s calming earth tones and relaxed ambiance put a splendid finishing touch on the day.