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 THREE / Long before Hollywood arrived, the Bahia de Banderas (Bay of Flags) was a refuge for ships seeking shelter from Pacific storms and marauding pirates preying on Spanish galleons. Grab an early breakfast along the bay today at La Palapa, located on Playa los Muertos and a favorite with visitors and locals alike. Try the crêpes stuffed with shrimp, spinach, and egg and smothered in a cheddar cheese sauce and the quesadilla with bacon, cheese, chives, tomatoes, and cilantro.
Explore the bevy of interesting shops, boutiques, and art galleries in the Zona Romantica. The selection of hand-painted tiles at Mundo de Azulejos (Tile World) is mind-boggling; the choices also include dishes and, literally, the kitchen sink.
The art gallery and sculpture garden at Galleria Dante offers classical and contemporary work, most of it crafted by well-known Mexican artists. The Mercado Municipal (City Market) is a flea market of sorts, a maze of shops that promises plenty of choices when it comes to handicrafts, silver, and souvenirs. You can try your hand at bargaining here; it’s expected and considered a sport by locals.
When you’ve finished shopping, leave your purchases at the hotel, grab a taxi, and head north for your previously booked spa treatment at the CasaMagna Marriott’s luxurious Ohtli Spa, whose name means “path to wellness” in the Huichol culture. This is your brief foray into the “other” Vallarta—the Marina Vallarta, a planned community where the focal points are a the 500-slip marina, the largest in Mexico, and the Marina Golf Club, one of the area’s most popular 18-hole courses.
After one of Ohtli’s indigenous treatments, stop for lunch at the hotel’s Las Casitas for contemporary cuisine, courtesy of award-winning chef Fred Ruiz.
The finale to your three perfect days begins tonight with cocktails and botanas at El Arrayán, one of the most popular spots in town. Tucked into an old house, the restaurant serves traditional Mexican food, and the margarita El Arrayán is legendary. To accompany it, try the chipotle shrimp and the empanada de plátano (pastry stuffed with plantain). Owner Carmen Porras is very welcoming—and very proud of her establishment. During the low season, she offers cooking classes, which include a visit to the local market to purchase the ingredients with the chef.
For dinner, you’re off to Café des Artistes, also housed in a century-old residence. Part art gallery and part gastronomic haven, the restaurant ranks as one of the best in Mexico. Owner and chef Thierry Blouet is one of only 340 chefs admitted into the inner circle of the Maîtres Cuisiniers de France, one of the highest qualification in the world of gastronomy. The menu includes a selection of more than 350 wines, and the food is pleasing not only to the palate but to the eye as well.
Start your meal with a salad of fried goat cheese with pumpkin seeds, pear, vegetarian bacon, caramelized almonds, and toasted nuts. Follow that with grilled beef-tenderloin petals with Camembert cheese and chipotle chile sauce. The Moctezuma chocolate fondant, served with nutmeg ice cream, is a must for dessert.
Top off your evening—and your three perfect days— with a nightcap and live music and dancing in the Costantini Wine Bar, located inside Café des Artistes.
As you end your three days in PV, no doubt you’ll agree with director Huston, who once wrote of his haven at Las Caletas: “Now that I’m of a certain age, I’m following a piece of old Irish advice in going to live by the sea: ‘It stops old wounds from hurting. It revives the spirit. It quickens the passions of mind and body, yet lends tranquility to the soul.’”
Michelle da Silva Richmond, a former longtime resident of Mexico City, has spent many vacations with her daughters on the beaches of Puerto Vallarta. She’s thinking of following John Huston’s advice and finding that place by the sea.
In the heart of the dry season (November to May), February is an ideal time to explore Puerto Vallarta. You’re unlikely to see rain (the entire dry season averages seven days with rain), and temperatures are at their most pleasant. On the flip side, the wet season lasts from June to October, when the city receives 93 percent of its annual 56 inches of rain. Rainfall often occurs in the afternoon. Cyclones in the eastern Pacific can affect the city.
Weather information is provided by The Weather Channel. For more Puerto Vallarta climatological details, visit weather.com.
Car-rental agencies at Puerto Vallarta International Airport have a variety of vehicles by the day, week, or month. If you’re staying downtown, taxis are the best option. Just about anywhere you want to go is reachable by inexpensive public transit. Extremely reasonable, government-established fares paid by zone are posted in all taxis. Local buses run every five or 10 minutes from about 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Small boats ferry you to and from the beaches and jungle towns southward.
A Vallarta Adventures (Tel: 52-322-297-1212) Kids interact with sea creatures in the Dolphin Kids and Sea Lion Adventure programs.
B Los Arcos Amphitheater Enjoy free events almost nightly on the Malecón. There are clown, magic, and mime shows, face painting, and caricatures.
C Sea Life Park (Tel: 52-322-226-9200) This 15-acre water park has pools, slides, and toboggans.