Hotels and condominiums abound in the lush, tropical, sun-drenched town of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Nestled against the warm embrace of the Sierra Madre Mountains and cooled by sea breezes from the Bay of Banderas, Puerto Vallarta is a popular tourist destination that retains a connection to its heritage as a fishing village and important deep-water port along the coastline of Mexico.
Unlike other tourist destinations in Mexico, Puerto Vallarta was a thriving village long before cruise ships and movie producers (Night of the Iguana & Predator, among others) discovered it. Its proximity to the silver mines in the mountains, agricultural products from the Ameca River and bounty from the sea gave Puerto Vallarta a strong economic base and a rich legacy.
One of the ten largest bays in the world, the Bay of Banderas boasts 62 miles (100 km) of coastline lined with all manner of lodgings, ranging from budget hostels to luxury mega-resorts. There are so many choices that it’s hard to know where to start when choosing a home base from which to explore the pleasures of the region.
There are over 100 lodgings in Puerto Vallarta so it is impossible to be too specific about recommendations but the first step is to narrow down a geographic region. Puerto Vallarta, located in the state of Jalisco, can be divided in to four zones (South Zone, Downtown, Hotel Zone, Marina Vallarta), five if the newest developed area of Nuevo Vallarta, located in the state of Nayarit, is included. All the areas are desirable in one way or another so the decision about where to lay your head at night just depends on personal preference. Starting in the south and working north each region has its own distinctive personality and unique amenities.
This narrow strip of land hugs the steep banks of the Sierra Madre tightly, with barely enough space for a two lane road and a smattering of hotels clinging to the sides of the thickly vegetated mountain. The lush tropical foliage lurks on the edge of these properties, many with outstanding views of Puerto Vallarta and Banderas Bay from their lofty perches. The South Zone is close to the village of Mismaloya, where the movie “Night of the Iguana” was filmed in 1964, the single most important event that cracked open the tourist rush to the sleepy town. This area is attractive to those who want close proximity to the active Downtown Zone but who also value a quiet refuge, though driving is probably necessary for all but the extremely fit who can ascend steep walkways in the tropical humidity.
The Grand Miramar Cub and Spa is a large sleek hotel/condominium complex that is one of the highest and its rooftop restaurant, aptly named Sky Miramar, presents panoramic views of the sun rising over the city, the vast Pacific Ocean and the misty mountains to the south. The property features three pools and spacious guest suites with separate bedroom, living/dining room and complete kitchen.
The historic core of Puerto Vallarta, original site of the local fishing and pearl-diving village which later hosted trading ships that would pull into the generously sized bay to pick up silver from the mines deep in the Sierra Madre. Quaint cobblestone streets, whitewashed buildings and red roofs form the mosaic of Downtown. This is where the action is, with the largest concentration of restaurants and night clubs in the area, so if you want a vibrant night life and lots of culinary choices you probably want to be in or near downtown. At Los Muertos Beach you can find fun in the sun with pick-up volleyball, drinks served to your lounge chair and a vibrant atmosphere. Lodging runs the gamut from budget to luxury but the resorts are generally smaller and more intimate than other parts of town.
Los Arcos Suites is a full-service family boutique hotel with a pool and restaurant that offers good mid-range value for a comfortable, cozy room decorated with traditional artwork, carved wooden headboards and a balcony right on Los Muertos beach. The Mexican Colonial motif sets it apart from the modern design of newer resorts, reminiscent of old Mexico. Rooms overlook the pool and the large open-air Mi Pueblito restaurant serves generous portions of Mexican favorites, fresh seafood and grilled meats.
See Part 2 to learn about the Hotel Zone, Marina Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta.