On the beautiful Pacific Coast of Mexico, where the state of Nayarit meets the state of Jalisco, the home of tequila, mariachi music, countless famous artists, movie sets, and stunning handicrafts, lays Puerto Vallarta, one of the most popular tropical destinations in the world.
Located about halfway down the Pacific coast of Mexico, it is about a four hour drive to Guadalajara (45 min. by air), about 1,000 miles (driving) to Mexico City. San Cristóbal, in the southern state of Chiapas, is almost 2,000 miles away; and it is a little more than 2,000 miles to the border with Guatemala. From Puerto Vallarta to the US border are about 1,275 miles to Nogales and roughly 1,760 miles to Tijuana traveling by vehicle. Vallarta can be reached by land from the US via Federal Highway 200, by sea (a world-class cruise ship terminal and numerous smaller private marinas), or by air (through Gustavo Diaz Ordaz International Airport).
Approximately 185,000 inhabitants and between 5 million visitors annually.
A vast tropical jungle, the Sierra Madre Mountains and the serene waters of the Bahia de Banderas (the Bay of Flags), referred to in English as Banderas Bay, surround Puerto Vallarta. Very much a quaint seaside city, filled with white-washed houses and villas, terra-cotta tiled roofs, tropical plants, wrought iron gates, windows and doorways. To the north of the city, in the state of Nayarit is Nuevo Vallarta, home to large modern resorts, high-rise hotels and lush tropical golf courses. To the south of Vallarta, from Mismaloya and beyond, you'll find villages accessible only by boat, mountainous jungles, where time stands still, and adventure abounds.
On the same latitude as Hawaii, Puerto Vallarta has a tropical climate, averaging more than 300 sunny days per year. The temperature averages 28C (82F) year round. The annual rainy season is from late June through early October, and brings higher temperatures and humidity, but despite the nightly rains, almost every day is gloriously sunny.
Major hotels in the area have their own programs to eradicate mosquitoes from their property and adjacent areas to ensure the comfort of their guests. Since mosquitoes do not breed in salt water, you will seldom encounter them on or near the beach. As well, the mosquito population in Puerto Vallarta is effectively controlled by a spraying program operated by the city. Mosquitoes are more prevalent during the rainy season, and tend to be more abundant in the jungle areas. The good news is that any quality mosquito repellent works very well, so bring your favorite with you or purchase repellent at almost any local store or pharmacy (farmacia).
Mexico shares the same power grid as the USA and Canada (120V 60Hz) so just about any appliance you have at home will work in Mexico. The only important difference is that many accommodations are NOT wired for three-prong, grounded electrical outlets. If the electrical device (s) you are planning to bring with you has a three-prong plug, please, DO NOT break off the ground-prong (the round one). It is there for your safety. Simply purchase a packet of three-prong to two-prong electrical adapters from a hardware or electrical stores. They are also available at most supermarkets here in Vallarta, if you forget to pack them. A word of caution - if you visit during the rainy season, it is a good idea to disconnect any electrical or electronic devices when not in use. NOTE: Many of the finer hotels provide hair dryers in every room. Please check with the hotel to know whether you need to pack one.
Banderas Bay is home to two National Marine Parks, Los Arcos and the Marietas Islands. You can take diving and snorkeling tours to these islands, but walking, camping, and fishing are strictly prohibited. During the winter months, humpback whales from mid-November to mid-April, along with hundreds of dolphins and giant mantas. In the summer months, three species of endangered sea turtles come to lay their eggs in the sands of Banderas Bay beaches.
While there are no pyramids or ruins, per se, in the Puerto Vallarta area, however you will find the Pre-Hispanic Museum on the Rio Cuale, the villages of Huichol Indians, and archeological digs to the north, near Tepic, Nayarit.
A Brief History of Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta is a relatively new city, founded in 1851 by the Sánchez family who came across a stretch of land near what is now called the Rio Cuale River. Deciding this was an ideal location to live, they set down roots and lived among a smattering of indigenous people and the occasional fisherman who entered the bay. Within 35 years, word had spread about this idyllic location and people started building around the area. Originally called Las Peñas by the families, it wasn't until 1918 when the named changed to what it is today, Puerto Vallarta. Puerto, coming from the word "port" and Vallarta for Ignacio Luis Vallarta, who was at the time, the governor of Jalisco.
For the next 36 years, Puerto Vallarta remained a quaint little village, virtually unheard of outside of the Pacific Coast of Mexico until 1954 when Mexico's domestic airline realized the potential for tourism to the pristine area and began flights to what is now the center of Puerto Vallarta.
In 1963, legendary film director John Huston decided to film his adaptation of Tennessee William's The Night of the Iguana. At this time, Puerto Vallarta had roughly 2000 inhabitants in the area. Once word spread through Hollywood and the rest of the world that Vallarta was a tropical playground, visitors started coming in droves.
Today, Puerto Vallarta still retains much of its original charm, with cobblestone streets, terra-cotta roofs, and white washed buildings. Progress has come, especially since the signing of NAFTA, the free trade agreement between Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Wal-Mart and Sam's Club sell everything you would expect in downtown Los Angeles, and you will find cyber cafes on almost every street, making Vallarta a delightful mix of the old and the new.