A mere couple of decades ago, sophisticated, expensive Puerto Vallarta was just a quaint little fishing village on the magnificent Bahia de las Banderas. Movies, however, changed all that. In the wake of The NIght of the Iguana, and the arrival of luminaries such as Richard Burton and Liz Taylor, condominiums, timeshare, luxury hotels and villas have given Puerto Vallarta a new attitude to life. Some of the old buildings in the original town have been altered to become fashionable restaurants, art galleries and souvenir shops, while the sandy central beaches along the 150km (93-mile) shore of Bahia de las Banderas have become favourites for daily cruise excursions.
On either side of the Rio Cuale, old Puerto Vallarta is the commercial centre of this pretty town. A lovely malecon, or promenade, provides a focal point each evening for strollers and itinerant vendors. There are galleries, cafes, shops and a small Museo Arqueologico. The shady Plaza de Armas is the main square or zocalo. Here the Palacio Municipal houses the tourist office, while a block to the east is the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe with its unusual tower. The annual fiesta of the Virgin of Guadalupe is particularly riotous here, with more than ten days of celebrations. Other notable dates include the Semana Santa celebrations, the annual fishing tournament in November, and the biennial Regatta between the Marina del Rey and Puerto Vallerta.
Mariachi, indeed all music, is big in Puerto Vallarta, and there are a number of local restaurants where live mariachi music accompanies dinner. Catering to the diner who wants a touch of Mexican culture with a buffet, the long-standing La Iguana offers nightly shows, as do many of the luxury hotels.