Sites & Sights — 29 September 2015
Pick Your Pleasure

By Renée S. Gordon

A stunning series of events took place in Puerto Vallerta, Mexico in the 1960s that would catapult the city onto the international tourism stage. The tale begins with the meeting of director John Huston and PV architect Guillermo Wulff. Huston was scouting locations for his latest movie, The Night of the Iguana, and Wulff proposed that he consider Mismaloya, a small fishing village just south of the city. Mismaloya’s beach is located in a cove and behind the village rises the jungle. A set was erected and filming, with Richard Burton, began in 1963.

Richard Burton was in the throes of a love affair with Elizabeth Taylor, she joined him there and Burton and Taylor purchased two houses, across the street from one another. Burton had a bridge constructed, Lover’s Arch, between the two so that he would not have to cross the street. Soon movie stars, intellectuals and paparazzi began arriving and with the movie opening in 1964 a spotlight was turned on Puerto Vallarta as a tourist destination that has never dimmed.

Huston established a home on leased land in a Chacala Indian community in Las Caletas and it is there that he wrote his autobiography. The island can be visited, but only on a guided tour. The movie set is closed and Casa Kimberley, the Taylor home, is being renovated into an upscale hotel. The house and bridge are visible from the street.

Pretty amazing for a place with humble roots: In 1851 Guadalupe Sanchez began to grow crops on land he purchased in the mountains surrounding Puerto Vallarta. His business flourished. Originally referred to as Puerto Las Peñas, as the settlement grew it was renamed Ignacio Vallarta to honor a former governor. In 1918 it was officially named Puerto Vallarta and was designated a Mexican city. The Rosita Hotel was the first hotel in the area; it opened in 1948.

What To Do…

One of the most incredible things about visiting Puerto Vallarta is the fact that Mexican culture envelopes you. Since no area is strictly “touristy,” you have the opportunity to experience the city in the same ways that residents do.

There are not a large number of museums in the city but Museo Arqueológico del Cuale, the Archeological Museum, provides an overview of the cultural history. The museum opened in 1978 and was renovated in 2005. The permanent collection was donated from other Mexican museums and contains artifacts dating from the Precolumbian Era circa 5000 B.C. and continues through the Spanish conquest. Gallery highlights of the chronological exhibits include artworks and pre-Hispanic shaft tombs. Interpretive information is available in English.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - Dolphin StatueStrolling the streets of the downtown is an important part of experiencing the city. The cobblestone streets are a pathway to the finest restaurants and entertainment. The most famous of these routes is a walk along El Malecón. This walk should be taken during both daylight and dusk as the experiences are totally different. Malecón extends from the Hotel Rosita to Los Muertos Beach, a 1-mile, 12-block pedestrian zone bordered by a seawall. Fidencio Benitez, a native of the indigenous Huichol, decorated the patterned pavement with designs. Bronze sculptures line the walkway and are great places to take photographs. The most iconic and most photographed is Rafael Zamarripa’s “”El Caballito de Mar,” “The Boy on the Seahorse.” A lad with a cowboy sombrero rides a seahorse situated against the sea backdrop. The seahorse represents the city’s durable links with the sea trades, the sombrero signifies Mexican history and culture, and the welcoming smile on the boy’s face visually depicts the warm welcome the city extends to all visitors. The statue was originally created in 1960 and is approximately 9-ft. tall. Guided ArtWalk tours are offered that include nine art galleries as well as guided sculpture tours.

Art lovers must visit El Palacio Municipal, Old City Hall, where a mural by Manuel Lepe, one of Mexico’s most famous artists, is on display. Lepe was born in Puerto Vallarta and had no formal training. His works are so colorful and exuberant that UNICEF has used his designs.

Performances of Los Voladores de Papantla, the flyers of Papantla, are regularly scheduled on the promenade. Five elaborately costumed men ascend a 98-ft. pole. Four of the men plunge from the pole, tethered by one foot, and spin around the pole 13 times before alighting on the ground. When multiplied by four the total number of spins equals the Aztec sacred number 52. The fifth man remains balanced atop the pole as he plays music to accompany the performance.

Puerto Vallarta - Our LadyPuerto Vallarta, Mexico - Our Lady CrownVirgin de Guadalupe Church was completed in 1951 and dedicated to the patron saint of both the city and Mexico. The church is a mix of styles with the central portion being neo-classical with renaissance towers. The church is located on the site of an earlier chapel and the larger edifice was begun in October of 1912. After several interruptions work on the dome began in 1940. A tour of the interior showcases a 1945 venerated oil painting of the Virgin by Ignacio Rameriz.

The church’s most outstanding architectural feature is a brick bell tower topped by a crown. The crown was originally gilt and designed after one worn by Empress Carlotta of Mexico. The original was destroyed by an earthquake in 1995 and was temporarily replaced with one made of fiberglass. In 2009 a new 31-ft. by 48-ft. crown, with a glass dome and a cross, created by Carlos Terres, was placed atop the church. The design incorporates symbols, eight angels bear the crown, 24 gemstone boxes stand for the 24 hours in a day and five large palms signify the five most important events in the history of the city. The first 12 days of December the church becomes the pivotal site in Puerto Vallarta’s Fiestas de la Virgin Guadalupe.

Playa Los Muertos, Deadman’s Beach, is the city’s most popular beach. There are several stories about the naming of the area but the one that is supported by oral testimony and archeological evidence points to the beach having been a sacred burial site for local natives. Remnants of gravesites, pottery shards and bones in ceramic vessels have been recovered.

CNN designated Los Muertos Pier one of the most beautiful in the world. The pier, designed by José de Jesús Torres Vega, opened in 2013 in the heart of most romantic portion of the beach. The $2.4 million pier includes a pedestrian zone, seating, docking facilities and an evening light show. This is a great place to watch the sunset. Adjacent to the pier are restaurants and shops ideal for browsing after dark.

Where To Stay…

Puerto Vallarta offers a wide-range of lodgings, from apartments to luxurious villas, from self-catering to all-inclusives. The city has won awards as the friendliest city in the world and that extends to its extensive and uniformly high-quality hospitality network. That being said, I suggest that visitors choose accommodations based on location, service, environmental responsibility, and service to the community. The Villa Premiere Hotel & Spa exceeded my expectations. Best of all, it’s strictly adults only. 21 Plus Salute!

The Villa Premiere has been honored with numerous awards for a commitment to personalized service that begins the moment you step onto the property. You are greeted with a cold towel, a refreshing drink and a five-minute massage in a private area. Pillow and accommodation fragrance menus are presented at check-in and you can select the types of pillows and which of seven aromas you want your guestroom to have. Each of the 83 rooms and suites offer boutique bath products and designer linens. On-site restaurants feature traditional cuisine through room, pool and table service.

Villa Premiere is a primary supporter of La Orquesta Escuela de Puerto Vallarta, the School Orchestra of Puerto Vallarta. This community program is designed to teach music with an additional emphasis on developing leaders, academics, self-discipline, communication and collaboration skills, transcending class, race and social barriers. There are three skill levels from beginner to advanced incorporating ages eight to 22. All students receive scholarships from 10 to 100 percent.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Where To Eat…

Among Puerto Vallarta’s numerous claims to fame is the designation “Gourmet Capital of the Mexican Pacific.” Noted for its traditional cuisine UNESCO has recognized the variety and quality of the traditional cuisine of inestimable value as an intangible cultural heritage and there are more than 300 restaurants from which to choose. Each November the ten-day Festival Gourmet International Vallarta is held.

The Jazz Foundation is a new addition to Puerto Vallarta’s nightlife scene and the city’s first jazz club. Opened in June in Downtown, the club is designed to replicate a traditional jazz club with specialty drinks and Creole cuisine. As an all-inclusive jazz forum the facility includes a library and features special events and programming.

La Palapa was the first restaurant located on Playa Los Muertos and has been serving the best of tropical Mexican cuisine since 1959. The family-owned restaurant has maintained the spirit and style of the original thatched roof structure. It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and offers vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. House specialties include Pepper Crusted Tellowfin Tuna and La Palapa Shrimp. This is a very romantic choice.

Tino’s is a traditional Mexican seafood restaurant that has successfully blended local seafood with fresh vegetables and spices to create unique spins on old favorites. The restaurant began more than 18 years ago and has blossomed into a local favorite. Everything is good here, but you must try the zarandeado fillet. I am told the secret is in the marinade.

Chef Hugo Ahumada’s restaurant Maia is situated in the lounge of the Villa Mercedes Petit Hotel and also serves dinner each evening in the courtyard. The chef’s goal is to prepare dishes that feed both your body and your spirit and his philosophy permeates the cuisine and the décor. All meals are prepared with regional ingredients and served in handcrafted vessels made by area craftspeople using recycled wood. Artists’ works featuring cultural and historic themes decorate the walls. The traditional Mexican menu is totally unique showcasing organic foods and creative combinations.

View of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Puerto Vallarta is as near a perfect destination as one can hope for and it is all easily accessible and affordable.

More Information…

Visit Puerto Vallarta

Visit Mexico

Read Part 2, finding your bliss in Puerto Vallarta.

– Photos by Renée S. Gordon

Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.

Renee GordonRenée S. Gordon has written a weekly travel column for the Philadelphia Sun for the past 14 years and has published travel articles in numerous publications. Her columns focus on cultural, historic and heritage tourism and she specializes in sites and attractions related to African American and African Diaspora history. Renée serves as a consultant for educational trips and history-related tourist destinations. She considers herself a “missionary journalist” and as such she continues to promote heritage and sustainable tourism. She has been honored with several awards including the 2013 Recipient of African Diaspora World Tourism and Flame Keeper in Media Award for Travel Writing.


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