Our Lady of Guadalupe cathedral, view from Bay of Banderras

Our Lady of Guadalupe cathedral, view from Bay of Banderras

Acapulco, Cancun, Iztapa-Zihuatanejo, Tijuana, Guadalajara and Mazatlan are cities in Mexico that I have visited in the past 10 years. The North American Travel Journalist Conference allowed me to spend four days in Puerto Vallarta, which I had last visited 8 years ago as a guest of Continental Airlines. Conde Nast Magazine called it “the friendliest city in the world.” AARP voted Puerto Vallarta the top destination for Americans to retire overseas. U.S. News & World Report voted it the #2 place to visit in Mexico as well as the #4 best spring break destination. There are 330 days of sunshine and the average temperature is 83 degrees. Many airlines fly into the newly renovated and expanded Gustavo Diaz Ordaz International Airport. The Puerto Vallarta Tourist Board through their public relations firm Latitude arranged the airfare. It was Aero Mexico down, through Mexico City and Delta back, leaving from Guadalajara, through Atlanta. Puerto Vallarta sits on the same latitude as the Hawaiian Islands, and enjoys a consistent sub-tropical climate throughout the year with the rainy season limited to June through September.

Puerto Vallarta is located in the state of Jalisco, on the Pacific coast of Mexico. It is the same state where Guadalajara and Tequila (yes, there is a town with that name) are located. The area features 40 miles of coastline and includes tropical jungles, rocky river beds, steep mountainsides and arid flat lands. Its 256,000 residents welcome over 3.9 million visitors a year, second only to Cancun. 1.5 million are visitors from the United States and Canada. It is also a very popular port of call for cruise ships on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. 50% of the population works in tourist related industries. The city is the most gay friendly in all of Mexico. There was an LGBT convention in town while we were there. The city was made famous (or infamous) by the 1964 movie Night of the Iguana, filmed entirely on location. Written by Tennessee Williams and directed by John Huston it starred Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr. Elizabeth Taylor had a relationship with Richard Burton during the filming. Both were married to other people at the time and they purchased a house –Casa Kimberley– that was separated by what is now called “The Bridge of Love”. John Huston was enamored with the city and built a house at a nearby isolated cove called Las Caletas (more of that later) where he lived part time until his death in 1987.

The city is divided into the Marina, hotel zone, downtown, zona romantic and the south. The South Shore is where the Sierra Madre Mountains meet Banderas Bay creating many secluded beaches, coves and rivers. Downtown and Los Muertos Beach is the heart of the city with restaurants, bars, nightlife and shopping. It is very walk-friendly with its cobble-stoned streets, wrought-iron balconies and red-tiled roofs. The Malecon (boardwalk) lines the beach for 10 blocks and is home to much of the sand sculpture and public art. Travel and Leisure Magazine named Puerto Vallarta the best beach in Latin America in 2014. It is there that the Arcos (Arches) lead to the town’s main square with their open-air concerts and performances. The landmark Iglesias de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe church is a must stop here. The Hotel Zone stretches from downtown to Marina Vallarta and includes many high-rise condos, as well as hotels.

Our headquarters hotel was the 345 all-suite, all-inclusive Velas Vallarta Suite Resort & convention center (see my Trip Advisor review- Servicio Fantastico) with some events at the next door sister hotel- Casa Vallarta. Located on the 18-hole Marina Vallarta Golf Course this is an adult only 80 suite all-inclusive property. They both were located in the Marina Vallarta area, Mexico’s largest with 500 slips. There are shops, art galleries and restaurants as well as the golf course. Nuevo Vallarta is a planned residential and resort community just north of the airport. The conference for NATJA brought over 125 travel journalists to town.

The Best of Puerto Vallarta

Best view from a restaurant of water – Le Kliff

Perched on the edge of a cliff a short drive south of downtown it offers spectacular views of the ocean. The men’s room has a giant boulder formation over the urinals with constant water flowing. Seafood is their specialty.

For more information, go to www.lekliff.com.

Best view from a restaurant of the city – Vista Grill Restaurant and Lounge

It overlooks Puerto Vallarta and Banderas Bay. The temperature controlled wine room is next to the bar. It was awarded a Five Star Diamond Award from the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences. Sit outside on the multi-level terraces for a perfect view of the sunset.

For more information, go to www.vistagrill.com.

Best in-town restaurant setting – Café des Artistes

located downtown with two separate restaurants. We ate in the canopied multi-level garden with vertical lighting reflecting from the trees above the tables. They have a comprehensive wine library. “It is an environment in which patrons are inspired by the relationship between architecture and landscape.”

For more information, go to www.cafedesartistes.com.

Most beautifully decorated restaurant – La Leche

The restaurant is visually amazing. Everything is white on white with milk cans for decoration. The large tables in the middle of the restaurant are communal. Everyone sits together and shares. The bag on top of the plate? That is your bread and it is delicious! Each night the menu at La Leche changes based on the fresh ingredients the chef (Alfonso Cadena) receives from local vendors. The noise level is maddening with the non-padded and very high ceilings.

For more information, go to www.lalecherestaurant.com.

Best art collection and best musical trio – River Café

Live music and a natural environment. Infinity water fountain, tropical vegetation and art work by Oleo. And the food was great.

For more information, go to www.rivercafe.com.mx.

The best part of the trip was the reception accorded visitors. We were not treated as “gringos” but as friends. Tourism is the main industry and everyone we met treated us with respect. I can’t wait for another return visit.

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