MEXICO: More Than A Beach Part 3 - Puerto Vallarta


Our cruise ship dropped anchor in Puerto Vallarta before sunrise. I got off the ship and walked to our on-shore excursion designated meeting place a little early. While waiting for the rest of passengers to assemble, I wandered around the port area to inquire about some local tours and to check out some crafts from the local vendors. As I was coming back, I saw some passengers getting off the ship and starting to gather at the meeting place. They were silhouetted. I got a little disoriented to see some silhouettes and the bright orange hidden behind a palm tree. Dusk or Dawn? Nevertheless, I experienced the most spectacular sunrise in Puerto Vallarta.

Somehow, I found myself in the most popular on-shore excursion because it took a while to assemble the tour participants. By the time we boarded the bus, the bright orange had disappeared. Given the number of tour participants, I assumed our excursion would fall into what I called a ‘definitive tour’, where the participants are given 10 minutes for photo-op, 5 minutes to use the bathroom and 45 minutes to shop at the store chosen by the tour operator. But recognizing that our time on-shore was limited, I tried to keep an open mind. Organized excursion is sometimes a great way to know a destination’s history and culture. I thought I could research later to add to my understanding about a place.

Puerto Vallarta seemed to be a city of contrast. Geographically, it lies on a narrow coastal plain at the foot of the Sierra Madre. Our tour guide started his historical and entertaining narrative as we passed the hotel zone. Our first stop was the boardwalk (Malecon) where we found what seemed to be a gallery of contemporary sculptures. While strolling down the boardwalk, my traveling companion who had been to Puerto Vallarta before, noticed that the boardwalk had a different look. According to our tour guide, the seawall was built after the hurricane devastated the area, and new art sculptures like “In Search of Reason” and “The Rotunda of the Sea” were added. We saw numerous statues and sculptures, including the town most popular piece, “Friendship Fountain” with its 3 dolphins, and “The Sea Horse”, the symbol of Puerto Vallarta.  

Then we walked across the street to El Centro, which retained an Old World character with its cobblestone streets and narrow sidewalks. We had a taste of an “Old Town Art Walk”, and saw the tile murals by the noted Puerto Vallarta artist Manuel Lepe at the Vallarta Plaza and at City Hall. Unfortunately our schedule did not allow for us to check out the many Art Galleries around the area. We passed a little plaza with an interesting Gazebo in the middle to get to the city hall where we saw a tapestry that supposedly dates back to the early century and another tile mural by Manuel Lepe. I went back to the tiny plaza which, I thought, the best vantage point for taking pictures of the church. Then we entered the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, another iconic symbol of Puerto Vallarta.

We left the oldest section of the town to get to the jewelry and pottery stores or the shopping part of the tour. Since I would rather spend the day at the beach than shopping, I was a little unhappy that we were given only 20 minutes to explore the historical side of Puerto Vallarta, but 45 minutes to shop at the stores chosen by the tour operator. After shopping we crossed the River Cuale Bridge and passed the tiny island of Isla Rio Cuale. It seemed like a lively area, with a flea market, restaurants and shops, and trees and park. And then the beginning of the endless narrative about “The Night of the Iguana” as our tour guide pointed to the restaurant that Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton frequented while filming and living in the area.

Soon after, our bus ascended to a narrow and windy road that would lead to Mismaloya jungle/beach - best known as the place where “The Night of The Iguana” was filmed.   I thoroughly enjoyed the scenic drive on that segment of the Pacific Coast 200 Highway. On the left side of the road was lush vegetation, almost jungle-like where we found small huts. On the opposite side, we saw luxury hotels and villas perched on top of the edge of the cliff. In between the obstructed views of luxury hotels, I saw breathtaking views of the beach and the ocean.

Our bus stopped at a vantage point where we could see an expansive view of Mismaloya cove, with colorful fishing boats at the edge of the lagoon, the jungle-clad mountains in the backdrop, the Los Arcos rock formation rising above the emerald green and blue waters. Sitting at the very edge of the jungle was the Mismaloya Beach which was featured in the filmed “The Night of The Iguana’. The scenery was accented by palapa-style restaurants, jet skis, sailing boats and people basking in the sun. And for extra dollar or two, a live iguana was available to touch or include on our photo shoot. Our bus took a U-turn to leave the Mismaloya jungle. Our tour guide pointed the hillside where the ‘Night of the Iguana’ was actually filmed. It used to be a tourist site opened to the public, but was sold to a developer who did not seem to know what to do with the property, so it’s now fenced off and closed to the public.

As we headed down to end the scenic drive, we crossed the River Cuale Bridge. Once again, our tour guide pointed to the apartment where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton once lived. Although familiar with the names Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, not having seen the film, I became oblivious to the references made to the movie. If this tour guide continue to tell the same narrative to the IPhone and Facebook generation, he would probably be met with ‘huh’ ‘who’. ‘The Night of the Iguana” may have put Puerto Vallarta on the map, but I did not come away with the warm memory that I visited a place where a movie was filmed. For me the natural beauty and the spectacular landscape were simply enduring and more than enough to put a smile on my face.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant along the seafront where I was able to spend a few minutes at the beach. There was so much to see and do in Puerto Vallarta that I was glad I did not spend the whole day at the beach.



The Banaue Rice Terraces: A Living Cultural Landscape

NEPAL: Durbar Square Before the Earthquake

The Amazon, Part 3: The Tree Killer Tree