There is a magic to Puerto Vallarta, which defies explanation. Whether it was this that fueled the fiery attraction between Liz Taylor and Richard Burton when he was filming “The Night of the Iguana” here in 1963, and what prompted director John Huston to claim it as home until his final years, is hard to say.
The fact is that the torrid affair and the onslaught of paparazzi that came with it, carved this scenic haven onto the international map, drawing Hollywood types and savvy sybarites ever since.
Nowadays, this sultry area straddling the bay in the state of Jalisco has a mystique all of its own and is the perfect place for a honeymoon. And, unlike other beach resorts in Mexico - Vallarta as it is know to locals (PV to English speakers) – has managed to retain the unmistakable flavor of “old” Mexico…the real Mexico.
Fifteen minutes north of downtown, the Marina Vallarta area has mushroomed in recent years into a strip of mega resorts, all-inclusives and large retail chains. Further north, in the state of Nayarit, newcomers like Nuevo Vallarta and Punta Mita, lend a totally different feel to the overall destination, which people tend to clump under the heading of “Puerto Vallarta.”
Yet, there is no comparison between the old and the new. The original downtown area – the heart of PV - with its small white-washed adobe buildings, red-tiled roofs and steep cobblestone streets winds down from the lush Sierra Madres and spills out onto the seafront making it easy to explore on foot.
On Sunday nights the small main square comes to life when the concert band strikes up in the ornate gazebo and everyone dances in the park and snacks on elote, grilled ears of corn slathered with mayo and sprinkled with chile powder.
There are two distinct neighborhoods downtown: Viejo Vallarta (Old Town Vallarta) and the Zona Romantica, (Romantic Zone) also known as "Playa de los Muertos," allegedly named after a bloody battle between pirates and local Indians hundreds of years ago.
The recently refurbished seafront promenade, known as the "Malecón," is the focal point of local life with its backdrop of whimsical sculptures lining the 11-block strip of boutiques, cafes and cozy bistros lining the shores. At its southern end, a series of lighted arches act as the stage for live music or performances by jugglers, dancers and comedians as well as an outdoor art gallery.
Culturally and gastronomically speaking, PV ranks second to Mexico City. If you happen to be there in November, you're in luck. Each year, in November, the International Gourmet Festival draws award-winning local chefs and more than 20 guest chefs from around the world, to showcase their skills at venues around town. Throughout the year there are cooking classes, wine, tequila and beer tasting events and an annual film festival.
For the perfect honeymoon haven, check into Hacienda San Angel, a member of Mexico’s Boutique Hotels. Tucked into an enclave of five Mexican villas, one of which was given by Richard Burton to his then wife Susan as a Valentine’s Day gift, it evokes a long gone era, with its décor of colonial tiles, fine woodwork and antiques, while providing stunning views of the Bay and the landmark crown atop PV’s Basilica. Its location just steps from downtown affords easy access to your activities.