The Night of the Iguana is a 1964 film based on the 1961 play of the same name written by Tennessee Williams. Directed by John Huston, it featured Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, and Deborah Kerr. But the film and Puerto Vallarta's claim to fame, still 49 years later, was the love affair between Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, forever making Puerto Vallarta Mexico's most romantic resort.
The backwater lunacy of John Huston's film is long gone. In fact, the set, located on a seaside cliff, long fell into ruin, only later to be incorporated into a boutique resort hotel. From its sleepy seaside village roots, Puerto Vallarta, affectionately known as PV, has grown into one of Mexico's slickest and most loved destinations.
Rich golden beaches, lined with luxury Puerto Vallarta hotels, stretch along the Bahia de Banderas, Mexico's largest bay while Puerto Vallarta, itself, still retains the charm of a Mexican seaside village. Cobblestone streets wind past the jumbled collection of white stucco buildings with red tile roofs and wrought iron balconies overflowing with colorful bougainvillea vines, giving it an air of "Old Mexico" at every turn. An early morning stroll will lead you past the busy town square, the crown-topped church, and dozens of shops specializing in everything from citrus-bright sportswear to traditional crafts.
Located in the center of town, La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe), PV's cathedral and most visible landmark. Built as a small church in 1892, it took 33 years, from 1918 to 1951, to convert it into a cathedral. Topping its steeple is supposedly an enormous replica of the crown worn by Carlota, Empress of México and wife of Maxmillian, in the 1860s.
Spend a languid afternoon in the cool shade of the Isla Río Cuale, a long narrow five-acre island, exploring the small free archaeological museum, Museo Río Cuale, and afterwards sipping a cool margarita in one of its cozy bistros. Artisan shops offering everything from huipiles (embroidered blouses) to huraches (leather sandals) to handicrafts dot its meandering walkways canopied with lush tropical foliage. At one end of the island stands a statue of the late film director, John Huston, the man who put PV on the map. And if you look up, you'll see a hill above Old Town known affectionately as "Gringo Gulch," the neighborhood made famous by Burton and Taylor's steamy romance, and home to many wealthy Americans.
Beyond Old Town, three miles of sun-drenched beaches stretch out along Bahía de Banderas, Mexico's largest bay, north to Marina Vallarta. Beginning with Playa Camerones, the golden-sand beaches form a continuous strand through Playas Las Glorias, Los Tules, and de Oro. Here, you can swim in the gentle waves without the huge crowds of the beaches south of town and you'll delight in hunting for tropical shells along the shore. Since resort hotels line these beaches, renting watersports equipment isn't a problem. Surf fishing is also popular.
Sunday evenings bring out everyone along PV's seaside promenade, the Malecón. If you'd rather sit than stroll, you can relax in one of the cafés overlooking PV's famed bronze sculpture, "Caballito de Mar" (Boy on a Sea Horse), by Rafael Zamarripa. Often, there are public art exhibits set up along the walkway. Here, you'll also find restaurants, specializing in fresh seafood, with second floor balconies from which you can watch the sunset.
Another popular pastime is gallery hoping around town. Due to its artistic heritage, PV boasts more galleries than any other Mexican beach resort. Biweekly Old Town art walks guide you to the best shows.
If you want to learn how tequila is made, visit El Pitillal, a tequila micro-distillery, take the tour, then sample $100-a-bottle pure heaven. PV also holds bullfights on Wednesday afternoons at 5 P.M. from November to June at Plaza de Toros La Paloma.
For a look at the dramatic jungles, deep valleys and mountain waterfalls inland from the resort, rent a jeep and head for Chico's Paradise. Here, under a thatched palapa next to a cool mountain stream, you can talk to a parrot or take a dip in cool clear natural pools between courses of mouthwatering seafood. Or maybe you'd prefer to go snorkeling or scuba diving in a hidden cove or early morning deep-sea fishing.
Seemingly limitless year-round sunshine, coupled with twenty-five miles of silky soft beaches surrounded by tropical mountains make PV a tropical paradise. End a glorious day by taking a sunset cruise around the bay on either a cruise boat or a sailboat.