Thursday, July 07, 2005

Mexico Vacation: City of Puerto Vallarta

To get a closer look at an image, simply click on it for an enlarged view. This post is about Puerto Vallarta's downtown, not really about the general region.

Looking at my pictures again the place looks so pretty, I don't know why everything came out so bitter in my description! I have so many pictures and I can't fit everything on here, so if you'd like to see more, check out the Mexico set on my flickr account.


Puerto Vallarta is one of the big resort towns of Mexico, and most probably the most popular one nowadays of Mexico's West coast. This was not my first visit to Mexico, in fact, it was my third, but it was my first in one in an actual resort town. I had been to the Riviera Maya, but not to Cancun. So obviously, I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but I think that I was expecting a little too much out of the town.

Puerto Vallarta is located in the state of Jalisco, the official state of tequila. The city is surrounded by tall mountains and is normally supposed to be covered in luxurious green vegetation. But Mexico has been suffering from a serious drought lately, and so aside from palm trees and a couple other lucky shrubs, everything was mostly dried and gray (but it was more noticeable outside of the city). Disappointment number one.

Disappointment number two was that it's a pretty big city, with a Wallmart and tons of restaurants and bars such as Senior Frogs aimed at young American tourists. The place is a party town, aimed at pleasing disrespectful drunks from out of the country. Well, I guess that's just normal but I had never really been faced with the ugly truth, having only stayed in resorts before.

But really, the place is mostly tacky and in many places lacks charm. And pollution can surprisingly suffocate you if your cab happens to take the expressway instead of the road that follows the ocean. Along the ocean there are more hotels going up, such as the new Venitian being built (yes, same as the one in Vegas). The monsters of constructions will make the beach-front even more crowded. Other hotels are really starting to look old, and they are all packed like sardines. The hotel lobby is right off the sidewalk: there's no seclusion or feeling of tropical paradise here. No greenery, no space... Only tourists everywhere. Seeing this really made me happy that I wasn't staying on that stretch of beach. And I thanked God this was the low season.

Maybe I sound really mean towards Puerto Vallarta, but what you see when you get off the plane isn't pretty. What I expressed was my first impression of the place, mostly from the cab ride. But the outskirts of the town are really pretty though, and there are spots around town where you can find gems. Overall it is a really nice town, with a great lively feel especially around the locals.

playa del muertos

mexican cat

We found wonderful little shops selling great pieces of clothing that looked like antiques made by local aboriginal tribes. We saw wonderful art and great art galleries. We drank the best orange juice from a street vendor, freshly made for 40 cents each. We walked on historical Playa Los Muertos and around the banks of Riberia Del Rio, the river that separates PV in half. We enjoyed walks in small streets above the town. We watched locals dance in the park and listen to political speeches along the Malecon (boardwalk), checking out sculptures along the way. I guess it's all about where you go and what you see!

shaved ice piñata boardwalk

But really the highlight of my visits to Downtown PV was the Guadalupe Church. People who know me well will understand why, but for those who don't, I'll explain quickly. I've long been deeply interested in the Lady of Guadalupe and her history and significance in Mexico, and was considering writing an ethnography on the subject. The church in PV is not the one in Mexico City, but it's still significant and I had really been looking forward to checking it out.

The church is really simple yet beautiful, and it has this neat glass ball at the base of the cross. The whole top actually is made of metal and looks like a crown: pretty cool! We were surprised that there were hardly any tourists around the church, and that was a big plus. We actually were there during mass, and the church was pretty full. I tried to catch a glance without disturbing the service, but stepped out pretty quickly and focused on the outside of the building. There was actually a lot of people outside too, and many people had set up stands for food. There was even this long table set up outside for people to eat. It was great! It really felt unlike the rest of PV.

guadalupe church inside the church guadalupe church
detail of the church church detail

So overall I have good memories of Puerto Vallarta's downtown but I was really happy that it was a place we visited as opposed to staying there. There's a lot of great places once you step away from the tourist traps and the touts, and it's easy to spend a nice day there.

sunset on the boardwalk


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