As I strolled down the Puerto Vallarta waterfront, I admired sculptures by some of Mexico’s most famous artists and savored mariachi blending with the sounds of crashing waves and ringing church bells. When I reached the end of the pier, I gazed out at the expanse of Banderas Bay and the Sierra Madre behind it—one of Mexico’s most distinctive views.
Whereas resort areas such as Cancún and Cabo San Lucas were developed in the 1970s to draw tourists, Puerto Vallarta began as a fishing village and port in Spanish Colonial times. The town evolved in the late 1800s, but it really landed on the visitor map in the 1960s thanks to Hollywood royalty vacationing here and publicity from the 1964 film Night of the Iguana.
In the ensuing decades, regular appearances on The Love Boat added to the city’s celebrity. As a result of this history, Puerto Vallarta feels like the kind of older beach town you might find in Spain or Italy, and it has plenty of charm after the sun goes down.
These days, visitors stay in town or head to one of the beach resorts that fan out into Nayarit, from Nuevo Vallarta up to Bucerías, Punta de Mita, and Sayulita, and south to Costalegre.