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Puerto Vallarta sits on Bahia de Banderas, the largest natural bay in Mexico, with 100 miles of coastline ringed by mountains. As for the beaches, they are among the most beautiful in the world. In Puerto Vallarta, you find long stretches of beach to the north of town, and a series of delightful coves to the south. The town itself is fairly large - and growing. But it has never lost its Mexican flavor. Cobbled streets run up and down among a warren of red tile roofed houses, creating a colonial charm that is a photographer's delight.

It wasn't until 1851 that the first settlement, called Las Penas, actually took root here. An agricultural town, it was renamed Puerto Vallarta in 1918 in honor of a former Jalisco governor, Ignacio L. Vallarta. The formidable Sierras kept the town isolated, and it wasn't until 1954 that regular air service began. The road from Tepic was finally paved in 1970, opening the way for tourism.

As the old story goes, John Houston filmed "Night of the Iguana here in 1963, and in this romantic jungle, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor tangled in an extramarital relationship for the benefit of the world press. By association, Puerto Vallarta became a place where love flourished like the jungle around it, an eden of forbidden delight.

Summer in Vallarta is like a sultry steam bath with highs in the upper 80s F/27 C but prices are more reasonable then. From September to December expect nice weather (highs in the upper 60s-upper 70s F/16-21 C), with only occasional showers (unless there's a hurricane coming through). December through March is the high season, when the weather is at its best and prices are highest.

They don't hand out Oscars to cities but if they did Puerto Vallarta could be nominated. It masterfully plays the part of a remote and historic tropical getaway, even as it grows into a larger city (current pop: 250,000) that's connected to the outside world by a steady stream of jets and cruise ships.
Looks have a lot to do with Vallarta's success: The city's whitewashed walls and terra-cotta tiled roofs rise up the Sierra Madre foothills with the ornate crown of the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe serving as its photogenic landmark.
Civic leaders have taken pains to preserve the town's beauty. In the 1990s, the power lines in downtown were placed underground to improve the view, then the streets were carefully repaved with rocks from the Rio Cuale, the source of the original paving stones.
Style is another key. Even as more and more travelers have arrived and more and more hotels been built, Vallarta has retained a cultured grace that's rare in heavily touristed areas.
Artists, architects and chefs flourish in this rarified climate of tropical creativity. The restaurants, galleries and shops are some of the best in the country, drawing talent from Mexico City, Guadalajara, Italy, Switzerland and all over the United States.
A relatively young city - its first recorded settlement was in 1851 - it truly was small and remote until the 1950s. That's when airplanes first began landing on a dirt airstrip outside of town. By the early 1960s, it was a hideaway for movie stars and other reclusive types but remained charming and serene.
What really ignited interest in the city was Hollywood. The movie Night of the Iguana was filmed in the deserted cove of Mismaloya in 1963.
Richard Burton, who starred in the movie, and Elizabeth Taylor built houses across the street from each other - and added a catwalk between them so they could visit whenever they wanted. Director John Huston also loved the place. His statue is on Isla Cuale.
The film gave Vallarta the reputation of a steamy romantic escape. That, coupled with the completion of a road through the mountains from Tepic and an international airport, opened the area to package vacations. The flow of visitors from Europe, Canada and the U.S. has been increasing steadily ever since.
Puerto Vallarta is best known for its beaches, gorgeous scenery and clear blue water.
But those who visit often also praise its excellent restaurants, shops, hotels and varied activities.
The river is becoming more popular for kayaking expeditions and jungle trails leading into mountainous terrain are perfect for mountain biking and horseback riding.
Scuba diving and snorkeling in the sometimes chilly Pacific is an attraction for some, while others aim to fish for marlin, dorado and tuna.
In short, Vallarta has something for everyone.

Thanks to the talents of local and expatriate chefs, Puerto Vallarta is a gourmand's delight. In the finer establishments, innovative touches of traditional Mexico are combined with food and atmosphere that are like Los Angeles or Milan.

Shopping Hours: Monday-Saturday 9 am-2 pm and 4- 9 pm.
Banking Hours: Monday-Friday 9am-1pm. Some open Saturday for limited hours.
Souvenir-grade crafts from all over Mexico are readily available in Vallarta. But some real folk-art treasures can also be found - Huichol Indian beaded masks and bowls, Oaxacan woven wool rugs, tin-framed mirrors, lacquered boxes and trays.
Browse through the galleries if you are interested in art. The municipal market, just north of the Rio Cuale, is definitely worth a visit. Other galleries specialize in fine art by painters and sculptors living in Vallarta and elsewhere in Mexico.

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