Puerto Vallarta, Mexico is newer, smaller and quieter than Acapulco. Puerto Vallarta lies along the Bahía de Banderas, the seventh largest bay in the world. Its gorgeous beaches, jungles, water sports, international restaurants, great shopping, and a richly varied night life. Find a secluded beach, relax, refresh and practice your Spanish with the open-hearted fishermen, street vendors, and children.… or let loose and celebrate totally in Puerto Vallarta.
Puerto Vallarta has become one of the world's most important travel destinations. Lots of resorts share many of the same attributes as palm trees, beautiful beaches, golf courses, sunshine and more. What they don't have are the "Vallartenses" the Mexican people who live here. Vallarta was recently voted the friendliest city in the world! Good reason to let the Vallartense smiles ease your worries while the sun warms your body and gracious hospitality welcomes you at every turn.
Puerto Vallarta and the surrounding environs provide perfect diving conditions and a wealth of diving opportunities. Experienced and beginner divers can enjoy the abundance of sea life in the warm, clear waters of Banderas Bay. Its hotels are scattered along several miles of coast with the greatest concentration in Nuevo Vallarta, north of the town. Puerto Vallarta Hotels
Puerto Vallarta today is one of the gay centers of Mexico, with a great deal more tolerance for - and entertainment geared towards - the gay scene than almost any other Mexican town.
"The place where Mexico comes to life!"
Puerto Vallarta ecotourism activities are gaining ground from mountain biking the Sierra foothills to whale watching, ocean kayaking, or diving with giant mantas in Banderas Bay. Twenty-six miles of beaches extend from the center of town around the bay, many tucked in pristine coves and accessible only by boat. High in the Sierra Madre Mountains, the mystical Huichol Indians still live in relative isolation in an effort to protect their centuries-old culture from outside influences.
The tiny fishing village of Sayulita, Mexico, just an hour's drive north of Puerto Vallarta, is still only a footnote in most travel guides, which give it a half-page at most. But to those visitors who have discovered its charms in recent years -- the uncluttered white beaches, the tidy surf break, the amiable fishermen gutting their catch by the sea, the tranquil town square with its rustic taco stands and tortillerías -- there's only one thing wrong with Sayulita. It's beginning to get a little too popular.
Sleepy Sayulita is in danger of becoming a hot spot, and the longtime winter resident and newcomers alike sit in their vacation homes, suspiciously eyeing the construction taking place farther down the beach and worrying that the authentic local way of life will vanish if more people arrive.
''We know Sayulita is being discovered, and it's inevitable,'' said Janet Jamieson, a 57-year-old Oregonian and six-year resident who, with her husband, spends several months a year in Mexico. She sat on the hillside deck of her Sayulita villa and sighed. ''The first time I saw a bagel here I thought, 'Oh no, it's happening,' '' she said. ''Now you have espresso stands, Internet cafes, a fancy galleria. And building, everywhere. We think of Puerto Vallarta, and just hope Sayulita can still retain its flavor of a fishing village.''
Thirty years ago, when the first adventurous American surfers trickled in, Sayulita was a poor fishing village, cut off from the rest of Mexico by jungle. (Locals still refer to anything beyond their immediate hills as ''the other side.'') Although the town has certainly modernized since, it retains its traditional lifestyle: residents buy fish off the beach, chicken from the woman in the square, and everything else (mops, strainers, plastic chairs) from the trucks that occasionally drive around town. Getting to the swimming beach requires a walk through the graveyard, past the tombstone somberly inscribed ''Woody: Gone Surfing.''
Five years ago, however, a highway was built connecting Sayulita to Puerto Vallarta, and the tourists really started arriving. Almost overnight, Sayulita became a ''hidden'' getaway for adventurous Americans -- mainly preretirement boomers and 20-something surfers -- who liked the absence of high-rise hotels, tacky tourist nightclubs and swim-up bars. There are also no banks, police force, post office or decent grocery store. Regular visitors, like the Jamiesons, even got involved in the local community: helping to clean up the beach and to rebuild the plaza, opening a veterinary clinic and teaching English classes.
The population of year-round American expatriates has grown to more than 100 now, in a town of 1,700, and during the winter 500 more arrive at vacation homes and stay for weeks or months. Their numbers have been increasing by 28 percent a year, according to local vacation rental companies, and that doesn't include the many surfers who stay at little inns near the beach. The jungle hills above the village, once filled only with scorpions and wild parrots, are now busy with construction crews building $500,000 five-bedroom villas with panoramic views, all intended for the ''extrañjero'' (the polite local term for foreigner) market.
Those who came in the first wave, just a few years back, are already nostalgic for the way the town once was. Patricia and Pablo Southworth left Portland, Ore., six years ago, with their sons, Tyler and Ryan, looking specifically for a home where they might mix with the locals and avoid throngs of tourists. They opened Capitán Pablos, a multifaceted establishment where one can not only rent a surfboard, but drink a margarita, arrange a fishing or snorkeling trip and eat fresh ceviche.
Aware of their own contribution to the tourist industry, the Southworths are still astonished by how fast the town has grown. ''When we got here it was a simple village of thatch-roofed houses, fishing and farming, only a few restaurants, no one in construction,'' Mrs. Southworth said. ''There wasn't a chair to be had on the beach. There was no tourism. It was great. I wish it could have stayed that way.''
Of course, Sayulita is still a long way from becoming Puerto Vallarta, where wall-to-wall hotels block the views and beaches are packed with children trying to sell knickknacks to the sunburned hordes. But developers and investors have definitely discovered Sayulita, and since 1999 real estate has been snapped up so fast that the price of land has doubled and is still rising. At real estate offices in town, you can peruse the plans for numerous upcoming ''exclusive'' developments of luxury houses with heated pools and room for live-in maids. And right now, to the consternation of locals who are trying to block its construction, there is the beginning of a six-story luxury condominium complex being built by a company called Villa Amor on the south end of the beach. It's hard to miss: the complex is one of the few buildings along the shoreline that isn't capped with a straw roof.
IN a faded tropical shirt and flip-flops, with carefully coifed sun-bleached hair and ruddy skin, Ron Ingram, the 51-year-old developer of the complex (and other local real estate projects over the 27 years that he has been involved here), looks more like a surfer than a real estate baron. Mr. Ingram, who divides his time between Sayulita and Southern California, dismisses the idea that his projects are somehow spoiling this little corner of paradise.
''There is a negative sentiment that we're a huge developer, that sort of thing,'' he said. ''But when I got to town the local people had no cars, no electricity. Now, their standard of living has improved, kids are getting better education and more opportunities, learning two or three languages.''
Despite the widespread concern about development, Mr. Ingram does have a point. Local Mexicans tend to agree that the economic boom has done wonders for their living standards, which may be why so many seem little concerned about the Villa Amor complex or other developments.
Whether or not the growth so far has been good for the local economy, the urgent question at hand is how to deal with growth in the future: when should it stop? The Southworths, for their part, have tried to curb construction in the area. Two years ago, with a group of locals and expatriates, they helped hire a Mexico City lawyer to come down and examine the development taking place. That eventually led to a moratorium on building in areas north or south of town -- but not in Sayulita itself -- unless the builder had a rock-solid ecological-impact report.
''We felt strongly that someone has got to do something or this place will be ruined -- we'll end up with high-rises all along the beach, like Cancún,'' Mrs. Southworth said.
But Sayulita is still largely a lawless place. Not only are there no police officers in town, there are also no mayor, city council, town assembly or anyone remotely in charge that might curb or direct development in the area. The town is ruled, at least in the loosest sense of the word, by the county government in Valle -- or, as the locals say, on ''the other side.''
''Everyone wants this place to stay a little jewel, but if there's no law the developers get away with it,'' said Mark Holt, an American who has lived in Sayulita for five years and who is the proprietor, with his Sayulita-born wife, Dora, of the Sayulita Fish Tacos restaurant. ''We don't have a town planning commission, which is what we need.''
While there are plans in place, promoted both by extrañjeros and Mexican locals, to develop a town architectural review board, residents now communicate their concerns mostly through old-fashioned petitions, though ultimately they have no one in authority to receive them. These petitions seem to amplify the tensions between American-fueled gentrification and those who want to keep Sayulita just the way it is. While there are plenty of Mexican and expatriate locals who signed the petition to stop the building by Villa Amor, for example, there are also the expatriates who started a petition to halt the ear-splitting Saturday-night dance parties in the soccer field on the edge of town that are popular with local teenagers. One American tried to circulate a petition demanding a leash law to keep dogs from running free on the beach; some Mexican locals, in turn, circulated a petition demanding that the American be thrown out of town.
All of which has stirred resentment among locals and expatriates and vacationers but hasn't had much impact on the plans that will really accelerate Sayulita's growth. The highway that will soon be built along the coast, for example, linking Sayulita with its high-class neighbor Punta de Mita (a few miles away and home of an enormous Four Seasons resort) or the destination golf course being built just outside Sayulita or the 75-house subdivision planned on the edge of town.
In the meantime, those who keep coming and believing that they have discovered a hidden paradise futilely hope that they might be the last to arrive.
''Everyone wants to see the door closed behind them,'' Mrs. Southworth said. ''You either like it or leave it. If it gets too crowded, we'll just find another town without so many extrañjeros, and move.'' Protected by the second largest bay in the American continent, Bahía de Banderas, with over 40 km of golden beaches in the center of the Mexican Pacific and surrounded by the majestic mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental lies Puerto Vallarta, a paradise whose special charm is due to its blend of colonial and cosmopolitan features.
IF YOU GO - Thatched Roofs and Ocean Breezes
SAYULITA is 36 miles north of the Puerto Vallarta airport, on Highway 200. Taxi fares to Sayulita are about $45 for a sedan and $60 for a van; return fares are $10 less. Buses stop on the northbound side of the highway, across an overpass from the airport, from 9:15 a.m. to 8 p.m. The fare for Sayulita is $1.60 each way.
Avalos Sayulita Rental (011-52-329-291-3122; www.move2sayulita.com) and Sayulita Properties (800-899-4167 or 011-52-329-291-3076; www.sayulitaproperties.com) offer vacation rentals with one to five bedrooms.
Sayulita Properties also operates Papa's Palapas (Calle Delfines No. 9, 011-52-329-291-3076; www.sayulita.com/papaspalapas.html) a small inn on the beach in front of the surf break. Rates range from $45 for a palapa (thatched-roof) bungalow to $300 for the two-bedroom suite.
Villa Amor (011-52-329-291-3010; www.villaamor.com) has 23 semi-attached villas scattered up the mountain, seven of which have individual plunge pools. Rates are $50 to $250.
The best way to enjoy Puerto Vallarta is to wander through Viejo Vallarta, with its traditional cobbled streets, white-walled houses, wrought-iron balconies and red tiled roofs; visit the Templo de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, with its unusual dome, a replica of the crown worn by Empress Charlotte in 1860; admire the original murals by the artist Manuel Lepe in the Palacio Municipal; walk along the jetty with its esplanade of bronze statures and wide variety of shops with something for everyone; explore the galleries displaying contemporary Mexican art; sample the varied gastronomy in one of its open-air restaurants while gazing at a beautiful sunset or enjoy a traditional Mexican evening complete with folkloric ballet.
To the north lies Marina Vallarta, the largest sports port in Mexico that attracts luxurious yachts and sailboats from all over the world and is surrounded by deluxe hotels, shopping malls and golf courses. Next to it, in the state of Nayarit, is Nuevo Vallarta, the most recent tourist resort in the bay.
In Puerto Vallarta you will find more than one way of recharging your batteries, since there are hundreds of opportunities for recreation, particularly water sports such as diving, sailboat regattas, fishing, skiing and Jet Skis as well as gentle boat rides round the bay to watch dolphins, turtles and humpbacked whales, just some of the natural attractions that make this one of the world?s favorite destinations.