Escape to Mexico for an unforgettable taste of sun, sand, and intoxicating cuisine. The magnetism of Puerto Vallarta is impossible to ignore
Writer: Phoebe Harper | Project Manager: Krisha Canlas
Set amidst a backdrop of the towering Sierra Madre Mountain range, fringes of swaying palm trees grace yellow-sand beaches that hug the shores of the sparkling Pacific Ocean. Here, you will find the bustling coastal haven of Puerto Vallarta (PV).
Originating as a quaint fishing village, PV, as it is commonly known, has ballooned through development to become one of Mexico’s most popular beach resorts. An iconic vacation destination, PV has sprouted from its humble origins, first finding fame in the 1960s as the filming location for Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s Night of the Iguana.
Although teeming with resorts, shopping malls, housing developments and tourists, PV has retained its authentic Mexican magnetism as the ultimate hotspot in the enigmatic state of Jalisco – birthplace of tequila and mariachi music. Downtown, explore cobblestoned streets and historic architecture reminiscent of PV’s early roots.
Snaking along the oceanfront, the well-known boardwalk of El Malecon carves through the city’s most popular highlights, home to food stalls and street performers, and stands as the cultural artery of PV. The nightlife here is renowned, none more so than in the beating heart of the Zona Romantica, which hosts a thriving LGBTQ+ scene.
Venture beyond the resorts to rolling hills, jungle-clad mountains and fields of blue agave. Discover beaches suited to any traveller, from secluded coves to well-catered swathes of sand with an inviting array of marine excursions centred around the horseshoe of the Bay of Banderas.
An established gourmet city, PV sets tastebuds tingling with traditional Mexican fare, and cosmopolitan restaurants showcasing creativity and imagination with world-class chefs.
Once labelled ‘La ciudad más amigable del mundo’ (The Friendliest City in the World), PV offers a warm welcome to any COVID-19 weary traveller.
INDUSTRY INSIGHTS: VISIT PUERTO VALLARTA
Since 1996, the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board has connected travel agents, operators and other tourism partners across the resort city to champion a thriving tourism sector. Enjoying the highest hotel occupancy levels of any beach destination in Mexico today, the board aims to ‘revive your desire to travel’, with a particular focus on attracting millennial markets. We speak with Managing Director Luis Villaseñor to find out more.
Outlook Travel (OT): Can you talk us through the origins of Visit Puerto Vallarta and its initial vision?
Luis Villaseñor, Managing Director (LV): In the early ‘90s, Puerto Vallarta had a development surge as leisure tourism became a more significant part of its economy. In response, the tourism board was launched in 1996 as a decentralised public organisation, expanding upon the efforts of an initial mixed funding trust founded by private investors and the state of Jalisco. The state of Jalisco established an initial two percent lodging tax (which today stands at three percent) to help generate revenue to promote the destination to international travel markets and boost its connectivity. Soon after, Puerto Vallarta started to welcome charters from the US, Canada, South America, and Europe, and through the tourism board, was better equipped to connect with travel agents, operators, and other tourism partners.
OT: What are your organisation’s current goals?
LV: In our efforts to promote the destination in national and international markets, our overarching goal is to grow our share of the market by offering travellers authentic, memorable experiences that suit multiple interests, have diverse appeal, and differentiate Puerto Vallarta from other sun and sand destinations. Puerto Vallarta is the only beach destination in Mexico that truly preserves its traditions and cultural identity while being open to tourists, and we are proud to welcome them with a wide range of lodging options including hotels, resorts, and villa and condo rentals to suit families, pet owners, luxury travellers, foodies, adventurers, art lovers, golfers, yoga enthusiasts, and LGBTQ+ travellers. This diversity of appeal was crucial to the destination’s initial recovery efforts in 2020, which has in turn enabled us to enjoy some of the highest hotel occupancy levels of any beach destination in Mexico.
One of our current objectives is to attract more millennials, generating awareness of our cosmopolitan city and its coastal and rural surroundings - ideal for those seeking new adventures and places where they can connect with nature and local culture. Puerto Vallarta has traditionally been a destination for North American travellers in their fifties and above, so we are trying to bridge that demographic gap and incentivise other markets and niche segments such as wellness, LGBTQ+, and adventure travel, among others.
OT: How do you market Puerto Vallarta as both a business and leisure travel destination?
LV: Puerto Vallarta is a great choice for leisure, corporate, and group travel thanks to its city infrastructure, year-round tropical climate, easy- to-access Pacific Coast location, abundance of lodging options including over 15,300 hotel rooms, and inspiring natural landscapes. As such, our promotional campaigns are multi-pronged to ensure that we are effectively speaking to each segment and its specific needs and interests. We ran our REVIVE campaign in 2020 and 2021 with a long-term strategy to build on its central message: ‘REVIVE YOUR DESIRE TO TRAVEL’, which puts travellers at the centre of Puerto Vallarta’s revival and highlights its sea to mountain landscapes, thoughtful hospitality, and numerous outdoor experiences. I’m delighted to share that the campaign has positively impacted international arrival numbers and we are close to reaching 2019 occupancy levels across our hotels and resorts – and this is without factoring in new room inventory and alternative lodging options, such as extended stay accommodations and villa rentals.
When communicating with leisure audiences, we like to showcase the city’s genuine hospitality and the natural charm that has won over couples, families, LGBTQ+ travellers, wellness enthusiasts, and others who return time and again to enjoy the sunsets over Banderas Bay, the majestic Sierra Madre Mountains, unspoiled jungle interior, and the charming cobblestone streets and historic architecture of the downtown area. With access to more than 50 outdoor activities, including swimming with wild dolphins, guided street food tours, and horse riding, travellers can find their own space in Puerto Vallarta - whether that’s in the heart of the city, amid the buzz and excitement of the Malecon, or on the secluded southern beaches of Quimixto and Yelapa.
For meetings and events buyers and travel industry partners, we are focused on demonstrating how Puerto Vallarta has every convenience to host memorable meetings, promoting the city’s connectivity to major cities in Mexico and North America through its international airport - just four miles from the city centre, the 5,000-capacity International Convention Center, modern infrastructure and roads, restaurant and catering services, and state-of-the-art facilities. Through public relations and marketing activations, we are targeting business travel communities seeking an idyllic setting from which to close a business deal, and we are also educating English and Spanish speaking travel agents and tour operators with training programmes like our recently launched Puerto Vallarta Specialist. Free to access on the Travel Agent Academy platform, the programme is designed to create a better understanding of Puerto Vallarta with up-to-the-minute, curated information and valuable travel tips for client support.
OT: What trends are currently transforming tourism in Puerto Vallarta and how are you utilising them?
LV: The demand for foodie tourism, wellness travel, and responsible travel experiences has significantly grown in popularity and is now joined by pet-friendly travel, multi-gen travel, and medical tourism. Puerto Vallarta is becoming a destination of choice for specialist cosmetic procedures and so we are working with our hotel and travel partners to better engage this market.
Further, in the last few years, Puerto Vallarta is becoming a favoured second home destination. This is a great asset for Puerto Vallarta and an organic trend that has evolved in part due to Puerto Vallarta attracting a significant number of repeat visitors, with many choosing to visit once or twice a year.
OT: What sustainable travel experiences does Puerto Vallarta have to offer?
LV: Puerto Vallarta is blessed with nature-rich landscapes, fauna and flora, and so it is important that we continue to integrate sustainable travel practices into travel programmes, tour itineraries, and hotel operations, so that travellers can support our preservation efforts. Highlights from Puerto Vallarta’s nature and community-focused experiences include:
Ejido El Jorullo is home to Jorullo Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the world for vehicles. El Jorullo was founded in 1940 by 180 inhabitants and 157 shareholders, and today it is managed by the North Coast of Jalisco Association of Foresters, mainly dedicated to the cultivation of various rare and indigenous plants, which are seeded using a local method adapted to the mountainous area.
A wildlife conservation area located in the jungle interior of the Sierra Madre Mountains, visitors can enjoy the peaceful surroundings from eco-chic cabins, a restaurant, pool, and nine hot spring pools. Activities include cycling, zip-lining, hiking, and bird watching.
Vallarta Botanical Gardens
The creation of the Gardens has provided an unprecedented opportunity for us to share with the world the wonderfully vast diversity of Mexico’s plant species. Visitors can tour the plant species, including Mexico’s largest collection of orchids, in a safe environment with guided viewing trails.
Mariposario Jardin Magico
The butterfly sanctuary originally opened in March 2020 and re-opened in March 2021, with butterflies of various species, sizes, and colours.
Turtle release programmes
From July through December, visitors can participate in sea turtle release programmes, helping to find on average 70 to 230 nests and, depending on the location, release approximately 60 to 200 sea turtles per day during the season. Protecting these nests and safeguarding every hatchling’s journey ensures that sea turtles will return to Puerto Vallarta for generations to come. While participation in a sea turtle release in Puerto Vallarta creates a unique and memorable experience, it is also an outstanding opportunity for visitors to support local conservation work. Boca de Tomates Turtle Camp, Ecotours, Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta and Marriott Puerto Vallarta offer opportunities for visitors to participate.
With the support and guidance of biologists and marine experts, travellers can swim and interact with bottlenose dolphins in their natural habitat in the Pacific Ocean. During this journey the experts will share their experience and knowledge regarding these incredible animals and offer guests an opportunity to participate in a research programme that helps to better understand and protect the cetaceans of Banderas Bay. Other activities include bird and whale watching.
This tour company focuses on promoting activities that reaffirm the identity and beauty of the local environment, taking advantage of its cultural, social, natural and historical elements, to generate sources of employment and income to the communities where they operate their excursions, ranging from practicing hiking in Las Juntas and Los Veranos in search of waterfalls, to a guided visit to the Vallarta Botanical Garden, or touring the southernmost beaches all the way to the town of Corrales and its 120-year old lighthouse.
OT: Are you optimistic about the future of the tourism industry in Puerto Vallarta, particularly with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic?
LV: We are very optimistic, especially now that outbound travel restrictions globally are winding down. Our hotel occupancy and arrival numbers continue to trend upwards, boosted by the return of Canadian, British, and European travellers. International arrivals were low at the beginning of the year due to strict travel restrictions, but we are seeing incremental growth each month, and since June 2021, international arrivals have been greater than those recorded for the same months in 2019. Also, Puerto Vallarta has recovered most of its pre-pandemic flight routes from key feeder markets and even added some that were discontinued in 2017 and 2018, or launched in 2021 and this year.
Puerto Vallarta has made consistent efforts throughout the pandemic to provide a safe and healthy experience for visitors and residents alike. Biosecurity is a priority for the state of Jalisco, and local government, service providers, tourism operators, and public-facing businesses continue to implement temperature checks at entrances, hand sanitiser stations, and mask mandates in common areas. Further, stringent sanitation and disease prevention measures remain firmly in place at Puerto Vallarta Cruise Port, public transportation, retail outlets, government offices, and at the award-winning Puerto Vallarta International Airport (PVR). As a result, COVID-19 cases remain low and we are positive that 2022 and 2023 will be milestone years, potentially exceeding 2019 figures.
These positive indicators and measures show how Puerto Vallarta has seized the opportunity to attract new demographics, specifically millennial travellers, as well as expand experience offerings within niche interest segments like wellness, ecotourism, and multi-gen travel. Travellers today are also more appreciative of the opportunity to explore new destinations and want to know that they are giving back to the communities they visit, so our resorts and alternative accommodations that offer authentic and responsible experiences are contributing to a faster economic recovery for our city.
For Tantalising Tacos
Vallarta Food Tours
specialises in taco crawls that offer local insight into PV’s thriving food scene. Sample Baja-style fish tacos at Joe Jack’s Fish Shack and taste exceptional asada tacos, marlin tacos, elote with pork belly, pastor, churros and tejuino in other nearby hotspots.
For the Finest Regional Ingredients
Venture beyond the crowded tourist centre of PV to the neighbourhood of Versalles, and you will find the local gem of Barrio Bistro
. Fresh ingredients combine in a vibrant array of daily specials, washed down with the locally produced distilled agave drink of raicilla, all conjured by culinary genius Chef Guillermo Wulff.
Take to the Seas
A visit to PV wouldn’t be complete without a boat trip. From December through to March, hop aboard a dolphin or whale watching expedition to be in with a chance of viewing the giant 40-tonne humpbacks that migrate to these shores at this time of year. Meanwhile, dolphins can be seen all year round.
Make Time to Reconnect
Nestled in the heights of the jungle, the Terra Noble Spa
is a respite harnessing the power of nature. This extraordinary space hosts workshops, yoga classes, ceremonies, and offers massages and therapies in its world-class spa. A community catered to wellness, take time to detox amidst outstanding surroundings.
For a Scenic Taste of Luxury
In the exclusive neighbourhood of Conchas Chinas, the Grand Miramar Resort
is perfectly positioned atop the highest point in PV to enjoy unbeaten panoramic views over Banderas Bay. Its very name translates as ‘ocean view’. From this idyllic position, expect spacious suites and all the amenities for a luxurious stay.
For a Central Boutique Stay
offers a boutique experience with all the amenities of a larger hotel, including a swimming pool and gym. You will find this modern, recently-renovated bolthole just one block from the beautiful Los Muertos beach and the central highlights of the boardwalk and main square.
IN FOCUS: THE BEACHES OF PUERTO VALLARTA
Beaches are PV’s calling card. The two most central favourites include Los Muertos and Olas Altas, as the closest to the city’s main square. What many sun-worshippers may not know, is that the former takes its name – which translates as Deadman’s Beach – from when the site was originally used as a cemetery. These are some of the most easily accessible spots for water sports and boat excursions.
From the 60-metre pier on Playa de Los Muertos, take a boat ride to head away from the crowds to the quieter southernmost reaches, where secluded coves boast pristine snorkelling sites. Some of the best are to be found near the villages of Yelapa, Quimixto and Playa Majahuitas – a favourite amongst scuba-divers.
Another popular choice accessible by boat is Las Caletas (the Coves), where hammocks swaying in the breeze against a backdrop of thick jungle provide the perfect scene for relaxing by the water.
Meanwhile, Playa Mismaloya is well-noted as an iconic stretch of sand, thanks to the beach’s appearance as the backdrop for the Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor film, the Night of the Iguana. The beach is also close to the remarkable Los Arcos Marine Park.
Elsewhere, for a beach less touched by tourism and development, set your sights on Playa Yelapa. Here, an authentic beach community continues to thrive in a charming, quiet traditional village. Spend an afternoon on this secluded bay and be sure to sample the legendary dessert pies sold by the beach vendors here.
PV hosts some of the Pacific Coast’s best diving destinations, and this protected national marine park is one of the finest. Whether scuba diving, swimming, or snorkelling, enjoy waters teeming with marine life including moray eels and manta rays. Translating from the Spanish for ‘the Arches’, marvel at the vast grey granite islands rising from the sea.