When most people think of a vacation in Puerto Vallarta, they think of a vacation in the tropical sun in a laid back resort city that has 26 miles of beautiful beaches and surf with incredible vistas of her dramatic coastline.

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The port, laying on the same longitude as the Hawaii, is situated along the Pacific west coast of Mexico, on the Bay of Banderas, Mexico’s largest natural bay – one of the largest in the world. It is also one of the world’s deepest bays, boasting depths up to 3000 feet. It is host to numerous cruise ships as well as the yearly migration (December to April), of the humpback whales as they head south from Baja with their newly born calfs. It’s no wonder that the region is known as a recreational playground and ecological bonanza. Within a small geographic region, PV, (as it is affectionately called), is blessed with a wide range of topography, with beaches, mountains, jungles, rivers, and waterfalls all in close proximity. Aside from the whale migration there is the nesting of the sea turtles from June to September, and almost any time you take a ride in a panga (the small motor boats used locally for fishing and water taxis to small villages just south of PV, like Boca de Tomatlan where the Casa is located), your very likely to see the bays plentiful dolphins frolicking in the water.
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Dolphin pod just outside of Boca lagoon

If you are fortunate, as I was while Scuba diving with Boca Divers off of Mahajuitas beach, you’ll see some of the many Giant Manta Rays. One of these gentle giants circled us at close proximity for about 5 minutes as I snapped dozens of photos with my underwater digital camera, eventually dizzying myself from so much spinning. Apparently the creature was as curious about us as we were fascinated and awed by her! But the extra treat was when we were done with the dive and went back shipside and we were lucky enough to witness a number of these magnificent animals breaching – like whales, (I was unaware they did this!). The whole of their massive bodies “flying” out of the water and falling backwards into the sea (the average size ranging from 10 to 18 feet with “wingspan” from 14 to 20 feet).

GiantMantaMahahuitas Giant Manta off Mahajuitas

Water sports lovers abound, as there is all manner of boating, jet skiing, fishing, and parasailing available. A short boat trip along the gorgeous coastline from Los Muertos pier on the south side of PV, or a quick ride north from Boca de Tomatlan, will bring you scuba diving, snorkeling or swimming at the magnificent rock outcroppings of Los Arcos National Coral Reef Park. Here, if you throw a few bread crumbs in the water, the colorful angel fish swarm around like a school of hungry piranhas, there are so many of them, that if you are under water you can’t see past them!

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Angel Fish from Casa Boat tour at Los Arcos National Coral Reef Park

But the immense variety of aquatic life and activities is only the tip of the iceberg of Puerto Vallarta’s attractions. There are many other natural wonders and activities available to the traveler, from the huge variety of birds one could see, to horseback riding along lush rivers and waterfalls or zip lining through the tropical canopy. This, of course, is without even touching upon the amazing city life that Puerto Vallarta has to offer. This incredibly sophisticated, very contemporary, cosmopolitan city, that boasts gourmet restaurants on par with anything in the U.S. or Europe (particularly known for its fabulous seafood), along with exceptional shopping, stunning golf courses, and 5 star resorts, can satisfy the desires of even the most demanding traveler. All this and Puerto Vallarta still manages to retain it’s old world charm. With cobblestone streets, well appointed parks, open-air markets, a vibrant dose of traditional Mexican culture and remarkably friendly residents, Puerto Vallarta has easily become to many travelers a perfect destination.

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The main church in P.V. with it’s elaborate metal Corona – “Crown”

There is however another aspect of this remarkable city that is not overly flaunted in the typical tourist guidebooks, and that is that the city of Puerto Vallarta has a love affair with the visual arts. Perhaps this romance is not flaunted because art objects that so often attract tourists are often associated with objects of antiquity, and Puerto Vallarta is a rather young city. PV was officially named by the state of Jalisco in 1918 in honor of the statesman and Governor, Don Ignacio Luis Vallarta, while it was still a sleepy little fishing pueblo. This is not to say that there have been no indigenous and pre-Columbian artifacts found in the area. The Aztecs passed through this region, leaving villages dotting the coasts and valleys and there is a lovely museum housing a small but impressive collection of artifacts along the Cuale River (the river separates “old town” in the south from “Centro”). But PV does not have the impressive archaeological sites left by the Mayans, Aztecs and other past civilizations that glorify other Mexican cities. No, PV’s love affair with the arts is mostly in the living and contemporary. Perhaps another reason that it is not widely boasted is that it is so much a part of this very cosmopolitan culture, that it is not so much taken for granted, as just accepted as part of the natural landscape and environment. Much like the majestic rocks of Los Arcos that can be seen from almost any vantage point on the beach, art is very much present in the culture of Puerto Vallarta. Throughout the city there are numerous world class craft galleries and fabulous painting and sculpture galleries where one can see work from all over Mexico, (as well as the U.S. and Canada) by major and up and coming artists and artisans. Every weds. night from November through April, the galleries in “centro” host a citywide gallery walking tour, and every second Friday on Basillio Badillio in old town also known as “Zona Romantica”, which is very much an “Art Fiesta”. In a celebrative atmosphere of wine or tequila tasting, etc., one can go from gallery to gallery and see the latest creations and often meet the artists. But the art of the city is not reserved only for the elite connoisseur or collector that frequents the galleries, which can often feel intimidating for the casual observer. The most popular and beloved of Vallarta’s visual art, created by some of the most renown contemporary Mexican and U.S. Artists, are in the public domain of one of her most touristed night spots, the Malecon, or boardwalk. This famous strip, perhaps the nicest Malecon of any beach city in Mexico, due to recent additions, now stretches from the Playa Los Muertos area, south of the river Cuale to the area of the Parque Hildalgo in “El Centro” or Viejo Vallarta. On any given night as you stroll along the malecon past shops, boutiques, restaurants and bars on one side and the crashing waves of the Pacific on the other, you will be accompanied by other numerous revelers, locals as well as regional and international tourists. Everyone interacting together with the lively cacophony of performance artists, street vendors, musicians, sand sculptors, fire twirlers, hand drummers, mimes, artists, clowns and the sculpture.

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Puerto Vallarta Dancers by Jim Demetro

The sculpture, large cast bronzes that populate the Malecon every several hundred yards of your stroll. These bespeak of a culture which appreciates, respects and honors her contemporary artists. You can witness that these imaginative interactive large cast bronze sculptures, in keeping with the atmosphere of PV, are not marred by vandals, but rather find an endearing place in the hearts of all that contact them. Playful and magical the sculptures are a fixture that enhance the festive atmosphere of the Malecon. They invite the passerby to stop, ponder, investigate and in a number of cases, literally climb on them. Created by some of Mexicos most acclaimed contemporary artists, they feel a very natural part of this almost dreamy environment. Puerto Vallarta’s symbol, and one of the oldest statues, having been on the Malecone for approximately 30 years is The Sea Horse, sculpted by Rafael Zamarripa. Standing nine foot high, the large friendly creature is sporting a naked boy riding on her back. As you walk further along you encounter a very magical scene, In Search of Reason by internationally acclaimed artist Sergio Bustamante. Here it is more than likely to see one or two tourists climbing the bronze ladder to the stars (for a photo), just below the two triangular shaped pillow headed beings that are mid way to the top reaching outward, as one of their kind stands off below reaching yearningly. Bustamantes lyrical, abstracted style is easily recognizable and often imitated, for it appeals to the imagination and the playful side of human nature.

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The Rotunda of the Sea, a strange surrealistic setting of bronze figures by Alejandro Colunga

Continuing the walk you will undoubtedly want to rest at some point, and the perfect place is at The Rotunda of the Sea, a strange surrealistic setting of bronze figures by Alejandro Colunga. Here in a semi circular formation are a series of alien type creatures that are at once part human, part aquatic, and part table and chair. They welcome, in a strange kind of way, the weary wonderer to rest in their lap. Further along you will encounter Nature As Mother, blending bronze and polymer resins artist Tapatio Adrian Reynoso spirals a wave out of a large snails shell. At the northern end of the Malecon is La Nostalgia by international artist, Ramiz Barquet. Two figures in love, immortalized in an abstracted stylized form. It is placed in the exact spot the artist has claimed to have rekindled an old love. There are numerous other sculptures that beautify and mystify the Malecon and Puerto Vallarta, and  as I mentioned earlier, in keeping with the city’s love affair with art, their numbers seem to keep multiplying. You can read more about the sculptures at this link.