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  • Photo by LIZA QUANE Tropical splendor abounds in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • Photo by LIZA QUANE Beachside at the Marival Resort, Nuevo Vallarta, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • Photo by LIZA QUANE "The Last Supper" sculpted on the beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • Photo by LIZA QUANE "Palapa" huts at the beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • Photo by LIZA QUANE Beachside sculpture in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • Photo by LIZA QUANE Beachside sculpture in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Sunday, February 28, 2010

Friendly resort of Puerto Vallarta offers something spectacular for all tastes

The Mexican resort city of Puerto Vallarta is probably best known as the location of the classic 1964 John Huston film “The Night of the Iguana,” and also as the site of some epic battles between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton when they lived there in the 1970s during their “romance of the century.”

But today’s visitor doesn’t have to depend on nostalgia or celebrity-watching to enjoy Puerto Vallarta’s charms, even though celebs such as model Claudia Schiffer still enjoy its superb weather and beaches.

Puerto Vallarta is a resort locale that has much more to offer than sandy strands. With cosmopolitan restaurants and nightlife, plenty of marine activities, proximity to rainforests and spectacular mountain scenery, there’s plenty to do besides loll on the beach.

Even more welcoming are Puerto Vallarta’s people, who fully appreciate that their friendliness to tourists is what fuels the city’s booming economy.

Go to its restaurants or on one of the day tours and you’ll understand why the city’s population has grown tenfold in just 30 years to its present size of almost half a million. The city is beautiful, clean, vibrant and safe.

Here are some of the attractions not to miss in Puerto Vallarta:

THE VIRGIN OF GUADALUPE CHURCH: The church towers over the Main Plaza and is the scene of colorful processions on religious holidays. The church is an outstanding example of Latin American religious architecture. Look on the side for a striking statue of St. Francis of Assisi.

THE MALECON: Puerto Vallarta’s “boardwalk” along the beach – in reality, it’s made of flagstones – isn’t just an attractive ocean walk, but also the location for many of the city’s best restaurants and hippest clubs. It’s the site of a dozen public art sculptures that are world class and a draw in themselves.

The Marieta Islands: This nationally protected bird sanctuary is the destination for catamaran tours run by Vallarta Adventures, offering scuba diving, snorkeling and kayaking, as well as watching the birds, dolphins, sea turtles and, in season, whales. An extra attraction is the exceptionally courteous staff.

Palma Real Fiesta: This is a night out on an authentic Mexican ranch that features show horses, roping demonstrations, mariachi music, traditional Mexican dancing from various provinces, fireworks and a buffet of Mexican specialties. Offered on Tuesday and Thursday nights, with transportation from many hotels.

El Eden Tour: This is a full-day tour that includes the City Center and the Malecon, the Romantic Zone, shopping, a tequila distillery, the rainforest and a scenic view of the Bay of Banderas coastline, including the cove where much of “The Night of the Iguana” was filmed.

Restaurants: For me, this was the best attraction of Puerto Vallarta, which has some of the top “finds” in the world for all types of cuisine. Two worth the trip in themselves are Spiaggia, a new and first-rate continental restaurant along the Malecon, owned by a Mexican soccer star, and La Palapa, a venerable institution, appropriately located in the Zona Romantica, which has drawn gourmets and lovers for more than 40 years. It’s a special treat to watch the pelicans dive-bombing for their dinner in the sea while you’re preparing to enjoy La Palapa’s delicious fruits of the ocean.

Hotels: Puerto Vallarta has plenty of them. Two friendly five-star, all-inclusive hotels with great beach-front locations are the Marival Grand in Nuevo Vallarta and the Crown Paradise Club, adjacent to the Marina in Puerto Vallarta, where huge cruise ships regularly make their calls.