January 21, 1963
Hideaway In Mexico’s Sun
Not every Mexican fishing village dreams of growing up and becoming another Acapulco. The natives, and the gringos who already have found it, will take Puerto Vallarta just exactly as it is
by Richard Oulahan
There Are No Telephones in P.V. and the Sea Is like Champagne
The flight from Guadalajara is enough to make the most blasé traveler sit up and tighten his seat belt. The Sierra Madre rises menacingly to crests of 9,000 feet, their waves broken by bottomless barrancas. An aging DC-6 skims skillfully over the mountaintops, then dives over a foaming jungle, like a tiny surfboard aimed at the new Puerto Vallarta airport. Climbing shakily from the plane, the tourist can immediately see why Puerto Vallarta has kept its pristine isolation for centuries: high mountains embrace the yawning Bahia de Banderas, walling the tiny port completely from the rest of Mexico. The slopes are densely covered with the selva, the jungle that creeps right up to the backdoors of town. Until the arrival of the first commercial aircraft four years ago, Puerto Vallarta—or P.V., as the visitor soon begins to call it—was a Latin-American Shangri-La. It still is little-known, but the 20th century is inexorably seeping in, and it is only a question of time before Vallarta goes the way of all such salubrious places in the sun.
Puerto Vallarta was originally called Las Peñas—The Stones. The Pacific coast of Mexico is rocky, and the town has a solid, carved look about it, softened by the abundant trees and flowers, the pastel buildings and the champagne sea at its front doorstep. The streets are cobbled, the sidewalks narrow and the weather sublime (70f. mean average).
There are no telephones in Vallarta; the only link with the outside is the cable office. But nobody needs a telephone, señor: everyone has a mozo, or messenger boy, close at hand—a fleet young Jaliscan who will gladly run up the hill to tell Mary to come on down to the beach, or go fetch another tequila sour from the bar. On Sunday evenings the young people of the town make the traditional promenade around the plaza, the girls circling clockwise, the boys counter-clockwise. On nights of the full moon Vallarta throbs to a guitar—or rocks to the omnipresent Wurlitzer.
Forty years ago, during the Mexican Revolution, the little fishing village was the scene of bloody fighting; the principal beach, Playa de Los Muertos, was named for the men who died there, and the town was patriotically renamed for Ignacio Vallarta, Chief Justice of the Mexican Supreme Court during the administration of the great Benito Juarez. The long siesta lasted until seven or eight years ago, when avant-garde artists and vagabonds discovered the place, recognized its fresh charm, and quietly moved in. A dozen small and studiedly simple hotels sprouted along the beach; chalets for the rich gringos and richer Mexicans climbed the hill above the river; restaurants, nightclubs, chic shops—even a supermarket—appeared. P.V. boomed.
“The town is divided into two parts, senor,” says German Gomez, an amiable Vallartan, “this side of the river and the other side of the river.” On this side of the Cuale river lies the old town, five blocks wide from sea to selva. On the other side, across a humped bridge, is Los Muertos beach. Five years ago it was an empty strand. Today, it has everything but a boardwalk. But the footloose tourist still can lie on a mat in the sun or laze in the warm, clear water (see cover) in all the solitude he desires.
Vallarta offers almost unlimited opportunities for the sportsman. The bay is leaping with fish. The Tres Marietas, three tiny islets in the mouth of the bay, are ideal, for skin-diving. In the early morning, when the bay is tranquil, water skiers sally forth like dragonflies. At sunset the local livery men bathe their horses in the sea (preceding pages). Hunting safaris into the jungle are easily arranged (for details and other travel information sec page 41). There are daily whaleboat excursions to Yelapa and Quimixto, two celebrated waterfalls on the coast. On Sundays native Vallartans picnic at Las Amapas, a string of cozy coves where anyone can find his own private beach.
The wave of the future is already casting its spray on Vallarta. The ground has been broken for a 100-room hotel with tennis courts, air conditioning and, horror of horrors, telephones. All-weather autopistas will sluice through the mountains, the jungles and down the coast from California in a few short years. Jets are only months away. But for the moment Vallarta, as shown in this color portfolio, is as unspoiled—well, almost, senor—as it was in the days of Pancho Villa.
The bay is full of fish, the jungle full of game, the soft night full of music—and the iguana is a pushover for tasty hibiscus blossoms
GETTING THERE: The shallow bay will admit fairly large yachts. There is a special apron for private planes at the new airport. But most tourists have only one way of entry: Compana Mexicana de Aerovias’ daily DC-6 flights—in the morning from Mexico City (with a stop at Guadalajara) and in the afternoons from Los Angeles (via Mazatlan). STAYING THERE: There is a good selection of small hotels. Right on Los Muertos beach is the saffron-colored Tropicana, which has just opened a new ocean-front wing, and the brand-new Marsol, which has apartments with cooking facilities. The downtown Oceano is justly proud of its fine food, and mariachi bands gather each night in its patio. The Posada de la Selva (Jungle Inn) is a secluded cottage colony with a pleasant swimming pool underneath some of the biggest mango trees on earth. The Rosita is coral pink, convenient to downtown, with a brand-new pool. At the Playa de Oro, a rustic cottage colony on the airport road, guests are greeted by an affectionate baby boar, an ocelot kitten and an antic anteater. The Rio has a pleasant pool in its patio, and a Cinemascope view of the bay and mountains. Las Campanas is perched on a hill in the midst of dazzling tropical flowers. Other hotels are the Bucanero, Posada del Pedregal and Chula Vista. Prices at all hotels range from $5 to $9 a day, single, European plan, and $9.50 to $15 daily with meals. In the summer season rates are 10% lower.
FISHING: All manner of marine life inhabits the surrounding waters: marlin, sailfish, dolphin, red snapper, yellowtail and a score of others can be caught within the bay or just outside. Deep-sea fishing boats, equipped with tackle, bait and beer, are available on the waterfront. Mexicana Airlines has a fleet of three trim boats for charter. Rates are $50 a day. Smaller craft, including sailboats, are for hire at rates of $1.60 per hour and up. Surf casting is generally good in the coves south of town. A popular local sport is harpooning the huge (3,000 pounds) devilfish, or manta ray, that inhabits the bottom of the bay. Once speared from a native dugout canoe towed behind an outboard, the winged monsters are good for a thrilling ride and sometimes jump as high as 20 feet in the air. Jack Cawood, a one-time journalist who owns and operates the Playa de Oro Hotel, will arrange a manta ray hunt on request.
HUNTING: In the jungle there are jaguar, ocelot, deer, boar, ducks, turkeys and iguana, to name a few. (Iguanas, which can be cooked into a tasty ragout, with skin left over for shoes and belts, are best caught on the rocks, with rod and reel, baited with a tasty hibiscus blossom.) Angelo Gutierrez will arrange hunting expeditions into the selva at the rate of $8 per person a day.
HORSES: Next to the jeep, horses are the principal means of transportation around Vallarta. They are for hire everywhere in town, for a breezy canter down the beach, or a dreamy ride through the jungle trails under a canopy of palms, orchids and screaming parrots. Rates: 40 centavos an hour.
SHOPPING: The boutique thrives like the bougainvillea—a harbinger of creeping civilization. Nelly’s (see page 39) is the most stylish shop in town, with a branch on the beach. She also exports her resort clothes to New York’s Henri Bendel. Fun Clothes, on Los Muertos beach, has vivid and nutty muumuus, which are de rigueur for the chic turistas of Puerto Vallarta. Along Avenida Juarez there are shops that purvey fine products of gold, silver, leather and other native crafts at bargain prices.
DINING AND DANCING: The local cuisine—especially the seafood—is superior to the best in Acapulco. All of the hotels and a handful of good restaurants—Del Mar, Los Jardines, La Margarita and, on the beach, La Palapa—offer fine food at about $2 for dinner. Night life is limited, but lively. Some of the bar-restaurants have acts from Guadalajara, and the mariachi bands are all over the place. At La Palapa it is worth the price of a drink to watch the enthusiastic young aristos dancing the tweest.
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