Warmed by the breezes of trade winds filled with the scent of spice and flowers, romantic and exhilarating Puerto Vallarta has great appeal for grandparents wanting to share Mexico’s charms with their extended family. This once unknown fishing village sits along the silver ripples of the largest natural bay in Mexico, Bahia de Banderas. Set in the heart of the Mexican Riviera, with Mazatlan to the north and Acapulco to the south, it has 100 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline enhanced by the bluest of skies and the lush tropical greenery of the Sierra Madre mountains.
Back in the mid 1800’s, Puerto Vallarta was an old mining center for copper, zinc, and iron, and a stop for whaling ships. Though designated a municipality in 1918, it wasn’t until the l930’s that small groups of international tourists discovered the tranquility of this quaint fishing village.
By the l950’s, word was out. As visitors came, the serenity and natural beauty of the sleepy port at Vallarta naturally matured into a charming village. Grandparents will certainly remember that in 1963, the filming of John Houston’s “Night of the Iguana,” starring Richard Burton (accompanied by Elizabeth Taylor) and Ava Gardner, put it on the international tourist map. The Vallarta region is still loved for its natural beauty, crystal waters that flirt with pristine beaches, and unhurried lifestyle, and it continues, despite its popularity, to blend the flavor and charm of a small Mexican town into the amenities of a city.
Historic Sights To Enjoy With The Family
Las Caletas, the secluded beach cove once called home by film director John Houston is, today, a full-day sightseeing attraction with petting zoo, snorkel and kayak facilities, restaurants, and a small Aztec pyramid where folkloric shows are held.
In El Centro, the old downtown around the Rio Cuale, whitewashed houses splashed with fuscia bougainvillea and red-tiled roofs, border the cobblestone streets that wind up the hills. In the center of town is the Malecon, a broad tree-lined promenade replete with restaurants, flower-filled patios, tiled floors, chic boutiques and souvenir shops. The lively Plaza de Armas, the town’s main square, is at the southern end of the Malecon.
The sculptures of The Dolphins and The Arches (Los Arcos) are the best known symbols of the Malecon among the many public artworks, but the crown and bell tower of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe church, make it Puerto Vallarta’s most distinct landmark. Alongside the covered market are the traditional government buildings. The Municipal Palace has a mural by Manuel Lepe, Mexico’s favorite artist, and the Museum of Archeology has displays of pre-Colombian artifacts.
In so-called Gringo Gulch, Casa Kimberly, formerly the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton house, looks out over Banderas Bay. The little that was left is being made into a luxury hotel but, in those years of 1963-1964, Taylor and Burton occupied different buildings since they were both married to others.
Outdoor Adventures Nearby Puerto Vallarta
Favorite marine activities for all ages are boating, sailing and yachting, and your concierge or the beachfront vendors outside your hotel offer many options. Banana boats towed by speedboats, parasailing, waterskiing, diving and snorkeling in the waters of Banderas Bay add excitement to the area’s water sports. The protected bay also makes it more calm and shallow for little ones than the vast Pacific would be otherwise. Deep-sea fishing for sailfish, bonito, yellowfish, billfish, marlin and dorado is popular too.
Swimming with intelligent, friendly oceanic mammals is very popular in Puerto Vallarta and Dolphin Discovery is one of eight dolphinariums run by the highly regarded company in Mexico. Standing waist-deep in the water you meet the Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins. Swimming around you, they offer their sleek and graceful bodies for a gentle petting. Then on to the fascinating swim where the dolphins interact with people who have entered their environment. For a manmade turn in the water, families can enjoy the waterpark surrounding the dolphinarium at Aquaventuras, which has slides and pools for even the youngest child, as well as an indoor / outdoor cafeteria.
Elsewhere in the Puerto Vallarta world of adventure, numerous hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and jeep safari tours are offered to let visitors explore the rugged coastline, sandy beaches and outer-lying jungle terrain at whatever pace they wish.
Ecotourism & Nature Study for the Kids
Environment-friendly tourism opportunities abound on Mexico’s Pacific coast. Whale watching is in full swing during the winter, as each year from November to March the humpback whales visit Banderas Bay on their quest for warmer waters. From June to September, turtles nest in Banderas Bay. As part of the Turtle Protection Program, eggs are collected and transported to protected areas, such as outside the the Westin Resort. The day after the turtles hatch, they are released into the sea at a special ceremony at sunset.
Puerto Vallarta is home to an abundance of birdlife including egrets, herons, ducks, pelicans, ibis, and many other species; bird watching can be a wonderfully relaxing family activity.
Los Arcos, the arches formed by three rocky islets at the entrance to Mismaloya, is south of the town. The beach is popular for scuba diving and snorkeling, yet swimming near it affords the best views of these ancient cave-riddled rocks. Mismaloya Beach, six miles south of town, is hidden in a small natural cove surrounded by high cliffs. In the hills on the south side of the cove are the remains of a set from the Night of the Iguana. It is said that artists and “bohemians” now live in the houses built for the original set of the 1963 movie.
Trip Planning Details for a Vallarta Getaway
We all stayed at the magnificent Westin Resort and Spa Puerto Vallarta, a lush, world-class oceanfront resort in Marina Vallarta, with a golden sand beach and breathtaking views of Banderas Bay. Bathed in sunshine, wavering coconut palm groves surround four meandering swimming pools, three lighted tennis courts and a full health and fitness center. If you’re tired of sightseeing, swimming with dolphins, and eco-touring with the kids, and are ready for some time to yourself, the Westin is ready too! Westin Kids Club offers a children’s program designed to make the stay of all children under 13 a lot of fun, with welcome gifts and planned activities, all supervised by their trained counselors. That’s when you can head to their spa, or relax at a pretty lobby bar overlooking the pools and sea.
For other suggestions of where to stay with children and grandchildren in Puerto Vallarta, please see our roundup of Puerto Vallarta’s top family resorts.
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