Once a small fishing community, Puerto Vallarta has emerged as one of Mexico's most popular destinations. With cobblestoned streets that climb straight up to the jungle, the town was largely unknown to the rest of the world until Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor embarked on a love affair while filming "Night of the Iguana" in 1963.
Now, the colonial "old town" is a favorite of history buffs, photographers and bargain hunters, while areas such as Marina Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta attract beachgoers, boaters and those looking for all-inclusive resorts. The southern coastal areas of Mismaloya, Yelapa and Las Animas Quimixto are scenic wonders of coves and gullies, ideal for snorkeling; the latter two are reachable only by boat.
Because of its warm waters, the Bay of Banderas is a breeding ground for hundreds of humpback whales during the winter months (as well as expat Americans and Canadians). Pacific dolphins can be seen year-round, jumping alongside the bow wake of the many cruise ships that call in Puerto Vallarta. Many tour operators offer eco-tours and photo safaris to take advantage of the abundance of marine life in the region; jungle tours, horseback treks and visits to tequila factories are some of the other excursions offered.
But for those who choose to just wander around the city during a day in port, Puerto Vallarta offers a rich, rewarding experience. The downtown area is crowded with shops, restaurants and lots of traffic. The main street along the water, the Malecon, has a seawall walkway that is flat and easily negotiable by wheelchair-bound visitors and those with difficulty walking and is notable for the many sculptures that line the path. The streets a few blocks off of the main throughway, though, are steep and cobblestoned; wear comfortable shoes. And it gets hot and humid in Puerto Vallarta, especially in the summer, so dress accordingly for your day in town.