Puerto Vallarta was, until not really so very long ago, a small fishing village on Mexico’s Pacific Coast reachable only by boat. No road went there. No planes landed there. You wouldn’t know that now. Access has improved.
Just 189 miles by a good highway from Guadalajara (and only a bit over 3 hours by air from Denver), Puerto Vallarta landed on everyone’s map after Night of the Iguana was filmed in 1963. Elizabeth Taylor came down to keep an eye on Richard Burton. A close eye. And, the news went around the world. Shortly after that the town started to turn into a real resort. Now, it is a very big resort, the second most visited city in Mexico, and with a population of about 280,000. “Un mil y doscientos” is the answer we always get when we ask how many taxis there are now.
What’s not different, though, about Puerto Vallarta over the 36 years that we have traveled there is the main city center. The Old Town. The culture. Families are of paramount importance. There’s a City Band concert every Sunday at the Bandstand across from City Hall. And, every evening thousands of people, usually in their family groups, stroll along the seaside promenade, well over a mile long in total. That, of course, is called the Malecon. For years, the famous Malecon was a concrete walk above the beach, parallel to a dusty, crowded cobblestone street full of trucks, buses, taxis and cars making their way through town on what was a main thoroughfare. Crossing anywhere from the business center, or parks, or the walk to the Cathedral was not an easy task with the traffic.
Last year, that changed. Puerto Vallarta, in a municipally funded project, rebuilt the Malecon. A noted Huichol artist, Fidencio Benitez laid out a 12-block long traditional beadwork-like motif for the walks. More public art was installed for the length, including new sculptures and a current exhibit of “barcos” adorned by local artists and adopted by local businesses and organizations. Custom planters and bollards were added. There’s a centralized area for events and programs, an always activated public gathering space. And, the walk was widened extensively, spreading from the sea to the buildings and businesses themselves.
How? Get rid of the cars! Seems simple enough. Just take away the cars and trucks and buses and taxis. And, give the whole space over to the pedestrians. The families. The children. The art. No clipboards. No cross-traffic. No shuttles. Pedestrian zone perfected!
Puerto Vallarta has always been a beautiful place to visit. It just barely fits between the mountains and the ocean. And, even with all the resort development, it is refreshing to know that a city like this could make the bold decision to build a true pedestrian zone and maintain the historical city and culture, doing so without the motor traffic.
For the kids, one concession does reside at the end of the Malecon. It lets out small plastic “cars” for little kids to ride in while being pushed by family on the evening walk. And, for adults, the entire zone has free wifi. The contrasts are evident. An old city with better modern ideas.
Take a walk one day and tell us which one you like better.
(Photos: Diane Huntress)