1. A Time Zone Twilight Zone
In Mexico’s seaside West, time is what the locals say it is.
Puerto Vallarta is on the same longitude as Denver, which is squarely in the Mountain Time Zone. Puerto Vallarta is on Central Time. Por que̒? No se.
Puerto Vallarta shares the beaches of Banderas Bay with its neighbor state to the north, Nayarit. Nayarit is officially in the Mountain Time Zone.
But all of Nayarit’s coastal resort towns within an hour’s drive of Puerto Vallarta are in Central Time. Por que̒? Because Puerto Vallarta is.
So tourists won’t miss return flights, everybody within a stone’s throw of PV and its airport agreed to synchronize their watches. But watches are superfluous anyway in a Pacific paradise where mañana doesn’t mean “tomorrow.” It means, “In due course.”
Even the sun takes its time, delayed a few minutes after official sunrise. Before it can break the day on Vallarta’s beaches it must climb the Sierra Madres looming behind the coastal resorts. Sunshine, too, arrives in due course. 300 days a year.
2. Banderas Bay’s Bogus Boast
PV is on the innermost beaches of Banderas Bay with a coastline of 62 miles. Locals and tour guides boast it is the largest bay in Mexico but that is fake news. There are at least 3 larger Mexican bays. But we can all agree that Banderas is a fine big bay. And since Puerto Vallarta is on the same latitude as Hawaii, the water temperature is the same.
The Bay is deep enough for snowbird whales to frolic as do the big game fish that live way, way down. Olive Ridley, Green and Hawksbill turtles all nest on local beaches.
At the south end of the bay the Sierra Madres are so steep that if the slope was perfectly smooth, you could roll a bowling ball down a 45 degree angle for 2,000 feet before it would hit the water and roll another 3,000 feet to the sea bottom.
3. Note to Spain: Thanks for the Guitars!
Round about the time Paul Revere was still making silver gravy boats, Mariachi music was born, here in the Mexican Pacific coast state of Jalisco. Two centuries earlier the Spaniards had arrived in Mexico, bringing with them forced religious conversion, disease, death and Aztec cultural genocide. On the upside, they brought the string and horn sections!
The indigenous musicians who played flutes, conch shells, rattles and drums at pre-Columbian dance parties totally dug the brass and stringed instruments. And they embraced the Spanish concept of the musical ensemble. When the musical tools made their way into the hands of the Pacific peasants, the locals east of Puerto Vallarta enthusiastically adapted their regional rhythms to their new instruments.
Mariachis first dressed in white, then adopted the stylin’ cowboy outfits of Jalisco Charros with their embroidered jackets, wide sombreros and tight pants. Mariachis appear all over Puerto Vallarta and embroidered vests abound September 14 on Dia De Charro—Cowboy Day!
4. Scandal Made PV Sexy
American travelers caught wind of Puerto Vallarta as a desirable destination when they were bombarded with celebrity gossip (shocking!) detailing the affair between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as Burton starred in the John Huston movie filming here: Night of the Iguana. The sensational headlines and movie scenery put the town solidly on the U.S. tourist map.
Casa Kimberly, Liz and Dick’s love nest, was rented by John Huston but given to the famous stars when Dick threatened to quit the movie over roaches in their hotel. Richard bought it as a gift to Elizabeth just before their wedding and later tore down a house across the street and built a man-cave guest and pool house and linked the two with a Venice-style bridge. Neighbors called the second house “The Dog House,” for the times when Liz periodically banished Dick across the bridge after one of their celebrated fights. Casa Kimberly was built for $5,000 in the ‘50s and in 1990 sold for $450,000. It was later made into a luxury hotel.
5. Before the Age of Discovery Discovered Mexico, Locals here Discovered Lobster
PV restaurants get their fresh spiny lobsters (which come in red, blue and green) from lobster cooperatives on coastal Nayarit just to the north because Banderas Bay is too deep for the way they are caught by small operators.
Most lobster for local consumption is caught in shallow water by fishermen free-diving and catching them by hand or in hoop nets. The catch is mostly Langosta Roja which can grow up to 2 feet long and weigh up to 16 pounds. Smaller Langosta Azul and Langosta Verde live here, too.
Lobster-hunting gear includes a 16 foot fiberglass boat with an outboard engine of 40 hp or better. Some places have been pulling lobster out of the sea for 500 years.
6. The Afterlife of the Party
Nowhere are the dead more grateful than in Mexico, where it is not considered polite to stop associating with relatives just because they are deceased.
At PV’s historic cemeteries it is not unusual at any time to find a family enjoying empanadas graveside as they take a break from whitewashing and brightening up grandpa’s crypt. Puerto Vallarta goes all out on October 31, the official Day of the Dead. Celebrations and feasting and music continue 3 days. Day one the spirits of dead children return for a visit and live kids get their faces skull-painted. November 1st the adult dead drop by to socialize and on November 2nd the party moves to the graveyard where altars are decked out with flowers and food such as pan de muerto (dead bread) and sugar skulls. When you die in Mexico they don’t throw out your favorite stuff. Some will show up on your altar.
Toys are left for dead children and bottles of tequila and mezcal for departed grownups. Joking is common as stories are swapped about funny events involving the deceased. At PV souvenir stores painted skulls and skeletons abound year-round because tourists love them so.
7. Not Your Father’s Mexican Beer
When Emperor Maximilian ruled Mexico, he imported German brewmasters, and a Mexican beer empire was built to cater to the colonizers. The resorts will offer the usual suspects like Corona and Pacifico and Modelo and Dos Equis. Victoria’s been around since 1865. But wander into central Puerto Vallarta and discover a craft beer renaissance in Mexico. Just a few:
Minerva is brewed here in Jalisco and was a pioneer of craft beer in Mexico, starting 12 years ago. They offer eight brands from an imperial stout to pale ale. The above is an amber lager. Esta̒ bien!
Los Cuentos is produced right here in Puerto Vallarta. Its offerings include a tropical IPA and a golden lager.
A craft brewer called La Cerveceria de Colima is in the neighbor state of Colima south of Puerto Vallarta.
Aside a towering volcano, it produces Colimita Lager, Paramo Pale Ale, and Ticus, named for a relative of the crow; a black porter that beer raters say gives Guinness a run for its money.
8. Expats Gave PV an Artsy Cache
In the early 50s, American writers and artists began showing up seeking a retreat away from McCarthyism, and an ex-pat neighborhood became known as Gringo Gulch. Mexican artists and writers were likewise inspired to move to Puerto Vallarta.
The Maleçon is lined with artworks like Vallarta Dancers, by an artist inspired by a performance of PV’s Xiutla dance troupe.
Manuel Lepe Macedo was a Puerto Vallarta artist who was known as The Painter of Mexico. The tilework below is on the Maleçon. One of his colorful artworks like this one of downtown Puerto Vallarta was chosen as the cover art for a card distributed by the United Nations Children’s Fund. April 17 is Manuel Lepe Day.
9. Haven’t Visited the Church in the Artwork Above? You Can’t Be Serious!
It took 33 years to build Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in PV. Sextants ring the bells 30 and 15 minutes before services in old school style—by pulling ropes.
10. The Last Thing
The Disney movie, Herbie Goes Bananas, starring the anthropomorphic VW, was partly filmed in Puerto Vallarta. It is widely acknowledged to be the worst Herbie movie. Below: Herbie’s PV cousin Ereberto was once in his entourage but fame is fleeting.