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Night of the iguana or a chance to rescue turtles

© By Adam Southwood

  The film industry placed Puerto Vallarta firmly if not steamily on the world map, with ample help from famous Hollywood stars who flaunted their torrid off-screen romances. Director, John Huston, chose it as the setting for "The Night of the Iguana," based upon Tennessee William's successful play. In 1963, leading man, Richard Burton, was lustily involved in a public affair with Elizabeth Taylor. Thus, filming attracted large numbers of curious paparazzi, caused international headlines, and made Puerto Vallarta an instant tourist draw.
     Prior to the film, there was no scheduled airline service, but with Elizabeth Taylor on the set, Puerto Vallarta was transformed instantly into a top resort destination with thousands of hotel rooms. It is now also a popular cruise ship port. A statue of Huston remains there, erected for his role in creating the city's reputation. Three of the movie stars were involved in simultaneous romantic affairs while the film was made, allowing for lots of newsprint hype. Today, a hotel and resort complex occupies the bay front of the village, Mismaloya, where the old movie sets serve as restaurant and tourist attractions.
     Located on the western Pacific coast of Mexico in the state of Jalisco, Puerto Vallarta's cobblestone streets, dazzling beaches, abundant marine life, verdant Sierra Madre Mountains, outstanding restaurants, Gourmet Festival, golf courses and vibrant culture combine to fashion a top tourist attraction that no longer needs the likes of Burton and Taylor. Beautiful beaches, jungles and gleaming waterfalls offer adventure, while five-star resorts, world-class shopping and gourmet restaurants appeal to the seasoned and demanding traveler.


     A boardwalk set along the ocean called the Malecon, conveniently passes inviting shops, aromatic restaurants, and hotels, and there you will often be treated to the antics of mimes, break-dancers, artists and other buskers.
     Puerto Vallarta's beaches are contrasted sharply by mountains coated in vegetation in the background and blue ocean in the foreground. Banderas Bay, large and deep enough to accept any vessel in the world, may be viewed and photographed from surrounding hills. At the mouth of the bay, straddling both sides of the River Cuale, lays the picturesque town.
     To the north are mile-long stretches of golden beaches, papaya and mango plantations, and along rivers and streams, small villages are discovered seemingly fixed in their own time zone, decidedly placid. South, the hills tumble towards the sea. To the east, the Sierra Madre Mountains rise over 8,000 feet and protect the town against strong winds. Finally, to the west, the Bay of Banderas hosts myriad aquatic life. Humpback whales mate here from December to March. Sea turtles nest on the beaches from May to October. Dolphins and giant manta rays patrol these waters.
     Rigorous tourists may hike or mountain bike in the hills and explore the jungle and obscure trails on horseback. Others may wish to sign on to a jeep safari. Of course, the water offers many opportunities to snorkel, scuba dive, charter a yacht or sailboat or simply cruise on a boat. There are many rental shops for windsurfing located along the beaches. The most popular snorkeling take place at Los Arcos underwater caves and the Marietas Islands caverns and Parasailing (15 minutes) and Jet Skiing (per hour) are available at most beaches.
     Golfers will be pleased with the following attractions: La Marina Vallarta Golf Course with narrow fairways adjacent to water, Los Flamingos Golf Course, not as challenging, The Mayan Palace Nuevo Vallarta Golf Club, designed by Jim Lipe, located on the spectacular beaches of Vallarta between the Sierra Madre Mountains and the Bahia de Banderas Bay, El Tigre Golf Club loaded with many traps and water hazards and Vista Vallarta which hosted the 2002 EMC World Cup Championship.
     Since 1956, Banderas Bay has hosted the annual Puerto Vallarta International Fishing Tournament. Try your luck at catching sailfish, dorado, marlin, bonita and yellow-fin tuna, roostertail, jack cravel, pargo, red snapper and black, blue and striped marlin. Just be careful that they do not remake the movie, The Old Man and the Sea, Hemmingway's sad story about a hooked giant bonita that gets slowly devoured by sharks.
     Horseback riding is another option with ranches in town that offer rides to small villages and amidst the forests. If you really enjoy communing with nature up close and personal, try a canopy tour wherein one gets a bird's eye view of tropical forests while attached to a wire and a pulley.


     If you are timorous yet heroic, try the turtle-watching and repatriation program. After the females lay their eggs in the sand, volunteers dig up the eggs and re-bury them safe from predators. Without this intervention, only 1 out of 1,000 babies survive, most devoured by predators before the young can plod back to the relative safety of the ocean. At night, turtle predators are less active. And, instead of hanging out at a bar, think how proud you will feel when you tell your friends back home how you dramatically helped to save endangered wildlife.

Adam Southwood writes for Canadian, U.S. and European magazines and newspapers. He is a graduate of both McMaster University in Hamilton and UWO in London with an interest in culture and history. He has produced several educational programs for TV..

Photo Credits
Mexico Tourism Board

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Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puerto_Vallarta
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