Puerto Vallarta – Holiday spot born in sin

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton being sinful in Puerto Vallarta

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton being sinful in Puerto Vallarta

PV, as it’s known to its loyal visitors, it’s obvious this city that wraps around Banderas Bay on Mexico’s Pacific Ocean still has one foot firmly planted in the past.

History plays a predominant role in Puerto Vallarta’s enduring popularity as a vacation spot. On any given tour, you’ll be reminded again and again about how in the early ’60s the city was transformed from a sleepy town into a tourist mecca after director John Huston filmed the Oscarnwinning movie The Night of the Iguana, starring Richard Burton and Ava Gardner.

But what was going on behind the scenes of that lusty, emotionally charged movie was what really splashed the city on to the world tourist scene.

“Our claim to fame is infidelity,” a tour guide quipped.

He’s referring to the fact that Burton bought Elizabeth Taylor (both still married to other people at the time) a sprawling 22,000nsquarenfoot love nest in 1964 where they notoriously had loud lover’s quarrels and canoodled in sin.

(The city’s Catholic nuns were not pleased; they regularly protested outside the home, until Burton made a generous donation to a local Catholic school.)

Taylor sold the villa in 1990 after Burton died, and it’s now a bed and breakfast called Casa Kimberley (currently Hacienda del Puente), where tours are offered. (http://haciendadelpuente.com operated by Hacienda San Angel – http://haciendasanangel.com)

View from Hacienda San Angel

View from Hacienda San Angel

Titillated by the tempestuous love story and the saucy stories of Hollywood stars cavorting in this seaside town, the North American masses came and PV’s bustling tourist trade was born. They’re still coming 45 years later.

Though there are no specific figures on Canadians visiting Puerto Vallarta, from January to July 2007, there were 716 flights from Alberta to Mexico, according to the Mexico Tourism Board.

Just as the nuns went away with their hush money, this is indeed a city of dualities.

To this day, the charming former fishing town bumps and grinds with the modern world.

On the northern edge of Old Town, a Burger King sits across the street from a modest home where cows roam in the yard. At dawn, men with their large nets pull in a catch of fresh fish as tourists jog along the beach listening to their iPods.

And along the palm treenlined Malecon (boardwalk), young families and tourists stroll through the festivalnlike atmosphere, where acrobats, Huichol Indian bead crafters and spraynpaint artists practise their craft after the sun sets.

Long a destination for gay travellers (gayguidevallarta.com), PV’s “rainbow” bars are full every evening. Straight tourists and locals head to other pulsating nightclubs to party until 4 a.m.

Though PV is not a new tourist destination, it has the distinction of loyal fans. Those smitten often return year after year, even decade after decade. From 2000 to 2006, more than 129,000 Canadian tourists spent more than 30 days in Mexico.

Mark Callanan - Photos of Puerto Vallarta Mexico and beyond

Mark Callanan - Photos of Puerto Vallarta Mexico and beyond

As many as 700,000 U.S. and Canadian citizens call Mexico home yearnround and Puerto Vallarta is in the top five cities where people reside.

It’s not as pristine and shiny as Cancun or Miami, so what is it about this cobblestoned and whitewashed city that keeps people coming? It could be as simple as what my tour guide told me:

“Puerto Vallarta is what it is. It is for you.”

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