Popularized by Hollywood types in the 1960s, the old silver-mining port of Puerto Vallarta is now a vibrant, bustling resort town with cobblestone streets, red-tiled roofs, and a long art-lined seaside promenade. Cruise ships dock at the Puerto Vallarta Marina, from which you’ll probably want a taxi to take you into the historic town, about 3 miles south. Three bridges cross the Rio Cuale river, Linking the two sections of downtown. North of the river is the main tourist zone, while south of the river you’ll find sidewalk cafes and fine restaurants, plus the town’s better beaches. Many shore excursions here will take you up into the nearby foothills of the Sierra Madre, for hiking or jungle adventures.
Top beach About 6 miles south of town along Highway 200, the public beach Playa Mismaloya boasts clear waters and a Hollywood pedigree: This is where the steamy 1964 film Night of the Iguana, starring Richard Burton and Ava Gardner, was filmed.
For nature lovers Dolphin Discover Vallarta (www.dolphindiscovery.com ) offers swims with Pacific bottlenose dolphins or sea lion encounters in a saltwater pool at the Aquaventuras water park in Nueva Vallarta.
Local color At the corner of Calle Galeana and Calle Morelos, Huichol Collection is the best shop in town for remarkable art by Huichol Indians, descendants of the Aztec who live in the high sierra north and east of Vallarta.
Off the beaten track Motor launch tours take visitors out to Las Caletas, the palm-lined hideaway cove where director John Huston stayed when he came here in 1964 to film Night of the Iguana.
Shopaholics alert Puerto Vallarta has hundreds of small stores selling everything from fine folk art and modern art to tacky T-shirts, plus tremendous amounts of silver jewelry and sculpture. The municipal market is just north of the Rio Cuale; across a plank-and-rope bridge on Rio Cuale Island, outdoor stalls sell crafts, gifts, folk art, and clothing. Another popular shopping area is just inland from the malecon, around Calle Corona and Calle Morelos.