Puerto Vallarta makes a fairly persuasive claim to be Mexico 's most attractive resort. A backdrop of the lush palm covered mountains of the Occidental Sierra Madre and the glittering indigo waters of Bahía de las Banderas(number seven in the Top Ten largest bays in the world) all help in championing Puerto Vallarta 's cause, but they've got a trick up their sleeve - history.
In contradiction to the majority of Mexico 's coastal resorts Puerto Vallarta made it into the history books, and wasn't thrown up overnight by developers. The wrought-ironwork and red tiled roofs of the old town( Vejo Vallarta) hint at the town's colonial past. In addition local laws mean that new buildings must be whitewashed, the authorities have a penchant for cobblestones and there's more than enough bougainvillaea to go round. All this makes Puerto Vallarta easy on the eye, but it's the beaches that really draw the visitors.
The world first caught a glimpse of Puerto Vallarta 's beaches in 1963 when Elizabeth Taylor came to keep Richard Burton company during the filming of The Night of the Iguana. Their 'romance in paradise' was perfect paparazzi fodder, making worldwide headlines and heralding the birth of tourism.
Golden sands stretch for more than 26 miles round Bahía de las Banderas ( Bay of Flags). Here beach life ranges from sublime coves that can only be visited by boat, to near hyperactive playas populated by water-sports fanatics. Throughout the year dolphins swim in the bay and are easy to spot, but in winter the spotlight falls on humpback whales who return each year to breed. Puerto Vallarta 's most peculiar visitors - giant manta rays, arrive in April and put on a spectacular aerobatic show as part of their courtship.
Inland the jungle-clad foothills are scored with fast-flowing streams and waterfalls that can be explored on foot, mountain bike or horseback. The mountains themselves are home to the Huichol, the most secretive of Mexico 's native Indians whose use of the hallucinogen p eyote makes their dream-like yarn paintings inspired souvenirs.
Modern day Puerto Vallarta is truly cosmopolitan, boasting some of the country's finest hotels and restaurants. Cafes, designer boutiques and art galleries line the waterfront walk to the marina, and once the sun goes down you'll witness Mexican nightlife at its best.