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How Puerto Vallarta Has Changed

Puerto Vallarta street view
Credit: Stan Shebs | Wikimedia Commons

It’s been nearly seven weeks since the three amigos rolled into Vallarta in our little red bug. I recounted the journey in my last blog a few days after arriving in our new home in Colonia Montessori. Now, after almost two months of being back after a 10-year absence, here are my thoughts on how Puerto Vallarta has changed.

First of all, let me say that I love this town. Always have, always will. But popularity has taken its toll on this beautiful flower of paradise on the Bay of Banderas. Over 4 million visitors swarm through its narrow, mostly cobblestone streets and serpentine malecón each year. And when five cruise ships arrive at the same time, taxi drivers and local vendors rejoice, but local traffic slows to a crawl, impatiently honking at each other out of frustration at the inability of the highways and roads to handle the crush.

Vallarta’s unique topography is both a blessing and a curse. Those beautiful mountains slope into the sea, creating narrow ribbons of road that wend their way through the city’s old town, across the Cuale River into the now condo-strewn romantic zone, emptying into a single two-lane highway that follows the bay to Boca de Tomatlán before disappearing into the mountains on its way to Manzanillo.

Traffic in Puerto Vallarta changed rather dramatically around 2004, about 10 years after Mexico’s great currency devaluation crisis. When capital took flight from the country in 1994, consumer loans, especially for automobiles, were hard to get. But 10 years later, banks began lending again and within several years, it seemed everyone had a car. The city has been trying to keep up, but always seems to be a step behind, particularly when it comes to maintaining side streets, which receive little attention. If you drive here, make sure you have a vehicle with lots of clearance. Between the topes (speed bumps) and rocky roads, you’ll need it.

Puerto Vallarta leads our Monthly Expat Poll this month as everyone’s favorite beach town and was singled out in our Expats In Mexico Survey 2019 as the #1 destination for those considering or planning a move to Mexico. What’s not to like: a big beautiful bay, golden beaches, soaring mountains, raging rivers, tropical climate, friendly people and more things to do than you have time to do them. Did I mention shopping? More plentiful than ever before. From sleek malls to big box stores to local shops, Vallarta has it. The explosion of choices from just 10 years ago is remarkable.

I worry though. That patch of Vallarta south of the Cuale known as zona romantica, has lost a lot of its romantica. The race is on to see how many condos can be built per block in this formerly charming area. I used to wander the sun-filled streets, poking into tiny shops and sidewalk cafes. Now, the sun has disappeared on many streets, hidden from view by multi-story condos that house those that love Vallarta. I fear that Vallarta may receive too much love and disappear into another Acapulco, which once was the premier resort city on Mexico’s Pacfic coast.

But the essence of Vallarta remains and that gives me hope. Our Mexican friends and the people of Puerto Vallarta are as wonderful as ever, the expat community is large and growing and contributes good things to the city and the surrounding area, and the city fathers are making a valiant effort to keep up with traffic needs. Now, if they would just temper their enthusiasm for allowing condo construction on every stretch of sand on the bay, I think we would all be grateful.