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My How Things Have Changed in Puerto Vallarta

Downtown Puerto Vallarta
Credit: Fotolia | Yuriy Chertok
Robert Nelson Co-Founder of Expats In Mexico
Robert Nelson

The first time I visited PV Gerald Ford was serving his last year as president of the United States, having replaced the disgraced Richard Nixon. My how things have changed in Puerto Vallarta.

Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport (PVR) had about six gates and about 40,000 people lived in town, up substantially from the 1960s after John Huston’s “The Night of the Iguana” film put PV on the international resort map.

Then, a few major hotels lined the hotel zone north of Centro and the Camino Real and the bungalows at Garza Blanca south of town were considered THE luxury properties. Shopping or dining downtown was a breeze because there were few cars and always plenty of parking.

Since 1976, I’ve spent many days on the beaches of Vallarta, including the nearly seven years I lived on a hill above Mismaloya Cove in the early part of this century. I captured the lives of a wide range of Vallarta expats in my book, “Boomers in Paradise: Living in Puerto Vallarta.” Some of you may have read it.

By then, PV had grown to around 300,000 people and the face of the city was beginning to thrust upward with new condo developments everywhere. Increasing prosperity and relaxation of Mexican bank lending policies triggered a tsunami of new automobiles sometime around 2004, flooding the narrow cobblestoned streets of the city’s center. Several parking garages were built to handle the overflow, but it still was not enough.

Last Friday, Felice and I touched down once again at PVR, just in time for the busy holiday weekend honoring Benito Juárez. The airport, expanding yet again, was packed with new arrivals.

Our old friend Carlos Rosas picked us up and weaved his way through heavy traffic and the new condos sprouting in Zona Romantica to the Garza Blanca Resort about five miles south of town. No longer quaint bungalows built above Mexico’s Highway 200 overlooking a pristine white sand beach, Garza Blanca is now a mega-resort with two main buildings on the beach and a dedicated trolley to ferry guests to several high-rise towers that soar above the jungle floor. Luxurious suites provide 180-degree views of the Bay of Banderas, including Los Arcos to the south.

Even taking into account a three-day holiday weekend, Vallarta appears to be bursting at the seams. Parking in town is impossible, streets are packed with people and concrete towers seem to be rising everywhere. Will Vallarta follow the path Acapulco took? Will paradise be lost? Only time will tell.

We were happy to find that little had changed at Daiquiri Dick’s, our favorite spot on the beach in Zona Romantica. It was packed on Saturday night, continuing testimony to Peter and Terry Bowman’s mix of great food, great service and a killer view of the bay. We spent the evening with Fernando and Maria Garibay – our wonderful culture bloggers – celebrating their wedding anniversary with a little bubbly.

Tonight we’ll reminisce with old friends and EIM bloggers Maria O’Connor and Harriet Murray over dinner at La Palapa, just down the beach from Dick’s. Both Maria and Harriet work in Vallarta’s real estate industry and have lived in PV for decades.

Even with Vallarta’s ever expanding commercial girth, clogged streets and elusive parking, it remains one of the most spectacular places on earth to live and to play. Last year was one of PV’s best for tourism. But Puerto Vallarta’s heart remains its people, and thankfully they haven’t changed a bit since 1976.

We’ll be heading to Ajijic tomorrow to spend a few days on the northern shore of lovely Lake Chapala. Más tarde, amigos.