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Top 10 Puerto Vallarta Attractions

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Puerto Vallarta tempts with an array of A-list attractions: Beautiful beaches, superb sports, fabulous festivals, naughty nightlife, delicious dining and drinking, and an authentic Mexican atmosphere are on the list of attractions that beckon honeymoon travelers and others to this seaside city on Mexico’s tropical Pacific coast.

1. Strolling El Malecon

The town center’s boisterous beachfront promenade, the Malecon, is a whirlwind of happy activity. When you’re here, you can’t help but feel you’ve discovered the real Mexico. (Congratulations. You have.) During the day, couples walk, singles flirt, teenagers snack, children play, acrobats perform, and venders hawk coconut fudge and leather bracelets. At night, mariachi musicians in the town Plaza strike up the band as twosomes young and old clutch one another and twirl around Malecon's many attractions.

2. Shopping and Exploring Puerto Vallarta

Malecon-area boutiques are among shoppers' favorite attractions. Bargains include silver jewelry from Taxco and soft leather shoes like woven huarache sandals that take one day to custom-make. Galleries specialize in local artists’ paintings, village pottery from Mata Ortiz and Casas Grandes, or riotously colorful Wixarika (Huichol) Indian beadwork and yarn paintings. The open-air arcade along the Cuale River sells inexpensive crafts like tooled leather items, woven and beaded jewelry, embroidered blouses and bags, and hand-painted “Talavera” ceramics.

3. Enjoying the Nightlife

Café des Artistes, helmed by French-Mexican celebrity chef Thierry Blouet, promises a memorable meal in magical surroundings indoors or out. Continue the party at a Vallarta club. Visitors who crave the excitement of crowds dancing en masse head for Christine, which flaunts laser shows and roving international DJs. For sipping Champagne and dancing on the sand, moonlit Nikki Beach is the sexiest of Puerto Vallarta attractions.

4. Golfing the Championship Courses

If your favorite club is called Big Bertha, you’ll be awed by Puerto Vallarta’s spectacularly scenic championship golf. Many hotels offer golf packages and golf concierges. Puerto Vallarta's seven 18-hole Par 71 or 72 courses designed by the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Robert Trent Jones, Tom Weiskopf, and Robert Van Haggen are attractions for golfers the world over. Nicklaus’ Vista Vallarta hosts the Puerto Vallarta Championship, a PGA Tour Champions Tour event, won in 2006 by American Morris Hatalsky.

5. Skimming Along Banderas Bay

Puerto Vallarta is set on ocean-deep Banderas Bay, which has watersport attractions aplenty. Intrepid fishermen come to hook big game including yellowfin, sailfish, amberjack, and trophy-size black marlin. Surfers are drawn to the tall waves off the nearby beach town of Lo de Marcos. Scuba divers seek out Vallarta waters for their crystalline visibility, black coral formations, and large marine life such as sea turtles and dolphins. Yachting season kicks off with the San Diego to Puerto Vallarta Regatta in the fall and reaches a fever pitch with the Banderas Bay Regatta in March.

6. Whale Watching

Our mammalian brethren, the whales, also consider Puerto Vallarta one of winter's attractions, and frolic in Banderas Bay from December through March. You can spot humpbacks from the beach or close-on a licensed whale-watching expedition with a group like the Whale Watching Center, which also runs dolphin tours.

7. Sending Sea Turtles to the Sea

Animal lovers can join in Puerto Vallarta’s sea turtle release. Throughout November, tiny hatchlings break out of eggs that have incubated in protected shoreline pens. Hotel guests witness the newborn sea turtles crawl into the ocean under cover of dusk, and a cheer goes up when the last baby swims off. This heart-warming tradition is observed at beachfront hotels including Marriott CasaMagna, Presidente InterContinental, and Dreams Resort.

8. Sailing and Snorkeling around a Secluded Island

Vallarta Adventures runs diverting, reasonably priced full-day and half-day trips. One entertaining choice is a party-boat ride to Las Caletas, a secluded isle where film director John Huston lived. Day-trippers can sunbathe, swim, snorkel, hike, play with parrots, and enjoy Mexican-spiced chicken and ocean-fresh paella cooked on the beach. Attractions for those who like to veer off the beaten track, the company’s San Sebastian expedition involves a picturesque drive or thrilling prop-plane flight to a 17th-century mining town high in the Sierra Madre Mountains.

9. Tequila Tastings

Tequila is made in Puerto Vallarta’s home home state of Jalisco. This is the true Margaritaville, where extensive tequila menus invite visitors to experiment. Tequila shops in town offer free tastes, as do airport duty-free shops. (Make sure you can carry bottles onto your flight.) Concierges can arrange day trips by air to the town of Tequila, where distillery tours await. The best-quality tequilas are 100% blue agave, with no additives. Clear, golden, and aged all have their attractions. Trust your own taste buds.

10. Puerto Vallarta Food & Film Festivals

November means the Puerto Vallarta International Gourmet Festival, a ten-day epicurean extravaganza. Restaurants offer special menus and globe-trotting guest chefs; special events include tastings, cook-offs, parties, and gala meals galore.

December brings the Vallarta Film Festival, which unfurls subtitled features, shorts, documentaries, and animated film attractions from the Americas. Participants dash from Puerto Vallarta premieres to meet-the-cast receptions to outdoor screenings of classics by local hero John Huston.

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