Puerto Vallarta is a vibrant city with many hotels, resorts and villas
The city of Puerto Vallarta (pop approx 350,000) is a busy, modern place that can provide you with almost any amenity. There are an abundance of hotels, resorts, and villas that will suit any taste and any budget.
It has several distinct areas that you might refer to when describing your location: Downtown, including the Old Town, the Hotel Zone, and the Marina District. There are also large residential areas towards the mountains as the population spreads up the valley across the Rio Pitillale.
Each section has its own distinct character; my personal favorite was the Old Town (picture below), with its character buildings, cobblestone roads, and the very picturesque pedestrian walk on the Isla de Cuale. The buildings are not much higher than two or three stories, and it still has a very pleasant open feeling about it.
We had an hour to spend while waiting for our return flight, so we hopped into a cab and went straight to one of the bridges that span the Rio de Cuale, separating the Old Town from the rest of the downtown section. We used a cab because our previous attempt to find a parking spot when we returned from our southern Costa Alegre trip was thwarted by the massive amount of people and cars we encountered. It seems there are few parking garages downtown, and employees and tourists alike vie for parking spots. The cars are parked on both sides of the already narrow streets and getting around was a real challenge.
As it turned out, we had returned on a Saturday when the problem was not nearly as bad, and there were parking spots available (even though there was a cruise ship in town). But the cab ride from the Marina district was relatively inexpensive, about $8.00 - it would have been a $25 bill back home. Besides, it was a fun white-knuckle-eyes-closed-hold-on-for-dear-life kind of ride - cabbies love to set new land speed records and dodge through gaps in traffic that don't look big enough for a dog to run through.
The bridges over the river also cross over the Isla de Cuale, with steps leading down to the pedestrian-only pathway that runs the length of the island. It is a very pleasant walk, mostly under shade trees, and provides welcome refuge from the direct sun and street traffic. If you walk towards the waterfront, you'll come to a series of steps leading up to the pedestrian walkway along the beach, called the Malecon (picture above). If you go the other way, toward the mountains, you can walk to the entertainment plaza at the east end of the island and see the memorial statue of John Huston (picture below), before you cross the suspension bridge into the Old Town district; either way, there's plenty to see, and we did both.
The Rio Cuale is clean and the kids swim in the pool at the mouth of the river (picture above) where the Malecon crosses over. There's a considerable amount of water flowing, even though it is the middle of the dry season - one of the somewhat unique qualities of the Puerto Vallarta area. If you saunter back onto the island, you'll see shaded sitting patios adjacent to a wide variety of sidewalk vendor stands, as in the picture below.
The island is full of interesting specimens of the local flora; take a look at this Strangler tree - so named because it just drops roots down from its limbs and strangles anything that may be growing below it:
The Malecon is a wide public promenade that runs along the entire waterfront of Puerto Vallarta, all the way to the Hotel Zone. With a splendid view of Bahia de Banderas, and a fresh ocean breeze to keep you cool, it's another great way to avoid the street traffic and see the city. Vendors, restaurants and bars are plentiful along the way, and you're always within easy reach of a cool refreshing drink or a delicious seafood meal. This is a picture of it looking north from the Old Town bridge over the Rio Cuale:
Here's a view of the beach scene (below), looking south from the Hotel Zone ... just to give you an idea of the scale of things, the coast mountains seen in the background at the far right are still well within the Bay of Banderas, but past the point where the highway turns inland at Boca de Tomatlan, on its way to the Costa Alegre:
I was also partial to the broad promenades around the Marina district, made all the more interesting by the wide selection of boats moored in the slips. There are numerous restaurants and hotels in that area too, and it is far less busy than the downtown area. Here's a look at some of the boats:
Although we don't spend much time in the cities, I can certainly see why people choose to fly straight to PV for a good partying holiday; it is crammed with entertainment and activities, with plenty of crowds to enjoy it with! It seems like every five minutes, one of these goes by: