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Puerto Vallarta and Banderas Bay - Jewel of the Pacific Coast

By Griffin Page
Naturalist ~ Eco-guide


Puerto Vallarta is considered to be a paradise by the locals as well as by those who visit. Why do you ask? The answer is simple: The large town (as we'd rather call it because it retained most of its Mexican flavor) offers all the luxuries of a big city while allowing you to enjoy the beauty of pristine nature only 10 minutes away. The climate is excellent at any time of the year, even in the rainy season (from June to October) where it usually rains for an hour or so in the evening and refreshes us all. The "lightning shows" over the ocean are particularly enjoyed by locals and visitors. In 2001, Puerto Vallarta was surveyed by "Condenast" travel magazine and was awarded the" friendliest town in the world" status by its members. Also, in 2002, Bay of Banderas was included in the "Most Beautiful Bays of the World" Club.


Because the bay is surrounded by 3 different types of mountain ranges (including the famous Sierra Madre), we profit from a wide variety of vegetation ranging from the sub-tropical jungles on the east and south sides to the low deciduous type vegetation found in the north. And if you drive to higher altitudes within these mountains, the vegetation changes again to offer you pines and oaks.


Inhabiting the lower regions of these mountains, just to name a few, are red foxes, armadillos, coatimundis, skunks, raccoons, lizards, mountain crabs and an extremely wide variety of birds (especially during the migration season). In the higher ranges, still untouched by humans, Jaguars, Ocelots and Military Macaws reside in peace. And should you chose to go for a hike; you might encounter Iguanas running across the path, sunning themselves on a rock nearby or perched up lazily in a tree.


Within the bay itself, we count 2 sets of Islands. Marietas; these islands are under the "Natural Protected Area" act and therefore, fishing is not allowed there. Then, there is Los Arcos; while not included under the act, it is protected by the local communities and so, fishing is also restricted. As a result, many different species of fish enjoy the safety of the surrounding waters, offering great snorkeling and diving opportunities.


Amongst the many colorful tropical fishes found in that area are the King Angels, the Panamic Sergeant Majors, the Rainbow Wrasses, the Spotted Boxfishes who's young ones are a sight to behold, the Giant Damselfishes, the Reef Cornetfishes, the beautiful and elegant Spotted Eagle Ray, some puffer fishes and the occasional eel.Gorgonian Coral, Elegant Coral, Sea Fans, Orange Cup Coral and Encrusting Stony Coral also grow there. Bigger species also visit our waters at different times. The Humpback Whale, this cetacean which attracts many wishing to witness its acrobatic breaches, fin and fluke slaps and hoping to listen to his mating songs. The impressive and sometimes unduly feared Killer Whale also enters our bay occasionally. The most fascinating Giant Manta Rays with their Remoras can be seen leaping and splashing around and schools of widely loved Dolphins may just decide to surf the waves at the bow of your tour boat.


Many endangered species also reside or visit the area of Bahía de Banderas. Such is the case of the Humpback Whale, the Olive Ridley Turtle, the Military Macaw, the Blue-footed Booby, the Jaguar, and one special specie of Tarantula (Brachypelma klaasi) of which I haven't seen even one to this day. This list represents a microscopic view of all the different life forms encountered in this precious Paradise.


Let's not forget the wonderful Kingdom of plants. From the north to the south while passing through the east, you may see Elephant-ear Trees, wild Orchids, Red-paper Trees, Plumerias, Possum-wood Trees, Gum Trees, Strangling Ficuses, Trumpet Trees, Bougainvilleas, Primaveras and of course, Banana Trees and Palms in plenty.


Many little towns around the bay are worth the more than affordable bus trip. On the north side of the bay in the State of Nayarit, Mexico, we have Punta de Mita, Destiladeras, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Bucerías, Mezcales and Nuevo Vallarta. Actually, Nuevo Vallarta consists mostly of all-inclusive resorts and expensive vacation or retirement homes. It was named and created at the border of the State of Jalisco in the 80's by the State of Nayarit with the hope of attracting tourism and perhaps confusing people into thinking that it is a new part of Puerto Vallarta This strategy has worked to some degree as a lot of people I have talked to were surprised to find out they were in a different State altogether. The drive there is approximately 25 minute from Puerto Vallarta. The State of Nayarit is also in another time zone, it's an hour earlier there, but most hotels and time-share condominiums near the border will use Jalisco time in order not to confuse their customers which will inevitably travel to Puerto Vallarta, where the action and good restaurants are.


The south side also offers the most enchanting towns. From Puerto Vallarta heading south east, we encounter Nogalito (with its enchanting river hike and water falls), Mismaloya (this town was the first to ever put this region on the map in 1963 with the famous John Houston movie "The Night of the Iguana" when the widely publicized affair between John Houston and Elizabeth Taylor caused a great scandal. The movie "The Predator" with Arnold Schwarzenegger was also filmed there and the helicopter used for this film can still be seen further up the Mismaloya River at the restaurant "El Eden"). A mere 10 minutes further away brings you to Boca de Tomatlán, where I live. Most who visit Boca fall in love and return to stay on their subsequent trip. This is a typical Mexican fishing village where fresh fish can be bought almost every morning straight from the fishermen. From there, the road goes inland and can take you all the way to Manzanillo or Acapulco. All the wonderful little towns on the south coast of the bay can be reached by boat taxi from Boca de Tomatlán as roads do not penetrate the gigantic mountains (Sierra Madre and Sierra Cuale) that serve as a spectacular background to these quiet little villages .Places such as Las Animas, Quimixto, Majahuitas, Las Caletas and Yelapa offer nice sandy beaches, restaurants and some even offer a pleasant hike to some refreshing water falls. The best beaches will be found on the south and north sides of the bay.


So much can be enjoyed here in our own little Paradise.


Accommodations vary from the all-inclusive resorts, the fully furnished condos to the more affordable hotels and secluded rustic cabañas offering a quiet romantic ambiance.


Quality restaurants offering a tropical ambiance, music and serving typical Mexican dishes, French cuisine, Chinese, American food and of course, great Sea Food, are also plentiful here. Let yourself go in one of our many "happening" bars and discotheques or shoot a quiet game of pool with your friends.


Very good musical bands will serenade you with romantic music. Mariachis, with their flamboyant costumes, will sing about love and Mexican history and Local Mexicans will even play and sing your favorite popular rock songs.


Whatever your fancy, may it be nature, experiencing a different culture or just enjoying the superb beaches and working on your tan, Puerto Vallarta and the whole Bay of Banderas will, I am sure, leave you with pleasant and unforgettable memories of a great vacation. No wonder many return often and some even choose to make this Paradise their adoptive home.


While here on your next vacation, we at Natural Treasures Vallarta would like to extend an open invitation for you to join us and come discover for yourself, this jewel of the Pacific coast. Your participation will help in the research and conservation of the species that make this place a true Paradise.


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