Downtown Puerto Vallarta is getting a facelift. // © 2011 Puerto Vallarta Convention and Visitors Bureau
With the Pan-American Games in full swing and the Puerto Vallarta International Gourmet Festival’s food, wine and tequila event on Nov. 10, Puerto Vallarta is busy behind the scenes and making downtown more picturesque than ever. Redevelopment plans include a Malecon (boardwalk) makeover and more pedestrian-friendly spaces throughout the tourist areas. October’s storms, including Hurricane Irwin, brought lots of rain but largely spared Puerto Vallarta, and the city is ready for a proposed winter tourism boom.
The iconic Malecon is Puerto Vallarta’s most popular attraction for tourists and locals alike. Parts of it have been closed for months as workers demolished old sections and revamped the waterfront. As with construction projects everywhere, completion dates have been pushed back several times. Sections of the new Malecon are now open to pedestrians, and the changes are impressive. The whole project should be completed long before the new year.
“I personally like the new Malecon,” said Carlos De Leon, general manager of the Hotel Catedral, a completely remodeled 1950’s hotel near the main plaza and seafront.
Like business owners throughout downtown, De Leon is doing his part to make the tourist core attractive and pleasurable for visitors.
“I do believe each destination has to be updated constantly,” De Leon said. “We need to make sure we maintain the feeling of a traditional, tranquil beachside town but with all the modern conveniences.”
The new Malecon does just that, incorporating traditional Huichol tribal designs in the walkway while adding a new seawall.
The Malecon improvements begin by the Hotel Rosita, downtown’s oldest hotel. Long neglected, this section faces Parque Hidalgo, one of downtown’s most active plazas — though it’s often overlooked by tourists. Construction ends at Los Arcos, the rock arches across from Parque Lazaro Cardenas, the main plaza in front of La Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe.
A new seawall was built along the 12-block zone and the pedestrian promenade was widened. Palm trees are still being added in circular planters, providing much-needed shade. The whimsical sculptures along the zone are reappearing but with special lighting. And the artists who create the beach’s amazing sand sculptures will eventually be back at work.
Intricate pebble designs in the pavement catch the eye and give the whole project an artistic flair. The patterns were created by artist Fidencio Benitez, a member of the fascinating Huichol group whose gorgeous beaded artwork appears in galleries all over town. Benitez drew mosaic patterns depicting the native myth of creation and workers meticulously followed his sketches with pebbles and volcanic stone. Swirling designs appear along the walkway, representing Puerto Vallarta’s origins and devotion to the arts.
Changes are happening all around downtown and the Zona Romantica. Pedestrian sidewalks have been widened along Basilio Badillo, one of the best shopping and dining streets near the Malecon. Planters with flowers and trees have been added, and storefront facades have been improved. Sidewalks along Calle Rodriguez leading to the Flea Market’s jumble of stands have been widened, and business owners are working with cultural authorities to create a picturesque corridor to the market. Calle Rodriguez was one of Puerto Vallarta’s most important thoroughfares in the 1950s, but had fallen into disrepair in recent decades. Entrepreneurs such as De Leon have taken on the task of making it special once again. Desirable hotels have opened in this area amid galleries and other stores.
Hotel Catedral, near the Flea Market, was a mess when De Leon took on the task of gutting it and turning it into a delightful, affordable downtown hotel. Today, its colorful guestrooms face a central courtyard with tables where guests mingle over the complimentary continental breakfast. The 21 individually decorated rooms are filled with embroidered pillows, elaborate tin-framed mirrors and handmade furnishings from Mexico’s folk-art masters. Touches of the 1950s come through in the baths — one has a completely restored mint-green tiled tub. The church’s ornate crown is in view from balconies along the interior, where bookshelves and comfy chairs await guests. By adding a helpful, friendly staff, free Wi-Fi access and kitchenettes, coffee makers and more, De Leon has created a good mid-range downtown hotel for tourists and business travelers.
De Leon and his neighbors are now working on creating a Corridor of Catrinas, employing artists to create life-size (or taller) whimsical skeleton statues to be placed along the street. Their timing is ideal since the city is adding new streets and attractions all over downtown, making it easier for visitors to plot their shopping, dining and excursions.
With the travel industry’s Tianguis Turistico headed its way next year, Puerto Vallarta promises to be ready to host hundreds of travel agents, wholesalers and suppliers.