Vallarta's Sister Cities

As Puerto Vallarta's neighbor to the north, Vallarta Nayarit has a bright future

By: Deanna Ting

There’s a new Vallarta in town, I’ve just been told. Our guide, Richard Zarkin, explains this to us, a group of four journalists, as we drive along the Pacific coastline, headed for the Four Seasons Punta Mita. We are just 10 miles north of famed Puerto Vallarta, passing by 60 miles of pristine beaches and expansive resorts that, until very recently, were no more than untouched jungle.

“This is Vallarta Nayarit,” says Zarkin. “It’s a region poised to become one of Mexico’s most popular travel destinations within the next few years.”

Being here, it’s easy to see why. Even in December, it’s a balmy 80 degrees by 8 a.m., sunlight gleams off the clear-blue waters and there’s just the slightest of ocean breezes.

Our starting point is Flamingos, an area just above the booming town of Nuevo Vallarta, so named for the famous golf course built here in 1978. Back then, it teemed with crocodiles; now, it is home to beautiful hotels and many world-class golf courses.

Rows of young palm trees line the roads that bend their way through this cluster of resorts. It’s a brief 10-minute drive from our hotel to the sleepy little town of Bucerias.

Tiny shops and stands line narrow dirt roads where friendly vendors are eager to sell their wares. I’m drawn to their beautiful amber jewelry, hand-woven blankets and hand-painted ceramic bowls. Unlike historic downtown Puerto Vallarta, there isn’t an overwhelming number of tourists here; those who are seem content to frequent the local cafes or wander around the small plaza overlooking the Bahia de Banderas.

What Vallarta Nayarit does have, however, is the same laidback attitude of Puerto Vallarta. We might be in an entirely different state (Puerto Vallarta is part of the state of Jalisco instead of Nayarit), but the state of mind hasn’t changed much at all. For locals and visitors alike, the mood is relaxed and carefree.

Leaving Bucerias with souvenirs in hand, we drive along a winding, two-lane road that takes us past La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, a rustic fishing village about 20 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta. It doesn’t look like much now, but in little less than a year or two, says Zarkin, this will be a marina big enough for almost 400 sailing vessels. Workers are busy constructing a two-mile malecon (boardwalk) to be lined by resorts, boutique hotels, restaurants and shops.

Already the billboards along the road tout new luxury condominium developments or herald the arrival of multi-million-dollar residential complexes. Vallarta Nayarit is literally growing itself into a world-class destination.

Watch It Grow
One such development is Litibu, Mexico’s newest Cancun-style resort development. Zarkin takes a special detour past Punta Mita to show it to us. Right now, it looks like nothing more than an empty lot of land, filled with tall grasses instead of tall buildings. But we all know that’s about to change.

Last year, Fonatur, the Mexican National Trust Fund for Tourism Developments, sold much of Litibu to foreign investors willing to pay up to four or five times more than the original amount paid by

Fonatur. One investor, Iberostar, is in the process of constructing a 2,800-room resort within the next two years. A four-lane highway, proper drainage and lighting structures are also in the works, thanks to $50 million in investments.

“In the next few years,” Zarkin says, pointing to the empty space, “there will be eight major hotels and resorts, luxury condominiums, a marina, heli-pad, hospitals, shopping centers and golf courses all right here.”

As we head south to the Four Seasons Punta Mita, I ask Zarkin if anything as big as Litibu would ever take place in Puerto Vallarta. He says it’s just not physically possible.

“Puerto Vallarta is more closely surrounded by the Sierra Madre Mountains, where it is difficult to build,” says Zarkin. “Towards the north part of the bay where Vallarta Nayarit is, there is a valley and more space to grow.”

When we arrive at the Four Seasons, I think to myself, the Punta Mita community here is a good prototype for how Litibu will be in just a few years 1,700 square acres of world-renowned resorts and golf courses and 9½ miles of wide, sandy beaches.

The Four Seasons, in particular, appears faultless: Perfectly manicured shrubbery lines its golf-cart-accessible roads, and guests can even listen to soothing music from underneath the waters of its Tamai pool complex. We have lunch overlooking the ocean, where crashing waves give way to unexpected humpback whale sightings in winter. It’s absolutely wonderful, but I also can’t help but feel worlds away from the bustling crowds and old-time charm of downtown Puerto Vallarta.

On the ride back, it’s inevitable for comparisons between Vallarta Nayarit and Puerto Vallarta to take place. One journalist describes them as two beautiful sisters; another favors the old-town charm and character of Puerto Vallarta more than anything else. Another is too stuffed from lunch to respond, resorting instead to a lovely siesta.

But I’m torn. I loved nothing more than to laze about on the soft, sandy beaches and warm waters of Vallarta Nayarit, but I also loved the sense of history that Puerto Vallarta possessed: the majestic Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the cobblestone streets and even the ocean-worn rocks on the beach, left over from a hurricane in 2002.

“Both destinations complement each other,” says Zarkin.

And he’s right. For me, you can’t have one without the other and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Punta Mita Grows

Litibu isn’t the only big development taking place in Vallarta Nayarit. Punta Mita is growing, too. Later this year, the St. Regis Resort will open. It will feature 120 guestrooms and suites, each with its own outside shower and approximately 65 luxury villas for both fractional and whole ownership. A small-scale marina is also under way.

The Four Seasons is also experiencing a growth spurt and they’ve even got a large scale model in the cultural center to prove it. In March, they expanded The Enclave, a collection of private beachfront casitas complete with private pool areas and personal hosts, with five-bedroom Coral Suites designed by world-renowned architect Diego Villasenor. In April, they unveiled a brand-new, family-friendly Oasis building, complete with 21 casita rooms and two suites, all surrounded by a lazy river. And, just in time for the holidays, they hope to open a new Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course.

Four Seasons Punta Mita