When in Puerto Vallarta, try to see the Sierra Madre



maria stenzel/national geographic/getty images


Taking a tour into the Sierra Madre offers a dramatic change of scenery from Puerto Vallarta’s beaches.

Nestled between the lush, green mountains of the Sierra Madre and the crystal clear waters of Banderas Bay is the Mexican city of Puerto Vallarta. Old meets new in this southern locale, found in the state of Jalisco, with city roads paved with cobbles. Whitewashed buildings with domed roofs dot the hilly streets while luxurious resorts take up prime real estate along the sandy white beaches.

An 11-block promenade (the Malecon) lines the waterfront, attracting locals and tourists alike with its array of outdoor art. Among the works is one of the city’s symbols — a young boy riding a seahorse. With its tail flipped up, the seahorse denotes the horse-shoe shape of Puerto Vallarta’s bay, which is rich in aquatic life, and the child — his arm raised high, welcoming newcomers to the city — highlights the city’s youthful vibrance.

This once undeveloped village is said to have found fame when John Huston chose to film his version of Tennessee William’s Night Of The Iguana there in 1964, starring Richard Burton and Ava Gardner.

kasia iglinski/metro toronto

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, does attract the sunbathing-and-tequila-shot crowd, but with a bit of effort, you can have a more interesting vacation experience.

The ensuing affair between Burton and Elizabeth Taylor gained international attention and put Puerto Vallarta in the spotlight, helping it to thrive. Remnants of the film, such as signs reading “Night Of The Iguana was filmed here,” now blend into the cityscape.

Today this place of 350,000 inhabitants is rich with restaurants, bars, nightclubs, art galleries, fashion boutiques, and, yes, a stadium-sized Wal-Mart.

Luckily, Puerto Vallarta has more to offer than big box stores and a night of too many tequila shots. From December to April, humpback whales enter Banderas Bay to mate and tours out to see them in their natural habitat are readily available.

The deep-blue waters, which are home to dolphins, sea turtles and giant mantas, are also ideal for snorkelling or scuba diving, while the well-kept beaches provide a relaxing soak in the sun.

kasia iglinski/metro toronto

maria stenzel/national geographic/getty images

kasia iglinski/metro toronto

Tourists can ride open-air all-terrain jeeps, top left, on an excursion to the Sierra Madre, where stops include a hike in the jungle — complete with chance encounters with a scorpion,top right— and a self-sufficient farm where one can sample authentic tacos, above.

Those who are tired of the beach can turn to the Sierra Madre. The Sierra Madre excursion has visitors exploring the mountainous terrain on board open-air all-terrain jeeps, designed especially for rough rides.

And rough it is. Stopping along the way at a self-sufficient farm, visitors sample authentic tacos, made from fresh ingredients off the land, and get a taste of what mountain life is truly like in Mexico.

Venturing further into the mountains, the jeeps stop along the lush, green edge of the jungle — filming ground for The Predator, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger — where everyone hops off for an educational nature hike and perhaps a chance encounter with scorpions or other indigenous creatures.

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