Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, masterfully plays the part of a remote tropical getaway, even as it grows into a larger city that's connected to the outside world by multinational chain stores and a steady stream of jets and cruise ships.
Puerto Vallarta's success has a lot to do with looks. However, in recent years, unchecked development along every inch of its beach has gradually turned the once-quaint fishing village into a mass-market destination for the hoi polloi as well as the moneyed few. Still, there remains much beauty in Vallarta (as it is known to the locals and habitues) and the coast to its northwest.
Whitewashed walls and terra-cotta-tiled roofs are nestled along Banderas Bay, with the ornate crown of the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe serving as a focal point. The lush, green foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains to the east make for a beautiful and dramatic backdrop.
Puerto Vallarta's style is another key. Even as more and more travelers have arrived, and more and more hotels have been built, it has somehow managed to retain—or at least appears to retain—a cultured grace that's rare in heavily touristed areas.
Artists, architects, writers and chefs flourish in this rarified climate of tropical creativity. The restaurants, galleries and shops there are some of the finest in the country, drawing local talent from Mexico City and Guadalajara, and farther afield from Italy, Switzerland, Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere.