To the southeast of the Riviera Nayarit and its glamorous resorts, the city of Puerto Vallarta has emerged as a destination of increasing interest. The pedestrian-friendly old center and its adjacent neighborhoods now boast numerous fine restaurants and contemporary art galleries, while the city’s legendary nightlife is undiminished. During a two- to four-night stay, travelers can meander the colorful streets of the Centro and Zona Romántica, lunch at seafood restaurants along the beach and go for early evening strolls along the Malecón, a mile-long boardwalk. It’s also great fun to take a water taxi to the beaches and waterfalls on the south side of the Bay of Banderas, many of which are inaccessible by car. And sunset and whale-watching cruises depart from the dramatic Playa Los Muertos pier, completed in 2013 and now often regarded as a symbol of the city.
Puerto Vallarta first became attractive as a vacation destination with the arrival of 24-hour electricity in 1958 and international exposure from the 1964 movie “The Night of the Iguana,” starring Richard Burton and Ava Gardner. That same year, Burton gave Casa Kimberly, a house at the top of the Centro district, to Elizabeth Taylor for her 32nd birthday. Soon thereafter, they purchased a house across the street and connected the two structures with a picturesque arched bridge. After Taylor sold the houses, they operated as a bed-and-breakfast. But it wasn’t until December 2015, following an extensive renovation, that Casa Kimberly reopened as a nine-room luxury hotel and restaurant.
Our driver threaded the steep, narrow street leading to the front gate, above which hung a bell. We rang it, summoning a concierge who descended the stairs and unlocked the door. He carried our bags past a life-size bronze of Burton and Taylor and led us up to the indoor-outdoor lobby, centerpieced by a grand crystal chandelier and ormolu front desk. There, we settled into a sofa while waiting for our welcome drinks.