Formerly known as Las Peñas, the coastal city of Puerto Vallarta, sits on the western coast of Jalisco, Mexico- along the Bay of Banderas in the Pacific Ocean. The tourist destination is a unique blend of modern and Serrana Architecture (highland architecture). The traditional buildings and homes combined mountain-style building technologies and coastal architecture. The city boasts of an impressive coastline fringed with 11 beaches. The city has also been bestowed with the title of the “World’s Most Friendly City” by Condé Nast Travel magazine due to its friendly and welcoming inhabitants.
The city is broadly classified into 3 neighborhoods concerning building typologies:
The architecture of this region is mainly traditional with whitewashed walls, red roofs, and windows overflowing with bougainvillea creepers. The homes are characteristic of the hacienda style. Main attractions include the Main Square, Parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and city hall.
This region comprises the modern hotels, villas and residential complexes along the coastline. It is the luxurious tourist area of the city which sits along the beaches. It is part of the Urbanized Master plan and stays true to the Vallarta Style.
1. Main Square
Also known as the Plaza de Armas, the Main Square is the starting point of the journey into downtown Puerto Vallarta. The plaza has a kiosk beautifully wrought iron bracket. It is the main focal point as it is where concerts and community events take place. It is a great way to experience local culture and interact with people. The kiosk is a hexagonal gazebo which acts as a platform for performances. The Square also has food stalls and cafes which provides many locals with a livelihood. It overlooks the entire Downtown area – including the Parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the city hall. The plaza features the statue of the city’s namesake, Ignacio Vallarta, a Jalisco attorney. The statue was sculpted by Miguel Carmona.
2. Parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe
A block away from the main square, the Church is locally known as Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. Located on Calle Hidalgo, its construction began in 1929 and lasted till 1965. An enormous concrete crown sits at the apex of the chapel. The structure is built of brick with reinforced concrete columns. The crown is supported by eight angels and was replaced in 2009, after crumbling due to natural causes. The structure is a confusing mix of various styles and periods and follows no singular defining architectural style. The church also has stones in certain portions of the façade to give it a colonial feel. The interiors are adorned with paintings including the marble altar with an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe by Ignacio Ramirez.
3. City hall
Built-in 1980, the City Hall is located next to the Puerto Vallarta Main Square in the Downtown area. It was designed by architects Guido Ramela and Carlos Manzano. The building has a magnificent mural by renowned artist Manuel Lepe near the entrance. The painting depicts the growth and development of the city of Puerto Vallarta. A series of steps lead to the entrance creating a portico on all sides which is propped up by brick piers. The structure has traditional elements like – a terracotta tiled roof, whitewashed walls, and brick elements highlighting the structural elements. The rectangular windows are framed by bricks.
4. Puerto Vallarta Seafront
Also known as The Malecon, it was designed by TramaArquitectos and is located in Marina Vallarta. The half-mile-long esplanade is designed to facilitate interaction between locals, expats, and tourists. The 20,000 square meter project was completed in 2011, as a reinvention of the beachfront. The prime purpose of the redesign was to return the boardwalk to the pedestrians as it had slowly become infested with vehicles. To ensure a universally accessible design, a series of ramps are placed strategically to allow wheelchair users to access the beach. These ramps create the profiles of waves reflecting the sea. In response to the local Huichol Indian culture of the region, the flooring comprises concrete with embedded cobblestones in traditional Huichol patterns. The users are provided with shade by almond trees interspersed along the length of the walkway. The trees are multi-functional, as they also provide space for planters and seating at the base of the trunks. There are multiple sculptures located on the boardwalk, showcasing local artists.
5. Los Arcos Amphitheatre
The four free-standing Romanesque arches are a symbol of the city of Puerto Vallarta. They are situated on the promenade across the road from the City Hall. The arches along with the adjoining amphitheater act as a performance space. Along with the scenic sea, they set the backdrop for the concerts held there. The semi-circular seating is set below ground level with the stage at ground level, allowing bystanders to have a clear view of the events.
6. The Boy on the Seahorse
Sculpted by Rafael ZamarripaCastañeda in the years 1960 & 1976 these are a pair of identical sculptures. These sculptures are a symbol of the city. The original sculpture at Las Pilitas, a rocky outcropping on Los Muertos Beach, was swept away by the tides. A larger 10-foot tall replica was erected on the Malecon in 1976 as a replacement. The original statue, however, was recovered later on. Since then the original sculpture has been lost and recovered a couple more times. The Seahorse statue has a naked boy seated on its back and depicts the story of a boy who was born on the seahorse. Once made of shining bronze the statue has since corroded and turned green due to the saltwater hitting it.
7. Romantic Zone
The Southern region of Puerto Vallarta is known as the Romantic Zone. This neighbourhood is the largest LGBT+ quarter of the city. The area reflects a typical Mexican town, with its colourful festive nature. The cobblestoned streets and traditional adobe homes create a peaceful, quaint atmosphere. Lazaro Cardenas Park is a great place to experience the culture and art of local artists. The park has walls, pillars, and benches filled with beautifully laid mosaic tile patterns. It showcases the artistic, fun-loving side of the locals and the expats. The neighbourhood also has the most traditional markets and eateries.
8. The Church of Our Lady of Refuge
The construction of the Church started on July 4th, 1960. It is located a block away from the Malecon, adjacent to the Miguel Hidalgo Park. The chapel stands true to a simple Gothic-style cathedral. The structure is built with adobe blocks of two tones- a lighter sepia tone on the walls and a darker shade framing the openings. The openings include – tall Gothic arch doors, bull’s-eye arch portholes with stained glass panes, and arch windows. The façade is symmetrical as is typical of traditional churches. The interior is colourfully illuminated with the help of various stained-glass pieces above the doors. The adjoining quarters have rows of gothic arches situated behind intricately wrought iron grills.
9. Playa Los Muertos pier
Completed in 2013, the Los Muertos Pier is a beautiful part of the Romantic Zone. The pier comprises a landing dock for six medium-sized boats and a large pedestrian area which acts as a viewing deck. The bridge veers alongside the ocean current and circles around the main structure creating a conch-like plan. The majestic metal structure is the focal point of the beach and acts as a beacon. Shaped like a candle it lights up the entire beach, in various colours. The 665 square meter pedestrian walkway is raised above the water on steel stilts and looks as if it floats at night.
10. International Convention Centre
Completed in 2009, the Puerto Vallarta International Convention Centre is completely self-sufficient. The form derives from that of a seashell, with its vaulted concrete shell roof. The convention center strives to uplift business tourism in Puerto Vallarta. The building sits on two levels and can accommodate up to 1200 delegates at a time. The exhibition center is a 5000 square meter column-free space, which can be divided to form flexible meeting spaces. This makes it ideal to host exhibitions. About the lush green forest reserve, the building aims to maintain the 320-acre natural habitat known as Estero El Salado. The sail-like tensile pergola guides the access road, reflecting the scenic beauty of the coast. The site also has parking facilities for over 600 people shaded by a green canopy.
11. Casa Velas
An adults-only boutique hotel, Casa Velas, caters to only people of 16 years of age and above. The green environment of the hotel enhances its beauty. The complex sets a benchmark for green, sustainable architecture in the city. Natural composting and organic fertilizers are used to grow the plants on the hotel grounds. The air-conditioning used is programmed to use minimum energy. Solar panels are used to pre-heat the water and rooms are meticulously maintained with the help of biodegradable cleaning products. The building has on-site waste and water management amenities. The entrance lobby is cooled by the surrounding lounge pools and the lush greenery. Archways with white moldings lead to the porticos giving the feeling of grandeur. The warm yellow-tinted walls welcome the user into space while illuminating it with a soft golden glow. These passive methods ensure that the customers leave a very low carbon footprint.
12. Gringo Gulch
Fernando “Freddy” Romero is the founder of the Vallarta style which defines the architecture of Gringo Gulch. The expatriate neighborhood began developing in the 1950s. The cobblestone streets are lined with the whitewashed adobe walls of homes. The houses have roofs with clay tiles and have an intricate iron grill on the windows. Beyond the unassuming plain facades lay colorfully tiled floors, lush green courtyards, and reflecting pools. The structures overlook the Bay of Banderas, providing the residents with breath-taking views. Some of the older buildings are bare and show the brown adobe facades, portraying the rich heritage of the city. Other characteristic elements are – bottles in the walls permitting light into the home, polished concrete with mosaic patterns, and plants spilling out of the windows. Luis Favela and Guillermo Wulff were engineers of this era, who introduced structural elements like domes, arches, and exposed brick walls. The neighbourhood shows a transition period between the Serrana architecture of the downtown and romantic zone and the contemporary architecture of the Marina Vallarta.
13. Casa Kimberly
Combining Richard Burton’s and Elizabeth Taylor’s vacation homes, Casa Kimberly is a boutique hotel comprising nine luxuriant suites. The entrance courtyard is spacious with a welcoming air. It has a marble fountain sitting in an arcade. The structure has all the elements of the Vallarta style- red clay-tiled roofs, whitewashed walls, and intricately wrought iron grills. A reflecting pool sits within a courtyard and is surrounded by a series of arches. The suites are individually designed with each having unique characteristics. The hotel has plunging pools that look past the terracotta terraces of the neighborhood, onto the Sierra Madre Mountains in the distance. The spa sits in front of arches with marble columns.
The hotel is famous for the well-preserved Bridge of Love, which speaks of a love story for the ages. The pristine white bridge with its cupola connects the houses of the two yesteryear stars.
14. Shangri-La Puerto Vallarta
A residential complex in Marina Vallarta, the Shangri-La is a set of five towers. Each tower is identical to the next and comprises eighteen floors. The buildings are oriented to maximize exposure to the Mexican tropical sunlight and the cool ocean breeze. As is typical of the Vallarta style (as seen in Gringo Gulch), the buildings are a pristine white with balconies jutting out. The rectangular galleries emphasize the cuboidal form of the building. The complex has an amoeboid lagoon on the Southwest which reflects the towers creating an illusion of height. There are smaller reflecting pools near the entrances of each building which serve to passively cool the entrance lobbies.
15. Icon Vallarta
This award-winning project by renowned firm Arquitectonica comprises a set of three identical 26 storied residential towers. Located in Marina Vallarta, the apartments provide unencumbered views of The Pacific Ocean. The façade is defined by curved balconies that mimic the waves it overlooks. These balconies run along the entire length of the facades. The site also includes sundecks, a pool, and ocean villas. The orientation of the buildings along the northern end of the site ensures adequate exposure to sunlight and wind without obstructing the view from the bungalows. Clients have the choice of 1, 2, and 3-bedroom apartments and two-storied villas which are placed along the southern portion of the complex.