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Puerto Vallarta • Riviera Nayarit 

Finding Local Mexican Traditions in Puerto Vallarta

Inga Aksamit - Yahoo! Contributor Network
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March 4, 2013

The stage was a swirling kinetic mass, with women's skirts flying and men's hats twirling, as colorfully garbed couples bent and swooped in rapid-fire synchronized steps. Enthusiastic applause greeted each troupe in the packed, outdoor amphitheater in downtown Puerto Vallarta, but the biggest show of appreciation was for the fresh-faced children who melted the hearts of the audience with their impressive tap-dancing skills and emotive performances.

To a person, the troupes were comprised of attractive, willowy women, handsome men and cute children dressed in traditional costumes that were brand-spanking new, vivid and bright. I was at Viva Fiesta Puerto Vallarta, a new fortnightly event that showcases top restaurants and Mexican baile folklorico dancing.

Food stalls with tasty samples from some the best restaurants in town were arranged around tables on the plaza where patrons could sit to enjoy their treats. On a recent visit, Café des Artistes served a creamy smoked tomato soup, Andale provided a complex, rich Chile Nogale and an octopus sandwich could be had at El Patio De Mi Casa, all savory, delicious and complementary to each other, washed down with a locally brewed, artisanal Minerva Pale Ale.

The folklore dancing performance drew a large crowd that exceeded the spacious seating area. Different troupes performed time-honored balletic dances from many diverse regions of Mexico, with white lacy dresses from Veracruz, brightly colored ruffled skirts from Jalisco and indigenous costumes from the Yucatan.

Sponsored by the Downtown Puerto Vallarta Association, the Jalisco Ministry of Tourism and the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board the Viva Fiesta Puerto Vallarta is held Wednesday nights every other week at the Lazaro Cardenas Plaza in Old Town. The weeks in between it is held in the neighboring state of Nayarit. The show is free and dinner and a beer can be had for about US$15.

If the travel pundits have it right, tourists will continue the trend of expecting a more authentic, experiential encounter than the commercialized, planned tourist destinations, such as Cancun and Ixtapa, can deliver. Puerto Vallarta is ideally positioned to take advantage of such trends. Although it is populated with plenty of resorts of all stripes it was originally a fishing village and important port during the silver mining boom of the 1700-1800s, so it has more of an authentic feel than other parts of Mexico where government-planned resort communities developed in the 1970s.

It's not an off-the beaten path destination but the tourism board and local businesses have been working hard to provide a glimpse of Old Mexico through folklore dances, musical performances and other events. While Viva Fiesta Puerto Vallarta is produced for tourists, it is presented in a low key, open air environment that is closer to the type of performance that might be seen in a Mexican village, and there were appreciative Mexican residents and visitors in attendance.

At first glance Puerto Vallarta may look like a just another tourist town but if you slow down and take a little time you can discover remnants of the past. If ticking off the sights isn't enough to satisfy your craving for immersion here are some ideas to spark your interest.


In addition to Viva Fiesta Puerto Vallarta, held on Wednesday evenings, dance performances are commonly offered on Fridays at the Lazaro Cardenas Plaza and other shows are put on there and on the Malecon throughout the year during various celebrations. Listen for the music, check the Puerto Vallarta events calendar  or inquire at your hotel.

Charro Festival

One of the newest offerings, charreada rodeos, is held in the newly built Vallarta Arena outside of town. Charreada, the national sport of Mexico, is put on for locals, not tourists, so it's a truly authentic event that showcases traditional horseman skills that evolved from ranching traditions in the 1600s. The National Charro Championships are held in Arena Vallarta at the end of January, but check the Puerto Vallarta events calendar for other rodeos.


Getting away from the busy tourist centers in Puerto Vallarta gives you a much better chance of discovering a sliver of Old Mexico. Yelapa is one of several destinations that is within an hour or two of town, where the pace is slower, the food spicier and the trappings of commercialization fewer.

There is only one way to get to Yelapa and that is by boat. An inviting crescent-shaped beach gives way to a small village that winds up a steep hillside to a popular waterfall. There are a few vendors along the walk to the waterfall but it's pretty mellow, and several open air restaurants serving ice cold beer and freshly grilled seafood line the beach. Bargain for a small boat at Mismaloya or take a tour with Vallarta Adventures and enjoy a day out of the fray.

San Sebastian del Oeste

Deep in the mountains, 4,500 feet above Puerto Vallarta lies a substrate rich in silver and other minerals.

San Sebastian del Oeste, a prospective World Heritage Site, is one sleepy silver-mining town that enjoys a smattering of tourists that venture along the steep road snaking up the mountainside.

If you go on a tour you're likely to supplement a visit to the town with some side stops at a coffee plantation, agave farm and Hacienda Jalisco that has attracted such stars as John Huston and Elizabeth Taylor.

The colonial town tumbles up and down steep ravines, nestled into the nooks and crannies of the rugged terrain. A town square, beautifully maintained church, silver jewelry craftsmen and architecture are of interest to visitors. Take the public Red Line bus, rent a car or take a tour with Vallarta Adventures or Superior Tours.

La Cruz de Huanacaxtle

La Cruz, as it is often referred to, is a small fishing village north of Puerto Vallarta in the state of Nayarit, that has sprouted a surprising number of eclectic restaurants due to its expat community.

What sets La Cruz apart from Puerto Vallarta proper is that it retains its village feel with open-air cafes serving the freshest seafood imaginable, pulled from the ocean hours before serving, and Tacos on the Street where patrons sit in chairs on the street or in a families' front patio, and you can bring your own alcoholic drinks.

The pace is slow, the views wonderful and the beaches wide and warm. Take the bus or a taxi from Puerto Vallarta or stay at Villa Bella.

Huichole art

Native American Huichole tribes living in the mountains of Western Mexico, including the states of Jalisco and Nayarit, are known for their unique peyote ceremony and the psychedelic colors that characterize their yarn and beaded art. Some simple and fine examples of Huichole art can be found in the Downtown flea market and art galleries in Puerto Vallarta, as well as adorning the walls of some resorts, including the Ohtli Spa at the Marriott CasaMagna, which prominently features Huichole art and artifacts throughout the facility.

As tourists become more interested in experiential travel it will become increasingly important for popular destinations to offer some insight into local traditions through art, music and dance, as well as striking a delicate balance between encouraging tourism in smaller villages and towns without destroying the cultural authenticity that makes it desirable in the process.

Puerto Vallarta, though long populated with small and large resorts, has been making significant strides in balancing typical fun-in-the-sun activities such as sailing and snorkeling with offerings that have cultural validity that increase our understanding of the rich heritage of the area.

Inga Aksamit is a free-lance travel writer who loves to explore places near and far, in search of adventure. Whether it's discovering the beauty of the outdoors, testing the limits of athletic endurance or enjoying the nuances of a fine bottle of wine, Inga can find adventure almost anywhere she travels. She has published in a variety of print and on-line media so she can share her experiences and make travel planning a breeze. It's all out there...join the journey.

(Photo Source: Inga Aksamit)

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