The town of Puerto Vallarta (pop. 350,000) perches at the most tranquil recess of one of the Pacific Ocean’s largest, deepest bays, the Bay of Banderas . The bay’s many blessings—golden beaches, sparkling sunshine, blue waters, and the seafood that they nurture—are magnets for a million seasonal visitors.
Puerto Vallarta is really two cities in one—a new town strung along the hotel strip on its northern beaches, and an old town nestled beneath jungly hills on both sides of a small river, the Río Cuale.
Travelers arriving from the north, whether by plane, bus, or car, see the modern Puerto Vallarta first—a parade of luxury hotels, condominiums, apartments, and shopping centers. Visitors can stay for a month in a slick new Vallarta hotel, sun on the beach every day, disco every night, and return home, never having experienced the old Puerto Vallarta.
And that would be a pity, for old Puerto Vallarta offers a trove of the very delights for which savvy vacationers flock to Puerto Vallarta. The best place to begin is the path along the tree-shaded isla (island) that basks smack in the middle of the Río Cuale.
Continue uphill to the maze of cobbled streets that wind among the picturesque homes of Gringo Gulch . Return downhill to the breezy Malecón  beachfront downtown, with its feast of handicrafts shops, art galleries, and nighttime party spots. Along your way, be sure to sample the offerings of old town’s treasury of fine restaurants, both trendy-chic and traditional Mexican.
Continue your adventure to the beaches, starting at south-end Playa los Muertos ; then ramble farther south, beyond the town limits and along the Bay of Banderas’s verdant shoreline to explore the hidden beaches, waterfalls, and picturesque fishing coves.
Finally, be sure take a boat taxi or tour to one or two of the automobile-free jungle village hideaways perched on the southern shoreline of the Bay of Banderas.