Sunday, February 19, 2012

Puerto Vallarta: a place for the fortunate, and less-fortunate

Many years ago I went to Israel at a time when governments were warning travellers not to go there. I always remember a sign on a jewelry store window…15% discount for brave tourists!

I have been thinking about this sign during the past week as I lounged about a Conchas Chinos beachside condominium and wandered the streets of Puerto Vallarta. This is my first visit to PV in twenty years; however, my wife has been coming here annually with two friends for the past ten. One of them liked the place so much she and her husband purchased a condominium above us and her daughter recently got married here.

As I write, the Canadian government is warning tourists about travel to Mexico. In addition to the gangland slayings that regularly occur, (an estimated 50,000 deaths over the last 5 years), there have been a couple of tragic and unusual incidents involving Canadian tourists.

Of course, anyone who knows the country knows that PV is about as far away from Mexican drug lord violence as Ambleside Village. However, this hasn’t stopped many tourists from cancelling travel plans, even to this part of the country. Sadly portions of the beach outside all-inclusive resorts were quite deserted when I recently visited. I’m also told that flights in and out of Puerto Vallarta are less than full, which was not the case in the past.

Puerto Vallarta is a city of contrasts. In recent years the old town has seen some major upgrading with an attractive new waterfront walkway known as the Malecon and wide new sidewalks along some streets. However, there are also many streets that are difficult to navigate due to uneven surfaces, high curbs, garbage and debris.

While there are many attractive hotels and resorts, there are also signs of abandoned resort developments visible along the main thoroughfares.

The buildings are also very mixed. There are many upscale shops, galleries and restaurants. However, they are often interspersed with decaying or partially renovated buildings, vacant storefronts, and scenes that one does not generally find in tourist brochures.

The neighbourhood where I am staying is just south of the town centre. Conchas Chinos is generally regarded as an upscale area with many expensive hillside villas and condominiums overlooking the ocean. While the condominium market has been in the doldrums over the past few years, due in large part from the disappearance of American buyers, a surprising number of new projects are underway. Prices range from under $100,000 for a new studio to well over $1million for penthouse suites. A good quality, two bedroom, two bathroom condominium apartment in a well maintained older building will be in the mid $300’s.

North of the old town is Nuevo Vallarta, in the neighbouring state of Nayarit. A master planned resort community, now being branded as Riviera Nayarit, it includes a number of large all-inclusive resorts, hotels, condominiums, timeshares, marinas and golf courses. I was surprised to learn that one of the larger new community developments, Paradise Village, has a Vancouver connection. It was started by Graziano Sovernigo, a Canadian-Italian developer from West Vancouver who according to the Paradise Village website has spent the past 22 years developing resorts in Mexico.

It's an impressive development, with a number of new projects underway. Sadly, the one thing it is missing is 'a village centre'. Instead, it has an enclosed mall with too many vacancies.

Since I had never heard of Sovernigo, I Googled him and was interested to discover his involvement with a charitable undertaking known as Families at the Dump.

For many years, visitors to the area were increasingly aware that there were families living amongst the garbage in the city dump. A partnership was formed between Sovernigo and concerned community residents which has led to the provision of support services and other community amenities for these people.

More details about this initiative can be found here:

For those of you who are wondering whether it is safe to come to Puerto Vallarta and similar resort areas in Mexico, I would say most definitely. While at first I was 'on my guard', I quickly realized this is a reasonably safe place to be. However, if, as reported in this week's PV News someone tells you there is a ketchup stain on your shirt and pants, don't let them take you into the washroom to clean you off...because what they really want to do is take your wallet and clean you out!

But of course, this could happen almost everywhere...except perhaps Ambleside Village!


susanopera said...

There is also "no problema in Ixtapa", lots of French Canadians and folks from Ontariario too!

Yah know, I think it is all about common sense, and, think about what you do; how and where you do it!

Lots of Mexico City tourists in Ixtapa for a 3 day weekend and they are mostly on a bus from Mexico City - 10 hours away - each way.

The State of Mexico football and volleyball teams - all 60 of them, WON respective titles competing this weekend - well a Mexico time weekend - Thursday to Sunday and VIVA! (Mostly university students on the teams!)

Oh yah... the margaritas and "palomas" are great too!

Did I mention the AWESOME fresh seafood that is cheap and "deelish!"

Next stop for me is Zurich --- brrrrr!

Michael, thanks for sharing your thoughts, photos and VIVA MEXICO!

Canadians are still coming here!


John Youden said...

Thank you, Michael, for writing this and also the Vancouver Sun for picking up the story. This comes from a Canadian who has made PV his home for the past 25 years, and who also wrote the article in the Vallarta Real Estate Guide that you quoted (Thank you!).

I'm currently in Vancouver, visiting friends and family, so it was interesting to hear the perspective of a Vancouverite who has just returned from Vallarta, especially with the positive slant to it - something that unfortunately we don't get enough of in much of the media today. Mainstream media will take anything that happens in Mexico and portray it likes it's happening that way throughout the whole country. What happens in Tijuana or Nogales, is not necessarily what is happening in Puerto Vallarta. As in what happens in Toronto is not necessarily what happens in Kitsilano. Its been a media trend that has been very difficult to overcome.

And its wonderful to hear people express that such a beautiful city like Vancouver could learn a little from a place like Vallarta, regarding its streets, Malecon and sidewalks! Having been through a number of economic and real estate cycles in Vallarta, I realize that what Vallarta is going through now is a catch-up phase. When the real estate market is booming, its difficult for the city to keep up with infrastructure needs. With the current slow-down in the market, Vallarta is now catching up by completely overhauling the Malecon (excellent job, no?), new sidewalks, viewpoints for tourists and improving streets and access to town. Somehow the funds are found, and the work gets done.

The false security issue has been very difficult on Vallarta, its people and businesses. I think that soon–and I believe this is already starting to happen–people will not fall to media sensationalism, they will begin to have mainstream media "fatigue" regarding the misleading stories published about the town, that more people such as yourself will be heard with true stories of what life is like in PV, and people will return once again. And Puerto Vallarta will be ready, with its new sidewalks, roads and Malecon!

John Youden

Keith said...

It is nice to see an rational position in the press. We live here all winter and our friends in Vancouver often ask us about how safe we feel. We say we are much safer that in the east side of Vancouver. If you take reasonable precautions like anyone should in a tourist destination, it is a perfectly safe place.

We do not have a polyanna attitude. We have bars on our windows (the Mexican standard) and carry miminal cash when cruising around downtown late at night.

Although PV has a full time population of 350k, during peak periods it is rumoured to be over 1000k. It is a good target for scam artists and petty criminals. They have introduced TaxiSafePV to ensure that tourists feel safe.

This is our home in the winter and we have never felt unsafe in over 30 years of wintering here.

Michael Geller said...

John and Keith. Thank you both for taking the time to write. I will do what I can to promote your views since I think it is important for the public to get a more balanced perspective of the situation there.

ps John, I know that it's always a bit odd to find one's words being repeated by others; and pleased that you didn't think I misrepresented what you wrote! cheers

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