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Chocolate Walk

Chocolate Walk ~~ Activity

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Historic El Centro

Fall in love with Puerto Vallarta as you walk the historic district with a native English speaker and resident whose love of the city is evident through the fascinating insights you hear. Walk the cobblestone streets, typical of Spanish Colonial architecture, while absorbing the sights, smells and sounds of daily life. This area of Vallarta is known as Old Town, where a settlement first began as a small fishing village over 150 years ago. First it was the discovery of silver in the Sierra Madre Mountains that drew people here, then it was the movie “Night of the Iguana” with its famous actors and outrageous scandals! Today it is a world-famous tourist destination. But fear not, once on this walk, you will be taken back in time to a slower, friendlier, quieter way of life.

This walking tour will also introduce you to the old world way of specialty shops and custom orders including a tailor who will create cotton and hand-painted clothes from your own design. Hear the story behind the Huichol Indians and their peyote-inspired folk art. See a demonstration of their colorful bead work. Learn how to navigate through a sweet-laden candy shop known for its hot, caramelized nuts prepared in a copper pot right in front of you, get expert advice on buying Talavera pottery, and how to get your shoes repaired where the priests have theirs custom made.

We begin at the Four Arches Amphitheater on the Malecón across from the central plaza while facing the expansive Banderas Bay, famous for the humpback whales that migrate here in the winter to birth their babies. Next we cross to the plaza where 100 year-old rubber trees bespeak of an industry of long ago, newspapers, shoe shines, and tuba drinks are sold, and locals gather for daily gossip sessions. We continue on the surrounding streets to learn about the historic colonial buildings, artisan workshops, the ecosystem surrounding the Rio Cuale, today’s educational system, and the local cigar factory where they not only roast their own coffee and cacao beans to make their own chocolates but also sell locally distilled tequila and vanilla. Hear the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church with its beautiful bells still rung by hand, the first mayor’s home of 1918 where their animals typically lived on the bottom floor that is still in excellent shape today, and the inspirations behind some of the famous Malecón bronze sculptures.

We end back on the Malecon where final questions and photos can happen. Two Puerto Vallarta guidebooks, written by the tour guide, are also available for those wishing to know more about this fascinating town.

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Gringo Gulch Walk

Gringo Gulch

Gringo Gulch is known for its ocean views, its Spanish Colonial architecture, and its colorful history. Join us on this walking tour as you hear described the evolution of Vallarta from sleepy fishing village to bustling shipping center for the Montgomery Fruit Company banana plantations and from the wild silver mining boom in the Sierra Madre Mountains during the late 1800’s to the tourist destination it is today. Hear how a lone man, Guadalupe Sanchez, started a salt business at the mouth of the Rio Cuale to support the mine’s silver extraction process.

The name Gringo Gulch originated in the 1950’s and 60’s when many northerners came to live on the only accessible hill in Vallarta at the time. Many of these folks were from Hollywood having come here during the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton era begun with the filming of the movie “Night of the Iguana” in 1965. Charming homes and villas rose up then, examples of typical Mexican style, designed and built by Wulff, Flavela, and Romero, characters and competitors with many stories following in their wake.

Walking along the cobblestone streets, you will see many plain doors beyond which lay beautiful homes with tile floors, lush courtyards, reflecting pools, and breathtaking views of Banderas Bay. Homes like Casa Farro under the light signal that guided ships into the rocky harbor below before 1970 when the port was moved further north; Casa Chimenea, former bakery named for its chimneys; Casa Barbara for Barbara Hutton, Woolworth heir; Casa Tabachine, home of a famous Texas classical guitarist; Casa Leonardo, now home of professional photographer and adopted son of Elizabeth Taylor; and of course the famous Casa Kimberly, home of Taylor and Burton during their tumultuous relationship.

And finally, get a taste of some local products as we finish our walk at the famous Cigar Factory and Cantina, known for its chocolates created from locally roasted cacao beans; organic coffee roasted in-house with beans from towns like Oaxaca, Veracruz, San Sebastian; aged Mexican tequila distilled from the agave grown east of Vallarta; local vanilla; and, as its name implies, hand-rolled cigars of Mexican and Cuban tobacco.

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Southside Neighborhoods

Take a different Puerto Vallarta walking tour to the other side of the river. The Rio Cuale, with headwaters in the rural town of Cuale some five hours up into the Sierra Madre Mountains, divides central Vallarta into north and south. The Southside, known as the Emiliano Zapata Colonia, is a delightful mixture of small family businesses, residences, and restaurants and is the second largest colonia or neighborhood in all of Vallarta. It also has the most diverse population and choices of any other area in the city.

Hear about the history of this town as it grew from a small fishing settlement to a silver mining area to the tourist destination it is today. Begin on the Rio Cuale Island at the statue of John Huston, director of the famous movie “Night of the Iguana” released in 1965. Continue over the swinging pedestrian bridge into the Southside, with a stop at the renovated home, now a B & B, of famous socialite and party girl from the 1970’s. Walking through the narrow cobblestone streets you will notice specialty services offered from local homes…seamstress, computer repair, eatery, grocery store. Arrive at the large bustling Municipal Market where it is the custom among Mexican families to shop daily for the freshest of meats, fish, produce, and of course tortillas! Watch the butcher prepare meat, the juice lady squeeze fresh pineapple, or select various dried beans, seeds, and herbs from the cereal and seed store. Enjoy the “chicken lady” as she deftly wields her cleaver to custom cut your chicken.

Continuing along the way, you will see the colonia’s newly painted Catholic church; taco stands that come alive at night with lights, smells of grilled meat and onions, and lots of people craving a midnight snack; the leather store where clothes and purses, belts and boots are created from hides of cow and sheep; the largest ceramic shop in all of Banderas Bay where you can watch artists carefully hand painting tiles, plates, bowls, sinks and vases before firing in the large kilns; a soap store where the smell of herbs and essential oils fills the air as the owners “cook” their next batch of soaps; and finally the art gallery and antique shops where you will find more than you can take home with you in one day!

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Yong man mixing corn for tortillas.

Rural El Tuito

Get out of town for a day and explore the past with a trip to 500 year-old pre-Hispanic El Tuito which lies an hour south of Puerto Vallarta. Feel the cooler weather as we travel by local bus along the “palms to pines highway” into this verdant valley which lies 2000 feet up in the Sierra Madre Mountains. Life moves slower in this small, rural town and the agricultural and cottage industries will surely interest you as we walk the well-worn streets.

The first thing you will notice are the colorful adobe buildings as we progress towards the main plaza. These earthy colors of burnt orange, sage, ivory and brown come from a wash made of the local clays. Potters come from near and far to dig their own clay here which they claim is some of the best in this part of Mexico. There is a local man who has become famous for his reproductions of pre-Hispanic figures. His daughter is happy to show you his rustic studio in their family home.

The spacious plaza is typical of most rural towns and is the regional seat for the local government. City hall, or the presidentia as it is called, is a prominent building on the plaza and houses a colorful mural, “The Universal Revolution,” depicting the ancient history of El Tuito, an Indian name meaning “beautiful valley.” Here is also where folks gather for fiestas, celebrations, market days, and dancing. The folkloric group of young people in regional costumes is a favorite on the outdoor stage.

There are many interesting and tasty things here to appreciate as we continue on our walking tour. The 200 year-old church is known for its simplicity and the large boulder placed in the sanctuary, a remnant from the days of the Conquistador’s simple Catholic chapel, and used today as the alter. The many cottage industries, most run by the women, are the mainstay for many families of this town of 3500 people. Panela cheese from the local dairies; blue corn tortillas from locally-grown corn; famous cookies and breads baked in an old wood-fired oven; and raicilla, a tequila moonshine that is enjoying an increase in popularity amongst tequila aficionados.

Visit the co-op art gallery in the former summer home of famous Mexican artist Manual Lepe while tasting locally-produced raicilla and chocolate-flavored tequila-a fiery experience before sitting down to a typical Mexican lunch in one of the family-owned restaurants. The bus ride back to Vallarta will find you satisfied and sleepy while perhaps munching on some of those oven-baked cookies for dessert.

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Snorkel Hike Swim ~~ Adventure Tour

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