Meagan Drillinger
Meagan Drillinger

Long gone are the days of a sleepy Puerto Vallarta. What was once an under-the-radar escape on the Pacific coast of Mexico has become one of the hottest tickets in town. Luxury condominiums rise above tree-lined neighborhoods, whose streets are paved with cobblestones. Websites like Eater are writing full articles devoted to the explosive culinary scene across the city. Beaches are booming. The airport is expanding. And the quiet stretches of coastline to the north and south of the city are expecting some of the world's biggest names in luxury. Puerto Vallarta is, without a doubt, Mexico's next big thing.

A quick look at the numbers can prove this. November saw 341,800 international arrivals. That's a 20.9 percent increase from November 2019, and a 19.4 percent increase from November 2021. According to the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board, the expectation for 2022 is to exceed 6 million total arrivals by the end of the year. Luis Villasenor, managing director for the tourism board, said, "Puerto Vallarta is beyond recovery and experiencing a strong growth trajectory."

The growth trajectory in the destination is fueled not only by the developments and gentrification of the city itself, but by the buzz-worthy projects that are happening all around it. Puerto Vallarta is the gateway to Riviera Nayarit to the north and the Costalegre to the south, both of which are still bearing the fruit of significant investments from over the past decade.

Costalegre's new wave of resort

Most recently, Costalegre welcomed the Four Seasons Tamarindo. Reservations opened Nov. 7 for the spectacular resort. Surrounded by 3,000 acres of private nature reserve, the Four Seasons Tamarindo is a prime example of the new level of luxury that has been resetting the bar in Mexico. The 157 rooms and public spaces were designed to blend into the landscape, with an emphasis on local materials and an ethos that is all about protecting and giving back to the land.

"We are here to maintain and sustain the entire jungle that we have," said Felix Murillo, general manager of Four Seasons Tamarindo. "Our dream is that things will come into the resort, but we won't leave anything behind. Anything we consume goes to an organic compost. We have pigs that eat the compost. Everything goes back to the land again, and so on and so forth. We produce our own food. We want to add to the region. We are another layer of it."

A second project on the horizon is the highly anticipated, Xala, a luxury lifestyle community that set out with the intention to integrate seamlessly into the community, giving back and providing for residents who live here, while minimizing its footprint on the landscape. 

The project has already been in full swing with its community service, bringing clean, potable water to towns and villages, providing mental health services for kids and teenagers, launching a skate park and extracurricular program for students and more. On the hospitality side, Xala has signed its anchor hotel -- a luxury brand known around the world and one not yet in Mexico -- which will debut in the fall of 2024. Following the opening of the airport near Xala, guests and residents will be able to hop a shuttle flight from Puerto Vallarta, cutting the travel time from a nearly three-hour drive to just 20 minutes.

"Costalegre is a very unique area within Mexico because within five different developers, we control over 40 kilometers of coastline. Within that, all of us developers in the region have this vision of ensuring that Costalegre never gets overdeveloped and that we start to move into being more than just sustainable. We're actually trying to become a regenerative development," said Ricardo Santa Cruz, founding partner of Xala.

Puerto Vallarta development continues

And then there is Puerto Vallarta proper, which has changed dramatically since I became a regular there in 2013. Construction has already begun on a new terminal at the Gustavo Diaz Airport. Slated to be the first zero-energy airport terminal in Latin America, the project will have solar panels and a water management system that will lower energy consumption by 40 percent and water consumption by 35 percent. The airport currently sees 3 million passengers per year, but the new terminal will increase passenger capacity by 50 percent.

Much more than a beach destination, Puerto Vallarta has become a full-fledged city, with designer shopping malls, gourmet grocery stores, luxury condos, high-rises and a culinary scene that can serve up everything from streetside birria tacos to creative birria-broth ramen, elegant tasting menusand experimental cocktails.

And still, underneath the wheels of traffic (oh, the traffic!) are the cobblestone streets. Roads that meander up into the hills are still flanked with terra cotta tile-topped villas, and bougainvillea blossoms creep up white-washed facades on centuries-old buildings. Families still jump into the bay at 7 a.m. for a quick dip before heading off to work. And at night, the whistle of the churro cart pierces the humid air. The shadows of that tiny fishing village are there, and, if you know where to look, they are what continue to make this place one of my most favorite on earth.

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