Puerto Vallarta: A Treasure Chest of Opportunity and Adventure

October 16, 2012

To dive or not to dive. That's one of the luxuries of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where the warm tropical ocean teems with colorful fish and giant turtles while the land attractions offer plenty of space for work and play.

Nested between the Sierra Madre Mountains and the Banderas Bay, Puerto Vallarta has been gaining ground as incentive, as well as trade show and convention destination.

Its home state of Jalisco may be famous for tequila and Mariachi, but this beachfront town can hold its own with plenty of colonial charm, lots of new and established convention infrastructure and a friendly attitude, not to mention the ocean that's impossible to resist. One of its top assets also is accessibility thanks to several non-stop flights from U.S. cities.

Puerto Vallarta got on the convention map in a big way when it hosted the 2012 World Economic Forum on Latin America, which was inaugurated this morning by Mexico's President Felipe Calderón at the Puerto Vallarta International Convention Center. Over 900 global leaders in business and politics required a red-carpet treatment, and the destination delivered.  Several high-profile events have followed and are on the books for 2013.

"One of the reasons why we're seeing an increase in our conventions is because organizers feel that it's safe here," said Laura Sauzes Ramirez, vice president of sales and marketing for Puerto Vallarta International Convention Center. "We've never experienced any issues. There are over 80 cameras that monitor high-traffic tourist areas and for specific events, local authorities provide additional security."

Opened in 2009, the convention center is able to accommodate events from 15 to 5,000 people. It offers 53,820 square feet of convention and trade show space, including 4,843 square feet of flexible meeting space upstairs that can be divided into seven rooms.

The outdoor plaza has 247,578 square feet and can be used for performances and receptions. The venue also has a fully stocked kitchen that can provide food and beverage for up to 1,500 attendees simultaneously.

As part of its conservation and sustainability mission, the convention center supports “El Salado” Estuary; a protected mangrove and marsh oasis on some 42 acres adjacent to the venue. The main characters here are crocodiles, iguanas, crabs and thousands of birds.

Groups can take a boat ride through the marshes and get up close and personal with the wildlife in their natural habitat or even participate in a releasing program when during specific times a year hundreds of baby iguanas and 3-year-old crocs are released into the wild.

Groups also are able to be part of the conservation efforts at several hotels, including Marriott Casamagna Puerto Vallarta. Along with making their own tequila, this hotel has its own turtle hatchery. Every summer and fall hundreds of sea turtles come to lay their eggs on the nearby beaches and are particularly impartial to the beach volleyball courts and other high-traffic areas.  Marriott Casamagna employs a biologist who rescues the eggs and places them in a special incubation area.  After 45 days baby turtles are ready to face the rough seas.

“It’s important for us to protect the areas where we do business,” said Lourdes Bizzarro, public relations manager for the hotel. “That’s why we have a biologist on our team. It’s part of our brand philosophy.” Marriott Casamagna offers 443 rooms and 9,000 square feet of flexible meeting space.

Puerto Vallarta is seeing an increase in convention tourism, as well as tourism in general, said Alfonso Robledo, director of sales and marketing for Sheraton Buganvillas Resort and Convention Center. Among the most popular industries are medical, oil and pharmaceutical. Sheraton offers 477 rooms and 17,000 meeting space, including 8,000 square foot  trade show floor with direct loading access.

As part of the trend, several new properties are ready to welcome guests to their all-inclusive havens. Secrets Vallarta Bay, a stunning adults-only property right out of Restoration Hardware catalogue, opened in the spring of 2012 and features 271 rooms.

The adjacent Now Amber is family friendly and features 327 rooms. The two properties share 8,351 square feet of flexible meeting space, even though direct beach access and numerous azure pools with free Mai Tais make it very difficult to work. A few miles away, a waterfront Hilton Puerto Vallarta is scheduled to open in October 2012. It has a contemporary vibe and offers 259 rooms as well square feet 7, 212 feet of flexing meeting space.

One of the joys of this destination is the abundance of activities for companions. The vibrant downtown has plenty of colonial charm mixed with the refined culture of galleries and restaurants of the Malecon, a waterfront promenade beautiful at sunset.  Outdoorsy types would enjoy canopy rides through the jungle or a snorkeling excursion at The Marietas, several uninhabited islands billed the “Mexican Galapagos.” It’s a rare place to see blue-footed boobies and watch dolphins ride the surf behind the boat.

“It’s also a great place to do nothing at all,” said Edgar Argumedo, general manager at Las Caletas, a private beach retreat about a 20-minute boat ride from downtown. The magic of the warm ocean, palm trees and hammocks here was made famous by film director John Huston who had a sanctuary on this beach and invited Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton to read "The Night of the Iguana" script.

Now ordinary mortals, too, can bask in the flickering candle light and listen to the tide as they enjoy a traditional Mexican dinner buffet starring tequila flan and finger-licking carnitas.

The venue is able to accommodate up to 500 and also offers daytime activities. At night, a Cirque-du-Soleil style show blends local traditions with the sounds of the surrounding jungle and fire dances.

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