In This Fully Appointed Retirement Haven, You Get What You Pay For…And Then Some
“Early in the morning,” writes Correspondent Lauren Stanley, “joggers and dog-walkers are the only ones on the malecón, the seaside boardwalk separating the white-sand beach from the cobblestoned street with its row of shops. Often there is a slight haze in the air, softening the Pacific’s blue and blurring the sharp edges of the high-rises seen in the distance, across the bay.
“At this hour here in the Romantic Zone, the only sounds are the waves as they curl onshore and the occasional whoosh of a passing vehicle. The row of whimsical bronze sculptures along the malecón–among them a boy riding a seahorse, a couple in love, and (my favorite) pillow-headed figures climbing a ladder to the sky–are their only company. This is not an early-rising city, and the shops and restaurants are still closed. Their enticing displays–gem-studded jewelry, gaily colored ceramics, chic beachwear, and more–will be available later, as the city wakes up.
“On the quiet side streets, that climb steeply toward the hills, people leave homes and apartment buildings to do their daily shopping just as they would anyplace…just as though they weren’t lucky enough to live in one of the most romantic cities in the world.
“For that curving white-sand beach nearby fringes one of the world’s largest and most beautiful bays–the Bay of Banderas. And the city that hugs its shores is the legendary resort of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
“Romantic, Puerto Vallarta certainly is–it’s a favorite spot for weddings and honeymoons. But this city has more than romance going for it. As a retirement destination, PV offers top-notch shopping, fine dining, a wealth of activities, convenient communications with the United States, plenty of English-speakers for socializing, and a beautiful location on the Pacific.
“And, despite Puerto Vallarta’s international appeal and glamorous cachet, it remains surprisingly affordable, including the cost of its real estate. “Marina Vallarta is relatively new, and it’s a city within a city. Marina Vallarta has condo and hotel high-rises around a protected 450-slip marina, with shops and restaurants on the buildings’ ground floors.
“Golf courses, water parks, and other amenities are nearby, as are several developments of single-family homes. Marina Vallarta is just south of the Nayarit state line and is also a short cab ride from the international airport and long-distance bus station. If you’re looking for a modern, well-constructed property in an area that’s easy to reach and has shopping and dining nearby, Marina Vallarta could be a good option.
“Average price for a condo here is in the US$250,000-and-up range, but lower-priced properties are available. When I visited recently, a one-bedroom, one-bath condominium was for sale in a gated community by the golf course for only US$95,000–fully furnished.
“The downside to Marina Vallarta is that the rest of the city is several miles away. Living here, you could feel a bit isolated.
“More in the heart of things are the areas farther south. Closest of these to Marina Vallarta is the so-called Hotel Zone. This area began to take off in the 1970s; today it’s a string of modern hotels (including some with condo-hotel units available for rent or purchase) and shopping centers along the sea. But go inland just a couple of blocks, and you find residential streets of modern, medium-sized homes and condos.
“At the northern end of the Hotel Zone (Zona Hotelera Norte) high-rise condos can start at around US$100,000.
“For many (including myself), the most charming parts of the Puerto Vallarta region are Old Town (also known as the Romantic Zone) and the historic center.
“These areas are very popular with tourists…meaning property prices are higher.
“The historic center, also known as Centro or Downtown, is the oldest part of the city and its current heart. This is the area running north of the Cuale River to the Parque Hidalgo and near the parish church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The beachfront area–including the malecón and the street running beside it (the name changes several times along its length)–are busy with tourists from mid-morning until late at night. For several blocks back from the beach, the ground floors of buildings are commercial property, housing bars, restaurants, galleries, and shops. Centro is a lively, fun area–but it can be downright noisy at times, and options for daily grocery shopping are limited. For these reasons, it isn’t our top pick for full-time living. However, it can be a great area for a rental property investment.
“A better bet for full-time retirement is the upcoming neighborhood of 5 de Diciembre, just north of Centro. This neighborhood is just a few minutes’ walk from Centro’s shops, restaurants, and street action, yet parts are much more residential.
“Old Town, also known as Viejo Vallarta (Old Vallarta), is just south of Centro. The official name of this neighborhood is Emiliano Zapata (you still see it referred to this way), but the tourist brochures have taken to calling it the Romantic Zone. (This is the area I spoke of above.)
“As with Centro, the beach/malecón area here is very active in the afternoon and evening, with particularly trendy bars and restaurants. The Romantic Zone is the heart of Puerto Vallarta’s gay scene, but really everyone comes here.
“You reach lovely, quiet residential areas just a few blocks inland, where small condos are available starting at about US$175,000.”