Just south of the Romantic Zone is an area referred to as Puerto Vallarta’s South Zone. Approaching Conchas Chinas the highway curves tightly through long stretches of winding mountains affording visitors incredible cliff-side and panoramic views of the spectacular Pacific coastline as seen against the lush backdrop of the Sierra Madre mountains.
The rugged jungle scenery of the South Zone is punctuated by several ultra-luxury accommodations to include Dreams Resort, Garza Blanca Preserve Resort & Spa, Presidente Intercontinental, and Barcelo Puerto Vallarta. Other lovely properties include Mar Sereno Hotel & Suites and Casa Iguana All-Suites Resort. There are also smaller boutique hotels such as the stunning and precious Quinta Maria Cortez, many condo complexes, and exquisite villas such as Casa Valerie (7-bedroom villa) and Villa Mandarinas (8-bedroom rental residence) with unique modern/tropical architecture. Many properties situated in the South Zone boast spectacular views of the Los Arcos Maritime Nature Reserve.
The South Zone has several remnants of Hollywood history. In and around Mismaloya in 1963, Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Tennessee Williams filmed The Night of the Iguana. During the making of that movie, the red-hot love affair between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton sparked international interest in Puerto Vallarta. Although there are several fabulous beaches in the South Zone, a visit to the enchanting Mismaloya Beach where the steamy Taylor-Burton love affair ignited should make the must-do list for visitors to the South Zone. In 1987, the jungle scenes in the movie Predator were filmed on location in the hills behind Mismaloya.
While adventure seekers looking for excitement head to the Encore Bungee jump facility located just south of Presidente Intercontinental Hotel, animal lovers head to the small village of Mismaloya to visit the Vallarta Zoo. Accustomed to zoos with signs saying “Don’t feed the animals,” visitors are delighted to find that at the Vallarta Zoo operators say “Please feed the animals!” For a nominal fee (about $5 USD) visitors can purchase bags of food that contain carrots, breadsticks, and seeds to hand-feed the majority of zoo residents to include a hippo, giraffe, zebras, ponies, antelope, pigs, flamingos, ostrich, peacocks, and more. Each brown bag of food has a list printed on the side informing participants as to which food types can be given to each animal. As this special zoo is also a world-renown large-cat breeding facility, for an additional fee visitors are offered the rare opportunity of holding and interacting with baby lions, baby tigers, and baby panthers (depending on which babies have recently been born) as well as a spider monkey or two. Where else in the world can you do something so fantastic like that?
Farther down the highway from Mismaloya is scenic and tranquil Boca de Tomatlan. From Boca you can take a water taxi (about $7 USD each way) to several remote beaches accessible only by water. Among these beaches are Las Animas, Quimixto, and Yelapa. A little village that evokes images of Robinson Crusoe, a visit to enchanting Yelapa along with making the short hike up winding cobblestone streets to the closest of two waterfalls is an almost magical excursion that must be experienced at least once. For groups of four or more, it’s very affordable to hire a private panga boat and captain for the day at Boca and have the luxury of being shuttled to each of the various small beaches on your own time schedule, possibly also enjoying fishing or snorkeling during the day.
Continuing down Highway 200 from Boca de Tomatlan (just 30-minutes south of Puerto Vallarta’s Romantic Zone), you will reach the lovely Vallarta Botanical Gardens. For just $60 pesos per person (about $5 USD), stroll through lush gardens in a mountain setting, and view a majestic granite half dome encrusted with orchids, plumeria and wild vanilla. Here there are world-class plant collections and miles of hiking trails. After your exploration is complete, relax with a cool beverage at their on-site restaurant and enjoy a delicious and affordable lunch (Additional information at: http://vbgardens.org).