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A Fresh Look at Puerto Vallarta

After the summer rains, Puerto Vallarta's hillsides turn a lush green and rivers tumble over boulders toward the sea. Shops and restaurants reopen after their vacation, and locals prepare a slew of surprises for the upcoming tourist season. You'll find a new performing arts center, several up-and-coming restaurants, some exciting tours and a jam-packed calendar of festivals and events.

Fandango, a splashy modern interpretation of Mexican culture, is presented Wednesday to Saturday nights at the new Teatro Vallarta, where it is performed by 15 musicians and 30 dancers. The slick 960-seat performing arts center also hosts touring troupes like the Russian State Ballet and the Black Light Theatre of Prague; check the calendar for upcoming events. 

Named for the white herons that grace the 85-acre nature reserve on which it sits, the new Garza Blanca Resort has become the place on PV's south shores to watch the sun set. Its Blanca Blue restaurant has full-on views of Los Arcos and Banderas Bay, and the cuisine (think roasted-beet sorbet and pancetta grilled scallops) is well worth the 10-minute cab ride from downtown. Some guests like to linger over imported cigars in the enclosed wine cellar. If the hour is late, you might choose to crash in a posh ocean-view suite. 

The view is just as impressive from Hacienda San Angel, a cluster of handsome villas on steep streets behind Vallarta Viejo's church. Non-guests can book a table to enjoy the rooftop restaurant's city-and-sea panorama while savoring gazpacho and al pastor shrimp. Come November, a primo 12-member mariachi band will really get the party started. 

If you're traveling with kids who are wannabe Captain Hooks, check out the new Black Pearl Pirate Ship, a sister to the popular Marigalante in nightly dinner-show cruises. You'll find fire dancers, fireworks and all sorts of pirate silliness.

More than 200,000 baby sea turtles make their way to the sea from beaches along PV's coastline between August and December. Naturalists from Ecotours de Mexico lead moonlight tours to a nursery where you can watch dozens of tiny hatchlings emerge from their nests. Come December, the tours head out to sea to view pods of humpback whales on their annual migration.

You'll need an expandable stomach and inexhaustible energy for the Festival Gourmet International, an 11-day culinary extravaganza with cooking classes, chocolate and tequila tastings, and irresistible menus prepared by talented PV chefs. The 2010 fest includes restaurants in the Riviera Nayarit, north of PV ( Meanwhile, anglers can focus on snagging a record-breaking sailfish during the International Marlin and Sailfish Tournament. This year's prizes will exceed $300,000, with an additional prize for any sailfish over the record 155.65 lbs.

NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.