When you think of the movie-making capital of Mexico, you might think Mexico City, Cancun, even Juarez (for better or for worse) but would you put the village of Mismaloya on that list? Probably not but the fact is this sleepy village just minutes south of Puerto Vallarta has had its environs as the site of not one, not two but THREE major Hollywood movies.
In 1963 Puerto Vallarta was a small fishing town with a dirt airstrip and no scheduled air service and Mismaloya was a blip on the road to somewhere else. Director John Huston came to this area for deep-sea fishing, an activity he loved so when the Tennessee Williams play The Night Of the Iguana became available to film, Huston knew exactly where he wanted to film it.
The play, based on a short story Williams wrote over a decade earlier was about an affair between a defrocked priest and the young daughter of one of a group of Baptist women he is leading on a tour of the Mexican coast and the subsequent filming of it became more famous for what was happening off-screen than on.
Several names were bandied about for the lead role including James Garner and Marlon Brando before Richard Burton fresh off the filming of Cleopatra was chosen. During the Cleopatra shoot, Burton carried on a controversial and very public affair with co-star Elizabeth Taylor and although she was not in the cast of Iguana, she and Burton set up house in a villa in Puerto Vallarta (which can be visited today on tours) to continue the affair, although much of the shooting was in Mismaloya 15 kilometres away. This, of course attracted press from around the world and made Puerto Vallarta a household name for vacations and the rest, as they say is history. The Mismaloya bay so enchanted Huston that he built a house at nearby Las Caletas, accessible only by boat and spent much time there in ensuing decades. Las Caletas today is also a huge tour draw especially for a beautiful candlelight beach dinner show.
When we stayed in Mismaloya in 2008, the Iguana sets at the south end of the bay unfortunately were in ruins and closed to the public but it was still a nice walk with beautiful views.
The movie itself is not Huston’s best work but Burton and costars Ava Garner and Deborah Kerr give outstanding performances in this black and white classic.
Although it was a box office bomb, Robert Shaw, James Earl Jones, Genevieve Bujold and Peter Boyle descended on Mismaloya in 1975 where the (at that time) untouched bay doubled for Jamaica in the expensive pirate epic, Swashbuckler. A full size 16th century replica ship, the Golden Hind was sailed down from Los Angeles for filming!
Much of the shooting was done on the grounds of what is now the Barcelo Puerto Vallarta (where we stayed while we were here). In a trivial note, John Huston’s daughter Angelica was cast in a small role…at least she didn’t have far to commute!
While entertaining to a degree (of course, I love swashbuckling movies), much of the film is puerile and silly…but the locations!
As you pass through the streets of Mismaloya, you will come to the unique Puerto Vallarta Zoo, built into the mountainside of the jungle behind the village. Pass on the road to the right and continue hiking (make sure you’re in shape!) or taxiing up 3 kilometres and you’ll come to El Eden, the site where Arnold Schwarzenegger filmed his classic movie Predator.
Here you’ll find the carcass of the original helicopter from the movie as well as a Predator looking down on you!
You’ll also find El Eden Restaurant, an open-air hideaway that has a small waterfall ending in a pool of water next to the tables…
…with a rope swing if you feel the need to cool off during lunch (I did!).
Across a walking bridge you’ll also discover a canopy tour so you can find yourself zip lining through the jungle.
Predator is definitely one of Aahnold’s better ones, full of crass humour and full-on action although some of the gore is not for the squeamish.
There are so many beautiful views and vistas in this area of Mexico, it’s no surprise that it’s been chosen so often by Hollywood. Make sure to experience it for yourself!