Puerto Vallarta lies on a narrow coastal plain at the foot
of the Sierras Cuale and San Sebastián, parts of the Sierra
Madre Occidental. The plain widens to the North, reaching
its widest point along the Ameca river. Three rivers flow
from the Sierra through the area. From South to North they
are the Cuale, the Pitillal, and the Ameca. A number of
arroyos also run from the Sierra to the coastal plain. Many
of the valleys of these rivers and arroyos are inhabited.
Also development has to some extent spread up the hillsides
from the coastal plain.
The city proper
comprises four main areas: the hotel zone along the shore to
the North, Olas Altas - Col Zapata to the South of the Cuale
river (recently named Zona Romantica in some tourist
brochures), the Centro along the shore between these two
areas, and a number of residential areas to the East of the
hotel zone. The oldest section of the town is the area of
Col. Centro near the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe,
especially Hidalgo street.
Puerto Vallarta, like
much of the west coast of North America, is prone to
earthquakes, though Puerto Vallarta tends to experience only
peripheral effects of earthquakes centered further south. In
1995 an earthquake located off the Colima coast shook the
crown from the top of the Roman Catholic Church.