Approaching Las Caletas beach from Banderas Bay. Credit: Vallarta Adventures

Approaching Las Caletas beach from Banderas Bay. Credit: Vallarta Adventures

Marcia and I were happy to get seats in the front row for the outdoor show. Friends forever, we were catching up during her first trip to Puerto Vallarta, when suddenly she let out a shriek of sheer horror. Inches away from her knee was an iguana, its ruffled scaly crown waggling, its long rubbery tail slashing about. And it was big. As big as a man.

In fact, it was a man, with eyes so big and liquid and sad that Marcia actually reached out and petted the poor thing’s head. It blinked its gratitude and wiggled onto the stage.

This element of surprise is why we love to bring our guests to Rhythms of the Night, a daily extravaganza that is a Puerto Vallarta must-do. We tell them only that we’re going on a boat at night, and to bring comfy shoes and a sweater. That’s all they know.

We catch the Vallarta Adventures catamaran at the cruise port and watch the retreating lights of town while handsome young men roam on deck handing out glasses of Margaritas and Rum Punch. When one waiter runs out, another turns up with more. Rockin’ tunes spill forth from the DJ’s laptop, covering pretty much the years of our lives. At one point, the waiters, the captain, and the DJ get up on the front deck to twerk and jerk and bust their best moves to wild applause.

Forty minutes later, after sunset, the boat approaches land (see photo at the top of this post). The music changes to a pagan mystery Indian flute, and we see a long dark beach lit only by 600 torches and 4000 votive candles. It is thoroughly spooky and beautiful at the same time. All hushed now, we are led down the dock to the coast of Las Caletas, a private beach owned by the tour company, once the country home of director John Huston.

By candlelight, we see a woman playing a violin, a little band of men playing a rack of tequila bottles, and a flute. A waiter is leading us to our table for three, which is past the beach, over a footbridge, up a hill and onto a patio. The shelter above us is rustic and hand wrought, as is all the furniture.

Amidst the votives and torches, we make our way to a grand buffet of salads, beef, shrimp, pasta, and elaborate desserts. Waiters wander with a bottle of wine in each hand, red and white, refilling any half empty glasses. The musicians roam about, playing at one buffet and then another. There must be about twelve of these mini outdoor buffets and dining rooms, but the lighting does not permit us to see more than our own. That and a peek at the turquoise sea, lit from beneath, from between hanging cerise bougainvilleas.

We lingered over our coffee and Kahlua, and then a ringing bell summoned us to the amphitheater hidden in the dark behind a hill. We take our seats as a man dressed as an Aztec warrior warms up the crowd, gruffly shouting in a non-language. He walks on the theater benches, between people, over people, teases people, harasses people. On tall poles behind us, acrobats spin and dangle. An iguana appears next to Marcia. She shrieks.

(Credit for photos above: Vallarta Adventures and Tom Lichty)

How to explain the show? Channel Cirque du Soleil. The set is the side of an Aztec pyramid. The musicians, dressed in white, play drums and flutes and didgeridoo. Beautiful women dressed as Mayan showgirls float down the aisles and onto the stage, singing mystical tunes.

Men twirl lit torches and throw them in the air. Then they throw girls in the air. Gymnasts do impossible things. Warriors in loincloths and body paint leap around. There are so many young bodies and flamboyant costumes and incredible postures and somersaults, that these people may be an alien tribe after all. And not just dressed like an alien tribe.

We applaud at the end, but we are so dazzled that it doesn’t seem enough. We make our candlelit way back to the boat. The boat departs and the boys come around again with trays of drinks. The crew puts on another show, this time with blond wigs and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” In mid-bay, the sky is black and the stars are plentiful, like so many votive lights on a hidden beach.

The lights of Vallarta grow closer. The cuddling people break up, the dozing people wake up. We have loved our third visit to Rhythms of the Night, a symphony of precise organization, emotional generosity, and wild beauty. We can’t wait to go again.

Every trip is a bit different. I may never have a man-sized iguana at my knee. And I kind of hope I never do.