Just north of the Puerto Vallarta Airport, a palm-shaded thoroughfare leads to Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta, a resort so sprawling that it feels like a lush city unto itself. Fringed by a mile of white sand beaches and shadowed in the distance by the Sierra Madres, the 2,500-acre property boasts 27 swimming pools, 38 bars and restaurants and five high-end hotel towers, including the Grande Luxxe and the Grand Mayan. Nine miles of wooden footpaths wind through the grounds. So does a lazy river, one of the main attractions at a family-friendly water park. You get the picture: It’s a Vegas-worthy mix of luxuriant diversions—and there’s more to come. In partnership with Cirque du Soleil, work is underway on an immersive theme park, replete with rides and games and acrobatic stage shows more commonly associated with the Strip. The park is slated to open by the end of 2018.
Meantime, there’s golf. Lots of golf. Already home to an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus design (an eye-catching layout ornamented by seven lakes), Vidanta cut the ribbon last year on a Greg Norman Signature Course that takes the quality of golf up a notch. Set on the far side of the Ameca River, the course is linked to the resort by the world’s largest golf-cart suspension bridge. The dramatic ride across takes you to a setting of tropical tranquility, unblemished by houses, where broad Paspalum fairways work toward greens with enough movement to hold your interest without driving you mad. Like most smart, modern courses, the Shark’s design can be beastly or benign, depending on the tees you choose. No matter where you play from, there are water hazards and jungle patches to watch out for. But if you lose a ball, blame yourself. This is resort golf, forgiving and fair.
It’s also evolving. Granted an additional swatch of riverfront land to work with, Norman has created five new holes, and the course has been rerouted to accommodate them. The resulting layout, just opened for play, offers greater shot variety and intrigue, its freshly seeded stretch highlighted by two par 3s that play over water and a terrifically testy drivable par 4.
That’s still not all. Even as Norman was working his redesign, Vidanta was busy building a 10-hole par-3 course, and it, too, has just opened. Gently guarded by tiny ponds and gorges, this walker-friendly layout meanders through the thrumming heart of a resort that bustles with activity from dawn to dusk—and then just keeps on going. That includes the par-3 course, which lights up for play at night. Fiesta, forever! [gallery:13664509]