Goodbye to a Little Big Man

Al Cardeña arrived in Puerto Vallarta with his family in 1969, in an era when the television and the phone still did not exist here, and a at time when only eight cars took control of the few existing streets. A talented and visionary businessman known for his passion at work, he lived here for 38 years until his recent passing.

The "chaparrito with big heart” as his daughter Alma called him, was full of personality and was very sympathetic to others. A native of Merida, Yucatan, he emanated the most distinct characteristic of Yucatecan culture - a heart of gold. He did not judge people, and this positive outlook brought him many friends during his lifetime. He was generous and demanding, noted the large number of Vallartenses who worked under his leadership. He loved women and tequila, and used to say that a good Mexican began to dance after two drinks.

Cardeña never fully imagined the potential for future growth in Puerto Vallarta. In recent years and facing the imminent development, he was upset by the unplanned growth in the city. However was pleased by the success that he discovered and generated at an early stage in his career. "He desired more control on growth and proper marketing of the destination," says his daughter Alma Cardeña who graciously agreed to talk with us and share memories of her father.

Cardeña was a perfectionist. At the beginning of his career, he was devoted to couples who came on holiday, but shortly after began to focus more on groups of travelers, when he realized that it would be more lucrative for him to use his skills as an excellent host. He subsequently went to visit agencies in the United States to attract more visitors, arranging tours for groups up to 400 people, many of which continued to return to Vallarta numerous times in the future. His own agency was called BigAl DMC, but was better known to all as "BigAl."

Another major success came in 1975 when he proposed to strengthen the fledgling Canadian market for this destination, by making contracts with Canadian wholesale tourism agencies. These initiatives helped strengthen the low season in Vallarta. As a tour operator, Cadeña handled ninety percent of group tourism in Vallarta during the 1980’s.

Today it is impossible to pass by his restaurant named Che Che and not remember this great little man. In 1983, his idea of building a comfortable and pleasant restaurant with heart and located in the jungle, came into being. It is strategically situated at kilometer 17 on the highway to Barra de Navidad and boasts views of the river and the sea. This project took two years to complete.

And that's where Cardeña’s life came to an end, tired but still a very kind man. This is a small tribute to the pioneer of travel agencies and maritime routes into Puerto Vallarta, who contributed to and enhanced its international reputation for nearly four decades.