Though most of Puerto Vallarta has developed organically around tourism maintaining a Mexican character, it includes very traditional pockets of what Puerto Vallarta is and has been in its history, the main square and Juarez street, for example, that have changed very little in time.
Another place, not so well known by tourists, is El Pitillal, a small town that has been gobbled up by the growing urban area of PV.
Just 10 minutes from downtown Vallarta, you'll arrive at this friendly and traditional Mexican town within the city. It offers a true view and taste of Mexican day to day living, no luxury here, no show, just the daily routine of México, a typical workingclass neighborhood.
El Pitillal is the largest municipality within Puerto Vallarta's jurisdiction (delegación, since 1975) and has a population of 80 thousand inhabitants. It was mainly formed by people that arrived from surrounding areas to collect the "coquito de aceite" (small oil coconut), later changing to agriculture and cattle-raising, and now more and more, commerce and tourism.
The town's name derives, as explained by the town historian, Martín Meza Sendiz, from a very common plant that grew on the edges of the river, called "pitillos" (straws), so both the river and the town were given that name, El Pitillal, a place that has held to its traditions and local ideals.
The attractions you'll find here are laid-back and old fashioned, parades, strolling musicians, fireworks, cultural events around the plaza are the high points, in general you're more likely to find teenagers, old-timers and street vendors talking, flirting and laughing. You will find all sorts of local food (read: traditional and unmodified tacos, gorditas and tamales), souvenirs, drinks, pasteries and much more.
San Miguel Arcángel Parish
The heart of it all is the San Miguel Arcángel Parish on Av. Emiliano Zapata, once a palapa-roofed church, now a stone church with two brick bell towers and a clock in between.
It makes the whole trip here worth it, with some beautiful and unique carved wood pieces, including a 26 foot tall resurrected Jesus Christ carved from one piece of wood hanging impressively over the altar as if floating in the air. It was placed there March 23, 1992.
The church is also the focal point of the Patron Saint Archangel Michael in the month of September, where the plaza is even more full of color and music, small food vendors, games and lots of activity, it's a big party with a float parade that goes around the town and neighboring areas, on one side Saint Michael defeating the Devil and on the other Jesus Christ helping Lazarus, in front of the float dozens of dancers perform typical dances in prehispanic costumes and behind the float a military band adds the background music for all the festivities.
The event is crowned with a typical fireworks display and a dance on the main square.
Where is El Pitillal?
It's located to the North-East of the Puerto Vallarta Hotel zone, some 20 minutes from downtown PV and the main square.
How to get to El Pitillal
The shortest route, by car or taxi is approx. 5 km or 3 miles. Buses marked "Pitillal" go north and make a right turn at Wal-Mart on Prisciliano Sánchez Street, get off when you are at the main square, in front of the church, it'll take you from 10 to 20 minutes depending on where you catch the public transportation and the time of day. A taxi is another option and is also quite cheap and fast.
What to do in El Pitillal
We already mentioned the plaza (main square) and the parish, another attraction is shopping around in this typical town.
Instead of one big boring store filled with mass produced low quality Chinese products as offered in Walmart or the local equivalents Mega, in the past you'd find your needs in a series of stores, all specialized and offering the best they could muster in good quality long-lasting produce and products.
So the town is actually a multi-street mall in the open air and you'll find that things here are cheaper than in the touristy part of town. El Pitillal, as any traditional town and barrio, maintains its focus on tradition and handwork, so you'll find many interesting stores in the blocks around the main square, some of these are:
El Vaquero: Mexican Cowboy fashion
Huarachería Corona: Offering the traditional leather sandals (huaraches)
Tarascán: Tortillas (taqueras, for tacos dorados and the best, hand made)
Tlapalería Los Arcos: The local hardware store
Pescadería Juanita: Get some fresh fish at this market.
El Lirio de los Valles: Mix-it-yourself granola in bulk
Fondants: Gourmet bakery
Ángel de Luz: Candles and candle-making supplies
Fraiché: Custom-designed fragrances
Veterinaria El Palenque: Pet supplies
Karina: Toys, novelties, plastic goods for the home
Other great things to buy here are: huamúchiles (a local fruit), peanuts, arrayanes (another fruit), tamales oaxaqueños, pan barroco, gorditas and Compostela cookies, cuala de coco, panela cheese from El Tuito, Jocoque and nopales (cactus leaves). A refreshing drink of "agua fresca", juice or tejuino.