Los Muertos Beach (in Spanish: Playa Los Muertos, translated as "Deadman's Beach") is the most popular, the best known and the most visited beach in Puerto Vallarta, despite the ugly name (more on that below).
You'll find it south of the Malecon and the Cuale river and island, between the river and Venustiano Carranza (where you can find Daiquiri Dick's) in what is called Romantic Zone (Old Vallarta) the beach is called Olas Altas beach and from Venustiano Carranza to the south it's called Los Muertos.
The beach is very popular among families, the locals and visitors from the neighboring cities and states.
Foreigners that enjoy the local culture also hang out here as do the expats, it's lively, full of traditions and a great place to drink a beer and watch the sun set.
Now with the new pier, the place is a fun mix of old and new, traditional and modern, you have to visit it and you'll see what we are talking about.
Various views of Los Muertos Beach (click to enlarge)
Why the ugly name!
There are three different explanations to the sinister name the beach.
Version one: This beach was near a ranch called "Las Peñas" where gold and silver from the Cuale mines was later embarked, one day the local Indians ambushed the transport ship work crew killing them all and leaving the beach covered with dead men, thus, Playa Los Muertos.
Panoramic view Los Muertos, 2006
Version two: (with a little more Hollywood influence), even includes pirates, these were responsible for the slaughter, and they ambushed the muleteers that brought the minerals, thus, Playa Los Muertos...
Version three: The last one, that seems to be the correct one, is that the beach was a sacred cemetery of the local indians. This was first noticed when residents started digging up bones in ceramic pots, a custom of the local indian tribes when they buried their dead. The most recent evidence supported by Archaeologist Dr. Joseph Mounjoy supports this last theory.
This is all fun enough, but Playa Los Muertos is the top attraction in Old Vallarta, the beach is crowded compared to the rest of the beaches in Vallarta and even the Bay, but that also means that if you enjoy people watching, you'll have fun here: vendors, activities, food, beers, parasailing, a swim in the ocean (the waves aren't big), build castles in the sand with your kids.
Playa Los Muertos (click to enlarge)
Then you can also enjoy the restaurants, bars and cafés, at night there are quite a few very good ones right there on the beach, so it's a gourmet dinner enjoying one of the famous and romantic Vallarta sunsets and now with the colorful and impressive pier too, picture perfect.
"On the hills east of Playa Los Muertos lived the fishermen who, every morning before sunrise, would come down with sails and oars over their shoulders to go fishing. One of them, "El Gaviota", had a "chirito" - a dug-out canoe - that, for a few pesos, he would rent to the young boys learning to be sailors.
Los Muertos Beach, some time in the 1950s.
Photo kindly sent by Charles Chapman.
At the foot of the hills there were several "palapas" - palm-frond huts - such as Cloro's or Murillo's where coconuts, soft drinks and the occasional glass of "raicilla" were sold. Farther to the south the leafy manzanilla trees provided shade for most bathers, but some unfortunate swimmers developed a severe rash from being near the tree.
Playa Los Muertos 1970 compared to 2012
Los Muertos Beach is the most popular beach in Puerto Vallarta. Up until the 1960's, it was the favorite place for Vallartan families and their Sunday picnics. They would gather in the shade of a palm-frond lean-to and eat the tacos they had brought from home in straw baskets, or the tacos that they bought on the beach, adorned with a little shredded cabbage and seasoned liberally with "Tomatlán" sauce.
Ships in front of Los Muertos Beach 1957
While the adults, sitting in beach chairs, or reclining on woven palm mats, chatted, the children, under the ever-vigilant eyes of their parents, would play in the bay's crystalline waters.
During those years, the only water that ran into the bay was the water from the palapa belonging to Cloro because of the showers that were there. The water came by gravity-flow from Las Canoas (up the Cuale River) and was only used to rinse salt and sand off bathers. Instead of the unpleasant smell of gasoline and sun-tan lotion, the beach was fragrant with the smells of salt-air breeze.
Sunset seen from Los Muertos
In the end of the 1950's, when more tourists began arriving in Puerto Vallarta, the local authorities tried to change the name of the beach. They suggested names like Las Delicias and Playa del Sol, but tradition won out and to this day it's still Los Muertos Beach. Many people are curious with regard to the name of the beach and how it came about, a name that, oddly enough, native Vallartans associate with happy childhood memories, not with funerary events."
When reminded of his life and work as a Vallarta historian, Mr. Munguía rekindled:
"Memories are leaves carried by the Autumn winds, deep scars created in time by past experiences, the sun's reflections and ghosts of days gone by. They are music that delight you in those slow hours far from what we love. They are the happiness of a man that remembers the years he lived in Vallarta".
Professor Carlos Munguía Fregoso passed away December 6th, 2004.
Nice view of Playa Los Muertos, taken before the new pier was built