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Top 10 Things to do in Puerto Vallarta

You're going to visit Puerto Vallarta, a famous beach destination, but there's many things to do, great restaurants, incredible tours, fabulous beaches, a fun and active nightlife and shops around town. Here's the list of the Top 10 free sightseeing & activities options.

The Malecon Los Arcos Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish The Romantic Zone Los Muertos Beach River Cuale Island Marina Vallarta Naval Historical Museum Mismaloya Manuel Lepe

The list offers the ten best options that are both attractive, picturesque, cultural and fun, and as they say in Spanish: "Bueno, Bonito y Barato" (the three B's), that is: good, nice and cheap.


Fishing Booker

Top 10 Activities in Town

Top 10 Free Activities in Town (click images - here to enlarge)

The Malecon Los Arcos Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish The Romantic Zone Los Muertos Beach River Cuale Island Marina Vallarta Naval Historical Museum Mismaloya Manuel Lepe

The best part is that Puerto Vallarta has a lot to offer, the city has developed organically into a top Mexico beach destination, it has its history, it has great nature and it small enough for you to get most places on foot or a short trip that many times is just as attractive as the destination itself.


1. The Puerto Vallarta Malecon

Without doubt the most popular, fun and typical place to visit in town, the Malecon (boardwalk) (more photos, videos, location) in the downtown area. It's a seaside promenade by the edge of the ocean, a pedestrian walkway, completely remodeled some years ago and is a sight you must not miss.

Stroll along, enjoy the view of the ocean, the beautiful statues along the way, admire the bay, in the afternoon the sunsets that color everything in tones of orange and red.

Puerto Vallarta Malecon

Puerto Vallarta Malecon

Enjoy watching Mexican family life, the street artists, the vendors and if you are feeling tired or hungry, walk into one of the innumerable stores, restaurants and bars along the other side.

At night the malecon is also a great place to start off the night activities, many of the "in" discos and nightclubs are located here too.

The Malecon has two areas, the original version on Díaz Ordaz (between Hotel Rosita on the North side and the Arches & Amphitheater on the South, and what is called Malecón II that extends from the Naval Museum south to the Cuale River (see image).

So, first and last, visit the Malecon, you can't really say you've experienced and enjoyed Puerto Vallarta without having strolled along it.

More on the Malecón.


2. Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Parish (read more, photos and videos) is the symbol of the city, it dominates the downtown skyline and is one of the favorite icons that you'll find not only in photos and shirts, but on postcards and souvenirs.

There is no way you can miss the church, it's a block from the main square and its very height will make it very easy to spot.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church

Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish (Church)

The church is always active, you'll hear the bells every day from early morning calling the faithful to mass, things really become active in the first 12 days of December when the the Virgin of Guadalupe Festival celebrations are held.

There are English and Spanish masses and you can visit the church itself most of the day (don't forget to be respectful).

More Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish.


3. The Romantic Zone (Old Vallarta)

South of the Cuale River you enter the Romantic zone (read more, photos & videos), also known as Viejo Vallarta (Old Vallarta), this is the busiest part of town. The streets are smaller, there are more shops, cafes, bars and restaurants per square foot than anywhere else in town.

Here you'll enjoy the famous cobblestone village streets that are so common in all the typical Mexican towns. This is the real traditional Mexican part of Pto. Vallarta.

Puerto Vallarta Romantic Zone (Old Vallarta)

Puerto Vallarta Romantic Zone (Old Vallarta)

Smaller hotels, older shops, more traditional taco stands and markets are part of the attractions in this part of town, this place is active all day, at night the fun never stops.

So, if you fall into the claws of an all-inclusive, don't forget to escape a few nights and really get to feel what Mexico and PV are all about here in Ol' Vallarta.

More on the Romantic Zone.


4. Playa Los Muertos (Los Muertos Beach)

Los Muertos (read more, photos, videos, map) is Puerto Vallarta's most famous and popular beach, it's over a mile long and is within walking distance from the Malecon in the Romantic Zone, actually, if you walk along Malecon II and cross the bridge over the Cuale river and you enter Olas Altas Beach which fades into Los Muertos Beach.

Playa de los Muertos

Playa Los Muertos

The scary name (Deadmen's Beach) seems to have come from local and archeological findings which dug up bones of indigenous tribes that used the area as a cemetery.

Playa Los Muertos offers many stores, restaurants and bars, where you can enjoy local dishes, a cold beer while you take off your shoes and dig your feet into the sand.

Pier detail

This is the area where water taxis take off to the paradise-like beaches of the south zone, 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), play in the sand with your kids.

Los Muertos Pier
The new pier at Playa Los Muertos

A renewed option for your stroll along the beach is the Los Muertos Beach Pier, a great photo option, gives you a great perspective of the shore, plus is the starting point for trips up and down the shore with cruises and water taxis.

Seahorse at Las Pilitas

Don't forget the visit the Seahorse statue at Las Pilitas on the way to El Púlpito. Crossing over the hill of Púlpito you can also find one of the hidden beaches, Las Amapas.

Las Amapas BeachLas Amapas Beach, just past El Púlpito

Playa Los Muertos is not really a beach for those looking to relax and get away from it all (unless you go past Las Pilitas to the South), but if you want action, this is it, the heart of all Puerto Vallarta beaches.

More on Playa Los Muertos.


5. Isla Rio Cuale (Cuale River Island)

In the middle of the city, between downtown PV and the Romantic Zone you'll find the Cuale River and an island between two arms of the river: Isla Rio Cuale (read more, photos, videos and maps), an extraordinary place of cobbled passages and dense trees with large iguanas hidden among the branches.

Isla Río Cuale

Isla Río Cuale

Cuale River Island has a central walkway lined with small shops with Mexican souvenirs, talavera, silver jewelry, clothes, authentic handcrafts and more. On the island you'll find quite a few good restaurants and cafés, like the River Café and Le Bistro Jazz Café.

River Café

On the island you'll also find a small archeological museum and statue of John Huston.

Read more on the Cuale River Island.


6. Mismaloya Beach

Mismaloya beach (read more, photos, maps and videos) is the place that started it all for Puerto Vallarta as a tourist destination.

In the early 60's Mismaloya was a small village that enjoyed a pristine bay and beach where a small river met the sea. Access was only by sea, which made the place completely natural and wild.

Mismaloya Beach

Mismaloya Beach

The beach is some 900 feet long in a soft curve, surrounded by jungle and the Sierra Madre Mountains.

In 1963 John Huston filmed "The Night of the Iguana" on a set installed at Mismaloya, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and the director later bought houses in the city and the area, which suddenly made the small sleepy town an attractive place to visit.

Today Mismaloya offers excellent accommodations, restaurants, palapas and all kinds of entertaining activities, including El Edén, the Vallarta Zoo, a Tequila factory and more. There are also small shops offering jewelry and local crafts.

More on Mismaloya Beach and Town.


7. Naval Historical Museum

At the southern end of the Malecon, the seaside walkway, right beside the open air amphitheater you'll find the Naval Historical Museum (Museo Histórico Naval), previously was a Mexican navy hospital.

Puerto Vallarta's Naval Museum was opened on November 2006, it offers a permanent exposition with 5 areas that include documents, charts, maps, scale boat and ship replicas, navigation instruments, uniforms, cannons, whale skeletons. There are also temporary exhibitions.

Naval Historical Museum

Naval Historical Museum

If you go upstairs you'll find a coffee shop that offers not only WiFi, cheap breakfasts and capuccinos, but also a great panoramic view of the Banderas Bay.

The Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9AM to 7:30PM - Saturdays and Sundays open from 10AM to 7:30PM. Access is free.

Address: Zaragoza 4, Downtown Puerto Vallarta, Phone: (322) 223-5357.

More on Art & Culture in Vallarta.


8. Marina Vallarta

Marina Vallarta

Another great family trip should include Marina Vallarta (read more, photos, maps), a luxurious area that is located just 15 minutes North of downtown Puerto Vallarta. The area includes many 5 star and Grand Tourism hotels/resorts, that offer the best restaurants and spas.

Marina Vallarta

Marina Vallarta

The area's heart is, as you would expect, a Marina, walk the surrounding boardwalk and you'll enjoy restaurants, cafés, shops and different stores, even a spa. The main landmark here is the lighthouse, which is an outdoor bar/restaurant that offers delicious dishes and a beautiful panoramic view from above.

More on Marina Vallarta.


9. Los Arcos National Marine Park

Los Arcos de Mismaloya close-up

In 1984, Los Arcos (read more, photos, videos, maps), the 5 small natural granite islets south of Downtown Vallarta, located in the bay, between Las Gemelas Beach and Mismaloya Beach in the south zone, were classified as a National Marine Park. The ocean around them is very deep, up to 1600 fee, which makes the waters among the deepest in Banderas Bay.

Los Arcos Marine National Park

Los Arcos

The small islands are breeding areas for a number of important sea bird species and some land species too, such as parrots. The sea around the islands is also teaming with life and is a popular destination for snorkeling and scuba diving trips, plus bay cruises arrive here all day long.

Read more on Los Arcos.


10. Manuel Lepe

Finally, you can't leave Puerto Vallarta without enjoying the artwork of one of the greatest artists of this city, we are of course talking about Manuel Lepe (read more, photos and legacy).

Vendedores de Pescado, Manuel Lepe

His mosaic mural "Fish Vendors" is displayed on the Malecón II right in front of the Naval Museum. This work was painted by Manuel Lepe in acrylic and silkscreen.

His paintings of small angels, children and Puerto Vallarta landscapes can be found in the homes of presidents and art collectors. The Queen of England, Elizabeth II, has one of his paintings at the Royal Mews Museum at Windsor Castle.

Manuel Lepe Mural at the City Hall

Manuel Lepe Mural at the City Hall (click for a different one)

Other celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor, Ronald Reagan, John Travolta and others seem to have understood what John Houston thought of the artist: "Manuel Lepe paints to bring joy to the hearts of the child in all of us".

More on Manuel Lepe Macedo.


View Top 10 Things to do in Puerto Vallarta in a larger map

Some extra ones you'll enjoy

Any list is subject to change and additions, in this case 10 were not enough, so we'll add a short list of extras, among these:

11- Downtown Puerto Vallarta

Downtown Puerto Vallarta

Downtown Puerto Vallarta

Downtown Vallarta: Just stroll around town, the small stores, the colonial style houses and buildings, the colors, smells and sights, all are a treat for those interested in different cultures and experiences.

More on downtown PV.

Lighthouse on Matamoros

Lighthouse on Matamoros

Lighthouse on Matamoros

If you are into photography, or like panoramic sights, this is for you. You'll need to be in shape to get there on foot, if not, consider a taxi, but you'll miss the fun of it. Go up toward the hills on the sidestreets, best if you go up Galeana and turn right on Matamoros, 100 ft. on your left are the stairs up. Suddenly all downtown Vallarta and most of the bay is in view. Enjoy! Read more.

View Lighthouse on Matamoros, Puerto Vallarta in a larger map

Vallarta Botanical Gardens

Hacienda de Oro at Vallarta Botanical Gardens

Hacienda de Oro and the visitors center at Vallarta Botanical Gardens

The botanical gardens are so well taken care of, like a gigantic jungle garden, natural, free, but still under control. Stroll around the many paths, cross small bridges, bask in the infinite colors, breathe in the very basic communion with nature. Once you're back have a fabulous meal ot the restaurant and take a refreshing swim in the river that runs through the property. Priceless and wonderful. Don't miss it!

Read more on the Botanical Gardens.

More interesting articles:

Some more ideas on things to do in Vallarta:

  1. http://travel.usnews.com/Puerto_Vallarta_Mexico/Things_To_Do/

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