Top 10 Free Activities in Town (click on options)
So you've decided to visit Puerto Vallarta, a famous beach destination. If you research a bit you'll see there are many things to do, great restaurants, fabulous beaches, a fun and active nightlife and shops around town and much more. What about the free options, what about just sightseeing?
In this list we'll concentrate on things that are both attractive, picturesque, cultural and fun, as they say in Spanish: "Bueno, Bonito y Barato" (the three B's), that is: good, nice and cheap.
Puerto Vallarta by Google Earth
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.
Here we go, the top 10 things to do in Vallarta are:
1- The Malecon
2- Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe (the "Cathedral")
3- The Romantic Zone (Old Vallarta)
4- Playa Los Muertos & the Los Muertos Pier
5- Isla Río Cuale and the Market
7- Naval Historical Museum
8- Marina Vallarta
9- Los Arcos Marine Park
10- Manuel Lepe
11- Downtown Puerto Vallarta
12- The lighthouse on Matamoros
Vallarta Botanical Gardens
1. The Puerto Vallarta Malecon
Without doubt the most popular, fun and typical place to visit in Puerto Vallarta, the Malecon in Downtown Vallarta, it's a seaside promenade by the edge of the ocean, it's a pedestrian walkway, completely remodeled 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, 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, many of the "in" discos and nightclubs are located here too. The Malecon has two areas, the original version on Díaz Ordaz and what is called Malecón II that extends 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 visited it.
2. Our Lady of Guadalupe Church
Puerto Vallarta's Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Church is the symbol of the city, it dominates downtown Puerto Vallarta's 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.
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 Virigin 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).
3. Puerto Vallarta's Romantic Zone (Old Vallarta)
South of the Cuale River you enter the Romantic zone, 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 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 Vallarta are all about.
4. Playa Los Muertos (Los Muertos Beach)
This 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 you should walk along Malecon II and cross the bridge over the Cuale river and you enter 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. 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.
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.
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.
Playa Los Muertos is not really a beach for those looking to relax and get away from it all, but if you want action, this is it, the heart of all Puerto Vallarta beaches.
5. Isla Rio Cuale
In the middle of Puerto Vallarta, between downtown Puerto Vallarta and the Romantic Zone you'll find the Cuale River and an island between two arms of the river: Isla Rio Cuale (Cuale River Island), an extraordinary place of cobbled passages and dense trees with large iguanas hidden among the branches.
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.
On the island you'll also find a small archeological museum and statue of John Huston.
6. Mismaloya Beach
Mismaloya beach 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.
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 made Puerto Vallarta suddenly an attractive place to visit.
Today Mismaloya offers excellent accommodations, restaurants, palapas and all kinds of entertaining activities. There are also small shops offering jewelry and local crafts.
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.
The Naval Museum in Puerto Vallarta was opened in 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.
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 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.
8. Marina Vallarta
Another great family trip should include Marina Vallarta, a luxurious area that is located just 15 minutes from downtown Puerto Vallarta. The area includes many 5 star and Grand Tourism hotels/resorts, that offer the best restaurants and spas. 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 restaurant that offers delicious dishes and a beautiful panoramic view from above.
9. Los Arcos National Marine Park
In 1984, Los Arcos, 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.
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.
10. Manuel Lepe
Finally, you can't leave Puerto Vallarta without enjoying the artwork of one of the greater artists from this city, we are of course talking about Manuel Lepe. His mosaic mural "Fish Vendors" is displayed of the ground floor 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.
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".
View Top 10 Things to do in Puerto Vallarta in a larger map.
The ones that got away:
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:
Downtown Puerto Vallarta
11- 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.
Lighthouse on Matamoros
12- The 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!
View Lighthouse on Matamoros, Puerto Vallarta in a larger map
Hacienda de Oro and the visitors center at Vallarta Botanical Gardens
13- Vallarta Botanical Gardens: This place is 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!
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