What today is the island in the Cuale River exists since 1926 (originally known as Isla de Santa Clara & Isla de Los Niños - The Island of the Children), when the river grew and forked into two separate arms leaving a temporary island in between them. The "Isla del Río Cuale", the Cuale River Island, currently is a peaceful and relaxed shade-rich oasis in the middle of downtown Puerto Vallarta.
The Cuale River is one of the seven rivers that start off in the Sierra Madre Mountains and ends up in the Banderas Bay, it divides the town into the downtown area north of the river and the Romantic Zone (Old Vallarta) to the south.
There are two main bridges for vehicles and pedestrians, one on Insurgentes St. (northbound) and another on Ignacio Vallarta St. (southbound), they are connected to the Island with stairs that descend from the street. There are also a few hanging bridges that allow pedestrians to get to the island.
Since 2012 there is also a very nice pedestrian bridge that connects Cuauhtemoc Street in the Gringo Gulch (to the north) to the Island by the Cultural Center on the East end of the island. In the past there was no easy access between this two colorful parts of town, this bridge has changed that.
Gringo Gulch is the favorite bohemian part of the historic downtown area, the place where artists, actors, directors and other gringos (foreigners from north of the border) established themselves starting off in the late 1950's and 60's up until today.
This pedestrian footbridge offers a spectacular view of the Romantic Zone to the south, the surrounding mountains, the Cuale river and, you can also catch a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean.
The island was settled for some time until 1971 when precipitations from a passing Hurricane Lily caused the river to grow and the island was completely flooded. Residents were moved to a new "colonia" called "Pa'lo Seco" (Where it's dry) further up the river and on higher ground.
In 1975, workers dredged the riverbed to establish the island as a permanent feature. The island at that time was also called Children Island because it was used as a recreational area, and then became a cultural space full of people, activities, and happenings that have defined Puerto Vallarta's history.
These include the washerwomen, who, until the end of the 60's were a permanent fixture on the island, washing clothes under small palapas they made with branches and palm fronds. Children enjoyed the area splashing in the river or taking rides floating along on inner tubes.
The growth of the city and the tourism boom changed the Island into a meeting and marketplace and enriched it with various new options, a museum, restaurants, bars and more.
The Cuale Island today offers, a museum and the Cuale River Cultural Center, a business side with restaurants, shops, and stands that offer everything from silver, ceramics, sombreros, hammocks, and souvenirs, with little parks, benches, sculptures, and art.
You'll also find John Huston's statue, a tribute from the 25th anniversary of the movie he shot in the area that pushed the city into the limelight and into the world tourist map, The Night of the Iguana.
If you walk to the West, the Pacific side, you'll arrive at the cute Museo Arqueológico del Cuale (Archaeological Museum) that offers a small but impressive collection of pre-Columbian figurines.
Museo del Cuale
Don't miss the chance to visit Cuale River Island when you are in town, you'll surely enjoy it, the colors, the different options, and the calm ambiance.
A video that walks you through most of the island
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