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Cuale River Island, a downtown Puerto Vallarta oasis

River Café, Cuale River Island

Where is the Island? | Gringo Gulch-Cuale River Island Bridge | History | What to do

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.

Where is the Cuale River Island?

Cuale River Island Las Brazzas

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.


Gringo Gulch - Cuale River Island Pedestrian Bridges

La Iguana Bridge was built as part of Puerto Vallarta’s downtown revitalization project, it brought two important parts of the town together and injected a bit more life into the cultural end of the Isla Rio Cuale.

Since 2012 this very nice pedestrian bridge has connected Cuauhtemoc Street in the Gringo Gulch (north of the island) to the Island right by the Cultural Center on the East end of the island. In the past there was no easy access between these two colorful parts of town, this bridge has changed that.

It offers some very nice views of the Island and Old Vallarta to the south, the river is also in full display as well as the houses that line the edges of the Cuale River, many of them the original homes that established themselves in the Gringo Gulch.

You can see on photos from The Night Of The Iguana documentary that John Huston was there overlooking the river and a much less developed south side.

La Iguana Bridge (Puente de la Iguana) Cuale River Island to Gringo Gulch

This bridge, known as La Iguana Bridge, is a large white structure, using the same handrails found on the pedestrian bridge that goes over the Cuale river between the Malecon II and the romantic zone (Old Vallarta) so I will guess they were both built by the same company.

La Iguana Bridge from Cuale Island to Gringo Gulch

What makes this bridge stand out, besides the nicely designed metal structure (painted white), are some steps that appear more than halfway up, they bulge out of the rough concrete-sand stairs and are covered in green and yellow colored tiles, a nice touch that makes the Gringo Gulch bridge unique.

La Iguana Bridge (Puente de la Iguana) connects the eastern side of the Cuale Island to Cuauhtémoc street in the Gringo Gulch, from there it's a 250 ft walk and you'll be by the houses Liz Taylor and Richard Burton lived in while in Puerto Vallarta.

Bridge from Gringo Gulch to the Cuale River Island

There are three hanging bridges that connect the north and south sides of downtown Vallarta to the island, always fun to cross. There are two main concrete bridges for cars and vehicles that also have stairs that connect down to the island, there are two pedestrian bridges at both ends of the island, one by the sea and the Malecon's south end part of the extended seaside walkway, and this one, La Iguana, connecting the east end of the island with the historical downtown area and the Gringo Gulch.

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 1950s and '60s 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.


A bit of History

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.

Raspado Icecream Isla Cuale

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.

Isla de los niños (former name of the Cuale River Island)

These include the washerwomen, who, until the end of the '60s 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.

Cuale River flows through downtown Puerto Vallarta


What to do

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.

Le Bistro, Isla del Río Cuale
Le Bistro Restaurant as seen from the Riverside

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.

Souvenir and market stands on the Cuale Island
Stands with souvenirs in the Island

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.

John Huston Statue, Isla Cuale
John Huston statue by Le Bistro

If you walk to the West, the Pacific side, you'll arrive at the cute Museo Arqueológico del Cuale (Cuale Archaeological Museum) that offers a small but impressive collection of pre-Columbian figurines.

Museo del cuale
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.

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