1. The Puerto Vallarta Malecon
Without a 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.
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 Northside 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 visited it.
More on the Malecón
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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.
Puerto Vallarta Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish
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 Virgin of Guadalupe Festival celebration is held.
Parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe, seen from Independencia Street, downtown Puerto Vallarta
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
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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.
Romantic Zone has many great restaurants
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.
Puerto Vallarta Romantic Zone Bars & Restaurants
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 info on the Romantic Zone
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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.
Los Muertos Beach, Romantic Zone, Puerto Vallarta
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.
Playa Los Muertos Panorama (Los Muertos Beach Panorama) Puerto Vallarta
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.
Las Amapas Beach just past El Púlpito, Puerto Vallarta
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.
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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.
Souvenir and market stands on the Cuale Island,
Cuale River Island has a central walkway lined with small shops with Mexican souvenirs, talavera, silver jewelry, clothes, authentic handicrafts 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.
Read more about the Cuale River Island
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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 ’60s, 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 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
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7. 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 view, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco State, Mexico
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 about the Marina Vallarta area
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8. 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, was 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 de Mismaloya (The Mismaloya Arches), Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico
The small islands are breeding areas for a number of important seabird 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
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9. Vallarta Botanical Gardens
Vallarta Botanical Gardens, Hacienda de Oro Visitor Center
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 return from the gardens don’t forget to experience a fabulous meal at 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
10. Cerro de la Cruz Lookout
La Cruz Hill Lookout downtown Puerto Vallarta
The Cerro de la Cruz Lookout (Lookout on The Cross Hill), is, as the name states in Spanish, a lookout on the top of the La Cruz hill (Cerro de La Cruz) that towers on the East side over downtown Puerto Vallarta. It faces and views the sea silently, one of the most beautiful locations and bays of the Mexican Pacific, the Bay of Banderas and PV.
The Cross that gave the hill and lookout its name, Puerto Vallarta
Splendid panoramic views of Puerto Vallarta and the Bay of Banderas, without a doubt a place to bask in the beauty of the Mexican Pacific. Do not miss the Cerro Las Cruz Lookout if you are in town and are in shape to get there, it will really be worth the effort to get there.
Read more on the Cerro de La Cruz Lookout
Some extra ones you’ll enjoy too
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. 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), which previously was a Mexican navy hospital.
Puerto Vallarta’s Naval Museum 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.
Naval Historical Museum, downtown Puerto Vallarta
If you go upstairs you’ll find a coffee shop that offers not only WiFi, cheap breakfasts, and cappuccinos, but also, a great panoramic view of Banderas Bay.
The Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9 AM to 7:30 PM – Saturdays and Sundays open from 10 AM to 7:30 PM. Admission was free in the past, now it’s 45 pesos for adults – 30 pesos for students and seniors with valid ID.
Puerto Vallarta Naval Historical Museum, Malecon
Address: Zaragoza 4, Downtown Puerto Vallarta, Phone: (322) 223-5357.
More on Art & Culture in Vallarta
12. 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 1981 Puerto Vallarta Malecon
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 Puerto Vallarta City Hall
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
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13. Downtown Puerto Vallarta
Downtown Puerto Vallarta at dusk
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
14. Lighthouse on Matamoros
If you are into photography or like panoramic views, 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 side streets, 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 are in view. Enjoy! Read more.