Taking in the sights on foot is a great way to see some of the things Puerto Vallarta has to offer. By lacing up your walking shoes and setting out on your own, you get a close-up peek into shops and side alleys, and you can linger as long as you want in the ones that pique your fancy.
There are several walking tours that can easily be done without a guide. A good starting point is the Malecon, the half-mile long boardwalk that borders the shoreline in the El Centro or downtown area on the main street of Paseo Diaz Ordaz. Start at Vallarta’s first hotel, The Rosita, which just celebrated its 50th birthday. Along the Malecon visitors can stroll between the famous sculptures, La Nostalgia, The Seahorse, The Dolphins, and others. Or sit and watch the people from one of the many benches. Sunsets are magical from the Malecon and many come here just to watch this spectacle. Sundays are special along the boardwalk, when many Mexicans families congregate in the afternoon and evening.
Across the street from the Malecon are scores of stores, restaurants and nightclubs. Try a Mojito Cocktail while you enjoy a cigar at La Bodeguita Del Medio, a new Cuban eatery. (Ernest Hemingway hung out at the one in Havana.) At Los Palomas Restaurant on the corner of Aldama, stop in to see the mural of local personalities. Sin Nombre is a terrific dress shop across the street from the Malecon and Maria of Guadalajara is where you’ll find breezy/gauzy fashions. Los Arcos, the outdoor theater is located at the south end of the boardwalk. Here, you’ll find an array of artists and vendors. Performances are given in the theater during the evening hours.
Right across the main street from Los Arcos is the Plaza Principal. This is the city’s main square, bordered on one side by City Hall and on the other by banks and more shops. This large plaza is Puerto Vallarta’s hub and is always humming with activity. It has a large central gazebo with benches where you can sit and listen to the wandering musicians that frequent the square. Wandering the nearby streets you will find many fine art galleries, quaint tiendas (little shops), and literally dozens of restaurants.
The beautiful Lady of Guadalupe Church can be seen from the opposite side of the square towards the east. Walk the two blocks east to Calle (Street) Hildalgo to find the entrance to this stunning Cathedral with its trademark crown of angels. As you leave the church, turn left and walk one block, go up the stairs to 446 Zaragoza. This is Casa Kimberly, the home that Richard Burton bought for Elizabeth Taylor while he was filming “Night of the Iguana” at Mismaloya Beach. After the pair married, they purchased the house across the street and joined the two homes by a pink bridge. The casa is now open as a bed and breakfast as well as for tours. The pretty bridge remains a favorite place for couples to wed.
Casa Kimberly is located in the neighborhood called Gringo Gulch. This area is famous for its white stucco houses with bright red tile roofs that cling to the mountainside, with bougainvillea that spills from every window and balcony, adding even more charm to this very colorful community. Gringo Gulch is where the first foreigners settled; it overlooks the Rio Cuale and Isla Cuale (River Cuale and Cuale Island).
From Casa Kimberly‘ walk one block east to Calle Miramar, turn south to find the upper bridge over the river, on Calle Libertad. Take the stairs down to the island where several shops and restaurants are nestled among the trees. Le Bistro Jazz Café is an excellent fine dining restaurant over looking the river in a truly wonderful setting. The island is also home to the Cuale Museum of Anthropology, a music school, an art center, and John Huston Plaza, where a statue of the famous director is located. There are small hanging footbridges that act as shortcuts to the other side of town.
Back up on the street where Calle Libertad becomes Calle Insurgentes is the Mercado Municipal. The Mercado Municipal, (City Market) is a flea market — a maze of shops that offer everything for the tourist. Try your hand at bargaining for t-shirts, silver, handicrafts and souvenirs of every description.
Zona Romantica (Romantic Zone), is located 4 blocks further south off Insurgentes on Calle Basilio Badillo. Here, cozy restaurants and bars line the street. Adobe Café is a local favorite and so is Tapas where you can get great bar eats. Fredy’s Tucan is said to be the best breakfast place in town. Basilio Badillo also has trendy shops such as Viva for international jewelry, La Bohemia for clothing and Laura Lopez Labra for romantic dresses and wedding attire. There are also other unique boutiques such as Indigo where textiles from all over Latin America are sold.
Heading west toward the water on Basilio Badillo is Calle Olas Altas and Los Muertos Beach.
Olas Altas is a very colorful area full of nightclubs: Andale, Daiquiri Dicks, martini bars: Apaches, Kit Kat, eateries: Café Maximilian, Archie’s Wok and on Pulpito Street, Chilies for the best chicken in Vallarta. There are also scads of shops like Mango Too, for Bali, Chinese and Vintage clothes and Pladi Collection Custom Jewelry and Clothing. Many locals gather here for their morning coffee in one of the two bookstores or for lunch in any of the sidewalk cafes. All are just steps away from the city’s most popular beach, Los Muertos.
On Los Muertos beach, you’ll find several waterfront restaurants like the historic La Palapa, and El Dorado. Most have palapas, lounge chairs and offer beachside service to their customers. Any manner of sport activities can be found here as well as at the Pier at the foot of Francisca Rodriguez. Water taxis and other types of charter boats are available to take customers fishing or out to secluded south shore beaches. This area is also home to several older Vallarta hotels, including Los Arcos Vallarta, Los Arcos Suites, and Playa Los Arcos. These are among the first lodgings built in the city. They are charming, economical, and best of all, right on the shore.
At the north end of town is Marina Vallarta. This planned community’s focal point is the 500-slip marina, the largest in all of Mexico. Here fishing boats, sailboats and cabin cruisers share the docks with world class yachts. Over two dozen restaurants line the Marina Malecon with shops — Puerco Azul, Huichol Art Center, jewelry stores and art galleries such as Galeria Flores, Arte de Las Americas and Galeria EM where stunning glass art of all kinds is manufactured. All are located at the base of several condominium projects where many of PV’s year-round residents live amongst the tourists.
Marina Vallarta’s landmark is El Faro, a 110-foot high lighthouse. At the top is El Faro Bar, a circular lounge that features live contemporary music and a spectacular view of the marina. It’s one of the best spots to watch the sunset. Several first class hotels and resorts are in the Marina Vallarta area. The Marriott Casa Magna, Velas Vallarta, Westin Regina and the boutique hotel, Sierra Plaza are all located within walking distance of the golf course and Marina Vallarta.
Speaking of golf, Marina Golf Club is located across the street from the marina and is the most popular course in Vallarta. The 18-hole golf course sports a beautiful clubhouse with dining facilities, lounge, lessons, putting green, golf range and pro shop. Several important tournaments are held there each year.
During the high season, from November to mid-April, the art galleries of both Marina Vallarta and El Centro offer art walks. Once a month each area’s numerous art galleries host evening cocktail inaugurations. These events are held to exhibit the latest work of their honored artists. Maps are given to attendees to find the galleries — all within an easy walk from each other. These “Art Openings” are the highlight of the season and have a large following.
And, if your shoes have worn out by now, you will find a wide range of styles and prices at any of the many zapaterías (shoe stores) found through the city.