Neighborhood Profile: Emiliano Zapata
Published Nov 4, 2008 - (Updated Dec 5, 2012)
Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Fall/Winter 2008 issue.
Let’s face it: The phrase Emiliano Zapata just doesn’t have the same allure as Olas Altas, Romantic Zone, South Side or even Basilio Badillo. These are, in fact, names of well-known streets and areas in one of Puerto Vallarta’s most happening colonias, or neighborhoods: Emiliano Zapata. An entire city within a city, Emiliano Zapata comprises a 9 x 9-block grid south of the Rio Cuale, waiting to be explored. It encompasses all the areas and streets mentioned above, along with many others.
Even entering the colonia from points north along I. Vallarta is bound to give you a small thrill if you pay close attention. As the road nears the Isla Rio Cuale bridge, Emiliano Zapata’s northern boundary, it turns and rises, revealing one of the colonia’s busiest thoroughfares, along with the gorgeous Conchas Chinas hills as a backdrop limiting its southern edge. As you descend from the bridge, the topes, or speed bumps, serve a dual purpose, slowing down both your vehicle and your mindset. Although dynamic and cosmopolitan, enough of Old Vallarta remains in Emiliano Zapata’s soul to encourage you to relax your pace. The Cuale river wraps around Emiliano Zapata and, along with the small Libramiento tunnel, serves as its eastern boundary. On the opposite end, it meets Los Muertos, Puerto Vallarta’s most popular beach.
While Emiliano Zapata is home to some of Puerto Vallarta’s finest gourmet restaurants, many of them listed in our Dining Guide, it also is home to some of our town’s most tourist-safe taco stands and legendary eateries, such as Cenaduría Celia, arguably serving some of the finest pozole in town. It is also home to art galleries and mercados, or markets, where you can indulge in fine and folk art, respectively — not to mention a variety of specialty shops and convenience stores. And birds of a feather do flock together in Emiliano Zapata, as most of Puerto Vallarta’s gay community congregates there. From elementary schools to universities, 24/7 drugstores to hospitals, humble abodes to regrettable high-rises, Emiliano Zapata is as multifaceted as it gets.
There isn’t a single street not worth exploring in Emiliano Zapata, and the best way to do so is on foot. Begin with Los Muertos beach, which now connects with Puerto Vallarta’s popular Malecón via a recently constructed pedestrian extension that begins at Lazaro Cardenas plaza, also recently remodeled. Parallel to the ocean, Olas Altas’ bustling outdoor cafe scene is the only place in town where you can purchase fine jewelry, find a hot date, sing and dance your heart out, and ride a real donkey, all on the same block. And every New Year’s Eve, Olas Altas closes access to vehicular traffic, becoming one of Puerto Vallarta’s most popular block parties and a one-of-a-kind spot to greet the New Year.
Heading inland, I. Vallarta and Insurgentes are Emiliano Zapata’s main arteries, both featuring a variety of shops, galleries and restaurants for every taste and budget. Gutiérrez Rizo, or “Rizo’s” as it’s commonly known, is a popular supermarket and gathering point for snowbirds living in the colonia — and one of the few places in town where you can find Triscuits and other north-of-the-border treats. Next to Rizo’s, you’ll find it hard to resist crossing the hanging bridges that connect Emiliano Zapata to Isla Rio Cuale, a popular diversion for kids of all ages.
Perpendicular to the ocean, Basilio Badillo stands out as a must-explore street, sometimes referred to as “Restaurant Row” due to the number of fine eateries established there. Nearby Lazaro Cardenas, the longest street in Emiliano Zapata, travels east-west, gradually revealing the original small-town nature of the colonia as you walk inland.
As urban development progresses north and south of Puerto Vallarta, Emiliano Zapata’s privileged terrain has sheltered it from excessive expansion, for the most part, making this colonia a must-see for anybody visiting Puerto Vallarta for the first time. And for residents and seasoned visitors, a walk through its cobblestoned roads is a perfect way to rejoice and remember the fact that this is, after all, as typical as Mexican neighborhoods get.