Published Sep 21, 2005 - (Updated Dec 21, 2012)
Taking in the sights on foot is a great way to see some of the marvelous things Puerto Vallarta has to offer, from historical buildings to new night clubs, cigars to sculptures. See luxury yachts, sun-drenched beaches and celebrity hide-aways; here are three walking tours that can easily be done without a guide.
El Centro Tour
A good starting point is the more than half-a-century-old Hotel Rosita, Vallarta's very first hotel. It is located on the north end of the Malecón, the boardwalk that borders the shoreline in the downtown area, on the main street of Paseo Díaz Ordaz. Follow this wide walkway past the first of several famous sculptures, La Nostalgia.
For decades the Malecón has been a favorite place for parents to bring their families, especially on Sunday afternoons when they can be seen taking in the excitement of the many activities that happen there. Right across the street form the Malecón you will find tons of shops and restaurants with plenty of window seats to watch the passersby and enjoy the views.
As you progress down the Malecón you will come to the collection of Alejandro Colunga's sculptures, one of the popular stops where, on weekend evenings, minstrels congregate to play their instruments and entertain the crowds, hoping for pesos to be dropped into their baskets.
Directly across the street at Corona is Las Palomas Restaurant; inside is a mural of local personalities that is worth a look. Walking up Corona one block to Morelos you will find an area full of shops, art galleries and historic architecture. Follow Corona three blocks and you will catch back up to the Malecón. Notice the lighthouse on the corner where every evening mariachi bands delight visitors with their colorful music.
Back on the Malecón you will find yourself at The Seahorse, another of Puerto Vallarta's famous sculptures. Follow the Malecón to Los Arcos, the outdoor theater located at the south end, where performances are given during the evening hours.
Right across the main street from Los Arcos is the Plaza de Armas. This is the city's main square, bordered on one side by the City Hall and the other by banks and shops. This large plaza is Puerto Vallarta's hub and is always humming with activity. It has a large central gazebo with benches to sit and listen to the Navy band that frequents the square. Plaza de Armas is where all the local holiday celebrations are held and is embellished with elaborate decorations for these festive occasions.
The Lady of Guadalupe Church can be seen from the opposite side of the square. Walk one block to Hildalgo to find the entrance of this red-brick construction with its trade-mark crown of angels. After leaving the church, turn left off of Hildago and head for the hills onto Zaragoza. Take the stairs to 446 Zaragoza, where you will find Casa Kimberley. This is the home that Richard Burton bought in 1963 for Elizabeth Taylor while he was filming The Night of the Iguana at Mismaloya Beach. After the pair married they purchased the house directly across the street and joined the two homes by a pink bridge. The casa is now a bed & breakfast and open for tours. The pretty bridge is favorite place for couples to wed.
You are now 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, and for the bougainvillea that spills from every window and balcony, adding even more charm to this very colorful community. Gringo Gulch is the area where the first foreigners settled.
Keep following Zaragoza past the round rock house on the left on to the lookout over the Cuale river valley. From there turn around and walk the two blocks back to Miramar. Follow Miramar one block to Libertad. The Mercado Municipal is across the street. The City Market is also known as the "flea market". This huge building is a maze of shops that offer everything for the tourist. T-shirts, silver, handicrafts and other souvenirs of every description can be bargained for there.
Retrace your steps on Miramar to Guerrero. Turn left, follow past the popular Trio Restaurant and more shops, hang a left back onto Hildago. Pass the church again and proceed on to The Flautist, the street becoming Guadalupe Sanchez, where several famous Vallarta landmarks are located: Casa de la Torre, a private residence, and the castle by the hill, Café des Artistes Restaurant, at Leona Vicario. Continue on Guadalupe Sánchez two more blocks and turn left at Allende. Follow Allende two blocks and you are back where you started along the Malecón.
South Side Tour
One of the most popular areas of Puerto Vallarta, Olas Altas is always exciting. Here you will see burros used to haul goods as was done a century ago and street venders offering anything and everything. You can even rent a horse here and see how if feels to be a real Mexican charro.
We begin this tour at Le Bistro Restaurant, located off Insurgentes on the Isla del Río Cuale. This island is where several tourist shops and fine dining establishments can be found nestled among the trees. A terrific place to explore, it is home to the Cuale Museum of Anthropology, a music school, an art center, and the John Huston Plaza where a statue of the famous director stands. There are also small hanging footbridges located on the island that act as shortcuts to the other side of town.
After wandering this quaint island, head south on the new pedestrian bridge at the mouth of the Rio Cuale to Vallarta's popular and happening Los Muertos Beach. Past the Molino de Agua hotel and a couple of condos is Lázaro Cárdenas Park (across the street is where you can hire the horses) to the beach. Follow the boardwalk past several of Vallarta's older hotels, beachside restaurants, and shops. Any manner of beach and water sport activities can be found here as well as the pier at the foot of Francisca Rodríguez where water taxis and other types of charter boats are available to take customers fishing or out to the secluded south-shore beaches. When the boardwalk ends, take a short walk in the sand past La Palapa Restaurant and return to the street at Púlpito. Be sure to take a minute to admire yet another impressive Vallarta sculpture, this one of a shark.
Walk up Púlpito and at the top of the street take the 112 steps up to a lookout point in the Amapas area overlooking the entire Bay of Banderas or turn left on Olas Altas. This is one of several very colorful streets in the zone that are full of nightclubs, martini bars, jazz joints, eateries, and shops. This is also where many locals congregate for their morning coffee at one of the coffee house-bookstores or can be seen lunching at one of the many sidewalk cafes.
Turn right on Basilio Badillo and walk the two blocks to the area known as Restaurant Row. Along this street are several cozy, romantic eateries and bars as well as some very unique boutiques. The street is especially pretty at night with the twinkling lights in the trees.
Head left when you get to Insurgentes. At the corner stop at a glass workshop and watch blown glass being created. Now you are in an area of Vallarta that is truly Mexican; street venders abound and there is a bustle of activity everywhere. Department stores, several music stores and a movie theater are also found on this street. Once you walk the five blocks to Rio Cuale you are back where you began this tour.
Marina Vallarta Tour
At the north end of town is Marina Vallarta. This planned community's focal point is the 355-slip marina. Here fishing boats, sailboats and cabin cruisers share the docks with world-class yachts. Early in the morning boat captains can be seen preparing their boats for the days' activities while on the boardwalk joggers, race walkers and dog walkers exercise as the sun comes up.
To reach the Marina Malecón walk past the large whale sculpture that welcomes its visitors and turn left, at the end of the street is the boardwalk. Over two dozen restaurants line the Marina Malecón. Take a left to enjoy all the sights, sounds and delicious smells of the Marina.
In the center of the marina is the landmark El Faro, a 110-foot high lighthouse. At the top is El Faro Bar, a circular lounge that features live music and a spectacular view of the marina, the bay, and the hills of the surrounding area. It is definitely one of the best spots in Puerto Vallarta to watch the sunset.
Notice as you walk along the base of the numerous condominium projects-where many of PV's year-round residents live amongst the tourists-the many shops and galleries where you'll find fine art, the beautiful handiwork of the Huichol Indians and Mexican clothes. Stop for a drink at a bar built over the water. Stroll a few feet more and you will come to a large patio just outside a popular local eatery known for its tacos.
Walking further down the Malecón you will encounter several more galleries, clothing boutiques, restaurants and "local" bars, beauty salons, and a therapeutic massage clinic.
Marina Vallarta Golf Club is located across the street from the marina and is the most popular 18-hole golf course in Puerto Vallarta. It sports a clubhouse with dining facilities, lounge, golf carts, lessons, putting green, driving range and a pro shop.
During the high season, once a month from November to April, both Marina Vallarta and El Centro galleries offer art walks hosting evening cocktail inaugurations. 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.