When was the last time you walked Isla Rio Cuale from end to end? If you are visiting our destination for the first time, we won’t hold it against you if you have not. For that matter, you may not even be aware that Puerto Vallarta is divided, roughly in half, by the Cuale River, with the island, a long and narrow stretch of land that extends for several blocks, creating a boundary between two neighborhoods: El Centro and Emiliano Zapata.
While the island isn’t manmade, photographic evidence from the 1950s suggests that it wasn’t always there, either. Even today, the volume of the Cuale River increases and decreases dramatically from winter to summer, so it’s possible that as trees and other plants began to grow, they progressively created a natural barrier, eventually splitting the stream in half and evolving into the island as we know it today. Once a place for folk to wash their clothes and socialize, Isla Río Cuale has developed into one of Puerto Vallarta’s most important verdant oases, a soothing source of peace and relaxation in an increasingly active city.
Given its layout (see map) it’s easy to divide Isla Rio Cuale into four separate stretches, each with unique traits. Feel free to explore them all!
Accessing Isla Rio Cuale from the beach is quite easy, thanks to an oceanfront pedestrian bridge that connects and extends Puerto Vallarta’s famous Malecon south of the river and provides easy access to the island. Here, you find Oscar’s, a popular oceanfront restaurant that now features its own art gallery in a bright second-story space, and the Museo del Cuale, which contains artifacts from Mexico’s western region, donated by regional museums in Guadalajara, Colima and Michoacán and other important cities.
The island continues inland under the I. Vallarta bridge, one of two that allow vehicular traffic to move north and south of the city. Under the bridge, a number of photographers and illustration artists mark the beginning of a series of puestos or shopping stands, that mostly sell Mexican trinkets. Over the bridge, it is easy to spot and photograph large iguanas sunbathing on surrounding treetops, particularly near The River Café, a popular restaurant located on the island. Two additional pedestrian-only suspending bridges allow access to the island from points north and south of it, also providing endless photo ops of locals and visitors attempting to cross them as gracefully as possible, without losing their balance. Kids love them!
The island seems to end as you reach Insurgentes St. Whereas the southbound traffic along I. Vallarta travels over the island, the northbound bridge is not elevated, so you must cross the street to continue your exploration. Once you do, you will find a few additional shops and restaurants, including LeBistro. It is in this stretch that you’ll find some of the oldest trees on the island and a winding pathway with benches that invite taking some time to sit and contemplate. Several works of public art are located here, including a bronze sculpture of director John Huston made in 1988 by Carlos Ramirez.
The easternmost tip of Isla Río Cuale houses the Instituto Vallartense de Cultura, our city’s cultural center. Under the leadership of Sergio Zepeda, the center offers a variety of art-related daytime courses for children and adults. A small theater is home to several community productions, and the center’s spacious courtyard is ideal for the occasional outdoor film screenings offered. There is an additional suspended bridge that provides pedestrian access on the southern side, along with a spectacular, brand-new pedestrian bridge that connects the island with Gringo Gulch on the northern side.