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10 Fabulous - and Free - Things To Do in Puerto Vallarta

January 16, 2015

Puerto Vallarta is a vacationer's paradise that has maintained its unique Old Mexico charm, and taking in the sights on foot is a great way to see some of the marvelous (and free!) things the city has to offer.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - With a colorful blend of the old and the new, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico offers an unrivaled combination of simple pleasures and sophisticated charms. As a world-class vacation destination, you might think that you have to be among the rich and famous to have a great time - but you'd be mistaken...

Here are 10 fun things to do in Puerto Vallarta that won't impact your wallet. Most of these opportunities are available all year round.

Puerto Vallarta's Malecon

Located in the city's center, the Malecón, a considerably more than one mile long seawall, or boardwalk, that stretches from Los Muertos Beach in Viejo Vallarta at the south end to Hidalgo Park at the north end, is the jewel of the town. Strolling along the promenade, one passes numerous Puerto Vallarta landmarks, attractions and statues; small stores selling everything from hand-stitched sandals and Cuban cigars to fresh-squeezed orange juice and fresh fish; night clubs that can be compared to the most extravagant party spots anywhere; as well as stilt walkers, dancers in costume, clowns, mimes, artists, musicians, fishermen, sand sculptors, skaters, and people riding the bicycles built-for-two that the city provides as a courtesy for locals and tourists alike. Add to this the cool ocean breeze coming off the Pacific and Puerto Vallarta's world-famous sunsets, and there's no wonder why the Malecón is one of the busiest - and most visited - places in town.

2. Los Muertos Pier and Beach

According to CNN, Puerto Vallarta's Los Muertos Pier is a reflection of the modern and diverse commodities found in Puerto Vallarta. Boasting a 65 meter walkway, with ample railings and lighting for safety, that leads to a roundabout with a "sail" at its center, Los Muertos Pier features multi-colored lights that illuminate the sail and shine out over the water, adding to the pier's ambiance during the evening hours. Considered one of the Southside's most iconic landmarks, Los Muertos Pier is more than a tourist attraction - it is another jewel in the crown of Puerto Vallarta's transformation. Los Muertos Beach, a mile-long stretch of golden sand in the city's Romantic Zone, is one of the most popular places in town to enjoy a day of fun in the sun. Tourists lounging under palapas and beach vendors hawking their wares on this stretch of golden sand provide plenty of opportunities for taking fantastic photos of your Puerto Vallarta vacation.

3. The Cuale River Island

La Isla Rio Cuale, reached by the stairs that lead down from either bridge over the river, is a beautiful and peaceful area that is rarely mentioned when speaking of "What to see and do in Puerto Vallarta." Overflowing with tiny shops selling all kinds of colorful Mexican crafts and excellent restaurants where you can relax over a drink or lunch while listening to the water rush over the rocks, the Rio Cuale river walk is a cool, refreshing place to spend an afternoon. The Rio Cuale Cultural Center, where short-term visitors and snowbirds alike will find an array of regular and one-off events and classes for all ages, covering musical instruments, sculpture, painting, dance, theater and more, is located there. Nearby, you'll find a small plaza with a sculpture honoring film director John Huston. In short, La Isla Rio Cuale offers visitors a pleasing combination of leisure, education, culture and contemplation. Be sure to visit it when you are in the downtown area.

4. The Rio Cuale Museum

The Cuale Museum, founded by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) is also located on the Cuale River Island, which separates downtown Puerto Vallarta with the Romantic Zone. This small museum has a permanent exhibit of objects from Western Mexico, explaining traditions and customs of indigenous groups living in the region during the prehispanic time, between 5000 and 2000 BC. Admittance is free.

5. Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish

You haven't truly realized the rich history of Puerto Vallarta until you visit the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe. With its beautiful crown on top of the bell tower, the church is one of the icons of the city. Located in the heart of downtown Puerto Vallarta, just a few yards away from the main plaza, construction began in 1929 and took twelve years to complete. Inside, visitors find authentic works of art such as the paintings that decorate the cupola by painter Daniel Lechon, the Via Cruces along its interior walls, the pulpit, the confessional, the antique marble altar, and the communion railings, cut of precious woods by Señor Martiniano Ramírez. Most impressive is the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe created by artist Ignacio Ramírez, a faithful copy, consecrated by the original found in Her Basilica in Mexico City. Over the years the church has become one of the most visited and photographed places by tourists who visit our city. It is open to visitors every day of the year, with masses held at different times during the day in Spanish, and sometimes in English.

6. Basilio Badillo Street

In the mid-90's there were 12 restaurants on the 200 block of Basilio Badillo, so for years it was known as "Restaurant Row," or La Calle de los Cafés. Many of the restaurants eventually closed, and fine shops started to take over. As a result, Basilio Badillo has been known as one of the best shopping areas in Puerto Vallarta for almost 30 years. Filled with art galleries, shops and boutiques that offer everything from fine art and Mexican pottery to folk art, jewelry and resort wear, as well as a smattering of restaurants and cafés serving everything from arrachera (flank steak) to ziti, the street's wide bougainvillea-lined sidewalks make it an enjoyable and colorful stroll anytime of the day or night. Located in the Romantic Zone, near downtown Puerto Vallarta, Basilio Badillo is as tony, fashionable and cool as anything the city has to offer.

7. Matamoros Lighthouse

Located in Historic Downtown Puerto Vallarta, the Matamoros Lighthouse is a short walk up Galeana Street, turning right at Matamoros Street and a few yards to the right. The lighthouse was built and inaugurated August 15th, 1932 by Harbor Master Roberto Alcazar. It served the city and guided ships until June 1978 when it was closed down. In 2006 it was remodeled, restored and public street access was made easier, plus stairs and a lookout terrace were added. Situated up on the hill overlooking the town, it offers a panoramic view of downtown Vallarta and Banderas Bay. It's also an excellent place to take photos. If you have a good zoom lens you can get some really great shots of the different landmarks around the bay and in downtown Vallarta from here.

8. Downtown Puerto Vallarta and the Main Plaza

Filled with all kinds of shops and restaurants, Puerto Vallarta's downtown area is the oldest part of town and, not surprisingly, includes many of the main points of interest for tourist visiting the city. One of these is the main plaza, which is right in the middle of it all. With town hall to one side and a bank and a Starbuck's on the other; the Parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe half a block inland, and the Malecón and Los Arcos amphitheater on the seaside; this area is where many cultural and political activities take place. Public concerts are held at the kiosk in the middle of the plaza on Thursday and Sunday evenings, and shows are performed at the amphitheater across the street most every night. Both the Malecón and the Main Plaza have free Wi-Fi connection. Be sure to see famous Vallartan artist Manuel Lepe's mural at the north end of the Malecón extension, which connects the original Malecón to the pedestrian bridge over the Cuale River.

9. Puerto Vallarta Naval History Museum

Just a few steps away from the Main Plaza, next to Los Arcos Amphitheater and the Friendship Fountain, is the Naval History Museum. Since its opening in November of 2006, the Puerto Vallarta Navy Museum and Naval Historical Center has been dedicated to exhibiting and preserving Mexico's history and culture. Spanning from the time of the "Conquista" to present day, the museum focuses on the sea, and this port and Mexico's naval history. There are 5 exhibit areas with permanent exhibitions with paintings, documents, maps, scaled models, photographs, navigation instruments, uniforms and more. The museum is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm.

10. Gringo Gulch

Gringo Gulch is a residential area located to the east, in the foothills of the mountains, just north of the Cuale River. It is in Gringo Gulch that Richard Burton built a house for Liz Taylor, and connected it to his house, by building a bridge over the street. Their love story served as a springboard that helped promote Puerto Vallarta as one of the most romantic places in the world. Be sure to take in the romantic atmosphere as you enjoy the architecture, walking along the cobblestone streets, and relive this yesteryear romance. 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.

In short, Puerto Vallarta is a vacationer's paradise that has maintained its unique Old Mexico charm despite the addition of modern conveniences, and taking in the sights on foot is a great way to see some of the marvelous (and free!) things the city has to offer.