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Here’s the ultimate walking guide and Instagram guide to downtown Puerto Vallarta for anyone interested in the coolest things to do!
Here I outline how we got from our resort in Nuevo Vallarta to downtown Puerto Vallarta and all the best stops we found there. I’ve included our favorite Instagram spots as well as the most cultural things we found in downtown Puerto Vallarta.
If you’re visiting Puerto Vallarta I hope this walking map and stop guide help you, too!
Walking Guide to the Best Spots in Downtown Puerto Vallarta
A: Parroquia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe: Hidalgo 370, Proyecto escola, Centro, 48300 Puerto Vallarta, Jal.
B: Plaza Principal de las Armas: Independencia 123, Proyecto escola, Centro, 48300 Puerto Vallarta, Jal.
C: Malecon: Paseo Díaz Ordaz, Centro, 48300 Puerto Vallarta, JAL
D: Rio Cuale Flea Market: Emiliano Zapata, 48380 Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco
E: Various Beautiful Photo Ops: End of Rio Cuale Island
F: Joe Jack’s Fish Shack: Basilio Badillo 212, Emiliano Zapata, 48380 Puerto Vallarta, Jal.
G: Colored Tile and Mirror Photo Op Wall: Corner of Pino Suarez & Basilio Badillo
H: Churro Stand: Corner of Calle Jacarandas & Lazaro Cardenas
Yes, we first visited the Plaza Principal de las Armas (a touristy town square featuring food vendors, Mexican knick-nacks, and a gazebo) then stood with other tourists in the back of the gorgeous Parroquia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe listening to and debating taking pictures of a Spanish Catholic sermon (decided against it), and walked down the statue-and-vendor-lined Malecon on our way to Mercado Rio Cuale (a small island in the middle of a downtown river featuring souvenir vendors).
I admittedly fell for the strands of green, white, and red banners hung between the buildings. I took pictures of Whit paying street artists. We even bought a bottle of vanilla and a fedora. Quite happily, I might add.
Stop 1: Parroquia de Nuestra Senora de la Guadalupe
This gorgeous cathedral has been well-maintained in the decades it’s been around. It’s one of the most recognizable features in Puerto Vallarta, and still popularly attended by local Catholics for services throughout the week.
The cathedral is easy to find in the main square of Old Town Puerto Vallarta. Once here expect to see street vendors selling rosaries and other Catholic items from blankets on the street and steps leading up to the cathedral. You may also notice the doors open and the room full if you’re around during a sermon. These are led in Spanish and open to visitors. Step in for a listen but remember to be respectful.
Stop 2: Plaza Principal de las Armas
As you can see from the picture, the Plaza Principal de Armas is just in front of the famous cathedral. You’ll find an open square with a gazebo for feeding birds, food vendors and small restaurants, and a statue of Ignacio Vallarta, the namesake for the city.
The plaza is a great place to relax and people watch as tourists local mingle. It also faces the ocean, making it the perfect spot for a snack break to enjoy the water!
Stop 3: The Malecon
Puerto Vallarta’s Malecon, or boardwalk, is a 12-block walkway along the ocean. It is known for housing 9 different sculptures as well as human statue entertainers. Mexican history and modern entertainment meet on the Malecon, and it’s become a popular spot to stroll in Puerto Vallarta.
While this is definitely a toursty thing to do, it’s one that’s well worth it. You can feel the ocean breeze, see beautiful Mexican artwork, and snack on local treats like fresh coconut.
Stop 4: Rio Cuale
The Malecon drops you at the entrance to Rio Cuale, just past the fresh tequila tasting plantation. Walking down the tequila path towards town will take you to this small island floating in the middle of Rio Cuale. Rio Cuale Island is long and skinny, making it a great place to take a walk.
The first thing you find when you step onto the island is a group of vendor stalls. Locals will be selling fedoras, Mexican vanilla, art, and other fun chotchkies. This is a really fun way to buy your souvenirs, but try not to buy the first thing you see or everything you want from one spot. You’ll get a better idea of a fair price by waiting to ask around, and spreading the wealth between vendors is just a nice thing to do.
Rio Cuale Island is much more than just a flea market. The other end of the island is full of other interesting things to do and see, so keep walking!
Stop E: Instagram spots on Rio Cuale Island
Keep walking down the main path of Rio Cuale Island to the end of the island. Here you’ll find a park, museum, and various wall murals. It’s an artistic mecca for local talent which you’re sure to love. The colors and architecture are so interesting that it’s the perfect place to stop for Puerto Vallarta Instagram shots!
Stop F: Joe’s Fish Shack
Follow the downtown Puerto Vallarta walking map to cross the rope bridge off of Rio Cuale Island and toward the gay district. You pass from unsavory streets to a gorgeous neighborhood when getting here. Once you arrive the street is filled with gorgeous floral hangings and mosaic walls. You’ll be enchanted!
This is also where you’ll find some of the most reputable international restaurants. Our favorite was Jack’s Fish Shack because of their amazing drink selection. The restaurant has rooftop seating which opens onto the beautiful street, making this a really relaxing place to give your feet a break.
Stop G: Mosiac and Mirror Photo Wall
To the left and around the corner from Jack’s Fish Shack is this gorgeous mosaic wall. Full of bright, tropical colors and bits of mirror, this wall is the perfect Instagram spot for people interested in documenting their time in Puerto Vallarta.
Stop H: Fresh Churros
These churros come from a portable cart typically found at the corner of Calle Jacarandas & Lazaro Cardenas. This churro cart is so popular it’s one of the only portable food stands to be rated on Yelp! We followed instructions from other reviewers to arrive early in the afternoon to be the first people in line once the cart opened. They were worth the wait! The most authentic Mexican churros we’ve ever had, we bought ten and then went back for another round before walking away.
It’s the perfect way to end your exhausting but rewarding downtown Puerto Vallarta walking tour!
Getting to downtown Puerto Vallarta by bus
We decided to take public transportation from our resort to downtown Puerto Vallarta today. Not because we’re cheap or had something to prove, but simply because we were tired of waiting for a taxi to show up on what must be their busiest hour of the week.
The first bus from our resort (in Nuevo Vallarta) to the edge of Puerto Vallarta turned out to be a decommissioned tour bus. It was still a bumpy ride (Whit, in true 5-year-old fashion, insisted on occupying the back row of the long bus) but it was virtually empty and very comfortable. I was surprised and pleased, having expected more of the “Chicken Bus”-style I’ve used through Central America.
On that note, the connecting bus to the center of town did not disappoint! It was a shoulder-to-shoulder, bumpy, smelly tin can of pure local-ness; complete with an enthusiastic passenger halfheartedly dressed as a clown yelling down the aisle what I chose to believe were hilarious jokes en espanol.
To be honest, I sort of loved it. The bus took an indirect route that led us through interesting neighborhoods we would never have seen otherwise. The local passengers were kind; giving up their seats and trying to help us with broken English. (Who knew you could accomplish so much with three words?)
Most of all, our international experiences are always heightened when we take the slightly more mentally-disarming path of doing what locals do, and there’s nothing more local than taking an old school bus with chipping spray paint and trusting it to get you to a predetermined destination you can hardly pronounce. (I would never have taken the public bus in North Carolina, mind you.)
The two different buses became a good metaphor for our experiences in downtown Puerto Vallarta today: almost 50/50 touristy and local.
Related: Take a Puerto Vallarta Canopy Tour
How it Feels to Walk Around Puerto Vallarta
Overall, Puerto Vallarta is exciting, easy to navigate, and remarkably beautiful. In just a 1-mile radius we both literally and figuratively passed through completely different territories, seeing and doing so much along the way. Yes, we had to avoid sewer puddles on the cobblestone streets, but we were also almost constantly accompanied by overflowing flower baskets and bright colors. Even the ghetto streets were pretty.
Like us, Puerto Vallarta is a juxtaposition of refinement and coarseness.
I am beyond grateful and relieved that we chose to spend our first full day here out of the confines of our resort and in downtown Puerto Vallarta! We now have a much better frame of reference for the rest of our trip, and a deeper love and appreciate for all hope to see and do here. Viva Mexico!
Watch the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta!
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