Puerto Vallarta Travel Guide by Villa Experience
Puerto Vallarta is one of those destinations where you will never get bored. It offers so many things to do that you will probably have to come back to try it all. One of the most popular places to visit and a definite must is the newly refurbished Malecon, a wide boardwalk next to the ocean with boutique shops, fancy restaurants, street stands with savvy food, hip discos, local artists, street performers, sand sculptures, human sculptures and so much more. Let’s be honest, even if you’re staying in a hotel in Nuevo Vallarta, or even further, in Punta Mita, the main attraction in the whole Banderas Bay in Downtown Puerto Vallarta, and there are lots of things to do and see there. If your last visit to Puerto Vallarta was a few years ago, you won’t recognize the city. It maintained the old charm but got this new first world feeling. First of all, however it may not seem so important, overhead wires are now underground so all the town view are unobstructed and your vacation snapshots will look even better.
The most noticeable change is definitely the Malecon look. It has been totally renovated, closed for the traffic and spotted with big planters full of colorful flowers, bushes, and palm trees. Now you can rent a bike for two for three, and even a stroller or a wheelchair. It extends from the Hotel Rosita to the new pier and maintains all the old, well-known establishments, street performers, Papantla birdmen, sand sculptures and many others. Almost all the clubs took advantage of the renovating period and updated their premises. In the middle of the Malecon, you will find Los Arcos, seaside arches that also serve as an amphitheater and offer incredible views at sunset. Already downtown you should explore the cobblestoned streets of the old town with even more restaurants, shops, and handicraft markets. There are plenty of art galleries with traditional and modern items and precious silver jewelry. At the end of the day, stop at the plaza next to the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe and enjoy dancing and live music. Don’t miss the romantic zone, one of the best places to dine, stroll and shop, according to some visitors.
Every large tourist destination has a large number and wide range of restaurants, for obvious reasons. Eating out and trying new dishes is an integral part of the travelling and vacation experience; you want to get out and see the place, you have time to enjoy meals in a leisurely fashion, you’ve put money aside for it, you want to try local cuisine, and you don’t usually have a kitchen handy. However, Puerto Vallarta is actually famous for its restaurants; they are not just there to cater for the vacation experience but are an integral part of the local and regional culture, where food and its preparation are very important. Think of Cancun, for example; it has plenty of restaurants, just imagine how many, but it’s not famous for its restaurants. Of course, Puerto Vallarta became a top destination mainly due to its lovely beaches, dramatic landscapes, and great weather.
It has all the attractions and activities that every Mexican resort has, but it also has things that set it apart, such as colonial architecture, outstanding art galleries, a vibrant cultural life, and the quality of its restaurants. Just take a walk around town and you’ll see what I mean. From the small street stalls to the cozy bistro-cafés, to the luxurious and elegant restaurants, the one thing you notice is that there is a special pride in the quality of food offered –its function is not merely to stop you being hungry, but primarily to be enjoyed and savored. Hacienda San Angel Gourmet is a good example of this. Set on the rooftop of the hotel and enjoying city, Sierra, and ocean views, this upscale dining spot offers a wide range of international cuisine and good wines, but the best thing on the menu is the seafood; try the seared tuna or the Pacific lobster, each in its own delicious regional sauce.
The sunset views are breathtaking and the mariachis are very popular, though if the live mariachi music is not your scene this may not be the place for you. If you’re looking for some excellent regional fare that is a little easier on the pocketbook, visit Restaurant La Luna, where they serve a range of dishes in simple and pleasant surroundings. In a singular white building next to the Fiesta Americana, you can find La Leche Restaurant. It is a great find for creative and personalized Mexican-French cuisine in a minimalist setting; the sea bass is really quite special and the service is probably the best in town. For some classy and authentic, though not cheap, Mexican cuisine in a charming ‘old Mexico’ setting, El Arrayán is a great choice and serves a nice variety of traditional regional fare; the shrimp ceviche, duck carnitas, and Cochinita Pibil are highly recommended. With its fascination for food, Puerto Vallarta is also a great place for food festivals, including the Traditional Popular Food Festival on and the Gourmet Festival, which takes in the best restaurants in Vallarta
The old town hosts the best restaurants in town starting from popular street stands where you can grab delicious tacos. There are also plenty of small eateries with affordable prices and gourmet, internationally awarded establishments such as Café des Artistes or El Trío, to mention just a few. The Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe is another obligatory stop in the historic center. Recently it got a new crown and looks splendid over the city skyline. After your visit, relax at the Main Square just one block from the parish where you can eat an ice-cream and on Sundays listen to live music and watch people dancing the traditional danzon.
Tours & Activities
Puerto Vallarta offers also unforgettable tours and water activities. You cannot miss snorkeling and scuba diving; the best spots are either next to Los Arcos or in the zone of the Marietas Islands. Both places are eco-reserves and offer caves and grottoes carved out by time and spectacular colorful sea creatures. If you come to the Banderas Bay between December and March you may also go whale watching and observe these wonderful animals play a few meters in front of your boat.
In Puerto Vallarta, there are also a couple of places to swim with the dolphins. Although it’s not the cheapest experience, it is totally worth it. You may see the dolphins do tricks for you, and you will be able to touch them and swim with them. It is with no doubt, a charming and totally unforgettable experience, especially for kids. If you have some more time, you cannot miss the Botanical Gardens in the south of the Bay. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful places to visit, with hundreds of different species and a great restaurant with traditional food to enjoy.
Culture & Art
The Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe is another obligatory stop in the historic center. Recently it got a new crown and looks splendid over the city skyline. After your visit, relax at the Main Square just one block from the parish where you can eat an ice-cream and on Sundays listen to live music and watch people dancing the traditional danzon. Looking for some more cultural spots? Vallarta seems to have it all now. Vallarta Theater has the capacity for up to 960 spectators and it has offered great shows since 2010. A new theater has been announced to open its gates in November 2013 with three different stages: The Main Stage for 158 people, The Red Room with cabaret shows and a piano bar. All the performances will be bilingual and many Broadway productions have been promised. Art galleries are spotted all over the city and an Art Walk can be attended for free in high season. The art community in Vallarta has existed for over 40 years and many world famous artists have chosen the city as their home. The natural island on the Cuale River is filled with restaurants, a museum, an art gallery and countless shops and stands with souvenirs is another must. If you want to buy some more crafts at affordable prices go to the Municipal Market on the north side of the island. It has everything you can imagine: pottery, jewelry, embroidered clothing and many foods stands.
Of all the coastal destinations in Mexico, the resort that offers the best cultural and artistic ambiance along with sun, sea, and surf, has to be Puerto Vallarta. This alluring facet seems to fit in perfectly with the historical atmosphere of the old colonial part of town and the charming cobblestone streets that weave their way around the restaurants, bars, cafés, churches, historical buildings, and art galleries. You also get a hint of it as you walk along the Malecón (the boardwalk) and take in the impressive sculptures and the street artists at work. On my last visit, I decided to check out the art scene and take advantage of the many art galleries peppered around the old quarter (or Zona Romántica, as it is also known). From November through April, Puerto Vallarta features an art walk around some of its galleries – it’s a great way to get to know them in a convivial atmosphere where you can sip a little wine and chat with the owners and occasionally with the artists.
It’s a comfortable stroll since the galleries are concentrated in the Zona Romántica, which fortunately is also where you’ll find lots of excellent restaurants for a spot of dining after the walk, which is on Wednesdays from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. and on Saturday mornings from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. There are dozens of art galleries in Puerto Vallarta, but only a dozen or so participants in the art walk, so be sure to check out the others when you have time. The centerpiece of most galleries is the paintings, but other artwork on display includes sculptures, ceramics, glasswork, photography, and jewelry. Puerto Vallarta has gained quite a name for itself as an art venue over the years and consequently is able to exhibit the works of top Mexican and international artists. One of my favorite finds was the Rodo Padilla Gallery, where the stoneware and bronze sculptures of this accomplished regional artist reflect different aspects of Mexican life and culture through the men, women, and children portrayed, often with a humorous touch.
The distinctive work of Sergio Bustamente represented in sculptures, jewelry, and accessories can be appreciated both on the Malecón and at the Bustamente Gallery on Calle Juarez. Mexican contemporary fine art created by a wide range of artists can be enjoyed at any of the three Corsica Galleries in Puerto Vallarta. Galería Pacífico is one of the most respected contemporary galleries in the whole of Mexico and you can understand why when you see the marvelous range of sculptures and dazzling, surreal paintings on display – a truly eclectic mix by mainly Mexican artists. For a taste of realism, stop by the Galería Whitlow and wonder at the still life precision of artist Michael Whitlow and the amazing fidelity of the giclées; make sure you eat before visiting – there is a lot of food on view. Finally, to view fascinating indigenous artwork, handicrafts, ceramics, and masks, and also to pick up a great gift with a real Mexican flavor, pay a visit to the Galería Indígena on Calle Juarez.