Free or Cheap Things to Do on the Bay
Puerto Vallarta and the entire Banderas Bay area is a wonderful place to visit and the good news is that you do not have to be rich to enjoy the beauty of the area. You can travel by bus from one side of the bay to the other for less than a couple of dollars by bus. Below are some things to enjoy that cost nothing but are awesome to see. There is a lot of beauty and culture throughout the bay and all you have to have are a pair of eyes and some legs to walk and you can find something new every day around the bay.
Puerto Vallarta's Malecon
The most visited places in the entire bay, the Malecón is a one-mile long boardwalk that stretches from Los Muertos Pier at the south end to Hidalgo Park at the north end. Strolling along the Malecon you will pass numerous Puerto Vallarta landmarks, attractions and artistic statues as well as small stores selling everything from hand-stitched sandals and Cuban cigars to fresh-squeezed orange juice and ice cream. Partiers will love the night clubs that stay open until 5 and 6 in the morning. There’s plenty of cool entertainment at the outside theatre, dancers, clowns, mimes, artists, musicians and more all performing on the outdoor stage. You’ll also see fishermen, sand sculptors, living statues, the ocean our world-famous sunsets. No wonder why the Malecón is one of the busiest - and most visited - places in the Banderas Bay.
Hot springs in the town of Desembocada
Take an adventure to the hot springs of Desembocada, in Jalisco. It is a bit of a journey but worth it. Take a bus to the town of Ixtapa toward Desembocada , a cute little town in the mountains. Once you arrive in the town, get off the bus just past the river. Walk along the river until it dead ends and hike about 20 minutes until you find paradise just across the wide spot of the river. You will see 3 large pools. The water is extremely hot on the top pool (probably 105 degrees or more) but awesome. One favorite thing to do is jump in the really cold water then back into the hot water tub. It really is a shocker but in a good way.
Los Muertos Pier and Beach
Los Muertos Pier reflects the modern era and diversity found in Puerto Vallarta.The pier is one of Puerto Vallarta’s most iconic landmarks. It is a piece of art but very functional as the main port for the water taxi’s and fishing pangas of Puerto Vallarta. Los Muertos Beach is a mile-long stretch of snowwhite sand in the city's Romantic Zone and one of the most popular places in town. The pier is a great spot to people watch as Los Muertos beach is the busiest beach in the bay so lots of people. The views from the end of the pier are incredible so be sure and have your camera ready.
The Cuale River Island & Market
Go down the stairs at either bridge over the river. It is a beautiful and peaceful area. Consider it like a flea market with tiny shops selling all kinds of Mexican crafts and of course the excellent restaurants where you can relax over a drink or lunch while listening to the water rush over the rocks. The walk along the Rio Cuale is a cool refreshing place to spend an afternoon and watch the wildlife.
The Rio Cuale Cultural Center is where to find an array of regular and one-off events and classes for all ages, covering musical instruments, sculpture, painting, dance, theater and more. You'll find a small plaza with a sculpture honoring film director John Huston for the movie Night of the Iguana. Be sure to visit it when you are in the downtown area.
Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe
You do not realize the incredible 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, visited by millions each year.
Inside you will find authentic paintings by artist Daniel Lechon. The Via Cruces along its interior walls, the pulpit, confessional, marble altar, and the communion railings were all cut out of precious woods by Señor Martiniano Ramírez and are incredible works of art.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe has become one of the most visited and photographed places in the entire bay. 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. During 12 days in December and during Semana Santa (Easter week) you will see entire communities parading down the street holding statues and dressed up to honor Our lady of Guadalupe.
Marina Vallarta is located at the northern edge of Puerto Vallarta, just 5 minutes from the airport, 10-15 minutes from downtown PV, and 18 minutes from Nuevo Vallarta. Marina Vallarta is a 450-slip luxury marina with yacht slips up 140 feet in length so there are plenty of beautiful yacht to see.
The marina has a lovely promenade, many impressive yachts, sailboats, charter boats, and a variety of water-craft. The marina’s long well-paved boardwalk is a great place to take a morning or afternoon stroll to enjoy the boats, not to mention the famous El Faro Lighthouse that has a nice bar/lounge at the top with incredible panoramic views particularly stunning at sunset.
Every Thursday evening during high season (November through April), there is a wonderful farmer’s market along the Marina Vallarta Promenade, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and includes great live music and often dancing.
Every Thursday evening during high season (November through April), there is a wonderful farmer’s market along the Marina Vallarta Promenade, or boardwalk of the marina, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. The farmers market, a more recent addition to the activities available in Marina Vallarta, consists of several vendor booths selling organic homemade foods, colorful artisan crafts, jewelry, purses, pottery, decorative items for the home, jams, nuts and other wonderful surprises, and includes great live music and often dancing.
This is a great little town to visit because there is plenty to see and do and lots of nature and Mexican beauty all around not to mention history. This is where it all started with John Huston and the movie “The Night of the Iguana”. Although the set area has been closed to the public for several years you will still see and feel the history as you walk around this small village. It runs along the river and there you will find plenty of shops to buy souvenirs not to mention bars and restaurants You can walk down along the river and down the beach and see some of the old set of “The night of the Iguana” then walk up the hill and cross the highway and walk up the hill and you will find the Puerto Vallarta zoo and the Zip line company “El Eden” which was also the set of Predator. This makes for a very nice day.
Basilio Badillo Street
This is simply the best shopping street in Puerto Vallarta filled with art galleries, artesian shops and boutiques that offer everything from fine art to handmade crafts as well as a number of restaurants and cafés serving everything from arrachera (flank steak) to spaghetti, the new wide bougainvillea-lined sidewalks make it an enjoyable and colorful stroll anytime of the day or night.
Matamoros Lighthouse & Gringo Gulch
The lighthouse is a short walk up Galeana Street. It 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 made the public access much 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.
Just a short walk south is an area called Gringo Gulch, it is a residential area located just to the east of town in the foothills along the Cuale river. This is where 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, famous for 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..
Puerto Vallarta and the Main Plaza Downtown
Downtown Puerto Vallarta is filled with all kinds of shops and restaurants and activity. Downtown is the oldest part of town and has many of the main points of interest of the city. The main square is right in the middle and always plenty of people and action no matter what time of the day or night it is. City Hall is on one side and Starbuck's on the other and of course Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Malecón and Los Arcos amphitheater on the beach side. This area is where many cultural and political activities take place as well as public concerts. This is a great place to chill out and grab a bench and read a book, people watch and watch this city move by you.
Puerto Vallarta Naval History Museum
Just a few steps away from the Main Plaza, next to Los Arcos Amphitheater and the Friendship Fountain, you’ll find 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. Admission is free.
Bucerias Art Walk
Make sure you have plenty of wall space. Along Lazaro Cardenas Avenue between 7 pm and 9 pm on Thursday nights, 17 galleries serve free wine and snacks while you experience some great Mexican art. Some artists even produce their work in front of you. Even if you do not plan to buy anything, this makes for a great cheap evening and they even serve you free drinks and snacks. Getting there is easy by bus whether you are staying to the north or south. Remember the last buses are 10 PM so do not miss it or it will cost you about 20 USD for a taxi. Enjoy your time in Bucerias.
There are plenty of other things that you can do in this town without breaking the bank, enjoy what this bay has to offer you and be nice and generous to the locals and watch what you get in return. Enjoy!