Free Stuff - Cheap Things to Do in Banderas 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
This is probably the most visited places in the entire bay, located in direct in the center of the city, the Malecón is more than a one-mile long boardwalk that stretches from Los Muertos Pier at the south end to Hidalgo Park at the north end. The Malecon is one of those must-see places and will probably end up along there at some point on your vacation even by accident because of the many restaurants and bars along the Malecon. 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. There are several night clubs that can be compared to some of the best party spots anywhere in the world and they stay open until 5 and 6 in the morning. Directly in the center of the Malecon across from city hall you will find plenty of cool entertainment at the outside theatre such as dancers, clowns, mimes, artists, musicians and more all performing on the outdoor stage. Along your stroll you will also see fishermen, sand sculptors and people riding a foot powered vehicle along the Malecon, jump on and start peddling, it holds about 12 guests. Let us not forget the ocean and 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 the Banderas Bay.
Hot springs in the town of Desembocada
Take an adventure to the hot springs in the town of Desembocada, in Jalisco. It is a bit of a journey but worth it. Take a bus to the town of Ixtapa toward Desembocada which 15-20 minutes was about. It is a cute little town in the mountains. Once you arrive in the town, get off the bus just past the river. From there you walk along the river until it dead ends right into the river. Cross the river a few times and hike about 20 minutes until you find paradise just across the wide spot of the river. You will see 3 large pools with people sitting in there normally cross over the river one more time and you have arrived to these amazing natural hot springs. 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. There is so much nature and good energy out there so a great place to visit.
Los Muertos Pier and Beach
Puerto Vallarta's Los Muertos Pier reflects the modern era and diversity found in Puerto Vallarta. The pier 65-meter-long that leads to a roundabout with a "sail" at the center with multi-colored lights that illuminate the sail and shine out over the water nightly adding to the pier's ambiance during the evening hours. The pier is one of Puerto Vallarta’s most iconic landmarks, Los Muertos Pier is more than a tourist attraction, it is a piece of art and very functional. The pier is the main port for the water taxi’s and fishing pangas of Puerto Vallarta. Los Muertos Beach is 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. 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
La Isla Rio Cuale can be reached by going down the stairs either bridge over the river. It is a beautiful and peaceful area that is rarely mentioned when speaking of "What to see and do in Puerto Vallarta." 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 with all kinds of benches to sit outside and watch the wildlife. The Rio Cuale Cultural Center is where short-term visitors, residents 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. Along your stroll you'll find a small plaza with a sculpture honoring film director John Huston for the movie Night of the Iguana. 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.
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 and visited by millions each year. Located in the heart of downtown Puerto Vallarta just across from the main plaza, construction started in 1929 and took twelve years for completion. Inside you will find authentic paintings the that decorate the cupola by painter 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 heading to the cathedral.
Marina Vallarta is located at the northern edge of the city 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 owned by various Puerto Vallarta tour operators. The marina’s long well-paved boardwalk is a great place to take a morning or afternoon stroll visitors can enjoy seeing all the various yachts, sailboats, and charter boats that are docked there 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.
Marina Vallarta is not to be confused with the Maritime Terminal where the cruise ships dock. The Puerto Vallarta Maritime Terminal is located several minutes south of the Marina Vallarta neighborhood across from the Galerias Vallarta Mall and the Walmart/Sams Club complex. Along its boardwalk there are cafes, a Starbucks, top-notch restaurants, bars, gift shops, two OXXO convenience stores, a bakery, a bike shop, and several art galleries. Vallarta Adventures, a top-notch tour company, has an office in Marina Vallarta.
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
Back in the early 90's there were only 12 restaurants on the 200 block of Basilio Badillo and really that was it, so for years it was known as "Restaurant Row," As many of the restaurants closed, artesian shops began to take over so now this street is the best shopping street in Banderas bay. Now the streets are 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, turning right at Matamoros Street and a few yards to the right. This is right in the center of downtown Puerto Vallarta. 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 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. 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. 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. 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. Take some time and walk the streets and absorb the history of this little area that became famous and the home over the years to many other TV and Movie personalities.
Puerto Vallarta and the Main Plaza Downtown
The down town area of Puerto Vallarta is filled with all kinds of shops and restaurants and never lacking in activity. Puerto Vallarta's downtown area 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 of everything and always plenty of people and action no matter what time of the day or night it is. With city hall on one side and Starbuck's on the other and of course to the east is 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 not to mention public concerts which are held in the middle of the plaza on certain nights of the week. 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, 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. Admission is free.
Bucerias Art Walk
Along Lazaro Cardenas in Bucerias Avenue between the hours of 7 pm and 9 pm on Thursday nights, About 17 galleries serve free wine and snacks while you experience some great Mexican artist displays and show the artistic variety of the Bucerias. Some artists even produce their work in front of you. They definitely have a lot of talent there and it's a great way to see the art that is being done locally and can find out all the workshops that are available to 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. The bus ride to Bucerias from Puerto Vallarta is about 25-30 minutes. 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!