July 20, 2023
Puerto Vallarta excels at providing unforgettable travel experiences for all lifestyles, travelers and budgets. You will find a wide variety of free activities to enjoy with family, friends or even if you are traveling alone in the “Friendliest City in the World.”
From taking a leisurely stroll along Puerto Vallarta's Malecon boardwalk, to exploring some of the city's most charming neighborhoods, to enjoying the natural wonders that the Sierra Madre Occidental and the Pacific Ocean have to offer.
Here are the top 8 things to do in Puerto Vallarta, no matter what time of the year it is and without having to spend a single peso.
The Malecon boardwalk is undoubtedly one of the must-see attractions in Puerto Vallarta. This pedestrian promenade offers beautiful ocean views and a family, festive and very safe atmosphere for one kilometer along the coast. Don't miss the opportunity to take pictures of the many sculptures by renowned artists and browse the many shops, boutiques, art galleries, bars, cafes and restaurants nearby.
You can participate in sea turtle releases in Puerto Vallarta from July through December. The Turtle Camps and Hotels have their own programs to help protect the turtles, coordinated with the local government. Accompany the hatchlings from their nest to the beach where they begin their adventure towards the sea. This is a fun activity for the whole family. The release of the turtles is free of charge, open to the general public and takes place at sunset.
One of the symbols of Puerto Vallarta and home to the city's most important religious celebrations: the Fiestas Guadalupanas. In 2023, the temple is celebrating its centennial and the first phase of its Parish Museum was recently opened. It features several rooms where sacred art, photographs, objects, historical documents, and temporary exhibitions are on display. There are also guided tours available by donation (hours: 10:00am-7:00pm) that allow you to visit the interior of the main tower and the bell tower of the church and enjoy a unique view of Downtown Puerto Vallarta.
El Salado Estuary State Park began offering free guided tours when it reopened last April. This important ecosystem in Puerto Vallarta, home to numerous species of birds, plants, mammals, amphibians and reptiles, is explained in detail by expert guides. This natural reserve is ideal to visit with children and in general with the whole family, as you travel by boat through the estuary channels. The duration of the tour is approximately one and a half hours. You will enjoy an enviable panoramic view of Marina Vallarta and the city from the viewpoint. You can book directly through their official Facebook page: Estero El Salado.
Getting to know Puerto Vallarta is best done by foot. Whether it is walking along its cobblestone streets or on the soft, golden sand of its beaches, as well as its walking paths, parks and gardens. However, a unique and exciting experience is the exploration of the city by bicycle, as there are a wide variety of routes for cyclists of all levels and abilities. The bike lane that runs parallel to the main boulevard is a fun, safe and very accessible way to start your adventure on two wheels. You can pedal in a straight line south through the Hotel Zone, starting from La Isla Shopping Mall. Pass the Sheraton Buganvilias Resort and the narrow pedestrian bridge at the entrance to Colonia 5 de Diciembre. Continue along Mexico Avenue to the Rosita Hotel. Cross the downtown area in the designated lane on the Malecon boardwalk, cross the bridge over the Cuale River, and continue on your way to the esplanade of the Lazaro Cardenas Park in the heart of the Romantic Zone. If you plan to bike this approximately three-mile scenic route, choose the late afternoon and stay hydrated.
This is an ideal option for those who like to hike and enjoy the outdoors. The waterfalls of the Palo Maria River are located south of Puerto Vallarta. The entrance is at the foot of Federal Highway 200, very close to the Hotel Garza Blanca. You will enter the rainforest and continue your hike upstream for about 15 minutes. You will come face to face with a waterfall and several crystalline swimming pools formed by the stream's tributary. Remember that walking uphill can be strenuous, so this activity it's not recommended for children, the elderly or those with limited mobility. Be especially careful during the summer months: the river can rise unexpectedly during the rainy season.
Located in the upper part of Downtown Puerto Vallarta, the old lighthouse on Matamoros Street offers a panoramic view of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, the Old Town and the picturesque group of terra cotta roofs and white facades that give the city its charm. The lighthouse was built in 1932 and for more than 40 years it was responsible for guiding all ships arriving in Banderas Bay to a safe harbor. The lighthouse was out of service in 1978. It was not until 2006 that it was rescued and reopened to the public. The lighthouse of Matamoros is also one of our favorite places to take some of the best pictures of Puerto Vallarta.
Puerto Vallarta is world-famous for its sunsets. Our visitors call them 'magical', 'unique', 'romantic' and 'spectacular', wouldn't you agree? The bridge over the Cuale River that connects Puerto Vallarta's Malecon boardwalk to the Romantic Zone is one of our favorite places to watch the sunset. Its location in front of the beach gives you an elevated vantage point from which to admire the sunset without any distractions. Take a seat on one of the benches along the bridge. Watch the warm colors of the evening sky as the sun sinks into the waters of the Mexican Pacific. If you want to feel even closer to the ocean, there is a small overlook at the south end of the bridge—a less traveled spot and therefore a favorite of couples.
Want even more suggestions? To enjoy Puerto Vallarta like a local and without spending a single peso, here are some additional ideas. Keep in mind that there are options to suit all tastes and interests, and most of them are suitable for everyone, regardless of their physical condition, with the exception of the hike to Cerro de la Cruz and to Colomitos.
· Hike to Cerro de la Cruz lookout
· Visit the John Huston sculpture on Cuale River Island
· Hike from Boca de Tomatlan to Colomitos
· Stroll the boardwalk in Marina Vallarta
· Listen to the music of the Municipal Band on Thursdays and Sundays at sunset
· Visit the Los Muertos beach and pier
· Take a walk through the streets of Gringo Gulch
· Cross the suspension bridges of Cuale River Island
· See the Voladores de Papantla
· Get photographed with the Malecon sculptures
· Relax and read a book in Lázaro Cárdenas square
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