Trip Date 05/21/2018
Posted On 07/27/2018 17:22:08
Destinations | Cruise | Walking | Mexico | Puerto Vallarta On Your Own | One Day in Puerto Vallarta | Touring the Puerto Vallarta Romantic Zone
What should we do while our ship is docked in Puerto Vallarta? If you enjoy exploring on your own, don't miss the Romantic Zone - nearly everyone you ask will agree that the area is a must see. In your few hours at port, you'll have time to visit the most popular beaches, enjoy lunch at one of the city's great (and inexpensive) restaurants, stroll the Malecon and maybe even hike to Mirador Cerro de La Cruz.
Take a look at this post to learn how to get from the port to the Romantic Zone, as well as what to see once you are there. Other than $10.00 or less for transportation, your visit could be free - but I would recommend budgeting at least another $10.00 per person for lunch, drinks and tips.
Transportation to the Romantic ZoneThe eight tourist zones in Puerto Vallarta (from north to south) are:
- North Zone (Zona Norte)
- Nuevo Vallarta
- Airport & Las Juntas (Aeropuerto y Las Juntas)
- Marina Vallarta
- Hotel Zone (Zona Hotelera)
- Downtown (Centro)
- Romantic Zone (Zona Romantica)
- South Zone (Zone Sur)
The cruise terminal, located in Marina Vallarta, is about a 20 minute drive from the Romantic Zone. You will see taxi drivers just as you walk out of the terminal building (one way taxi cost during our visit was $10.00). Additional transportation options (private vehicles including Uber as well as buses) require a bit of a walk - but the plus side is that you can definitely save a little money:
- If you want to call for an Uber, walk past the Mercado de Artesanias to the gas station on Avenida Francisco Medina Asencio and request your ride from there. (Our total cost for the 20 minute ride into town was $4.63 US from the station to our lunch restaurant in the Romantic Zone. Our 12 minute return ride only cost us $3.03 US, and the driver was able to drop us off right at the port entrance!)
- Located across the street from the cruise terminal are both a Walmart and Sam's Club. Buses to Downtown and the Romantic Zone depart from a stop located in front of Sam's Club. For more information, read about the route from Marina Vallarta to Downtown Puerto Vallarta on Bus Routes and Bus Fares.
Although you can visit this area of Puerto Vallarta by walking north to south or vice versa, the itinerary below and Romantic Zone Walking Route are written assuming a south to north walk. By beginning in the south, you will be taking your longer ride upon your morning disembarkation from your ship and will be walking toward your ship rather than away from it.
1. Stroll along the Malecon
Paseo Diaz Ordaz is the the official name, but nearly everyone refers to the street as the Malecon (a waterfront promenade). After a 2012 expansion, the Malecon extends from Los Muertos Beach over a pedestrian bridge which crosses the Rio Cuale and all the way into Downtown Puerto Vallarta. At about one mile in distance, you can walk along this wide pedestrian only boardwalk at your own pace without the worry of having to look out for and dodge moving vehicles.
If you spent your entire day in Puerto Vallarta on the Malecon, it would be a day well spent. Your stroll along the Malecon will have you walking with the ocean on one side and a variety of shops, restaurants and art in all shapes, sizes and forms on the other. Lined with palm trees providing some shade from the hot afternoon sun, the Malecon is truly a paradise for pedestrians. You'll even find some places during your stroll where you can sit down, take a break and relax your feet.
2. Enjoy the Beach in Puerto VallartaIt doesn't matter whether you prefer to visit the beach early in the day before it gets too hot or go later in the day so that you can enjoy the water just before returning to your ship - just make some time for a visit! From south to north, Playa Los Muertos (located south of Venustiano Carranza) and Playa Olas Altas (Beach of High Waves) are the two beaches located in the Romantic Zone. (You'll come upon Olas Altas Beach as you get closer to the Cuale River.)
The most popular and best known beach in Puerto Vallarta is Playa Los Muertos (Deadman's Beach or Beach of the Dead). Although there are a variety of theories on how the beach got its name, the most plausible seems to be that the land was originally a cemetery where Indians local to the area were buried. While there are vendors of all sorts (food, souvenirs, etc.) right on the beach, there are also a vast assortment of restaurants and shops within walking distance.
3. Stroll along the Playa Los Muertos PierStroll along the sail shaped Los Muertos Pier to enjoy some people watching. From the pier you'll be able to see the sands of the famous Puerto Vallarta beaches as well as both tourists and locals enjoying the water. Boats take off from the pier taking passengers on diving, fishing, snorkeling and whale watching excursions, and you'll probably also see some water taxis leaving for some of the southern beaches.
4. Find a Restaurant for LunchAfter walking the pier and spending a couple of hours at the beach, you are probably starting to think about lunch. There are plenty of restaurants, cafes and bars from which to choose. You might want to consider a restaurant on Isla Cuale, the island in the River Cuale or even dine in seating by the ocean! Take a look around, glance at some of the menus and find a place that suits your fancy. You will be pleased with the prices - including beers and margaritas for as little as $1.00 US each!
We sat at an outside table at Daiquiri Dicks at the recommendation of my friend and former colleague who we met for lunch. It was both easy to find, was located right on the beach, and the food was predictable and good. We were amazed at the prices! We were served chips and salsa, we each enjoyed tasty and filling breakfast entrees (served 'til noon), and between the three of us had five drinks - 4 beers and one margarita. Our total check (excluding tip) was $23.39 US - less than $8.00 per person including drinks.
5. Admire the Colorful Mosaic Designs at Lazaro Cardenas ParkNamed after a former president of Mexico, Lazaro Cardenas Park occupies a square block on the city side of the Malecon. While not a park in the traditional sense as it is primarily constructed of concrete, you should definitely pause during your stroll on the Malecon to appreciate the beautiful mosaic artwork. Although there aren't a large number of trees, the park's gazebo and covered amphitheater provide shaded areas where you can sit and watch the goings on all around you.
6. Find the Balancing Rock Formation with the most RocksWhile strolling along the Malecon, you can't miss the rock miraculously balanced atop an even larger rock on your ocean side. Not too far away sits a large grouping of balanced rocks of varying sizes nearer the water. Pause to search for the "artist" at work on these unique pieces of art, and while you are at it, find the formation with the most number of rocks.
7. Pause to see Los ArcosThe seaside row of arches are a highly recognizable and iconic landmark in Puerto Vallarta. While musicians and other free cultural performances can often be seen at The Arches in the evenings, you might get lucky with a daytime performance during your visit, especially if you happen to be in Puerto Vallarta on a Saturday or Sunday.
8. Look up to Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de GuadalupeOnce you've passed the arches, spend some time roaming around the main square of Puerto Vallarta. Just a couple of blocks inland, the landmark Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe (Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe) towers over the nearby buildings. The crown sitting on top of the church can't be missed, but sadly there were no local ordinances that prevented nearby buildings from blocking the view of the church. The church is bounded by Calle Zaragoza and Iturbide, both perpendicular to the ocean and by Hidalgo and Calle Matamoros.
If you have time, consider spending a part of your visit off the beaten path. While most visitors to Puerto Vallarta spend all of their time on the Malecon, you will likely have the more quiet interior streets all to yourself. To spend some time in the old town wandering among the cute and colorful homes on the cobblestone streets, head up the steps that you'll find near the church.
9. Find your Favorite SculptureOnce you've explored the church, main square and optional interior neighborhoods, head back to the Malecon to see some more of the really cool artwork. If you didn't have an opportunity to hear any musicians or see a part of a cultural performance at Los Arcos before heading to the main square, be sure to see if there is a performance underway before you get too far away.
Next, it's time to find your favorite sculpture - there are so many from which to choose! Will Vallarta Dancers, the life-sized sculpture done in partial color of a man and woman performing a dance on stage that you passed just before Los Arcos make the top of your list of favorite sculptures?
Will El Nino Sobre el Caballo de Mar (The Boy on the Seahorse), with its almost 60 year history, rank as your number one favorite statue? Often referred to as "The Seahorse", this statue will be one of the first that you will pass as you travel north from Los Arcos. The original smaller statue of a waving boy wearing a cowboy hat while riding a seahorse originally stood on Playa Los Muertos. It was unfortunately blown out to sea by a tropical storm. A larger replacement statue was sculpted and positioned on the Malecon, however has not always stood between "Puerto" and "Vallarta". Amazingly the original was found - twice! (It was knocked down a second time during a hurricane over 15 years ago, and now stands near the original location, but further inland.)
Or will you choose the Friendship Fountain also known as the Dancing Dolphins Fountain as your top choice?
It doesn't matter which you choose as your favorite, as long as you enjoy your time admiring the wide variety of art on the Malecon!
10. Find the Sand Art Sculpture that Amazes You the MostSpeaking of art, don't miss seeing the details which make up some of the amazing sand sculptures along the Malecon. Although many of the sculptures will likely have some sort of damage, the sand art is still truly amazing. It's hard to believe that sand can be sculpted with such intricate detail and furthermore can withstand wind, rain and destruction from humans. If you are so inclined, consider donating some change or bills in one or more of the collection boxes located near the sculptures as recognition of the time and effort put into the art.
11. Hike up to Mirador Cerro de La CruzIf you have an additional hour or more (depending on how physically fit you are) as well as a desire for some exercise and a reported spectacular view of both the bay and mountains, consider taking the hike up (yes, uphill) to Mirador Cerro de La Cruz. From the Malecon, turn away from the water and look for the hill with the large red and white antenna. Once you find the antenna, look closely and just to the left of it you should see the cross. Continue even further to the left, and you should see a staircase which leads to a second and even higher viewing platform. For detailed walking instructions, see How to get to the Cerro de La Cruz Lookout in Puerto Vallarta.
Shopping in Puerto VallartaShopping is abundant in the Romantic Zone of Puerto Vallarta, and even better, you can primarily shop on your own terms. Unlike many other ports in Mexico, you probably won't feel like you are constantly being asked to buy, buy, buy.
You'll find shops near the beaches, on the Malecon and in the downtown area offering plenty of souvenirs, jewelry, blown glass, pottery, clothing, upscale retail items and even art galleries. Do plan your shopping time, as some stores close during the afternoon siesta hours between 2:00 PM and 4:00 PM.
Tips for Visiting the Romantic Zone of Puerto VallartaHere's a few tips to help you enjoy and make the most of your day exploring the Romantic Zone:
- While the Malecon is paved for most of its distance, there are cobblestone streets in Puerto Vallarta so comfortable walking shoes are important. As with any outing in a tropical climate, sun protection is a must - wearing sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat are highly recommended.
- You'll definitely want your camera, and it's a good idea to bring some drinking water along for the day. Don't forget your towel and swimsuit if you plan to take advantage of some beach time at either Playa Olas Altas or Playa Los Muertos. Also, if you plan to hike up to Mirador Cerro de La Cruz, you might want to consider using a lightweight backpack or book bag. You'll be climbing up and down lots of stairs as you make your way to the top and return back down, so you will probably appreciate having your hands free.
- Credit cards and US dollars are both widely accepted.
- If you won't have a drink package on your cruise and think you will be longing for an adult beverage by this point in your trip, there are lots of great options in the Romantic Zone. Signs all over will point you in the direction of $1.00 beer, margaritas and the like.
Mazatlan, MexicoIf you enjoy seeing a port city on your own terms and your cruise includes a port day in Mazatlan, take a look at our post titled 4 Favorites for a Fabulous Port Day in Mazatlan for some ideas. When docked for a full day, you have plenty of time for exploring the city!
Puerto VallartaThere are so many tourist areas in Puerto Vallarta - where is your favorite place to spend your time while visiting this resort town?
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