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©istock.com/ignativss

Puerto Vallarta: markets, beaches, sunsets, and nightlife

4 minutes to read

Puerto Vallarta is not only a beautiful Pacific beach destination but a cultural and urban center with plenty of activities to offer other than swimming and snorkeling. A trip to Vallarta should obviously include full days of nature and at least one beach hopping tour. However, you can dedicate a day walking around Vallarta and exploring the markets, museums, restaurants, and local beaches. I will go through a fun-filled day in Vallarta, with visits to my favorite beaches, artisan markets, lookout points, and quirky nightlife activities.

© istock/Elijah-Lovkoff
© istock/Elijah-Lovkoff

Isla del Rio Cuale 

I would start the day walking along the Rio Cuale, a river that traverses the center of Puerto Vallarta to a small island known as Isla de Rio Cuale. The Isla de Rio Cuale is a famous river walk that revolves around an isle in the river connected by swinging bridges and filled with artisan stands where you can buy all kinds of local art. Not only is there an artisan market, but there is also a museum and a cultural center if you want to learn more about the local culture and history. A few hours walking around this green and bustling island grabbing souvenirs should be plenty of time, and then you are ready for a day at one or two of the best local beaches in Vallarta.

Isla del Rio Cuale, Puerto Vallarta
Isla del Rio Cuale, Puerto Vallarta
Isla Cuale, Zona Romántica, Emiliano Zapata, 48380 Puerto Vallarta, Jal., Mexico
© istock/Daniel-Avin77
© istock/Daniel-Avin77

Playa los Muertos

This is the main beach in Puerto Vallarta and has something for everyone. Its calm waters are perfect for swimming, but there are also hotels, restaurants, bars, and a giant beach esplanade or Malecon to explore. It is as alive at night as it is during the day, with the famous Zona Romantica or Gay zone with all its clubs backs right up to Playa Muertos.

Zona Romantica, Puerto Vallarta
Zona Romantica, Puerto Vallarta
Zona Romántica, Emiliano Zapata, Puerto Vallarta, Jal., Mexico
Playa Los Muertos, Puerto Vallarta
Playa Los Muertos, Puerto Vallarta
Los Muertos Beach, Jalisco, Mexico
© istock/Kim Vermaat
© istock/Kim Vermaat

You should come back through Playa los Muertos and the Zona Romantic for late-night antics. There is a drag queen show every night for the public at 1 am, and 3 am that is highly entertaining after a night of drinking and dancing. Bring some loose cash for tips!

Playa Conchas Chinas

Playas Conchas Chinas, Puerto Vallarta
Playas Conchas Chinas, Puerto Vallarta
Conchas Chinas Beach, Jalisco, Mexico

This collection of rocky beach coves lies around 30-minutes by foot from the center of Puerto Vallarta and is probably my favorite for a secluded and relaxing beach vibe. There are no hotels or restaurants, just private homes and condos with very few other beach dwellers, so you can often have the whole beach to yourself. The riptide can get strong at certain times of the day during certain periods of the year, but do not let that deter you.

© istock/zstockphotos
© istock/zstockphotos

Although Playa Los Muertos is better for swimming and people-watching, if you want to get away from the big crowds and feel like you have the beach to yourself, you can walk over to this beach for seclusion and relaxation.

Malecon de Vallarta and Mirador de la Cruz

© istock/HannamariaH
© istock/HannamariaH

Puerto Vallarta has an impressive Malecon or boardwalk that spans the entire beach and passes in front of the downtown area and the famous Zona Romantica. After spending the day swimming and sunbathing, you can hook up with the Malecon for an evening stroll

Mirador de La Cruz Puerto Vallarta
Mirador de La Cruz Puerto Vallarta
Abasolo LB, Cerro, 48304 Puerto Vallarta, Jal., Mexico

You can take the Malecon all the way to a lookout point known as Mirador de la Cruz, where you will climb up paved steps to the tallest point that overlooks the city and the bay. El Mirador is a loop that gives you a panoramic view of the oceanside, mountainside, and the cityscape of Vallarta. I would recommend going around sunset - a must-see for anyone visiting Vallarta. 

© istock/Elijah-Lovkoff
© istock/Elijah-Lovkoff

There are a few restaurants at the Mirador that are delicious and offer incredible views of the city and ocean. Since Vallarta is a West coast town, the sunsets are incredible as they happen right over the ocean. I highly recommend getting a table at one of the restaurants at the Mirador to dine al fresco.

So, there you have it, a day in Puerto Vallarta has an eclectic mix of culture and nature. You can start your day with a walk around and visit the artisan market at Isla de Rio Cuale, followed by a day of swimming and sunbathing at Playa Los Muertos or Conchas Chinas. You can then hook up with the famous Malecon lining the beach with plenty of sculptures and benches to enjoy the view, walking all the way to the Mirador to enjoy the sunset over a nice meal. If you care to extend your fun into the night, the Zona Romantica has fun clubs and bars to explore, culminating in extravagant drag shows right off the Malecon. 


The author

Julia Holland

Julia Holland

Hello, I am Julia and I live in Mexico. I came to Mexico as an anthropologist working in Chiapas and I fell in love with this country: the pure and savage beauty of nature, the humility and warmth of the local people, the rich and varied culture. I decided to stay and Mexico is what I call home.

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