Need ideas for the Puerto Vallarta cruise port? Stroll the Malecón, enjoy the beach, and view art on an easy Puerto Vallarta walking tour!
Taking a Mexican Riviera cruise and wondering what to do in Puerto Vallarta? You’ve got plenty of great options!
The Puerto Vallarta cruise port is one of my favorites; it’s such an incredibly vibrant city!
(And for an unforgettable cruise experience, there are also plenty of amazing Puerto Vallarta tours and shore excursions you can splurge on!)
And, if you love spending your port day on the beach, you’re in luck! Some of the best beaches on the Pacific Coast are in Puerto Vallarta. (Sunsets from a Puerto Vallarta beach are absolutely stunning!)
Puerto Vallarta is chock-full of great public art, especially along the Malecón. Admire Puerto Vallarta’s colorful architecture and its unique mosaic benches.
Join me on an easy walking tour of Puerto Vallarta. Lace up your shoes and let’s go!
Best Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta Cruise Port
When I visit a cruise port, sometimes it’s more relaxing to just explore the city on your own. If that’s what you’re in the mood for, then the Puerto Vallarta cruise port is the perfect place for you!
Some cruise lines will offer an inexpensive shuttle from the cruise port to downtown Puerto Vallarta, or you can take a quick taxi ride — or even ride the bus.
Here’s what I did and saw on my Puerto Vallarta walking tour:
1. Malecón Puerto Vallarta
Taking a stroll along the Malecón is a great way to kick off your visit to Puerto Vallarta, and the best place to begin your walking tour.
The Malecón is a paved oceanfront promenade with plenty of cafés, shops, and galleries vying for your attention. The Malecón spans 12 blocks (about a kilometer) and stretches from the Centro to the Zona Romántica.
You’ll find many interesting sculptures decorating the Malecón. It’s like an outdoor art museum with fantastic views of the ocean! And if your cruise is leaving later in the evening, you can enjoy one of Puerto Vallarta’s famous sunsets from the Malecón.
The Malecón itself has some interesting designs in it – be sure to look down to see this artwork right beneath your nose.
2. ‘In Search of Reason’ sculpture
One of the most interesting sculptures along the Malecón is called ‘In Search of Reason’ (En Busca de la Razón). It’s more commonly called the ‘Ladder Sculpture’, for obvious reasons.
This piece of art, created by sculptor Sergio Bustamante, stretches 30 feet upwards into the sky.
It features two robed figures climbing the ladder, each with an arm outstretched in either a wave or a beseeching gesture towards the sky. A third robed figure stands facing the ladder with both arms outstretched.
It’s really hard to get a photo of this sculpture without other tourists in it, since people love to pose on the ladder for their souvenir photo from Puerto Vallarta.
And apparently the sculptor actually wanted this kind of interaction with his art – so it’s all good.
3. Sand Sculptures
You’ll find some extremely intricate sand sculptures located along the Malecón in Puerto Vallarta. Since they’re made of sand, they don’t last forever. But these ‘esculturas de arena’ must contain a little bit of magic to make them hold up as long as they do.
On my April visit, I ran across this interesting sand sculpture, styled with ancient influences. It’s incredible how the artist makes it look like the figure is wrapped in leaves, adorned with jewelry and a mask.
If you are visiting Puerto Vallarta around the holidays, you may see sand sculptures with a religious aspect such as ‘The Virgin of Guadalupe’ or ‘Three Kings’. If you get lucky, you might even get to see a sand sculpture artist at work!
4. Triton and Siren
This classically styled bronze sculpture reminds me of a museum piece from Greek or Roman mythology.
And for good reason – the male figure represents Triton, one of the Greek gods of the sea. The female figure is a Siren. You remember them – beautiful women known for their enchanting and irresistible songs which drove sailors to their doom.
‘Triton and Siren’ is the creation of Mexican artist Carlos Eugenio Espino del Castillo Barrón and dates from 1990.
Local officials incorrectly labeled this statue ‘Neptune and the Nereid’ during its unveiling, so you may see various statue names when you look for this one on Google Maps.
The ocean makes such an appropriate backdrop to this sculpture, and the view would be even more dramatic at sunset.
5. Letras Puerto Vallarta (Puerto Vallarta sign)
Letras Puerto Vallarta is the ever-popular ‘Puerto Vallarta’ sign spelled out in giant letters. It’s a newcomer to the Malecón, as it was just added in 2018.
The giant letters are decorated with colorful and whimsical pictures representing Puerto Vallarta. These include attractions such as the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and activities such as fishing and sailing. Be sure to take a peek at the back side of the sign, as it’s even more colorful than the front.
The Puerto Vallarta sign makes for an iconic photo opportunity, so you’ll have to be patient to wait for the area to clear out between tour groups in order to get your own photo. Or be really good with Photoshop.
The Letras Puerto Vallarta centers on a statue, ‘The Boy on the Seahorse’ (Monumento El Caballito). This sculpture is the work of artist Rafael Zamarripa Castañeda.
This statue was the first to be placed on Puerto Vallarta’s Malecón, and it is considered to be one of the symbols of the city.
The version you see here is a replica of the original, which is located on Los Muertos Beach. The original had some unfortunate history with being lost to the sea during storms, and subsequently recovered.
So now the city has a matching pair of statues to enjoy!
6. The Arches (Los Arcos)
As you continue your walking tour south along the Malecón, you will come to one of Puerto Vallarta’s most iconic attractions. The Arches, or Los Arcos, are a set of four connected stone arches overlooking the waters of beautiful Banderas Bay.
The Arches are the heart of Puerto Vallarta’s Malecón, and serve as a backdrop for the Aquiles Serdan Theater. You’ll usually be able to find some sort of live entertainment in this open-air amphitheater.
Enjoy musical performances, traditional Mexican dancers, or local festivals. Some of the entertainment caters to tourists (such as demonstrations of ancient dances complete with costumes), but other entertainment is for the enjoyment of locals and tourists alike.
The arches themselves were originally part of a hacienda near Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico but are now an integral part of the Puerto Vallarta landscape. They have become nearly as recognizable as the Seahorse statue and the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
7. The Friendship Fountain
Keep following the Malecón past the arches, and you can’t miss the Friendship Fountain. This fountain features three intertwined playful dolphins, so it is sometimes called the Dancing Dolphins Fountain.
The Friendship Fountain’s existence is due to Puerto Vallarta becoming a sister city with Santa Barbara, California in 1973.
The whimsical fountain you see here took inspiration from the design of the Santa Barbara Bicentennial Friendship Fountain. The California version features the graceful forms of a family of three dolphins all leaping in the same direction.
Puerto Vallarta’s Friendship Fountain was created in 1987 by artists James “Bud” Bottoms and Octavio González Gutiérrez.
As the story goes, the elements of the fountain arrived separately, and González had to choose how to arrange them. So, he placed the dolpins in this arrangement, which gives Puerto Vallarta’s fountain a lively and playful vibe.
8. Naval History Museum
If you’re in the mood to visit a museum during your walking tour of Puerto Vallarta, the Naval History Museum is a good choice. Its location couldn’t be more convenient since it is right next to the arches and the Friendship Fountain.
The Naval History Museum is housed in a colonial-style building. Inside you’ll find lots of exhibits detailing Mexico’s naval history, elaborate model ships (Chris loves those), navigational instruments, and maps. The majority of the exhibits are in both English and Spanish.
It’s a small museum, so you can easily fit a stop into your schedule. Admission is fairly inexpensive –only a couple of dollars. There’s also a coffee shop, and you don’t need to buy a museum ticket to visit the coffee shop.
It’s easy to walk right past the Naval History Museum if, like me, you get drawn in by every sculpture you see along the esplanade. If you get to this colorful oceanfront tile art work ‘Vendedores de Pescado’, turn around!
9. Vallarta Dancers
The vibrantly colored statue, Vallarta Dancers (Escultura charro Bailarines de Vallarta) will be our last stop of this side of the Malecón before we head inland on our walking tour.
I love the graceful movement captured in the female dancer’s swirling skirts and billowing scarf. The gold scrollwork decorating the male dancer’s clothing and hat is also lovely.
This life-sized bronze statue looks like a moment frozen in time, and you almost expect to blink and have the dancers continue on with the steps of the dance.
The sculpture was created in 2006 by artist Jim Demetro and has become one of the most photographed sculptures in Puerto Vallarta. It is based on the ‘Jarabe Tapatío’, aka the Mexican Hat Dance.
10. Plaza de Armas
Now we backtrack a wee bit to return to The Arches, and then head inland towards the southeast to reach the Plaza de Armas.
Note the roads in Puerto Vallarta are roughly in a grid system, but the roads are built parallel and perpendicular to the shoreline. So, here in the Centro area, things run at about a 45-degree angle from the cardinal compass points.
And when we head south to the Zona Romántica, the roads realign with the direction of that shoreline and shift around again.
Plaza de Armas is Puerto Vallarta’s central plaza, and it is right next to Puerto Vallarta’s City Hall and the Tourism Office. You’ll see the statue of Ignacio L. Vallarta with pride of place as you approach the plaza.
You guessed it, Puerto Vallarta was named in honor of Ignacio Vallarta, who was one of the state governors. Before that, it was called Las Peñas. I think the name ‘Puerto Vallarta’ has a nicer ring to it, don’t you?
Plaza de Armas is a lovely plaza where you can take a moment to rest on the elegant scrollwork benches or in the shady gazebo. And from here, you can get an excellent view of the crown atop the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which we’ll be visiting next!
11. Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe
The Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, or Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, is the second main symbol of Puerto Vallarta (along with the Seahorse). ‘Our Lady of Guadalupe’ is another name for the Virgin Mary, the patron saint of Mexico.
If you’re visiting in the first part of December, be sure to check out the Festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which runs from December 1-12.
The main belltower, topped with an elaborate crown, makes this church unique. The church was built between 1930 and 1940 in a neoclassical style. The crown has had many incarnations over the decades, with impact from weather and earthquakes, with the current version created in 2009.
As you approach the church from the plaza, you’ll see the tall tower with its glorious crown as well as the two smaller towers. It’s one of the top Puerto Vallarta historic sites!
Feel free to enter the church to view the interior. Be respectful and quiet inside the church, and don’t disturb worshipers during mass.
Be sure to look upwards into the interior of the dome to see the ornate golden decorations, cherubs, and stained glass.
12. Mercado Municipal Rio Cuale
If you’d like to purchase some authentic Mexican crafts during your visit to Puerto Vallarta, you’ll want to browse through the Mercado Municipal Rio Cuale. This market is located on the northern bank of the Rio Cuale.
Here you’ll find vendors with a dizzying array of products. Take home some vibrant beaded Huichol art, textiles, mosaics, or colorful ceramics. Be sure to look around the market to see your options and be prepared to bargain!
If you’re hungry, there are lots of food options in the mercado, from fresh produce to prepared foods. Head upstairs and check out the restaurants to sample typical Mexican cuisine.
If you want to do even more shopping, visit the Cuale Island Flea Market – just cross the bridge over Rio Cuale to the island, and you can’t miss it.
13. Gringo Gulch
As you head east from the Mercado, you’ll hit Gringo Gulch. Gringo Gulch is a residential area on the hillside along Rio Cuale. It got its name from the famous foreigners (gringos) who lived in this area in the 1950s and 1960s.
Some of the most famous residents to live in Gringo Gulch were Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Their love affair in Puerto Vallarta is actually one of the things that really made a name for this city.
During Burton’s filming of ‘Night of the Iguana’ in Puerto Vallarta, Elizabeth Taylor moved here to be with him – even though he was married to someone else at the time!
They stayed in director John Huston’s ‘Casa Kimberley’, which Burton later purchased for Taylor. He purchased a second house across the street for himself and had a bridge built between them (Lover’s Arch).
Since it’s on a hillside, be prepared for some steep inclines and stair-climbing in this part of the walking tour.
14. Zona Romántica
Puerto Vallarta’s Zona Romántica is a large region, roughly bordered by Rio Cuale to the north, highway 200 to the east, and the coast on the west. It tapers to a point just past Playa Los Muertos.
Zona Romántica is a trendy area known for its restaurants, bars, galleries, boutiques, hotels and entertainment. There is a robust LGTBQ community in Puerto Vallarta, and you’ll find rainbow-colored everything in the Zona Romántica. And a surprising number of advertisements for drag shows!
Spend some time just exploring the Zona Romántica. Admire the architecture of the colonial buildings and churches, enjoy a cup of coffee at a cute café, and do a little people-watching.
I love this sidewalk art that I ran across on my last visit to Puerto Vallarta – yet another of the city’s iconic seahorses! In my opinion, it was much too pretty to walk on.
15. Iglesia de la Santa Cruz
The Iglesia de la Santa Cruz is a charming Catholic church painted in candy-colored pastels. You can’t miss the belltower reaching up into the sky like a fancy wedding cake trimmed in yellow, pink, and white flanking pink stone arches.
This church is just a small unassuming local church but has its own beauty. The interior is bright and airy, as the crisp white walls and ceiling are illuminated with sunlight from the high stained-glass windows.
16. Parque Lázaro Cárdenas
I’d be lying if I said that the Parque Lázaro Cárdenas wasn’t the highlight of my walking tour of the Puerto Vallarta cruise port. I love this fantastic mosaic-filled park!
When we visited Puerto Vallarta in April of 2019, there were a lot of really cool intricate mosaics decorating the columns and benches in Parque Lázaro Cárdenas.
When I returned in April of 2022, I was astounded at how many more mosaic benches had been completed. In fact, almost all of the benches had been ‘adopted’ by local families or business to decorate.
I even saw some of the artists at work on their mosaic masterpieces. I’m sure by the next time I visit Puerto Vallarta, the entire park will be completed.
Vibrant mosaic benches
Some of the mosaics are free form with a palette of colors but with no real pattern.
Personally, I prefer the ones with intricate designs and scenes. This one has a ‘Día de Muertos’ (Day of the Dead) flair, with skeletal bride and groom flanking the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
I also love how the designs carry down through the bottom of the bench to make ‘legs’ for the figures.
I ran (okay, walked) from one bench to another like a kid in a candy store, ooh-ing and aah-ing over the gorgeous designs and vibrant colors. And, of course, taking lots of pictures!
It’s certainly a tough decision, but I’d have to say that my absolute favorite bench design is this cutie, for both the design and the sentiment: ‘True love is you, love’.
17. Olas Altas Saturday Market
The Olas Altas Farmers Market sets up shop in Parque Lázaro Cárdenas on Saturdays. This is a two-fer in that you can enjoy the gorgeous mosaics of the park, and also shop for some souvenirs or enjoy some local products.
You’ll find everything from jewelry to woven baskets to ceramics, and aguas frescas to sandwiches to artisan chocolates.
If you want to visit a farmer’s market but you’re not in town on a Saturday, visit the Emiliano Zapata Farmers Market. It’s located further to the east in the Zona Romántica. It may be a little bit out of your way, but it’s still only a 10-minute walk from the park.
18. ‘The Sail’ at Muelle de Playa Los Muertos
I told you we’d make it back to the waterfront, and here we are. ‘The Sail’ graces the muelle, or dock, of Playa Los Muertos. This lovely piece of art and architecture was designed by architect José de Jesús Torres Vega.
The metal curves gracefully around a tall central pole and looks much like a sail billowing in the breeze of Banderas Bay.
Take a walk out on the dock and you can circle ‘The Sail’. From this vantage point, you’ll enjoy some excellent views of Puerto Vallarta’s fantastic beaches. Playa Olas Altas sits to the north, with Playa Los Muertos to the south.
19. Take a walk on the beach
No trip to Puerto Vallarta can be complete without a walk on the beach! So, take off those shoes, walk down to the shore, and wiggle your toes in the sand. I’m pretty sure it’s some sort of therapy. At least, I always feel my stress ebbing away when I walk along the shore.
You’ll find many excellent beaches just minutes away from the Puerto Vallarta cruise port. Playa Los Muertos is one of the most famous and popular beaches in Puerto Vallarta and is part of the Zona Romántica.
There many beachfront hotels, restaurants, and resorts lining up along Playa Los Muertos as well as Playa Olas Altas to the north. We walked all the way down Playa Los Muertos until it ends in a rocky outcropping.
If you want to relax on the beach, there are various places to rent a beach chair. Or if you’d like to be more active, there are many aquatic activities to enjoy such as boating, fishing, or parasailing.
20. Puerto Magica
After a fun day of exploring Puerto Vallarta, be sure to give yourself enough time to get back to your cruise ship!
You don’t want to be that person who is running to try to catch a departing ship. (Because generally, the ship isn’t going to wait on you – the company has to pay a lot for the time they spend occupying the dock.)
The Puerto Vallarta cruise terminal gives you one final present as you head back to your ship: the Puerto Magico sign, complete with one last seahorse!
Puerto Vallarta FAQ
Where is the best part of Puerto Vallarta?
The best part of Puerto Vallarta is the Zona Romántica, or Romantic Zone. You’ll find plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops here.
Is the ocean swimmable in Puerto Vallarta?
Puerto Vallarta is located on Banderas Bay, which is an excellent place for swimming and other water-based activities!
Can you walk from the Puerto Vallarta cruise port to the city center?
You can walk from the cruise port terminal to downtown Puerto Vallarta, but it will take you an hour or so. The better choice is to take a taxi.
What is the best time of year to cruise to Puerto Vallarta?
Mexican Riviera cruises are most popular in the months of November through February. A Mexican Riviera cruise is a great way to escape cold winter weather!
Where does a Mexican Riviera cruise go?
Popular ports of call on a Mexican Riviera cruise include Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlán, Cabo san Lucas, and Ensenada.
Well, that does it for our cruise port day in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I hope you had as much fun as I did on this Puerto Vallarta walking tour!
Source: Waves and Cobblestones