To commemorate film director John Huston’s contribution to the popularity of the Puerto Vallarta, a statue of him was built on the Isla Rio Cuale. A plaque was also created to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the film.
La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe) on calle Hidalgo in Centro is one of Vallarta’s most famous and recognizable landmarks, dominating the skyline in countless postcards. This Catholic church is dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico and of Puerto Vallarta, who is said to have appeared before a man named Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin on December 12, 1531. It is the heart of religious life here and is the focal point of an elaborate 12-day festival called Feast of Guadalupe each December. It is also one of the city’s must-visit attractions.
The interior is filled with hand-carved columns, decorative moldings and other rich detailing. The holy mother’s image, by Ignacio Ramírez, is the centerpiece of the church’s slender marble altarpiece. The brick bell tower is topped by a distinctive, lacy-looking crown. The church’s bells are rung 30 and 15 minutes prior to service and are a joy to hear. Service is usually in Spanish, but there is a weekly service in English as well.
On Sunday evenings, stop by the Municipal Plaza (the main square, between the amphitheater and the Lady of Guadalupe Church) to be entertained by the Municipal Band. Then watch as the locals kick up their heels to the danzón music, in a dignified Cuban dance that is popular in the tropics because it is non-strenuous and people of most any age can do it. Sometimes the music changes and the participants might suddenly break into a line dance in response to a catchy Country tune. Come rain or shine, young and old are there, joyously dancing in their celebration of life. If you feel your spirit being lifted up and carried away in the jubilation, just go with it and join in!
If you enjoy theater, you are in for a treat! Vallarta offers many options such as cinemas, film festivals, plays, comedy, and other live performances.The arts scene in Vallarta is very vibrant, with many galleries featuring talented local painters, sculptors and artisans. Several of these galleries are right in Old Town and Centro, minutes from Rivera Cuale.One of Vallarta’s most popular art events is the free and fun Art Walk that is scheduled weekly throughout high season. Over a dozen distinctive downtown art houses host simultaneous art openings in the heart of El Centro, all within 16 blocks of each other and most within six. On every Art Walk, each participating gallery showcases the latest works of a particular artist or collective. The artists are frequently present, so you can easily chat with them about what you are seeing.
Part of this Art Walk is hosted on Vallarta’s famous Malecon, the oceanfront boardwalk in Centro that also connects with Old Town. This is a rewarding and enjoyable way to pass an afternoon, walking along admiring the work of various local artists, with the sparkling Bay of Banderas as a backdrop.
The Malecon is well-renowned for its many bronze statues that line the boardwalk. The statues all have names and often a story behind them. Some were even created by brilliant sculptors who reside in Vallarta, such as the late Ramiz Barquet. To learn more about these fine works of art, you can attend a free sculpture tour, or click here.
Yet another amazing art scene along the Malecon is the giant sand sculptures depicting all sorts of different locations. The talented artists who create these spend days building them for you to enjoy. For a tip you can even take photos.
As you stroll along the Malecon enjoying the view and the breeze, you can take in many cultural events as well. One of the most amazing sights to behold is that of the “Voladores de Papantla” or “Flyers of Papantla”. The Flyers of Papantla are Totonac Indians from Veracruz who perform an ancient fertility ceremony as a spiritual gift to the gods so that a new sun can be born. In their colorful costumes, they hang upside-down and descend to earth, arms open wide, from ropes tied to the top of a 50 foot pole, as they swing around and around in perfect form to the drum beat and flute of the priest, representing the sun, perched atop the pole. Each of the four Voladores represents an element: earth, water, fire and air, and the interweaving of these four elements symbolizes the creation of new life. Each Voladore’s rope unwinds 13 times, thus totaling 52 revolutions, to signify the 52 years of the Mayan calendar’s solar cycle.
Also on the Malecon are regular musical and entertainment acts at the Los Arcos Amphitheater, free for you to enjoy, and on special occasions and holidays the Malecon hosts celebrated performers and bands for spectacular concerts which thousands attend – free to the public as well.
As the sun sets and night falls, the Malecon comes alive with music pumping out from any of the Malecon’s many discos and sports bars. Even if you don’t feel like bustin’ a move yourself, it is fun to watch locals and tourists alike dancing away to the sounds of rock, top 40 and salsa! As you smile at the fiesta before your eyes, you may be momentarily startled by a series of loud bangs. In turning around, you will find that you have an incredible view of the fireworks that grace the skies over the Bay of Banderas every night, launched from the Marigalante pirate ship in the bay.
Strolling on the Malecon in the evening is one of the most pleasant and relaxing things you can do. The views and sunsets are breathtaking and the breezes refreshing. As an extension of the Malecon, you can walk across the new bridge that takes you south from the Centro side of the Cuale River to the Old Town side. Before crossing though, you will be delighted to find many enticing goodies. You can do a little shopping at the various kiosks for jewelry and souvenirs, arts and crafts, and refreshments. This is a great place to try one of many flavors of flan if you are looking for dessert, or “elotes” – cooked corn kernels in a cup with your choice of extra ingredients – if you are after something savory. If you stop on the bridge, you can look down upon the river and see where it meets the bay. You might spot fish, or herons and pelicans hunting fish. Observing nature in its pure form like this is such a simple yet pleasurable and quieting moment.
Shortly after crossing the bridge, you will pass by Plaza Lázaro Cárdenas. This Old Town plaza is a well-manicured park with stage and seating, across from Playa Olas Altas. Sometimes it hosts free performances such as the Xuitla Dancers. Even in the absence of a performance, it is a beautiful and serene place to visit, with its many benches, gardens, and lovely center kiosk. There is also very convenient and economical parking right underneath the plaza.Back in Old Town, you are in for another treat! Sometimes when you least expect it, the soulful, soothing sounds of the live mariachi greet your ears. The mariachi may be in a restaurant, or sometimes they are out on the sidewalk. Perhaps they will even serenade you, if you allow them. You could also find yourself swept away in some impromptu salsa dancing to the live band playing their hearts out in a stylish café lounge. It is amazing how the feet suddenly come alive when the ears hear the catchy and uplifting beats!
Living in this area of Vallarta opens the door to another great opportunity: learning Spanish! What better way to learn Spanish than by immersing yourself in the language while chatting with the locals. Whether you are taking group classes, have your own personal tutor, or are just winging it, talking with the locals in their language is an unparalled way to learn Spanish. Many locals also speak some degree of English and are eager to learn more, so you have a chance to give back as well.
Now here’s some food for thought: how about learning to cook all of your favorite Mexican dishes? You can sign up for Mexican cooking classes, whether you do that in someone else’s kitchen… or maybe even in your own! How about hosting a Mexican dinner party one evening, and as your guests rave about how delicious the food is, you can beam with pride at having prepared everything yourself! Also, if you are a food and wine aficionado, you will probably enjoy the yearly gourmet and wine festivals held in Vallarta.
Latin dance lessons are also something fun to do, and are a great opportunity to firm up those muscles while socializing. Why sit on the sidelines when you can be in the spotlight showing off your new moves? Many places offer lessons, and some of the nightspots themselves offer lessons and then you can stay on to dance the night away into the wee hours.
Mexico is well known for its fiestas, and indeed the people know how to throw a party! There are many hotels and restaurants nearby that put on colorful Mexican Fiesta nights so you can sample the food, music and old-time traditions of Mexico. A single entrance fee rewards you with an open bar and Mexican buffet, and entertainment like mariachis, folk dancers, lasso-spinning charros, ranchero singers, cockfights, do-it-yourself bullfights, raffles and contests, piñatas, and sometimes fireworks. You can also experience a traditional fiesta at a real working ranch in the foothills of the Sierra Madre, a short drive from the city. They might even have dancing horses there!
Bullfights, called “Corrida de Toros” in Mexico, are another cultural spectacle to behold. They are held weekly, November through April, at the Toros Plaza across from the Maritime Terminal.
Mexico celebrates many festivals and holidays throughout the year. Centuries of traditions based on the native culture of the Mayans, the Spanish culture, and Catholicism are at the root of many of these celebrations, and make for a wide variety of festival styles. Here are some of the main festivals and holidays to note:
- 1 New Year’s Day (Año Nuevo)
- 6 Day of the Kings (Día de Reyes)February
- 5 Constitution Day (Día de la Constitución Mexicana)
- 14 Friendship Day (Día del Amor y la Amistad)
- 24 Mexican Flag Day (Día de la Bandera)
- 21 Benito Juárez Day (Natalicio de Benito Juárez)
March-April (date varies)
- Ash Wednesday (Miércoles de Ceniza), Good Friday
- Holy Week, Semana Santa, Easter Sunday (Domingo de Pascua)
- 1 Labor Day (Día del Trabajo)
- 5 Cinco de Mayo
- 10 Mother’s Day (Día de las Madres)
- 31 Puerto Vallarta Anniversary
- 1 Navy Day (Día de la Marina)
- 1 President’s State of the Nation Address (Informe Presidencial)
- 13 Niños Heroes de Chapultepec
- 14 Charro Day (Día del Charro)
- 15 Independence Eve & El Grito
- 16 Independence Day (Día de la Independencia)
- 12 Columbus Day (Día de la Raza)
- 31 Halloween
- 1 All Soul’s Day (Día de Todos los Santos)
- 2 Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos)
- 20 Mexican Revolution Day (Día de la Revolución Mexicana)
- 1-12 Guadalupe Processions (Peregrinaciones)
- 12 Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe (Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe)
- 16-24 Posadas
- 25 Christmas Day (Navidad)
- 28 Holy Innocent’s Day
- 31 New Year’s Eve
A good place to check for the goings-on around Vallarta is the Bay Vallarta Guide that comes out in Spanish and English every two weeks. You can pick this up around town for free. It lists not only events around town, but all sorts of recreational activities and classes you can join, from art workshops to yoga and meditation, martial arts, dance and so much more.