Top 5 FREE Things to-do In Puerto Vallarta (part 1)

What Can You Do for FREE in Vallarta?

Are you seeking the ultimate insider’s guide to experiencing the best of Puerto Vallarta on a budget? Your search ends here! As a former resident of both Centro and Nuevo Vallarta for two years, I’ve already done the groundwork for you. Say goodbye to countless hours of internet research! Whether you have a week or just a few days to spare, you can effortlessly check off all five items on this curated list. The cherry on top? Every single experience comes at absolutely no cost to you.

While indulging in a resort stay in Vallarta is a splendid means to relax and detach from the hustle and bustle of daily routines, it’s important to remember that there exists an entire realm of wonders beyond the confines of the resort gates. Vallarta, nestled in the captivating embrace of the Bay of Banderas, holds a wealth of hidden treasures just waiting to be explored. Venture beyond the boundaries of your resort, and you’ll discover a cornucopia of awe-inspiring experiences and breathtaking sights that will leave an indelible mark on your journey.

So, let’s dive right in and uncover a few of the best FREE experiences that Puerto Vallarta has to offer!

1. Mirador de la Cruz

If you’re up for the climb, visiting Mirador de la Cruz (the View Point) is an absolute must. The effort is well rewarded by the breathtaking panoramic view it offers. From this elevated vantage point, you can take in the entire expanse of Vallarta. The sight encompasses everything from whales gracefully breaching in the distance to the vibrant downtown area, the Hotel Zone, Marina, Nuevo Vallarta, and extends all the way to the scenic point of Punta Mita.

To truly appreciate the city, venture to the backside of the cross where you’ll discover the tunnel that links the negihborhood of Agua Azul to Zona Romantica, and views of the largest neighborhood in Vallarta – Pitillal. Here, you’ll gain a comprehensive perspective of Vallarta as a whole, realizing its vastness and scale. Many visitors tend to confine themselves to the popular areas near the beach, unaware that the majority of locals reside on the opposite side of the main highway (highway 200) to the east.

Mirador de la Cruz
Beautiful view from the top of the mirador looking across the bay of banderas

From the elevated viewpoint, you’ll not only grasp the size of Vallarta, but also gain an appreciation for the sheer magnitude of the Bay of Banderas. Without observing it from above, it’s difficult to comprehend the immense stretch of this bay. Spanning approximately 42 kilometers (26 miles) from Punta Mita in the north to Cabo Corrientes in the south, the Bay of Banderas encompasses an area of about 1,500 square kilometers (579 square miles).

If you’re interested in embarking on this adventure, the starting point of the walk is located at the end of Gringo Gulch, an area known for its movie star residents. Simply head up the hill, slightly north from Cathedral de Guadalupe (the famous church with the grey crown). For your convenience, here is the Google Maps location of Mirador de la Cruz so you can navigate your way there. Enjoy the spectacular views!

Banderas Bay
View of Banderas Bay and the neighborhood of Centro

2. Romantic Zone and Los Muertos Pier

Next on the list is something I recommend doing both during the daylight with sunshine, and at night. Sunset is the ideal time to immerse yourself in the charm of Old Town while taking a leisurely beach stroll. As the sun dips below the horizon, it casts a gentle pink and orange glow on the hillside buildings, creating a captivating atmosphere.

No visit to Vallarta is complete without exploring the place where its oldest roots lie. As tourism flourished in the late 1960s and early 1970s, thanks to the global recognition brought by the movie “Night of the Iguana,” the Romantic Zone (Old Town) witnessed the emergence of numerous buildings. Tourists flocked to the area, staying at beachfront resorts while admiring the architectural beauty and cobblestone streets that give Old Town its illustrious charm.

The architecture in the Romantic Zone is a delightful fusion of traditional Mexican elements and contemporary designs. Colorful buildings, charming boutique hotels, inviting cafes, and captivating art galleries line the streets, inviting exploration. Moreover, the neighborhood is a haven for food enthusiasts, boasting a diverse culinary scene that caters to all tastes, from mouthwatering traditional Mexican street food to refined international cuisine. After the sun sets, the Romantic Zone comes alive with its vibrant nightlife, offering a variety of bars, clubs, and live music venues.

Top 5 FREE Things to-do In Puerto Vallarta (part 1)

The Romantic Zone also embraces a relaxed and bohemian ambiance, attracting a diverse mix of locals, expatriates, and tourists. The neighborhood fosters a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere, celebrating Mexican culture alongside international influences and a vibrant LGBT community.

Muertos Beach, located within the Romantic Zone, beckons nearly all visitors to its sandy shores. As the most popular beach in Vallarta, it offers a picturesque setting for relaxation and recreation. At Muertos Beach, you’ll also find the iconic Los Muertos Pier. Situated in the heart of the Old Town district, the pier extends into the Bay of Banderas, providing breathtaking views of the water and the surrounding mountains.

The Los Muertos Pier holds a special appeal for both tourists and locals, offering a delightful setting for leisurely strolls, scenic vistas, and people-watching. Along the pier, you’ll encounter an array of shops, restaurants, and bars, providing a diverse range of dining and entertainment options. Additionally, the pier showcases various art installations and public artwork, inviting exploration and appreciation of the city’s vibrant culture.

A highlight of the Los Muertos Pier experience is witnessing its magnificent sunsets. The pier offers a prime location to observe the sun descending over the bay, attracting locals and visitors alike to gather and savor the evening spectacle. Fishing enthusiasts can also be spotted casting their lines off the pier in search of a catch. At night, the pier is adorned with colorful lights, creating a relaxed ambiance that beautifully illuminates the surroundings after the sun has dipped below the horizon.

los muertos pier
Los Muertos pier

3. The Malecon

The Malecón is a popular boardwalk and promenade located in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike, offering a wide range of activities and attractions.

The Malecón stretches for over two miles (3.2 km) stretching from Centro into Old Town. It is a bustling and vibrant area, with a wide variety of shops, restaurants, and street vendors. The Malecón is also home to a number of sculptures and public art installations, including the iconic Los Arcos archway. Throughout the year the malecon is the best destination for celebrations – such as Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Independence Day, Christmas, and Halloween.


One of the top things to do on the Malecón is to take a leisurely walk and enjoy the beautiful views of the ocean and the city. The boardwalk is another great place to watch the sunset, and it is also a popular spot for joggers and bicyclists. Along the way, you can stop at one of the many restaurants and bars to enjoy a cold drink or a delicious meal.

In addition to its shops and restaurants, the Malecón is also home to a number of interesting attractions. The Malecón is a great place to watch street performers and musicians, and it is also home to the Puerto Vallarta Museum, which showcases the history and culture of the region. The Malecón is also a popular spot for fishing, and it is a great place to watch the local fishermen bring in their catches.

Many evenings there are live performance shows like stand up comics, dancing, music, and performers for kids. It’s a place where locals bring their families to enjoy some free entertainment.

Top 5 FREE Things to-do In Puerto Vallarta (part 1)
Live music show at Los Arcos amphitheatre on the malecon

4. Beaches and Snorkeling

If your primary intention for visiting Vallarta is to indulge in beach relaxation, you’re in for a treat. Few experiences rival the soothing sensation of warm sand between your toes, the caress of a gentle ocean breeze, and the symphony of crashing waves nearby, all while savoring a refreshing drink. However, it’s worth noting that not all beaches in the area are equal in terms of their offerings. The popular tourist hubs, where numerous hotels and resorts are concentrated, may not necessarily offer the best beach experiences. These beaches often have coarse, dark brown sand and are situated at the mouth of the bay, leading to water color variations influenced by the tides and the mixing of river water.

playa colomitos
Playa Colomitos

To truly savor pristine, emerald and azure waters, and to enjoy exceptional snorkeling opportunities with turtles and tropical fish, I recommend exploring the following beaches. It is important to note that some of these beaches may lack amenities such as restrooms, food and beverage services, and chairs/umbrellas, as they are situated in less touristy areas. However, I will provide information on which ones do offer such conveniences.

By selecting one of these beaches, you can experience the captivating beauty of greener and bluer waters, allowing you to immerse yourself in nature’s marvels while indulging in snorkeling adventures.

Beaches with services:

Playa Palmares – located just south of downtown Puerto Vallarta

Mismaloya – located 30 minute south of Puerto Vallarta

Boca de Tomatlan – located 45 minute south of Puerto Vallarta

Playa San Pancho – located 1 hour and 20 minutes from downtown Puerto Vallarta

Colomitos – access by boat only. Walkable from Boca de Tomatlan or quick boat ride from Boca

Destiladeras – located just over an hour from Puerto Vallarta (there is a beach club located here)

Las Animas – boat access only but lots of restaurants on the beach to choose from. Popular place

Playa Los Ayala – located 90 minutes from Vallarta to the north. Worth the drive

san pancho
San Pancho

Beaches Without:

Las Gemelas – 20 minute south of downtown Vallarta (food and drinks served but no bathroom. Strange I know)

Carreyeros – 1 hour and 20 minutes from Vallarta downtown. El Barracuda restaurant is located on the beach, but if you dont go here, there’s no other services just fyi. This is personally my favorite beach. Incredible water color and snorkeling conditions are often superb.

Playa de Barro – located 90 minutes north of downtown Vallarta

Playa del Torro – 90 minutes north of downtown Puerto Vallarta

Playa Punta Negra – a quick 15 minute drive from downtown Vallarta

Generally speaking, the beaches here that have some rock formations are going to be better quality snorkel conditions than the beaches closer to downtown Vallarta, Bucerias, Nuevo etc – the locations within the middle of the Bay of Banderas.

Waters at Careyeros
Waters at Careyeros

5. Isla Rio Cuale

Among the top five free attractions in Puerto Vallarta, we have Isla Río Cuale, a delightful addition to your itinerary.

Situated within the Rio Cuale river, which gracefully meanders through the heart of Puerto Vallarta, Isla Río Cuale serves as a tranquil haven, separating Centro from Zona Romantica. Accessible via a footbridge from Old Town, this charming island is just a short stroll away from the vibrant Malecón boardwalk. As you step onto the island, you’ll find yourself immersed in a serene oasis adorned with lush vegetation, vibrant birdlife, and an overall sense of peace.

Take a leisurely walk and immerse yourself in the island’s verdant forests and gardens, where you’ll encounter fascinating plants and even come across friendly feline residents who gracefully roam the island.

Top 5 FREE Things to-do In Puerto Vallarta (part 1)
One of the bridges connecting the Rio Cuale to Romantic Zone

Beyond its natural beauty, Isla Río Cuale boasts intriguing attractions, including a small cultural center that showcases the rich history and culture of the region. Artisan shops dot the island, offering a delightful array of local crafts and souvenirs during the day. As a pleasant surprise, you might even stumble upon an outdoor movie screening, creating a unique and enjoyable experience for passers-by.

When it comes to dining options, Isla Río Cuale presents a range of enticing choices. From the delectable offerings of Las Brazzas, River Cafe, Rico (specializing in Indian cuisine) to Oscars, where you can savor homemade tequila tasting, the island has something to satisfy every palate. Not to be missed is the mouthwatering fine dining restaurant “Tintoque,” situated along the river but not on the island, a true culinary gem that is a must-visit for food enthusiasts.

Visiting the Rio Cuale area provides a distinctive ambiance, offering a delightful blend of natural surroundings and the vibrant energy of city life. It allows you to bask in the embrace of nature while still being in the heart of the city’s bustling atmosphere.

Isla Rio Cuale
Isla Rio Cuale


Thank you for exploring this concise compilation of the finest free attractions in Puerto Vallarta. If you’ve relished this selection, we invite you to delve into more of our engaging blogs at palmara.co. Discover comprehensive insights into the city, the must-try experiences, and the finest restaurants to savor.

For those yearning to bask in the warm sun and relish the ocean’s embrace, consider booking your exclusive yacht charter with us. Immerse yourself in an unparalleled maritime adventure, crafted to create lasting memories that will accompany you for a lifetime.

As you embark on your journey in Puerto Vallarta, I sincerely wish you the most unforgettable time ahead. May each moment etch itself into your heart, creating cherished memories that stand the test of time.

Top 5 FREE Things to-do In Puerto Vallarta (part 1)
Malecon view from above