Puerto Vallarta’s Zona Romantica, also known as the Romantic Zone, is the lively, visitor-friendly area fronting Bahia de Banderas, or Banderas Bay. This seaside locale is where sun worshipers, shoppers, and food lovers spend their time in enchanting, cobblestoned Puerto Vallarta.
This neighborhood, which starts at the Rio Cuale, near Cuale Island in the north of the city, and runs south along the Pacific strand, down toward Amapas Beach, is full of fascinating culture. The Zona Romantica, Puerto Vallarta, also happens to be the city’s Old Town.
This historic district, full of restaurants, cool bars, and chic boutiques (plus the requisite number of trinket shops) exudes a warm, welcoming vibe.
Here are 11 experiences to enjoy in the Zona Romantica, Puerto Vallarta.
Enjoy Vistas of Banderas Bay
One of the first things you’ll notice about the Romantic Zone, Puerto Vallarta, is that it faces the exceptionally picturesque Banderas Bay. This bay is one of the largest in the world.
Apart from taking in the shimmering blue waves lapping against the sand or taking a dip in the crystalline water, you can book a whale-watching tour that departs from here.
Whale-watching tours only take place during the season, which typically runs from December to March. This is the time to catch a glimpse of the humpback whales that have completed their annual migration to the region to give birth.
Several tours are based out of the marina, north of the Zona Romantica. This is one of the best places to go whale watching in Mexico.
You can also enjoy a multi-hour sailing cruise across the bay, passing by Los Arcos National Marine Park’s striking granite islands. Other types of nautical excursions are on offer as well, including chartered fishing trips, some leaving from Los Muertos Pier.
And finally, once you wade into the water, you’ll have the chance to observe Puerto Vallarta and the lovely Romantic Zone from the ocean. Also note the green and rugged Sierra Madre Mountains behind the city, which are a sight to behold.
Wander Down the Malecon Boardwalk
The Malecon Boardwalk runs 12 blocks or so down the western edge of the Romantic Zone. Strolling along this pedestrian-only area is one of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta as it is a hub of glittery fun.
With different beaches, like Rosita Beach, plus a remarkably hospitable character, Malecon, which begins around Hotel Rosita and extends south toward Los Arcos Amphitheater, is a wonderful place to catch some outdoor theater.
You can also find diversions nearby at various bars, where you’ll quickly discover that there’s no shortage of amazing tequila in PV. Food and entertainment can be had at different bistros, restaurants, and clubs near Malecon as well.
If you appreciate art, take part in a Malecon outdoor sculpture walking tour, or pick up some local folk art from one of the many vendors along the boardwalk. Check out the iconic Los Arcos stone arches, too, a popular spot for photos.
For anybody with an incurable sweet tooth, the ChocoMuseo Puerto Vallarta puts on a variety of chocolate-themed classes. An hour or two at the museum will teach you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about chocolate making; the added bonus is that you’ll get to eat the fruits of your labors.
Other highlights along the Malecon Boardwalk include the swirly, very modern-looking, and Instagram-ready Los Muertos Pier, along with the boardwalk’s colorful mosaic tiles, which are especially prominent at Lazaro Cardenas Park.
Gaze at Malecon’s Aerial Acrobats
One of the real treats during a visit to the Zona Romantica, Puerto Vallarta, is stopping to watch the Voladores de Papantla. These aerial risk-takers put on a highly choreographed show full of nimble acrobatics as they spin down—and around—a very tall pole.
The flying birdmen of Malecon, who are adorned in vibrant traditional garb, work their way up to the top of the pole, then to the sound of accompanying flute music, uncoil around the pole in a graceful display.
The performers are connected to the pole via a rope attached to their feet. They unravel in circles until they reach the ground. It’s an edge-of-your-seat kind of performance that you don’t want to miss, taking place several times during the day.
Cross Over Cuale River Island’s Cool Bridges
As you make your way to Cuale River Island, along the northern border of the Romantic Zone, pay attention to the pedestrian bridges connecting this slender island to the rest of the city.
Depending on your route, you’ll cross over to the island via a bridge near the ocean, or else use La Iguana Bridge or one of the smaller suspended hanging bridges.
La Iguana Bridge joins the eastern side of the island to Cuauhtémoc Street, close to Gringo Gulch (more on that later). La Iguana, built in 2012, is a particularly photogenic bridge, with white handrails and a distinctive yellow and green tiled staircase.
As you wander back and forth on the island, you’ll probably come across a couple of swinging wooden bridges as well. While these crossings are fairly short, they’re a playful, visually appealing way to pass over the river.
Amble Down the Rio Cuale River Walk
Before you head to the flea market, the main reason to visit Cuale Island, take some time to amble along the Rio Cuale river walk on Cuale Island.
You’ll pass beneath a bunch of large, shade-giving rubber trees, many of which seem to be favorite haunts for dragon-like iguanas to rest in.
As you bask in the river walk’s garden-like setting, you’re bound to stroll past a statue of famed American movie director John Huston, seated in his director’s chair; Huston once shot a movie in the area.
The island is also home to the Museum of the Rio Cuale, where you can learn more about the region’s architecture and pre-Hispanic archeology.
Visit the Cuale Island Flea Market
While visiting Cuale Island, it would be impossible not to spot the many vendors hawking their wares from stalls set up around the island. You’ll also come across the Mercado Municipal de Rio Cuale, or the Cuale Island Flea Market.
The flea market proper, located on the northern shores of the river, is a two-story building jam-packed with beaded bracelets and necklaces, beach attire, brightly colored garments, ceramics, handcrafted artwork, marionettes, pottery, silver jewelry, sombreros, and more.
If you’re feeling peckish, you can locate a few spots at the market where you can find local snacks to eat on the go. And don’t forget to haggle for any goods you want to purchase, as prices here generally aren’t set in stone. Good-natured negotiating is all part of Mexican culture.
Unwind at Playa Olas Altas
Olas Altas Beach (olas altas means “tall waves”) is an ideal place for a refreshing swim. You’ll also find rental shops along the beach where you can pick up a couple of jet skis, then motor around the surf.
Other recreational options here include parasailing, and, as always, one of those banana boat rides guaranteed to soak your skin.
A good number of restaurants, like the Sea Monkey, which specializes in American favorites, and the seafood joint La Langosta Loca, for seafood tacos and fresh fish, are located next to the beach.
In other words, it won’t be difficult to fill your belly after you’ve finished frolicking in the sea.
Shop & Dine on Calle Olas Altas
Olas Altas also happens to be the name of a street running parallel to the beach, one block inland. This busy street, one of the Old Town’s main roads, begins near the southern tip of Olas Altas Beach and extends south.
As you wander along Calle Olas Altas, you’ll encounter different outdoor cafés, taquerias, seafood bistros, and other locales where you can sip a leisurely coffee by the sidewalk or order a full meal.
You also run into a few shops and trendy boutiques here selling cigars, clothing, opal and silver jewelry, and other interesting handicrafts.
If you’ve had your fill of locally-inspired cuisine for the day, try something completely different. Olas Altas Street’s Kaiser Maximilian Restaurant & Café has an alluring old-world vibe about it and is the perfect spot for a Viennese schnitzel.
Explore Local Cuisine on Calle Basilio Badillo
When hunger pangs strike, and you’re drifting around the Zona Romantica, take heart in the fact that there are many outstanding dining options for you to explore along Calle Basilio Badillo. This lively street also goes by the name “Restaurant Row.”
Basilio Badillo runs east to west, ending near the beach, and is a good place to get your hands on some simpler fare, like fresh tacos, as well as more sophisticated culinary delights. This street is also an excellent spot for shopping, evidenced by the fashionable boutiques lining the road.
Fredy’s Tucan is a prime example of a Basilio Badillo establishment that will take care of your breakfast or brunch needs, serving up waffles, baked goods, coffee, eggs, and filling Mexican dishes.
You can drop by Fredy’s Tucan for lunch or dinner too, with Mexican and international plates on the menu.
As far as shopping goes, a few spots you may want to swing by along Basilio Badillo. Serafina Boutique features colorful and decorative regional clothing and jewelry.
Myskova Beach Boutique specializes in locally-made bathing suits, beach attire, cover-ups, and beach-themed garments, and is run by a Canadian designer. You also find Faith Colectiva here, featuring a large selection of handcrafted jewelry.
Relive the Golden Era of Gringo Gulch
The northern part of Zona Romantica, in Puerto Vallarta, hosts the attention-grabbing suburb known as Gringo Gulch. This is a place where you can step back in time and experience PV, much like Hollywood royalty did in the past.
Famous actors, including Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and Peter O’Toole used to own swanky homes in this upscale neighborhood, as did legendary film director John Huston. The “gringo” comes from the fact that well-known English-speaking Americans (plus a few Brits) set up holiday residences here during the 1950s and 1960s.
When Fernando “Freddy” Romero came to this ritzy residential area, he brought with him an architectural style, the Vallarta Style, that made heavy use of white adobe walls and red-tiled rooftops. Freddy helped develop the neighborhood’s character, which is still evident today.
Hike around Gringo Gulch and picture how glamorous it must have felt here back in the day.
Soak Up the Atmosphere at Playa de los Muertos
Playa de los Muertos means “Dead Man’s Beach”, but don’t fret, as your sandy playtime here will invigorate your soul, quickly bringing you back to life. This Puerto Vallarta beach is just over 2,000 feet in length, and despite the crowds, is a good spot for a swim.
You can also join a game of beach volleyball at one of the nets located along the shoreline, rent jet skis, go parasailing, listen to roaming Mariachi musicians play their tunes, or try your hand at windsurfing. Fishing tours operate from here, too.
While relaxing by the beach, carve out some time to enjoy a meal at one of the local cafés, bars, or bistros. Also, don’t forget to explore Los Muertos Pier, people-watch, and observe the different boats coming in. Playa de los Muertos will, without a doubt, keep you entertained.
Now that you know a thing or two about the incredible art, beach life, culture, food, history, and shopping that the Zona Romantica offers travelers to Jalisco State, check out Celebrity’s cruises to Puerto Vallarta and book your next fabulous Mexican vacation.