In trying times, it feels good to save a penny here and there. Don’t get me wrong, when I have the money to go on a trip, I for sure like to indulge, and my carefully planned budget shortly goes out the window! But I remind myself that the experience is worth it, and to have gratitude every day in the small and big things in life. In that spirit, here’s a list of my favorite free and free-ish things to do in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
1. The Malecon – Outdoor Sculpture Museam
This has to be the best deal of the city. This has it all, culture, creativity, a show of the arts, sightseeing, and if you want, a stop for food and drink. Most of all it has my favorite activity, people watching. The Malecon is about a mile in length, and consists of a long flat walkway for pedestrians, runners, and bikers. It’s nestled between the city and the ocean where one can stroll and take in the sites of daily life. Open 24 hours a day and fairly safe at all hours, this is one of my favorite features of the city. Along the Malecon starting at the Hotel Rosita, you’ll find bronze statues created by Mexican artists and commissioned by the city. The installations are completely interactive, and you’ll find families and couples alike climbing to take pictures for their vacation memories. The statues are installed every few meters along the Malecon, with the southern most installation at the far south shore of Playa de los Muertos (Beach of the Dead) Fun fact: I recently learned that this beach was named so, when Puerto Vallarta was an old mining town. The run off from the mines in the mountains would seep into the Rio Cuale, traveling down into the the bay, killing off marine life – hence the name. Ew.
2. Mirador Stair Climb
While strolling along the Malecon, you can see this structure in the hills behind Centro. Situated high up on the hill, from the ground, the Mirador looks like a Escher-esque, white staircase to nowhere. To get here, one must navigate the neighborhood between Si Senor Garden restaurant and follow the stairs up the hill. There are roads, sidewalks, businesses and signs to guide you up. A winding path of about maybe 300 steps gives your calves a workout, and your armpits a sweat, but the views are insta worthy!
3. Bus to Boca De Tomatlan
My first not completely free, favorite thing to do in Puerto Vallarta is almost practically free by western standards. It involves taking the local bus (10 Pesos each way) to the fishing village of Boca de Tomatlan. One can catch the bus off Basillo Badillo where the two Oxxos sit side by side. There, busses will be parked that take you to the southern beaches, ending at the stop for Boca de Tomatlan. The journey by bus lasts about 15-20 minutes and is a scenic ride through Conchas Chinas and Mismaloya neighborhoods. Once in Boca, you can puruse the village, take a hike through the southern beaches (my fave!), or take a scenic water taxi. As of writing this post, you still had to wear your face mask on the bus, so be sure to have one handy.
4. Hike to Playa Las Animas
Once you have navigated the bus to Tomatlan from old town Puerto Vallarta, there is an adventurous, and free, beach hike that navigates the southern coast to Playa Las Animas. While you can also negotiate a boat taxi from Boca de Tomatlan to other beaches, hiking is more scenic, and you have the opportunity to spend time at less crowded beaches where the surf is cleaner and snorkeling abounds. Follow the road through the town and cross the bridge over the river, from there take the roads and sidewalks north to the well worn path into the hills. On the hike to Las Animas, you’ll cross Colomitas beach (smallest beach in Mexico!), Playa Escondita, Playa Caballo, and I’m sure a few other beaches that I fail to know the names of. Since these beaches are only accessible by boat or by foot, they tend to be less populated and cleaner than other beaches, with the exception of Playa Las Animas. Las Animas is a popular locals destination for families spending a leisurely day. Here you’ll find children playing in the sea and sand, restaurants abound, and the pier where you’ll want to book your boat ride back to Boca. If you eat at the restaurants, the staff can assist with helping you get back to Boca.
5. Find Your Palapa in Yelapa
Not free but still a good deal, the boat from Centro to Yelapa is a nice way to spend a day. Instead of booking through a tour, one can head to the main pier in Zona Romantica, and purchase a ticket from one of the many kiosks lining the road. Signs abound with the availability and times. The boat leaves most days at 10:00 am, and the ride is about 30 minutes to Yelapa. As of writing, a boat ticket was $400 pesos and includes the ride home. You will be dropped off at the pier in Yelapa, where you can head to a beach restaurant and spend the day, or take a hike. For another activity, donkeys can bring you to the summit of a mountain waterfall or you can choose a sweaty hike. The boat included in your return ticket will pick you up at around 4 pm and return you to the pier in Zona Romantica. If you miss the boat, a horror movie ensues where you will be chased, starving and half dead by chupa cabras all night. Just kidding, you’ll have the opportunity to charter a boat home from a local, at most likely, a more exuberant cost.
6. Attend a Drag Show
Also not a free activity, but almost! As one navigates the central area and Zona Romantica, it’s hard to get away from the sounds and culture of Dua Lipa, Cher, Britney Spears and Beyonce. As the history of Puerto Vallarta goes, the Zona Romantica was renamed so to establish a gay friendly environment in order to attract dual income, no kids, (cha ching!) couples to the area. As such, there are numerous entertainment options, musical revues, and shows to partake. My favorite place was La Chanchalaca, where a beer will set you back 80 pesos….and the nightly show that comes with it is free!
The most expensive item on this list is still less than twenty five dollars, so if I saved you a buck, feel free to tell me about it! Are there any other free or cheap things in Puerto Vallarta that you like to do?