Last updated: July 2024

A half-hour bus ride from Puerta Vallarta‘s hotel zone or a 10-minute drive from the hills will take you directly into Zona Romántica. Or as the locals call it, Old Town. The streets are all cobblestone, often up a steep hill with mixed architecture. Most buildings are not very tall, some have different colour additions built up over time that doesn’t quite fully match how the structure started. Great street art and a few shiny mosaic walls can be seen throughout the city. All bars and restaurants open up on the street and you can smell the delicious food being cooked inside passing by. This article is based on multiple visits and has been iterated upon accordingly. This is my quick guide to Downtown Puerto Vallarta.

Sightseeing in Puerta Vallarta

Walking towards the city center we crossed Isla Rio Cuale (images above). It is a small inland island with art installations, a few fun pubs playing live music, and a cat shelter. A way of the island is a mosaic staircase that offers a fantastic view of the city from the top. Following the rural streets into the center, you’ll end up in the footsteps of Our Lady of Guadalupe. A beautiful old church that leads into the Plaza Principal de las Arms – the city gates.

Over the years the vibe of the city has changed quite a bit. Puerta Vallarta has gentrified significantly since the pandemic and a good half of it (to the left of Isla Cuale facing the ocean) feels like an ultimate retiary spring break destination and heaven for the LGBTQ+ community. If the party strip energy is what you’re looking for then this is the place. To the right of Isla Cuale things calm down a bit. Here you will find even more art galleries and quite a few elevated restaurants. Make sure to pick up a few printed guides at the airport, one of them includes a walking tour of the city’s art galleries.

The waterfront pathway stretches quite far and is also filled with touristy restaurants, ice cream shops, and street vendors. The waterfront is the main location for Día de Muertos celebrations with regional Ofrendas and Catrinas are positioned like a gallery. One of the Catrinas is so tall she can be seen from the scenic viewpoints in the hills, especially from the Faro de la Calle Matamoros lighthouse. A quick hike up the lighthouse steps offers you a great 360 view of the city.

A quick guide to Downtown Puerto Vallarta: colourful decoration hung up across the street and a clock tower seen through them

Where to eat & drink in Puerta Vallarta

Café des Artistes is an upscale restaurant I visited twice 4 years apart and even during my last visit, it was one of my favorite meals in Vallarta. The main floor is a small maze of tables covered by white tablecloths. The upstairs patio is a mystic forest buzzing with laughs and dinner chatter. Once seated, the first menu given to you is a cocktail list, the main menu is only handed after and has an option for Chef’s menu with wine pairings. The portions are quite generous and very filling and the cocktails are spectacular! Reservations are required and the dress code is in effect, this is a place where you come to see and be seen. The restaurant is located across the street from Jovian Fine Art which I strongly recommend popping into before dinner.

Tuna Azul Zona Romantica is a fairly new spot getting some attention from the local critics and press. Here they serve all kinds of fresh fish dishes and hand-made tostadas, in tacos, and in fancy stacks with fresh fruit and vegetables. There is a covered interior and a large sandy patio which I thought was great for people watching.

Top: Tuna Azul Zona Romantica
Bottom: Makal, Purto Vallarta

Makal, it seems, is a place where other chefs come to eat. They have an elaborate, elevated menu, and are already winning awards. The space is bright, open, and casual with colourful paintings on the walls reflective of their exciting dishes.

El Colibrí is a speakeasy-style cocktail bar located just about a block away from the main waterfront strip, not far from the Puerto Vallarta Malecon. This bar is dark, moody, with good music, and the drink menu was so good we came two nights in a row and endured the insane heatwave for these jungle-insisted craft cocktails.

Ofelia’s Wine Bar is a small family-owned wine bar focusing on what’s open and available that day. There is nothing fancy about the decor but the building is cool with open brick and arched entry. What you come here for is good conversations and fun wines.

Tip: Do try the local ice cream, the sticks are my favourite. BUT, do not drink water, or even fresh lemonade unless you’re certain your stomach is well acclimatized. But, just don’t.

Back in 2019 the local brewery, Los Muertos Brewing Company, PV’s first craft brewery, and pub, was one of my highlights. To maximize our experience a flight of 8 beers seemed necessary – all those available plus a seasonal Ale. The beers were a nice range from light to dark, some more interesting than others. Naturally, there was also something very local: Anillo De Fuego, aka Chilli Ale. This slightly spicy beer finishes with subtle heat that catches you by surprise and slightly sets your throat on fire. The brewery has two locations and has amassed quite a bit of popularity since. These days, the brewery is a fast-paced, busy spot, frequented mostly by tourists but if you do happen to walk by and try the domestic brews you just might enjoy it.

El Andariego Restaurante is situated a bit out of the centre towards the hotel zone. A fairly large family restaurant celebrating 30 years El Andariego offers traditional Mexican cuisine, and a lot of it. Our afternoon experience included a couple of bottles of cold Modelo, table-side guacamole, and a couple of taco plates. Which inevitably came with beans and corn, all very delicious, and some tequila on the house. It’s dinner time somewhere, am I right! The space itself is quite interesting: the upper deck has a full wall mural and a hip-high shelving unit with small square pockets – tequila storage for the regulars.

A quick guide to Downtown Puerto Vallarta: close up on tacos at El Andariego Restaurante

Above and below: El Andariego Restaurante

Where to stay when visiting Puerta Vallarta

Hotel Boutique Luxury Patio Azul

For our second visit, the idea was to stay closer to the city core, somewhere with a pool and a view. This took us to Hotel Boutique Luxury Patio Azul, located up the hill from the city centre. It is a small boutique hotel spread across multiple levels with scenic rooftops. The rooms are authentically decorated, comfortable, and spacious. There is a pool bar which serves drinks during the day, breakfast and afternoon snacks. For dinner, you will need to venture out into town.

Starting at $135 per King
Book on Expedia for a great member price discount (65% as of July 3, 2024)

Buenaventura Grand Hotel Puerto Vallarta

Another luxurious waterfront property in the city centre. This all-inclusive resort is a beach spa retreat with spacious rooms and a high commitment to sustainability and environmental practices.

Starting at $325 per 2 Doubles, All-inclusive
Book on Expedia

Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel

On my wish list for my next visit is the all-inclusive Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel, an adults-only romantic getaway just outside of the city centre. This is a luxury resort set right on the beach with a few luscious pools breaking up the space between the main buildings and the sandy shore.

Starting at $455 per King, All-inclusive
Book on Expedia for a great member price discount (28% as of July 3, 2024)

Fiesta Americana Puerto Vallarta

Fiesta is where I stayed during my first visit. It is a large, all-inclusive, adults-only hotel and spa. The property has one of the best beaches in the Hotel Zone and many various pools including an infinity pool deck. The full review can be found here.

Starting at $577 per King or 2 Doubles room, All-inclusive
Book on Expedia for a great member price discount (55% as of July 3, 2024)

Above and below: images from Hotel Boutique Luxury Patio Azul, Puerto Vallarta

In the gear bag:  Fujifilm X-T100, Fujifilm X-H2S with an XF50mmF2 R WR lens* and Fuji XF 23MM F2 R WR lens* plus DJI Mavic Mini* drone. To see the trip on Instagram look up #xoVallarta19 and #xojalisco23.

A quick guide to Downtown Puerto Vallarta, drone view of the beach and hotels
Bird’s eye view of the beach and hotels in Puerto Vallarta.

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