• El Malecón
  • Los Arcos Amphitheater
  • Plaza Principal
  • Templo de Guadalupe / Guadalupe Church
  • Casa Kimberley
  • Isla Cuale
El Malecón

A great starting point for exploring downtown Puerto Vallarta is the malecón, a palm-lined seaside boardwalk stretching about 10 blocks along the sweeping Bahía de Banderas (Bay of Flags). Aside from the unobstructed and breathtaking views of the bay, particulary come sunset, there are countless attractions and details that make the malecón one of Puerto Vallarta's most enjoyable features.

A round-the-clock hub of activity, the boutiques, restaurants and cafés that dot the boardwalk only add to its appeal during the day, while bars and nightclubs open their doors to the local and visiting party-animals. Plus, the malecón is an open-air sculpture exhibit; along with the emblematic bronze seahorse sculpture, as dolphins, whale, mermaids and funky abstract figures further beautify the atmosphere.

Heading south, the malecón ends at another Puerto Vallarta landmark: Los Arcos. Named for the four stone arches facing the sea, this outdoor amphitheater, which hosts open-air entertainment practically every night, has been the star of countless photographs and postcards.

Just across the street is the Plaza Principal, Puerto Vallarta's main square. Kick back with an ice cream on the stone fountain steps, toss bread crumbs to the pigeons or simply relax and soak up the buzzing downtown atmosphere. The surrounding area is the picturesque heart of "old" Puerto Vallarta, where the cobblestone streets, white-washed houses and flowers spilling out of pots seem straight from another era.

Templo de Guadalupe

Heading slightly uphill from the main plaza and away from the sea, you can't miss the crown-topped bell tower of the elegant Templo de Guadalupe, Puerto Vallarta's most important church. Treat your eyes to the church's sumptuously decorated interior; illuminated by the huge dome, take in the hand-crafted columns, sculptures, moldings and murals. The Templo de Guadalupe's most prized feature is the crown on top of the tower; designed to resemble the crown worn by the 19th-century Mexican empress Doña Carlota, the unique steeple-topper is yet another city trademark.

For a bit of old Hollywood glamour, don't pass up the chance to visit Puerto Vallarta's most famous address: Calle Zaragoza, #445. Located in the Gringo Gulch neighborhood, named for the foreignors - commonly referred to as "gringos" - who settled in the area during the 1950's, it is the home - called Casa Kimberley - that launched Puerto Vallarta into the international spotlight.

When Elizabeth Taylor came into town to be with lover Richard Burton, who was filming John Huston's Night of the Iguana, Burton bought houses across the street from each other... one of which he gave to her as a gift. Now it's a bed and breakfast, but you can still tour parts of the house that have remained as they were when she left it- complete with clothing, photos, magazines and other belongings.

Just south of Gringo Gulch is the Cuale River, which runs through the city and divides the Downtown district from the Zona Romántica. In the middle of the river is the tiny Isla Cuale, a tranquil island boasting gardens, a small archaeological museum and a handful of Puerto Vallarta's top restaurants. Three bridges, two traffic and one pedestrian, link the island to the city on either side of it.

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