Free things to do in Puerto Vallarta! If you’re visiting Puerto Vallarta on a budget, don’t worry. There’s still lots to do. Includes a video!
Free Things To Do In Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
One of the perks of living a digital nomad lifestyle is being able to easily jump from one city to the next. We arrived in Mexico with two house sits scheduled in the town of Bucerias. We had three days in between the two house sits, so we decided to travel the roughly 45 minutes to Puerto Vallarta and see what the city had to offer.
As house sitters, we’re used to living somewhere for free for extended periods of time. So, since we had to pay for a hotel during our stay, we knew we had to explore Puerto Vallarta on a budget. We decided that the only money we would spend besides our hotel would be on food. Therefore, we set out to only do free things in Puerto Vallarta. Below is what we discovered…
Pro Tip: Interested in traveling without paying for accommodation? Check out our guide to help you get started house sitting!
Walk Along The Malecon
First, what does “malecon” mean? In Spanish, a malecon is a stone-built embankment along a waterfront. Think of it as a stone boardwalk. Puerto Vallarta’s Malecon stretches 20 blocks and is approximately one-mile long.
The Puerto Vallarta Malecon is the place to hang out. There are restaurants and shops, as well as many sculptures and statues. The most popular is the “Caballito de Mar” by Rafael Zamarripa. It’s a young boy riding a seahorse and was the first sculpture to be erected on the Malecon. Alongside the sculpture is also the popular Puerto Vallarta City Sign.
Be sure to visit the Malecon at night too. There are musicians, performers, and street food vendors. Look for “Mi Crepa” if you want some delicious crepes! There are also often free concerts and cultural performances at the Los Arcos Amphitheater which is made with four large stone arches on the south end of the Malecon.
Go To The Beach
Another free thing to do in Puerto Vallarta is to head to the beach. The most popular is Playa Los Muertos, which translates to “Beach of the Dead.” The beach was named that because of pirates that massacred much of the native population. Nowadays, though, the beach is a much more lively place.
While soaking in the sun at Playa Los Muertos, don’t be surprised to see vendors selling things like snacks and towels. There will also be people offering hair braiding and Henna tattoos. From here you can also walk onto the Los Muertos Pier, a modern structure shaped like a sail. If you want to sign up for a whale watching tour, take a water taxi, or go snorkeling, the pier is where you need to go.
If you’d like a more low key beach, however, we recommend visiting Playa Olas Altas. It’s just south of where the Rio Cuale empties into the bay. It’s smaller but much less crowded.
Visit The Church Of Our Lady Of Guadalupe
This iconic Puerto Vallarta landmark is a must-see during your visit and it’s free to enter. The Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe was built between 1930 and 1940 and was constructed on the original foundations of a chapel originally dedicated to Lady Guadalupe in 1901.
English services are available on Saturdays and mass is held in both Spanish and English on Sundays. Please remember that this is a place of worship, so be quiet and respectful during your visit.
Explore Isla Cuale
Another free thing to do in Puerto Vallarta is to explore Isla Cuale, a small island in the middle of the Rio Cuale. This cute island has a few restaurants and a small cultural museum that’s open during the winter months. The main attraction on the island, though, is the flea market. You’ll find all kinds of Mexican crafts. Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s fun to just walk around.
Go On A Free Walking Tour
To learn more about Puerto Vallarta’s history, culture, and architecture, we recommend going on a free walking tour. The tours are done on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 9 AM and noon and on Saturdays at 9 AM. Tours last around two hours and start at the tourism office in the Old City Hall building.
There is also a free Malecon Sculpture Walking Tour every Tuesday morning at 9:30 AM from mid-November through mid-April. The tour starts at the north end of the Malecon in front of the Millennium sculpture which is next to the Hotel Rosita. Tours last approximately two hours.
From October to May, there is also a free Puerto Vallarta Art Walk held every Wednesday from 6 to 10 PM.
View Manuel Lepe’s Mural
Manuel Lepe was a famous artist from Puerto Vallarta. Although he had no formal training, he created thousands of beloved paintings that highlighted Puerto Vallarta’s beauty and traditions. In fact, the Puerto Vallarta City Sign’s letters have design elements based on Manuel Lepe’s art.
He was named Mexico’s Artist by President Echeverria in 1976. His paintings have spread all over the world and many are owned by celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor, Ronald Reagan, Queen Elizabeth II.
One of Manuel Lepe’s murals can be seen inside the Old City Hall Building, currently named the Presidencia Municipal. It borders the north side of the Plaza de Armas. Enter the building through the southwest corner and walk straight. The mural is in the stairwell heading to the second floor.
Look For Puerto Vallarta Street Art
One of our favorite fun and free things to do in Puerto Vallarta was to look for street art. We found a lot of great murals; some on main streets and some where you wouldn’t expect it. We even found some towards the tops of buildings, so if you’re hunting for street art, make sure you look up!
Visit Plaza Lazaro Cardenas
Located in the southern half of Puerto Vallarta, also known as “Old Vallarta” and the “Romantic Zone,” you’ll find Plaza Lazaro Cardenas. This park is beautiful because it was recently updated by local artists. They covered all of the benches and walls with hand-laid mosaic tiles!
This park is also a fun place to hang out on Friday evenings, when there are shows, musicians, and cultural events. On Saturday mornings there’s also a Farmers Market.
Climb The Matamoros Lighthouse
The Faro de la Calle Matamoros, is a lighthouse that is no longer in use, but is open to the public. It was originally built in 1932 and helped guide nearby ships until 1978. Then, in 2006, it was renovated and a lookout terrace was added. Surrounding streets and stairs were also restored to make getting to the lighthouse easier.
Climbing uphill is a workout, but the houses and gardens you pass on the way are really cute. And once you’re at the top, you have great views of downtown Puerto Vallarta and the bay.
Climb The Mirador De La Cruz
The Mirador is a lookout on Cerro de La Cruz, which means The Cross Hill. It’s located on the eastern side of Puerto Vallarta and offers amazing views of the city and the entire bay. Puerto Vallarta sunsets are spectacular and the Mirador is the best place to witness their beauty.
Beacuse of this, we thinking climbing to the top and watching the sunset with your sweetheart is one of the most romantic things to do in Puerto Vallarta. Nothing says love like sweat, body odor, and messy hair! Ha!
But seriously, it is a workout. In fact, locals use the climb up as part of their workout routine. When we reached the top, we even saw a circuit training class taking place. Most of the climb is through neighborhood, but towards the top it is a concrete staircase. There is a cable-car to help you up the last bit, but it only runs during high season (winter months).
The most direct route is from the Malecon and heading all the way up Abasolo Street. The top of the hill can’t be reached by car; only by foot or bicycle (which you might end up carrying). Once you reach the top, you’ll find the large cross that the hill is named for, as well as a large signal tower and observation platform. And of course, gorgeous views.
Pro Tip: Check out these other views that were worth the climb!
(Almost) Free Things To Do In Puerto Vallarta
We experienced Puerto Vallarta on a budget. If during your visit you have some extra cash or you don’t have the need to budget as much as we did, here are some additional Puerto Vallarta attractions. They range in prices, but even then, none are too expensive.
- Free Tequila Tasting at Oscar’s Restaurant – Although it’s “free” you are expected at the end of the tour to either buy some (expensive) bottles of tequila or give the guide a nice tip. Oscar’s Restaurant is on Isla Cuale.
- Museo Naval – Near the southern end of the Malecon, the Navy Museum has great reviews. Entry is 45 pesos (about $2).
- Casa Museo Manuel Lepe – We mentioned Manuel Lepe earlier. Well, you can visit his former residence and studio. Inside visitors will see many of his paintings and other memorabilia. Entry is 80 pesos (about $3.75).
- Food Tours – Vallarta Food Tours is definitely the most popular food tour company we’ve seen. They offer a lot of different tours; different cuisines, some walking, some biking, etc. Tours start at $50 per person.
Video: Free Things To Do In Puerto Vallarta
Below is a video we made while traveling in Puerto Vallarta on a budget. We hope you enjoy it!
Where To Stay In Puerto Vallarta
When looking for where to stay in Puerto Vallarta, we recommend staying in the Romantic Zone (South of Isla Cuale). It has a lot of hotels, restaurants, and shops, most of which are less expensive than those near the Malecon.
And yes, Puerto Vallarta is very walkable. We didn’t use public transportation at all during our stay and we reached everything easily from the Romantic Zone.
The hotel we stayed in was called La Iguana de Oro Vallarta. It was really cute, clean, and had two dipping pools on the rooftop terrace. Our room also had a small kitchen. It is across the street from a club, though. We didn’t hear anything and slept fine, but our room was on the inside and away from the street. So if you do stay here, we recommend requesting an inside room.
You can also search the general Booking.com Puerto Vallarta page for additional options.
Final Thoughts On Free Things To Do In Puerto Vallarta
As you can see, even if you’re traveling to Puerto Vallarta on a budget, there’s still a lot you can do. The only thing we had to really be careful with was food, because eating out can easily blow your budget. We’re used to cooking our own meals, but we did a lot of research and came up with this guide on cheap eats in Puerto Vallarta.
We loved our time in Puerto Vallarta and feel like we managed to do a lot in only three days. With that being said, we can’t wait to go back and do even more exploring!