Puerto Vallarta is a great city to visit on a budget.
You could spend several days in this coastal city and only spend money on food and accommodation and have plenty of things to do during the day to keep you busy – without paying, or paying very little.
In fact, some of the best ways to enjoy the city are completely free.
I hope you enjoy this in depth guide to all the best free and cheap things to do in Puerto Vallarta and its surrounding area.
Walk the Malecon
The Malecon is the waterfront promenade in downtown Puerto Vallarta, and is where all the action is.
It’s lively during the day with shops and restaurants and street vendors and transforms into a night market in the evenings.
We always end up strolling the Malecon at least once per day or more every time we’re in Puerto Vallarta.
One of my favorite spots along the Malecon is at the Arches, known as Los Arcos.
If you’re a photographer (or just want an iconic photo of Puerto Vallarta), you can capture the bell tower of the Guadalupe Church through the arches.
The Puerto Vallarta Letters
One of the highlights along the Malecon is to find the giant letters that spell out Puerto Vallarta.
You definitely need to take a photo here. It’s a popular and busy spot, but everyone lines up and it goes by quickly.
Voladores de Papantla
These 4 brave performers put on free shows during the day and night.
Watch them climb a 50 foot pole and then perform a rope flying ritual as they descend and play traditional music.
Catch this free show at the north end of the Malecon.
Tips are appreciated.
On Iturbe Street (straight up from the Puerto Vallarta letters), look for the colorful umbrellas hanging above you.
It’s one of the best instagrammable spots in all of Puerto Vallarta.
There’s even a fantastic restaurant here called La Tostaderia that’s open for breakfast and lunch.
Find Manuel Lepe Artwork
Manuel Lepe was a famous artist who had a distinct painting style, and was actually quite famous well before tourists discovered this city.
His style of painting is almost cartoon-like and his paintings depict scenes of Puerto Vallarta and its surrounding areas.
You’ll find examples of his work along the Malecon and on a beautiful stained glass piece on Zaragoza Street.
Free City Walking Tour
On Tuesday and Wednesdays at 9am and noon and Saturdays at 9 am, you can join a free city walking tour in Puerto Vallarta.
Meet at the Municipal Building at least 15 minutes prior to the start of the tour to sign in.
Find the Puerto Vallarta letters and walk across the street to the Plaza de Armas.
Here you’ll find the Turismo Puerto Vallarta office at the southwest corner of the municipal building.
The walking tour is about 2 to 3 hours, led by a certified guide who shares the incredible history of how Puerto Vallarta came to be, as well as important buildings and landmarks throughout the downtown area.
This walking tour is completely free, but tips are appreciated.
This is a great activity to do early on in your trip to get a sense of where things are located.
Free Art Sculpture Tour
On Tuesday mornings at 9:30, the owner of the Pacifico Art Gallery sponsors a free walking tour of the public art sculptures found along the Malecon.
Meet at the Millenium sculpture at the far end of the Malecon near the Rosita Hotel.
Watch the Sunset from the Los Muertos Pier
Every night people gather to watch the sunset from the beach or the Los Muertos Pier.
This is a great spot to watch the sun go down and then watch the light up with colors once it’s dark out.
Find Your Favorite Beach
Puerto Vallarta and the coastline that surrounds it offers dozens of different beaches for you to explore. Olas Atlas beach (near the Malecon) and Los Muertos beach (at the pier in the romantic zone) are the most popular.
But if you want clear water, you can go on a hike or take a short car ride south of the romantic zone and stop at your favorites.
Las Gemelas and Madagascar Beach are a couple of my favorites for nice sand and crystal water.
For more ideas, here’s my full guide to the best beaches in Puerto Vallarta.
The Zona Romantica is the oldest part of Puerto Vallarta, characterized by its narrow cobblestone streets and old, colorful architecture.
It’s a compact neighborhood that’s easily walkable. Grab a coffee at any one of the dozens of quaint coffee shops, and stroll through the streets of old Vallarta.
There’s amazing photography opportunities here.
It’s densely populated with boutique shops, spas, art galleries, restaurants and street food stands.
Try Unique Street Food
Not only is street food in Puerto Vallarta inexpensive, it’s flavorful and fun!
For a complete meal, try al pastor or carne asada tacos from any street taco cart. Most of them range between 20 and 25 pesos each (about one dollar).
And they’re loaded with meat. So you only need a few to fill you up.
For drinks, you can find agua fresca all over the city. This is ‘fresh fruit water’ and it comes in all kinds of flavors. My favorites are hibiscus, horchata and passionfruit.
And it’s always cheap, usually about one dollar for a large cup.
Also look for Tuba. It’s a refreshing drink made from coconut water, apples and pecans. Perfect on a hot day.
Rio Cuale Market
The Rio Cuale Market is my favorite place to shop for souvenirs in Puerto Vallarta.
It’s tucked away along the river, so the air is cool and lush vegetation surrounds you.
You’ll find every type of souvenir here, and even if you don’t buy anything, it’s fun to browse the shops and chat with the vendors.
At the east end of the Isla Cuale (the island that sits between the river), there’s an area among the trees and bushes that’s been nicknamed cat park.
Stray cats freely roam around and some of them are docile enough to pet.
You can bring food and water for them too.
The Gringo Gulch neighborhood is accessed easiest by taking the pedestrian Iguana bridge from the Isla Cuale park.
This neighborhood has dozens of beautiful houses to admire, and is where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had homes. Don’t miss the love bridge at Casa Kimberly.
Elizabeth Taylor’s Love Bridge
If you spend any amount of time in Puerto Vallarta, it won’t take you long to see how celebrated Elizabeth Taylor is here.
It was her and Richard Burton, Hollywood stars of the 1960s, that put Puerto Vallarta on the map for tourism.
They were filming the Night of the Iguana, ended up having an affair and marrying and living in the city for a while.
Because of this, Puerto Vallarta quickly became a hotspot for tourists wanting to visit this exotic city full of love.
What remains is the ‘love bridge’ that Elizabeth Taylor had built to connect her house to Richard Burton’s across the street.
She had it built to replicate the bridges of Venice.
Find it on Zaragoza street!
White Washed Brick Houses
One of my favorite things to do every time I visit Puerto Vallarta is to walk through the streets of centro and Gringo Gulch and admire all the traditional ‘Vallarta’ style houses.
These are identified by white washed brick, terracotta roofs and vent holes throughout the walls for airflow.
Mirador Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross Viewpoint)
In my opinion, hiking up to the MIrador Cerro de la Cruz is the best free thing to do in Puerto Vallarta.
From the Malecon, find Abasolo Street and walk all the way uphill (through some narrow streets), until you reach the stairs to the top.
Once you’re at the top of this viewpoint, you can see not only all of Puerto Vallarta, but the entire Banderas Bay.
Faro de Matamoros (Old Lighthouse)
This is where you can get great views overlooking the city with minimal effort.
From the Malecon, find Mina street. Follow it up hill for 3 blocks until you hit Matamoros.
Look left, and you’ll see the spiral staircase that leads to the viewing platform of the old lighthouse.
If the Hill of the Cross Viewpoint is too steep, Faro de Matamoros provides almost equally good views without nearly as much effort.
Watch the Fireworks from the Malecon
Almost every night you can watch the fireworks for free from the Malecon.
The Puerto Vallarta Pirate Ship (which is a dinner and a show experience), shoots off fireworks around 8:30 pm.
So if you’re in the area, it’s worth looking up for!
Self-Guided Mural Tour
There are so many world-class murals and paintings all over Puerto Vallarta.
You could spend an entire day roaming the streets to find your favorites.
Most of them are found in the centro/downtown and Zona Romantica neighborhoods, which are easily walkable and very safe.
Free Music and Night Market
Almost every night (or several times a week), the Plaza de Armas square turns into a night market.
There’s food stalls, souvenir vendors and live music at least 2 or 3 times a week.
On several occasions we’ve listened to some incredible mariachi bands and the occasional live DJ!
The Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe
This famous Catholic church is stunningly beautiful.
Admire the intricate architecture both inside and out.
One might say it’s even more beautiful at night when the bell tower is lit up.
Daily services are also held everyday, and all are welcome to attend.
Olas Atlas Farmers Market
On Saturday mornings from 9am to 2pm, visit the Lazaro Cardenas plaza (the one with all the mosaic tiled benches).
The farmers market is one of the best ones I’ve ever been to.
If you need food, fresh juice, high quality souvenirs, artwork or anything in between, this is where you’ll find it.
Check out my video to experience more free things to do in Puerto Vallarta.
More Puerto Vallarta Posts
Insider’s Guide to the Best Breakfasts in Puerto Vallarta
49 Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta (the complete list) in 2023
Puerto Vallarta First Time Visitors Guide (Essential Information)
12 Places to Get the Best Tacos in Puerto Vallarta (Updated 2022)
Honest Review of Rhythms of the Night in Puerto Vallarta: What to Expect
The 5 Most Affordable Boutique Hotels in Puerto Vallarta (Romantic Zone)
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