Walking tours take visitors on hidden routes // © 2011 Janice and George Mucalov
The cobblestone streets of Puerto Vallarta’s charming old town are best explored by walking. For instance, during Art Walk, which takes place Wednesday evenings through April, clients can view fine art while enjoying complimentary cocktails and canapes on a self-guided stroll of the historic center’s art galleries. Several guided walking tours of the old town can also be booked. These tours acquaint visitors with the traditional, cultural and historical attractions, as well as tucked-away cafes, unique shops and other hidden spots.
Power-Walking Hidden Streets
Sneak in a morning workout while hoofing it to areas most tourists don’t venture to. Longtime resident Sylvie Scopazzo, a guide with Tours du Jour Mexico, offers power-walking tours each Thursday morning to off-the-beaten-path places.
Meeting outside the Guadeloupe Cathedral, participants climb up a stone path and moss-covered brick stairs through a jungle-like forest behind the old town.
Along the way, Scopazzo explains the medicinal and other uses of local plants and fruit trees. She points out nopal, a prickly pear cactus that is high in fiber and used in local egg dishes, as well as the Tabachin tree’s seed-filled pods, which are dried out and used as percussion instruments. Participants can also peek into people’s colorful houses (where opera music might compete with a symphony of barking dogs).
The reward after a 500-foot elevation gain to the top of the hill is a glorious view over the town’s red-tile rooftops to the turquoise Banderas Bay below.
Back down in town, the tour group refuels on tapas at Esquina de los Caprichos, a funky Spanish restaurant. Then, it’s on to the Gringo Gulch neighborhood to see the famous pink (and now crumbling) bridge connecting the former houses of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, when he starred in “The Night of the Iguana,” filmed in Puerto Vallarta in 1963.
During dry months, participants cool their feet off by walking across the Rio Cuale. The three-hour tour finishes with a look at the gigantic rubber trees at the Rio Cuale flea market and a sampling of artisan chocolates at Xocodiva in the Romantic Zone. Cost: $25
For less exercise and a more educational focus, Learn Vallarta offers four neighborhood walks (custom tours for cruise ship passengers can also be booked). On these two- to three-hour tours, co-owner Sandra Cesca, the author of “Walking Puerto Vallarta and Beyond,” likes to take visitors to “neighborhoods and places where they get a really good taste of Mexican culture.” Clients can meet shop owners, sample fresh shrimp tostadas from a street vendor and see local craftsmen paint Talavera tiles.
A favorite tour includes a visit to a local food market selling meat, cheese and produce. It’s fascinating to see tortillas being made by machine at a tortilleria and to observe fresh tacos and enchiladas prepared at local lunch stands. Cesca also points out local vegetables unfamiliar to most North Americans, such as chayote, a green pear squash. And she explains why the butcher might be shaving a pig’s head (so hairs don’t get into the soup). Cost: $18
Malecon Sculpture Walk
One of the most popular walks is the free Tuesday morning tour (in winter) of the 13 large bronze sculptures along the Malecon. The tours are guided by Gary Thompson, owner of Galeria Pacifico, who has 30 years of experience in the Vallarta art scene and knows many of the artists personally. No pre-booking is necessary; clients just need to show up at 9:30 a.m. at the Malecon by the Hotel Rosita.
Beginning with “The Millennium” spiral sculpture (representing the evolution of life), Thompson explains each work and the artists’ inspirations.
Thompson also tells stories of the artists’ love affairs, such as the one artist Ramiz Barquet had with his wife, Nelly, a painter. “La Nostalgia,” the haunting sculpture of two people sitting side-by-side facing the city, is his tribute to his relationship with her. Originally sweethearts when young, the couple lost touch, married others and had children, before finally meeting again 27 years later and marrying each other.
Thompson spends about five minutes on each of the sculptures during the stroll along the 12-block seawall promenade. The enlightening two-hour tour ends up at his gallery with complimentary drinks and, often, a presentation by a local sculptor. Cost: Free, donations accepted