Our first port on the Ruby Princess Mexican Rivera Cruise was to Puerto Vallarta - I was so excited to visit the city my parents honeymooned in and love so much.
Puerto Vallarta is a town that offers tons of activities to ships in port - there are lots of thrilling beach excursions and unique tours on land - but I was looking to limit my time in the sun (I sometimes have to take medicine that can lower sunscreen's effectiveness on my skin, so I was looking to make my own tour of sorts!).
Puerto Vallarta is a perfect town to explore without a set agenda if you aren't booking an excursion - it is easy to get around in one of the numerous safe and inexpensive cabs (most take American Dollars), there are plenty of restaurants and shops to explore, and the town is steeped in history just waiting to be taken in!
I was a bit sad I had to miss the fun beach excursion my friends went on due to my sun-sensitivity, but I had so much fun exploring Puerto Vallarta and finding delicious food, I really got a chance to feel connected to the town, and I am so beyond grateful for such an amazing experience with my friend Sara!
Follow along through our Day in Puerto Vallarta to see what we did!
Take a photo by the Seahorse.
Puerto Vallarta's Malecon area provides plenty of photo opportunities - and none as fun, playful, and vibrant as the giant Seahorse statue in the middle of the city's colorful block letters!
Grabbing a photo here can be a bit challenging with lots of people lining up for their turn, but it's a guaranteed Instagram hit!
Watch the waves gently lap at the shore along the Malecon.
Puerto Vallarta's boardwalk, the Malecon, is the perfect place to watch people and the bright blue sea - there is no shortage of entertainment as tourists make their way up the famous boardwalk area and beachgoers zip past on jetskis or in parachutes behind boats.
Eat tortilla soup and share a molacajete.
Puerto Vallarta has no shortage of delicious foods to sample - and restaurants are often quick to lure tourists into dining rooms as they wander down the Malecon (as they did with my friend and I.) We were starving and had been waiting to meet up after we both had some little things we each needed to get done once in port, so we jumped at the first menu that was presented to us - and ended up loving the meal more than we ever thought we could! (Don't you love when you stumble into a delicious restaurant when you're just starving and you would have settled for anything?)
We loved Viejo Vallarta's location - high above the Malecon and perfect for people watching - in part because it was by the ocean so we could watch the waves, but it's also just a short stroll to the Cathedral, which we both really wanted to see.
I ordered a beef and chicken molecajete (knowing there was no way I could ever finish the amount of food, but I just HAD to try it!), and Sara grabbed an incredibly delicious tortilla soup (even though it was a very hot day, her soup was fantastic - rich and tomatoey with a slight smoky flavor that was enticing and warm, but didn't make us feel hotter.)
Our pick: Viejo Vallarta, just off the Malecon.
Must order: chicken tortilla soup, beef and chicken molacajete.
Stroll the marketplace right by the ship.
Right as you get off the ship, you hear vendors calling out to check out their wares. This is one of my most and least favorite parts of cruise ship ports - it makes it insanely easy to find things you might be looking for (in my case, I had my heart set on bringing back some Talavera plates) but you need to be very careful and picky when selecting items from such markets.
First off, inspect that the item you're looking at is actually made in Mexico (as with any store in any city you can easily find a lot of items that are made to look authentic but come from various locations that might be far, far away and not nearly as authentic and craft-produced as you think.)
Next, go into markets with an idea of what you want to spend, as well as a good (well researched) idea of how much an item should cost (what it would cost to buy it at home, less charges to bring the item home) before purchasing. I'm not much of a haggler when it comes to artisan pieces - though you can find an abundance of people looking for the bottom dollar. (In my head, for artisan work that involves small-batch processes, I want to pay a fair price that honors the piece I am buying- versus encouraging vendors to turn to cheaper mass-produced items instead.)
While there are a ton of tee shirt shops and kitschy tourist gear stalls at the pier marketplace, there are also a lot of gorgeous, impeccably made craft items if you are want to dig a bit deeper and spend a little time scouring quieter stalls. I tend to gravitate to stores and stalls who aren't flinging items in my face looking for a quick buck, but let me take time to look through items I'm interested in.
The marketplace can be a bit overwhelming, especially with tons of overeager vendors, but a simple and polite (but forcefully firm) "no thank you" and smile will take you far. Or a "thank you, I am just looking."
Visit the Cathedral.
The Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish building is a must-visit when in port.
The church is adorned with a crown, made to look like the crown worn by the Empress Carlota of Mexico - and the crown's design is replicated again inside the cathedral.
The church is one of the most stunning parishes I've visited - with lots of bright, bold colors, and an overwhelming sense of peace. It is definitely worth visiting and checking out the small prayer garden next to it, where you will find a statue of Francis de Assisi, and get a great view of the crown (they were undergoing some renovations when we visited.)
Check out some local shops.
Puerto Vallarta has no lack of gorgeous artisan goods - and tons of shops offering beautiful jewelry, clothing, pottery, and tons of delicious baked goods and Mexican candies. I'm still kicking myself for not bringing my kids back some of the brightly colored marshmallow characters we saw in one candy shop!
Stroll under the Papel Piquado.
Brightly colored tissue flags (often used around Day of the Dead, which was right after we visited) hang across streets throughout Puerto Vallarta, giving everything a festive feel. The delicate paper flags are such a lovely touch to the old town area, it's hard to resist wandering under them and checking out Puerto Vallarta's lovely homes and buildings in the old town. There is so much rich history and beautiful architecture to enjoy a few blocks off the tourist area, we had fun just walking and checking out the streets on our way back to the ship!