When most people think of Puerto Vallarta, they probably picture a scenic beach and resort town. And that’s largely true. But if you dig deep enough, you can also find rubber trees, statues of old Hollywood film directors, Albert Einstein street art, and long-lost American department stores.
The quirky side of PV isn’t so obvious, but it’s my duty to uncover the hidden, offbeat side of town. These were the quirkiest sights and activities I found during my recent week-long visit to the awesome Mexican city.
Cuale River Island
One of your best chances for quirky sights is Cuale River Island, a small isle just south of downtown surrounded by the two branches of the Cuale River. Check out the local merchant shops, parks, stray cats, street art, and unusual characters.
This staircase is a totally-Instagrammable sight. The old staircase on the island has concrete steps that are too close together to make for a comfortable commute, so at some point someone decided to build a new colorful staircase in the middle with steps that are more-accurately spaced-out for those who take normal-sized steps.
You never know who will be hanging around the island. On this day, it was a gentleman with a burro. I think he was offering rides. Or maybe just photos. Either way, he was getting his paper.
The rubber trees
Cuale River Island is also a place to see the rubber trees, which are endemic to Mexico’s southwest. These trees grow long, rubbery strings that hang down from the branches. The tree can be a great source of latex, but here on the little island, they are primarily ornamental.
Elizabeth Taylor history
Oddly enough, the spirit of Elizabeth Taylor looms large over Puerto Vallarta. She and her fifth husband, actor Richard Burton, were the Jay-Z & Beyonce power couple of their day. They visited PV in 1963 with director John Huston to film The Night of the Iguana and ended up buying a villa here known as Casa Kimberley.
Liz kept that property until the ’90s, and until a few years back, Casa Kimberley was a museum dedicated to the Taylor-Burton couple and their history in the area. But, while the “Lovers Arch” pink and white bridge connecting the house to Burton’s former house across the street is still there, Casa Kimberley is not. The place was closed and was reportedly undergoing “renovation,” but it has not re-opened, which is a shame since it’s one of the few historic spots in Puerto Vallarta.
PV hasn’t forgotten Liz, though. There’s a star with her name in front of a restaurant on Olas Altas Street. I’ve never seen a Walk of Fame comprised of just one star, but who needs other stars when you have Liz?
A restaurant near Cuale River Island has a large white sculpture of Burton and Taylor. And on the island itself, there’s an old statue of Huston.
Go here to read more about the history of Elizabeth Taylor in Puerto Vallarta.
Adventurous water sports
Situated on Banderas Bay, Puerto Vallarta has every kind of watersport you can imagine, including windsurfing, jet skiing, speedboating, and much more. Not to mention snorkeling at Los Arcos Marine Park.
That includes two of the newer and more adventuresome activities: Parasailing, which is basically hanging 50 feet in the air attached to a jet ski and parachute…
…and flyboarding, which is that water jet thing where you try to balance while water jets shoot out beneath your feet. I really have to try this someday.
Quirky beach sights
The seahorse statue is one of Puerto Vallarta’s most famous sights. There are actually two: One at the Malecon (boardwalk), and another at Los Muertos Beach. The one at Los Muertos is the original, created in 1960. Twice, it washed away during strong storms but was later recovered. It has now been reinforced with iron bars to make sure it won’t run away yet again.
Depending on what beach you go to, you may find iguanas roaming around. These were a cool sight when our day cruise boat pulled up on shore.
Don’t be afraid to touch them. What’s quirkier than getting up close and personal with an iguana?
Night time at Los Muertos Pier
Los Muertos Pier is one of the centers of activity when it comes to beach life in the town. At night, the pier is lit up with a light shower of rotating tints.
The souvenir stores
From colorful skulls to Mexican husband/wife salt & pepper shakers, the odd items for sale are kitschy and fun.
Unique food items at McDonald’s
In any foreign country, it’s always interesting to see how different the grocery stores and fast food restaurants are from back in the U.S. In Puerto Vallarta, the McDonald’s offers McPatatas and queso cheese packets. The tater wedges were tasty, but I couldn’t bring myself to try liquid cheese from a plastic package.
Woolworth department store!
This brought me way more joy than it probably should have. I was excited to see a Woolworth in downtown Puerto Vallarta. This discount department store was a major part of my youth, but I thought they all closed down years ago. Evidently, this one in Mexico survived. Go, Woolworth!
Wild fruit is quirky to me
I’m fascinated by places where you can walk around town and see fruit growing on trees everywhere. Those who grew up in tropical climates probably find my behavior silly. But it’s so cool to stroll around and go, “Look, avocados on the vine!” “Look, bananas over our heads!” “Look, a coconut on the beach!” I’m not used to such easy availability of produce.
Just look around
From skeleton women greeting diners at a restaurant entrance to an inexplicable Albert Einstein street art mural, you may find quirky sights around town where you’re not expecting them. That’s part of the fun of being in a new place. Just keep your eyes open.