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Puerto Vallarta Travel Guide

27 Ultimate Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta

Beaches, hikes, restaurants, adventures in the jungle, and more—check out our best bets for one of Mexico's most exciting destinations.

Hollywood might have put Puerto Vallarta on the map back in the 60s, but today it’s as glamorous, striking, and magnetic as ever. With a prized location between the cinematic Sierra Madre Mountains and the horseshoe-shaped Banderas Bay on Mexico’s Pacific coast, Puerto Vallarta is widely regarded as the most liveable beach destination in all of Mexico.

Screen legend Richard Burton fell in love with the city when he came to film The Night of the Iguana in 1962, bringing along his lover, Elizabeth Taylor. Both married to other people, the two brazenly carried out their affair under the Mexican sun and subsequently brought international attention to the then under-the-radar tropical paradise.

These days, lovers traipse through the fittingly-titled Romantic Zone (Zona Romántica) mesmerized by bougainvillea-bestrewn corners and cobblestone streets lined with galleries, wineries, and more. Well-preserved Indigenous traditions are showcased on the Malecon, a pictorial seaside esplanade where much of life unfolds. Waterfalls, hidden beaches, and bioluminescent life tempt thrill-seekers, while landlubbers have no shortage of culinary, cultural, and adrenaline-focused activities to busy themselves with. There truly is something for every traveler. Here are some of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta.

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Explore the Malecon

The best things in life are free, and so is exploring the Malecon. Walking along this picturesque waterfront promenade is one of the top free things to do in Puerto Vallarta. Stretching a mile, the Malecon is a medley of shops, buzzy restaurants, street food vendors, buskers, and plenty of sculptures that are as puzzling as they are impressive. The famous Puerto Vallarta sign also resides there. Throughout the day, there is prime people-watching potential and opportunities to see the impressive Voladores de Papantla (Papantla Flyers), aerial showmen performing a pre-Hispanic fertility ritual atop a pole that typically stretches up to forty meters high in the sky.

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Check out Puerto Vallarta's Beaches

With so many seductive sandy stretches, it’s little wonder beaching is one of the main activities in Puerto Vallarta. Though not the calmest, Los Muertos is the most popular beach as it’s the most easily accessible being a short walk from the Malecon. What Los Muertos lacks in tranquillity it makes up for with stores, vendors, restaurants, and bustling bars to quench your thirst at. A short stroll from Los Muertos is Conchas Chinas which is considerably less crowded, making it well worth the walk. Playa Las Gemelas and Playa Mismaloya on the south of Banderas Bay warrant a visit for their beauty and serenity. The latter is the sandy stretch that started it all, where Night of the Iguana was filmed back in the early 1960s.

There are a couple of paradisiacal beaches you’ll need to hire a boat to get to, such as Quimixto, Las Animas, or crowd favorite Yelapa. If you take a day trip to Yelapa, be sure to look for the women on the beach selling slices of homemade tropical pie. Many consider the trip to Yelapa Beach worth it just for the pie, with banana cream being a favorite. But come early–pies sell out quickly, and when they’re gone, business is done for the day.

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Zip Line Over the Jungle and Rappel Down Waterfalls

Outdoorsy folks will never be short of what to do in Puerto Vallarta. Thrill-seekers should look no further than Vallarta Adventures, which has a host of high-octane tours on land and water. During their full-day Outdoor Zip Line Adventure, your day will start with a boat ride across the bay before you strap on your gear and ride a mule into the heart of the jungle to begin zip-lining and rappelling your way back down to the base. You’ll experience traditional zip-lining, two new types (roller coaster and surfboard), waterfall rappelling, jungle hiking, and even a hillside water slide. Another much-frequented outing is the Extreme Zip Line Adventure which includes an uber-thrilling “Superman” zipline that’s one of Mexico’s longest and speediest.

INSIDER TIPThese tours aren’t suitable for people with mobility issues, and a reasonable level of fitness is required, but they are some of the most exciting and fun things to do in Puerto Vallarta.

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Ride an ATV Through the Jungle and Across the World’s Largest Suspension Bridge

A popular excursion in Puerto Vallarta is charging through the jungle on ATVs before crossing the 1,592-foot-long Jorullo Bridge, which momentarily held the position of the world’s longest suspension bridge (it sounds scarier than it is). There is also a stop midway for swimming and diving off rocks next to a small waterfall (El Salto), so be sure to bring your swimwear. This rousing experience is offered by the Mexican-owned eco-tourism company Canopy River.



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Sunset Hike up to Mirador de La Cruz

One of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta, and a great way to burn off some of those tacos and margaritas, is to hike up to Mirador de la Cruz or the Lookout on Cross Hill. The hike is a bit grueling, but it doesn’t last long (15 to 45 minutes, depending on your pace and fitness level), and you’ll be rewarded with some of the best views of the red-roofed city cradled by the blue water of the bay. The stairs are steep and rustic at best, so this is another jaunt unsuitable for those with mobility issues. Again, you’ll need to be reasonably fit.

You can take several routes, but the most common is starting from the Malecon, then following Abasolo Street straight up the side of the hill (there are signs pointing you in the right direction). Once up top, be sure to finish strong and climb the last several stories up the staircase to the top of the elevated platform for impeccable, panoramic views. Cerro de la Cruz is unquestionably one of the most scenic places to visit in Puerto Vallarta.

INSIDER TIPOne of the best times to visit Cerro de la Cruz is later in the afternoon to take in one of Puerto Vallarta’s legendary sunsets.

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Visit Islas Marietas

When you’re in need of serenity, seclusion, and magic, get yourself to Islas Marietas (the Marietas Islands), a group of small, protected, uninhabited islands in Banderas Bay that house Playa del Amor. Also known as Hidden Beach, Playa del Amor is a veritable bucket list destination and one of the most exhilarating activities in Puerto Vallarta. Imagine a cave with the ceiling opening up to the sky to reveal a sandy beach at the base–that’s Hidden Beach.

You’ll need to book a specific tour to visit this breathtaking enclave. Some boat tours to Islas Marietas National Park will take you snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, or paddle boarding around the pristine beaches and luminous waters of the park, but they do not go to Hidden Beach, so double check your tour itinerary, read the fine print, and book in advance. Hidden Beach can only be reached when the tides are low, and only 116 visitors are permitted daily.

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See the City’s Regal Religious Icon

Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish) is an exquisite edifice that broke ground in Puerto Vallarta in 1903. Located one block from the main square (Plaza de Armas), this religious building has become a cultural symbol of Puerto Vallarta decorating the skyline with a majestic crown sitting on its steeple. The opulent crown was made by Jalisco-born sculptor Carlos Terrés, and it is called Tecuntlanopeuh, which means “the one that was born on the peak of Las Peñas” in Nahuatl (Puerto Vallarta was previously known as Las Peñas de Santa María de Guadalupe).

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Go Gallery Hopping

If you’re looking for fun and free things to do in Puerto Vallarta, don’t miss the annual art walk. Every Wednesday evening between October and June, a host of galleries in the quaint and colorful old town open their doors to visitors from 6 PM to 10 PM. There are 16 participating galleries showcasing works by Mexican and international artists, and you can explore them all individually at your own pace. To further sweeten the deal, several galleries offer refreshments in the form of tequila and wine as well as opportunities to meet the artists.

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Book a Sunset Table at La Capella for an Unforgettable Dining Experience

If you are traveling to Puerto Vallarta for the first time, you should know that it’s a culinary treasure box full of both no-frills and fanciful foodie finds. For the latter, make reservations at La Capella, an open-air fine dining restaurant with stunning views of Banderas Bay, which deserves its own spot on this list. Smartly dressed diners enjoy delicious modern Italian cuisine here, but the atmosphere is what truly sets La Capella apart.

As the sun sets over the bay, talented violinists begin to play, making for an incredibly beautiful and romantic setting that has been known to bring diners to tears. At the end of the evening, you’re likely to see fireworks over the bay, as there’s usually at least one display per night. Be sure to book a sunset table, and if you’re in town for a birthday or anniversary or you plan on proposing, this is your spot. Reservations are required and can be made on OpenTable.

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Explore Puerto Vallarta’s Dining Options

There’s an astounding choice of excellent places for dining well in Puerto Vallarta. At Tintoque, the creative dishes are pleasing to the palette and the eye. Helmed by Vallarta-born Joel Ornelas, this fine dining establishment made its way to Culinaria Mexicana’s coveted list of 120 best restaurants in Mexico for three years straight. La Palapa is similarly well-reputed. Puerto Vallarta’s first beach restaurant opened in 1959, and it’s been feting guests with the likes of juicy grilled octopus and lobster tails ever since. You can also dine in the sand at El Dorado, La Palapa’s sister restaurant. Over here, the menu includes lobster and bone marrow tacos, seared scallops, and New York strip steaks with bacon-wrapped asparagus.

The tables placed in the middle of a shallow swimming pool overlooking the pier and the ocean have made dining at Mar y Vino one of the most popular things to do in Puerto Vallarta. Go for artisan cocktails and delicious dishes at this unique restaurant atop Playa Los Arcos Hotel. Café des Artistes is another popular reservation owing to its sophisticated Franco-Mexican creations served in tremendously scenic quarters. The string-lit exterior garden feels the most ceremonial, but all five dining spaces will take your breath away.

INSIDER TIPYou can make reservations for La Palapa via OpenTable, but you should call ahead to ensure you get a table on the beach.

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Spend the Afternoon at a Beach Club

Puerto Vallarta travel itineraries should, without fail, include a trip to at least one beach club. From simple plastic chairs on the beach to luxury clubs with bottle service and DJs playing international hits, there are plenty of blissful beach clubs and bars to choose from. Los Muertos Beach has a high concentration of waterside addresses, but you can find beach clubs all along the oceanfront.

Upscale options include Sapphire at Los Muertos, Taú Beach Club at the marina (which has an infinity pool), and Mantamar, an adults-only luxury beach club that’s popular with LGBTQ+ visitors and locals. You can easily run up a serious tab splurging on cabanas, bottle service, and sushi platters there while listening to DJs spin sets. For a more casual affair, sprawl out at Ritmos Beach Cafe, where the food is affordably priced, and the drinks are strong. El Solar, located on the opposite end of the Malecon, serves up impressive mezcal cocktails and delicious plates from their sister restaurant Barracuda. You can often find DJs spinning here at sunset.

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Book a Waterfall Hike

Some impressive waterfalls surround Puerto Vallarta, and one of the best ways to explore them is by booking a waterfall hike. These range from a couple of hours to all day, and they appeal to hikers with various fitness levels. You can find tons of elevated Puerto Vallarta adventures led by locals by using Airbnb Experiences, which is a great way to support the local community. Be sure to check out the popular Jungle Waterfall Hike & Swim or Hidden Beaches tours.

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Spend the Day at Las Caletas

An unmissable excursion in Puerto Vallarta is venturing out to Las Caletas, considered one of the best-secluded beaches in the world. Reachable only by boat and exclusively accessible via Vallarta Adventures, you’ll have a wealth of options from snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, standup paddleboarding, mezcal tasting, a cooking class, or meeting tropical birds during a guided nature walk. Various activities are aimed at children of all ages, making this a great day trip for families. Splash down a set of water slides, dip into the azure waters, turn down the tempo with a relaxing massage, or find a hammock and do sweet nothing.

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Take a Walking Food Tour

Walking food tours are always a fantastic opportunity to get to know a new destination. It’s a wonderful way to get a feel of the city, try some of the best food in town, and get personalized recommendations from your guide for the rest of your trip. Make this one of the first tours you book, as it could help you structure the rest of your Puerto Vallarta activities.

Arrive hungry for any of the scrumptious tours offered by Vallarta Eats. From mole-focused outings to after-dark taco tastings, you’ll have a dandy and delicious time learning about Puerto Vallarta through a culinary lens. Vallarta Food Tours also has a tantalizing variety of food and “Mexology” tours, so you’re sure to find one suited to your gastronomic interests. Their original downtown tour spends a half-day sampling ceviche, tacos, typical Mexican drinks, chocolate, mole, and lots of other delightful dishes, all while learning about the fascinating history of Puerto Vallarta.

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Lodge at Actress Elizabeth Taylor’s Old Hideaway

You can channel your inner Elizabeth Taylor at Casa Kimberly. After all, the nine-room boutique hotel was her former home, a gift from her beloved Richard Burton. This palatial hillside property is etched in Puerto Vallarta’s history as it was the couple’s passionate affair that catapulted the city to international stardom. Casa Kimberly is actually two side-by-side casitas connected by a bridge. Burton put Taylor up in a villa next to his and connected them by a bridge called Puente del Amor (Bridge of Love). Modeled on Venice’s Bridge of Sighs, it facilitated visits away from the prying eyes of the paparazzi. Burton eventually gave the actress the home for her 32nd birthday.

Elizabeth Taylor fans will adore the prospect of sleeping at Liz and Dick’s former love nest, wading in the same pool where they swam, or staying in what was her bedroom, a 2,500-square-foot den of elegance complete with the original pink marble heart-shaped bathtub she commissioned. The Iguana, Casa Kimberly’s open-air fine dining restaurant on the roof, is not to be missed either.

INSIDER TIPOwing to the inextricable link between the city and the Burtons, The Iguana is one of the most popular places to visit in Puerto Vallarta for a romantic sunset meal, so be sure to reserve in advance, particularly for a spot on the breezy patio.


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Attend a Sea Turtle Release

If you dream of participating in a baby sea turtle release, the months from June to December are the best times to go to Puerto Vallarta. Every year, hundreds of thousands of female turtles come to lay their eggs on the beaches of Puerto Vallarta, and roughly 45 days later, the hatchlings leave the sandy nests. In-between, volunteers, marine biologists, and loving locals guard the ping pong ball-sized eggs at night to protect them from poachers and predators.

Six of the eight sea turtle species can be found in Puerto Vallarta, and the city takes turtle conservation very seriously (the World Wildlife Fund classifies sea turtles as vulnerable). Several turtle camps and beachfront hotels have dedicated education and conservation programs and also host newborn turtle release ceremonies during the hatching season. You can witness the tiny turtles setting off on their first ocean adventure at Boca de Tomates turtle camp or Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa, which has an on-site biologist and turtle nursery that houses up to 500 turtles at a time.

INSIDER TIPIf you spot a sea turtle on the beach, keep your distance and don’t photograph it with a flash so as not to interrupt its nesting.


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Eat Tacos Al Pastor Streetside From World Famous Pancho’s Takos

You can’t come to Mexico and not have tacos from a street vendor. Puerto Vallarta has one of Mexico’s most famous stands: Pancho’s Takos (spelled with a k). Come early or be prepared to get in line. When it’s your turn to order, ask for tacos al pastor (spit-grilled pork), which is arguably the most famous type of taco in Mexico. You won’t regret ordering melt-in-your-mouth al pastor from Pancho’s. Vegetarian options are also available.

INSIDER TIPIf you pass Pancho’s Takos and see that there’s not much of a line, grab a spot and take advantage of the short wait time. In the evenings, you could spend more than an hour waiting.


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Book a Sunset Cruise

Sure, it seems cheesy and a bit touristy, but Rhythms of the Night is one of the most popular things to do in Puerto Vallarta. You’ll travel by boat (with an open bar) to Las Caletas for dinner. Then, you’ll enjoy a show in an amphitheater in the jungle under the stars. Brought to life by one of the co-creators of Cirque du Soleil, the show is a cinematic interpretation of the Aztec creation story, complete with music, acrobatics, fire dancers, and costumes. Rhythms of the Night is one hot ticket, so be sure to book ahead. If you’re visiting during a time of the year with bad weather, consider booking this sunset cruise and cultural show near the beginning of your visit in case it needs to be rescheduled.

INSIDER TIPAnother spirited sea adventure in Puerto Vallarta comes courtesy of Marigalante, a wooden pirate ship with a capacity for 240 passengers. If you are unable to snag tickets for Rhythms of the Night, grab your mates and say ahoy to a treasurable lunch or dinner with a theatrical swashbuckling show on Marigalante instead.


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Visit the Vallarta Botanical Gardens

Stop and smell the bougainvillea, orchids, magnolias, and sweet-smelling flora at Jardin Botánico Vallarta. About 40 minutes outside of the city, tucked in the Sierra Madre Mountains, this botanical garden makes for a perfect half or full-day family-friendly trip, and it’s one of the best Puerto Vallarta activities for nature lovers. This environmental organization was founded in 2004 to help conserve Mexico’s native plants and endangered species. It burgeons with fragrant flowers, trees, and plants, including Mexico’s most extensive public collection of orchids and more than a dozen species of hummingbirds. You can visit on your own or arrange for a guided tour, with some tours including lunch at the on-site restaurant.

Be sure to bring your swimming attire, as a mountain river flows through the gardens, and you might want to stay for a dip. You can hire a private taxi to take you there and arrange a return time, or a local bus will take you near (but not directly to) the gardens.

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Visit the Nearby Surf Town of Sayulita

About an hour north of Puerto Vallarta in, the neighboring state of Nayarit is one of Mexico’s most famous beach towns. Sayulita is one of the most popular day trips from Puerto Vallarta. This bohemian beach town is worthy of more than a day trip, but if that’s all you have time for, it’s enough to give you a feel for the laid-back surf town and its decorated streets.

If you’re a surfer (or aspiring surfer), you can rent boards directly on the main beach or visit a surf shop to sign up for lessons. If you’re not into surfing, you can lounge on the beach or explore the charming town center, visiting the boutiques, galleries, and seafood-centric restaurants. Be sure to find your way to the beach for sunset before traveling to Puerto Vallarta.

INSIDER TIPAvoid festive periods like Easter and New Year when Sayulita gets exceptionally busy.



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Go Scuba Diving

Some of the best dive spots around Puerto Vallarta include Las Caletas, Los Arcos, or the famous Marietas Islands, where divers encounter a profusion of colorful marine life, often including octopus, schools of dolphin, turtles, giant manta rays, and the occasional humpback whale or whale shark. When diving offshore, you can explore cave systems and shipwrecks. Whether you’re already certified or considering taking lessons, you’ll find a dive shop to suit your needs. Scope out Banderas Scuba Republic, Vallarta Undersea, or Silent World Divers. Most scuba diving trips are half-day, depending on how many air tanks you purchase for your dives.


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Learn About Tequila in Its Home State

Puerto Vallarta is the fifth most populated city in the state of Jalisco, the home of tequila (and mariachis and Mexico’s national sport, charrería). The spirit comes from its namesake town of Tequila, which is about four hours away from Puerto Vallarta by car. If you would like to delve into the history of the famed distillate but can’t make it there, sign up for Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa’s tequila education program led by a female tequilera (tequila sommelier), Audrey Formisano. While learning about the art of sipping fine tequila, you’ll sample CasaMagna, the resort’s own brand that can only be bought on-site. Marriott is one of only a few hotels in the world with a proprietary tequila brand, making this one of the most unique things to do in Puerto Vallarta.

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Explore Puerto Vallarta’s Local Craft Beer Scene

The state of Jalisco might be known for tequila, but Puerto Vallarta’s craft beer scene is raising the bar. If you’re in downtown Puerto Vallarta, go to Los Muertos Brewing, the city’s most famous craft beer establishment serving a mean pizza. Then, hop over to Monzón just a three-minute walk away, where there will be Peachy Gringos (a peach wheat ale), 1842s (dry hopped pilsner), Atlánticos (Mexican lager), and good times on tap.

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Book a Whale Watching Trip

For whale watching, January and February are the best times to go to Puerto Vallarta, as most tours sight whales daily. The official humpback whale watching season in Puerto Vallarta is from December to March, but lucky visitors have sighted whales as early as November or as late as May. It is said that during whale season, more than 18,000 whales will pass by Puerto Vallarta, so there is a high chance of spotting a pod, a treasured experience. Be sure to bring your camera on this trip, as tour companies are able to get you up close for some truly stunning photos.

INSIDER TIPIf you choose to stay at one of the hotels sprinkled along the coast, like Westin Resort & Spa, Puerto Vallarta, you might have the great fortune of seeing whales dart out of the water right from the beach.

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Go Snorkeling at Los Arcos

Witnessing the aquatic ballet performed by the clownfish, seahorses, eels, rays, damselfish, and colorful sea species at Los Arcos National Marine Park is one of the top things to do in Puerto Vallarta. Brimming with marine life, Los Arcos (the arches) is located in Banderas Bay between Las Gemelas and Mismaloya beaches. The granite arches provide natural swim-throughs, caves, tunnels, and even a coral reef, and one of the best ways to explore it is by booking a snorkeling trip to take in the beauty both above and below the water. Snorkelers will swim above arches, tunnels, and caves and observe many types of fish. While it is possible to snorkel Los Arcos independently, in the interest of safety, consider a tour company. As an added bonus, these tour operators tend to bring along marine biologists who educate about the region’s biodiversity and history, which has been a protected marine reserve since the early ’80s.

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Book a Sunrise or Sunset Kayaking/SUP Bioluminescence Eco-Tour

Another great way to explore Los Arcos is to book a standup paddle boarding bioluminescence tour. You’ll start with a quick safety lesson before paddling out to Los Arcos, where you’ll be surrounded by bioluminescent waters that fade away as the sun rises or become darker as the sun sets. The water glows due to an algae bloom of plankton reacting to disturbances in the water, such as waves. Puerto Vallarta’s warm and relatively calm waters make it an ideal place to observe this phenomenon.

This tour, which can be booked via Airbnb Experiences, will be one for the books, but it also requires a reasonable level of fitness, as kayaking or paddle boarding can be quite physically demanding. Also, take note that brightness levels vary depending on the season, temperature, and lunar cycle.

INSIDER TIPIf you prefer not to kayak, you can book a regular boat tour to see the glowing plankton at Los Arcos.

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Shop for Souvenirs on a Pedestrian-only Island

Practice your Spanish and bargaining skills as you secure souvenirs, paintings, pottery, jewelry, handicrafts, embroidered garments, leather goods, and more at the Cuale River Flea Market. Despite its name, there are no pre-owned items sold there. This quiet collection of stalls is located on Isla Cuale, a narrow, pedestrian-only island located between the Romantic Zone and El Centro, and it’s a delightfully scenic space for retail therapy.