Puerto Vallarta: Magic and Mayhem on the Malecon

Fyllis Hockman - The Fifty Plus Life
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August 27, 2017


I heard that you could spend from dawn to dusk on the Malecon in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and never get bored and I thought, “OK, I’m up for that challenge.” Well, maybe not the dawn part — I’m not a morning person — so I had no problem leaving those early hours to the joggers and those seeking an early start to catch their red snapper for dinner.

But yes, the Malecon is a 1.5 mile delight in so many different ways as to make any number of hours pass quickly. Mid-morning: Northern tip. The Hotel Rosita, built in 1948 and the oldest hotel, is steeped in history. It is the famous locale of the even more famous illicit liaison between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton during the 1963 filming of The Night of the Iguana.

The resultant publicity put the very sleepy town of PV on the map, and it became the only Mexican resort destination that grew up organically rather than created for the very purpose of attracting tourists. Take that, Cancun and Mazatlan.

Rebuilt as a pedestrian walkway 10 years ago after Hurricane Kenna, much of the Malecon’s old world charm has been maintained. Bordered by shops on one side and the Bay of Banderas on the other, the esplanade is dominated by a striking preponderance of unusual brass sculptures. There are sculptures everywhere — clowns, mermaids, unicorns, lovers — celebrating relationships, history, Spanish culture, religion, animals and just plain fun. One conglomeration included a boat signifying humans’ desire to search, a whale symbolizing ambition, a combination of a bird/propeller/airplane denoting technological evolution and an obelisk representing time.

A Story For Every Sculpture

Chilo, our guide, transfixed us with the many stories surrounding each and every creation, but after a while, they tended to flow together, not unlike the waves hitting the shore as we walked.

Brass is not the only source of creative expression. Sand sculptures also abound, large depictions of a welcome to Puerto Vallarta sign and a graceful Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron saint of the city, among them. A sand sculpture wishing well was accompanied by the sign, “Your tips are my only salary.” That combination, I thought, was an interesting double-dipping marketing play: Both the tip jar and the well get coins tossed in them.

Pebble designs in Concrete

Encased in the pavement all around us were free-flowing Indian designs made from small pebbles. Even the tops of sewers provide artistic expression in the form of the town shields built into the stone. While oohing and aahing at every sculpture, I came to a whole garden of bronze benches in assorted sizes and shapes, each with a different symbolic, mythical or whimsical meaning. As enthralling as it was to see and hear, even better was the opportunity to sit and rest.

A quick turn of the head at any point brings you up against colorful assortments of plants, flowers and palm trees running the course of the Malecon. Look up instead and see five men atop a pole, about to perform an ancient Indian religious ritual in which one man plays the flute and drum while the other four descend from above flying in concentric circles symbolizing the seasons and the cycle of life. Did I mention they are hanging by one foot upside down? It looks a little like an amusement park ride, but Chilo explained they train their whole lives for the privilege.

History Everywhere You Look

The stores as well reflect Indian  art. The Tierra Huichol, for example, sells wall hangings and animals of every variety hand-made of miniscule multi-hued beads. The Opal Mine not only sells all varieties of semi-precious stones, but it is set up to replicate the mining operation that produces them. There’s history of Mexico reflected in every step of the Malecon.

Plus, of course, your de rigueur street musicians, painters, balloon makers and food vendors. Skeletons, a staple of Puerto Vallarta folklore, in assorted attire and assemblages are on every street corner.

Yet, I was hard pressed to even find a T-shirt store. Unlike most beach boardwalks, the Malecon opts for funky rather than tacky.

By this time, I was delighted to imbibe in a refreshing glass of tuba, coconut milk flavored with pecans and apple. So maybe it would be even better mixed with tequila. But then, isn’t everything?

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