The River Cuale, one of seven rivers originating from the Sierra Madre Mountains that run into the Bay of Banderas, divides Puerto Vallarta between the downtown to the north and the Romantic Zone to the south, but everything on either side is within walking distance. Two bridges (one on Insurgentes for northbound traffic and the other on Ignacio Vallarta for southbound traffic) cross the river. There are also some swaying rope footbridges for pedestrian traffic.
In the middle of the river, the Isla del Rio Cuale (Island of the River Cuale) is a tranquil and shady oasis. Its handicrafts stalls are brimming with silver, ceramics, jewelry, hammocks, sombreros and fanciful souvenirs. There’s also a handsome statue of John Houston, whose film, Night of the Iguana, put Vallarta on the tourist map.
Walk down the center of the Isla toward the Pacific and you’ll come across the tiny Museo Arquelogico del Cuale (Archaeological Museum of Cuale) that houses a small but impressive collection of pre-Columbian figurines. At the other end of the Isla, there’s also a Cultural Center offering music, dance and art lessons.
There are no hotels on the Isla but you’ll find several atmospheric restaurants, many offering nightly entertainment.