Budget Travel

The best samples by mail to complete in Cabo san lucas, from art walks to beach days

Strung out along the coast of Mexico inside a straggle of palms, gleaming white hotels and blond sand, Puerto Vallarta may be the pride of the Pacific Coast. From the long-lasting profile of the Playa de los Muertos pier and the seafront malecón (boardwalk) to the neat grid of terracotta-tiled buildings in the old town, this friendly beach resort is to establish for holiday fun, but costs can quickly mount up.

Fear not – whether you're here to doze around the beach or dive into the famously spirited, LGBTQ-friendly nightlife past the sands, there are plenty of activities to savor that won't set you back just one peso. As a first step, seek out an inexpensive place to stay inland in the beach – you will find cheap guesthouses and hostels on sides from the Río Cuale at the south end of the Zona Romántica.

While Cabo san lucas lays on lots of aquatic sports and arranged activities to keep visitors busy, there are numerous ways to pass the time that don't need a wedge of cash. Whether it's an intriguing street art tour or a peaceful hike across the jungle-backed coastline, here are the most popular free things to complete while visiting Cabo san lucas.

Take a boardwalk stroll

If you are on a pursuit to obtain the best from Puerto Vallarta, get things started with a stroll along downtown's broad seaside malecón (promenade). The boardwalk comes alive in the evening as sun-worshippers retreat in the beach to consider sunset strolls and street performers work their magic around the crowds because the sun sinks behind the sail-like profile from the Playa de los Muertos pier.

Dotted with bronze sculptures created by national and foreign artists (together with a surreal ladder to nowhere by famed Mexican designer, Sergio Bustamante) this seafront promenade takes in a number of Vallarta's most emblematic public art. In the south end of the malecón, it is possible to catch gratis concerts and dance performances in the Romanesque Los Arcos amphitheater.

Take a free city tour

For some in-depth background on the artists behind the boardwalk sculptures, free tours led by a local gallery owner run across the malecón from mid-November to mid-April, kicking off from the Municipal Tourist Office on Plaza Principal (seek advice from the tourist office for timings). The privately-run tourism site www.visit-vallarta.com also has useful information on city tours.

Alternatively, you can enroll in a free two-hour city tour led by English-speaking guides, taking in Vallarta's iconic parish church, the boardwalk and Gringo Gulch, a high end neighborhood which was the place to find Celebrities and renowned artists within the 1960s and 70s. Again, tours begin with the Municipal Tourist Office during the holidays. As with free tours anywhere, tips for guides are appreciated.

Be amazed by the antics from the Voladores de Papantla

One of Vallarta's most impressive spectacles takes place in the north end of the boardwalk. Every half-hour, the Voladores de Papantla (Papantla Flyers) enact a pre-Hispanic ritual in which four men swing inverted from ropes mounted on a 20m (65ft) pole, while a fifth performer perches on the tiny platform atop the pole playing the flute.

Rooted within an ancient religious ceremony done by Veracruz's indigenous Totonac people, the flyers represent the four elements as they enact this ancient rainmaking ritual – which appears to be exercising just fine in showery Vallarta! The high-flying act is free of charge to watch however the birdmen welcome any tips.

Take a self-guided street art tour

The art doesn't stop at the boardwalk. A large number of colorful murals have been painted through the tourist center recently, transforming downtown Vallarta into a backyard tropical gallery. The good folks at family travel blog The world or free have laid out an in depth DIY route that even includes some eating recommendations on the way. The 3-mile (5km) walk goes to numerous ocean-themed murals, many backed with a crowdfunded Mexican coral restoration project.

Enjoy the sea breezes on the coastal hike

The 7km (4.5-mile) out-and-back jungle trail from Boca de Tomatlán (a small beach town south of Vallarta) to Playa Las 'Animas hugs a spectacular stretch of coastline, lined with secluded coves. On the way, you can pause and cool off having a refreshing swim or nosh on fresh seafood at rustic beachfront palapa (thatched-roof) restaurants.

The path leads to relatively busy Playa Las 'Animas (where most beachgoers arrive by water taxi) after which continues westward towards the quieter spray of sand at Playa Quimixto, in which a half-hour hike inland leads to a jungle waterfall. The path across the coast is easy to follow along with but expect a hot and humid walk.

There is really a small investment required – you'll need to splurge a dollar for that local bus from Vallarta to Boca de Tomatlán. Buses depart in the Zona Romántica in the corner of Constitución and Basilio Badillo. Should you don't mind digging deep for the M$340 (US$16) boat fare, you can return to Vallarta by water taxi directly from Playa Las 'Animas or Playa Quimixto, bypassing Boca de Tomatlán.

Make some shapes on the salsa dancing class

Feeling a bit awkward if you notice the elegant moves locals are earning on the party area? Get your dancing up to date having a free salsa class at La Bodeguita del Medio, a Cuban-style bar covered in wall-to-wall graffiti. For the rhythmically inexperienced, the one-hour lesson (Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7pm) just might be a game-changer. After class, hold off for the live music, knock back a number of La Bodeguita's signature mojitos and strut your freshly learned dance moves.

Kick back around the sand at Playa de los Muertos

No visit to Vallarta would be complete without some indulgent beach-bumming under the sun, and even though this busy spot pales as compared to the more secluded sands around the bay's gorgeous southern curve, Playa de los Muertos (Beach from the Dead) is one of the most easily accessible beaches around.

It's at the front of the Zona Romántica, the calm water will work for swimming and also the southern end of the beach is renowned for its laid-back LGBTQ scene. The yellow sands from the Beach of the Dead cover what is considered an old cemetery, hence the slightly spooky-sounding name.

Take in the views from the Cerro en Cruz lookout

For a bird's-eye look at the city, hike up to Cerro de la Cruz lookout, which unveils a panoramic vista of downtown Vallarta and also the broad sweep of Banderas Bay. To get here in the malecón, walk uphill along cobbled Calle Abasolo, then climb a series of stairs and follow a sloped path prior to this spacious observation deck. Go out about 40 minutes before dusk and you'll be treated to some memorable sunset, as well as a much cooler ascent.

Go art gallery-hopping for free

Every Wednesday evening from June through October, Vallarta hosts a free downtown art walk with 15 local art and craft galleries opening their doors for browsing. One of the standouts are Galería de Ollas, which showcases intricately crafted pottery from Chihuahua, Peyote People (noted for its psychedelic bead and yarn art produced by indigenous Huichol artisans), and Galería Alpacora, where you'll find alebrijes (wood sculptures of mythical creatures) and brilliant hand-woven textiles.

Head over to Gringo Gulch for movie memories

For a taste of Vallarta's cinematic past, take a trip out to Gringo Gulch, a one-time hangout for such Hollywood legends as Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor (who filmed Night of the Iguana here together in 1963). Start off on Isla Río Cuale, a traffic-free sand island lined with shady rubber trees, riverside restaurants and cafes and a flea market selling everything from colorful Huichol crafts to touristy knick-knacks.

At the halfway point you'll see a rickety suspension bridge leading to some municipal market selling more crafts and incredibly affordable snacks. At the east end of the island, search for the tiled Iguana Bridge and cross over into Gringo Gulch to admire the grand homes which were once playgrounds for big screen luminaries such as Burton, Taylor and director John Huston.

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