El Centro is the true heart of modern Puerto Vallarta as well as one of the first colonias to visibly benefit from the tourism explosion that changed the face of this once anonymous coastal Mexican beach town. This neighborhood is the star attraction of the entire Banderas Bay area, featuring an exhaustive list of activities to discover for both newcomers and those who have called the city their home all their lives.
As the name implies, this colonia is at the center of Puerto Vallarta and is its most familiar district to returning visitors. It is characterized by cobblestone streets, terra cotta roof decks, and the constant buzz of a thriving major city. Bordered to the north by the Hotel Zone and to the south by the historic Zona Romantica, El Centro hosts many public and municipal buildings and is the site for a great many community and cultural events.
Much attention has been paid to the modernization of El Centro as the area continues to experience increased tourism interest seemingly with each passing year. The process continues today, with accessibility efforts including wider sidewalks and wheel-friendly pedestrian pathways implemented on a wider basis than ever before. This area of the city is also currently undergoing the installation of fiberoptic Internet infrastructure, giving it some of the fastest connection speeds in the country.
To paraphrase an old saying, “all roads lead to El Centro.” This section of the city can be most easily accessed by taxi, with fares from the airport set between 80 and 300 pesos depending on whether a dedicated airport taxi or standard city cab driver is used. Taxi rates to El Centro are much lower within the city, as the most frequently visited neighborhoods in the city all border this colonia.
El Centro can also be accessed by city bus, and virtually every route running through the city’s streets is convenient to it in some way. Routes marked “Centro” obviously denote the vehicle’s direct passage into the district, but even buses marked “Tunnel” will deposit passengers near the meeting point between Puerto Vallarta’s Old Town section and this neighborhood, making it the single most centralized district in the city. As a result, it is typically well in demand among incoming visitors.
Travelers who want the best of Puerto Vallarta practically within arms’ reach will find no better option than choosing a property in El Centro. The famous Malecon boardwalk is fresh off a round of renovations, now open only to pedestrian traffic and featuring wider sidewalks for easy passage by human-powered vehicles. The local landmark has also been beautified with large planters filled with colorful flora and a significant local sculpture collection noted for its storied legacy.
The Malecon is more than just a place to enjoy a scenic stroll and a sunset along the Pacific Coast, it’s also an entertainment and shopping complex in its own right. Among familiar sights such as street performers and intricate sand sculptures is an extensive selection of bars, restaurants, clubs, dance halls and live music venues that can offer a full day’s entertainment in a one-mile seaside stretch. The boardwalk is also a prime position to enjoy the nightly fireworks display enjoyed by El Centro locals.
El Centro is also blessed with another local cultural touchstone, the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This iconic place of worship is perhaps the distinguishing feature of the city’s skyline, with the angels that hold a golden crown above the church’s bell tower forming an eminently memorable landmark for residents and tourists alike. Travelers lucky enough to find themselves in Puerto Vallarta in the early part of December will have the opportunity to witness the Guadalupe Processions, a 12 day pilgrimage parade that sees the faithful come from across the Banderas Bay to pay tribute for the holiday season.
Another favorite feature of El Centro is the Main Square just a block away from the church, on the doorstep of the city’s main municipal building. Sundays often bring live music and impromptu dance parties to this public meeting space, and nearby local vendors typically offer delicious examples of typical Mexican street food. The square is also the scene of meaningful public celebrations, such as the observation of the country’s Independence Day on September 16.
This neighborhood, along with the city’s Old Town, jointly lays claim to the Isla Cuale, a thin strip of land in the river that flows through the city and into the Pacific Ocean. On this narrow island is a gallery of area artisans offering handcrafted goods, a small cultural museum showcasing historic figurines, one of the finest restaurants in the city, and even a cultural center giving visitors the chance to partake in themed craft projects and special presentations among other points of interest.
El Centro is well known for its active artistic community. The district boasts art galleries throughout its streets, and many of the highest profile creative exhibitions in the area are presented in venues within reach of the neighborhood. Nearer to the bay, an open-air performance stage known as the Los Arcos Amphitheater hosts small cultural performances from a rotating selection of local talents.
El Centro is a natural choice for those who have no desire to choose. By choosing a property in El Centro, incoming visitors can experience the full range of lifestyles in the area without straying far from home. This neighborhood is a great choice for young, active travelers who are looking to quickly build a social circle in their new home, as they are sure to see and be seen in this constantly churning colonia.
El Centro is also a good neighborhood for newcomers who expect to move about the Banderas Bay area to surrounding locales such as Yelapa, Sayulita or San Pancho, as its location puts it near the greatest number of transportation options. This colonia will offer extra enjoyment to creative spirits as well, with its selection of street murals and abundance of art galleries reflecting the high profile of artists in the community.
El Centro is one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Puerto Vallarta for a simple reason: it has everything! This dynamic neighborhood may not always offer the tranquil setting provided my more residentially focused areas of the city, and there is always a premium to be paid for a hot spot in any city. Nevertheless, travelers who make their homes in the El Centro neighborhood get the priceless amenities of location and opportunity.