This exciting district of Puerto Vallarta, is frequently known as either Olas Altas, Romantic Zone, Basilio Badillo, South Side or Old Town. These are, in fact, names of well-known streets and areas in one of Puerto Vallarta’s most happening colonias, or neighborhoods: Emiliano Zapata. And even though the name of a leading figure in Mexico’s 1910 revolution doesn’t have as much allure as some of these other unofficial monickers, we are partial to it, as it is its official name.
An entire city within a city, Emiliano Zapata comprises a 9 x 9-block grid south of the Rio Cuale, waiting to be explored. It encompasses all the areas and streets mentioned above, along with many others. From elementary schools to universities, 24/7 drugstores to hospitals, humble abodes to regrettable high-rises, Emiliano Zapata is as multifaceted as it gets.
Even entering the colonia from points north along I. Vallarta is bound to give you a small thrill if you pay close attention. As the road nears the Isla Rio Cuale bridge, Emiliano Zapata’s northern boundary, it turns and rises, revealing one of the colonia’s busiest thoroughfares, along with the gorgeous Conchas Chinas hills as a backdrop limiting its southern edge. As you descend from the bridge, the topes, or speed bumps, serve a dual purpose, slowing down both your vehicle and your mindset.
Although dynamic and cosmopolitan, enough of Old Vallarta remains in Emiliano Zapata’s soul to encourage you to relax your pace. The Cuale river wraps around Emiliano Zapata and, along with the small Libramiento tunnel, serves as its eastern boundary. On the opposite end, it meets Los Muertos, Puerto Vallarta’s most popular beach.
As urban development progresses north and south of Puerto Vallarta, Emiliano Zapata’s privileged terrain has sheltered it from excessive expansion, for the most part, making this colonia a must-see for anybody visiting Puerto Vallarta for the first time. And for residents and seasoned visitors, a walk through its cobblestoned roads is a perfect way to rejoice and remember the fact that this is, after all, as typical as Mexican neighborhoods get.
Emiliano Zapata is easily accessible from points north of the city. Simply proceed along Francisco Medina Ascencio, Puerto Vallarta’s principal access road, and continue onward. The road will change names as it enters colonias 5 de Diciembre and El Centro, until becoming I. Vallarta, once you cross the Isla Rio Cuale bridge. South of Emiliano Zapata, Carr. 200 Sur continues south toward the South Shore and points beyond, such that anybody driving to Puerto Vallarta along this highway will inevitably pass through Emiliano Zapata.
Public parking is available throughout the entire colonia, and an underground parking lot located at Plaza Lázaro Cárdenas, provides centrally-located access to many of Emiliano Zapata’s attractions.
Emiliano Zapata is well connected as far as public transportation goes, and taxis are very familiar with its streets, as they are home to some of the city’s most popular restaurants, shops and art galleries.
And for folks interested in exploring South Shore destinations such as Mismaloya, Boca de Tomatlán and El Tuito, or landmarks such as the Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens, Emiliano Zapata is the gateway for public transportation companies with routes to these locations. (For points in Costalegre, beyond El Tuito, there are bus companies that depart from Puerto Vallarta’s Bus Terminal.)
Water taxis that serve South Shore destinations only accessible by boat, such as Las Animas, Quimixto, Caletas, or Yelapa, also depart from Emiliano Zapata, at the Los Muertos Pier, presently under construction.
Culture: Arts, Music, Cuisine
While Emiliano Zapata is home to some of Puerto Vallarta’s finest gourmet restaurants, many of them listed in our Dining Guide, it also is home to some of our town’s most tourist-safe taco stands and legendary eateries, such as Cenaduría Celia, arguably serving some of the finest pozole in town. It is also home to art galleries and mercados, or markets, where you can indulge in fine and folk art, respectively—not to mention a variety of specialty shops and convenience stores.
The Centro Cultural Cuale, a municipality-sponsored cultural facility located on Isla Río Cuale, offers a variety of music, painting, engraving and sculpture workshops.
Music & Performing Arts
Frequent free performances take place on Plaza Lázaro Cárdenas outdoor amphitheater, particularly on weekend evenings.
Emiliano Zapata is also where you’ll find numerous restaurants and lounges that feature jazz, blues and local talent. Best way to find them is to walk Olas Altas and follow the sounds of music!
From designer clothes to handmade linen shirts; cuban cigars to skimpy bathing suites; organic produce to handmade arts and crafts; just about everything you can imagine—and more—can be purchased in Emiliano Zapata, making this colonia a popular destination for tourists and visitors. That said, you won’t find any of Puerto Vallarta’s large shopping centers here. It is all small shops, which greatly enhances and preserves the neighborhood’s small-town feel. (See right-hand column for choice shops, restaurants and art galleries.)
A number of shops, art galleries and restaurants along Basilio Badillo and surrounding streets open late every other Friday (in season) for what is known as the Southside Shuffle, effectively turning the neighborhood into a lively street party, with visitors sauntering from one venue to another.
Emiliano Zapata’s Mercado Municipal, or municipal market, while small, is worth visiting as it authentically represents the shopping experience in small towns throughout Mexico. It is located in the corner of Lázaro Cárdenas and Camichín streets.
From sports bars to martini lounges and dance clubs, there is no shortage of nightlife in Emiliano Zapata. With over a dozen venues to choose from, most of Puerto Vallarta’s gay nightlife takes place in Emiliano Zapata.
Neighborhoods & Neighboring Regions
Emiliano Zapata is flanked on its northern edge by the Isla Río Cuale, the ocean (Los Muertos Beach) on the west, the Conchas Chinas and Amapas neighborhoods on the south, and the El Caloso neighborhood on the east.
Popular neighborhoods within Emilano Zapata include Olas Altas Street, home to many shops, restaurants and coffee shops with outdoor seating on the sidewalks, making them popular destinations to browse the internet, watch people walk by, and enjoy a nice latte, all at the same time. In fact, Olas Altas’ bustling outdoor cafe scene is the only place in town where you can purchase fine jewelry, find a hot date, sing and dance your heart out, and ride a real donkey, all on the same block.
Basilio Badillo Street is home to more restaurants, art galleries and shops. And thanks to the Puerto Vallarta Garden Club, a local non-profit, its recently-widened sidewalks have been graced with attractive planters, making the area visually stunning. Basilio Badillo is also home to the Southside Shuffle (see above).
Isla Rio Cuale, located between Emiliano Zapata and El Centro, is a destination of its own, one of Puerto Vallarta’s verdant oasis. It stretches several blocks inland from the ocean, is accessible by foot at several access points along the way (including some suspension bridges worth tackling) and features a few restaurants, an outdoor artisan market featuring mexican artifacts, and is also home to Puerto Vallarta’s Cultural Center on its easternmost area.
Landmarks, Sights & Activities
There is so much to do in Emiliano Zapata, here are some highlights.
- Isla Río Cuale, located between El Centro and Emiliano Zapata, including the oceanfront pedestrian bridge that extends the Malecón into the neighborhood.
- Plaza Lázaro Cárdenas, with its outdoor amphitheater and the performances that take place there.
- Olas Altas Street, a fun street with lots of shops, cafes and restaurants.
- Basilio Badillo Street, a fun street with lots of shops, cafes and restaurants
- Emiliano Zapata Municipal Market
- Los Muerto’s Beach, Puerto Vallarta’s most popular!
- Parachute and banana boat rides are commonly available in Los Muertos Beach.
- Just as in El Centro, there isn’t a single street not worth exploring in Emiliano Zapata, and the best way to do so is on foot, particularly along some of the streets mentioned above.
- Also, walk along Lázaro Cárdenas, the longest street in Emiliano Zapata, traveling east-west, and gradually revealing the original small-town nature of the colonia as you head inland.
- Visit the Saturday morning markets (see below), great places to shop and meet locals and expats.
- Enjoy a latte at one of the coffee shops along Olas Altas. It’s the best way to take in the neighborhood’s vibe!
- Check out the Southside Shuffle every other Friday along Basilio Badillo (in season).
- Explore the restaurant scene in Emiliano Zapata. Many international cuisines are well represented here, and there is something for every budget.
The beach at Emiliano Zapata, Los Muertos, is Puerto Vallarta’s most popular beach. Many restaurants are located right next to it, providing visitors with all the services and amenities they might need while enjoying the view and the sun from shady palapas or beach umbrellas, provided by the restaurants. You will be expected to consume from the eateries in order to enjoy them. That said, most restaurants won’t frown if you purchase, in addition, a snack or other goods from one of several authorized beach vendors in the area, wearing white uniforms.
Dividing Los Muertos Beach in half, the new Los Muertos pier is presently under construction. When completed, it is expected to become one of Puerto Vallarta’s newest and most beautiful landmarks, providing easy access to water taxis and day cruises that depart from the beach.
The southernmost stretch of Los Muertos beach is particularly popular with the gay community with several restaurants catering to them.
Where to Stay
There are hotels for every budget in Emiliano Zapata, from beachfront locations featuring spectacular sunsets, to budget hotels inland, to some that cater specifically to the gay & lesbian community. In addition, many condos are available for rent from their owners on a weekly, monthly, or permanent basis.
The south side of downtown Puerto Vallarta is a vibrant region that offers a number of different real estate options for those interested in living right downtown and close to the beach. This is an eclectic, funky and fun area of Vallarta. The beach of Los Muertos is very popular and is lined with hotels and condominiums. Olas Altas is a busy street, lined with cafes and restaurants and shops and just a block away from the beach. Along this street and behind are you’ll find apartments, small-to-medium size condominium projects (oceanfront and ocean view) and single family homes (very few with views). If you want to be close to where “the action is”, this is the place! Listed below are links to properties that are currently listed for sale in Emiliano Zapata.
- Homes & Condos currently listed for sale in Emiliano Zapata
- Real Estate “new product” developments in Emiliano Zapata
Regular Important Events
- Olas Altas Street closes to vehicular traffic every year on New Year’s Eve, for one of the city’s most memorable block parties in town.
- While the annual Puerto Vallarta Mardi Gras Carnaval has extended its route to include the Malecón, it began in Emiliano Zapata and remains a neighborhood tradition. The parade takes place on Fat Tuesday (February).
- A new annual Bougainvillea Festival organized by the Puerto Vallarta Garden Club is presently in the works, and is expected to take place along Basilio Badillo on May, 2013, coinciding with Vallarta Lifestyles’ Restaurant Week.
- The Saturday Market Co-op, hosted by the Paradise Community Center.
- The Old Town Farmers Market opens to the public every Saturday morning (seasonally).