The Malecón sprawls along the coast with unique urban-artisan flare, at once modern and colonial. The seawall promenade is the beating heart of Puerto Vallarta, encapsulating the sophisticated art and creative nature of the city.
Mexico’s Pacific coast may be known for it’s beautiful beaches, resorts and delectable food, but few people think about Puerto Vallarta as a sleek, sophisticated (yet relaxed) artistic enclave.
The first (and only) time I ever visited Mexico’s West Coast was during our girls trip to Sayulita. Quite different than the Yucatan/Caribbean side of Mexico that I often experienced growing up, the water was colder, darker, more “Pacific” in nature than the warm blue-green of the Caribbean. The coastline was more hilly, sand more grainy and rocky, and the weather more temperate (and much less humid).
After turning in the keys to our Sayulita home, we headed to the big city of Puerto Vallarta.
I expected California-like beaches and coastline…..
with wide boardwalks…
But with a little Mexican flare, por supeusto!
And Mexican food…
What I did not expect was the extensive collection of sculpture art on the beach boardwalk... It was a neat surprise.
A Sandy Sculpture Garden
“Los Milenios” (The Millennia) by Mathis Lidice
From the north, near the Hotel Rosita, the first sculpture is a spiraling representation of time and evolution. The origin of life melds into animal evolution, Charlesmagne wielding a sword, Nezahualcóyotl, and a woman stretching up towards the future, which symbolizes the hope for peace.
“Nostalgia” by Mexican artist, Ramiz Barquet
The next sculpture was added to the Malecon in 1984. Barquet’s creation symbolizes his love for his wife, Nelly Barquet. It depicts a loving couple sitting side by side on a white granite bench, looking dreamily towards the town, mountains, sea and life with unending love and joy.
“Nature as Mother” (Naturaleza como Madre) by Guadalajara artist Adrián Reynoso
Continuing south, an abstract polymer-resin-bronze sculpture curves, depicting a crashing wave with human features (arms and a face) perched on top of a spiraling snail shell. It is said to represent the cycle of life and death.
“El Sutil Comepiedras” (The Subtle Rock Eater) by Guadalajara artist Jonás Gutiérrez (2006)
On the corner of Malecon and Leona Vicario is the friendly, funny man eating rocks. This strangely interesting sculpture is 2.4-meter-high and created with bronze and obsidian.
“Triton and the Nereid” by Carlos Espino
On the corner of Abasolo, this sculpture concentrates on the human form coupled with classical mythology.
It depicts Triton, son of the Greek god of the sea (Poseidon) and goddess of earthquakes (Amphitrite), and a sea nymph (female spirit of the sea- aka a mermaid).
“La Rotonda del Mar” (The Roundabout of the Sea) by Guadalajara artist Alejandro Colunga (1997)
On the corner of Aldama and the Malecon are Colunga’s eight monumental high-backed bronze chairs portraying exaggerated human anatomy, fantasy, surrealism and nautical imagery. One chair is topped with an octopus, others are humans with an old diving helmet and a periscope. Facing all of the chairs is a bench with two massive human ears.
Colunga is a self-taught painter and sculptor with similar sculptures around Zapopan and Guadalajara.
“Searching for Reason” (En busca de la razón) by Mexican artist Sergio Bustamante
Next up (on the corner of Corona and the Malecon) is the strange and distinctive sculpture of pillow-headed girls climbing a ladder, possibly searching for life’s answers or striving to ascend above the normal limits of humanity.
It’s funny, when I took these shots, I thought the girls were wearing hooded cloaks. I’m only just now realizing that their heads are pillows.
“The Boy on the Seahorse” (Little Seahorse) by Rafael Zamarripa
Zamarripa’s famous statue on the Malecón has become a symbol of Puerto Vallarta. This three meter high version was apparently the second iteration. The original statue was located on a pile of rocks at Las Pilitas, Los Muertos Beach in 1960 and was swept out to sea twice but eventually recovered. The larger replica was requested of the artist after the first storm incident and placed on the Malecón in 1976.
“La Fuente de la Amistad” (“The Friendship Fountain”) by James “Bud” Bottoms, 1987
Another interesting tidbit about Puerto Vallarta; it has been a sister city of Santa Barbara, California since 1972 (no wonder there are such California similarities!). Artist Bud Bottoms created this fountain as a gift to PV. The three leaping dolphins are significant in that the Chumash Indian word for dolphin, alulquoy, means “to go around, to protect, and to go in peace.”
“Erizados” (Sea Urchins) by Maritza Vazquez
The pair of stainless steel sea urchins portrays the connection between Puerto Vallarta as a tourist destination and the sea.
There’s even a Pinterest page dedicated solely to the sculptures of the Malecón.
The art doesn’t stop at the seaside sculptures, though. Puerto Vallarta’s 35 miles of sandy beaches forms the perfect pallet for the sand sculptors, who are at their most active during the seven month “high season”- November-May, which sees virtually no rain.
Subjects include religious and nativity scenes, ancient Roman and Greek figures, and local wildlife (such as iguanas). After completion of each sand sculpture, they are sprayed with a stabilizer coating and allowed to remain on the beach for a while before being demolished. (I wondered how those massive sand creations stayed intact!) The sculpting and demolishing process continues throughout the entire high season, resulting in a variety of daily beach scenes.
A little more sophisticated than the sand castles we mastered as children, eh?