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For years, shopping in Puerto Vallarta was concentrated in small, eclectic shops rather than impersonal malls. Although plenty of independent stores still exist, it's now home to large, modern shopping centers between the marina and hotel zone areas as well. Vallarta is known for having the most diverse and impressive selection of contemporary Mexican fine art outside Mexico City. It also has an abundance of silver jewelry, beachwear, and Mexican souvenirs.

The Shopping Scene

The key shopping areas are central downtown, the Marina Vallarta malecón, the popular mercados, and the beach -- where the merchandise comes to you. Some of the more attractive shops are 1 to 2 blocks in back of the malecón. Start at the intersection of Corona and Morelos streets -- interesting shops spread out in all directions from here. Marina Vallarta has two shopping plazas, Plaza Marina and Neptuno Plaza, on the main highway from the airport into town, which offer a limited selection of shops, with Plaza Neptuno primarily featuring home decor shops.

Plaza Peninsula (located on Av. Francisco Medina Ascencio 2485, just south of the cruise ship terminal and north of the Ameca River bridge; no phone number or website), in front of a large waterfront condominium development of the same name, is home to more than 30 businesses, including Vallarta's first Starbucks, as well as art galleries, boutiques, and a varied selection of restaurants. The Galerías Vallarta, on Av. Francisco Medina Ascencio 2920, adjacent to Walmart and directly across from the cruise ship terminal (tel. 322/209-1520; www.galeriasvallarta.com.mx), is a large shopping and entertainment mall anchored by the high-end Mexican department store Liverpool. It houses a variety of boutiques, including Levi's, Nine West, and United Colors of Benetton. Among the selections for dining are Chili's, Subway, and Sirloin Stockade. For entertainment, there's a 10-screen movie theater. The mall is open daily from 8am to 2am; most stores are open from 11am to 9pm.

Puerto Vallarta's municipal flea market is just north of the Río Cuale, where Libertad and A. Rodríguez meet. The mercado sells clothes, jewelry, serapes, shawls, leather accessories and suitcases, papier-mâché parrots, stuffed frogs and armadillos, and, of course, T-shirts. The market is open daily from 9am to 6pm. Upstairs, a food market serves inexpensive Mexican meals. An outdoor market is along Río Cuale Island, between the two bridges. Stalls sell crafts, jewelry, gifts, folk art, and clothing.

Clothing

Vallarta's locally owned department store, LANS, has branches downtown at Juárez 867 (tel. 322/226-9100; www.lans.com.mx) and in both Plaza Peninsula and Plaza Caracol. LANS offers a wide selection of name-brand clothing, accessories, footwear, cosmetics, and home furnishings.

Contemporary Art

Known for sustaining one of the stronger art communities in Latin America, Puerto Vallarta has an impressive selection of fine galleries featuring quality original works. Several dozen galleries get together to offer art walks every Wednesday from 6 to 10pm between November and April. Most of the participating galleries serve complimentary cocktails during the art walks. It's a very popular weekly event among the local expat residents.

A Huichol Art Primer

Puerto Vallarta offers the best selection of Huichol art in Mexico. Descendants of the Aztecs, the Huichol are one of the last remaining indigenous cultures in the world that has remained true to its traditions, customs, language, and habitat. Huichol art falls into two main categories: yarn paintings and beaded pieces. All other items you might find in Huichol art galleries are either ceremonial objects or items used in everyday life.

Yarn paintings are made on a wood base covered with wax and meticulously overlaid with colored yarn. Designs represent the magical vision of the underworld, and each symbol gives meaning to the piece. Paintings made with wool yarn are more authentic than those made with acrylic; however, acrylic yarn paintings are usually brighter and more detailed because the threads are thinner. It is normal to find empty spaces where the wax base shows. Usually the artist starts with a central motif and works around it, but it's common to have several independent motifs that, when combined, take on a different meaning.

Beaded pieces are made on carved wooden shapes depicting different animals, wooden eggs, or small bowls made from gourds. The pieces are covered with wax, and tiny chaquira beads are applied one by one to form designs. Usually the beaded designs represent animals; plants; the elements of fire, water, or air; and certain symbols that give a special meaning to the whole. Deer, snakes, wolves, and scorpions are traditional elements; other figures, such as iguanas, frogs, and any animals not indigenous to Huichol territory, are incorporated by popular demand. Beadwork with many small designs that do not exactly fit into one another is more time-consuming and has a more complex symbolic meaning.

You can learn more about the Huichol at Huichol Collection, Morelos 490, across from the sea-horse statue on the malecón (tel. 322/223-2141; open daily 9am-10:30pm). This shop offers an extensive selection of Huichol art in all price ranges, and has a replica of a Huichol adobe hut, informational displays explaining more about their fascinating way of life and beliefs, and usually a Huichol artist at work. However, this is a timeshare sales location, so don't be surprised if you're hit with a pitch for a "free" breakfast and property tour. Peyote People, Juarez 222 (tel. 322/222-2302, or -6268; www.peyotepeople.com; open Mon-Fri 10am-9pm, Sat-Sun 10am-6pm), is a more authentic shop specializing in Huichol yarn paintings and bead art from San Andres Cohamiata, one of the main villages of this indigenous group, high up in the Sierra Madres.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.