Welcome to the sparkling aquamarine waters, unspoiled beaches and lush mountains of Puerto Vallarta – one of Mexico’s most inviting beach destinations. Renowned for its charming cobblestone streets, idyllic coastline and pulsating nightlife, this resort town lures millions of travelers every year. Puerto Vallarta’s balmy weather and calm waters make it an excellent destination for a variety of outdoor sports and ocean excursions. An interesting mix of adventure, relaxation and culture await visitors, who can fill their days with a pleasant stroll down the Malecon boardwalk, whale-watching in Banderas Bay or exploring the rugged countryside by ATV.
Here’s a roundup of some of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta.
A walk along the Malecon – a beautiful beachfront promenade that stretches 14 blocks – is considered a rite of passage for any vacation in Puerto Vallarta. The boardwalk is brimming with dozens of restaurants, bars, galleries and vendor stalls, where local artisans display their wares. The constant ocean breeze makes this a perfect spot to visit for great eats, shopping or listening to live music. And for those who like to party, many of the town’s trendiest bars and discos are located on the Malecon. You can also find Los Arcos (the arches), Puerto Vallarta’s most iconic landmark in the beachfront square of Plaza Morelos.
Beach lovers should head to Playa Los Muertos (Dead Man’s beach), located in the Zona Romantica (Old Vallarta). Despite its popularity among tourists and locals alike, there’s plenty of room to sunbathe, frolic in the water, or skim the waves on a jet ski. There are dozens of bars and cafes fronting the beach, so it’s easy to grab a bite to eat or simply relax with a margarita. Playa Los Muertos is also a wonderful spot for sunset cocktails.
Luxury sailboat and catamaran tours around the picturesque Banderas Bay offer chances to snorkel, swim alongside bottlenose dolphins and enjoy gorgeous seascapes, secluded beaches and hidden coves. Tours generally include bilingual guides, an open bar, sports equipment and a picnic lunch. When they’re not soaking up the sun’s warm rays, guests are invited to disembark for swimming, paddle-boarding and underwater explorations.
For a unique, pirate-themed ocean adventure, replete with cannon blasts and sword fighting shows, book a cruise aboard the Marigalante Galleon, an authentically-styled replica of Christopher Columbus’ ship. The 7-hour tour promises fun activities for parents and kids, including beach volleyball, banana boating, snorkeling and kayaking. There’s even a pirate-led treasure hunt for the children.
For a hair-raising dose of adrenaline, the canopy tour at Nogalito Eco Park is sure to deliver! Situated on 99 acres of pristine jungle, this attraction boasts the area’s best zipline in town with cables that soar 250 feet above the treetops. You’ll scream with delight while zooming from one platform to the next on this quintessential adventure tour.
For a leisurely getaway from city sights, los Jardines Botanicos de Vallarta are the perfect escape. The gardens are open daily from 10AM to 6 PM, and feature miles of jungle trails brimming with exotic plants and beautiful wildflowers. Wear some comfortable sneakers for a trip to the gardens, which are a 30-minute taxi ride from downtown Puerto Vallarta.
A number of tour operators offer off-road ATV and utility task vehicle adventures through the outskirts of Puerto Vallarta. This is a terrific way for thrill-seekers to experience parts of the city and mountainous jungle. Most excursions include stops for a beach or river swim followed by lunch at a traditional Mexican restaurant. Helmets and safety instruction are provided.
Despite the influx of tourist crowds, Puerto Vallarta retains much of its traditional Mexican heritage. A guided city tour offers insight into the local culture and history, with a visit to local landmarks like the
Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Municipal Market, where you can shop for fresh produce and handicrafts. The day tour includes a stop at a renowned silver artisan workshop followed by a visit to a local tequila distillery where sampling is encouraged.
The island of Rio Cuale is a peaceful oasis that sits within Banderas Bay. Accessed from a series of swinging pedestrian bridges, this quiet island is the place to go for the best souvenir shopping. The shady roads are lined with vendors selling silver trinkets, pottery and ceramics, blankets, hammocks and other fun gifts. There is also a small archaeological museum that displays a large collection of pre-Columbian art and figurines.
One of the most popular Puerto Vallarta activities for families is a visit to Aquaventuras Park, where the little ones can spend hours zipping down water slides and splashing in the pools. Their Sea Lion Discovery program features live interaction (feeding and petting) with these playful marine mammals, as naturalists explain more about their diet and habitat. Kids are sure to love the park’s Dolphin Encounter Program, geared to animal lovers of all ages.