Whether you’re looking for a thrilling water adventure or just a sultry holiday by the beach, Mexico’s stunning seaside and sun-soaked towns can fill in the fun. Indeed, Mexico’s coasts captivate both local and foreign tourists.
While some beaches such as Cancún will satisfy tourists with their Americanized accommodations, Puerto Vallarta offers an exceptional getaway with esteemed authentic Mexican culture.
With its fine beaches, thrilling watersports, and jungle hike trails, Puerto Vallarta chips in a memorable escape from city life.
Puerto Vallarta, a popular Mexican beach resort city, is on the Western coast of Jalisco State in Mexico. At the foot of Sierras Cuale and San Sebastián, it sits on a coastal lowland that oversees the Pacific’s Bahia de Banderas bay.
Puerto Vallarta is a 207-mile drive (around 5 hours) west of Jalisco’s state capital, Guadalajara. It’s also a 33-minute drive south of Bucerias.
Due to its impressive landscapes and the local’s efforts to protect the wildlife, the renowned resort city boasts of many diverse attractions such as pristine beaches, panoramic terrains, marine life, and watersports.
But what makes Puerto Vallarta famous is not only the natural topography but also the vibrant and artistic Mexican culture – a spirited and sought-after experience for vacationers.
Why Visit Puerto Vallarta
Deepest bays and a stunning marine life
Banderas Bay is used as a breeding ground for around 26,000 migrating humpback whales during winter. The best months for whale watching are from mid-December to mid-April.
Puerto Vallarta is home to one of the deepest bays in the world, the Banderas Bay. It spans 26 miles wide and is almost 3,000 feet deep.
Banderas Bay is used as a breeding ground by around 26,000 migrating humpback whales during winter. It’s also home to other wildlife such as jellyfish, minky whales, and orcas.
Want to observe marine life? The best months for whale watching are from mid-December to mid-April.
Moreover, Banderas Bay was a venue for Hollywood movies such as Predator (1987) starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Limitless (2011) with Bradley Cooper. Certainly, that’s just more reasons to pay a visit.
For adventurous souls
Scuba diving, snorkeling, jungle hikes, beach-hopping, and daredevil leisure like ziplining and skydiving – what more would an adventurous soul look for?
Somehow, beach destinations like Cancún and Acapulco shifted their accommodations into a more Americanized feel for foreign tourists.
But in Puerto Vallarta, get to experience the pre-colonial and enchanting towns at street level. Walk around the alleys of Zona Romántica with a food expert guide, and taste the authentic Mexican family recipes from local restaurants and stalls. With the recipes passed down through lineages, the wide variety of flavors will surely satisfy both your tummy and palate.
Escape from the winter weather
Need a winter escape? If you’re hungry for some sunshine, then soak yourself under the pleasant Puerto Vallarta sun. With Puerto Vallarta’s tropical forests and refreshing ocean breeze, even its coldest month provide the perfect warmth. Usually, the temperature drops at no lower than 68.9 °F.
How to Get There
When visiting Puerto Vallarta, you have options to either ride on a plane or get on a cruise. Usually, the more preferred way is to get direct flights from Mexico City (MEX) or Guadalajara (GDL) to Puerto Vallarta’s Licenciado Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport (PVR).
For tourists outside Mexico, Los Angeles (LAX) and Chicago (ORD) accommodate direct flights, too. You can check other direct flights to Puerto Vallarta Airport here. From the PVR airport, you either take a bus, hail a taxi, or book an Uber for a 20-minute ride to Zona Romántica.
On the other hand, if you plan to travel on a cruise, Puerto Vallarta docks three full-sized cruise ships at Marina Vallarta Maritime Terminal. From there, a bus or a car ride for 23 minutes to Zona Romántica would be as easy as it gets.
For first time travelers, taxis are the cheapest and safest mode of transportation. But if you’re getting more comfortable with the place, riding a bus is a cheap option, too.”>For first-time travelers, taxis are the cheapest, safest, and most recommended mode of transportation. But if you’re comfortable with the place, riding a bus is a cheap option, too.
Should You Drive a Car in Puerto Vallarta?
You can. However, if you’re a foreign tourist, it may be risky since signages are mostly written in Spanish. Moreover, finding parking spots, especially in the busy heart of the town center can be quite a hassle. That said, it’s highly recommended to ride a taxis or Uber, instead. It’s cheaper and safer.
Best Time to Visit
Want to whale-watch and experience the mellow Puerto Vallarta sun? Most tourists visit Puerto Vallarta during the winter season (December to March). Yes, it could get a bit crowded during this time, but it’s amazing to experience the cool climate reaching down to 62 °F along with the migrating whales at Banderas Bay.
If you prefer a peaceful getaway, far from the peaking crowd, then the best time to visit Puerto Vallarta is from April to June. It’s mostly sunny with fine weather going between 66 °F and 84 °F.
If there’s a season to avoid, then recoil from visiting during the Holy Week (Semana Santa), which mostly happens in April. It’s a huge holiday in Mexico and most businesses won’t be operating at this time.
Popular Tourist Spots
Stroll around the biggest open-air Mexican gallery in the boardwalk of Malecón. With all the Mexican artistry, bright-colored culture, street performances, statues, and hand-made goods, Malecón brings you to a whole vibrant setting that’s unique in Mexico. Without a spot of car traffic, you can schedule a morning run side by side the relaxing waves from the shore.
Location: Paseo Díaz Ordaz S/N, Centro, 48300 Puerto Vallarta, Jal.
Centro and Zona Romántica
It’s also referred to as the Downtown and Old Town. With wall murals, mosaics in the streets, statues, altars, and local bars – it’s no wonder Centro and Zona Romántica are the liveliest areas in Puerto Vallarta.
It’s basically the central park to appreciate the town’s artistry, architecture, buy amenities, and spend a lively nightlife.
Also, at Lázaro Cárdenas Park in Zona Romántica, locals set up a Farmer’s market to sell their fresh and homegrown produce, hand-made accessories, and freshly-made dishes that satisfy your palate. They operate every Saturday, all year round.
The beaches are the most stunning areas in Puerto Vallarta. If you’re planning a whole trip to PV, of course, you must spend time walking around its picturesque seaside.
There are numerous beaches from the North to the South of Puerto Vallarta. Here are a few of the best beaches:
Glamorous resorts and mansions surround the Punta Mita beach. Of course, it could be more costly than other beaches, but with a private cabana, good service, and great meals, every peso is worth it.
Playa Boca de Tomates
Playa Boca de Tomates have less crowded, friendly locals, and a jungle trail that oversees the beach. However, you might want to avoid it during summer since dirt may drift ashore. Other than summertime, it’s a stunning beach overall.
It’s one of the cleanest beaches to visit within the Hotel Zone and is perfect for snorkelling. On the downside, some areas are covered with rocks and may be discomforting. Nonetheless, there’s still a wide sandy space to just lie and play around.
Boca de Tomatlan
If you’re in Zona Romántica, take a boat ride to Boca de Tomatlan and visit the much quieter southern beaches. From Boca de Tomatlan, adventurous souls can beach-hop and follow hike trails to Colomitos, Quimixto, and Yelapa.
Some of the beautiful beaches you can consider down South are:
- Playa Puntanegra
- Playa Palmares
- Playa Mismaloya
Mirador Cerro Dela Cruz (The Cross on the Hill Lookout)
Mirador Cerro Dela Cruz is simply a staircase hike within the Mexican village. But the surprise lies when you reach the top. At the Mirador lookout, hikers will encounter a picturesque panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean, the beautiful shores, mountain terrains, and the full view of Puerto Vallarta, spanning from north to south.
Los Arcos de Mismaloya
Mismaloya is a collection of little islands that serves as a wildlife refuge.
To protect the wildlife, locals prohibit disturbing the birds, fishing, or damaging the coral reefs.
PV’s approach to nature results in the abundance of fishes, turtles, sea lions, dolphins, rays, and whales.
If you want to get close to the marine life, a local guide can help you with water activities. Aside from the beaches, it’s a striking adventure to paddleboard, kayak, snorkel, and scuba dive under the rock islands’ gigantic caves and arches.
Visit Vallarta Botanical Gardens
Vallarta Botanical Gardens is a privately-owned garden within Zona Romántica. Here, you can grab quality breakfast meals and even drink coffee while interacting with the hummingbirds. Catch sight of the huge diversity of flowers and wildlife.
Best Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta
Taco and Street Food Tour
If you’re visiting Puerto Vallarta, there’s one thing you must never leave out – Tacos! Led by an expert foodie guide, the Taco tour rounds your walk trips to a wide variety of Mexican recipes passed down within families. From tacos to tostadas and other Mexican delicacies, the street foods of Zona Romántica will leave you craving for another bite.
Snorkeling, Paddle boarding, Kayaking, and Scuba Diving
The best months for snorkeling and scuba diving are from November to May. With deep bays connecting to the Pacific Ocean, Puerto Vallarta offers numerous scuba diving spots. Feast your eyes with the rich marine life with fishes, corals, turtles, and rays. Migratory humpback whales also appear in winter.
The best locations for snorkeling and scuba diving are:
- Marietas Island
- Los Arcos de Mismaloya
- Playa Colomitos
- Playa Conchas Chinas
Did you think the fun ends with watersports and nature hikes? Not yet.
Surprisingly, Puerto Vallarta also offers elements of extreme sports like skydiving. With Skydive Vallarta, jump off from the sky while buddied with a professional skydiver.
Shop at Isla Rio Cuale Market
What goes after the trips? Shopping for souvenirs, of course! Separating the Zona Romántica and Centro, lies the Isla Rio Cuale Market. Filled with streams of colorful crafts, tokens, clothes, a cultural center, and a small museum, you will have fun digging for the cutest and most authentic Mexican merchandise here.
Where to Stay:
Zona Romántica (Old Town)
Color, style, arts, and unique restaurants. If you’re more into a traditional, Mexican feel with touches of vibrance, then you can stay within this busy, yet lively Zona Romántica. Here are a few hotels to check out:
- Vallarta Shores Beach Hotel
- Hotel Boutique Rivera Del Rio
- Hotel Porto Allegro Puerto Vallarta
Just like in Zona Romántica, the Centro is filled with pre-colonial architecture. It’s also a busy place with techni-colored walls and murals. You will find more budget-friendly rooms compared to the Hotel Zone:
- Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel & Romantic Getaway
- The Paramar
- Hotel Posada De Roger
Where to Eat:
Sonorita Olas Altas
Enjoy a variety of freshly-made tacos in a cozy restaurant located in Zona Romántica. Sonorita Olas Altas is one of the town’s favorite as they offer their taco specialties, tortas, made with the best meat, and mouth-watering Queso Fundidos.
Location: Pino Suarez #232 Col. Emiliano Zapata, Puerto Vallarta, Jal.
The Green Place
Taking a rest from all the meat or are craving for healthier meals?
Take an 11-minute drive from Zona Romántica and you’ll arrive at The Green Place at Calle Honduras. It’s a cozy and open-air café, mostly popular for its full vegan menu.
From fruit bowls, smoothies, healthy tortillas, and more appetizing vegan delicacies – The Green Place will surely satisfy both your tummy and palate. They sell variations of tea, too.
Location: C. Honduras, 5 de Diciembre, 48350 Puerto Vallarta, Jal., Mexico
If you’re looking for authentic, quality, and freshly-made Mexican dishes, Mexico Latte is a popular restaurant that serves savory platters at reasonable prices.
They have a wide menu and variations for breakfast and lunch meals, coffee, and desserts. Better yet, order delectable chilaquiles for breakfast! Along with the traditional and vibrant Mexican atmosphere, their dishes are absolutely worth coming back.
Juan Tiburón is a great hub for Mexican seafood. It also has vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. For delicious and quality food, Juan Tiburón will fill your tummy with savory Mexican food with top-class serving at a reasonable price.
Here are other restaurants you can find in Zona Romántica: