Puerto Vallarta is a relaxed, beachside town on the coast of Jalisco, Mexico, that has long been popular with tourists from all over the world. Once you’ve explored the Top 10 Restaurants in the area, walked the famous malecón, and explored the twisting and turning backstreets, what remains? Read our guide to the top ten things to do to find out.
Formed thousands of years ago by volcanic activity, these uninhabited islands lie just off the coast of Nayarit, Mexico. Having long been popular with tourists, Las Islas Marietas are accessed only during low tide and via tours from both Puerto and Nuevo Vallarta, and the trip is well worth it. After the hour-long boat journey, all passengers jump into the water, with snorkels, to observe the vibrant and varied marine life around them before swimming to the breathtakingly beautiful protected beach. Due to the unique method of access, visiting these islands would only be recommended for good/strong swimmers. Visitors between December and march may even be lucky enough to spot humpback whales.
Recently remodeled, for lack of a better word, the Cerro de la Cruz is the peak of a steep and sweaty climb that affords absolutely astounding views of all Puerto Vallarta. The aforementioned remodeling included adding a more user- friendly viewing platform, making it easier to access for those perhaps more unfamiliar with the area. Be warned that the half-hour climb may leave you questioning why you ever agreed to participate in the first place, but it is most definitely worth it. Prepare to sweat, and bring a decent sized bottle of water and some good shoes.
Further out from the center of Vallarta, snaking down the coastal road towards the south of the state, you’ll find the Vallarta Botanical Gardens. Often underrated and ignored by holidaymakers in this pretty town, these gardens are spectacular. Marvel at the orchid house, which plays host to over one hundred species of orchids, follow the jungle-like trails that run through the gardens (stopping to read the names of the trees you pass by), make your way down to the river, and after all that, stop by the onsite restaurant for a snack or a drink. Before you leave, don’t forget to catch a glimpse of the numerous koi fish in the ponds.
Scared of heights? What better way to conquer your fear than by zip-lining over some absolutely gorgeous valleys and forests in the heart of the jungle? There are several tour companies offering canopy tours in a variety of locations, but we recommend Los Veranos Canopy Tours, due to all the added extras. After enjoying the canopy tour itself, with incredibly chatty guides who speak English and Spanish, you will be invited to a small tequila tasting, and can even hold the snakes, marmosets, and tarantulas that live in the mini zoo by the bar. Enjoy a beer overlooking the river, or take a quick dip if you don’t mind freezing cold water, before heading home.
Wind down after a day of adventure by visiting the docks at the marina in Puerto Vallarta. Littered with a slew of great dining options and bars, it’s the perfect place to gaze out at the night sky and the twinkly lights of the boats that are docked there. It’s also great for a romantic stroll, wandering up and down the dock and soaking up the atmosphere. More relaxed in the evening, but also busier, the marina should be visited during the day for those who would prefer to bike or roller blade. Sunscreen is also recommended, as there is very little shade if you go at midday.
As a rule, the beaches improve the farther from the center of Vallarta you venture. Avoid the popular and most well-known Puerto Vallarta beach, Los Muertos, in favor of more tranquil, authentic, and beautiful sandy delights. Always tourist-filled, crowded, and with coarser sand than other beaches on the Jalisco coast, Los Muertos is only worth a fleeting visit on your way to one of the better beaches in the area. Playa Las Gemelas is located just outside Vallarta and has powdery sand, turquoise waters, and is much less populated on weekdays. As you would with any beach, stay vigilant for strong tides, jellyfish, and submerged rocks, but most of all, enjoy the calm atmosphere and stunning surroundings.
What is one of the most awe-inspiring places to snorkel on the west coast of Mexico? Just off Los Arcos, the magnificent rock formations familiar to all who have visited Puerto Vallarta. Dominating the horizon, Los Arcos are the most popular place to snorkel in the Bahía de Banderas, and with good reason. There is a huge variety of tropical fish, rays, octopus, and lobster to be seen here, so taking snorkeling or diving tours out to Los Arcos will not disappoint. A perfect activity for all the family, tours include snorkeling first in more open waters and then moving on to a cove to search for rays, eels, and plenty more vibrant fish.
Puerto Vallarta Tours, +52 322 222 4935
Release Turtles in Nuevo Vallarta
Another excellent day trip to take if you’re vacationing in Puerto Vallarta is the journey to Nuevo Vallarta to take part in a conservation project and release baby sea turtles. Again, there are several companies offering these types of conservation projects, but one of the best is with Puerto Vallarta Tours, as they offer year round visits allowing you to participate in this wonderful and not widely-available project. With a cost of $44, all transportation, snacks, and English- speaking guides are included, but can you really put a price on interacting with and helping such a majestic species thrive in the wild?
Sayulita is hip beach town situated in bordering state Nayarit that has been overrun by ex-pats and tourists. If you’re looking for off-the-beaten-track suggestions, Sayulita, famous for its surfing and all-night raves, is not the place for you. Having said that, we still think Sayulita is well worth a visit for anyone who loves to surf and even those who’ve never even tried it, as all along the beach there are small businesses offering reasonably priced surfboard rental, or bodyboard rental for the more horizontally inclined among us, and lessons. It also helps that the town itself is colorful, quaint, and friendly. About an hour and twenty minutes on the bus from Vallarta, a return will cost you 70 pesos or about $4 US (as of 2015).
Puerto Vallarta can be a costly place to visit, so if you’re running short on cash, or just fancy a picturesque day out, the walk from Boca de Tomatlán to Las Animas is highly recommended. After taking the bus from Vallarta’s center to Boca, cross the beach and the river, then follow the arrows. Around two hours in total, this walk is the perfect way to really appreciate the beautiful and pretty unique combination of beach, mountains, and jungle that Puerto Vallarta has to offer, which is often overlooked in favor of a reclining sun lounger and a cold beer. If you don’t want to complete the hike all at once or at all, there are plenty of scenic beaches to enjoy on the way, or just hang out on the perfectly lovely beach in Boca.