Once an unknown fishing village, the coastal city of Puerto Vallarta in Mexico was transformed in the mid-1960s, when Hollywood power couple Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor moved to the area, bringing the international spotlight with them. Since then, the once quiet town has drawn an endless stream of tourists. The resort boasts world-class hotels and restaurants, but what really attracts tourism is the beautiful beaches. Grab a margarita and flop on a sun lounger at one of these pristine beaches on Mexico’s Pacific coast – here are our top recommendations.
Las Gemelas, like the name implies – it means “the twins” – are a pair of semi-secluded beaches about 20 minutes south of the Puerto Vallarta city center. The beaches are small and typically not crowded – you won’t find snack vendors, tour guides or surf instructors here. This also means you’ll need to pack everything you need before you hit the beach, and scout out a nearby bathroom. However, the privacy and slow-moving blue-green waters here make it a worthwhile stop.
Playa Camarones, or Shrimp Beach, is prime surf and sand, just off the boardwalk lining downtown PV. Hang out on the shore – check out the shops, bars and seafood restaurants along the way – or get adventurous and opt for paddleboarding, jet skiing or parasailing in the water. The sand is soft, so you may want to stay in one place all afternoon long, or move to the beach’s southside where fly fishers post up in hopes of a prime catch.
The Marietas Islands hold Puerto Vallarta’s “hidden beach,” perhaps now one of the worst-kept secrets in the area. Also known as Lover’s Beach, the shore is formed inside an underground crater, creating a small beach amid the rocky Redonda Island. Accessible only by boat, the Marietas Islands are popular among scuba divers, snorkelers and birdwatchers. Spots are limited, so you’ll have to make a reservation ahead of time – most groups take off from Punta de Mita, a short drive north of Puerto Vallarta.
Playa Flamingos is popular among residents of the Flamingos private resort-condo complex on the shore, but the beach is accessible to all. Stretching eight miles along the coast of Nuevo Vallarta, Flamingos Beach is reportedly the longest and widest walkable beach in the whole Bahias Bay. Kayaks, boogie boards and banana boats can all be rented from nearby stands, and if you visit in season, you can see and even assist in the beach’s turtle release program.
At the north end of Puerto Vallarta’s Hotel Zone, the Playa de Oro gets its name from a famed hotel that once stood along the beach’s shores, before the resorts moved in. Its legacy lives on through the beach, a gold-standard for relaxation. The beach is about 15 minutes from downtown Puerto Vallarta, and is easily accessible from nearby streets. Before you leave, pop into the tiny artisan market by the entrance, where you can pick up some souvenirs to take home with you.
Another hidden beach accessible only by boat, Las Caletas – the Coves – features a craggy shoreline lined with hammocks and surrounded by thick jungle. The beach is private, so you’ll have to book a trip out there. Once you arrive, staff wait at the ready to serve up drinks, and can point you to other activities like scuba diving, snorkeling with sea lions and guided nature walks. Kids can choose from a zip line, donkey rides and swinging bridges at the beach’s adventure park.
Mostly locals venture out to this beach, about a 15-minute drive from Puerto Vallarta’s southside. Some condos sit just off the shore, but otherwise, other tourists aren’t flocking here. There are plenty of amenities, however, including restaurants and vendors right on the beach. The clear, blue-green waters are calm, and perfect for relaxing or boogie-boarding all afternoon.
Stephen Woodman contributed additional reporting to this article.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay, why not book into one of the best boutique hotels in Puerto Vallarta? Or perhaps one of the best resorts? For more inspiration while you’re in town, check out the top things to do. And don’t miss out on the top restaurants in Puerto Vallarta.
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