The sandy beaches and almost perfect weather of Cancún and Tulum have attracted millions of visitors for years, luring everyone from the beach bum to the culture vulture to the dreamy resort towns on the Caribbean coast. But Puerto Vallarta, a city on the Pacific recently recognized by Conde Nast Traveler’s 2019 Readers’ Choice Award as one of the top 20 cities in the world, has proved to be just as worthy – if not more.
Referred to by the locals as “Vallarta,” the striking city is the home of mariachi music, raicilla – the main local drink – and a number of top restaurants. Mix that with charming neighborhoods, historic landmarks and popular tourist attractions, and you have a getaway suitable for families, couples and solo travelers.
Situated on Mexico’s Pacific coast in Jalisco state, Puerto Vallarta is surrounded by the clear waters of Bahía de Banderas (Banderas Bay), lush forests and the ridges of the Sierra Madre. And despite its scenic views, the city has maintained its authenticity. In fact, walk down the cobbled and narrow streets, and you’ll find yourself in some of Puerto Vallarta’s most traditional areas, including the Romantic Zone, known for its lively atmosphere and its range of art galleries, traditional markets and eateries.
Take a guided walking tour
The rich history of Puerto Vallarta can be uncovered in many ways, and one is by joining a walking tour led by a local guide that captures the essence of the city. Starting off outside Hotel Rosita – the city’s first hotel – local tour company Vallarta 101 takes visitors on a city walk from the Malecón all the way to the Romantic Zone downtown. Ideal for first-time visitors, the tour is your introduction to the region, as it makes multiple stops along the way, including at the Parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe, an iconic Catholic church and landmark.
Walk along the Malecón
Like many Latin American cities, Puerto Vallarta is home to a Malecón, a 2.5-mile-long (4km) boardwalk facing the ocean on one side and endless shops, bars and restaurants on the other. Whether you’re looking to enjoy a walk or want to people-watch from one of the many benches, the Malecón is a hotspot that comes to life when darkness sets. As people flock to grub on food or sip on a margarita or two at a local beach bar, you’ll be surrounded by welcoming residents looking to spark a conversation out of curiosity.
Explore a private beach
Imagine being on a private beach getaway surrounded by nature and clear water where you can take part in activities like zip-lining, riding a banana boat or swimming with dolphins. Not convinced? Throw in a cooking class with an ocean view, a mezcal tasting paired with unexpected snacks or a scuba-diving session, and you’ll find yourself at Las Caletas. The secluded beach, once the home of film director John Huston, is a hideaway accessible only by boat. With a mix of jungle-like and other tropical settings, hours or even a full day can be spent here as there’s a lot to uncover.
Ride through the jungle and up the mountains
Packed with adventure, the Canopy River beckons to adrenaline junkies and nature lovers alike. Offering unbeatable panoramic views of the mountainous region, the river valley places you between three mountain peaks of the Sierra Madre. Zip-line from one mountain to another, ride in an RZR through the jungle, drive an ATV up the mountains, or ride across Jorullo Bridge – a suspension bridge built 490 feet (150 meters) above the ground.
Immerse yourself in wildlife and plants at the botanical garden
With its luxuriant and quiet surroundings, the Vallarta Botanical Gardens are a hidden oasis located 20 miles (30km) from Puerto Vallarta. Run by a non-profit organization, the imposing gardens are home to over 3,000 plants, mostly native flora including orchids and cacti. While there are endless plants and trees to see and learn about, from cocoa pods to agave – the main ingredient used for tequila, raicilla and mezcal – there is much more to uncover here. Unravel the nature of this 64-acre (26-hectare) area by hiking along the many trails, taking a swim in Rio Los Horcones or having a meal at Hacienda de Oro restaurant. As you dine on the top floor of the main building, you’ll be surrounded by colorful hummingbirds flying around while enjoying a panoramic view of the jungle-like forest.
Mexico is known for its delicious food: from tacos and burritos to enchiladas and huevos a la mexicana (Mexican-style scrambled eggs). Offering a mix of cheap and tasty dishes that can be found everywhere from canteens to food trucks, the city is also home to a great number of top fine-dining restaurants.
At Café des Artistes, diners are invited into an elegant and sophisticated space with glass decorations hanging from the ceiling; live piano and violin music adds to the already over-the-top ambience. Serving a fusion of French and Mexican dishes, the restaurant – run by French chef Thierry Blouet – has five areas, each decorated with its own aesthetic.
At Jardín Nebulosa, situated in the historic town of San Sebastián del Oeste, guests are invited to a tropically designed venue situated close to the mountains. With a large back garden and an outdoor water wall, the eatery feels like an oasis, offering a tranquil dining experience. Run by chef Nicolás Cano, the venue serves dishes made from locally sourced ingredients and crafts its own drinks, from beers to raicilla to mezcal.
For a cultural experience that involves local food and drinks, a visit to La Lulú is recommended. Stepping into this bar and restaurant will feel like a home rather than an eatery thanks to its distinctive decor, from the rustic furniture to the colorful pieces of art hanging in each room. Tasty Mexican dishes, prepared by chef Guillermo ‘Memo’ Wulff, are on offer and can be paired with a wide range of drinks including raicilla – the drink of the city.
You can’t come to Mexico and not have tacos. One of the country’s traditional dishes, it can be found everywhere; however, to discover the different ranges available in Puerto Vallarta, a walking food tour is recommended. Go food hopping in the evening by visiting restaurants and food trucks for a taste of the best tacos in town. Made from different ingredients, from pork to beef to seafood, the tacos showcased by the tour are an easy and authentic way to discover Mexico through its cuisine.
Linda Konde was hosted by the Puerto Vallarta Official Tourism Board on a press trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.