If you’ve been thinking about jetting down to a top-notch Mexican resort, odds are you’ve stumbled across plenty of options in Puerto Vallarta. Known for its beautiful boardwalk (malecón), world-class resorts, and stunning bay contrasted by the Sierra Madre mountains to the east, Puerto Vallarta is certainly worth the trip. Between water sports, hiking, sun-tanning, and partying, there’s something for everyone here.
We’ve been to most of the popular beach destinations in Mexico, and we included Puerto Vallarta on our list of the best beach destinations in Mexico. Whether you’ve already been to the Vallartas, or you’ve planned a trip and are wondering what to do, or you’re still deciding where in Mexico you want to spend your beach getaway, this post is for you!
The Best Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta
One of the best parts about Puerto Vallarta is how relaxed and tranquil the place is. There are countless things to do, but you’re able to do them all at your own pace. The beaches are nice and not overly loud, the town is beautiful, and the overall vibe is one of the best in Mexico. There’s a reason this place is so popular both with travelers on vacation and expats!
1. Walk Along El Malecón
Malecón is the Spanish word for boardwalk, and this boardwalk is definitely worth the time! Not only is it convenient to get to (it’s right in the middle of town), it’s also very fun. Lined by the Pacific Ocean to the west and restaurants, bars, and shops of all kinds to the east, you could spend every evening here without running out of things to do. There is some great street food along the Malecón in the evenings, and if that’s your vibe check out our Mexican Street Food Guide!
Also, several of the restaurants have a second-story with an outdoor terrace, and we fully recommend getting a table for dinner to watch the sunset over the Pacific. We grabbed a drink and appetizer at La Dolce Vita and sat at a window-facing table with a magnificent view over the bay. If you’re looking to party, there are great happy hour deals along the Malecón as well as some great bars and clubs at night. Señor Frogs, anyone?
2. Head North to Sayulita
Once off the beaten-path, Sayulita has boomed as a boho-haven. It is a Pueblo Magico, which means it finds itself on the list of significantly special towns recognized by the Mexican government. While the beaches here aren’t very impressive at all, the surfing is known to be incredible and the town is absolutely gorgeous. Acai and Poke Bowls are two of our favorite foods and stopping by a place called Organi-K is definitely a good move! We recommend checking out Sayulita as a day trip during your Puerto Vallarta vacation, but no longer unless you’re surfing. It’s definitely worth the day trip, but we think that staying there too long would waste time that could be better spent in Puerto Vallarta! You can either take a bus or an Uber here; if you’re willing to brave the heat (there is no air conditioning), the bus is about 10 times cheaper and arrives in pretty much the same amount of time!
3. Hang Out in the Zona Romantica
The Zona Romantica is a neighborhood of Puerto Vallarta that is absolutely worth visiting. Known for its quaint cafes, boutique hotels, lively bars and top-notch restaurants, this is an ideal place to stay if you don’t want to stay in the Hotel Zone. If you enjoy craft beers, Los Muertos Brewing is in this area, and their bar is definitely worth stopping in. Their prices are reasonable, their food is very good, and their beers are fantastic. Craft beer is a relatively new concept in Mexico, and outside of Tijuana it is often hard to find a good craft brewery. Grab a flight or two to experience a little bit of everything! The Zona Romantica is beautiful and you can safely wander the streets to find almost anything you’re looking for. There are also a lot of street vendors here.
4. Marvel at the Large Whale Population
If you’re heading to Puerto Vallarta during the winter or the early part of spring, seeing the whales up close and personal is a must-do! The humpback whales from up north head south to the warm waters of the Mexican coast to feed and breed during the winter. If you go on a whale-watching tour, you’re likely to see several humpback whales elegantly jumping and swimming right around your boat. There’s also a good chance that you’ll see some other beautiful aquatic animals like dolphins and orcas! This is an unforgettable experience, and we definitely recommend trying it out if you are in Puerto Vallarta during the winter!
5. Hop Around the Remote Beaches in the South
While there are good beaches right along the town, you’d be remiss not to check out the other beaches in the area. The small towns and villages outside of the main Puerto Vallarta area are fantastic, and depending what you’re looking for, they may even be better. The water is clearer, the sand is finer, and depending on the time of day you can definitely find a stretch of beach to have all for yourself. To get to these beaches, you’ll need to take either a bus, taxi, or Uber to the town of Bocas de Tomatlan. While Uber is always the easiest and taxis are never the safest, we always prefer to travel by bus. You’ll pay somewhere between 25 and 50 cents each way and the ride isn’t all that long.
6. Hike to Las Animas Beach (and Beyond!)
If you’ve decided to listen to our advice from number 5, this is a creative way to do it! Instead of taking the water taxis, you can actually hike to one of the local favorite beaches, Las Animas. If you like this idea, first you’ll need to get to Bocas de Tomatlán, as if you were going to take a water taxi. From there you can grab the hiking trail which will lead you to Las Animas after about 2.5 miles of very easy hiking through the jungle and mountain path. This option is a lot of fun, and you’ll see plenty of quaint beaches along the way. If you’re not up for a round-trip hike just grab a one-way water taxi to get back to Bocas de Tomatlán!
7. Go Surfing in Puerto Vallarta’s Famous Waves
We aren’t really surfers, so this one isn’t really our area of expertise. However, we’ve heard that some of the best surfing in the world is on Mexico’s pacific coast, and we also know that Puerto Vallarta is one of the most popular pacific destinations in Mexico! Judging by the waves that we saw, it makes plenty of sense. There are so many beaches up and down the Puerto Vallarta area, and the waves really vary depending on which beach you’re at. If you’re looking to surf, head up north to Sayulita or the towns further north as the waves are strong and the beaches are less crowded!
8. Try Some Top-Shelf Local Tequila
Who doesn’t love tequila? Tequila is one of Mexico’s treasures, and Puerto Vallarta is very close to its birthplace. Tequila was first made in the town of Tequila, which is about 4 hours to the east of Puerto Vallarta. While this is a bit too far for a day trip, there is a ton to do there and it may be worth tacking a day or two on to the end of your trip! If you choose to do this, book your flight home out of Guadalajara. You’ll probably get a cheaper rate, and Guadalajara is only an hour away from Tequila. If you don’t have the time for this side-trip, don’t worry! The proximity to the blue agave region means that Puerto Vallarta has plenty of awesome tequila tour options within itself. Whether you’re a tequila lover or not, this is worth the experience!
9. Eat at World-Class Restaurants Serving All Types of Cuisines
Puerto Vallarta’s popularity with international tourists has led to a boom in its culinary sector. While it is mostly known for its beaches, Puerto Vallarta has also gained a reputation as a gastronomic hub. There are actually a lot of Michelin Stars in this area! Whether you like Caribbean, European, American, Mexican, or Asian food, you’ll have plenty of options. Mexico’s first-ever Michelin star was actually awarded in Puerto Vallarta, and not in the 24-million-person metropolis of Mexico City. If your wallet allows, try out the Café de Artistes!
10. Spend a Day on Los Muertos Beach
Every major beach resort city has its main beach, and in Puerto Vallarta, that beach is Playa de Los Muertos. Los Muertos stretches along a long portion of the city’s coastline and you’ll find outstanding restaurants all along the way. Los Muertos is also partially adjacent to the Malecon, meaning literally anything you need is in close proximity. The food in this area is great, the beach bars serve drinks with good prices, and you just can’t beat the proximity to the city. If you’re looking for a beautiful beachside meal, check out La Palapa. If you want a great place to spend the day with reasonable drink and food prices, we recommend Fidencio’s. They have no minimum spending requirement, and their chairs and tables are free.
How to Get to Puerto Vallarta
Getting to Puerto Vallarta is about as easy as it gets.
How to Get Around Puerto Vallarta
UBER | BUS
Uber works perfectly in Puerto Vallarta, and that would be our transportation method of choice when traveling within areas in Puerto Vallarta. However, if you go to Bocas de Tomatlán to catch a water taxi or Sayulita for a fun getaway, we highly recommend the bus. While Uber is cheap and very convenient in Mexico, it’s hard to beat a 50-cent bus. Some of the buses look a little sketchy, but they’re totally fine. Just exercise precautions and don’t flash too many expensive things, as they’re naturally a bit less safe than an Uber.
We always recommend steering clear of taxis. They’re an unnecessary safety risk, and Uber is usually cheaper anyway. Most Ubers within the town of Puerto Vallarta won’t cost you any more than a couple bucks, and the air conditioning always feels great on a warm, sunny day in the Bay of Banderas! You could also choose to rent a car so that you can explore the area a bit more freely. If you’ve heard stories about corrupt Mexican police and are worried about dealing with them while you’re driving, check out our post with tips for dealing with corrupt cops.
Is Puerto Vallarta Worth Visiting?
As one of the most popular beach destinations in Mexico, you’ve probably heard many great things about Puerto Vallarta. Visitors tend to love this area, and most people come home with nothing but good things to say. However, while everyone’s opinion is generally positive, is Puerto Vallarta worth visiting when there are so many other amazing beach destinations in Mexico? Is Puerto Vallarta better than Los Cabos?
I think it is hard to make comparisons like this, because each resort city in Mexico has a very different vibe to it. Cancun, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, Tulum, and the Oaxaca coast are all outstanding places to visit, but some options are better than others, depending on who you are. I think that Puerto Vallarta is worth visiting regardless of who you are, but even more so for families that are located in the western half of the United States. Puerto Vallarta is very family-friendly, and it is a bit less luxurious (still very nice, of course) than Los Cabos. To us, Los Cabos felt much more glamorous, but the prices reflected that vibe. Puerto Vallarta is very affordable, accessible, and is a great destination for families with young kids or teenagers.
Is Puerto Vallarta Safe to Visit?
Many travelers who have never been to Mexico before worry about safety. There is a popular belief that Mexico is safe “as long as you stay on the resort.” I have mentioned time and time again that this belief is one of the biggest errors you can possible make on a trip to Mexico. There is no resort city in Mexico where the resorts are better than the surrounding city. While resorts all over Mexico are absolutely gorgeous, it is blatantly wrong to think that there is danger lurking right outside the resort’s grounds.
In fact, it is consistently ranked as one of the safest cities in all of Mexico. If you decide not to leave your resort, you will be doing yourself a grave disservice. The real fun of Mexico is all found outside the walls of glamorous beach resorts, and we hope that this post has inspired you with ideas to make your trip to Puerto Vallarta memorable!
That’s all we have for you! Hopefully this guide helps you make the most of your Puerto Vallarta vacation. If you have any questions be sure to drop a comment in the comment section or shoot us an email at [email protected] or DM us on Instagram @the.present.perspective.