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The Ultimate Guide to Puerto Vallarta

We love Puerto Vallarta! With so much to see and do, delicious food, amazing beaches, perfect sunny days and friendly locals, the Puerto Vallarta area has become our absolute favorite area to visit in Mexico. Whether you are just looking to stay put at a wonderful resort or spend your days day tripping around the area, Puerto Vallarta is an amazing place to spend a week or two for an unforgettable vacation. Below is how we spend two weeks exploring this beautiful corner of Mexico.

Silouette of palm trees with sunset over the ocean in Puerto Vallarta.
Tropical Paradise in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

TABLE OF CONTENTS - Things to Do and See While Visiting Puerto Vallarta


 

PUERTO VALLARTA OR NUEVO VALLARTA

When planning a trip to Puerto Vallarta, it is good to know the difference between Puerto Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta. As you begin your search for a place to stay - you will come across a lot of options that are actually in Nuevo Vallarta and it's important to understand the differences so you aren't surprised when you show up to your resort/hotel. The big thing to note is that Nuevo Vallarta is a separate area north of Puerto Vallarta and is not really a town but more of a modern strip of resorts. So it really depends on what you are looking for in a vacation - staying in Puerto Vallarta is going to provide you with a more authentic Mexican atmosphere as Puerto Vallarta is a bustling town that has tourist resorts and activities within it. As for Nuevo Vallarta, you do not have an actual town in the area, yes a few restaurants have popped up out in Nuevo Vallarta and the area is beautiful but it lacks in the authentic Mexican feel that Puerto Vallarta offers - but the resorts found here can be absolutely wonderful. If your goal is to spend your time relaxing at a resort along a beautiful beach, Nuevo Vallarta offers lots of great options! We have spent time in both areas and enjoyed both thoroughly - the choice is yours!

Palm tree with tropical sunset in Puerto Vallarta.
Perfect end to a perfect day in beautiful Puerto Vallarta


 


OUR FAVORITE PLACES TO STAY

Over the years we have visited a number of resorts in Puerto Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta and have enjoyed them all! Here are a few that we would recommend:


Puerto Vallarta:


Nuevo Vallarta:




 


STROLL THE MALECON

A walk along Puerto Vallarta's Malecon is one of the best things to do while visiting Puerto Vallarta - the mile long boardwalk along Banderas Bay offers the perfect way to get out and enjoy this great area. Along the way you will enjoy ocean views, endless restaurants and shops and the wonderful sculptures that line the Malecon. These sculptures are found about every 100 feet along the way - a lot of the sculptures are meant to touch and climb on and provide for some fun photo opportunities. In addition to the sculptures, numerous cultural events fill this area including street performers, sand sculptures along the beach and free shows and events at the Los Arcos Amphitheater. Heading off the boardwalk a little will take you towards the beautiful Church of Our Lady Guadalupe - take a peak inside if mass is not in session as it's a beautiful church! So much to see in this wonderful area of Puerto Vallarta!


 

ISLA CUALE

From the Malecon, walk south until you reach a bridge that will take you down to Isla Cuale or Isla del Rio Cuale. This small narrow island located in the middle of Cuale River is a great place to stroll and do a bit of shopping. Almost hidden, this small area is a joy to wander thru - restaurants, a distillery, a flea market and a plaza dedicated to director John Huston fill the island and create a fun place to do some souvenir shopping and exploring. As you walk thru the flea market you are under the cover of rubber trees and palm trees which creates a shady reprieve from the hot sun making this a great place to stop for a drink or ice cream. If you have the time - make sure and include this fun area while exploring downtown Puerto Vallarta!

Souvenir vendors, palm trees and rubber trees in Puerto Vallarta's Isla Cuale.
Strolling thru Isla Cuale looking for the perfect souvenir

 

WANDER THRU GRINGO GULCH

From Isla Cuale you can walk up Iguana Bridge which will take you to what is known as Gringo Gulch. Climbing up the steep stairs will take you into an upscale residential neighborhood that offer great views back over downtown Puerto Vallarta. The neighborhood first became famous in the 1950s when Hollywood stars such as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton lived here and eventually the area became known as Gringo Gulch. Spend some time wandering the cobblestone streets, seeing the traditional architecture and enjoying the stunning views around the area! Make sure and look for famous Casa Kimberley which was owned by Elizabeth Taylor and the pink bridge that spans the road connecting the main house to the pool house.



 




THE ROMANTIC ZONE

Continuing south past Isla Cuale brings you to Puerto Vallarta's Romantic Zone. Also known as Old Town Puerto Vallarta, this area is brimming with delicious restaurants, great shops and art galleries. Wandering the cobblestone streets of this area is a pure delight - especially at night time. Some of our favorite restaurants are actually located in this area including El Mole de Jovita, El Sinto Tacos and Pancho's Tacos. Although the line may be long for each of these restaurants - the wait is well worth it! While the Romantic Zone is a great place to find some amazing restaurants, it is also known for it's popular Los Muertos Beach. Located along Los Muertos Beach is Los Muertos Pier which is a hub for catching water taxis to other towns and beaches along Banderas Bay. If you happen to visit the Romantic Zone after dark - take a walk down to the pier and enjoy the view at night!



 

PARASAIL

Found at almost any beach location along the Puerto Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta coastline are the local vendors offering parasail rides. Pulled behind a speedboat at high speed you are gently lifted up above the sparkling waters of Banderas Bay - bring your camera or binoculars to enjoy the great birds-eye views. Along the beach you are able to barter a price for your parasail ride, or for those wanting to pre-book with a company, numerous operators offer single and double seat parasailing such as Puerto Vallarta Tours.

Man parasailing with a bright yellow parasail and bright blue sky.
Having a blast parasailing over Puerto Vallarta


 

DAY TRIP TO MARIETAS ISLANDS

Marietas Islands is one of the more memorable boat tours we have taken while visiting Puerto Vallarta and should be on your list of must do adventures. The Marietas Islands have now been protected and are part of the Isla Marietas National Park. We booked ourselves a tour thru Vallarta Adventures on the Hidden Beach Island Discovery Tour and had an amazing time! While snorkeling and scuba diving are popular activities while visiting the Marietas Islands - the highlight of our time visiting the islands was getting to visit Lover's Beach. This hidden beach can only be reached by swimming thru a cave as you time the waves and then pop up inside a cavern that opens to the sky with a small beach inside - breathtaking! Ironically this hidden gem was actually created when the military used to own the islands and used the islands for bombing practices. Today what is left behind is a beautiful hidden cavern that is truly a memorable experience for those adventurous enough to venture out to see it! In addition to getting to visit Lover's Beach, the tour also includes some time snorkeling and kayaking around Marietas Islands as well as some time viewing/looking for humpback whales. While the price may be a bit steep, it was well worth it! We truly enjoyed out time on this tour and would highly recommend it!


 

SNORKEL TRIP TO LOS ARCOS

One of the most popular boat trips offered in the Puerto Vallarta area is the snorkel trip out to Los Arcos. Located in Banderas Bay, this popular spot is a hub for scuba diving, snorkeling and sightseeing. Named for the granite islands located just off shore from La Jolla de Mismaloya, the area is actually a National Park - the Los Arcos Marine Park, which was created in 1984. There is only a small amount of coral here, but the rocky bottom offers plenty of tropical fish, eel and even octopus if you are lucky! Endless tour boats provide an opportunity to visit the area from private kayak trips to large catamarans full of people - just pick the tour that suits your needs. Many of the tours stop at Los Arcos as part of a full day tour that includes on with stops in the south of Banderas Bay such as Las Animas or Majahuitas. For us, the weather had been a bit windy/rainy just before our snorkel trip making the visibility a bit rough - next time we visit Puerto Vallarta, this is a trip we'd like to re-do so that we hopefully could have better snorkeling conditions!

Large rocky island in the waters off Puerto Vallarta known as Los Arcos.
Puerto Vallarta's Los Arcos - a perfect for snorkeling and scuba-diving.


 

LA JOLLA DE MISMALOYA

Just south of Los Arcos you will find La Jolla de Mismaloya. If you are looking for a day trip outside of the main hub of Puerto Vallarta - this is a great spot to visit! La Jolla de Mismaloya was actually the location of the famous 1964 film 'Night of the Iguana' directed by John Huston that helped put Puerto Vallarta on the map as a tourist destination. Today La Jolla de Mismayloya is no longer the sleepy fishing village it was, but visiting the beach here is still fantastic! Just before reaching the turn off towards La Jolla de Mismaloya there is a overlook that offers great views out over the bay. Stopping at the overlook offers a chance to do some souvenir shopping at the local vendor stalls and even take a picture with an iguana! Continuing on down to the beach you will find a large resort that was previously known as La Jolla De Mismaloya, numerous small beachfront restaurants and a beautiful beach lined with the lush green jungle on each side. After spending some time enjoying the beach, walk along the south side of the bay along the small trail - the views from here are stunning!


 

GO ON A DUNE BUGGY ADVENTURE

For those looking for a bit of adventure - go on a Dune Buggy Adventure! We had an absolute blast on this half day tour! Plan on getting wet and dirty on this adventure - which adds to the fun! Driving thru downtown Puerto Vallarta as you leave on your tour is an adventure in itself! Once you have left behind the busy city streets, you head out along the Puerto Vallarta Coastal Highway and then up a dirt road to El Eden. Driving and riding in these dune buggies was a pure thrill! After reaching El Eden you will spend some time swimming and exploring this beautiful area - for fans of the movie 'Predator' with Arnold Schwarzenegger - this was the site of the filming. The tour then includes a stop in El Nogalito at a local Tequila factory named Tequila Don Tadeo where you can sample and purchase local made Tequila - the chocolate and almond flavors were awesome! Just don't sample too much - as you do have to drive your dune buggy back!




 

DISCOVER YELAPA

One of the best day trips from Puerto Vallarta is to visit the secluded beach town of Yelapa. Located on the southern portion of Banderas Bay at the foot of the Sierra Madre Mountains, in a secluded cove that can only be reached by boat ride - Yelapa is a must do when visiting the Puerto Vallarta area. What makes this area unique is the fact that major tourism has not taken over the quaint little town - yes tour boats do frequent the area and there can be large groups exploring the area but the town itself has remained authentic. No cars, no chain restaurants or hotels, no OXXO convenience stores - only local small businesses offer a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of close by Puerto Vallarta. Yelapa offers a wonderful way to sit back and take in the beauty of Banderas Bay as it was before major development, and that is exactly why we LOVE visiting Yelapa. Click Here to read more about visiting Yelapa.

Picture perfect view of Yelapa bay lined with flowers around the edges of the view.
Paradise found at Yelapa!

 

ONE DAY IN SAYULITA

Located in the Riviera Nayarit, about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta along the Pacific Ocean, this picturesque town is a true Mexican gem. Known for it's surf vibe, thriving ex-pat community, beautiful beaches, colorful town and friendly locals - Sayulita is one of our favorite places to visit in Mexico! Click Here is read more about visiting Sayulita.

Looking down from a cliffside over the rocky cliffs to beautiful Playa Sayulita.
One of our favorite places in Mexico - Sayulita!

 

VISIT SAN PANCHO

Also located in Riviera Nayarit, just north of Sayulita, the town of San Pancho is a hidden gem! Relatively unknown, this small town is a true Mexican paradise. If you look for San Pancho on most maps, you won't even find it - as the official name of the town is San Francisco. So why is it called San Pancho by most people instead of San Francisco? Well, Pancho is actually a nickname for a person named Francisco, therefore the town itself was given the same nickname and today locals and tourists alike refer to the town as San Pancho. If you are looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of Puerto Vallarta, San Pancho is a wonderful day trip or even vacation destination. While the town itself has grown over the years as more and more as people find out about this paradise, it does still retain that small town feel with a laid back vibe. Click Here to read more about visiting San Pancho.

Golden sands, blue waters and umbrellas line the beach at Playa San Pancho, Mexico.
Inviting golden sands of Playa San Pancho.





 

EXPLORING THE RIVIERA NAYARIT

In addition to Sayulita and San Pancho, there are numerous other towns along the Riviera Nayarit that can be explored. The Riviera Nayarit actually encompasses a 200 mile stretch of coastline north of Puerto Vallarta and is dotted with beautiful beaches and laid back beach towns that provide for a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of Puerto Vallarta. We spent a day taking in the sights of Bucerias, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Punta de Mita/El Anclote Beach and Destiladeras Beach. Click Here to read more about exploring the Riviera Nayarit.

A cliffside lined with cactus looks out over a deserted golden sands beach in the Riviera Nayarit, Mexico.
Another beautiful beach along the Riviera Nayarit.

 

VISIT LAS ANIMAS

For another great day trip, spending a day at Las Animas Beach is a must do! Did you know that there are numerous beaches located south of Puerto Vallarta that are only accessible by boat? In fact, these are some of the most beautiful beaches in the area with crystal clear waters, great snorkeling and will provide for a memorable day in paradise! Located along the southern portion of Banderas Bay, Las Animas Beach is absolutely stunning! Click Here to read more about visiting Las Animas.

Golden sands, rocky shores and palm trees creat a beautiful beach scene in Las Animas located just south of Puerto Vallarta.
Paradise found in Las Animas!



 


HIKE TO LOS COLOMITOS & OCEAN GRILL

Located just south of Boca de Tomatlan is the hidden gem of Los Colomitos Beach. This secluded little beach is tucked into a beautiful cove surrounded by the lush tropical jungle and even includes a small waterfall. There are only two ways to reach this beautiful area - one is to take a water taxi from Boca de Tomatlan or you can hike to Los Colomitos. For our adventure to visit Los Colomitos, we hiked to get there and then took the water taxi back. First off though, you must get yourself to Boca de Tomatlan - this can be done by catching one of the local buses in Puerto Vallarta (plan on about 30 minutes) or you can catch a water taxi from the Los Muertos Pier in Puerto Vallarta to reach Boca de Tomatlan (plan on about an hour). Upon arriving to Boca de Tomatlan, for those that are feeling adventurous, get an early start to your day and hike the one mile from Boca de Tomatlan to Los Colomitos. Plan on about 30-45 minutes depending on your pace. We absolutely loved the hike - the views along the coastline were beautiful. To start the hike in Boca de Tomatlan, walk upriver until you find a footbridge to cross the Horcones River. Then continue towards the direction of the ocean as you follow a mountainside path towards Los Colomitos.


Upon arriving to Los Colomitos you are greeted by the Ocean Grill, which is the only facility in the area and offers a wonderful spot to enjoy a memorable lunch. Reservations are required as they have to boat out the needed ingredients each day and must be able to plan for the proper amount of food. For us, we had reservations at 11am and began our hike by 10am to reach Los Colomitos. Arriving to the beach area around 10:30 gave us some time to explore and enjoy the secluded cove of Los Colomitos. What a gem! This was one of our favorite spots in the greater Puerto Vallarta area! The crystal clear water, white sands and calm surf was absolute paradise! When it was time to head to the restaurant, the Ocean Grill was amazing! The fresh ceviche and shrimp were absolutely delicious and the views incredible! Also - check out the bathroom while there - best view from a bathroom you'll ever see! For those that have reservations and don't want to hike to reach the the restaurant, the water taxi transportation to and from Los Colomitos can be set up with your reservation - making it super simple to reach this wonderful restaurant. After finishing our lunch and spending a little more time enjoying the beautiful beach at Los Colomitos it was time to hop the water taxi to head back to Boca de Tomatlan. What a perfect day in paradise!


 

RHYTHMS OF THE NIGHT

One of our favorite night adventures while visiting Puerto Vallarta has been the Rhythms of the Night Dinner Show. We first experienced this tour on our honeymoon and recently were able to do this activity again and it was just as wonderful if not better than the first time! Start off your evening with a sunset cruise along Banderas Bay as you head towards Las Caletas. Upon arrival you will be greeted with the torch-lit beach and jungle of Las Caletas where you will dine on an all you can eat buffet as you sit out under the swaying palm trees listening to the sound of the ocean. After finishing dinner, spend a few minutes wandering and enjoying the area, grab a hammock or spend some time taking some fun pictures before it's time to head to the show! The show itself was spectacular - written by the co-creator of Cirque du Soleil, sit back and enjoy the sights and sounds of the Aztec creation story as told thru this wonderful show.

Performers dressed as Mayans acting in the Rythms of the Night show in Puerto Vallarta.
Such a fun evening - we loved the Rhythms of the Night!



 

ENJOY THE SUNSETS

Sometimes when visiting a place like Puerto Vallarta that offers so much to see and do, it's nice to sit back and enjoy the simple beauties found in life. Sunsets in Puerto Vallarta are not to be missed, make sure and take some time to stop and enjoy the view while visiting this busy, vibrant area of Mexico. Grab a seat and relax, soak in the views and let the colors of the evening wash over you!

Beautiful palm tree sillouettes fill a golden sunset view of a sunset in Puerto Vallarta.
Golden sunset in Puerto Vallarta

 

Interested in planning your own trip to Puerto Vallarta? Below is our summarized itinerary for you to follow or adjust to your own preferences. ENJOY!


The Perfect Two Week Itinerary:


Day 1 - Arrive Puerto Vallarta. Pick up rental car. Spend first week at resort in Nuevo Vallarta.

Day 2 - Resort Day - Find a vendor on the beach & parasail!

Day 3 - Explore Rivera Nayarit: Bucerias, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Punta de Mita/El Anclote Beach

Day 4 - Day trip to Sayulita

Day 5 - Day trip to San Pancho

Day 6 - Boat Trip out to Marietas Island

Day 7 - Resort Day - then do the Rhythms of the Night Tour.

Day 8 - Move to resort in Puerto Vallarta. Resort Day.

Day 9 - Visit the Malcon, Isla Cuale, Gringo Gulch & Romantic Zone

Day 10 - Dune Buggy Adventure Tour

Day 11 - Morning snorkel trip to El Arco, then head out to La Jolla de Mismaloya for the afternoon.

Day 12 - Day trip to Yelapa

Day 13 - Day trip to Las Animas

Day 14 - Hike to Los Colomitos, have lunch at Ocean Grill

Day 15 - Return rental car, Fly Home

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