Planning a luxury Puerto Vallarta vacation? You’ve made a great choice. Puerto Vallarta, where the mountains of Sierra Madre embrace the sea of Banderas Bay, is one of Mexico’s most enticing coastal destinations and an ideal spot for an adventurous luxury vacation.
Set on the Pacific, this harbour town is a magnet for luxury vacation tourists and expats alike. From relaxing walks on the boardwalk and chilling on dazzling white-sand beaches, to whale watching and zip-lining, there really is something for everyone in Puerto Vallarta.
Here are our picks for the top 30 things to do in Puerto Vallarta.
Puerto Vallarta Vacation: For the Love of Nature
1. Las Islas Marietas
This little group of islands situated in front of Punta de Mita is considered an ecological sanctuary owing to the variety of species living there, including birds, gigantic stingrays, dolphins and whales. Its unique rock formations have given life to a small, hidden beach inside a cave with a collapsed top. Its reef ecosystem is a must-see for those who love snorkelling and diving.
2. Whale Watching
Humpback whales arrive in Puerto Vallarta looking for tropical heat after crossing freezing waters, before coupling up and give birth to their offspring. They love to show off with their courtship pirouette jumps and their melancholic cry concerts. If you’re lucky, you could see a mother swimming aside her little ones.
3. Releasing Turtles
If you happen to be in Puerto Vallarta during the turtle-hatching season, ask to join one of the spectacular turtle release programs.
4. Botanical Gardens
Just over half an hour by bus out of the Old Town, these Botanical Gardens are worth every penny (100 pesos). You get to bird watch, swim in the river and even walk through enchanting jungle trails.
Puerto Vallarta Vacation: For the Love of Sightseeing & Culture
Tip: When touring Puerto Vallarta, you can use a taxi driver as your guide. Speak to a couple of drivers a day before and negotiate prices.
5. Old Town Puerto Vallarta
A walk through the charming cobblestoned streets of Old Town Puerto Vallarta is something you can’t miss if you want to taste the vivid, traditional Mexican life pulsating in the veins of these streets. If you’re into historical architecture, then you’ll definitely enjoy a stroll here. Watch out for the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe; it stands out against the city’s skyline.
Also known as Zona Romántica (the Romantic Area), this is the oldest part of the city sprinkled with whitewashed, red-roofed buildings that you can spot from the top of Sierra Madre.
Walking through this part of the city you’ll be spoilt for choice for things to do. You can eat at lush restaurants, enjoy the nightlife, have an artisanal coffee, and shop in art markets and designer shops.
6. El Malecón
Walking down the boardwalk of the Malecón, you can experience the more traditional, beautiful side of Puerto Vallarta. It’s a relaxed stroll during the day, while in the evening it’s jam-packed with shops offering a bit of everything. Go back at night to see how it converts into a buzzing strand.
7. El Teatro Vallarta
Even though this theatre is fairly young (it only opened its doors in 2010), this modern building can host up to 900 people to enjoy spectacular performances like the Russian State Ballet. If you can’t make it to one of the performances, ask for its modern art gallery, which features a number of Mexico’s hottest new talent.
8. Los Mangos Library
If you’re thinking boring, stuffy rooms full of fading books, think again. La Biblioteca los Mangos is Puerto Vallarta’s cultural centre, offering lessons for all ages in a variety of topics, from dance to reading, theatre, art, yoga and language. Of course, you still have the good old book-lending service. What’s more, you’ll find books in English and Spanish!
9. Mirador de la Cruz
For sure it’s a hard 15-20 minute climb up from el Malecón, but when you arrive and take a look at the rewarding view of the whole city and the Banderas Bay, you’ll know it was worth every lung-busting step.
10. Naval History Museum
Situated in the main square near Los Arcos, this hidden gem informs you about the history of settlement in Puerto Vallarta and the Navy in Mexico.
Open Tuesday to Sunday, entrance fee: 45 pesos.
11. Sculpture Walking Tour on the Malecón
When? Every Tuesday at 09:30hrs
Where? Just look for the Malecón sculpture called ‘Millennium’ and soon enough a group will form.
Languages spoken: English
Duration: About 2 hours long
What? Detailed information about the history and meaning of the sculptures along the Malecón. The free tour (if you like it, leave a tip) ends at the guide’s gallery, Galería Pacífico, with refreshments.
12. Vallarta Art Walk
When? Every Wednesday 18:00-22:00hrs
Where? Several art galleries around town
Duration: About 4 hours long
What? Many of the galleries open late on this day for visitors to enjoy art when the temperature is cooler and the crowded streets quieter. Some of them even serve refreshments.
13. Food Tour
You have 2 options here: either pay a guided tour with an English guide and follow them around the foodie hot spots, or simply wander around and try out anything that looks new or interesting to you! Whatever you do, try a taco from one of the street-food stalls; you can’t say you’ve visited Mexico until you’ve eaten a taco!
Oh, and if you need a hand with Spanish, the places with a sign outside saying ‘Comida Corrida’ serve food all day.
Puerto Vallarta Vacation: For the Love of Adventure
14. Take a Surf or SUP Lesson
Enjoy the rush of riding the Pacific Ocean waves in a surf lesson or balance yourself while paddling standing up in a SUP session. The popular spots in Puerto Vallarta are along the coast of Punta Mita.
15. Extreme Adventure Zip Lining
If you opt for this adrenaline-filled activity, you won’t regret it. You get to fly across the rainforest, secure in your zip-line, with the Orquideas River running metres below you and nothing between it and your feet but pure mountain air. Once you’re done, dip into the crystal-clear natural pools to simply chill. Why not finish with tequila tasting at the restaurant at the end? If it’s your thing, of course.
16. Waterfall Hike in Yelapa
A water taxi out of Boca will take you to this magical place, Yelapa, surrounded by nature. If you don’t have enough time, you can take a mule ride up from the beach to this waterfall. You’ll pass through town and see authentic Mexican village life with your own eyes.
Puerto Vallarta Vacation: For the Love of Shopping
17. Shopping Rio Cuale
Aside from the touristy shops in the Malecón, Puerto Vallarta also offers a great market, on the riverside of River Cuale. Unlike other markets, don’t bother getting there before 10:00hrs – some stands don’t open till then. You’ll find indoor and outside stalls, so allow plenty of time to explore. Hold on tight when crossing the footbridge, it can be a little shaky! And remember, no price is fixed; you’re expected to bargain. Polish those negotiating skills!
18. Huichol Artisans
Huichol Art is the proud heritage of the states of Nayarit, Jalisco and Durango. It came down generations of indigenous Huichol people. You’ll find intricate beading items as well as yarn paintings. If you get lucky, you can find markets, shops and galleries with people making Huichol art in front of your eyes.
Puerto Vallarta Vacation: For Love of the Beaches
Tip: Look out for fresh coconut sellers. You can go for natural or top it up with gin. Just saying!
19. Las Caletas
Accessible only by sea on the south side of the Banderas Bay, you can enjoy a refreshing swim in Las Caletas under the high-rising jungle. Exclusive access to Las Caletas means its surroundings remain intact. On the beach, on the other hand, you’ll find the comfort of hammocks where you can swing under the shade of palm trees.
20. Los Arcos
This rock formation in front of Banderas Bay is a go-to point for snorkelling and diving, full of caves and rich in marine fauna.
21. Playa Mismaloya
This is where it all started for Puerto Vallarta with the 1964 film, The Night of the Iguana, mostly shot here at Mismaloya Beach, attracting people to what used to be a sleepy fisherman’s village. It’s a short local bus ride out of Old Town in an orange bus headed to Boca de Tomatlán.
22. Playa de Oro
An ample, sandy beach popular for water sports, just half an hour’s drive north of the historical centre.
23. Playa de los Muertos
One of the most famous beaches of Puerto Vallarta on the south side of the Malecón and the Río Cuale, lined with hotels and usually quite busy during the day with bathers. At night it’s filled with people strolling or eating and drinking at its many restaurants and bars.
24. Marina Vallarta
One of the most exclusive areas of the city with a sculpture of a big whale at its entrance, Marina Vallarta is home to shopping malls, beaches, a professional 18-hole golf course and glamorous resorts. Being the main marine harbour, you’ll find all sorts of vessels here from fishing tours, to yachts and boats, and water taxis to other parts of the bay. It’s also the cruise harbour, and is ideal for a stroll at any time of day to enjoy the restaurants and shops. And it’s a great spot for a romantic stroll.
Puerto Vallarta Vacation: For the Love of Mountains
25. Mountain Bike ride
If you’re up for a good workout, pedalling up the mountainside surrounded by breath-taking scenery, shop around town for bike rentals or book a tour to various hot spots in Sierra Madre. Whichever you choose, make sure to cool down at the waterfall before the downhill run back to the city.
26. Mountain Climbing
Don’t forget to pack your climbing shoes when heading to Puerto Vallarta. Many hotels have a boulder in between the street and the entrance, and even though the area isn’t famous for climbing, the surrounding nature is full of boulders for you to practise your mountain-climbing skills.
Puerto Vallarta Vacation: For the Love of Food
27. Local Fish Market
The fish market in Puerto Vallarta is definitely worth an early wake-up call. If you get there at the right time, you’ll see the day’s catch being brought in. Take your pick and grill it back at your villa or, better still, ask a local to cook it for you!
Extra Tip: Even though it’s called the fish market, you’ll also find fresh fruit and veg on sale and even some tortillerías!
28. Try Some Mexican Beach Food
Watch out for vendors walking up and down the beach selling delicious seafood empanadas and/or tacos and the typical exquisite Casco de Mula with salt and lemon.
The beach restaurants have seafood soup and fried fish on the menu. And best of all? When you eat there, you’ll get a free palapa – a palm-leaf-roofed shady spot on the soft sandy beach.
29. Jalisco’s Pozole
This is, hands down, the one dish you can’t go without when visiting Mexico. This traditional soup (red in its Jalisco version) is cooked with chicken and pork, and served with various fresh toppings. Simple, but divinely lush.
30. Tequila Tasting
You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to tequila tasting. One option would be taking the official tour of course, but another option is to try out various tequilas during happy hour. The cheapest option is to try free samples in the shops.
31. Private Chef Dinner / Cooking Class
Our concierges can arrange for a private chef to come and create a spectacular meal for you and your guests, all in the privacy of your luxury vacation villa. Combine it with a cooking class, if you wish, and bring the flavors of Mexico home.