Looking for the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta? From beautiful beaches, exciting adventures, the best day trips, vibrant hotspots, and delicious food, here is are all the things you need to check out while in Puerto Vallarta!
Nestled on Mexico’s Pacific coast, Puerto Vallarta has become a world-renowned tourist destination over the years. With so many things to do in Puerto Vallarta, it’s easy to see why it’s become Mexico’s second most visited destination (only Cancun draws more visitors) – it has beautiful beaches, world-class resorts, vibrant nightlife, and more.
When most people think of Puerto Vallarta, they tend to think of all-inclusive resorts, spring breakers, and as a port city for Mexican cruises. While, yes, there is some truth to these, the town has so much more to offer travelers, and there is so much to do in Puerto Vallarta!
We visited for a few days after spending some time in nearby Sayulita (which I highly recommend as well!), and honestly wasn’t expecting much, but ended up falling in love with the natural beauty, the charming cobblestoned streets, the rich culture, and the delicious food. It is a city where old world Mexican heritage meets modern luxury.
There are so many things to do in Puerto Vallarta, suited for every kind of traveler, whether you are a beach bum, an adventure junkie, a foodie, a shopaholic, or someone looking for arts and culture- keep on reading to find out the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta!
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When to Go to Puerto Vallarta
With its tropical climate and year-round beach weather, Puerto Vallarta is a popular choice among travelers throughout the year. Average highs consistently range from 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit (26-32 degrees Celsius).
The area experiences a wet season between June and September, when both temperatures and humidity are also at their highest. Like in many other tropical destinations, this usually means that it stays hot and humid all day, with an hour or so of pouring rain in the late afternoon.
Puerto Vallarta’s high season is between November-March. It is especially popular and in the winter months with travelers in the United States and Canada looking to escape cold weather. It also tends to get very busy around Christmas and New Years, as well as the week leading up to Easter. In March, the town is filled with spring breakers
If you are looking to do some whale watching, one of the most popular things to do in Puerto Vallarta, the season falls between December to early March. This is when airfare and accommodation rates are priced at their highest.
A great time to visit Puerto Vallarta is between April and June, the area’s shoulder season. This is when the weather is still dry and pleasant, but crowds thin out, and airfare and accommodation pricing comes down accordingly.
We visited at the end of March, and fortunately did not feel like the town was overrun with spring breakers…but yes, found flights and accommodations to be priced on the higher side. The weather was perfect, though!
Location and Arriving in Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta is the fifth largest city in the state of Jalisco, on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. It sits inside the Bahia de Banderas (Banderas Bay), with Jalisco in the south, and the state of Nayarit in the north. To the east of Puerto Vallarta stands the Sierra Madre mountains, full of lush jungles.
Most visitors will arrive in Puerto Vallarta via air, although some choose to travel via bus or driving. Puerto Vallarta is also a popular stop for cruise ships.
Puerto Vallarta’s international airport (PVR) is located about 10 kilometers (~6 miles) from downtown (or 5 kilometers from the city’s resort strip). The airport is served by almost all US airlines, and several Mexican and Canadian carriers.
On your way out of the airport, you will likely be hounded by people trying to sell you everything from transport services to timeshares. IGNORE THEM! They are very pushy and sneaky, and talking to them often results in agreeing to something you never intended to. Just keep saying “no” and make your way outside of the terminal.
From here, you have several ways of getting to your accommodations:
- Rental Car: An ideal choice if you want to explore other beach towns in the area (i.e. Sayulita, San Pancho, Punta Mita, etc.) and want the convenience of having your own transportation. PVR is served by most major car rental agencies- upon arrival, follow signs that lead you to shuttles that will lead you to the rental car center. Rental cars are fairly affordable in Mexico (you can sometimes rent one for ~$10 USD/day), but you must also pay for taxes and third-party liability insurance.
- Airport Shuttle: If you don’t want the hassle of figuring out how to get into town, booking a door-to-door shuttle is the way to go. For added convenience, book online ahead of time.
- Taxi: Taxis are plentiful outside the airport terminal. Fares are calculated by zone (not by time and distance), and usually range from 160-700 pesos. You can save a little bit of money if you hail a cab outside of the airport premises – either cross the pedestrian bridge, or walk to One Hotel). Be sure to have cash on hand (preferably exact change).
- Uber: Puerto Vallarta is served by Uber – this is my preferred method of transportation because you can input your exact destination, without any chance of miscommunication due to the language barrier, and you pay through the app with your credit or debit card. Fares are also more affordable than taking a cab – we paid around 110 pesos (~$5 USD) to get to our hotel in Zona Romantica.
- Public Bus: The cheapest way to get into town. The bus stop is under the elevated pedestrian bridge. For destinations south of the airport (including Downtown Puerto Vallarta), take a bus marked “Centro.” The fare is 6.5 pesos. If your accommodations are north of the airport in Nayarit, you must cross the pedestrian bridge and take an ATM or Compostela bus.
How to Get Around in Puerto Vallarta
While the center of Puerto Vallarta (specifically El Centro and La Zona Romantica) is easy to explore on foot, if your accommodations are outside of this area or you want to explore further, you will have to consider other transportation options:
- Uber: Uber service is readily available within the city, and this was our main method of getting around. Fares are super cheap (a few bucks per trip), and you can input the exact location of where you’re headed, avoiding any communication issues. The downside is that if you are going to the beaches that are further out from the city (i.e. Las Gemelas or Playa Mismaloya), cars might not be readily available on the way back and you may have to look into other options.
- Taxi: Taxis are everywhere in Puerto Vallarta, with taxi stations (sitios) all over town, although you can hail one from anywhere on the street. Fares are calculated by zone instead of time and distance. It is helpful to look at a zone map to ensure that you aren’t getting ripped off. Taxis are cash only, so be sure you have some on you (preferably in exact change).
- Public Bus: This is the cheapest way to get around, and a great way to see the city! The Centro route (usually a blue bus, but sometimes white) goes on the main road between Marina Vallarta, El Centro, and La Zona Romantica – the fare is 7.50 pesos. To reach points south of the city, such as Conchas Chinas or Playa Mismaloya, take the orange bus – the fare is 8 pesos. There are also white buses that take you to destinations in the north in Nayarit, such as Punta Mita and Sayulita. The Tunel route (orange buses) bypasses the main roads downtown, and head into the residential areas.
Health and Safety in Puerto Vallarta
Because Puerto Vallarta is a popular vacation destination and has a large expat population, it is a relatively safe city. Violent crime is rare here, although pickpocketing and petty crime are fairly common, so keep a close watch on your belongings!
Leave valuables in your hotel safe, don’t carry large amounts of cash, or flashy objects. I carried around this crossbody that I kept on me with all times, but you can also carry around a money belt as well. You might also consider an anti-theft bag (like this crossbody, tote, or backpack).
As with any time you travel, ALWAYS be aware of your surroundings, don’t walk around alone late at night (especially outside of the main streets), and don’t go anywhere with strangers!
As with the rest of Mexico, tap water is not safe for consumption. Many accommodations will provide filtered water for drinking, or buy bottled water. You can also get a LifeStraw to filter tap water so that it’s safe for drinking, and carry it in a reusable water bottle (this one is great for travel).
Stomach discomfort and food poisoning can happen – to minimize risk, wash your hands, only drink potable water, and stick to busier restaurants and street food vendors. My other piece of advice is watch out with the little containers of sauces – sometimes these have been sitting out for awhile! I ended up with a case of food poisoning and spent one night puking my guts out (0/10, do not recommend), and highly suspect that it was due to some questionable sauce that I ate.
If you do get hit with a stomach bug (as it happened to my boyfriend), there are lots of pharmacies in town, and they will likely have an English-speaking pharmacist who can recommend the right medication to help alleviate symptoms.
Language in Puerto Vallarta
Spanish is the official language in Mexico, but you’ll find that many people speak English, especially in tourist-frequented businesses.
I still suggest picking up a few basic Spanish phrases, which can be useful when visiting smaller establishments. Plus, the effort is always appreciated by the locals (even if your Spanish is comically bad and they respond to you in English anyway).
Money and Currency in Puerto Vallarta
The official currency of Mexico is the Mexican peso. While American dollars are accepted at many businesses, I suggest taking out pesos anyway as you’ll always be charged a more favorable rate when paying in pesos.
Credit cards are accepted at many tourist-frequented businesses, but I suggest having cash on hand to use at smaller shops and restaurants, and street vendors (trust me, you want to have some cash for street tacos). Cash is also a necessity if you plan to use taxis or buses to get around town.
There are currency exchange services all over town, and many hotels and resorts offer this as well – however, taking cash out from a bank ATM will usually have much more favorable exchange rates.
Use the ATM inside a bank. Do NOT use the sketchy ones you see on the street, as ATM fraud and skimming incidents are common. When I travel internationally, I usually take out cash from an ATM before leaving the airport.
It is customary to tip 10-20% at nice restaurants, and 10% at more casual establishments. You should also plan to tip for meals and drinks if staying at an all-inclusive resort (at least $1/drink, $5 for meals). Tipping is not expected for street food.
What to Pack for Puerto Vallarta
- Cute sundresses and/or maxi dresses: I packed a floral maxi dress, an off-the-shoulder embroidered dress, and boho wrap dress
- T-shirts, tanks, cute blouses, and shorts
- A cardigan or light jacket
- Swimsuits: This flamingo bikini and pineapple bikini are my favorites
- Comfortable sandals: These are my new favorite
- Sunscreen: This one is my favorite and reef-safe
- Hat: This is perfect for a beach vacation!
- Battery Pack: I never travel anywhere or hike without this one. It can charge up to five times on one full charge!
Where to Stay in Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta is split into five different zones. Which area you should stay in largely will depend on the type of accommodations you prefer, and/or what your desired things to do in Puerto Vallarta are:
- Marina Vallarta: The modern, upscale area of Puerto Vallarta. There are lots of upscale hotels and resorts, as well as condos. There’s not a whole lot to do there, and it is a bit far from the city center, but easily accessible via Uber, taxi, or bus. Closest to the airport
- Zona Hotelera: The “hotel zone,” you’ll find lots of all-inclusive resorts, condos, the Galerías Vallarta mall, and American chain restaurants here.
- El Centro (Downtown): Where all the action is – you’ll have your pick of shopping, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. You’ll be close to some of the top things to do in Puerto Vallarta, such as the Malecon. You can walk to many places, and transportation is a breeze. Mostly filled with smaller hotels.
- Zona Romantica: The city’s old town. You’ll be close to all the action, but you’ll find a bit of old-world charm. This is where we stayed, and we loved it! You’ll find lots of cute, independent boutique hotels here.
- South Zone: This includes the Conchas Chinas beach area, and is a trendy and upscale area. You’ll find beautiful beaches, gorgeous hillside views, and luxury hotels here. You’ll find some all-inclusive resorts here as well.
Here are my top recommendations for where to stay, based on accommodation type:
- All-Inclusive Resorts: Hyatt Ziva (South Zone), Velas Vallarta (Marina Vallarta), Secrets Vallarta Bay (Zona Hotelera – adults only), Grand Fiesta Americana (South Zone – adults only)
- Boutique Hotels: Hotel Petit Mercedes (Zona Romantica – where we stayed and loved it!), Hotel San Tropico (Marina Vallarta – super Instagrammable), Playa Los Arcos (Zona Romantica), Villa Premiere (El Centro – super romantic)
- Airbnbs (best option if on a budget): Luxury 1 Bed Condo (South Zone), A Couple’s Paradise, Steps from the Beach (Zona Romantica), Beachfront Condo w/ Views and Resort Access (Zona Hotelera), search more Airbnb options here.
While I love staying in all-inclusive resorts for the relaxation factor (how can one go wrong while relaxing in a beach lounger, with unlimited pina coladas being brought to you?), I sometimes feel like they disincentivize me from actually leaving the resort and exploring the area.
I opted to stay in an independent boutique hotel (Hotel Petit Mercedes) in the middle of Zona Romantica, as I felt this gave me more of a push to actually get out and explore. I also loved that the location was near many of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta, and there were so many restaurants, bars, and cafes nearby! There was also a super cute pool area, with a bar (with happy hour), which was perfect for relaxation.
Fun Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta
Stroll along the Malecon
The Malecon promenade stretches along the ocean for 1.5 kilometers (~1 mile), from El Centro to La Zona Romantica. Strolling along the Malecon is one of the favorite things to do in Puerto Vallarta amongst both tourists and locals.
It is a fun place to go for a leisurely walk, and is a great place to start your Puerto Vallarta explorations. On one side of the Malecon you have beautiful views of the ocean, and the other side is dotted with many shops, restaurants, and bars.
There are also numeros sculptures and public art pieces on the Malecon (you can see some of the notable works here), as well as street vendors, local artisans, and street performers. It is also a great spot for people watching – there is always something going on on the Malecon, which is why walking along it is considered one of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta!
The Malecon is also home to the Los Arcos Amphitheater, with its four stone arches being one of the most iconic sights in all of Puerto Vallarta. Numerous free concerts and cultural performances take place at the Los Arcos Amphitheater throughout the year.
One of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta is to watch the Voladores de Papantla (Dance of the Flyers), a reenactment of an ancient Mesoamerican ritual in which four men spin from ropes attached to the top of a 30-meter pole, while a fifth man plays flute from atop the spinning pole.
The ritual is a ritual expression of love for the earth, as well as a prayer to the Chi’chini (the Sun God), Xipe Totec (God of Spring & Fertility) & to Tlaloc (Rain God). The ritual was named as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
The performance takes place several times a day on the Malecon – just look for the giant pole, and listen for the sounds of a flute.
Visit the La Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe (Parish of Our Lady of the Guadalupe Church)
The beautiful Our Lady of the Guadalupe Church dominates the Puerto Vallarta skyline, and paying it a visit is one of the main things to do in Puerto Vallarta. It is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, and its bells are one of the city’s most recognizable sounds.
The church is actually less than a century old, although it looks much older at first glance. Still, it is one of the cultural icons of the city’s Mexican heritage. The history of the church mirrors that of the city and the changes it has gone through over the years, transforming from a small village to a bustling resort city.
The inside of the cathedral is filled with carved confessionals, a beautiful marble altar with an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and images of various saints painted on wooden panels. It is free to enter, and definitely worth a visit.
There is always something going on in the square in front of the church and its side streets. It is a popular gathering places, especially on the weekends – you’ll find lots of street vendors, and people dancing in the streets to traditional Mexican music.
One of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta in December is the Feast of Guadalupe, held every year from December 1-12. Taking part in the festivities is one of the most fun things to do in Puerto Vallarta, and you can see candlelight processions, colorful parades, music, dancing, and more. The streets are also filled with vendors selling tons of delicious food as well!
Chill out on the beach
Puerto Vallarta is known for its world-class beaches, and it is the reason many people travel here. So obviously, one of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta is to spend some time on the beach!
If you are staying at an all-inclusive resort, you can hang out at the beach there. If you aren’t and you want access to amenities such as beach loungers and food and drink service, you can opt to purchase a day pass at a resort, or hang out at a beach club (more on that later)
If you can, I highly recommend hanging out at one of the many local beaches in the city. There are many to choose from, and chilling at one of them is one of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta!
Here’s a rundown of some of the best beaches in Puerto Vallarta:
- Playa de Los Muertos: This is Puerto Vallarta’s main beach, and therefore where you will find the most crowds. Playa de Los Muerto is also where all the action is – it is lined with bars and restaurants, and activity kiosks. If water sports are on your list of things to do in Puerto Vallarta, you’ll find lots of options here. If you are planning to go on a tour (i.e. whale watching or to the Marietas Islands), chances are that you will leave from here.
- Conchas Chinas: This beach sits further south, and has a much more chill vibe. While it’s not exactly off the beaten path, you’ll find far fewer crowds here than at Playa de Los Muertos. You’ll find crystal-clear waters and rocky sections, which create some beautiful photo ops. Conchas Chinas is also a great beach to do some snorkeling.
- Las Gemelas: Las Gemelas sits about 20 minutes south of downtown Puerto Vallarta. You’ll find pristine white sand and turquoise waters at Las Gemelas, comparable to what you find at the beaches of Cancun or Playa del Carmen. There’s not much in terms of amenities (not even toilets), so come prepared.
- Playa Mismaloya: Sitting nine miles south of Puerto Vallarta is the paradise-like beach of Playa Mismaloya. This beach is actually credited with starting the tourism boom in Puerto Vallarta, and it’s easy to see why – the beautiful beach is also surrounded by jungle. Playa Mismaloya was also used as a filming location for the movie The Night of the Iguana, starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, further adding to its popularity.
Hang out at a beach resort or club
One of the best parts of staying at an all-inclusive resort is being able to lounge on one of their beach chairs or cabanas, while having your tropical cocktails and snacks being brought directly to you (in my opinion, anyway).
If you opt to not stay at an all-inclusive resort (like us), many resorts offer a day pass so that you can have access to the same amenities as hotel guests. This is one of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta because will allow you to access the resorts’ pool and beach facilities, with some offering unlimited food and drinks (or a resort credit to apply towards food and drinks), and participate in their activities – some resorts even offer equipment rentals for water sports, i.e. kayaking and snorkeling.
Amenities included vary by resort, and pricing usually ranges from $60-100 USD. You can contact resorts individually to find out if they offer a day pass option for non-guests, and to reserve a pass.
Another one of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta is to spend the day at a beach club. Each beach club has their own pricing model: some charge a flat rate for lounger rental and unlimited food and drink, while others charge a small cover charge with a food and beverage minimum.
While they do not have nearly as many amenities as a resort, the great thing about beach clubs is that there is an option to suit every taste and budget. If all you want is a day of relaxing on the beach, while you get your food and drinks brought to you, then a beach club is a great option for you.
Many of these beach clubs are located near Playa de Los Muertos. Some highly recommended ones include: El Dorado (where we hung out), Swell Beach Bar, Mantamar Beach Club, Aquazul, and Mango Beach Club.
Spots at these beach clubs fill up quickly, especially during peak travel times, so be sure to call ahead to reserve your spot!
Note: some of these clubs and resorts may be closed or have limitations due to current health restrictions. Call ahead to confirm before you go.
Explore Isla de Cuale
The Rio Cuale river flows in between El Centro and Zona Romantica, from the mountains into the ocean. Isla Cuale is the green strip the river splits and forms an “island.” Spending an afternoon strolling through the island is one of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta!
Be sure to take the swinging pedestrian bridge to get onto the island – you can find it from Calle Construction in Zona Romantica, or opposite Cafe Roma on the Centro side. Once you get onto Isla Cuale, be sure to walk through the entire span of the island. The side closer to the beach tends to be busier with a lot more activity, while you’ll find a more peaceful vibe on the other end.
If you’re looking to do some shopping, then wandering through Isla Cuale will probably be one of your favorite things to do in Puerto Vallarta – the island is filled with tons of street vendors, and a souvenir/artisan market.It is a great place to shop for some souvenirs – you’ll find everything from those kitschy items, to authentic handicrafts.
Continue further away from the beach until you reach BabelBar, which is a really fun place to hang out! Enjoy the peaceful vibe with a craft cocktail or craft brew in hand. They often have live music playing in the afternoons as well.
Further down the island is a set of stairs that leads you up to Gringo Gulch, the neighborhood where Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor built a house and lived for a few years.
Isla Cuale also has a cultural center, as well as an array of restaurants and bars. On the weekends, you’ll also find locals picnicking and swimming in the river.
Eat allllll the tacos
I don’t know about you, but my favorite thing about traveling to Mexico is all of the cheap and delicious street tacos (I definitely had my fill of them in Mexico City). The tacos in Puerto Vallarta did not disappoint, and eating my way through the city was one of my favorite things to do in Puerto Vallarta!
One of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta is to take a food tour, which will take you to some of the best street taco spots in town! Here are some highly recommended tours:
- Downtown Puerto Vallarta Food Tour: This small-group tour (limited to 10 people) is led by a local guide who will take you to 10 of the best food spots in Puerto Vallarta, while also introducing you to the history and culture of the city.
- Signature Taco and Street Food Tour in Puerto Vallarta: In this tour, an expert local guide will introduce you to the best street food spots in Puerto Vallarta. The focus is on small, family-owned taco stands and regional specialties.
- Taco Adventure Evening Food Tour: This evening tour takes you to the best street taco spots in the Emiliano Zapata and 5 de Deciembre neighborhoods stopping along the way to sample some local edible delights.
- Food and Mixology Tour: In this fun small-group tour, sample some of the best street food in Puerto Vallarta, while sipping on some Mexican cocktails! You’ll also get a rundown of the history and cultural roots of some of Mexico’s signature spirits, such as tequila and mezcal.
I ended up doing a self-guided tour, and ate my way through the historic center and Zona Romantica. My picks for the best tacos in Puerto Vallarta are below:
- Takos Flako: Calle Francisco I. Madero 248, Zona Romantica (open 6:30pm-midnight, Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Mondays)
- Tacos El Moreno: Calle Francisco I. Madero 343, Zona Romantica (open 9am-12:30am, Friday-Wednesday. Closed Thursdays)
- Mariscos Cisneros: Aguacate 271, Zona Romantic (open 10am-8pm, Wednesday-Monday, closed Tuesdays)
Follow this rule of thumb when eating street food in Mexico: find the stands that have a crowd of people, and a clientele of professionals – these folks don’t have time to be sick, so it is a good bet that they are eating at a legit spot. Also be careful with the sauces – I ate some questionable looking sauce and ended up puking my guts out later that night. Do not be me!
Take a day trip to the Marietas Islands
Sitting in the Banderas Bay about 35 kilometers (~22 miles) from Puerto Vallarta is the Marietas Islands, a group of uninhabited islands that are home to a diverse array of interesting wildlife, marine animals, and birds. The islands are sometimes referred to as the “Mexican Galapagos.”
There are so many activities that are available to do on the islands that make a day trip there one of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta. Its unique collection of marine life makes it a popular destination for snorkeling and scuba diving.
The only way to access the islands is through an organized tour. This Marietas Islands snorkeling cruise is a recommended option, and includes round-trip boat transportation, as well as snorkeling equipment rental, so you can experience the diversity of marine life. You also have the option of kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding. Lunch as well as an open bar is included.
The main draw of the Marietas Island is the famous Playa del Amor, a hidden beach created by a volcanic crater that is only accessible by swimming to it. Unfortunately, the government heavily restricts access to the beach, only issuing 116 permits a day. You must book a special tour that includes this permit in order to visit Playa del Amor.
I highly suggest that you book a tour that includes access to Playa del Amor in order to get the full experience of visiting the Marietas Islands. This combo tour is highly recommended and includes round-trip boat transportation to the islands, snorkeling equipment rental, as well as a permit to access Playa del Amor. Lunch is also included. Be sure to book in advance as spots fill up fast, since there is only a limited number of permits available!
This was pretty high up on my list of things to do in Puerto Vallarta – unfortunately, we had to cancel our tour because I came down with a bout of food poisoning on the day we were supposed to go and I’m STILL bitter about it!.
I guess this gives us a return to come back to Puerto Vallarta! I still highly recommend visiting the Marietas Islands, as everyone I’ve talked to who has gone have said that they are absolutely amazing.
Go whale watching
The waters off Puerto Vallarta is a renowned birthing area for humpback whales. Every winter, the humpback whales migrate from the north to the Banderas Bay, to breed and hang out in its waters. Seeing these majestic creatures is one of the most popular things to do in Puerto Vallarta.
If you happen to be in town during whale watching season, the whale watching tour is one of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta. You can get up close and personal to the humpbacks, watch them jump through the water, and hear their sounds.
You’ll find that you have many options for whale watching tours – lots of tour operators line the area around Playa de Los Muertos. This Whale Encounter tour is a highly recommended option, and is a half-day excursion that focuses on the conservation of these whales. This tour is another highly rater option, which includes an all-you-can-eat lunch and an open bar.
The season runs roughly from December to March, but this varies year to year; check with tour operators to confirm the exact start and end dates. We were in town at the end of March, and sadly just missed the season, but this is on my things to do in Puerto Vallarta on a return visit!
Wander through the charming streets of La Zona Romantica
The area south of Rio Cuale and to the east of Playa de Los Muertos is referred to as La Zona Romantica, or “the Romantic Zone.” It is also the oldest part of Puerto Vallarta, and still retains its old world charm, with plenty of charming cobblestone streets, and colorful facades.
I love finding these sorts of neighborhoods (i.e. Alfama in Lisbon, and Coyoacan and San Angel in Mexico City) every time I travel, and wandering aimlessly through them. Wandering through La Zona Romantica was no different – spending an afternoon here and getting lost through its streets was one of my favorite things to do in Puerto Vallarta.
The neighborhood is popular with locals, tourists, and expats alike because of the vibrant, relaxed, and colorful vibe. Many shops, restaurants, bars, and galleries line the streets here – one of the best to explore is Basilio Badillo.
It’s a great area to experience the old world charm and Mexican cultural flavor of the city.
Check out the street art
I love checking out a city’s street art scene, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Puerto Vallarta had so much of it. Wandering the streets and discovering all kinds of colorful murals was one of my favorite things to do in Puerto Vallarta.
You’ll find no shortage of vibrant street art tucked into the streets and alleys of El Centro and La Zona Romantica – spend some time walking around and you’ll be sure to find some amazing gems!
Sample the local tequila
Tequila is perhaps the most well-known Mexican spirit – and sampling the different varieties is one of the most fun things to do in Puerto Vallarta!
We signed up for this sunset tequila tasting experience through Airbnb experiences and it was one of our favorite things to do in Puerto Vallarta! We had such a fun evening learning about the different types of tequila and the distilling process.
We tasted five different varieties of tequila (blanco, rosa, reposado, anejo, and extra anejo), paired with some delicious fresh guacamole – all while watching the beautiful sunset! Plus, we got to go home with a cute little souvenir shot glass.
You can also try the tequila at the local bars, or pop into a local tequila shop. They will let you taste some so you can pick out the perfect bottle to take home as a souvenir! You can also visit a tequila museum, and do some tastings there as well.
Another option is to take a day trip to the town of Tequila and neighboring Toriles, where you can tour a tequila distillery, and see ancient Aztec ruins.
Take a day trip to Sayulita
Ideally, I suggest you spend a few days in Sayulita – but if time is limited, you definitely need to spend at least one day there!
While Puerto Vallarta is the resort city that always has SOMETHING going on, Sayulita is like its laid-back cousin. The town once used to be a sleepy fishing village, but has grown into a relaxed-yet-lively hippie town that has become a favorite among surfers, yogis, and those looking for a chill beach vacation.
Sayulita was named a Pueblo Magico (magical town) by the Mexican tourism board, and after spending some time there, you’ll see why – it’s easy to be charmed by the he boho spirit, the colorful papel picado-lined streets, and the impromptu dance parties in the town square.
Here are some of the things you need to do in Sayulita:
- Hang out at the beach/and or learn to surf: The town’s main beach is popular with surfers, and surf schools line the streets surrounding it. There is a section of the beach that has stronger waves for more seasoned surfers. Los Muertos Beach is an ideal choice for non-surfers who are just simply looking to relax at the beach.
- Wander through the colorful streets: The streets are colorful and charming, and it’s easy to fall in love just walking through them. The town also has some vibrant street art as well.
- Do some yoga: Sayulita has become a popular yoga spot in recent years, and there are many yoga studios around town. Some of the most popular include Paraiso Yoga and Moon Shala.
- Go shopping: Sayulita has plenty of beautifully curated boutiques and street vendors featuring locally made handicrafts and souvenirs. Some of my favorites were Evoke the Spirit and Revolucion del Sueno.
- Eat and drink: Get a chocolate-covered banana at Chocobanana, grab some street tacos from Tacos el Ivan, enjoy a paleta from La Reinita, and sip on a smoothie from Organi-K. Also check out the bars around the beach and the town square.
Sayulita is easily accessible via public bus or taxi, but if you want all the transportation taken care of, you can take this guided tour. Another option is this tour, which also includes a stop in nearby San Pancho.
Check out the view from Mirador Cerro de la Cruz
If you’re looking for a way to walk off all those tacos and/or want to check out an epic view, consider hiking up to the Mirador Cerro de la Cruz viewpoint.
It is about a 30 minute hike from the Malecon and a bit strenuous (bring plenty of water!), but the view is spectacular, making it one of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta! You’ll get a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean, the Banderas Bay, and the entire city of Puerto Vallarta.
One of the best times to visit the Mirador Cerro de la Cruz, is at sunset, when you will get some epic photo ops. This is one of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta for photographers!
To get to the Mirador Cerro de la Cruz from the Malecon, follow these directions:
- Take Calle Abasolo away from the beach and towards the hills
- After a couple of blocks, turn left on Calle Emilio Carranza and then take the first right onto Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez
- From here, you’ll find several hand painted signs that will lead you towards the viewpoint
- You’ll the reach a long set of white stairs that leads to the overlook
Watch the sunset
One of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta is to take in the sunset – I saw some of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen here! This is thanks to the westward facing position of the city.
You can enjoy the sunset while walking on the Malecon, from the Mirador de la Cruz viewpoint, or just by sitting on the beach.
Or, you can do as I did and watch the sunset with margarita in hand at a beach bar – there are plenty around the Malecon and near Playa de Los Muertos.
You can also have a sunset dinner at one of the many beachfront restaurants – we dined at La Palapa one night and it was absolutely perfect! The food was delicious, the service attentive, and the view was stunning!
See the Rhythms of the Night
If you are looking for one of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta at night, consider checking out a performance of the Rhythms of the Night.
The Rhythms of the Night is a tour/dinner/cultural show that is kind of like a mini Cirque du Soleil dinner theater experience. It is actually created by one of the co-founders of Cirque du Soleil, so you’ll see plenty of acrobatics, dancing, live music, contortionists, fire-batons, and spectacular light displays. It also celebrates the stories of the ancient Hispanic civilization and Mexican folklore.
The evening starts off with a sunset cruise (with open bar) to Las Caletas, a secluded cove in the rainforest on the southern end of Banderas Bay. After the show, you’ll eat a hearty buffet dinner before returning to Puerto Vallarta.
While we didn’t end up seeing the Rhythms of the Nights, it was highly recommended to us by a group of expats that we met at dinner one night. We definitely added it to our list of things to do in Puerto Vallarta on our next visit!
Even more things to do in Puerto Vallarta
Looking for more things to do in Puerto Vallarta? There are still even more fun activities that you might consider:
- Take a day trip to Yelapa: Yelapa is a small fishing village that can only be accessed by boat, so it’s got a remote island feel. There’s a beautiful beach there, along with a few waterfalls, a handful of beachfront restaurants, and some water activities. To get there, take the water taxi from the Los Muertos pier, or take a day tour.
- Visit the Los Arcos: Located just off of Playa Mismaloya, Los Arcos is a group of rocky islands that is also a protected marine area. Under the rocks are a diverse array of marine plants and animals, including colorful fish, dolphins, manta rays, octopus, and sea turtles. You can either get there by hiring a small fishing boat at Playa Mismaloya, or as part of a snorkeling tour or SUP tour.
- Explore the jungle: Puerto Vallarta is surrounded by lush jungles in the Sierra Madre mountains to the east. There are numerous activities offered to explore this side of the city, and these are some of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta for adventurous types! You can take an ATV tour, zipline through the canopy, go rappelling, and more.
- Check out the Vallarta Botanical Gardens: It is a bit of a trek to get there, but I have heard that it’s worth it! The gardens feature a collection of cacti, orchids, and other plants that are native to this region of Mexico. There are numerous hiking trails that go through the gardens and down to the river, where some people choose to swim. The gardens also have a beautiful cafe, which is a great stop for lunch. Purchase a skip-the-line admission ticket before you go.
Have you been to Puerto Vallarta? What are some of your favorite things to do in Puerto Vallarta?
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