Best Things To Do in Puerto Vallarta
There are many great activities for those spending just a day in PV. Catch a bus or take a taxi to the beautiful Malecón, the boardwalk that runs parallel to Banderas Bay. Then take your time strolling past the unusual statues and intricate sand sculptures found there, stopping for pictures or looking inside one of the art galleries along the way. You'll probably end your walk at Los Arcos or the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe – two of the most iconic images of the city. If you have more than a day to spare, plan on spending one or two hours at the Botanical Gardens of Vallarta or in the northern seaside town of Bucerías.
Updated August 17, 2018
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Stretching for more than a mile along Bahía de Banderas (Banderas Bay), El Malecón is a great place to stroll any time of day, but especially in the evenings. Along the way, visitors will see everything from sand sculptures and bronze sculptures to the iconic Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. El Malecón is also home to the Los Arcos Amphitheater, another iconic symbol of Puerto Vallarta that plays hosts to free performances, featuring live musicians and traditional Mexican dance troupes, just about every night.
Recent travelers recommend grabbing a bite along the way at one of the street vendors and enjoying the ambiance of the night. If you can time it right, they also suggested visiting at sunset to snap some spectacular photos. Though many reviewers called it a "must-see," some were annoyed with the pushy vendors that line the boardwalk, saying it detracted from the romantic atmosphere.
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This charming south side neighborhood is like a detached, unpretentious beach village that serves PV's more laid-back and less resort-conscious tourists. It's also the center of the city's strong gay population and has a bevy of gay beaches, bars and restaurants lining Olas Atlas. Travelers should keep in mind that this area is also known as Old Vallarta or Old Town.
Most agree that Zona Romantica is a must-see. The area contains a number of the city's best restaurants, excellent cultural opportunities and the most popular beach in the city: Playa Los Muertos. It's also home to a pier built in 2013 that offers seating for pedestrians and illuminates each evening with a kaleidoscope of colors. From the pier, travelers can board water taxis to some of the area's more secluded beaches. Recent travelers said you'll find a bunch of smaller grocery stores, restaurants and cafes away from the beach, as well as fewer peddlers selling souvenirs.
- #3View all Photos#3 in Puerto VallartaSightseeing, ToursTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDSightseeing, ToursTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Spotting a humpback whale as it crests the surface of the ocean is an awe-inspiring sight, and Puerto Vallarta is one of the best places to do just that. Keep in mind that prime whale-watching season runs from early December to late February or early March, when humpback whales congregate in the warm waters of Puerto Vallarta's Banderas Bay to have their babies. And although you can bring your binoculars and look for whales from the shore – try the Malecon – your best chance for seeing them up close is aboard a tour operator's boat.
Wildlife Connection is a traveler-recommended operator, offering half-day whale- and dolphin-watching tours, starting at $72 for adults and $48 for kids (if booked online). Along with a bilingual guide, Wildlife Connection also serves their guests bottled water and lunch. Ocean Friendly Whale Watching Tours also receives a lot of praise for its knowledgeable tour guides, who also moonlight as marine scientists. Recent travelers said they had such a good experience that they plan on returning soon. It offers half-day tours, starting at $139 for adults and $129 for kids.
- #4View all PhotosfreeBucerías#4 in Puerto VallartaBeaches, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
A great place to experience the joys of a resort town without the tourist-palooza that is Puerto Vallarta, the small fishing village of Bucerías is steadily becoming a popular daytrip for PV vacationers. If you have the time to spare, take a bus to this beach hideaway up the coastline for an afternoon of fishing or swimming.
Recent visitors recommend spending Thursday evenings doing the Bucerías Art Walk, a self-guided tour of more than a dozen galleries and arts boutiques. Beachside dining at places like Mar y Sol also comes highly recommended. If you're looking for a place off the tourist track, Bucerias is your secluded oasis.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Puerto VallartaBeaches, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
The most popular shoreline in Puerto Vallarta, Playa de los Muertos (Dead Man's Beach) in the Zona Romantica, offers opportunities to Jet Ski, windsurf and even parasail and an assortment of excellent restaurants and bars. Try out some of the land sports as well, such as beach volleyball, which can be equally fun but cheaper than the water sports.
Travelers generally say that Playa de los Muertos is a nice area with plenty of space and a great spot for people-watching. Visitors also note that, unlike elsewhere in the Zona Romantica, beachside peddlers can be particularly aggressive in selling small items to tourists. A simple "no, gracias" should allow you to avoid any haggling. Because of the high concentration of gay-friendly accommodations along the shore, Playa de los Muertos is also considered a party haven for PV's LGBT travelers.
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To explore beyond Puerto Vallarta, you might want to try the popular Jardines Botánicos de Vallarta (Botanical Gardens of Vallarta). The gardens feature an assortment of wildflowers and insect life that provides a relaxing and romantic getaway from the day-to-day hustle of Vallarta's downtown.
Some travelers also expected to spend one or two hours but ended up staying the entire day since along with enjoying the magnificent plant-life, you can also boulder the jungle's rocks and swim a section of the river. Some say that these activities are only for fit travelers. Also be sure to buy a meal or, at the very least, a drink at the on-site restaurant, which comes highly recommended by both travelers and experts. If you plan to hike, you'll want to bring insect repellent (it also available to purchase on-site) and consider wearing long sleeves and pants.
- #7View all PhotosfreeIsla Río Cuale#7 in Puerto VallartaShopping, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDShopping, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Isla Río Cuale is a mystery to many first-time Puerto Vallarta travelers. The fact that it's often difficult to find only adds to the enigma. In fact, Isla Río Cuale is almost in the heart of the city and is actually an island set upon an inlet of the Banderas Bay. To see the island, simply walk south from El Malecon until you reach a bridge that spans the river, and you'll discover the island.
Some visitors advised that there are the same trinkets on sale at Isla Rio Cuale as there are elsewhere in Puerto Vallarta, but they tend to be more expensive. Still, they admit that the locale has a great ambiance. Isla Río Cuale is accessible free of charge.
- #8View all Photos#8 in Puerto VallartaBeaches, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Playa las Gemelas is a small shoreline located amid condo and beach rentals. Located about 10 miles south of central Puerto Vallarta, its cerulean waves and sandy shore are a nice place to break away from some of PV's more crowded beaches. Still, because Playa las Gemelas is relatively small, it can feel quite congested, especially on the weekends. To avoid the crowds, travelers should visit during the week and arrive in the morning to stake their spot in the sand. They should also pack their own supplies – drinks, snacks, sunscreen and towels – since there are no vendors or shops nearby.
With its clear waters and sandy bottom, recent travelers liken Playa las Gemelas to a big swimming pool. They also say taking a cab or an Uber is the easiest way to reach it. Though the lack of vendors means you'll have to pack all your own supplies, you may find it more peaceful thanks to the lack of pushy sales people.
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The silhouette of this church in downtown PV is one of the most definable images of the resort town and its chiming church bells are one of the most recognizable sounds. During the Feast of Guadalupe, held every year from Dec. 1 through Dec. 12, the church is a hub of activity. During the annual festival, there is plenty of music, dancing and street processionals.
Recent visitors said that you can enjoy visiting this parish by just pausing a moment during a Malecón stroll to admire the church's Renaissance-style tower. Others recommended stopping inside to see the gorgeous interior or attending Mass (English services are held Saturdays at 5 p.m. – a bilingual service is held every Sunday at 10 a.m.).
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