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One of the reasons that we love traveling to this tropical Mexican destination is that there are so many fantastic things to do in Puerto Vallarta.
Beyond soaking up the sun by the ocean or poolside (not that there is anything wrong with that) you can get caught up in the art scene, enjoy gourmet cuisine, discover the best street tacos, take part in numerous water activities, go hiking, horseback riding, or take in a show at night.
We’ve put together our recommendations for what to do in Puerto Vallarta and hope it will help you plan your perfect vacation. If you are like us, you’ll return over and over again. It’s just that kind of place.
Get Pampered at a Beach Club
If you’re like us, we will often choose a budget accommodation so that we can spend more of our dollars trying out the area’s best activities and dining options. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to be pampered.
Paying less for a hotel or Airbnb allows us to do longer stays. That makes finding a great beach club a great alternative to luxury or all-inclusive hotel stays.
We put together a comprehensive list of Puerto Vallarta Beach Clubs that also includes hotels that offer day rates. Rates, level of luxury, and food and drink options vary. Also, some suggest making reservations so planning ahead isn’t a bad idea.
The other consideration, beyond when Beach Club to choose, is the all-important question of which beach? Here’s our guide to the Best Beaches in Puerto Vallarta to help you decide.
Enjoy a Sunset Dinner Cruise
Watching an amazing sunset while enjoying dinner overlooking the ocean is about as good as it gets. Puerto Vallarta delivers some of the most spectacular sunsets we have ever seen. That is more than enough reason to get out on the water and take in a sunset view from the best seat in the house.
There are several companies offering sunset cruises. You can board a pirate ship, glide along in a sailboat, or even hire a speedboat or yacht for a private high-end excursion.
For a total Puerto Vallarta sunset cruise evening experience, you can set off on a sunset cruise with entertainment and a gourmet dinner, topped off by a phenomenal Cirque du Soleil-style show (Rhythms of the Night).
Rhythms of the Night
Going to the Rhythms of the Night Show is arguably one of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta. The show is a spectacular acrobatic dinner show, conceived of, written, and directed by Gilles Ste-Croix, the co-creator of Cirque du Soleil.
The evening event starts with a sunset cruise through Bandaras Bay to tropical Las Caletas Beach. Dancers in elaborate costumes greet guests and provide you with a welcome cocktail.
They then escort guests to a gourmet dinner, followed by the show. Did I forget to mention the open bar?
Dine at a Food Park
If you have never eaten at a food park, this is your chance. In Puerto Vallarta, several vendors have established permanent small food stalls that surround an area filled with picnic tables. Everyone in your party gets to wander by the stalls and decide what they want. It could be tacos at one place, a stuffed potato with chorizo and cheese at another, or even a sushi roll. Everyone is happy (including those of us who enjoy a cocktail with dinner).
Puerto Vallarta’s Old Town (Romantic Zone) has everything you’d want and expect in an “Old Town” section of town. Picturesque, – check. The lovely architecture and refurbished building are quant indeed. It’s a great place to stroll around, poke your head into a few shops and just lazily explore.
Plenty of restaurants and bar? Also check. You can find some gourmet delights, traditional Mexican dishes and everything in between. There are plenty of bars, often with outside areas or rooftops from which to enjoy an afternoon or evening.
The fact that one end of Old Town (or the Zona Romantica) terminates at the beach. This is home to Puerto Vallarta’s iconic Malecón, or boardwalk. Here you will find stunning water views, a huge selection of restaurants and some fascinating bronze statues along the way.
Explore The Puerto Vallarta Old Town
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish
This beautiful church, with its lovely crowned top, is probably the most photographed building in Puerto Vallarta and is the jewel of the city. Stop by during your visit to Old Town and feel free to step inside after you get your souvenir photo. The church is opened daily.
Los Muertos Beach
Los Muertos Beach (or Deadman’s Beach) is the most visited beach in Puerto Vallarta. This is likely due to its location at the beachside termination of Old Town. The area is full of restaurants, beach clubs, and vendors ready to serve up snacks or offer various souvenirs to tourists soaking up the sun.
A visit isn’t complete without taking a walk on the Los Muertos Pier. The contemporary pier is a jumping off point for many boats taking tourists on day trips or evening sunset cruises.
The pier gets its modern look with the addition of a huge structure resembling a sail, making it the centerpiece of an area famous for its’ seaside sculptures.
Discover Restaurants in the Romantic Zone
La Palapa sits right on the water’s edge. In fact, you have the option of getting a table directly on the beach. The atmosphere is slightly upscale, so expect to pay a little more. Specialties include a whole red snapper, lobster tail and pork roulade.
Gaby’s Restaurant & Bar
Gaby’s has been serving up traditional Mexican Cuisine in Puerto Vallarta for 30 years. Chef Julio Cesár, the youngest son of this family owned business, now runs the operation and has added some contemporary touches to the menu. We were lucky enough to take a cooking class with Chef Cesár, who took us on a tour of the local market, showed us how to make some lovely dishes (such as traditional mole sauce) and fed us some mighty good margaritas!
The Blue Shrimp
If you are looking for a restaurant to enjoy fresh seafood overlooking the ocean, The Blue Shrimp is a popular option. Try the Coconut Shrimp or choose from a wide array of seafood tacos. Some Italian dishes, vegetarian options and traditional fajitas are also available for those who aren’t craving seafood.
I think the name says it all with this restaurant! Casa Traditional offers authentic fare in a casual atmosphere with all the dishes you’d expect. Items such as Cochinita Pibil (slow cooked pork), Barbacoa Beef (slow cooked shredded beef), enchiladas, along with other traditional dishes with a twist, are all on the menu.
Also, enjoy a fresh made salsa made in a molcajete (stone bowls carved out of lava rock). A simple recipe but if you haven’t tried Molcajete Salsa – sample it here! The salsa and guacamole are made table side which adds to the fun.
Di Vino Dante
This is perfect stop for lovers and food and art. Walking into Di Vino Dante is like stepping into a gallery filled with paintings and sculptures by Mexican artists. You can choose a glass of wine from their offering which includes a good selection of Mexican and Latin American vintages while you tour the gallery. Or sit and take in the art while dining on a selection from their creative upscale menu.
Mariscos El Gueros
If you are looking for fresh seafood served in an unpretentious setting, Mariscos El Gueros is for you. Try some fresh ceviche or aguachile tostadas . There are many popular seafood dishes are on the menu, such as shrimp stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon, or whole fish cooked and sauced the way you like it (al gusto).
Stroll the Malecón
Puerto Vallarta’s Malecón is a mile long seaside boardwalk with many surprises along the way. There are many things that you’d expect, like restaurants, shops, vendor selling food and souvenirs and street performers.
The Malecón is one of the best places take a walk while enjoying the cool sea breezes or to catch a stunning sunset display when the sun goes down. At the right time of year, you may even catch sight of a whale breaching from the ocean.
Throughout the day, there are many street performers, the most famous being the Danza de los Valadores (Dance of the Flyers). The performance is less of a dance and more of an acrobatic display, consisting of five men in traditional garb scaling a 30 foot pole (10 meters) and making it to the ground by slowing twirling upside down with ropes tied to their feet.
This ritual was believed to have originated as a plea to the gods to end severe drought. The brave guys who have maintained this art deserve all the tips they get.
The other fascinating display along the Malecón is all of the sculptures that you will encounter along the way. Beyond being a beautiful display and currently really popular place to grab a selfie, each work of art is unique and has its own story.
The best way to hear those stories is to join in on a free malecón tour, where there is the opportunity to speak with a passionate local expert, or even, on a lucky day, one of the artists themselves.
Enjoy a Weekend Market
Marina Vallarta Farmer’s Market
This is one of Puerto Vallarta’s largest Farmers Markets. It occurs every Thursday evening from October through May from 6:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. The marina is lined with tents where you can find a variety of food, crafts and fine art. It’s a great place to enjoy a fun evening, take in a lovely sunset and enjoy some live music.
The Marina can be accessed easily via bus, taxi or Uber.
Olas Altas Farmer’s Market
The Olas Altas Farmer’s Market in Puerto Vallarta is not to be missed. It occurs during the month of September through April every Saturday from 9:30 am. – 2:00 p.m. You can find crafts made by local artists, gourmet food, fresh produce and take in some fun street performances. The people watching also a lot of fun.
The prepared food options are pretty endless too. You can find anything from tamales, homemade pasta and sauce, paella baked goods, homemade ice cream to even Thai food. It’s pretty hard to decide.
Getting there is easy. There are plenty of taxis and Uber drivers in Puerto Vallarta, and a bus system that will take you along the main areas covering the marina all the way to old town, where the weekend market is held.
After all of that food and shopping, it’s about the right time for a nice cold frosty beer. Happily, there are plenty of options in Puerto Vallarta to quench that craving for a nice craft beer.
Enjoy Some Craft Beer
Puerto Vallarta has a few restaurants that offer cold frosty craft beer. The craft beer culture in Puerto Vallarta is just beginning, but we’d say they are off to a good start, with several options right in Old Town.
Los Muertos Brewing Company
Los Muertos is one of our favorite places to grab a craft beer. We love the location in old town, which is covered in artwork that gives a nod to the famed Mexican Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead. Today, we toast those who have come before us, whose deeds and memory certainly deserve a moment of pause while having a cold one with friends.
The other reason we love Los Muertos Brewing, beyond the decor and craft beer selection, is the pizza. Just have one – they are fantastic!
Monzón Brewing Company
Monzón was established by a couple from Seattle, Washington, who went on vacation to Puerto Vallarta and fell in love with the area. They returned several years later, bringing along their love of beer, and set up shop just a few blocks from the beach.
Their website boasts “at Monzón you’ll find interesting pints that will take you away from the blandness of mass produced beers, with every sip supporting local non profits, recycling, community partners, and farmers in the area.” More than enough reason to visit. Their craft beer selection, which is unique and bold, however, is the only reason you’ll need.
Take a Craft Beer Tour
For those of you who are dedicated beer drinkers, looking for the very best craft beer in Puerto Vallarta, taking a craft beer tour may be your solution. Why not, you love beer, you’re on vacation. You’ll get to try up to 15 craft beers, including a tequila infused concoction, enjoy some food and finish off with a view of the iconic Puerto Vallarta sunset.
Riverside Shopping on Isla Cuale
Isla Cuale, formed inside of the river that divides the Zona Romantica from Downtown Puerto Vallarta, is a little island of calm. The river island has trails that wind through a jungle area with parrots and iguanas.
There is also great craft shops, a few restaurants and a cultural museum.
The island can be accessed via The Iguana Bridge (Puente Iguana) that connects the eastern side of Cuale Island to Cuauhtémoc street.
Once across the bridge, you will find yourself near another popular spot in an area called Gringo Gulch.
Visit Casa Kimberly Vallarta
Casa Kimberly Vallarta has a history that actually helped catapult Puerto Vallarta from a sleepy fishing village to the popular destination it is today. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were at the height of their acting fame when they arrived in Puerto Vallarta to film John Huston’s Night of the Iguana.
The couple’s arrival sparked extreme controversy because, at the time, both Elizabeth and Richard were married to different people. To keep them away from unwanted public attention, Huston offered them his villa, located just outside of town.
Because Taylor loved the villa so much, Burton later bought it for her. He purchased a villa across the street for some privacy of his own, and they constructed a “love bridge” between the two homes.
While Burton and Taylor are long gone from the area, romance has survived. The homes have been turned into a lovely boutique hotel along with an upscale restaurant (The Iguana) and tequila bar. Ah romance!
Sample Oysters on the Beach with the Oyster Guys
You can find oysters prepared many different ways at a lot of the beachside restaurants, but we prefer to get them right on the beach. Vendors set up every morning near Los Muertos beach, next to the Malecon bridge.
These are as fresh as you can get. They’re caught by divers in nearby Banderas Bay, and brought straight to the beach. There, at a series of plastic tables, the venders shuck the oysters and prepare plates of a dozen each. You can easily find the vendors by checking the beach from the Malecón, or more likely, wandering sellers will approach you with a plateful of the delicious treats.
The vendors offer a number of different sauces to top the raw oysters, but we always go with a squeeze of lemon and a dash of hot sauce.
Visit the Marina
Marina Vallarta is a tranquil spot for a stroll or meal overlooking a the vast carpet of expensive water craft. It’s also another great place to enjoy a nice view of the sunset.
The marina is home to some nice restaurants and shops. It’s also a great place to track down a fishing trip or sailing trip.
You can also often catch a glimpse of one of these guys. Nope, it’s not a log.
Enjoy a VIP Movie Experience on the Cheap
Sometimes on a hot summer day (or rainy vacation day for that matter) it’s nice to escape and see a movie. What’s better than a movie? Dinner and a movie. What tops that? Dinner and a movie with drinks, served to you at your luxury reclining chair at the cinema.
While these experiences can be had other places, we have found the prices at Puerto Vallarta’s Cinepolis La Isla, where the VIP movie experience is houses, to be really really good. Tickets for an evening show are about $8 US for an evening showing.
Take a Cooking Class
We love taking cooking classes when we travel. Taking a recipe home (and knowing how to make it) is the best souvenir you can have. Also, the passionate chefs you’ll get to spend time with also know the best restaurants and best off-the-beaten track activities you’re likely to find.
We took two cooking classes in Puerto Vallarta, both which we highly recommend. The first at Gaby’s Restaurant, a long established family run restaurant where we made a traditional Mexican menu that left us full, inspired and ready to tackle a few dishes on our own. Here’s our own version of Moljcajete Salsa and Aguachile Verde (Mexican Ceviche Verde). If we can do it, you can do it!
The second class was at a hillside restaurant called Barcelona Tapas. While you might have doubts about cooking Spanish food with a Spanish chef in Mexico, I’d still recommend it. The food, view from the restaurant and overall experience was fantastic. Served along with your choice of beverage (and the beverages were flowing). Might I suggest Sangria?
Try Sky Diving
If you are looking for a first class view along with a little adrenaline rush, consider Skydiving in Puerto Vallarta. There are several companies who offer tandem jumps so you can take the trip and leave all of the technical stuff (like safety, landing, and the actual jumping out of the plane) to the experts.
With a little courage and an openness to adventure, you could end up with the best travel video of your life and an amazing memory to bring home.
Discover Puerto Vallarta’s Street Art
Puerto Vallarta has some amazing street art. Some works are in well traveled areas, and others are a little off the beaten track. New works are popping up all of the time as street murals have become more popular and sophisticated. You can do a self-guided tour, or join a group tour and get an introduction to the works of art by a local professional.
Go Scuba Diving
Puerto Vallarta has a variety of underwater experiences that will satisfy all levels. Whether you are just dipping your toe into the water and learning to dive for the first time, or are a certified diver looking for a world class experience, you can find it here.
Most of the dive advanced sites are a distance from the resort area, with the calm waters of Banderas Bay or nearby islands, (Marietas or Los Arcos).
Between November and May sea conditions are the calmest and encounters with species such as humpback whales are at their peak. June through October offers the warmest water temps (85°F/30°C) and best visibility.
April and June are just outside of high season. During these months the tourist season is off-peak while the weather is still mild and there is little rain. Prices are lower, making these months a good time to visit.
Visit PADI.com for a listing of what species are commonly spotted at different times of the year in Puerto Vallarta.
Do a Food Tour
Food tours are a fantastic introduction to a new destination. They can be a great way to find local delicacies in “off the beaten track” spots that you would have been unlikely to unearth on your own. Tourist destinations like Puerto Vallarta are often great places to visit, but the food in said tourist areas often has a reputation for low quality and high prices for a reason.
There are lots of food tours available in Puerto Vallarta. Vallarta Food Tours is one we can definitely recommend. The tours are offered by locals who are passionate about food. They have a number of options, from street food, a sampling of the downtown area, mixology tours and tours of Puerto Vallarta’s barrio areas.
We enjoyed the food so much we ended up making our own tamales at home after learning a few tips and secrets to success during the tour. It’s actually not as hard as it looks, who knew?
Do a Tequila Tasting
When planning that trip to Mexico, how many of us don’t think about sipping that first margarita? Cold, a little bit sweet with a nice icing of salt around the rim. Best served with a view of the water, toes in the sand, a nice cool breeze……
Ok, all of that aside, you’re in Mexico now and have a great opportunity to learn about and truly appreciate tequila. As it turns out, there is a lot to know and understand about Mexico’s favorite distilled beverage.
For this, we turned ourselves over to the experts at Vallarta Tequila Tastings. They offer a variety of offering experiences, from beginner to those who know and truly love tequila or mescal and are looking to try their hand selected boutique offerings. They also have tequila tastings that pair with food or even chocolate!
Make Some Chocolate
Visit the Choco Museo (Chocolate Museum) and get a free education about how chocolate is made as well as some interesting history about chocolate making in Mexico.
Not satisfied with just talking about chocolate? The Museum also offers chocolate making demonstrations. They have an ultimate experience for chocolate lovers. A two hour class is offered so that you can make, taste, and bring home chocolate preparations that you have made yourself.
Get on a Bike!
Get out into nature and explore the mountains of Sierra de Vallejo on a mountain bike! You’ll enjoy some easy to moderate terrain that goes through some jungle paths with panoramic views of the Sierra Occidental mountain range. The trip includes snacks along with a dip in a pool to cool off at the end.
Looking for more of a casual bike ride through the city with a few tacos thrown in? If that sounds about right, the Taco Tasting Bike Tour is just right for you! It’s a 3.5 hour tour that will give you a general tour of Puerto Vallarta along with a peak at some off-the -beaten-track sights. Along the way there are 7 food stops and a beer at the end.
Take a Free Art Walk
Puerto Vallarta has become a thriving art center, with more galleries than any other Mexican coastal destination. In order to help visitors get an intimate look into Puerto Vallarta’s art culture, a few galleries have joined together to create the Centro Historico ArtWalk.
Every Wednesday from 6:00 to 10:00 pm from October through May (or beyond), twelve participating galleries open their doors and invite guests in for intimate conversations about each venue’s collection. Artworks include paintings, jewelry, ceramics and sculptures.
The Centro Historico ArtWalk is self-guided. A map to the participating galleries is available at most all of the major hotels, galleries and business, can be found online at Vallarta Art Walk
Do Some Hiking
While not really a hike, a great walk is along the Malecón – essentially, urban hiking. With the ocean on one side, and the entertaining artwork and vendors along the route, you’ll have something new to look at every few minutes.
If you want to extend your urban hike, take Absolo street from the Malecon to the concrete stairs that lead up to Mirador Cerro de la Cruz. It’s a bit of a climb, but you’ll be rewarded with a 360° view of the Pacific, the narrow Puerto Vallarta streets, and a backdrop of the mountains.
If you want to escape into nature a little more, a beautiful hike through the mountains will bring you to Playa Las Animas. The hike takes you from the fishing village of Boca de Tomatlan to the isolated town of Las Animas, crossing several hidden beaches such as Colomitos and El Caballo.
You can do a self-guided hike to Animas, or hire a local guide to show you the way (transportation, lunch, and a drink included).
Once you reach the town, make your way down to the water and you’ll see a pedestrian bridge that connects to the shore across the water. Cross and you will be on the path to Animas!
The narrow path winds along the ocean, so you’ll be rewarded with ocean views many times along the way. This is a hike through the jungle, so make sure you wear sturdy footwear and bring bug spray.
You finish your 2.5-mile (about 4 km) hike at the beautiful beach Las Animas, where you can enjoy a meal at one of the many restaurants. If you have the energy, do the hike in reverse – if not, grab one of the many water taxis to bring you back to your starting point at Boca, or back to Puerto Vallarta.
There are also various guided hikes through Sierra Vallejo, that offer some beautiful views and a fun day hiking through the jungle.
Go Whale Watching
Whale watching in Puerto Vallarta can be as easy as strolling along the boardwalk and being lucky enough to catch one leaping from the water, close enough to shore for you to see.
Whale season officially in Puerto Vallarta begins early to mid-December through late March. The most common months to spot a while are January and February.
Humpback whales travel every year to the Bay of Banderas. They make the 40-day journey from the west coast of Canada past Baja California until they reach Puerto Vallarta’s shore. About 700 arrive in the bay to birth and mate.
Whale Sharks, which can grow up to 60 feet in length, are actually not whales at all. They are very peaceful enormous fish that feed on plankton.
If you’ve never been swimming with a whale shark, it’s an exhilarating experience that we highly recommend. Since they feed on plankton at the surface of the water, only a snorkel is required.
They are most often sighted in between September and October.
Visit the Botanical Gardens
You may be thinking to yourself, Botanical Gardens, yawn. While we’re not saying that a visit here is like an adrenaline shot in the arm, it is a great way to enjoy a jungle setting and get a fantastic meal with a view.
Taking the bus from Old Town is easy, and the view along the way of Banderas Bay and the Los Arcos Nature Reserve is beautiful.
You can stroll through the orchid and cactus garden or take a hike to the river for a swim.
The Botanical Garden restaurant La Hacienda de Oro serves up traditional Mexican dishes, such as chilaquiles, fajitas and tacos. They also have other items such as brick-oven pizza, salads and a full bar. We thoroughly enjoyed our lunch while watching hummingbirds (in Spanish, colibrí) buzz all around us.
You can find information about their days and hours (which change with the season), events, guided tours and how to take the bus from Old Town on the Vallarta Jardin Botanico website.
If you prefer to leave the planning to someone else, there are group tours to the Vallarta Botanical Gardens that make visiting really easy!
Take a Day Trip
While Puerto Vallarta itself has plenty to offer, there are also some sights not to be missed just a short trip away!
Yelapa has a beautiful beach, lush jungle, and a beautiful waterfall. You can take a water taxi from Playa Los Muertos in Puerto Vallarta to Yelapa, which takes about 45 minutes.
There are also tours available that add in a snorkeling and kayaking, 2 cove visits, a deli lunch and open bar!
The 2 and ½ mile mostly level hike to the waterfall begins just steps from the cove where you’ll get dropped off by boats. Along the way you’ll catch sight of colorful parrots and iguanas, before arriving at the main 150 foot high Yelapa Waterfall.
The pool underneath the waterfall is great for swimming, just make sure to bring your bug spray for the hike. If you don’t feel like walking, you can also hire horses or mules to travel the distance to the waterfall!
Las Caletas Day Trip
If you want to get away from the bustle of the city, plan a trip to Las Caletas Beach. This secluded nature preserve is surrounded by jungle and mountains, and is only accessible via boat. Considered one of the best hidden private beach in the world.
The Isla Marietas National Park is located in the beautify Bay of Banderas, and is well worth a day trip. The surrounding waters are teeming with sea life, and encounters with dolphins are a regular occurrence. It’s a great place to enjoy snorkeling while swimming among the rock formations.
Humpback whales use the area as a breeding ground in winter, so depending on the time of year, whale spotting is a possible!
Los Arcos National Marine Park
Los Arcos, which translates to “The Arches” in English, is defined by the granite arches that seem to grow out of the ocean along the coast. As a protected area, the ecosystem is pristine. It is still possible to visit and scuba dive or snorkeling through the arches you see a myriad of colorful fish, eels, and rays.
Las Animas Beach is another destination that can be reached by boat taxis (called “pangas”) from Puerto Vallarta. The beautiful beach is a popular spot, so there are plenty of amenities and restaurants.
Relax on the white sand beach, and take in view of the ocean. Or if you’re more adventurous, a tour guide will be happy to tow you out on a bouncy banana boat or high into the air overlooking the beach on a parasailing rig.
Another popular waterfall destination is Quimixto. This tiny town has only 400 inhabitants, so the amenities are limited, but it’s a chill and relaxing place. About a mile from the town the La Puerta River flows over the rock to create a waterfall. Enterprising locals will offer a horse ride to waterfall, but the walk is quite easy as well. You can reach Quimixto via water taxi or take a full day tour combined with other popular snorkeling areas.
Puerto Vallarta Sunset
Our favorite way to end the day in Puerto Vallarta is finding a quiet place to sit back and watch mother nature’s show. Always spectacular!