If you're looking for a new and exciting adventure that you may not have thought of before, be sure to look into all of the wonderful things to do in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. This article will give you a fantastic jumping off point when you start to plan your escape. Located on the Pacific Ocean side of Mexico, this coastal resort town is loaded with incredible things to do. Located in the Bay of Banderas (or Bay of Flags) you'll be treated to scenic beaches, bumping nightlife, and depending on the time of year, a wide range of fun festivals to experience. So grab your swimsuit and start dreaming up your next big adventure as we count down the greatest things to do in Puerto Vallarta.
WHERE IS PUERTO VALLARTA AND WHY SHOULD I GO?
Puerto Vallarta is the second largest population center in the region next to Guadalajara. It's between 800 and 1400 miles from the US-Mexico border depending on where you start from and is situated on the Pacific coast in the Mexican state of Jalisco. It's known as one of the friendliest resort towns in the country and is especially accepting of the LGBTQ community. Why should you go check out all of the sublime things to do in Puerto Vallarta? Well first of all, because of the sheer quantity of what's going on there. Many tourists report that even with stays as long as 2 months, they left the town with a list of other things that they wish they'd done but didn't have time for.
CHIEF ATTRIBUTES OF PUERTO VALLARTA: HISTORY AND CULTURE
Puerto Vallarta has a long and celebrated history. Puerto Vallarta recently celebrated its 100-year anniversary as a municipality in 2018 and its 50 year anniversary as a fully established city. For a whole week, festivities shut down the streets. Food vendors peppered the streets, fireworks exploded into splendor at night, and parades occupied official schedules during the day. And there's good reason to celebrate.
HISTORY OF THE CITY
In 1525, the Spanish wandered into what's now known as the Bay of Flags. It was named this because of the series of flags that the indigenous peoples carried during their clashes with the conquistadors. Unfortunately, disease ended up wiping out the majority of the indigenous populations, though traces of their bloodline still continue today.
Through the centuries, the local economy was bolstered by the mining of silver and gold, and in 1918 the municipality was officially established. By 1942 the area started to become known for its abundant hunting and fishing activities, and as more tourists from different parts of the world landed there, its culture continued to grow and diversify.
WHEN HOLLYWOOD COMES KNOCKING
Then, famous film director John Huston chose an area near the city to film the Tennessee Williams classic: "Night of the Iguana." This put images of the region in the American public's consciousness. The film, which starred the legendary actors Richard Burton and Ava Gardner. It was a particularly gossip-filled affair, mostly because while there, Richard Burton had a romantic fling with Elizabeth Taylor, another celebrity at the time. Their connection was particularly juicy because they both were already in committed relationships back in the USA. These revelations impacted more than just the film and the lives of the actors but propelled Puerto Vallarta (where it all went down) into the limelight as a forbidden getaway for two of America's sweethearts. It is also considered a pivotal moment in the birth of tabloid culture.
Then on May 31, 1968, Puerto Vallarta officially became a city in its own right. With that distinction came the federal funds needed to build more roads, essential services, and added infrastructure. It became the foundation upon which everything that goes on there now was built. Today it brings in a large tourist population to the tune of 4 million travelers, and there is an additional number of US and Canadian expats that now call the city home.
WHAT ARE THINGS TO DO IN PUERTO VALLARTA THAT WILL CHANGE MY LIFE?
When you arrive in Puerto Vallarta, you will most likely be greeted by warm winds, bright sunshine, and an abundance of exciting energy. Palm trees and luscious tropical plants dot the landscape that races up to the beach, which depending on where you're staying, is never too far away. Just walking down the streets of the city you can experience its charm and rich history. This is again amplified with a stroll down the Malecon Boardwalk, our first suggestion for incredible things to do in Puerto Vallarta.
THE MALECON BOARDWALK
The Malecon Boardwalk has been a simple, fun, and iconic thing to do in Puerto Vallarta for a long time. It's considered the 'heart and soul' of the city because of its central location. The best times to walk it to avoid the crowds are in the earlier mornings. You'll be able to greet the day with the nearby locals, who've made walking the famed path a healthy habit.
Now for the opposite of human contact, you'll want to head out to Islas Marietas National park. The islands are about an hour's boat ride from Puerto Vallarta but well worth the time investment. Once there, you can check out hotspots like scenic 'love beach' or catch a glimpse of the red-billed tropical birds or dolphins nearby. During the winter it's also possible to see humpback whales and sea turtles during your excursion.
SUNSET HIKE TO THE MIRADOR CERRO DE LA CRUZ
One of the more romantic things to do in Puerto Vallarta, this sunset hike will give you sweeping views of this coastal city. And because the coast faces west, you'll be treated to a spectacularly elevated sunset. Be sure to make certain that there are other tourists walking up at the time that you do, even though it's a popular spot, there's safety in numbers when venturing away from town.
The city is also known for its plentiful number of massage therapists and bodywork practitioners. No matter what your ailment is, these masters of their craft will be sure to give your potentially stressed traveler's body the relaxation it needs to continue exploring all of the things to do in Puerto Vallarta.
LOCAL CREATIVE CUISINE
During your second stroll down the Malecon, be sure to check out the culture of the local eats by pulling up to one of the many food tents/stands. In many places, you'll also be able to try 'the tejuino' a local specialty drink. Among the noted delicious morsels, the shrimp sticks are not to be missed.
TAKE A PADDLEBOARD JOURNEY
The other way to see the bay is to get out in it! While you're out there, keep in mind that you're rowing through a bay that's inspired people to create and celebrate life for hundreds of years.
THE LOCAL SCULPTURES
In addition to having some impressive architecture to take in, a walk on the beach or up and down the Malecon will also offer you the opportunity to take in some of the more advanced artists' sculptures out there. From sand or rock to stone sculpture, you'll be wowed by what a vision, a great deal of patience, and masterful skill can produce.
THE LOCAL ART GALLERIES
Going indoors will quench your thirst for art even more. The place to search in this case is Zona Romantica. Here you'll find countless galleries in what's referred to as 'old Vallarta'
The Markets of Cuale Island
A popular tourist hotspot, here you'll find stands where you can buy things for your friends back home, or even pick up a trinket or souvenir for yourself. You'll be impressed by the diversity of different things to choose from to take with you if you're so moved.
Check out one of the many adventure tours facilitated by the locals. One woman, Sylvie, with French-Canadian/Italian heritage can show you around to the places you might have missed, and even treat you to a rock concert if she's playing that night!
These tropical regions are well loved for their examples of unique bird species. Bird watching tours are also great ways to get outdoors and take in the natural world surrounding the city.
FUN IN THE SUN
There is an incredible amount of glorious beaches up and down the coast of the Bay of Flags. Having your pick of them could occupy you for weeks on end if that's your preference, providing endless things to do in Puerto Vallarta.
A DAZZLING CHURCH
Referred to as one of the city's most endearing landmarks, the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe will sweep you off your feet with its charm and distinction. The top of it features a wrought-iron crown lifted up by angels, which is said to resemble the crown that one of the empresses of Mexico wore in the days long since passed.
DAY TRIPS OUT
Mismaloya and Boca de Tomatlan are two great places to check out if you want to get a little further out into the country. They're full of their own unique charm and definitely less crowded beaches. Both towns are accessible by bus.
WATER TAXIS TO QUIMIXTO
Want to discover a beautiful beach and then go on horseback up to the mountains above? Go check out Quimixto! You arrive by water taxi and then the rest is up to you. There are all sorts of adventures that can be had from this starting point, which is a little further removed from the main drag.
Taking a dolphin tour
For as little as 85 dollars you can have a unique experience with dolphins. These are dolphins local to the bay, and you'll be visiting them in their natural habitat. Under the careful instruction of the guides, you'll be able to snorkel and swim with them to your heart's content.
A SPECIAL EATERY
Of the many restaurants you can visit, a place called Cafe de Olla certainly stands out. It's here that you can supposedly have some of the best 'chile relleno' (a local dish) around.
A CHART TOPPING GARDEN
The botanical gardens in Puerto Vallarta are considered in the top five botanical gardens to visit in the whole of the Northern Hemisphere. Here you'll find a spectacular display of flora. It's also a favorite spot for locals to return to year after year.
Take another stroll down Calle Matamoros, one of the oldest and best-preserved streets in town. This also is an incredible vantage point to view the sunset.
The Lindomar restaurant offers an incredible brunch that's not to be missed. It's located in Conchas Chinas and there's also an incredibly scenic beachside walk to be discovered along your way there or after you've finished eating.
During high season, you're treated to free concerts on Fridays at Lazaro Cardenas Park. The timing of this is great because it's usually just as the sun is setting. So be prepared to boogie down and also get ready for some sunset sounds you won't soon forget.
SCENIC BIKING TOUR
Have you ever wanted to check out the lush Sierra Madre from the seat of a bike? Well now's your chance. A visit to Ecoride Mountain Bike and Hiking Tours will have you pedaling your way to good times before you know it. You'll get to experience the mountainous jungle firsthand, from a company that's been in business for over 30 years.
LOS MUERTOS PIER
Be sure to take some time to check out the newly finished Muertos Pier. Its wooden sculpture where the end of it meets the sea is a great sight to behold. It's also a great destination to go to at night, as the whole area is lit up by blue light. More than likely you'll pass through here if you're looking to take a water taxi to other beaches or islands in the area as well.
CHECKING OUT THE ARCHES
One of those water taxis will take you on a tour of Los Arcos National Marine Park. Where you'll find incredible arched and non-arched rock sculptures. You'll also be able to see wildlife and marine life alike as your taxi helps you explore the rich region about 50 miles south of Puerto Vallarta.
ALONG WITH THE CITY'S ARCHES
Don't forget to look at the architectural arches in the central meeting place: Plaza de Armas. In addition to being a central spot in town, it's also close to the main cathedral: the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. There's also a band that routinely plays here to the delight and amusement of many tourists and locals alike.
PLAYA LOS MUERTOS
Near the pier of the same name, the Playa Los Muertos is a colorful spot to experience the local culture and is a top-rated LGBTQ beach as well. There are countless restaurants and vendors, so you'll never be lost for things to do in Puerto Vallarta.
This is how the majority of boats and yachts arrive. And finding your way there can be an incredible experience among the other things to do in Puerto Vallarta. It was built in 1986 and features an incredible sculpture of a mother whale and her calf. It has the ability to host up to 450 vessels at any given time, and it's great to explore the promenade there, which sometimes features a farmer's market in the summer months. There's even a golf course conveniently located near there, where you can tee off (it's a championship grade course).
For the avid diver, the coast surrounding Puerto Vallarta is full of protected lands that you're allowed to check out in your free time. Make sure to have a trusty diving instructor along with you and access to some incredible diving experiences are all yours.
If you're lucky enough to be visiting in the springtime, you'll be treated to Electro Beach, a part of the RHA electronic dance music festival that began here in 2017. At other times of the year though, you can still check out all the nightlife scene has to offer, you just have to finely tune your sense of adventure, and listen for the pulsing bass thumping down the street.
WHAT SHOULD I REMEMBER DURING MY TIME IN PUERTO VALLARTA?
Like any trip abroad, it's important to remember to respect the local culture and be mindful of their traditions. Remembering to be a humble guest and open to new experiences is also paramount. Remember to stick to the itinerary you've laid out while factoring in a little time for spontaneity. Also remember that if you're able, utilizing the expertise of a guide can allow you to see and do more in a shorter amount of time. Also for safety, it helps to travel in larger numbers. So wherever you go, if you can, have a buddy system in place.
In conclusion, it's important to remember that through your journey of things to do in Puerto Vallarta, it's ultimately your own unique experience. If you find yourself wandering into an experience, that's not on this list, no worries! In addition to the amazing things to do in Puerto Vallarta, remembering to blaze your own trail and create your own unique memories is what the gift of travel is all about. So good luck to you, and enjoy everything that Puerto Vallarta has to offer!