Puerta Vallarta is a sprawling beach town on the Pacific Coast of Mexico with a rich history and culture. Puerto Vallarta is a quintessential Mexican seaside destination with world-class beaches and vibrant nightlife.
Despite the urban sprawl, Puerto Vallarta protects its remaining natural areas; the city has plenty of trees and clean water to swim in. Natural areas rich in wildlife, such as Los Arcos National Marine Park and Estero El Salado, are within easy reach on foot, by boat, or by car from the downtown area. Here are the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta.
- Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
- 20 Things To Do In Puerto Vallarta
- 1- Walk The Malecon
- 2- Paddleboard To Los Arcos National Marine Park
- 3- Snorkelling The Reefs Around Los Arcos Marine Park
- 4- Go Whale Watching
- 5- Visit Marietas Islands
- 6- Go SCUBA Diving
- 7- Visit Playa Majajuitas
- 8- Go Bar Hopping In Zona Romantica
- 9- Shop At Olas Altas Farmers Market
- 10- Explore Playa de Los Muertos
- 11- Party At Act2PV
- 12- Climb Mirador de la Cruz
- 13- See Local Art On The Vallarta ArtWalk
- 14- Visit Rancho Verano Tequila Distillery
- 15- Visit The 4D Art Museum
- 16- Explore Matamoros Lighthouse
- 17- Visit The Naval Museum
- 18- Escape To Isla Cuale
- 19- Estero El Salado
- 20- Go Sportfishing
- 20 Things To Do In Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
20 Things To Do In Puerto Vallarta
1- Walk The Malecon
Visitors to Puerto Vallarta should visit the Malecon, the large pedestrian walkway that meanders along the city’s shoreline.
The Malecon has several modern sculptures along the length of the walkway and restaurants offering a range of cuisines.
Look out for a lovely Italian restaurant called La Dolce Vita, which has a second-floor dining room that overlooks Banderas Bay.
Many shops on the Malecon sell beach items, hats and souvenirs, while street vendors set up carts along the walkway selling paintings, crafts, snack foods and beverages.
The large colourful letters that spell out “Puerto Vallarta” is also on the Malecon with a beautiful view of the bay behind it, creating a perfect spot to snap a photo.
2- Paddleboard To Los Arcos National Marine Park
Paddleboarding trips to Los Arcos National Marine Park are a fun way to see wildlife.
Los Arcos is a cluster of rock islands that jut above the water, surrounded by coral reefs.
Several species of birds and mammals like blue-footed boobies, pelicans, frigatebirds and bats call these rocks home.
Large paddleboards that can accommodate several people carry groups across the water to Los Arcos through the caves to listen to the bats that live in the crevices of the island’s rocks.
Some tour companies will take photos of the trip and share them with you afterwards.
In addition, some tour operators provide refreshments at the end of the paddleboarding excursion.
3- Snorkelling The Reefs Around Los Arcos Marine Park
Visitors to Puerto Vallarta should take advantage of the snorkelling opportunities available in the relatively calm waters of Banderas Bay.
One popular place to snorkel is at the Los Arcos Marine Park.
You can either book a paddleboard excursion or a boat excursion to Los Arcos that includes time to snorkel the coral reef surrounding these rocky islands.
Abundant wildlife and fish species thrive on these reefs.
Snorkellers can see crabs, starfish, sea urchins and many fish species while snorkelling.
The reef is shallow in some areas, so it is easy to get a close look at some of the more interesting invertebrate species.
Look for a tour operator that will photograph you in action while snorkelling as part of the package, so you can take home photos to remind you of your adventure.
4- Go Whale Watching
Whales migrate along the Pacific Coast of Mexico from December to March and sometimes as early as November.
The whales most often seen during this migration are the humpback whales, which are well-known for their acrobatics and whale-watching tours.
They are often seen breaching the surface and leaping out of the water.
Visitors to Puerto Vallarta during the whale-watching season can book a tour with one of many operators.
The Mexican government highly regulates whale watching, so tours must be booked with a certified guide who knows the rules.
5- Visit Marietas Islands
The Marietas Islands are a unique and beautiful protected area off the coast of Puerto Vallarta and are famous for their Hidden Beach, also called Playa del Amor.
The number of visitors permitted to visit the beach each day is limited, so the ecotours that visitors book are generally small.
To reach the beach, swimmers must swim hard against the current through a tunnel.
An extensive coral reef surrounds these islands.
Visitors can snorkel while they wait and hope to gain access to the beach that day.
Dolphins, sea turtles, and many colourful species of fish can be found on the coral reef of these islands.
6- Go SCUBA Diving
Several SCUBA diving sites off the coast of Puerto Vallarta offer divers thrilling experiences and beautiful vistas.
Dive sites include Los Arcos Marine Park, mentioned above, and Marietas Islands, as well as El Morro and Chimo, located about 26 miles offshore.
El Morro is an excellent place to dive along pinnacles that jut up from the ocean floor.
Chimo contains interesting rock formations and corals, and the chance of encountering giant manta rays at this site is high.
The best time to explore this place depends on what you want to see or do.
The waters are colder but calmer from November to April, which is the best time to see whales. From May to October, the water is warmer with higher visibility, but currents are a little rougher.
7- Visit Playa Majajuitas
Playa Majajuitas is a private beach on the south side of Puerto Vallarta that can only be reached by boat.
Some tours offer a stop at this beach paradise as part of a day trip to enjoy the pristine beach, big waves and refreshments.
You can rent kayaks, paddleboards and banana boats during the day, and on weekend evenings, this beach transforms into an eco-club.
Visitors should make reservations in advance for the exclusive and popular evening events involving music and food at this private beach.
8- Go Bar Hopping In Zona Romantica
Zona Romantica (Romantic Zone) is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Puerto Vallarta, well-known for its upbeat vibe and bars that cater to expats and LGBTQ+ visitors.
Located on the south side of Puerto Vallarta, south of the downtown area, this colourful section of the city is what locals and expats call the “real” Puerto Vallarta.
There are no beach resorts in this section of the city, but small, colourful hotels and inns have rooms for rent at more “Mexican” prices rather than resort prices.
Many restaurants and roadside stands in this area offer delicious pastries, freshly cut fruits, fresh juices and traditional Mexican breakfast foods all morning, as well as tacos and other traditional foods throughout the rest of the day.
9- Shop At Olas Altas Farmers Market
Olas Altas Farmers Market is within the Zona Romantica in Lazaro Cardenas Park.
This makes it easy to access from the downtown area and is only a few blocks from the river end of the Malecon.
This market opens on Saturday mornings from November through April.
Tianguis or temporary booths are set up in rows, and visitors can browse through the variety of things for sale.
From artwork and artisanal crafts to organically produced fruits and vegetables, visitors can find the perfect souvenir or snack.
Live music is often performed during this time, giving the market a festive vibe.
10- Explore Playa de Los Muertos
Playa de Los Muertos is a public beach in Zona Romantica that attracts many visitors.
It’s usually more crowded than the resort beaches and there is a lot more to see and do here.
Vendors sell food and souvenirs along the beach.
The wide, sandy shoreline provides plenty of space for kids to play. And many activities can be booked from this beach, including parasailing and jet skiing.
Renting umbrellas and chairs is easy, and you can spend a day on the sand, relaxing until the sun sets on this beautiful coast.
Restaurants on the beach offer great food and stunning views of the waves.
One of the most popular places to explore is the Pier at Playa de Los Muertos.
This uniquely curved pier attracts fishermen and visitors enjoy watching them haul in their catch.
11- Party At Act2PV
When the sun goes down, the Zona Romantica continues to party.
Bars, clubs, and restaurants stay open late in this area.
A popular place for live evening entertainment in the Zona Romantica is called the Act2PV.
This large theatre venue has world-class performers that display their talents in one of four different parts.
The main stage offers Broadway shows, concerts, plays, and musicals.
Two cabaret stages, one of which is open-air, put on shows every night.
The piano bar provides visitors with an enjoyable and relaxing place to enjoy good music and cocktails.
Visitors to Puerto Vallarta should check out the schedule and if you want to get a better price, discount tickets are sometimes sold at the Olas Altas Farmers Market on Saturday mornings.
12- Climb Mirador de la Cruz
One of the most highly rated activities in Puerto Vallarta is hiking to the Mirador de la Cruz but the trail is not for the faint of heart or anyone with mobility issues.
It is also probably not suitable for young children unless someone can carry them up the hill.
As you walk away from the Malecon towards the hill, the slope gradually increases and the path takes you past houses landscaped with colourful flowers.
As you get closer, the slope of the climb increases until you reach the old funicular.
At that point, you’ll need to climb lots of steps the rest of the way.
The views of Puerto Vallarta and Banderas Bay from this overlook are spectacular and well worth the effort to reach the top.
However, there are no restrooms and shops to buy water, so hikers should ensure they have sufficient water to do the climb.
13- See Local Art On The Vallarta ArtWalk
Galleries in Puerto Vallarta invite artists from all over Mexico and the world to display artwork in the form of paintings, sculptures, textiles, ceramics and jewellery.
Much of this art embodies some aspect of Mexican culture or history.
The Vallarta ArtWalk takes place on Wednesday evenings from November through May.
Wander through the Centro Historico area and visit the participating galleries.
Drinks are usually available in the galleries on these evenings, and artists are often available to talk about their work.
Art collectors can purchase their favourite pieces and speak to the artists who created them.
14- Visit Rancho Verano Tequila Distillery
The state of Jalisco is where tequila is made and distilleries all over the state produce a wide variety of tequilas, most of which cannot be found outside of Mexico.
Visitors to Puerto Vallarta should try to taste this wonderful regional beverage.
Located an hour’s drive south of Puerto Vallarta, the Rancho Verano Tequila Distillery offers tours and tequila tasting to visitors. An on-site restaurant also provides visitors with an excellent dining experience.
The journey to this distillery may be long, but the views of the lush forest and the rugged coast make this a beautiful drive.
15- Visit The 4D Art Museum
The 4D Art Museum in Puerto Vallarta is the city’s first and most unique art museum.
This 4D experience engages most of the senses, allowing visitors to appreciate the art and meaning behind each piece fully.
The museum offers a stunning, immersive experience that engages both children and adults.
Visitors to the museum learn about Mexican history, culture and geology.
Guided tours in Spanish and English help visitors fully appreciate the artists’ work.
16- Explore Matamoros Lighthouse
The Matamoros Lighthouse or Faro de Matamoros operated from 1932 until 1978 and later became a historic landmark.
Visitors can climb up to this lighthouse to take panoramic photos of Banderas Bay and the city.
The climb to the lighthouse is not nearly as challenging or intense as the climb to the Mirador de la Cruz.
For this reason, it receives more visitors who enjoy the scenic view but don’t want too much exercise.
The lighthouse is near Gringo Gulch, a scenic area known for its expensive houses bordering a tree-lined alley, where the former home of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton is located.
The Mexico Naval Museum in Puerto Vallarta is on the Malecon, overlooking Banderas Bay and has two floors of artifacts.
With more than 150 artifacts that include model ships and uniforms, this museum tells the story of Mexico’s navy from pre-Hispanic times to the modern era.
A navigation simulator allows visitors to navigate a ship out of the bay.
Displays are in English and Spanish, and guides are available to help answer any questions.
It usually takes about one hour to walk through.
18- Escape To Isla Cuale
Isla Cuale is a small island located in the middle of the Cuale River, just before it empties into Banderas Bay.
The Malecon crosses the Cuale River just downstream of the island.
Pedestrian bridges stretch across the river from several places on either side.
Many large trees shade this island and restaurants and shops line the streets.
Artisanal crafts and souvenirs can be purchased here, and visitors should be prepared to haggle for a reasonable price.
The Cuale Archaeological Museum is also located on the island and houses pre-Hispanic artifacts from the region.
19- Estero El Salado
If you love nature, visit the Estero El Salado or El Salado Estuary.
This protected urban estuary contains more than 890 species of animals, including crocodiles, iguanas, boa constrictors and hundreds of bird species.
Biologists lead boat tours through the estuary’s mangroves and swamps.
They educate visitors about the importance of this place and the need for continuing conservation efforts.
Low tide is the best time to see the most wildlife.
All proceeds from tours, offered in English and Spanish, go towards conserving this important natural area.
20- Go Sportfishing
Sportfishing off the coast of Puerto Vallarta is an enjoyable experience year-round.
The famous Puerto Vallarta International Sailfish and Marlin Fishing tournament is held every year, bringing anglers from all over the world.
Anglers that book fishing trips out of Puerto Vallarta regularly catch trophy-sized marlin, sailfish, tuna and Mahi Mahi.
Wahoo, grouper, amberjack, snappers and billfish are often caught in these coastal waters too.
Both deep-sea fishing and inshore fishing are popular.
You can book fishing charters from various tour companies and boat captains lasting from a few hours to a day or multiple days.
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