Top Things to do in Puerto Vallarta: A Haven of Sun, Sand and Adventure!
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November 29, 2023
11 min read
Located in Bandaras Bay on the Pacific coast, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico is best known for its charm and beaches. With its stunning beaches, rich culture and history, and endless outdoor activities, it's no wonder why this city has become one of America's top Mexican vacation spots.
Whether you're looking for adventure or relaxation, this city has it all. Best of all, there are many free things to do in this city. Get ready to explore some of the top fun things to do in Puerto Vallarta!
In this article we will discuss the top attractions in Puerto Vallarta and the best time to visit. Overall this cool coastal town is laid back and safe. You can find out more on the safety in Puerto Vallarta here.
Puerto Vallarta boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in Mexico. Playa Los Muertos is probably one of the best beaches and most popular, located in the heart of Zona Romantica in old town Puerto Vallarta. This stunning beach offers crystal clear waters perfect for swimming and sunbathing.
Located just near Puerto Vallarta is Boca de Tomatlan and quaint little fishing village with a gorgeous beach, it's about a 25 minute bus ride, it’s a great day trip from Puerto Vallarta. From here you can make your way to Playa Colomitos and Playa Animas, both secluded beaches are connected by a trail but your best option to get there is via water taxi/boat. It’s about $100 MXN both ways.
Playa Animas is one of the top beaches and includes many activities and attractions. At Playa Animas is one of the best secluded beaches and you can do parasailing or jet skiing. You can even hop on a banana boat ride with friends for a thrilling ride through the waves!
And if you're up for exploring beyond Los Muertos Beach, take a boat tour to nearby islands like Las Marietas or Yelapa. No matter what your interests are, there's no shortage of fun activities at Puerto Vallarta's beaches.
Lounge and Swim at the Famous Los Muertos Beach
When visiting Puerto Vallarta, a trip to Los Muertos Beach is a must. Located in the heart of the Romantic Zone, it's the busiest beach in town. I have to say it’s one of the best free activities you can do. I mean, isn’t it the reason you came? it can get crowded, there's plenty of space for everyone to enjoy.
The sand is soft and golden, and the water is crystal clear. There are plenty of restaurants and bars nearby if you need a break from all the sun.
If you're looking for something more private, head to one of the many secluded beaches nearby accessible by boat only. They are perfect for those who want to escape from crowds and noise and just relax in nature.
Try Water Sports Like Parasailing, Jet Skiing, and Banana Boat Rides
For those seeking more adventure on their beach vacation, there are plenty of water sports available at Los Muertos Beach as well as other beaches around Puerto Vallarta. From parasailing high above the ocean waters to speeding along on jet skis or bouncing on banana boat rides - there's something for everyone. While these activities might be expensive for some people’s budget, they are certainly worth every penny if you want an unforgettable experience in Puerto Vallarta.
Take a Boat Tour to Explore Nearby Beaches and Islands
One of the best ways to explore Puerto Vallarta's stunning coastline is with a boat tour. You can visit nearby beaches that are only accessible by boat like Yelapa or Las Caletas. These beautiful locations offer pristine beaches surrounded by lush jungle landscapes that will take your breath away.
Almost all boat tours will leave from Marina Vallarta, although some will pick you up from the Los Muertos pier. However, be advised that they don’t return to the pier and will take you back to the Marina once done.
Learn more about this cool coastal town by visiting our Puerto Vallarta city guide.
Exploring the Ocean Activities: Snorkeling and Scuba Diving
Puerto Vallarta has many excursions around the Bay of Bandaras to local islands and beaches. Many tours also include snorkeling trips where you can spot tropical fish swimming along colorful coral reefs. It’s an excellent activity for those who love marine life or want some excitement while exploring what lies beneath the surface!
I highly suggest going to Los Arcos, a couple of stone islands just off the coast near Conchas Chinas. Here you can actually swim and snorkel through the arches made in the stones. It’s a super fun experience and one of the best ways to see the exotic life beneath the sea!
You can also take a trip to the Los Marietas islands as well and do the same, but the boat trip takes 2 hours to get there and most only go around the islands. If you want to go ashore and explore these amazing island formations, you will need to pay an entry fee as well.
You will pay most of your fees at the Marina when you leave. There is a ticket booth and all customers must go through and pay the fee before going to the departure gates. You will need the ticket receipt they give you to pass through security before boarding your boat.
Top Snorkeling Sites in Puerto Vallarta
Los Arcos Marine Park: Located near Playa Mismaloya, Los Arcos is a collection of small granite islands that provide a vibrant underwater ecosystem. Snorkelers can explore colorful coral formations, encounter tropical fish, and even spot occasional sea turtles
Marietas Islands: These protected islands, located just off the coast of Puerto Vallarta, offer fantastic snorkeling opportunities. The marine reserve surrounding the islands is home to diverse marine life, including schools of colorful fish, manta rays, and even dolphins.
Las Caletas: Accessible by boat, Las Caletas is a secluded cove that boasts crystal-clear waters and abundant marine life. Snorkelers can discover an array of fish species, vibrant corals, and other fascinating underwater creatures.
You can also take a tour to visit some of the hottest spots for diving. If you're into diving, Puerto Vallarta on Mexico's Pacific coast is the place to be. The water is a gorgeous turquoise and there's tons of cool things to see down there - colorful coral reefs, all kinds of fish and sea creatures, and some pretty amazing underwater scenery. It's definitely a must-visit spot for any adventurous diver!
Where to dive in Puerto Vallarta
El Morro: This popular dive site is known for its dramatic underwater rock formations, caves, and arches. Divers can spot an array of marine life, including large schools of fish, manta rays, sea turtles, and occasionally, even whale sharks.
The Marietas Islands: In addition to snorkeling, the Marietas Islands also offer exceptional scuba diving opportunities. Divers can explore caves, tunnels, and vibrant coral reefs, where they may encounter eagle rays, humpback whales (during the migration season), and a variety of tropical fish.
El Chimo: Situated south of Puerto Vallarta, El Chimo is a remote diving destination that offers a pristine underwater environment. Divers can expect encounters with colorful coral formations, tropical fish, eels, and occasionally, even dolphins or whales.
Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe
One of the most iconic landmarks located in the center of Puerto Vallarta is the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. Situated in the heart of downtown, this Catholic church stands out with its impressive crown-shaped tower that can be seen from miles away.
The interior is equally stunning with its intricate gold details and ornately decorated ceiling. Visitors can attend mass or simply take a moment to admire the beauty and history behind this cultural landmark.
Another popular thing to do in Puerto Vallarta is walking the Malecon boardwalk, which stretches along the waterfront for several miles. It connects the Marina with Zona Romantica.
Lined with sculptures, street performers, and vendors selling handmade crafts, this lively promenade offers plenty to keep you entertained. Take a leisurely stroll and soak up the sights and sounds while enjoying an ice cream cone or refreshing drink from one of the many street vendors.
Mexican Dance Performance at Teatro Vallarta
For a unique cultural experience that's sure to leave an impression, check out a traditional Mexican dance performance at Teatro Vallarta. This beautiful theater hosts various shows throughout the year featuring talented dancers showcasing regional dances like Jarabe Tapatio (the Mexican Hat Dance) or La Bamba.
The vibrant costumes and lively music will transport you to another time and place, providing an unforgettable evening that celebrates Mexico's rich cultural heritage.
You can join one of the many walking and food tours in Puerto Vallarta. These include bot paid and free walking tours and normally start in the downtown area.
Open Sea Adventures: Fishing and Whale Watching
Located on Mexico's Pacific coast, Puerto Vallarta boasts an abundance of marine life that makes it a dream destination for fishing enthusiasts. The waters are brimming with a diverse range of fish species, including marlin, sailfish, dorado, yellowfin tuna, and more.
With the help of local charter companies and experienced guides, you can embark on a fun day trip fishing excursion equipped with top-of-the-line gear and insider knowledge of the best fishing spots.
Whether you're a seasoned pro or a beginner, Puerto Vallarta offers endless opportunities to put your skills to the test and catch some truly impressive fish. Get ready for an unforgettable adventure that will leave you with memories to last a lifetime!
If you're into whale watching, Puerto Vallarta is definitely the place to be. It's perfectly situated along the humpback whale migration routes, which means you'll get to see these majestic creatures up close and personal. From December to March, they make their way to Banderas Bay and put on quite a show for spectators.
You'll be blown away by their acrobatics - breaching, tail slapping, and even singing! And don't worry, local tour operators make sure to follow responsible practices so as not to disturb these gentle giants.
You will also have super knowledgeable guides who can give you all the details on humpback whale behavior and biology. It's an experience unlike any other. I was able to do this in San Blas (about 2 hours north of Puerto Vallarta) and it was truly one of the most amazing things I have ever done!
Outdoor Adventures: From Ziplining to Hiking
Hike through the Lush Sierra Madre Mountains for Stunning Views of the City and Coastline
Puerto Vallarta is surrounded by the Sierra Madre Mountains, which offer some of the most beautiful hiking trails in Mexico. Hiking is a great way to explore the scenery and wildlife of Puerto Vallarta.
There are several different hiking routes you can take, depending on your experience level and desired difficulty. The most popular trail is the one that leads to El Salto Waterfall, which takes about four hours round trip.
The hike is challenging but not too difficult, and it offers stunning views of both Puerto Vallarta and the coastline.
One of the best hikes is the Mirador la Cruz. Starting in the city, you can hike your way up to the top of the mountains and have picturesque views over Puerto Vallarta.
Go Zip-Lining or Rappelling through the Jungle
If hiking isn't your thing but still want to see stunning views from high up in trees, zip-lining might be perfect for you! Zip-lining combines adrenaline-pumping thrill with spectacular scenery for a unique outdoor adventure experience in Puerto Vallarta. Imagine gliding over lush green jungle while enjoying panoramic views of mountainside cliffs or rivers down below.
There are many zip-lining tours available in Puerto Vallarta ranging from gentle rides suitable for children to more extreme runs for thrill-seekers craving adrenaline rushes.
Some tours also offer guided hikes through the jungles where you can explore and learn about the various plants and animals found in Puerto Vallarta's environment.
You will want to go during peak season to catch the waterfalls. I had the experience of going during low/dry season and some were non-existent.
Take a Horseback Ride Along Secluded Beaches or Mountain Trails
If you're looking for a more relaxed pace, taking a horseback ride along secluded beaches or mountain trails is an excellent way to explore Puerto Vallarta's natural beauty.
Horseback riding is the perfect way to enjoy the scenery at a more leisurely pace. Riding horses on the beach is one of the most popular activities in Puerto Vallarta.
You can get a horseback ride to the waterfalls near Playa Animas.
Food and Drink
Sample authentic Mexican cuisine like tacos al pastor, ceviche, and churros
No trip to Puerto Vallarta is complete without indulging in some of the local delicacies. One must-try dish is the tacos al pastor, which consists of spicy marinated pork cooked on a rotating spit and served with toppings like onions, cilantro, and pineapple.
Another popular dish is ceviche, which is made from raw fish marinated in lime juice and mixed with vegetables like tomatoes, onions, and avocado. And for those with a sweet tooth, be sure to try churros - crispy fried dough sprinkled with cinnamon sugar (a Mexican favorite).
I also suggest trying some marlin. It’s usually smoked and served as a burrito or tostada with some pico-de-gallo and salsa. It’s a flavor bomb for your tastebuds! Make sure to visit El Tacon de Marlin, my go-to spot.
Sip on margaritas or tequila flights at local distilleries
After enjoying some delicious food, it's time to wash it down with a refreshing drink. Margaritas are undoubtedly the most popular cocktail in Puerto Vallarta, I mean you are in the land of Tequila.
These flights offer a sample of different aged tequilas so you can taste the differences between blanco (un-aged), reposado (aged 2-12 months), and añejo (aged for at least one year).
Take a Day Trip to Beach towns
Surf Town Sayulita
Sayulita is a quaint seaside town that draws in visitors with its mix of stunning scenery, lively culture, and chill vibe. It’s only about one hour’s drive from Puerto Vallarta and lots of people opt to make the trip to Sayulita for a chance to switch up their surroundings and soak up some bohemian beach town vibes.
When it comes to dining, the options are endless and eclectic - from street food to fancy restaurants, there's something for everyone. And at night, the town comes alive with its vibrant nightlife scene.
But if you're looking for some outdoor adventure and nature exploration, Sayulita has that too! And don't worry about getting stressed out - the overall atmosphere here is super relaxing and laid-back! It's a fun day trip from Puerto Vallarta but can be extended to a weekend depending on your time.
Visit Nuevo Vallarta
Nuevo Vallarta, located just north of Puerto Vallarta, is a popular destination known for its stunning beaches, luxurious resorts, and a wide range of activities.
Pristine Beaches: Nuevo Vallarta boasts long stretches of pristine, sandy beaches that are ideal for sunbathing, swimming, and enjoying water activities. The beaches are well-maintained and offer a tranquil and picturesque setting for relaxation.
All-Inclusive Resorts: Nuevo Vallarta is home to numerous high-end, all-inclusive resorts that offer luxury accommodations, world-class amenities, and impeccable service. Here you can indulge in upscale dining experiences, spa treatments, golf courses, and access to exclusive beach clubs.
Water Parks: Located in Nayarit and only about 20-30 minutes from central Puerto Vallarta are water parks. Here you will find Splash Water Park and Aquaventuras Park. These parks are great for family fun or a great way to make a splash and stay cool!
Shopping: Browse for Souvenirs
One of the best things about traveling is bringing back souvenirs to remember your trip by, and Puerto Vallarta has plenty of options for souvenir shopping. The downtown area, particularly around the Malecon, is filled with small shops selling handmade crafts and jewelry. You can find everything from colorful woven blankets to intricate pottery and traditional Huichol beadwork.
If you're looking for something more upscale, head to the trendy boutiques in the Romantic Zone or Marina Vallarta. Here you'll find designer clothing, high-end jewelry, and unique home decor items.
Don't be afraid to haggle a little bit at local markets - it's expected! And if you're not sure what to buy, ask a local shop owner for their recommendations - they'll be happy to help you find something special.
Puerto Vallarta truly packed with many wonderful things to do - whether you're looking for adventure, relaxation, cultural experiences or just good food and drink at the best restaurants.
Vallarta is one of the few places that gives you mountains and oceans all in a close area. From lounging on beautiful beaches to exploring hidden waterfalls in the jungle, there's no shortage of cool things to keep you busy during your visit.
I have to say, the city of Puerto Vallarta is the perfect getaway and one of the most beautiful places in Mexico. My time in Puerto Vallarta was never boring.
And with friendly locals and a laid-back vibe, it's easy to see why so many people fall in love with this charming Mexican town. So pack your sunscreen and sense of adventure - here's to making the most of your visit in Puerto Vallarta. If you're coming in from the capitol or looking to make make a weekend trip then check out how to get to Puerto Vallarta from Guadalajara.