Insider Travel Tips for Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Insider Travel Tips for Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

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Puerto Vallarta is the perfect beach destination for when you want to get away from it all, offering the ideal mix of small-town atmosphere with luxury oceanfront resorts. Not only is it one of Mexico’s most alluring resort towns but its also one of the most diverse, offering enticing dining options, fascinating cultural attractions and buzzing nightlife. Take the time to discover its other perks by beach hopping along the coast, browsing quirky boutique shops along winding cobblestone streets and sipping cocktails made with local tequila. 

If you’re planning a beach vacation in Puerto Vallarta, check out this comprehensive travel guide highlighting our top recommendations for what you should see and do. We’ve discovered the best places to eat, the best beaches to work on your tan and the top-rated beach hotels in the area. 

What to See & Do

Zona Romantica

Take a day to wander around the historic center of Puerto Vallarta, including the “zona romantica” to discover a wealth of restaurants, galleries, shops and nightlife. It’s here you’ll find the most Instagram-worthy shots of the city’s most charming area with cobblestone streets, whitewashed adobe walls and red-tiled roofs that highlight its Spanish Colonial past. 

The Malecón

Stroll the Malecón, Puerto Vallarta’s picturesque seaside esplanade dotted with restaurants, shops and art galleries. Wander 11 blocks through the city’s downtown core, admiring street performers and impressive sand sculptures on the beach. Visit an outdoor cafe or marvel at the collection of statues that dot the pathway, and if you’ve got the kids in tow, take a break at the Choco Museo.

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Los Arcos

Check out Puerto Vallarta’s underwater scenery at Los Arcos, where small granite islands emerge from the crystal clear water. Soak up the natural beauty of Puerto Vallarta at Los Arcos Marine Natural Area, as it’s the perfect spot to don a pair of flippers and go snorkeling past colorful tropical fish or sign up for a guided scuba diving adventure. Swim through shallow coves, caves and arches to see starfish, giant lobsters, turtles and eagle rays. 

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Courtesy of Vallarta Adventures

Catch a Captivating Dinner Show

Catch the iconic Rhythms of the Night dinner show, a fascinating cultural show that depicts various stories of ancient Hispanic civilization and Mexican folklore. Start with a sunset cruise across Banderas Bay to Las Caletas, then enjoy a mesmerizing performance that includes live music, dancing, contortionists, fire-twirlers and a large buffet dinner. 

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Join a Whale-Watching Tour

Time your visit to Puerto Vallarta from December until mid-February or March to witness majestic humpback whales in Banderas Bay on a bucket-list-worthy whale-watching tour. The humpbacks migrate in winter from the Arctic to breed and rear their young in the sheltered coasts of the bay, when it’s possible to get a glimpse of these fascinating creatures in their natural habitat.

Take a Day Trip to Nearby Beaches

For a fun day in the sun, take a taxi to Boca de Tomatlan, where you can then catch a water taxi to one of the pristine beaches nearby. Located on the south side of the bay, you’ll have access to Yelapa, Las Animas, Quimixto or Majahuitas, which each provide calm waters ideal for snorkeling and swimming. 

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Courtesy of Melikamp

Best Beaches

Conchas Chinas

Conchas Chinas is a dazzling combination of golden sand, brilliant waters and rock formations, where beachgoers find a tranquil stretch of coastline to stretch their legs. It boasts unique natural pools that form amongst the rock formations as well as easy access to downtown Puerto Vallarta, making it a favorite beach for couples in search of a quiet landscape. 

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Marietas Islands

Go on a boat trip to Marietas Islands with Vallarta Adventures, where you can spot blue-footed booby and schools of dolphins above water around the string of volcanic islands. Rich in biodiversity, it’s an ideal place to snorkel and kayak. Don’t miss the chance to explore the hidden beach, called Playa del Amor, which is an oasis of crystal blue waters and white sand tucked inside a cave. It’s only accessible via a water tunnel that you swim or kayak through.

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Courtesy of Terry Lucas

Las Caletas

A secluded cove on Banderas Bay, Las Caletas offers plenty of thrills for outdoor enthusiasts. You’ll find snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking and paddleboarding activities popular, while it also offers easy access to inland adventures like ziplining and jungle hikes. Once the home of famous film director John Huton, it can only be reached by sea and features lush, jungle landscapes that stretch down to the shore. When you need a break from the water, lounge on one of the hammocks strung along the shore.  

Los Muertos Beach

If you’re the kind of beach enthusiast that enjoys people watching, Los Muertos Beach is an ideal spot to visit. Made famous by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, this beach is bustling with activity with local vendors, watersports activities and competitive volleyball matches. 

Playa Camarones

Traveling with kids? Playa Camarones makes a great stretch of sand for families, offering a fun-filled day of parasailing, swimming and sandcastle building. It sits in a convenient spot in the center of Puerto Vallarta’s hotel zone, near many of the city’s top restaurants, shops and attractions. 

Where to Eat

El Barracuda

If you’re looking for a place to dig your toes in the sand while you dine, El Barracuda is the place to be. Located on Playa Camarones, this laid-back restaurant boasts a deck overlooking the beach and offers tables right on the sand, perfect for when you want to catch the sunset or take a dip in the ocean. 

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Courtesy of La Dolce Vita

La Dolce Vita

Founded by three Italians who fell in love with Puerto Vallarta, La Dolce Vita is one of the most popular dining options in town. Choose from freshly-made seafood dishes or wood-fired pizza, then pair your meal with a glass of vino from the extensive wine list. It’s also a great place for people watching along the Malecón and catching Puerto Vallarta’s dazzling sunset views. 

Joe Jack’s Fish Shack

Beloved with locals and visitors alike, Joe Jack’s Fish Shack is a solid choice for seafood enthusiasts. Best known for its whole Pacific red snapper, which is a typical dish from the region, this fish shack serves it alongside typical fixings like roasted chilies, garlic, lime, tortillas, beans and rice. It also serves delectable shrimp, sea bass and mahi-mahi as well as ginger mojitos and passion fruit margaritas. 

La Palapa

An award-winning restaurant right on the beach, La Palapa combines its gourmet cuisine with a casual beach atmosphere. Marvel at the stunning panoramic views with a tropical sundowner, then peruse the menu at this family-owned establishment to discover dishes that combine local ingredients with Asian and French flavors. 

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Courtesy of Garza Blanca Preserve Resort & Spa

Where to Stay 

Garza Blanca Preserve Resort & Spa

A one-stop shop for beachfront luxury, Garza Blanca Preserve Resort & Spa offers luxury suites and penthouse rooms that offer stunning views of Puerto Vallarta’s sunsets. This all-inclusive property is the best bang-for-your-buck option, offering infinity pools, gourmet dining experiences and a world-class spa. Its package even includes birdwatching tours, jungle hikes and paddleboard lessons. 

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Courtesy of Hotel Mousai

Hotel Mousai 

Hotel Mousai is an adults-only retreat on a wooded hillside overlooking Banderas Bay, less than a 10-minute walk from downtown Puerto Vallarta. Each of the modern rooms features a furnished terrace, plunge pool and hammock with bay views, while its chic rooftop pool serves signature cocktails and 18th-floor views. Book a hydrotherapy treatment at the on-site spa or sign up for yoga classes, jungle jaunts and a tequila tasting. 

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Courtesy of Velas Resorts

Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit 

A luxury all-inclusive resort on Nuevo Vallarta Beach, Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit boasts spacious one and two-bedroom suites with separate living areas and whirlpool tubs. Bask in the sunshine at the outdoor pool with a swim up bar, then retreat to the posh on-site spa for healing rituals or recharge with traditional Mexican cuisine at Frida. World-class golf courses are located nearby, while a Kids and Teens club offers daily activities. 

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