Puerto Vallarta is famous around the globe for its pristine white-sand beaches, luxurious resorts, exquisite gastronomy and vibrant nightlife. But even though the coastal town has everything you could ask for, there are some hidden gems awaiting be discovered just a stone’s throw away. Read on for our rundown of the most remarkable beach day trips you can take from Puerto Vallarta.
Sayulita is a peaceful beach town located about an hour away from Puerto Vallarta on the iconic Riviera Nayarit. It’s very popular among surfers for its perfect surf break but still considered a lesser-known destination on the coast. The laid-back ambiance of the village combined with the region’s rich flora and fauna and, of course, the impeccable beach, make it a must for your Puerto Vallarta itinerary.
The easiest way to get there is taking the bus that departs from Vallarta Marina and drops you off a few minutes outside the village. Strolling down the colorful alleys, you’ll have the chance to witness local craftsmanship in the form of flashy clothes, hats and art and probably load up on souvenirs. There are several beaches to explore on your visit to Sayulita. Playa de Los Muertos—that looks all but dead—on the south is a perfect spot for snorkeling, while if you’re looking for a more private experience be sure to check out Las Cuevas and Mal Pasos on the other side of the village.
Islas Marietas National Park
The Islas Marietas National Park is comprised of a group of breathtakingly beautiful islands off the coast of Nayarit that have seen a surprisingly turbulent past. Being uninhabited, they used to be an official military site for bomb testing at the turn of the 20th century—it’s still not quite clear whether the islands’ peculiar shapes are volcanic formations or the result of massive explosions. Nevertheless, the view is outstanding. Several decades later, after a campaign spearheaded by Jacques Yves Cousteau, the islands were awarded a national park status by local authorities in order to protect them from all human activity.
Nowadays, Islas Marietas is one of the most prominent tourist destinations in the region, with numerous operators scheduling daily excursions from Puerto Vallarta. Make sure to join one to behold amazing marine life, go whale-watching and dive in the waters of the extraordinary Playa Escondida or “Beach of Love”, one of the few spots that are open to the public.
Playa Las Gemelas
About half an hour away from the hustle and bustle of Puerto Vallarta, Las Gemelas is a pair of “twin’ beaches separated by a rock formation that stands between them. Both beaches are sandy and wide but quite short in length. Their relatively small size is probably the reason why there are very few tourists or amenities to be found there, apart from Park Royal Puerto Vallarta. But that is not necessarily a bad sign. Las Gemelas offer a peace of mind that is really hard to find at neighboring beaches, jaw-dropping views all the way down to Los Arcos, crystal-clear waters and a feeling that you are vacationing on a private island. This place is so under the radar that you need to let the driver know you are stopping there when taking the bus from Puerto Vallarta.
Las Caletas is the beach travelers daydream about without even knowing it exists. Exclusively accessible by boat and only a few miles away from Puerto Vallarta, Las Caletas promises a day away from it all, sipping cocktails on seaside hammocks and swimming in emerald waters. Even though it is ideal for a digital detox, you’ll find it’s very hard to resist that urge of getting your phone out to capture its astonishing beauty. Apart from dozing off on the hamacas, there are plenty of other ways to spend your day here. You can head towards the water for kayaking, paddle-boarding and snorkeling with sea lions or go the opposite way to trek inside the lush jungle. There are also a deer sanctuary and a hilltop spa not too far away from the beach. Las Caletas is also a popular wedding destination, with romantic ceremonies and exuberant parties taking place on its golden sands.
If you consider yourself an intrepid traveler and you find the idea of being marooned on a tropical paradise more thrilling than frightening, Majahuitas Beach is the right place for you. It is located on the south of Banderas Bay, right next to Sayulita and very close to Puerto Vallarta. A short taxi boat ride is enough to transport you to a most Crusoean scenery—a strip of white sand straddling azure waters against the majestic backdrop of a palm tree jungle. This virgin beach is ideal for any kind of eco-activities. Snorkeling, scuba diving, hiking, birdwatching and wildlife trekking are only some of the ways to pass the time at Majahuitas. And if all that leave you with an appetite for fresh seafood, head over to the beach huts where fishermen bring in the catch of the day for a delicious seafront meal.
If you imagine your day trip to be nothing but a relaxing day by the sea, head for Yelapa. The tiny coastal town is only 45 minutes away from Puerto Vallarta and you can easily reach it with a water taxi. Located in Banderas Bay, with lavish green mountains on one side, a charming turquoise lagoon on the other and a wide strip of wide sand in the middle, Yelapa is bound to impress you. When you’re done soaking in the sun, enjoy traditional Mexican cuisine and fresh seafood in any of the oceanfront restaurants, or spark a conversation with the locals at the beach bars over a cold drink. Yelapa is famous for being a hangout spot for artists, perhaps because it is rumored that it was once Bob Dylan’s favorite hideaway. In the odd case you want to drift away from the sunny beach, you can also trek up the river to stretch your feet and discover a scenic waterfall.
Just a few kilometers north of Sayulita, you’ll find the pueblo magico of San Francisco or San Pancho as locals most often call it. The small town is relatively non-touristic, although it sees its fair share of visitors during the annual music festival. Throughout the rest of the year, it maintains a mellow vibe and easygoing attitude that is perfect for those looking to escape urban surroundings and unwind by the sea. San Pancho is also home to many organic food markets and restaurants and famous for having a remarkably strong culinary scene with a “farm to fork” philosophy. After a pleasant dinner, locals and visitors gather at the wide beach in the evenings to marvel at the sunset and socialize.
Barra de Navidad
Barra de Navidad is one of those places that rarely appears on travel guides but never ceases to impress visitors with its untarnished authenticity. It’s nestled in the bay of Bahía de Navidad, about three hours away from Puerto Vallarta and this small fishing town has an atmosphere so tranquil that it’s almost trance-inducing. It might seem like a long ride, but the fascinating landscape, incredible food and charming beaches definitely make up for it.
Barra de Navidad is the perfect place to experience Mexican culture and get a taste of what the locals’ everyday life looks like. Their friendly attitude will make you feel right at home. So you might as well spend your time there the same way they do: fishing. You can choose among countless spots on the town’s rocky oceanfront or even charter a boat and go out in the open sea in search of tuna, dorado and sailfish. If fishing isn’t your kind of sport, you can spend an afternoon at Grand Isla Navidad Resort that boasts one of the most magnificent golf courses in the country.
Punta de Mita
Punta de Mita is the ultimate luxury destination on the Riviera Nayarit. It’s a lavish green elevated peninsula that nosedives into the Pacific Ocean on the north edge of Banderas Bay. The region has undergone a vast transformation during the past decade. Tiny fishing communities turned into extravagant gated resorts, exclusive beach clubs started popping up on the shores and unexploited fields became villas and tennis clubs.
Its immense natural beauty attracted luxury brands whose skillful architects and talented designers created a secluded tropical paradise. Financially boosted by the presence of the world-renowned St. Regis Punta Mita Resort and Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, the stylish community now includes several golf courses, wellness centers and top-shelf restaurants all based around a picturesque small traditional town. Punta de Mita is definitely worth a visit if you want to experience over-the-top luxury on the Mexican coast..