Puerto Vallarta is one of Mexico’s well known gems; nestled at the foot of the Sierra Madre Mountains on the Pacific Ocean in the heart of the Bahia de Banderas (Banderas Bay); Puerto Vallarta is a wonderful destination with a plethora of culture, adventure, fun, entertainment, great food, relaxation, and endless things to see and do. It’s impossible to be bored in this city! Puerto Vallarta (PV for short) is located in the state of Jalisco, and is one of the most welcoming cities in Mexico to the LGBTQ community; there’s even a rainbow street in La Zona Romantica district! So whether you want to spend your entire vacation at an all-inclusive resort, do a weekend spa retreat only accessible by boat, hike to waterfalls, eat your way through the city, or spend all day at the beach – Puerto Vallarta has it all, and will welcome you with open arms! Contrary to popular belief, Puerto Vallarta isn’t just for lovebirds, despite the name La Zona Romantica (romantic zone.) This city is great for solo travelers, families and backpackers, as there are several hostels in the city and up North in Sayulita and San Pancho, the Nayarit Coast’s hippy beach towns.
When researching where to live in Mexico, I’m so glad that I came across Puerto Vallarta (PV for short), and ultimately selected it, because out of all our travels throughout our six months of living in Mexico, PV was our favorite because of the diversity of the mountains and the sea. Being from Hawaii, Puerto Vallarta really felt like home to me.
People who are from PV are called Patasaladas, which loosely translates to “salty feet”; this is not a derogatory term; in fact, people are proud of being a Patasalada! There are even drinks named after the wonderful people of Puerto Vallarta! (Just like people from Guadalajara are called Tapatios and people from Mexico City are called Chilangos.) After having spent three months living in the PV area, I now consider myself to be a Patasalada at heart, because I’m from a salty ocean, too! Just an island on the other side of the Pacific. 😉 The first thing I noticed upon landing in Puerto Vallarta, is how friendly the people are. They are genuinely happy, kind, outgoing, and proud people, and I loved chatting in Spanish with all the local Uber drivers, restaurant workers, hotel owners, etc. The hospitality in PV is outstanding, and the overall sentiment from locals is that they love and cherish tourists, because tourism is directly responsible for their income, and ultimately their livelihood and ability to feed their families.
In this blog post, I’ll cover the top 20 things to do in Puerto Vallarta, but before we dive in, I’d like to provide a brief history about the founding of this wonderful town. Spaniards arrived in the 1500’s and coined the name Bahia de Banderas, meaning “Bay of Flags”, referencing the colorful flags carried into battle by the indigenous population. Sailors, explorers and pirates used this bay as a rest stop between long voyages. Puerto Vallarta started to become a popular tourist destination in the 1930’s, but it wasn’t until 1964 when the release of the movie The Night Of The Iguana came out, which really put Puerto Vallarta on the map.
If you’ll be visiting Mexico, start off with reading my blog post on The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Mexico – Everything You Need To Know Before Traveling to Mexico
If you’ll be moving to Mexico, you may find my blog post on Everything You Need To Know About (Temporarily) Moving To Mexico to be a helpful resource in helping you plan your move, including where in Mexico to move to (the biggest question people have!)
Throughout our six months living in Mexico, we traveled to 7 states and 10 cities, and you can find some great resources on things to do, where to eat, and what to see in each destination in my MEXICO ARCHIVES.
How To Get To Puerto Vallarta
You’ll fly into Puerto Vallarta International Airport (Licenciado Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport) – the airport code is PVR. There are direct flights from many major cities, such as Los Angeles and Seattle (where we live for part of the year). The airport is located just 20 minutes North of the downtown city center, and very easy to get to and from by Uber, which is very inexpensive in Mexico. A typical cost for an Uber to go 20 minutes, is between $5 – $10 USD.
Do You Need A Car in Puerto Vallarta?
It’s really not necessary, and I don’t advise it because the driving is a bit crazy (left-hand turns are made from the far right lane…what?!) 😳 and parking downtown is virtually impossible. Instead, I recommend taking Uber everywhere because it’s so affordable (just be sure to tip your driver in cash because Uber sadly takes such a huge cut and drivers therefore don’t earn as much), and rent a car on the weekends or when you want to do day trips or explore outside the city center. We loved using Avis because they were the only company we found who didn’t require us to purchase their car insurance, which can often be the same price or double the price of the car itself (they allowed us to use our credit card’s instead.)
When Is The Best Time To Visit Puerto Vallarta?
November – May is the best time to visit Puerto Vallarta, as June – October is the rainy season and is hot and muggy. The only week I recommend avoiding, is Semana Santa (Holy Week – the week before Easter Sunday), as this is a huge holiday in Mexico and many places will be closed. Also, you’ll find that accommodation rates and airfare jumps up in price during this week.
What’s The Weather Like in Puerto Vallarta?
Divine. Truly, from November – May, the weather is unbelievably perfect. During our three months of living in Marina Vallarta and Bucerias (just 45 minutes North of PV), it did not rain a single time, and we only had 7 cloudy days in 12 weeks. It does get chilly in the evenings, especially if there’s wind (March is the start of the windy season), so bring a light jacket, sweater, and pants. Daytime temperatures average high 70’s – low 80’s and night time temperatures average low 60’s and can get into the low 50’s. If you’re visiting during the rainy season (June – October), bring a light rain jacket. The water temperature for swimming in the ocean varies greatly depending on where on the bay you are (we found that it was colder in PV than in Bucerias, which is right in the middle of the bay.)
Best Places To Eat in Puerto Vallarta
I’ve dedicated an entire blog post on where to find the best food in the Puerto Vallarta area, which you can find here: Top Restaurants in Puerto Vallarta
Top 20 Things To Do In Puerto Vallarta
- Stroll the Malecon
- Go Hunting For Wall Murals
- Participate in the Weekly Wednesday Art Walk (6 – 10 PM)
- Visit Vallarta Botanical Gardens
- Get Your Grub On In Versalles, The Foodie Capital of Puerto Vallarta
- Take a Mole Making Class at Chocomuseo
- Take a Street Food Tour
- Take a Boat Ride to Colomitos Beach and Hike Back
- Do a Yoga Retreat at a Remote Resort Only Accessible By Boat
- Photograph the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe
- Hike the Mirador Cerro De La Cruz
- Go Whale Watching (December – March)
- Walk The Gringo Gulch and Enjoy the Rio Cuale
- Go Stand Up Paddle Boarding or Kayaking at Los Arcos
- Take a Scenic Drive South to Mismaloya
- Take a Luxurious Stroll in Marina Vallarta
- Get Your Adrenaline Fix with an Extreme Adventure (Ziplining, ATV, Rappel, Pendulum Swing, iFly, and Waterslide)
- Take a Day Trip to San Sebastian Del Oeste
- Take a Day Trip to Bucerias
- Take a Day Trip to San Pancho, Sayulita, and Punta De Mita
1) Stroll The Malecon
The Malecon is the heart of Puerto Vallarta right along the ocean, and is the most touristic part of the city. “Getters” will be shouting at you from all angles – Ven amigo, hola, bienvenidos! trying to get you to dine at their restaurant. Our rule of thumb for traveling anywhere in the world, is to avoid the tourist hot spots, as the food is usually going to be overpriced and subpar.
2) Go Hunting For Wall Murals
PV has some of the best wall art we’ve seen during our travels, and it adds stunning color and vibrancy to this already popping city. PV is home to many artists, as you will find during the Wednesday Art Walk (#3 on this list of top things to do in Puerto Vallarta). You’ll also find that Frida Khalo is Queen here in Mexico. She is revered and loved by so many, and you’ll see her face on everything – walls, tote bags, shoes…
To help you in your mural hunting, you can use the Interactive Street Art Map
This one really struck a chord with me – it spans an entire block with a kid playing the old school game of “telephone” with a string and aluminum can, and on the other side is a kid on a cell phone. Is this our modern-day society? Overrun by technology, oblivious of the reality that goes on around us? Or is this our new reality…
3) Participate in the Weekly Wednesday Art Walk (6 – 10 PM)
You can see which galleries are participating here.
4) Visit Vallarta Botanical Gardens
Located 35 minutes South of downtown by car, Vallarta Botanical Gardens is a must when you’re visiting Puerto Vallarta, especially if you’re looking for a break from the noisy downtown area. We spent an entire day here because of the river! Bring your swimsuit, as there’s a refreshing river with boulders to enjoy a peaceful day of quiet relaxation. The restaurant is also outstanding for a mid-day snack or lunch.
5) Get Your Grub On In Versalles, The Foodie Capital of Puerto Vallarta
Versalles was our favorite little expat / local neighborhood to dine out. Located just 15 minutes North of Puerto Vallarta in the Fluvial District, you’ll find all kinds of restaurants from authentic Greek (run by an expat from Greece), incredible tacos, Spanish food from the Galicia region (run by an expat from Spain), Caribbean food (run by a beautiful female chef from Curacao), and many other fun foodie gems. You can read more about the Versalles area in this blog post: Top Restaurants in Puerto Vallarta.
6) Take a Mole or Chocolate Class at Chocomuseo
One of my favorite things to do when I travel, is take a local food tour or cooking class. Chocomuseo offers both chocolate-making and mole-making classes! We took a private mole class, which lasted about 5 hours and included a trip to the local market to hand-pick the ingredients! It was a lot of fun; we learned about this delicious marinade paste, and got to eat the fruits of our labor and even take home our own jars of mole paste! You can read more about our experience, including booking your tour here: Our Mole Cooking Class in Puerto Vallarta.
7) Take a Street Food Tour
There are many companies offering street food tours, but Vallarta Food Tours is one of the highest rated with the most diverse tour offerings.
8) Take a Boat Ride to Colomitos Beach and Hike Back
There are several remote beaches along the South Coast of Puerto Vallarta, and Colomitos is one of them. The only way to get here is by boat (5 minutes) or by hiking (25 – 45 minutes depending on your speed and fitness level.) We took a boat there and hiked back to experience it all. The beach is tiny and nothing to write home about, but the hike was lovely and reminded us of the coast of Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera.
9) Do a Yoga Retreat at a Remote Resort Only Accessible By Boat
Puerto Vallarta is home to many yoga and wellness retreats. Treat yourself to a weekend at a remote resort. Xinilani Retreat and El Grullo Naturista Hotel both require taking a boat from Boca de Tomatlan to Qimixto. I have not personally stayed at either of these, so I cannot provide a personal endorsement, but I would do your research first, as they’re on the pricier side.
10) Photograph the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe
This beautiful church combines three different architectural styles of Neoclassical (main building), Renaissance (towers) and Baroque (the crown). The streets surrounding it are charming, lined with cobblestones with white flags and red umbrellas hanging above. Be sure to see it at sunset when it lights up from Cerro De La Cruz (#11 on Top Things To Do in Puerto Vallarta!)
11) Hike the Mirador Cerro De La Cruz
Mirador means “lookout”, and this is where you can find the best birds eye views of the city, mountains and ocean. You’ll have to climb up several steep sets of stairs (also a great place for a leg workout!), but the views are rewarding. Sunset is the most busy time of day at the top. You can easily walk directly from the city center to the top, up steep cobblestone streets in lovely neighborhoods perched atop the hill. Simply put into Googlemaps “Cerro De La Cruz” and it’ll give you walking directions.
12) Go Whale Watching (December – March)
Whale watching season is from December through March where you’ll get to see spectacular humpback whales in action. This is where mamma whales come to give birth to their offspring in the protection of Banderas Bay. Ocean Friendly Tours Puerto Vallarta operates responsibly to protect marine life and focus on education.
13) Walk The Gringo Gulch and Enjoy the Rio Cuale
On the way to Cerro De La Cruz, you’ll walk through the Rio (River) Cuale and Gringo Gulch, aptly named for the Caucasian expats who bought homes in this area in the 1950’s and 1960’s before Puerto Vallarta became the tourist mecca it is today. There’s an artisan market along the river and several excellent restaurants (our favorite is Bonito Kitchen.)
14) Go Stand Up Paddle Boarding or Kayaking at Los Arcos
Just South of the city center are rock formations that form a natural arc, called Los Arcos. This is a popular place for snorkeling tours, kayaking or stand up paddle boarding. If you’re a strong swimmer, they’re close enough to swim to, but I would recommend taking a flotation device or boogie board to paddle on.
15) Take a Scenic Drive South to Mismaloya
Just a few minutes further South of Los Arcos, is a beautiful beach called Mismaloya, where several wealthy expats own homes. This beach reminded us of Greece, as it sparkled like the Mediterranean Sea as the sun danced off the impending evening light.
16) Take a Luxurious Stroll in Marina Vallarta
Marina Vallarta is a high-end residential neighborhood just 20 minutes North of Puerto Vallarta, and is where we spent the first two months of our stay in Mexico. We stayed at Hotel San Trópico in a quiet neighborhood just a ten-minute walk from the marina where all the fancy yachts are. You’ll find a peaceful marina here with a nice paved walking path and several restaurants and shops. A bonus is the giant iguanas sunning themselves along the water’s edge. Beware of crocodiles; apparently they live in the Marina! This has been confirmed by more than a handful of locals.
17) Get Your Adrenaline Fix with an Extreme Adventure
I wrote an entire blog post on this adventure because it was SO MUCH FUN. You can read it here: Extreme Adventure – A Must-Do Activity in Puerto Vallarta! My previous job was a Travel Concierge for Expedia’s Activities Division in Hawaii, so I sold fun activities to guests visiting the Hawaiian Islands. I have had the privilege of participating in countless activities, but this Mexican adventure definitely topped the list!
18) Take a Day Trip to San Sebastian Del Oeste
Located 1 hour, 40 minutes East of Puerto Vallarta set like a gem in the Sierra Madre Mountains, is a tiny town called San Sebastian Del Oeste. Because of the higher elevation, this region is known for its organic coffee production. Come explore what this town has to offer on a day trip.
You can read more in my blog post: San Sebastian Del Oeste is Jalisco’s Hidden Gem
19) Take a Day Trip to Bucerias
Bucerias, meaning place of divers, is located just 45 minutes North of Puerto Vallarta (20 minutes North of the PVR airport) and is actually in a different state called the Nayarit Coast, bordering Jalisco. Sasha and I lived in Bucerias for the last month of our stay in Mexico, and it was a fairytale lifestyle. We woke up every day to birds and parrots chirping, started our day with a walk on the beach, and ended the day at our infinity rooftop pool followed by a $12 USD one-hour massage on the beach. If you love water sports, Bucerias is for you! March is the start of the windy season, and because of its unique location in the middle of Banderas Bay, it’s an excellent place for kite surfing.
You can ready more about Bucerias on my blog post here: Why Bucerias Is Our Favorite Place To Live And Work Remotely In Mexico.
20) Take a Day Trip to San Pancho, Sayulita, and Punta De Mita
Located approximately one hour North of Puerto Vallarta, are the surfer hippy vibe towns of Sayulita and San Pancho, and the high-end beach town of Punta De Mita (made luxurious by the Four Seasons Hotel and high net worth guests who stay there). If you love to surf, enjoy the laid-back island vibes lifestyle, or just want a break from the city, these towns can all be visited on a day trip, as Sayulita and San Pancho are just 15 minutes’ drive from each other.
You can read more in my blog posts here: 12 Best Things To Do In Sayulita
and San Pancho, Mexico is Your Hippy Dream Come True
Now you know the top 20 things to do in Puerto Vallarta! We loved the PV area so much and will very likely be returning to live for six months out of the year.
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ShawnieDecember 14, 2021 at 10:56 am
Thank you so much for such a comprehensive guide to PV.Thank you for sharing you blog with me on my Facebook post in the expat group. I really appreciate it.
culturalfoodiesDecember 15, 2021 at 7:45 am
My pleasure, Shawnie! I’m so glad you found it helpful. 🙂
ElizabethJanuary 14, 2022 at 4:27 pm
super helpful post – 2 quick questions: how did you find a boat to take you to Colomitos – is the route back sign posted? and what are your thoughts on trying to rent a motorbike for some of the recommended day trips like San Sebastian Del Oeste?
culturalfoodiesJanuary 15, 2022 at 9:53 pm
Hi Elizabeth! There are tons of small boats and drivers at the marina as soon as you park, to take you to Colomitos, and yes, the route back is marked and easy to follow. Regarding renting a motorbike, I really don’t recommend it because of the safety on the roads. There are so many topes (speed humps) and pot holes with big trucks on the road, so I always cringe whenever I see people on motorbikes, especially without helmets! I know that helmets are not really a thing in many countries, but it still makes me so nervous, especially when I see their kids on there with them! You’re better off renting a car for road trips.