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One of the most popular vacation destinations in Mexico, Puerto Vallarta offers lots to visitors of all types. From beautiful beaches and world-class snorkeling and diving to fantastic shopping and dining, not to mention luxurious hotels, it truly has it all. If you’d rather do more than just sip drinks around the pool, you’ll have lots of great things to do at your doorstep, including these.
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One of the top reasons people come to Puerto Vallarta is to enjoy the sand and the sun, as it’s home to some of the best beaches in Mexico. There are lots of beautiful beaches, from Playa Los Muertos that’s popular for swimming along with some spectacular secluded beaches in the southern part of Banderas Bay that can only be reached by boat, keeping the crowds away. Playa de Las Animas sits in a protected cove and has a number of seafood eateries and palapas, and Playa Quimixto enjoys a backdrop of lush jungle while offering gorgeous white sands. Water taxis can bring you to the more remote beaches, leaving from Playa Los Muertos.
Mexican food is a whole lot more than tacos and quesadillas, and typically nothing like what you’ll find outside of the country. Puerto Vallarta is fast becoming a popular foodie destination in Mexico that includes everything from food stands offering cheap, delicious eats on the beach to five-star fine dining restaurants. Its location along the Pacific coast means you’ll find many dishes focused around fresh seafood, and while you’ll find lots to choose from, you might want to join a food tour to discover your favorites. Vallarta Food Tours offers the chance to learn more about the city from an expert guide, all while sampling some local gastronomic delights, and working the calories off with the interesting walk.
There’s a gorgeous Malecon, or seafront promenade/boardwalk, in Puerto Vallarta. It’s a mile-long-span covering about 11 blocks in the downtown area, starting at Hotel Rosita in the north, stretching to the amphitheater and main city square. It’s ideal for a pleasant stroll and sightseeing, with beautiful ocean views as well as seaside artists, interesting statues and sculptures, stores, eateries, bars and great people watching.
From November to March, Puerto Vallarta is a great place for whale watching with Banderas Bay home to humpback whales that migrate south from their polar feeding grounds to breed and play in the protected warm waters. The city offers multiple outfitters for the excursions, including Vallarta Adventures which uses a light plane to look for the animals below, radioing to the ship’s captain with where they’re at, which means it has an especially good chance for finding them in season.
As mentioned, Puerto Vallarta is one of the top places for snorkeling and diving in Mexico, perfect if you hope to experience a magnificent underwater world. Banderas Bay is home to El Bajo, a mountain range below the water’s surface, as well as Devil’s Canyon and an array of marine life such as puffer fish, rays, eels, morays, octopus and more. The very best sites, like the Underwater Reserve with its over 20 snorkeling and diving sites, situated between Los Arcos and Yelapa in the south section of the bay are best accessed with a boat tour.
One of the top day trips from Puerto Vallarta will bring you to the lush Sierra Madre Occidental, vibrant green mountains filled with flora and fauna, including everything from exotic trees to beautiful orchids, parakeets and guacamayas. It’s also home to the Río Cuale, where you can enjoy a refreshing dip after a hike. There are multiple tour options that include treks ranging from a short 1.25-mile walk to 5-mile routes that lead deep into the mountains.
Walk along the Malecon, passing the Arches and Naval Museum before crossing the pedestrian bridge over the Cuale river as you head south from downtown Puerto Vallarta to reach the South Side known as “Zona Romantica.” This is the Old Town, also known as Old Vallarta, which enjoys a laid-back atmosphere that’s well worth exploring with its vibrantly-colored buildings and an endless array of shops, restaurants, cafes and bars – there are more eateries here per square foot than in any other place in the city.
The sunsets off Mexico’s Pacific Coast are likely to be some of the most breathtaking you’ll ever witness. One of the best ways to end any day in Puerto Vallarta is to enjoy this grand finale. Some of the top spots to watch the sun go down include the hill behind the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, anywhere along the Malecon, or one of the restaurants on the beach like El Barracuda where you can enjoy a seafood feast and sipping cocktails while taking in the glorious view.
Art enthusiasts will have lots of opportunities for indulging in their passion here, with everything from multiple art galleries in Zona Romantica to the incredible sculptures along the Malecon that are backed by the glistening expanse of the Pacific. If you’re hoping to take a piece back home, you’ll find something for every budget, including the local artists that sell their works on the Malecon along with high-end paintings in upscale galleries.
On Wednesday evenings from October through May, you can join in the Historic Center Art Walk, which features over a dozen art galleries all within about a 12-block stretch of the centro historico. The walk includes complimentary cocktails, wine and/or tequila, and the chance to purchase or browse a variety of authentic Mexican works. Just about every type of medium can be seen on display, including folk art, paintings, pottery and sculptures.
While you’re in Puerto Vallarta you won’t want to miss the chance to check out the markets. Mexico in general hosts some of the best around, with this city selling everything from colorful pottery, impressive art and artisan crafts to souvenirs, gifts, traditional clothing, beachwear, candies and sweets, fresh fish and other foods, and so much more.
The Municipal Market of Colonia Emiliano Zapata, located downtown, is a top pick if you’d like to enjoy some of the deliciously fresh produce like plump and juicy berries, warm just-baked bread and freshly dried mangoes. It’s open every day of the year from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.