Unforgettable Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico’s Pacific Paradise

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Amazing Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta - Puerto Vallarta showcasing the Sierra Madre Mountains.
Puerto Vallarta showcasing the Sierra Madre Mountains. Photo credit: Mira Temkin.

I’ll be honest with you. I stopped in Puerto Vallarta for the first time on a cruise ship. That clinched it for me. I needed to come back and discover more. What I found on a longer visit is absolutely glorious 85-degree weather; a friendly, welcoming atmosphere, and an authentic Mexican experience.

You may think Puerto Vallarta is a great destination for fun in the sun on beautiful beaches along Banderas Bay. You would be correct. But there are a lot more reasons to visit Puerto Vallarta in Jalisco on Mexico’s Pacific Coast than just the lush tropical weather.

Once a sleepy fishing village on the shores of Banderas Bay, Puerto Vallarta has grown into a vibrant resort town, yet never forgetting its humble beginnings. From glorious beaches to gourmet dining to great outdoor adventure and fabulous shopping, Puerto Vallarta has more than enough to make you happy.  

Read More: Best All-Inclusive Resorts in Puerto Vallarta

Amazing Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta - The Marina in Puerto Vallarta.
The Marina in Puerto Vallarta. Photo credit: Mira Temkin

Head to the Art & Market at Marina Vallarta

If you’re in Puerto Vallarta on a Thursday night, do NOT miss this Night Market that runs from October 1 through May. Stroll along the booths at the Marina and you’ll find more than 200 exhibitors hawking traditional handmade Mexican handicrafts, art, home décor items, and beachwear with a variety of wine and spirits like Tequila and Mezcal produced in Puerto Vallarta. The scent of chili cooking will whet your appetite for a variety of international cuisine to-go as you listen to a mariachi band.

Amazing Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta - Marina Vallarta Night Market.
Marina Vallarta Night Market. Photo credit: Mira Temkin.

TMOMTip: The Night Market runs from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. along the Marina Vallarta boardwalk.

Enjoy Magical Rhythms of the Night

I had an opportunity to experience “Rhythms of the Night” several years ago on a cruise to Mexico with a port stop in Puerto Vallarta and have recommended it to everyone since. Expect a very high “WOW” factor on this amazing excursion as it will send your spirits soaring.

Las Caletas was once the private home of movie director John Houston, also shared by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton during the shooting of The Night of the Iguana.  

You start out on your journey to Las Caletas via catamaran boat ride as the island is only accessible by boat. When you arrive, you’ll be escorted to your private table on the beach as you dine on a gourmet meal by candlelight. Then it’s show time! You hear the sound of the drumbeats beckoning then head to the Pyramid Amphitheater for this renowned production of “Rhythms of the Night,” a stunning spectacle that will leave you breathless under the stars. You sail back to Puerto Vallarta on a boat ride with your head filled with gorgeous images, enjoying an open bar and traditional Mexican music.

Be a Pirate on the Island

If you prefer to spend the day at this private island instead, you can find a Las Caletas Day Trip. Relax on this best beach, and go sunbathing, kayaking, or diving. Enjoy a spa treatment or take a cooking class. You’ll definitely feel like you got away from it all on this day trip to Las Caletas.

Here’s something really fun for the whole family. This fabulous half-day tour includes buffet breakfast and lunch, pirate-show fun, as well as a treasure hunt on the island.

We even had our own personal pirate who took care of us for the day. After breakfast, we took off for the unknown seas. The pirate show was very entertaining for adults and kids alike with some stunts that took even me by surprise.

We arrived at our destination, the Majahuitas Ecological Island, a secluded beach, accessible only by boat. Here the kids went on a treasure hunt, while the adults laid back and soaked up the sun.  After two hours (that went by much too fast), we re-boarded the ship for lunch with more fun and games on the way back. Upon returning to the dock, the kids were loaded down with “loot” and everyone had a great time on Majahuitas Ecological Island.

Zipline through the Trees at the Canopy River

One of the most popular ecological tours in Puerto Vallarta is Canopy River. Families get a chance to zipline from tree to tree, discover jungle wildlife while venturing across suspended walkways, and sail through the air on a Tarzan swing. It’s a little scary at first, but the view from above is well worth it.

Amazing Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta - Learn how coffee beans are roasted on this day trip to San Sebastian.
Learn how coffee beans are roasted on this day trip to San Sebastian. Photo credit: Mira Temkin.

Take a Day Trip Outside of Puerto Vallarta

There are many options to extend your cultural experiences in Puerto Vallarta.  We took an excursion to colonial San Sebastian in the Sierra Madre Mountains.  This tour provides a fascinating look at Mexican history with a stop at a working coffee plantation. Here are others to explore:

  • Head out to the Marietas Islands or Isla Marietas where you’ll find Hidden Beach, an ecological wonder and one of the most beautiful beaches in Puerto Vallarta. This protected park has colorful underwater marine life and is one of the best places for snorkeling and scuba diving.
  • Book a boat ride to the Los Arcos Marine Park where you’ll be impressed with the natural rock formations that rise from the sea. Los Arcos is known for outstanding snorkeling and kayaking as well as features a boardwalk for shopping and dining. Love to hear music in the great outdoors? The Los Arcos amphitheater offers free live performances.  
  • Around 20 minutes south of Puerto Vallarta is a beautiful beach that looks more like a beach you may discover in Cancun. Playa las Gemelas is smaller but features turquoise water with soft sand and thrilling waves.
  • About an hour from Puerto Vallarta is the popular beach town of San Pancho in Riviera Nayarit, located on the Pacific Ocean near Sayulita. It’s considered somewhat of a surfer town, yet very laid back. Do yoga, go horseback riding, watch the sunset, or go kayaking. San Pancho also sponsors events and festivals throughout the year.
  • Another great day trip is to the remote village of Yelapa and to Majahuitas Beach, only accessible by a 45-minute boat ride or water taxi.  Yelapa is considered one of Mexico’s hidden beach towns where you can enjoy horseback riding near a waterfall. Once on Majahuitas Beach, you can go kayaking or snorkeling and discover underworld sea life, pristine beaches, and delicious pies made by the locals.  
  • A 30-minute drive from Puerto Vallarta lies Playa Mismaloya, which is actually known for putting Puerto Vallarta on the map. The 1964 film Night of the Iguana starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton was made here and that started the influx of tourism to Banderas Bay.

Read More: Best Beaches in Mexico

Go to Downtown Puerto Vallarta

Just so not to be confused, the Romantic Zone and Old Town are all considered names for downtown Puerto Vallarta. It’s best to explore on foot first to see where you want to return.

Did I mention shopping? This is my idea of paradise. Strolling along the colorful Malecon you’ll discover beautiful jewelry, excellent crafts, fine clothing in exclusive boutiques, and of course, bargaining with local beach vendors for bracelets,  earrings, and pottery.

For a great place to relax in Puerto Vallarta, you’ll find the Vallarta Botanical Garden with its colorful displays of Pacific vegetation. Unique to the Puerto Vallarta Botanical Garden is one of the largest collections of orchids in Jalisco and Mexico. The cost is around 200 pesos, roughly $10 USD.

Don’t miss the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe that towers over Puerto Vallarta. The stunning neo-Baroque architecture of the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe with its famous crown is one of the icons of the Puerto Vallarta skyline. Do stop in and take a look inside this Puerto Vallarta icon. This active church also hosts events like its famous annual Feast of the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the second week in December where everyone is invited.  

The two best places to find the trendiest nightlife in Puerto Vallarta are in the Romantic Zone and the Malecon. Live music, bars, and restaurants welcome you till the wee hours of the morning.

Looking for a place to stay? Check out the Hotel Zone, Marina Vallarta, or the Romantic Zone, also called Zona Romantica. You’ll find everything from boutique hotels to all-inclusive luxury resorts.

Amazing Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta - Traditional Day of the Day ofrenda on the Malecon.
Traditional Day of the Day ofrenda on the Malecon. Photo credit: Mira Temkin.

Mark the Annual “Day of the Dead” Tradition

Every November 1 and 2, this colorful Mexican tradition celebrates the lives of departed loved ones with colorful displays, altars, and meaningful mementos of their lives. This takes place throughout Mexico. Although I thought it might be rather somber, it was not.

People create amazing ofrendas to honor the memory of their loved ones. We had a chance to check out the Malecon (Puerto Vallarta’s Boardwalk)  and saw all of the colorfully decorated ofrendas featuring traditional skulls, skeletons, and La Catrinas.

Amazing Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta - Larger than life Catrina’s line the Malecon.
Larger than life Catrina’s line the Malecon. Photo credit: Mira Temkin.

Take a stroll along the Malecon (Boardwalk). You’ll be mesmerized by all of the lovely sculptures. Enjoy a cup of coffee at a cafe or enjoy street food from local vendors like fresh tacos and other Mexican food options.

Just beyond the Malecon is the Centro Zona neighborhood by the River Cuale where you can see colonial homes with their cobblestone streets, art galleries, and beautiful murals. Don’t miss the Puerto Vallarta Art Walk every Wednesday evening from 6-10 PM (from the end of October to the end of June) in the El Centro area of the city. It features local and international artists displaying their artwork, as well as live music, food, and drinks.

Check out the Romantic Zone to discover the area like a local and feast on Mexican food, Mezcal, and Tequila Tastings.  

Amazing Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta - Mixology class with Mezcal.
Mixology class with Mezcal. Photo credit: Mira Temkin.

Be a Foodie

One of my favorite things to do in any destination is to take a food tour. In downtown Puerto Vallarta, you’ll get to try a lot of authentic Mexican food dishes including some very tasty street food like tacos prepared a zillion different ways. You’ll also get a living history tour as you walk through the cobblestone streets. For a taste of something local, go on a Mixology Tour which includes  Tequila Tasting or Mezcal Tastings. Mezcal is locally made and one of the real pleasures in Puerto Vallarta.

Discover Whale Watching

Families will love to go whale watching on a boat ride in Banderas Bay. Keep your eyes peeled for humpback whales and other marine wildlife on your boat tour. The best time to spot the humpback whales is between December – March when they’re happy to swim in the warm waters of Banderas Bay, Jalisco in Mexico.  

Take a Free Walking Tour

Puerto Vallarta loves to show off its history and culture. Get a lay of the land on a free walking tour that takes you through downtown Puerto Vallarta. One of the free walking tours takes you through the magnificent sculptures that line the Malecon Boardwalk. Most of the sculptures on the free walking tour were made by Mexican artist Sergio Bustamante.

SheBuysTravel Tip: This free walking tour is only available from October – May.

Discover the Best Beaches in Puerto Vallarta

Head to the south side of the Rio Cuale where you’ll find a happening vibe filled with cafes, restaurants, and Playa de Los Muertos Beach. Playa Los Muertos is a short walk from downtown Puerto Vallarta in the Zona Romantica. Walk along the pier, check out the art galleries, enjoy the water sports like parasailing, and take in exquisite views of the Pacific. If you’d like to stay here, this trendy area is filled with charming boutique hotels.

Get the Best Beach Views

For the most stunning views and great photo ops of Puerto Vallarta, head to the Mirador Cerro de La Cru and go hiking. At the top of the Mirador de La Cru del Cerro lookout point where you can see the Pacific Ocean, the Sierra Madre Mountains, and splendid views of Puerto Vallarta.

With more than 20 years of travel writing under her bling-y belt, Mira Temkin understands the expectations of the leisure traveler and writes to those expectations. From destinations to tours to cruises and luxury resorts, her articles cover the world: across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, the Middle East, Central America, South America and Europe. She is a proud member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and past member of the International Food Wine Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA). Mira always has her bags packed and is ready to go! You can read her other travel stories at miratemkintravel.com.
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