Wondering what to do in Puerto Vallarta? Keep reading for some awesome suggestions. Puerto Vallarta is well established as one of the most popular destinations on Mexico’s Pacific Coast for good reason. Although it doesn’t have the silky, white sand and turquoise water of the Caribbean coast of Mexico, it has a special charm and character that can’t be beat. Plus there is so much variety of things to do in Puerto Vallarta that there really is something for everyone.
Beach bums are set with the many golden sand beaches offering both party atmospheres and quiet seclusion. If it’s water sports you’re after there is plenty to choose from including surfing, boating and parasailing.
Of course, there’s also the obligatory abundance of restaurants, food carts, bars and clubs to satiate your hunger and thirst and keep you dancing all night.
Plus, as with most beach towns, there’s plenty of shopping, markets, a modern and classy marina area, and fun attractions and excursions to keep every age entertained. All of this means that PV will appeal to families, couples, groups and party seekers.
However, Puerto Vallarta has something that many beach resort destinations don’t have: a quaint and authentic old town. Puerto Vallarta’s Old Town is full of cobblestone streets, pretty churches and squares and an area called Zona Romantica with lovely beaches and funky establishments popular with the visiting gay community.
We fell in love on our first visit and decided to stay for four months so we have were able to get a pretty full experience. Whether you have been to this popular destination a dozen times or whether you are planning your first visit, this list of Puerto Vallarta activities is sure to have a few ideas to add to your itinerary of what to see and do.
Things to do in Puerto Vallarta
1. Stroll the Malecon
Many Mexican beach towns have a malecon (waterfront promenade) but Puerto Vallarta’s is one of the best. This scenic walkway is a mile long and is lined with shops, restaurants and bars. Some of which have tables right on the sand, a perfect pit stop for an icy-cold cerveza or margarita. In the evenings the malecon really comes alive with both locals and tourists sampling the wares of cart vendors, watching the street performers and socializing with friends old and new.
2. Explore Old Town
The pretty, narrow, cobblestone streets are a joy to explore and get lost in. Venture off without a plan and climb the hilly roads to find pretty pastel colored homes covered with tropical flowers and vines and get a feel for life in Puerto Vallarta before tourism. If you get hungry keep an eye out for the tucked away restaurants serving delicious home-cooked meals without the inflated prices of the more touristy areas.
3. Shop at Rio Cuale Market
Although this market has become quite touristy it is still a must do when in Puerto Vallarta. Situated along the shores of the Cuale river with lots of tree shade the pretty location alone is worth a visit. Whether you want to buy clothing and souvenirs or simply browse the colorful stands you are sure to enjoy the atmosphere and escape from the busier and usually more expensive shops along the malecon and waterfront.
4. Playa Los Muertos
For a day of fun on the beach with a lively atmosphere, Playa Los Muertos is the place to go. This beach is in the heart of Zona Romantica and has dozens of restaurants, bars lining the shore as well as beach vendors delivering drinks and food right to your beach towel. Towards the south end of Los Muertos is the area popular with the gay community and is always fun and lively. Further north and just south of the pier is quieter and a favorite spot for local families.
5. Deep Sea Fishing
The waters off the Puerto Vallarta coast are teeming with fish and there are plenty of organized tours and fishing boats ready to take you out. If you have the budget there are luxury fishing yachts with all the amenities on board but there are also simple private fishing boats that you can hire for a few hours at a very reasonable rate.
Either way, you will more than likely return to shore with your quota and there will be someone ready to clean and prep the fish for cooking up later.
6. Go Hiking
If you love hiking and immersing yourself in nature there is a fabulous hike not far from Puerto Vallarta’s Old Town. This hike follows the coast from Boca de Tomatlan to Las Animas and winds through jungle paths, along beaches, and past some local houses.
The views are spectacular and there are several opportunities to stop for a swim or relax on a secluded beach under a palm tree. For the full details on how to do this hike read this post.
7. Taste Tequila
There is much more to tequila than the cheap, gasoline tasting shots being poured at the bars and clubs. Tequila has a long history in Mexico and comes in many varieties and qualities. Step inside one of the many tequila shops along the malecon and do a tasting. You will likely be surprised at how different, and how good, quality tequila tastes. Be prepared for some high pressure sales but don’t feel obligated to buy anything, although you may be tempted when you taste the good stuff.
You can read more about the town of Tequila and how the drink is made in our Tequila, Mexico article.
8. Rhythms of the Night
Rhythms of the Night is definitely one of the best things to do in Puerto Valarta and is well worth the splurge. You will be taken on a sunset boat cruise to the private island of Las Caletas which is only lit only by candles and tiki torches.
As you step on the island you’ll be greeted with traditional music and dance, before being escorted to a romantic table on the beach or deck where you will dine under the stars with the sound of the waves lapping at the shore. After dinner you can explore the island before being entertained by a spectacular show.
To check pricing and availability click here. For more details on the entire Rhythms of the Night experience click through to this article.
9. Take in the View
If you are looking for the best view of Puerto Vallarta you’ll need to put in a little effort, but it’s so worth it. Seek out Calle Galeana in Old Town and climb the stone stairs to the Cerro de la Cruz viewpoint. You will pass some really pretty houses on the way up and may see some residents using the private outside lift up and down.
Once at the top you will be rewarded with a stunning view of Puerto Vallarta and the Bay of Banderas. Try to go at sunrise or sunset for the best photos and to avoid the mid day heat.
10. Playa Las Gemelas
Just a 20 minute bus ride away from the busy Los Muertos Beach is the beautiful and quiet Playa Las Gemelas. The sand is whiter and the water is bluer here and there is plenty of trees for shade. There are no restaurants or big resorts here, just a couple of condos so it is a perfect place for a peaceful beach day. Keep in mind there no toilets either and you will need to bring your own food and drink.
11. Southside Shuffle
On every other Friday evening from November to April head to Basilio Badillo for the Southside Shuffle. Numerous art galleries and boutiques open their doors late to the public and offer up refreshments and music to enjoy while perusing the fabulous artwork and local artisan goods for sale.
There is also live entertainment on the street and special deals at the restaurants and bars. It’s a great way to experience a local community event and it’s all free!
12. Swim Under a Waterfall
Hire a taxi boat to take you to Quimixto for a fun and unique afternoon. Once at Quimixto you will need to hike about 20 minutes to the waterfall. It’s a bit uphill but it’s an interesting walk through the village and along the trail and is well worth the effort. There is a large swimming hole under the waterfall and a natural waterslide down the falls themselves for the adventurous.
If you like dogs and cats seek out the Puerto Vallarta SPCA stand at the weekend market in Old Town. They will arrange for you to visit a hidden animal sanctuary in the hills where you can visit and give comfort to the rescued dogs and cats.
The people who volunteer and work at this sanctuary are amazing and the animals they care for are so very happy and grateful. Their goal is to find new homes for the dogs, mainly in Canada, and you can volunteer to escort one back on the plane. I just can’t say enough about this sanctuary. Please take the time to visit or donate in some way to this amazing place.
14. Botanical Gardens
Vallarta Botanical Gardens is an interesting and unique attraction that is often overlooked by most visitors to PV. Those that do take the 40 minute bus ride are rewarded with a great day full of nature, learning, swimming, hiking, relaxing and delicious food. The gardens are not perfectly designed and cultured as you may be used to. This allows visitors to view all of the beautiful, indigenous flora and fauna as it’s natural state.
You will likely get a bit hot walking the many trails but luckily there is a chance to cool off in a lovely natural pool so bring your swimsuit and towel. When you get hungry head to the lovely restaurant for some unexpectedly amazing food.
15. Have an Adventure
There are plenty of adventures waiting for you in Puerto Vallarta. Zip lining, aerial parks, jungle tours, horse riding, ATV tours to name just a few. Whatever gets your adrenaline pumping you can probably find in Puerto Vallarta. Most of these adventures are booked through tour operators, and there are several, so the best advice is to search for reviews before booking.
16. Marina Vallarta
A short bus ride north of Old Town is Marina Vallarta. This area was built up specifically for tourists and ex-pats so it is much newer and pricier than downtown and the Romantic Zone. If you want to stay in high end resorts and condos this is the place for you. Even if you are not staying here it’s worth a trip to walk around the marina and maybe stop in one of the trendy restaurants or bars.
You will know you’re at the entrance to Marina Vallarta when you see the giant whale sculpture and King Neptune statue.
17. Our Lady of Guadalupe Church
The pretty pink church of Our Lady of Guadalupe can been seen from almost everywhere in downtown Puerto Vallarta. Sitting on the edge of the Old Town’s main square it is often part of festivals and events and at eh very least is overlooking them. It’s pretty much guaranteed to feature in at least one of every tourists photos. If you happen to be in Puerto Vallarta in early December you will have the pleasure of witnessing the 12 day celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe Festival.
18. Watch the Sunset
The Pacific Coast of Mexico provides stunning sunsets all year long and Puerto Vallarta seems to be situated perfectly for viewing. Head up to the Cerro de la Cruz, take a sunset cruise, find a patio at the marina or in Old Town and enjoy the show. Our favorite way to watch the sunset is on the sand with a margarita.
Sayulita went from a sleepy fishing village to a sleepy bohemian surfing town when it was discovered by nomadic surfers in the 60’s. Today it is home to about 5,000 residents, many of which are North American ex-pats who fell in love with the charm of this “Pueblo Magica.”
Although mainstream tourism has now started to come to Sayulita it is still a somewhat off-the-beaten-tourist-path destination which appeals to backpackers and hippies. Sayulita activities include surfing, paddle boarding, relaxing on the beach and exploring the colorful village cafes, bars, art galleries and boutiques. It is one of the best Puerto Vallarta excursions for those seeking a laid back day although in peak season it can get pretty busy. Click through to our article if you want to read more about Sayulita.
20. Get Close to Aquatic Nature
Banderas Bay is teeming with sea life and there are plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal. Choose from large boat tours all the way down to small fishing boats and head out into the blue for snorkeling, scuba diving or whale watching.
If you are not yet certified to dive but want to give it a go you can take lessons and courses and get certified right there in Puerto Vallarta. Just be sure to do your research and go with a recognized certification like PADI.
21. Eat Street Food
Ok, so we know this can cause some disagreement but personally we feel that if you don’t try the street food you haven’t fully experienced Puerto Vallarta. We can happily say that after living in PV for four months and eating tons of tacos, seafood, fruit and doughnuts from street and beach vendors we did not have one stomach issue. Of course, we can’t guarantee you won’t get an upset stomach but that is true of pretty much anywhere in the world.
We do suggest you take some precautions like choosing places that are busy so you know the food is not siting around for long and of course vendors that keep a clean space. Also, if you do have a sensitive stomach bring a supply of Pepto and take one daily and stay away from the really hot stuff. If you are still unsure try a food tour. This way you can get a taste of local street food with people who know where to go.
Craving those street tacos back home? Here’s a fish taco recipe we got from Puerto Vallarta.
The fishing village of Mismaloya was once the star of tourism in the area. After the filming of Night of the Iguana in 1963 this sleepy town become a hot spot which started the ball rolling for Puerto Vallarta’s present day popularity. Today it has reverted back to its sleepy former self other than the massive Barcelo Resort and several beach side restaurants. A trip to Mismaloya is a must for those who like the idea of a quiet day with a beautiful view of Banderas Bay and Los Arcos Marine Park and a backdrop of tropical jungle.
This list is honestly just the beginning. We could go on and on with suggestions of things to do in Puerto Vallarta and will probably add to it after our next visit so check back soon!
PS: If you’re trying to decide between Puerto Vallarta and Playa del Carmen this comparison will help.
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Popular Tours in Puerto Vallarta
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Born in England, Sarah developed her wanderlust at a young age as she traveled around Europe with her parents. As a young adult she spent every penny she could on experiences as opposed to possessions. Eventually she found a way to earn a living doing what she loved: traveling, writing and capturing images of the wondrous world we live in. When not on the go Sarah enjoys time in her “sometimes home” of Vancouver.