By Lisa Arcella
Puerto Vallarta is all about fun, sun, and a great party. The resort town on Mexico’s Pacific Coast has it all—epic nightlife, historic landmarks, romantic cobblestone streets, art, shopping, beautiful beaches, stunning mountains, and amazing food. Plus, an endless array of activities offers something for everyone. From zip lining and surfing to spa treatments and whale watching, you can find it in Puerto Vallarta.
Here’s our definitive do-not-miss list.
Banderas Bay and Malecon
Malecon is the lovely boardwalk that runs parallel to the crystal blue waters of Banderas Bay. Take at least a few hours to explore the many art galleries and shops along the way. Don’t miss the mural by the legendary Manuel Lepe outside of the Naval History Museum. Collectors from around the world, including the Queen of England, own his bucolic paints of children, angels, and the local landscape. There is also excellent snorkeling at the southern tip of the bay, and when the evening hits, there are many open air clubs that showcases the picturesque beach.
Off-Roading through the Sierra Madre
The Sierra Madre Mountains that surround Puerto Vallarta provide some of the most beautiful landscapes imaginable. One way for adventure lovers to get a better view of the river beds and tiny villages is to head out on an ATV and not only explore the mountains, plus also ride along the coastline. Many tours offers these options.
There’s no way to miss the series of giant arches that line up at the ocean in front of Plaza Morelos. It’s become something of an iconic landmark, and many say it’s there, you will have a more authentic Mexican experience. The area attracts local artists, merchants, and performers. And don’t miss the usual sand sculptures that regularly decorate the beach here.
The Vallarta Botanical Gardens
This gorgeous oasis of spectacular tropical flowers and plants is just outside of the main city and can be reached by taxi or bus. Go early (it opens at 10) because most people who visit intend on staying a few hours but end up staying longer because the garden is so gorgeous. Try the very good on-site restaurant, which boasts authentic Mexican cuisine. (Note: The Botanical Garden is closed on Mondays during the summer season).
This little beach village is where visitors discover some of the best restaurants and bars in Puerto Vallarta and one of the most popular beaches—Playa Los Muertos. Don’t be put off by the translation of its name (Dead Man’s Beach) because it’s definitely a place to live it up with jet skiing, windsurfing, and swimmers galore.
Up Close and Personal with Sea Lions
The Nuevo Vallarta Sea Lion Encounter program is an educational experience that also allows you to get very close to these friendly marine mammals. Through a specially designed pool, visitors are accompanied by a trainer inside, while the sea lions swim and bark and even come close to say hello!
Did you know 60 million gallons of the spirit is produced every year? Make sure to taste some when you’re in Tequila’s birth country! On a private day trip tour you can find out exactly how the local favorite is brewed. Start by visiting fields of Blue Agave plants, which are used to make the alcohol, and then go step by step through the process at the lovely Hacienda San Jose del Refugio. Best of all, there’s a tasting of various tequilas at the end of the tour.
Isla Rio Cuale
Isla Rio Cuale can be a little tricky to find, but it’s definitely worth the effort. Set in the middle of downtown Puerto Vallarta and the Romantic Zone, there is the Cuale River and a little island that sits in the middle of it. A chain bridge brings visitors across to its world of craft and fruit markets, and friendly locals. Keep your eyes peeled to spot the many large iguanas that often hide in the lush trees that surround you at every turn
Where to Stay
Now during GOGO Vacations Mexico Extravaganza™, it’s the perfect time to explore the Mexican Pacific. Here are some of our favorite resorts in Puerto Vallarta:
Secrets Vallarta Bay
This luxurious, adult-only, all-inclusive resort is right on the beach in Puerto Vallarta and boasts an AAA Four Diamond Award. Butler service, unlimited premium alcohol, and pools with a view of the sea are all on the menu. It’s also Rainforest Alliance Certified, which means the resort takes steps to limit its impact upon the surrounding environment.
Ranked among the best hotels in Mexico by Condé Nast Traveller, the 80-room, adults-only hotel is situated in between a manicured golf course and lush gardens, featuring koi fish ponds and resident peacocks. The hotel is luxurious but also relaxed and friendly with a bilingual staff. Don’t miss the exclusive Ocean Club with awe-inspiring sunsets over the Mexican Pacific.
Now Amber Puerto Vallarta
Located next to Secrets Vallarta Bay, this family-friendly resort is right on the beach and very close to the airport. Enjoy signature drinks at five lively bars and endless food options at seven gourmet restaurants at this all-inclusive gem, which also sports a spa, pools, a fun kids club, and even a teens zone.
Garza Blanca Preserve Resort & Spa
This lovely resort is on the south shore of Bahia Banderas, nestled between a tropical jungle and the shimmering shore. Stunning views and private amenities make this resort a favorite of families and luxury travelers, with accommodations ranging from junior suites through three-bedroom suites. Savor tempting meals in the fine wine cellar, and try authentic tequila in the tasting room.
Sunscape Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa
This fantastic resort opened its doors last December and welcomes families with a large pool and a separate kids pool with slides. There’s plenty for children and adults to do here with tennis courts, Fusbol, air hockey, and X-Box stations.
Overlooking Banderas Bay, Hotel Mousai is a sophisticated adults-only property, and the first and only AAA Five Diamond Winner in Puerto Vallarta. Be wowed with modern amenities like flat-screen TVs, iPads, and Nespresso coffeemakers. Enjoy the breathtaking views, plunge pools and hammocks, and your own private gold-tiled Jacuzzi on waxed hardwood decking.