Puerto Vallarta See And Do
Puerto Vallarta and its Pacific Coast neighbors have so many outstanding beaches and bays that beachcombers could spend years exploring all of the paradisiacal coves. The most happening beach in Puerto Vallarta is Playa de los Muertos, on the south side of downtown. Locals gather at seafront cafés and jog the mile-long trail beside the sand, while beach lovers play on everything from WaveRunners to boogie boards. Escapists prefer the small coves around Playa Conchas Chinas south of town and the jungle-backed sands at Yelapa, accessible only by boat. Water taxis depart for Yelapa from Boca de Tomatlán, about three miles south of Puerto Vallarta.
Exclusive resorts claim some of the finest beaches north and south of Puerto Vallarta, while barefoot, bikini-clad types congregate at beach bars on long stretches of beige sand in Bucerias, Sayulita, and San Pancho, all north of Puerto Vallarta in the Riviera Nayarit.—Maribeth Mellin
You haven't really seen Puerto Vallarta until you've sailed along Banderas Bay and captured the view of simple white casitas and multilevel mansions perched in pine green foothills beneath the jagged Sierras. Vallarta Adventures has a bit of a lock on the bay, with several day and night tours to the company's private seaside complex, complete with a spa, restaurant, nightly dance show, water activities, and a gorgeous beach. The complex is worth checking out in the daytime, when you can use the beach hammocks, chairs, and water toys and book massages at the spa. The nighttime show and dinner are large-group affairs worth attending only if you want to partake in the cruise along the bay. Simpler sailings are available at Boca de Tomatlán, where small skiffs ferry day-trippers to Yelapa and other beaches on the bay's southern shores.—Maribeth Mellin
The sea life along Mexico's Pacific Coast is more robust than in much of the Caribbean: Whales, rays, turtles, and gigantic billfish appear here regularly, and closer to shore than you might think. The best places for diving and snorkeling tend to be near islands and rocky points where the water is shallow, calm, and clear.
Some of the best diving around Puerto Vallarta is off the Islas Marietas, about a half-hour boat ride from the coast of Punta de Mita, or an hour's boat ride from downtown Puerto Vallarta. Giant manta rays, dolphins, and wahoo congregate around these islands, which are a protected marine reserve, and orcas and humpback whales can be spotted here from November through March.
Another top dive destination is Los Arcos National Marine Park, whose reefs, rock arches, caves, and tunnels lie just offshore from Mismaloya, eight miles south of Puerto Vallarta. Tours to these and many other underwater adventures are available through Chico's Dive Shop (772 Paseo Díaz Ordáz; 52-322-222-1895) and Pacific Scuba (2486 Blvd. Francisco Medina Ascencio; 52-322-209-0364), which operates as Vallarta Undersea in the Riviera Nayarit (152 Héroes de Nacozarí, Bucerias; 52-329-298-2364).—Maribeth Mellin
El Morro, an underwater rock pinnacle 25 miles off the coast of Puerto Vallarta, attracts schools of 50-pound tuna, sailfish, and dorado from May through August, and fishing boats come from as far as Southern California to get in on the action. PV Fishing (Marina Vallarta; 52-322-306-0806) has a fleet that runs daily from Marina Vallarta.—Maribeth Mellin
Canopy tours are all the rage in the jungle south of Puerto Vallarta, with screaming tourists zip-lining over boulders, treetops, and waterfalls. Canopy Tours de los Veranos has zip lines through the forest, over rushing rivers, and past marmoset monkeys swinging from vines; shuttle transport is provided to its jungle playground from Puerto Vallarta and the Riviera Nayarit.
A more sedate way to explore the foothills around Puerto Vallarta is on horseback. The horses at Rancho Ojo de Agua are said to be descendants of the Mexican cavalry steeds, although they are content these days to canter past the bromeliads and orchids that line the forested paths and climb up to hilltops with views of Puerto Vallarta and Banderas Bay. If you're more of a spectator than a rider, you can catch a polo match at Club de Polo Costa Careyes, about a two-hour drive south of Puerto Vallarta.
Mining villages are tucked away in the Sierra Madre mountains above Puerto Vallarta. San Sebastián is a favorite for day tours with Vallarta Adventures. The small town of about 800 residents feels stuck in the early 1900s: Cowboys linger outside cantinas, children ride horses home from school, and industrious families run small coffee plantations open to visitors. The tours are all guided, and lunch is provided at a local family-run restaurant. Vallarta Adventures also offers private airplane charters to visit remote villages high in the mountains, where Huichol artists create the fabulous beaded masks on display in many Puerto Vallarta galleries.—Maribeth Mellin
Puerto Vallarta's waterfront downtown neighborhood, Viejo Vallarta, is made for wandering. Sculptures line the malecón along the shore of Banderas Bay; La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, a cathedral topped by a filigreed crown, rises across the street. World-class galleries, folk art shops, restaurants, and clubs fill cobblestone streets on both sides of the Río Cuale, which rushes to the sea and divides the city between the historic district and what's known as the Zona Romántica. Calle Basilio Badillo and Calle Morelos are especially good treasure-hunting grounds for painted tiles, chic sportswear, handcrafted jewelry, and paintings, and the Mercado de Artesanías on Calle Francisca Rodríguez displays classic serapes, sombreros, tacky T-shirts, and other souvenirs. Vallarta's forested hillsides are great for horseback riding, hiking, and mountain biking.
Surfers have been riding the Pacific coast's swells since the 1960s. These days, traditional board surfers are joined by enthusiastic paddle surfers who stand upright while riding the waves. All the prime surf spots are north of Puerto Vallarta, but beaches throughout the region have good conditions and cater to beginners and pros alike. The surf action has always centered around Sayulita, a small town of wonderful shops and restaurants that hosts annual surfing competitions. North of Sayulita, surfers spread out on beaches with SoCal names like Stoners and Santa Cruz, while to the south, El Anclote in Punta de Mita is immensely popular for all ocean sports, as is laidback Bucerias. Waves are fairly consistent year-round, with big winter breaks upping the thrills. Surfers gather to rent or buy boards or book surf lessons and boat trips to outlying surf spots at Coral Reef Surf Shop, located between the Puerto Vallarta airport and Punta de Mita. Pacific Paddle Surf in Bucerias offers paddling classes led by patient instructors who hang out in the water with students until everyone catches a wave. California-based Las Olas Surf runs year-round surf safaris for women in Puerto Vallarta. Captain Pablo's Adventures is both a restaurant and a surf shop in Sayulita, complete with rentals and lessons.—Maribeth Mellin
Carretera Barra de Navidad, Km 24
Tel: 52 332 223 6182
Hummingbirds nest in tree ferns, and butterflies flit over orchids at this enchanting 20-acre garden of exotic flowers and gigantic trees 12 miles south of Puerto Vallarta. Savannah native Robert Price is the genius behind the floral paradise, where roses, palms, and agave plants flourish in the tropical dry forest above the Río Horcones. Volunteers care for delicate tropical orchids and lead tours for students, photographers, and nature lovers. A short hike leads to a chilly river (swimming allowed). Maps are available at the Hacienda de Oro, which houses a gift shop (blown-glass ornaments, handcrafted jewelry, and local honeys and jams) and a two-story Mexican restaurant/lounge with comfy couches and forest views.—Maribeth Mellin
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 10 am to 6 pm.