Located in the Mexican State of Jalisco on the Pacific coast, the friendly city is known as one of the most important resort destinations in Mexico, and the top favorite among the gay community. This article will explain you why.
There are so many unique things to do in Puerto Vallarta although in the two months I have lived there I didn’t even have enough time to do everything.
However, I had the chance to live like local, trying different restaurants and visiting the surroundings and hanging out in the best beaches in Puerto Vallarta and having a ball eating in the best vegan food restaurants (for vegan food in Puerto Vallarta click here.
I was lucky also to live in Puerto Vallarta old town, at a walking distance from everything, including the beach and Malecon Puerto Vallarta.
In this article, you will find a long list of all the things to do in Puerto Vallarta, including what I haven’t done myself, also a brief personal history of the city, how to get to Puerto Vallarta and how to move around, including the best options to get from the airport to the city.
I left the “Where to stay in Puerto Vallarta” section on this other article for the sake of clarity. I am sure it will be helpful if you are looking for the best hotels in Puerto Vallarta. That will be a great guide.
And if you are concerned about whether it is safe to travel to Puerto Vallarta you can check out this article
I hope you will find it useful, otherwise please let me know if you are looking for some specific information that is missing. I’ll be happy to help.
A LITTLE HISTORY OF PUERTO VALLARTA
Every time I get to a city in Mexico there is always something to celebrate, and I don’t particularly like celebrations. I don’t like crowds and noise. I know, I am weird like that.
However, when was informed that I would have been in Puerto Vallarta for its 100 years anniversary celebration I felt kind of lucky for being here right for this special occasion, although, as you can imagine I didn’t participate actively, for the above reasons.
On Saturday, May 31st, 2018, to be precise, Puerto Vallarta celebrated its centennial anniversary as a municipality and its 50th as a city.
The whole city lighted up for an entire week, especially in the evenings, to celebrate the huge event. And I was there too, at least spiritually.
The abundance of food, multicolored (and noisy) fireworks, music and parades all along the Malecon, the busy pedestrian road by the beach that was all geared up for the special occasion.
For the same reason, my usual dog walks were carried out on the other side of the city, quieter and less noisy. But I was celebrating in my heart, with Puerto Vallarta, I swear!
Let me give you some historical insights.
The original name of what is now Puerto Vallarta was Puerto Las Peñas, referring to the rocks emerging from the sea, that are now called “los Arcos”.
But let’s go a little further back in history.
Banderas Bay was discovered by the Spanish in 1525. The name Bandera was given because of the numerous flags carried by the indigenous populations, called Aztatlan, during their battles with the Spanish soldiers.
The legend says that when 100 Spaniards landed to conquer the native people, they were carrying four big banners and the image of the Virgin Guadalupe.
As soon as they approached the shore they realized that the indigenous people defending their own land were 20.000 and thought they would never be able to defeat them.
However, something like a miracle happened.
When a frightened Spanish friar went down on his knees in front of the local population, the image of the Virgen Guadalupe was illuminated by strong rays of sunlight creating such an effect that the indigenous Azatlan, thought it was the manifestation of some magical power and, to the Spanish bewilderment, the natives submitted immediately to them.
Since then, during the 16th century, Banderas Bay has been a pit stop for voyagers and sailors, and a hiding spot for pirates.
Sadly enough the Spanish conquerors enslaved the local indigenous to hard works in the mining industry, which was the main source of wealth. The poor working conditions and the transmission of illness reduced the local population by 90%.
Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, the main industry was the silver and gold mining around San Sebastian, Talapa, and Mascota, on the hills of the Sierra Madre.
The increase of the mining activities demanded more salt to process the precious metals. A young boatman took advantage of the increasing need and started his business importing large quantities of salt from the Marias Island into Playa los Muertos in Bandera Bay.
With the increase of business and prosperity, he decided to establish himself, his family and several companions in the area, calling it Puerto Las Peñas.
With the discovery of silver in the United States, the price of this metal diminishes and Puerto Vallarta needed to explore other economies.
That’s when agriculture flourished thanks to the rich soil of the valley of Ameca river in the area that is now called Nuevo Vallarta.
The abundant harvested products were shipped to other parts of the country by boat.
The growing importance of this fast developing town led to the creation of the municipality, precisely on May 31st, 1918, when Puerto Las Peñas was therefore renamed Puerto Vallarta, in honor of the Governor of Jalisco Ignacio Vallarta.
In 1942 the first flights from Guadalajara were established and the small fishing town was promoted through Mexico and the United States as “a primitive place for hunting and fishing”.
The buzz around the growing city continued to increase and started to attract different personalities among which John Huston the famous movie director who chose Puerto Vallarta as the setting of the movie The night of the iguana starring with none other than Richard Burton, Ava Gardner.
But what was under the spotlight was the love affair between Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, who came to Puerto Vallarta to join him despite both of them had their own relationship with somebody else.
Their relationship at that time was a scandal and caught the attention of tabloids, so much that it could be considered the starting point of the modern stalking of actors and public figures by the paparazzi.
You can read more about the whole story here.
Needless to say that this event is marked in the history of Puerto Vallarta as one of the milestones of her growth and affirmation as a touristic destination, attracting people from all over the world.
That event and the subsequent buzz around the city, stimulated the quick implementation of the necessary infrastructures to welcome the hordes of curious tourists.
On May, 31st 1968, Puerto Vallarta become officially a city and was granted the financial resources to build all the necessary infrastructure, bridges, highways and an international airport that now connects many cities from the United States and Canada.
Today Puerto Vallarta is the second major tourist destination in Mexico and hosts more than 4 million visitors per year, besides being one of the chosen destinations for American and Canadian expats who chose the city for their retirement, and digital nomads who chose the happy and laid back vibrant city for their long-term temporary home.
38 THINGS TO DO IN PUERTO VALLARTA
Finally, we get to the point: if you are looking for Puerto Vallarta travel tips here is my 2 cents.
First of all, you need to choose one of the best hotels in Puerto Vallarta, to stay comfortable and enjoy your vacation fully. I believe that choosing the right hotel for you is one of the most important elements of your vacation experience.
This is why I have visited and selected what I believe are the best hotel solution. There are many beautiful all-inclusive hotels in Puerto Vallarta, but considering the huge variety of restaurants in town, you can also opt for one of the stunning boutique hotel options.
Then you will see that there is so much stuff to do in Puerto Vallarta. Therefore I have chosen the following activities and things to do and see, which are to me the most interesting, I hope it will be useful to organize your trip.
Walk on the Malecòn
There are many free things to do in Puerto Vallarta among which walking along the Malecon Puerto Vallarta. Do it early morning when the sun is not hitting so strong and you can enjoy the gentle breeze while meeting other early raiser walking their friendly dogs or jogging.
Hike to the Mirador Cerro de la Cruz (in the Map here below)
At the sunset would be better, to take one of the most stunning pictures of the entire bay. SAFETY TIP: make sure you check out if there are other people either local or foreigners tourist walking up. If you see it’s too deserted don’t go. It’s always safe to avoid isolated places. For other safety tips, in general, you can check out this full article.
Watch the sunset
Watch the sun disappearing at the horizon beyond the sea at the heavy sound of the waves crashing on the shore, while taking your evening stroll on the Malecon, before o after dinner.
Enjoy the food
Enjoy the rich local food displayed on the inviting stalls of the Malecòn at night, especially the shrimp sticks and the Tejuino, a local drink.
Admire the sand sculptures
Check out the sand sculptures on the beach by the Malecon and the rock sculptures as well. So much patience is required to make them. I couldn’t even try it.
Check out the artisan market
Walk around the tourist market on the Cuale island, check out funny T-shirts, beautiful local colored dresses, local amber jewelry, paintings and manufactures.
Enjoy the swinging wood pedestrian bridges connecting the Cuale island with the rest of the city.
Check out the art galleries
Among my favorite cool things to do in Puerto Vallarta, Art Galleries have certainly a special place. There are so many, all scattered around the Zona Romantica and in the old Vallarta. I could get lost in them.
Free art walking tours
Take a free walking tour of the art sculpture on the Malecon. This is available only in winter, from October through May, the high season. The interesting art sculptures are made by the famous Mexican artist Sergio Bustamante. If you happen to be in Guadalajara you can also check out his amazing gallery. I was just there and I was almost crying before such beauty.
Enjoy the beach
Enjoy the beautiful beaches located all along Bandera Bay and beyond it.
Free walking tours among the highlights of the city
The free walking tours where you can get the real feeling of the city, its history and what makes it so charming. At the time I am writing this post the schedule is every Thursday and Wednesday at 9 am or at 12 am and every Saturday at 9. The tours in the mornings are different from the ones in the afternoon. Departure time in the municipal office in front of the PUERTO VALLARTA colored sign on the Malecon. You can confirm your schedule at the Puerto Vallarta Tourist office in Calle Hidalgo, closed to the Church of Guadalupe.
Visit the nearby towns
Check out Mismaloya and Boca de Tomatlan by bus and it’s beaches
Visit the famous Yelapa beach
Visit Yelapa village and its beach by water taxi from Boca de Tomatlàn or from Playa Muertos.
Enjoy a day on Quimixto beach
Visit Quimixto by water taxi from Boca de Tomatlàn.
Walking around the city center
Have a fancy dinner
Having dinner at Casa Isabel with an amazing view over the stunning Banderas Bay.
Have lunch at Conchas Chinas
Having lunch or brunch at Lindomar restaurant in Conchas Chinas, a beautiful neighborhood south of Puerto Vallarta. There is a beautiful walk by the beachside or you can get a cab/uber
Explore the historical center
Walk on Calle Matamoros and enjoying the view of the city especially during sunset.
Walking around calle Matamoros
Have a little hike on the beach
Walk on the beach to Playa Concha China south of Playa de Muertos.
Meet the dolphins swimming freely in the ocean
Among the plenty of activities to do in Puerto Vallarta, swimming with the dolphins is certainly my favorite. I love it because dolphins are wild and actually swimming on their own in the open sea. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have recommended it.
They haven’t been born and raised in captivity and therefore totally free. The only downside is that they won’t guarantee the encounter. But it’s worth a try. The cost of the tour is 85 USD but on the slow season, they make discounts. Tour include bird watching, snorkeling gear, biologist guides who will lecture on dolphins and marine life of the bay. You can check their website here for more information.
Try the local street food
If you are a meat-eater, you cannot miss the following spots for best street food ever (as I was told by locals who eat meat, I don’t):
- Street vendors in Lazaro Cardenas- they also seem to have the best sauce in town
- Going to Pancho Takos in #162 Basilio Badillo street ( closed on Sunday – open from 6.30 pm, always crowded).
Get to know the traditions from other regions
Watch the Tlapantla flyers (voladores) on the Malecon. A tradition from Veracruz state brought in Puerto Vallarta.
Follow a weird tip
Enjoy the view of the towering green mountains around Puerto Vallarta better seen from Costco Parking lot. (who would have thought that?).
Stay healthy and support the locals
Eat fruits and vegetables freshly cut by a beach or street vendors, but make sure it’s Mexican way, with salt, lime and a sprinkle of chile pepper.
Try local specialties
Have a Marlin Burrito. I just went to the best one, suggested by my local friend, Mr. Burger (on the map) and had my vegan burrito (they clean the grill before cooking it after meat and fish). But that’s also a great place to eat the Marlin or shrimp burrito.
Listen to local concerts
In high season (unfortunately I’ll miss it) you can enjoy free night concert every Fridays in Lazaro Cardenas park at sunset.
Take a fancy trip to Punta de Mita
Take a day trip to Punta de Mita and enjoy the beautiful beaches there including La lancha. I will talk more about it on a separate article. (you should rent a car for this trip in order to enjoy it fully and stop at all the beautiful beaches you find along the way).
Expand your boundaries
Don’t miss lunch at Cafe’ de Olla
Enjoying the best chile relleno (a typical Mexican dish) at Café de Olla
Splurge in a fine dinner in one of the iconic places of Puerto Vallarta
Having dinner at Hacienda Sant Angel on the Mariachi night or on Sunday brunch. Or any other night, it’s a fancy treat.
Visit the botanical garden
The newly renovated place has been considered the second most beautiful in North America. Definitely worth the visit.
Challenge your adventurous spirit
Taking a bike tour Rogelio and Brittany from Ecoride. Beni recommends them a lot for their itinerary through non-touristic places.
Join a local adventure tour
Take one of the power walking tours with Sylvie a very interesting French/Italian/Canadian lady who has lived in Puerto Vallarta for 15 years and knows Puerto Vallarta inside out. She also plays in a rock band and has herself a sweet dog and 3 cats.
Immerse yourself in nature
Join a Bird watching tour
Have fun exercising
Enjoy the beautiful bay while exercising your core-stability on a paddleboard.
Taste new flavors
Pick one of the mouth-watering food tours , which takes you along all the best street food stalls in Vallarta.
Or, if you are vegan like me, check out all the vegan restaurants in town or pick one from this guide that I am going to release as soon as I have tried them all.
Pinche Vegano – Delicious Vegan Restaurant
Have a soothing massage. One of the things I have noticed while walking around the city is the enormous quantity of Massage therapies offered and at a very reasonable price. Pick the one that inspires you the most and gets yourself pampered! hey, you deserve it!
See the unmissable spots
Take a tour of the world famous Isla Marietas.
I believe I have covered it all.
Do you think I am missing something? please write on and I will be happy to add it.
Enjoy Puerto Vallarta now!!
HOW TO GET TO PUERTO VALLARTA
International flights arrive directly in Puerto Vallarta from different cities of Canada and US and from Europe as well.
Among all the airlines to Puerto Vallarta you can find Air Canada, Air Transat, Delta Airlines, American Airlines and many more.
Here below I am giving you all the city with the respective airline (source www.puertovallarta.net)
From the airport, you can either book a private transportation to your hotel or transfer to the Central de Autobuses (bus station) and catch a bus to Sayulita (1-hour distance)
HOW I ENDED UP IN PUERTO VALLARTA
A year ago, I embarked on this housesitting adventure as soon as I left for my lifetime journey across Latin America, and it has all the time, been a beautiful break from my traveling routine, bonding with new people and especially new furry guys, a bundle of unconditional love.
I needed it, more for the connection with the 4 legs ones than for the fact that I was saving on accommodation, as I eventually realized.
Besides, I could take some time to sit at the computer and update my blog while enjoying their company.
I couldn’t be happier; I was doing all the things that I loved.
I usually look for house sitting gigs according to the location, but I also plan my travel itinerary according to the housesitting opportunity.
I always try to find a balance between the two.
When I saw the post on house sitting in Puerto Vallarta, I didn’t hesitate a second. I knew Puerto Vallarta was in my plans but what made me want to have this sit so bad was the 20 cats and 1 dog I would be housesitting; it is a paradise for me.
One of the things I’d always dreamed of was to live with so many cats all together and like everything I have dreamed for has been magically materializing during my journey, even this one become a reality.
There is something special about cats, and being around so many of them and I believe is a kind of therapy. A happiness therapy. Not that I was in need, but cats have magical power for those who can read them.
The time had finally come, and here I am now, enjoying the amazing company of the furry ones, many of them.
I have learned their names in a second.
Funny enough I tend to forget human names and remembers pets’ names more easily.
The doggy- girl Ushi is the sweetest dog ever, super obedient and tranquil. The cats are hilarious, all beautiful and each one with his/her own personality.
I could spend the entire day watching them play and never would I get bored. Luckily, they sleep a lot during the day, and that helps me get some work done without my biggest distraction. Although watching them sleep is also very entertaining.
MY FAVOURITE STAY IN PUERTO VALLARTA
If the cats and dog crew was my biggest drive to apply for this position as a house-sitter, little did I know that I would have also ended up staying in a stunningly beautiful inn, located on the hills above the old Vallarta, at 10 minutes walk from the beach.
The house, Casa Malia, function as a bed and breakfast during the high season.
It’s a tiny little jewel in the most romantic zone of Puerto Vallarta, a fully furnished 4 bedroom house with kitchen facilities and a pool on a spacious terrace overlooking the small Cuale island and river.
The beautifully decorated rooms boast a harmonic fusion of Mexican and French style with some hints of worldly feeling.
Benni, the French native owner is an eager professional traveler who has been all over Latin America, Asia, and Europe, as you can tell from the beautiful little decorative objects scattered around the house.
Despite the pets, the house is immaculate, and she makes sure to keep it sparkling clean for the entire time.
As a traveler myself, this would be the perfect ideal place for me should I want to choose Puerto Vallarta as a place for my next vacation. Tiny, elegant, comfortable, very well located and with lots of furry ones around. It couldn’t get any better.
Although I can offer you suggestions on other beautiful properties in Puerto Vallarta, which I have personally checked out, Casa Malia still remains my favorite choice.