Puerto Vallarta - Boundless Roads

38 fun things to do in Puerto Vallarta

Isabella Biava JALISCO AND RIVIERA NAYARIT, MEXICO

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.

Puerto Vallarta - Boundless Roads

Vendors on the Malecon

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%.

Puerto Vallarta - Boundless Roads

River Cuale from the Bridge

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.

Puerto Vallarta - Boundless Roads

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.

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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.

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.

Puerto Vallarta - Boundless Roads

Trying to have some work done while my favorite kitten is sleeping at my laptop.

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.

A short video on my walks in
Puerto Vallarta

MY FAVOURITE STAY IN PUERTO VALLARTA

If the cat 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 island and river.

The beautifully decorated rooms boast a harmonic fusion of Mexican and French style with some hints of worldly feeling.

Puerto Vallarta - Boundless Roads

Casa Malia

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 will give you suggestions on other types of hotels, both all-inclusive and small boutique hotels, not before having checked them all out for your Benni’s place, Casa Malia still remains my favorite choice.

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Puerto Vallarta - Boundless Roads

WHY YOU SHOULD TRUST MY TIPS ON PUERTO VALLARTA

Why should you trust my suggestions on the things to do in Puerto Vallarta: have I tried them all?

Before leaving, Beni, the owner,  left a booklet with her collection and notes of all the things you should see in Puerto Vallarta, places of interests, best restaurants and all the tips from a local who has been here for 5 years and enjoyed the city fully. The same booklet that she hands to their guests so that they can find their way around easily.

Besides, Beni would introduce me to all her local friends who are going out of their way to make me feel at home and give me all the best tips to visit Puerto Vallarta inside out, the best tours and hikes so that I can make the best of my time here.

Puerto Vallarta - Boundless Roads

The views during my walks

When I house-sit, I don’t normally like to leave the house if not for walking the dogs, and that’s for 3 main reasons. One is that I want to take advantage of the tranquility and time to work on my blog, read and do my online courses, two, I don’t like to leave the pets too long alone in the house, and last but not least, I want to fully enjoy the pet’s company.

In this case, since I have a full month here, I have decided to take advantage of all this precious information and plan my visits, trying to find a fair balance between browsing around and spending time with the pets.

Also, I might want to stay a little longer after Beni is back from her trip so that I can visit more remote places where a full day visit is required.

While I was planning my trips, I thought I would share in an article what I consider unmissable things to do in Puerto Vallarta. And so here it is. I will then explain more about each of the activities, restaurants, places and so forth in other different articles once I experience the activity myself if I actually manage to do it.

I thought you should know everything the locals suggest to do and not be limited to what I do myself.

Puerto Vallarta - Boundless Roads

34 THINGS TO DO IN PUERTO VALLARTA

Finally, we get to the point: all about  Puerto Vallarta: 50 things you can do to enjoy the city fully and live it as a local.

When in Rome… right?

  1. Walk on the Malecòn 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.
  2. Hike to the Mirador  Cerro de la cruz (in the Map here below) early morning so that the sun doesn’t hit you too bad or for the Sunset to take one of the most stunning picture of the entire bay.
  3. 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.
  4. Enjoy the rich local food displayed on the inviting stalls of the Malecòn at night, especially the shrimp sticks and the tejuino, local drink.
    Puerto Vallarta - Boundless Roads

    Playa muertos

  5. 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.
  6. Walk around the tourist market on the Cuale island, check out funny T-shirts, beautiful local colored dresses, local amber jewelry, paintings and manufactures.
  7. Enjoy the swinging wood pedestrian bridges connecting the Cuale island with the rest of the city.
  8. Check out the beautiful art galleries scattered around the zona romantica and in the old Vallarta.
  9. 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.
    Puerto Vallarta - Boundless Roads

    Sunset from the Malecon

  10. Enjoy the beautiful beaches located all along Bandera Bay and beyond it.
  11. 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.
  12. Check out Mismaloya and Boca de Tomatlan by bus and it’s beaches. (more information on this soon)
    Puerto Vallarta - Boundless Roads

    Arriving at Quimixto

  13. Visit Yelapa village and its beach by water taxi from Boca de Tomatlàn or from Playa Muertos.
  14. Visit Quimixto by water taxi from Boca de Tomatlàn.
    Puerto Vallarta - Boundless Roads

    Walking around the city centre

  15. Having dinner at Casa Isabel with an amazing view over the stunning Banderas Bay.
  16. Having lunch or brunch at Lindomar restaurant in Conchas Chinas, a beautiful neighborhood south of Puerto Vallarta. There is a beautiful walk by the beach side or you can get a cab/uber
  17. Walk on Calle Matamoros and enjoying the view of the city especially during sunset.
    Puerto Vallarta - Boundless Roads

    Walking around calle Matamoros

  18. Walk by the beach to Playa Concha China south of Playa de Muertos.
  19. Going Dolphin swimming in Banderas Bay – this is the only dolphin swim that I could recommend because dolphins are wild and actually swimming on their own in the open sea. 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.
    Puerto Vallarta - Boundless Roads

    Swimming with Dolphins

  20. 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):
    1. Street vendors in Lazaro Cardenas- they also seem to have the best sauce in town
    2. Going to Pancho takos in #162 Basilio Badillo street ( closed on Sunday – open from 6.30 pm, always crowded).
      Puerto Vallarta - Boundless Roads

      Pancho Takos

  21. Watch the Tlapantla flyers (voladores) on the Malecon. A tradition from Veracruz state brought in Puerto Vallarta.
  22. Enjoy the view of the towering green mountains around Puerto Vallarta better seen from Costco Parking lot. (who would have thought that?).
  23. 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.
  24. 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.
  25. In high season (unfortunately I’ll miss it) you can enjoy free night concert every Fridays in Lazaro Cardenas park at sunset.
  26. 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).
  27. Visit the trendy places of San Pancho and Sayulita. (more on this soon).
    Puerto Vallarta - Boundless Roads

    Sunset in San Pancho

  28. Enjoying the best chile relleno (a typical Mexican dish) at Café de Olla.
  29. Having dinner at Hacienda Sant Angel on the Mariachi night or on Sunday brunch.
  30. Visit the botanical garden. The newly renovated place has been considered the second most beautiful in North America. Definitely worth the visit.
  31. Taking a bike tour Rogelio and Brittany from Ecoride . Beni recommends them a lot for their itinerary through non-touristic places.
  32. 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.
  33. Bird watching tours.
  34. Enjoy the beautiful bay while exercising your core-stability on a paddleboard.
  35. Pick one of mouth-watering food tours , which takes you along all the best street food stalls in Vallarta.
  36. 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.
    vegan restaurants in Puerto Vallarta - Boundless Roads

    Pinche vegano – Delicious Vegan Restaurant

  37. 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 get yourself pampered! hey, you deserve it!
  38. Take a tour to the world famous Isla Marietas.
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Do you think I am missing something? please write on and I will be happy to add it.

Enjoy Puerto Vallarta now!!

MAP

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BOOK YOUR TOURS IN PUERTO VALLARTA

As you know I always incourage do-it-yourself tours, because I have much more fun being on my own at my own pace. However we are not all the same and there is nothing wrong in joining organized tours, whatever makes you happy 🙂 .

Here some of the tours that you can pre-book so that you have your vacation well organized. Have fun!

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About the Author

Isabella Biava

Hey traveler! thank you so much for showing up! This is Isabella the editor of this site. I left Italy, my beautiful home country, 16 years ago and I have been traveling since then, slowly and consistently through many different countries. The Caribbean Islands and Mexico have been my homes for a while. I have now left my job since March 2017 and jumped into the unknown, making my dream a reality. I am now living a nomadic life while working from my laptop and I am loving it so far! I have thought to put my travel stories into writing and photography and share it with whoever is interested. I hope you'll stick around then and enjoy the journey with me. Happy travels!