Located in the Mexican state of Jalisco on Mexico’s Pacific coast, the friendly city of Puerto Vallarta is a popular destination in Mexico, for its stunning beaches, a thriving nature, offering many incredible outdoor activities. There are so many things to do in Puerto Vallarta that even when I was living there I didn’t have time to do everything. In this post, I share all about it.
I had the chance to live like a local in Puerto Vallarta center, near the Romantic Zone. I had the chance to try different restaurants and visit all the best places, explore the best beaches, and ate in the best vegan restaurants in Puerto Vallarta.
I was lucky also to live in Puerto Vallarta old town, within walking distance of everything, including the famous Playa de Muertos and the artsy Malecon Puerto Vallarta.
In this article, you will find a long list of all the great 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.
If travel to Puerto Vallarta, make sure you stay at least one week to be able to enjoy all the things to do in the friendly city. And of course, if you are undecided about where to stay, you can read my guide to the best hotels in Puerto Vallarta. Yes, I have checked them out and reviewed them. I am sure it will be helpful if you are looking for the best hotels in Puerto Vallarta.
Map of Puerto Vallarta Mexico
Things to do in Puerto Vallarta Highlights
If you are in a hurry or you are there for a short vacation, these are the most popular things to do in Puerto Vallarta that you cannot miss.
- Have breakfast in Playa los Muertos, the trendiest beach in Puerto Vallarta lined with lovely restaurants overlooking the ocean.
- Walk from Los Muertos beach to Conchas Chinas, the beautiful deserted beach north of Puerto Vallarta. It’s an easy short walk through small bays and boulders.
- Enjoy the local street food.
- Take a stroll around the Zona Ra and its colorful shops and art galleries
- Join one of the snorkeling tours mentioned below.
- watch the sunset from the Malecon while enjoying the beautiful art expositions.
Quick rundown of Puerto Vallarta Zones
Puerto Vallarta is a big city although very much walkable within and between neighborhoods. Here are the most popular and interesting Zones
Conchas Chinas – an upscale neighborhood along the coast south of Puerto Vallarta, home to amazing condos with spectacular views over the ocean. The popular beach is named after it.
Zona Romantica – the area between the Cuale river and the end of the beach – the livelier part of Puerto Vallarta with art galleries, and great restaurants. That’s where the popular Playa de Muerto is located, together with luxury condo and quaint boutique hotel.
Old Zone (or zona Centro) – the old part of the city, right behind the Malecon, with colonial homes and hotels and cobblestone roads. Here you will also find great restaurants and cafes
Hotel Zone – South of the old town, the hotel zone is the more commercial part with malls, and where the oldest hotels are located, but also nice beaches
Puerto Vallarta Marina – this is an upscale area with a luxury marina where amazing luxury boats are docked. It’s home to high-end restaurants and luxury hotels, mainly all-inclusive. A tranquil residential area as well.
23 unmissable things to do in Puerto Vallarta Mexico
There are so many things to do in Puerto Vallarta that it’s difficult to choose if you have limited time. I have selected my favorite things to do when I was living there for a month and 15 days, while I was housesitting.
Walk on the Malecòn
Among the Puerto Vallarta attractions, the Malecon is definitely the cheapest and the most accessible. In fact, walking along the Malecon is one of the many free things to do in 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 raisers walking their friendly dogs or jogging.
Admire the spectacular and unique Sculpture by Sergio Bustamante a worldly renowned Mexican artist.
Watch the sunset at night while trying some delicious street food.
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 foreign tourists 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 my post on safety in Puerto Vallarta.
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 manufacturers.
Walk on the swinging bridges
Enjoy the swinging wood pedestrian bridges connecting the Cuale island with the rest of the city and of course take a walk-in Cuale Island towards the Malecon where you will find amazing artists selling their work.
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 showcasing incredible works from local artists. 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
If you are wondering what to do in Puerto Vallarta that is interesting and free, the free walking tours are a great idea to start.
Here you can get the real feeling of downtown Puerto Vallarta, 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 Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Explore the nearby San Sebastian del Oeste
Nestled in the Sierra Madre mountains at about 45 minutes drive from Puerto Vallarta, San Sebastian is one of the Mexican Pueblos Magicos in the state of Jalisco state is full of charm and personality. If you want to take a break from the beach and immerse yourself in the Mexican history and culture, enjoying some fresh air from the mountain, you should visit San Sebastian del Oeste. You could either rent a car in Puerto Vallarta or just join one of the guide tours that will take you there accompanied by a local guide, which is also a great option.
walking around its cobblestone roads you will notice how its mining past has been preserved almost intact since the 18th century, through the magnificent churches and farms. It seems that time had stopped in this pretty town.
Visit the nearby towns of Boca de Tomatlan and their beaches
Check out Mismaloya and Boca de Tomatlan by bus and their beaches. Situated at only 30 minutes bus drive from Puerto Vallarta, these touristy but lovely beaches make a great day trip from Puerto Vallarta on your own. Some of the most popular beaches are Yelapa and Quimixto. See below
Yelapa is the most famous beach among the ones close to Boca de Tomatlan. I didn’t like it though and in this post, I will tell you why. There are water taxis that take you there either from Boca the Tomatlan or from Puerto Vallarta directly.
Differently from Yelapa, Quimixto is a nice beach where you can relax and have a delicious meal after an energizing walk up to a waterfall.
I loved it so much that I wrote an article on how to get to Quimixto and make the most of your day. But the best way to get there is to get to Bocas the Tomatlan by bus (or car if you have rented it and then get a water taxi to take you. You can set up a time for the taxi to come and get you and take you back or you can ask the restaurant on the beach (delicious) to call one for you.
Spend a day in the Vallarta Botanical gardens
Among the best attractions nearby Puerto Vallarta, the Botanical Garden is my favorite. I love to visit the botanical garden of every place I go where it’s available. The one in Puerto Vallarta is one of the most beautiful I have seen. It’s totally worth a visit. And you can also have a lovely lunch while watching the birds and the beautiful landscape.
Check out the opening time and prices on their site.
Take a boat tour to the Islas Marietas
Among the amazing activities in Puerto Vallarta, joining a boat tour is definitely a must. There are so many tours available for snorkeling or exploring the nearby bays. Especially this unique site called Isla Marietas, a protected natural park with a wealth of underwater life and the iconic love beach! The tour is a bit more pricy than the other but totally worth it.
Join a street food tour
Among the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta, testing the local food is one of my favorites. Vallarta food tours are quite popular and diverse. Local guides take you to check out the best street food vendors. It totally worth it if you are a food lover like me and you are not vegan or vegetarian. (important detail)
Puerto Vallarta Snorkeling
Among all the possible activities in Puerto Vallarta snorkeling is one of the most popular. You have many different boat tours that take you to the most incredible snorkeling site. If the Marieta Island is too far or a little over the budget, or if you just want to have more snorkeling adventures in Puerto Vallarta, here are some options:
Puerto Vallarta Zip line
Enjoy one of the most incredible Canopy tour experiences in Puerto Vallarta flying over the Sierra Madre mountains.
You will observe the incredible natural landscapes of the beautiful Sierra Madre Occidental, where you will be ziplining over the tropical vegetation and over the banks of the “Nogalito” river. An unforgettable experience if you love adventure.
Scuba diving Puerto Vallarta
If you are a certified diver you cannot miss this amazing opportunity to dive in the waters of Banderas Bay, with such an incredible wealth of underwater life to discover, from Manta rays, o dolphins, and many other kinds of colorful fishes of all sizes. You should at least check them out once.
Enjoy swimming with dolphins in their natural habitat
I would never promote a dolphin encounter where dolphins are kept in captivity. But this tour is different. Organized by an association that promotes the conservation of this beautiful and graceful animal and all the wildlife around Puerto Vallarta, they will take you on a boat out in the deep sea where the dolphins usually hang out in total freedom. So no dolphin kissing. 🙂 Because the captains know where they are, they guarantee you will find them, and if you don’t, you will have your money back! 🙂
Whale watching in Puerto Vallarta
If you travel to Puerto Vallarta in the right season, which is from December through April, and you are staying in one of the Puerto Vallarta hotels right on the coast you may be able to spot humpback whales jumping out of the blue ocean on the horizon. However, if you want to be sure and you wish to see them closer you may want to join one of the amazing whale watching tours in Puerto Vallarta. It’s one of the most fabulous experiences. I went whale watching in Baja California in every possible way and I will treasure that for the rest of my life.
This whale watching tour in Puerto Vallarta that I am suggesting is also organized by Wildlife Connection the same that organize the wild dolphin tours, and you can be sure it’s done in the utmost respect of the environment, whales included.
Take a day trip to Sayulita
You cannot miss a visit to this pretty eclectic town of Sayulita. Born as a mecca for surfers, Sayulita is nowadays one of the top beach resorts in Mexico. Let me warn you if you go you may want to spend a couple of days in one of the stylish hotels in Sayulita, and you should. Actually, if you are reading this post before booking your trip, you may want to consider splitting your stay between Sayulita and Puerto Vallarta.
Have sunday brunch in Richard Burton House
As I explain in my post on the best hotels in Puerto Vallarta, the spectacular Hacienda San Angel was, in fact, the home of the famous actor Richard Burton who fell in love with Puerto Vallarta while he was acting in the movie The Night of the Iguana, set right here in the city in the mid-60s.
In 1977, he bought the house as a present for his wife, Susan. However, it is also connected by a bridge with Casa Kimberly, Elizabeth Taylor’s former house that is now turned into a luxury hotel and high-end restaurant. The movie together with the “secret” romance between Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, also enhanced the flourishing of Puerto Vallarta’s international tourism, attracting vacationers who wanted to follow the glamour of their favorite celebs.
The house was eventually bought in 1990 by the entrepreneur Janice Chatterton, who refurbished it and added more rooms at the back, transforming the gorgeous place into an elegant and intimate luxury boutique hotel.
The restaurant is open to the public and their Sunday brunch is very popular among locals.
And we have come to the end of this post on the amazing things that you can do in Puerto Vallarta. Did I miss anything? Please let me know in the comments below. Happy travels!