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Puerto Vallarta is a coastal city that combines a thriving modern culture with breathtaking natural beauty and a long history of cultural celebrations. In this Puerto Vallarta guide, I will share an overview of the city’s history, most famous landmarks as well as its lesser-known treasures, regional specialties, and genuine charisma.

The fascinating history of Puerto Vallarta is a fusion of indigenous peoples and Spanish colonisation. The city’s architecture, customs, and festivals bear witness to its transformation from a sleepy fishing hamlet to a thriving cultural centre. 

A lively beach bar with people strolling by, enjoying the vibrant atmosphere and scenic view.

Geography and climate

Located on Banderas Bay and bordered by the green Sierra Madre Mountains, Puerto Vallarta’s prime location is what makes it so distinctly unique. Golden beaches, blue oceans rich in aquamarine life, and a varied terrain ranging from tropical forests to picturesque cobblestone alleyways are some of its geographical wonders.

The city has a tropical climate with warm temperatures all year around. If you are a beach lover you will find the best weather during the peak season, which runs from November to April. From May through to October, you can enjoy lush scenery, fewer tourists, and the odd rainfall during the rainy season. I was fortunate enough to come in May, when the weather was mild and sunny every day with almost no rain.

Puerto vallarta guide

Top must-do attractions in Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta is home to a wide variety of attractions, including stunning natural scenery, fascinating historical sites, and exciting cultural events. Here are some of my favourite activities which can be enjoyed all year around: 

The Malecon

Large square with palm trees and a lot of bronze statues facing the beach

This famous waterfront promenade is the main drag of Puerto Vallarta. The beautiful broadwalk is lined with sculptures, street entertainers, and a wide variety of restaurants and bars. Go for a leisurely stroll, watch the sun fall over the water, take in the sights at El Malecón Sculpture Garden, an outdoor collection of sculptures by both local and international artists that stretches along the Malecón.

El Centro

Historic centre with a cathedral and shops

The historic centre or the old town of Puerto Vallarta is worth a detour as well. Wander through the cobblestone lanes lined with colonial-style buildings and colourful murals.  Make a stop at the Parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe which is home to a magnificent cathedral.

Picturesque beaches

Puerto Vallarta is renowned for its stunning palm-lined beaches, hidden coves, and rich seas with aquamarine life. Along its sixty miles of breathtaking Pacific coast, you’ll find tranquil island retreats rich in wildlife and idyllic beaches fit for everyone. 

Playa de los Muertos 

One of the most well-known beaches in Puerto Vallarta. It’s located in the city, in the Romantic Zone and is famous for its lively atmosphere, water sports, and iconic pier.

Yelapa beach

Beautiful island with crystal clar green water and surrounded by forests

One of the most beautiful beaches in Puerto Vallarta with crystal clear waters ideal for snorkelling. The island is only accessible by boat which makes it a perfect choice if you are seeking a bit of seclusion in paradise.

Las Ánimas Beach

Another beach which is only accessible by boat but with a more vibrant ambiance and plenty of dining options. This beach is great for those looking to indulge in activities such as kayaking and jet skiing. 

Camarones Beach

Family-friendly beach with a laid-back vibe. It’s easily accessible from the city and a great place to swim and relax in the sun.

Conchas Chinas 

Beautiful beach with clear water and rocky coves. It is a bit more private and offers a peaceful atmosphere.

Playa Mismaloya

Beach location with palm trees, rocks and mountains in the background

Famous for its appearance in the film “The Night of the Iguana,” Mismaloya offers a picturesque setting with jungle-covered hills meeting the ocean.

Playa Los Muertos (Punta Negra)

This beach is not to be confused with Playa de los Muertos, which is more central. This beach is further to the south and offers a more private experience.

Sayulita and Bucerias

You also have the option to visit Sayulita and Bucerias, two distinct towns very different from one another. Bucerias is known for its long stretches of golden sand and a calm, swimmable shoreline and Sayulita is vibrant with a young population and has a more bohemian vibe and stunning waves popular with surfers. I did a day trip to each one of them and was charmed by their beauty and unique character.

Islas Marietas

By Christian Frausto Bernal from Tepic, Nayarit, MEXICO – Parque Nacional Islas Marietas

Take a boat trip to these deserted islands to view the secluded beach Playa del Amor. Learn about a variety of habitats, such as a bird sanctuary and underwater tunnels.

Art and culture 

A vibrant building adorned with a captivating mural on its side, showcasing a burst of colors.

Puerto Vallarta is home to a vibrant culture and art scene and you can experience it yourself by seeing the many galleries that are dotted around the city and the Art Walk in the Romantic Zone, which features a wide variety of modern and traditional Mexican artwork.

Food scene

Puerto Vallarta has a diverse culinary scene that combines traditional Mexican food with contemporary influences using unique ingredients from the region. From street food booths to luxury restaurants, the city has a delicious selection of foods to suit every palette and budget.

I am a big fan of classic Mexican cuisine but anything I tried outside Mexico can’t come close to the authenticity and richness to the flavours I experienced in Puerto Vallarta. Tacos, enchiladas, and tamales are everywhere from street sellers to local taquerías. Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy real guacamole cooked tableside. I have never tasted anything more delicious and had to have it every single day while I was there. I even tried replicating it at home but it never tasted similar to the ones I had in Mexico as the quality of ingredients is far superior to the stuff we get here in supermarkets.

I had the best Tacos at Maria Baja and Tuna Azul.

Mexican food selection, tacos and guacamole

Seafood Extravaganza: The beachfront setting of Puerto Vallarta makes it an ideal destination for seafood lovers. You can indulge in ceviche, aguachile and camarones a la diabla (spicy prawns). Visit the Mercado del Mar to see the lively fish market and select fresh seafood for your meal.

Street Food Adventures: if you have time you can do a Puerto Vallarta street food. They are everythwere and very affordable. Try elote (grilled corn on the cob), marquesitas (crispy crepes with cheese and toppings), and caramel-drizzled churros.

Typical Mexican restaurant, featuring tables and chairs, mexican decor and food

Mole and Enmoladas: Enjoy mole, a tasty sauce prepared with chilli peppers, chocolate, and spices. For a one-of-a-kind gastronomic experience, try enmoladas, which are meat-filled tortillas covered with mole sauce.

If you have a more sophisticated palette, Puerto Vallarta has a growing fine dining scene, with restaurants serving gourmet versions of Mexican food. For a taste of elegance and local flavours, visit Café des Artistes and Le Kliff.

Dessert & Sweet Treats:End your gastronomic excursion with decadent treats. Try tres leches cake, flan, or the popular churros ice cream sandwich. Check out local bakeries for freshly made pan dulce (sweet bread), a popular pastry that’s consumed in breakfast or as an afternoon snack. 

Shopping

Puerto Vallarta is a great shopping destination, with bustling markets, small boutiques, and craft stalls lining the Malecon and small alleways. Whether you’re looking for traditional Mexican souvenirs or modern art, the retail district has something for everyone.

A shop showcasing a wide variety of items in traditional Mexican products

marketplaces like Mercado Municipal Rio Cuale offer plenty of options to buy handcrafted souvenirs, textiles and ceramics.

Bargaining is normal, so don’t be afraid to engage in amicable discussions.

The Romantic Zone is known for its bohemian vibe featuring art galleries, boutiques, and distinctive businesses. Walk along Olas Altas Street and you’ll find  locally made jewellery, costumes and home decor.

The Malecón and Downtown have a modern shopping area where you can find clothes, accessories, and art shops.

Art fans can visit Galería Vallarta and the monthly Art Walk. These galleries feature a broad collection of paintings, sculptures, and mixed-media works by both local and foreign artists. It’s an incredible opportunity to take a bit of Puerto Vallarta’s artistic essence home with you.

Marina Vallarta is an upmarket development known for elegant resorts, a marina and high-end stores and designer brands.

Accommodation

From luxurious beachfront resorts to cosy boutique hotels, Puerto Vallarta has a wide selection of alternatives to meet any traveller’s interests and budget.

Luxury resorts

Puerto Vallarta has some of the most luxurious resorts in the world boasting spectacular ocean views and world-class service. I am not very  keen on resorts and would usually opt for a self-catering accommodation but I was after total relaxation and zen for this trip so I carefully researched resorts and found the perfect all-inclusive for my needs.

Beach chairs and a thatched umbrella on a sandy beach with clear blue water in the background.

For the ultimate luxury, Garza Blanca Preserve Resort & Spa or the Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta come complete with private beaches, multiple pools, and gourmet dining options.

All-Inclusive Resorts

For a hassle-free holiday especially if you have small kids, choose an all-inclusive resort, such as Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa or the Westin Resort & Spa, Puerto Vallarta. These resorts feature numerous activities during the day and family friendly entertainment in the evening. They have several restaurants, beach and pool clubs with cafeterias where kids can snack all day long, giving parents that much needed “me time” for a few hours .

Boutique Hotels

You will find most of these in The Zona Romantica, a lively area popular with expats and the LGBT community. These boutique hotels often provide a personalised experience through unique décor, intimate settings, and easy access to local attractions.

A woman standing on blue building steps.

Budget-Friendly Accommodations

Puerto Vallarta offers alternatives for the budget traveller as well. From affordable small hotels and self -catering. to guesthouses, to hostels. These options are distributed around the city and provide the opportunity to explore Puerto Vallarta without breaking the bank.

Holiday Rentals

for a mid to long term stay, I recommend booking holiday rentals or self-catering accommodation. Airbnb and Vrbo provide a homely atmosphere through a wide range of alternatives, from cosy flats to huge beachfront villas. 

How to travel responsibly in Puerta Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta is known for its beautiful nature and lively culture. To keep its appeal for future generations, the city needs to embrace sustainable and responsible tourist practices. Here are some ways you can play a part and help the local community.

A woman strolling amidst vibrant paper lanterns on a street.

choose Eco-friendly accommodation

Pick sustainable accommodation. Many hotels and resorts in Puerto Vallarta have started using eco-friendly methods, like energy saving lighting and water-saving measures. Check for certifications like EarthCheck or Rainforest Alliance to make sure that the place you stay meets environmental standards.

Back fair trade and local businesses

When shopping for souvenirs or dining out, look for businesses that support local craftsmen and use ethically sourced items. Purchasing handcrafted things from local markets not only delivers an authentic experience but also directly benefits the community’s livelihood.

Responsible Interactions with Wildlife:

If your plans include wildlife tours, be sure they follow responsible tourism guidelines. Avoid tours that promote direct contact with wild animals or advertise their exploitation. Choose eco-friendly excursions and sanctuaries that promote conservation and education.

Conclusion

From the renowned Malecón to the secret crowd free beaches, Puerto Vallarta is not just a treasure trove of activities and stunning landscapes. it’s also a real, breathing organism that requires our attention and care.

I hope you enjoyed this Puerto Vallarta guide and that it will help you navigate your first trip to this unique destination and make plenty of memories.

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