When most people think of Puerto Vallarta, they think spring breakers, cruisers, and all-inclusive resorts. While those things do exist here, there is way more to this charming seaside city. You don’t have to be a beach lover to enjoy Puerto Vallarta, either. Whether you crave adventure activities, love to eat, shop til you drop, or party til the sun comes up, Puerto Vallarta has something for you! So without further adieu, here are the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta.
If you watch the video above, you’ll notice there are only 15 things to do in the video. This blog post is meant to expand on those things as well as offer bonus and adventurous things to do in Puerto Vallarta. So be sure and scroll to the bottom!
Things to do in Puerto Vallarta
1. Hit the Beach
Puerto Vallarta is located in the beautiful Banderas Bay. It’s one of the widest and deepest bays in the world. There’s no shortage of beaches here and they’re all clean with plenty of water activities to keep your group entertained for an entire afternoon.
Pull up a chair and grab a cerveza or margarita!
Some of our favorite beaches are:
- Playa Camarones
- Playa Los Muertos
- Playa Las Gemalas
2. Go for a Stroll on the Malecon
Renovated a few years ago, the Malecon (boardwalk) is much wider and it’s pedestrian only. It’s lined with designer shops, restaurants, bars, shops with boozy ice cream, and souvenir markets.
It also serves as an open-air art gallery as it’s dotted with impressive sculptures that provide perfect photo ops. You’ll also regularly see local artists hard at work on new mural paintings.
One of my favorite things to do on the Malecon is to watch the Dance of the Flyers or Danza de los Voladores. It’s a reenactment of an ancient Mesoamerican ritual where 4 men tied to ropes launch themselves from the top of a pole and slowly spin back to the ground while a fifth man plays flute on top of the spinning pole.
Another popular thing to do on the Malecon is visiting the Choco Museum. Learn about the history of cacao and how chocolate is made. If you really want to get involved you can join one of the classes where you’ll learn how to make mole sauce and lots of other chocolate varieties.
3. Visit the Churches
The downtown Puerto Vallarta skyline is dominated by the crown on the Parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This is a beautiful church that you should visit in Puerto Vallarta. It’s one of the main things to do in Peurto Vallarta. If you’re visiting between December 1st and 12th you should definitely check out the Lady of Guadalupe Festival.
Other beautiful churches in town worthy of a visit are the Parish of Our Lady of Refuge in 5 de Diciembre and Paradise Church PV in Old Town.
4. Stay at an All-Inclusive Resort
I’ll probably get some backlash from this one but I’m including it anyway.
Last summer for our wedding anniversary, Sasha surprised me with a staycation at the Barcelo Premium All-Inclusive Resort in the South Zone. We only stayed for one night and while there were some things we weren’t stoked on, the pros definitely outweighed the cons and we had a good time.
Despite your opinion on all-inclusive resorts, they are a huge part of the tourism industry here. Competition is fierce amongst the resorts and they strive to make their guests happy. We voiced some of our grievances to the staff during our stay and they immediately went out of their way to fix the problems and make sure the rest of our stay was the most relaxing ever.
All-inclusive resorts definitely have their time and place. They’re great if you’re traveling with kids as most resorts have a daycare center so the parents can get some adult swim time. They take away the need to plan activities and excursions and eliminate decision making at meal times.
That being said, I do think resorts tend to shield travelers from experiencing the local food and culture. But if this is how you prefer to travel, more power to you! Just make sure to leave the compound and see all the amazing things Puerto Vallarta has to offer.
Read our review of the Barcelo Premium All-Inclusive Resort in Puerto Vallarta to learn more. If it seems like something that would be perfect for your vacation, check out their TripAdvisor reviews and book your trip! On TripAdvisor, they list all the different websites where you book a room, including ones with special discounts.
5. Eat all the Tacos!
Ah, tacos! The quintessential dish of Mexico. My mouth is watering just thinking about them.
If you think that all tacos are just meat rolled in a tortilla, you are sorely mistaken! The different taco varieties are so vast, our friends over at Food Fun Travel had to split their taco podcast episode into two different parts in order to include all the information.
There are so many incredible taco stands scattered around Puerto Vallarta that the options are endless. Our personal favorite taco styles are tacos al pastor, tacos de marlin, and tacos de birria (goat stew – delicious!).
Don’t worry, all the taco stands here are safe to eat at but if you’re wary about street food then you should join one of the many food tours here in Puerto Vallarta. They’ll take you to all the best places and give you a bit of info and history about the things you’re trying.
Food tours are definitely amongst the most popular things to do in Puerto Vallarta. Check out our review of the street food tour with Vallarta Food Tours.
While we’re on the topic of food, I’ve got a post about where to eat in PV coming soon but until then I’ll leave you with one restaurant that is always recommended as the best place for fish tacos and margaritas on the beach: El Barracuda. You’re welcome.
6. Hike Up to Mirador de la Cruz
You gotta walk off those tacos somehow!
There’s no better way to do that than by climbing the stairs up to the cross that overlooks Puerto Vallarta or the Mirador de la Cruz. I say to go a bit before sunset. The temperature isn’t as hot, the light will be perfect for taking photos of the city, and you’ll have the best view of nature’s most stunning performance.
From the Malecon, start from Mandala Nightclub and walk up Abasolo Street. As you start to climb the hill, the road will end and you’ll begin the stair climb. The stairs get pretty steep towards the top. There is a funicular but we’ve never seen it running. There are plenty of benches where you can stop and rest along the way.
Don’t forget your camera! It’s one of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta for photography enthusiasts.
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7. Find All the Street Art
There are some incredible murals around almost every corner here.
The abundance of street art is one of my favorite things about Puerto Vallarta and Latin America at large. It’s so prevalent and has such an interesting history.
Set out on foot and spend an afternoon exploring the alleyways and smaller streets in Centro and the Romantic Zone. Some of my favorites are included in a previous post I wrote about street art in Mexico.
8. Visit the Botanical Gardens
We always take our visitors to the Botanical Gardens. It’s the perfect way to spend an afternoon.
I highly recommend taking the bus from town as the scenery is simply amazing. The road hugs the mountain as it winds along the coast providing breathtaking views of the Bay and Los Arcos Nature Reserve.
The Garden has an incredible collection of cacti, orchids, native plants to this part of Mexico, and lots of old trees. It’s one of the perfect things to do in Puerto Vallarta for nature lovers. There are hiking trails that wind through the park and down to the river where you can go swimming if you want.
After you’ve had your fill of flowers and hiking you should grab a bite at the restaurant. Their food is delicious. They also have a really impressive shop with local artisan crafts, souvenirs, locally made chocolate, and raicilla – the local spirit.
9. Shop at the Local Markets
During the dry season (November – April), the Olas Altas Farmers Market (featured in the video) happens every Saturday from 9:30 am – 2 pm. You’ll find fresh bagels, homemade yogurt, British pies, salsas, and artisan bread. Shop the local artisan craft stands and enjoy a freshly made Thai meal while enjoying the live music.
Save shopping at big grocery stores for when you get home. There are lots of local Municipal markets selling fresh produce, meats, and other snacks at a fraction of the cost. There’s one in just about every neighborhood but some favorites are in Emiliano Zapata and 5 de Diciembre neighborhoods.
10. Hike from Boca de Tomatlan to Playa Las Animas
This is by far my favorite thing to do outdoors here, well besides sitting on the beach! This hike goes along the side of the mountain and passes by several secluded beaches where you can stop and take a dip to cool off so it’s the best of both worlds.
Playa Las Animas is a small fishing village that you can only reach by boat or this hike. There are several little restaurants and an adventure park. It’s popular for daytrippers so you should plan on arriving later in the afternoon. They usually leave around 3 pm.
Start by taking one of the orange buses from the Oxxo on Basilio Badillo to Boca de Tomatlan. When you arrive, walk down the hill towards the water. There will be water taxi drivers asking you if you want the boat. Just politely tell them you’re going to hike and they’ll usually point you in the right direction. When you can no longer go straight, turn left and walk along the water until you come to a bridge. The bridge is where the trail starts.
Total time to hike to Las Animas: 1 hour 45 minutes
You’ll pass by several empty, undeveloped beaches and a few nice resorts. You’ll recognize Las Animas as it has a lot of restaurants, little beach shacks, and a long pier. All the restaurants serve delicious food and drink so reward yourself!
Most people go to Las Animas as a day trip so things shut down pretty early – around 5 pm. When you’re ready, you can hike back or take a water taxi for 50 pesos. The last time we went the guys working at the restaurant helped us get a water taxi at 6 pm so no worries about getting stranded there.
11. Try the Craft Beer
When we made the video above, there was only one brewery in Puerto Vallarta, now there are two!
The one featured in the video is called Los Muertos Brewing. They have several different kinds of beer ranging in flavor and strength. Pizza is their specialty when it comes to food. They probably have one of the best lunch deals in town – a slice with fries or a salad and a pint for just 75 pesos!
Monzon Brewery is the new kid in town. They opened their doors in August 2017 and just celebrated their first birthday. Their beer is delicious and they use local ingredients to create unique flavors. They also make it a point to educate people about the beer making process.
As for their food? The chef tastes every beer and creates a menu of dishes that are both Mexican and American influenced that also pair well with what’s on tap. Every item on the menu has a suggested beer pairing! It creates the perfect brewery experience where the food is inspired by the beer. How cool is that?!
Reid and Miranda – the owners – are a super cool couple from Seattle. Check out Sasha’s interview with them to hear their backstory and how they ended up brewing beer in paradise.
12. Enjoy a Fancy Dinner
There’s way more food in Puerto Vallarta than just tacos. Puerto Vallarta actually has several world-class and even Michelin star restaurants. Eating is a big part of the tourism industry. You shouldn’t eat poorly on vacation!
The restaurant featured in the video and likely the most well-known restaurant for fine dining in Puerto Vallarta is Cafe des Artistes. Celebrity chef Thierry Blouet serves French and Mexican fusion cuisine in a beautifully designed restaurant that looks like a castle on the outside. The rooms inside all have a different design including a sculpture-filled reception area, an elegant piano lounge, and a jungle-like outdoor courtyard.
Other popular fine-dining restaurants are:
13. Watch the Sunset
Thanks to the westward facing position of Puerto Vallarta, the sunsets here are incredible. My daily schedule almost always includes being in a prime location, adult beverage in hand when it’s time to watch nature’s daily light show.
14. Check Out the Southside Shuffle (November – March)
Every other Friday over 20 shops and art galleries on Basilio Badillo in the Romantic Zone stay open late and serve wine and appetizers.
There’s also usually some musicians set up on the street providing some live music while you browse the art, jewelry, collectibles, fashion, and restaurants.
15. Jam Out to Some Live Music
If you’ve spent any time at all on this site, then you know there’s not much we love more than seeing live music. Puerto Vallarta has no shortage of places to boogie down to some local grooves.
My personal favorite place to see live music is the Jazz Foundation on the Malecon. They have music most nights of the week as well as reasonably priced, tasty cocktails to go with your moves. The best part is that they don’t charge a cover!
Other great places to see live music are El Soñador, Kelly’s Pourfavor, Captain Don’s, and Nacho Daddy.
Puerto Vallarta also has its own performance theater. Act II Stages is located on Basilio Badillo and during the dry season (November – April) there are shows almost every night of the week. Our favorite performance is a tribute to the Beatles. Other shows include stand-up comedy acts and plays.
It’s one of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta for lovers of the arts.
Bonus Things to do in Puerto Vallarta
The above list is all the things to do in Puerto Vallarta that you see in the video but the fun doesn’t stop there! The following activities are things we’ve done recently (since Sasha made the video) and things that are on our wish list.
16. Go For a Stroll in Marina Vallarta
This is a quaint little area of town that has really grown in the last few years. They have their own boardwalk full of shops, restaurants, and bars. There’s even a lighthouse with a bar on top where you can take in the views of the parked yachts under the stars.
It’s easy to take a bus from Centro or the Romantic Zone (Old Town). You’ll know you’ve arrived once you spot the massive whale sculpture at the entrance.
This is one of the many great things to do in Puerto Vallarta with a family as there are many kid-friendly things in the Marina such as waterparks! It’s also perfect for a romantic stroll with your partner after a nice dinner date.
17. Partake in a Turtle Release
This actually takes place in Nuevo Vallarta but it’s easy to get to from the center of Puerto Vallarta. Conservation projects have been going on for about 30 years in order to protect and save marine turtles. There are teams dedicated to helping the turtles nest on the beach and then releasing the hatchlings back into the ocean when they’re ready.
The best time of year to see the turtle releases is from July – December.
There are a number of ways you can participate; you can join a tour, follow this Facebook page and take yourself to the site of the release, or stay at one of the hotels that participate in the conservation program:
- Marriott Puerto Vallarta
- Hotel Velas Vallarta
- Dreams Puerto Vallarta
- Plaza Pelicanos Grand Beach Resort
- Sunset Plaza Beach Resort and Spa
- Hotel El Pescador
- Friendly Vallarta Beach Resort
- Hotel Barcelo
- Hotel Blue Bay Los Angeles Locos Tenacatita
- Punta Serena Villas and Spa
18. Visit Mismaloya
Mismaloya is a small little community south of Old Town. It’s actually the place where Richard Burton and Tennessee Williams filmed their 1964 movie “Night of the Iguana” putting Puerto Vallarta officially on the map.
It’s very easy to take the bus from town. The beach is a nice, quiet place to spend the afternoon. It’s possible to rent jet skis or hire a boat to take you to Los Arcos Maritime Nature Reserve.
There’s also a zoo where visitors are allowed to feed the animals! It’s one of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta for animal lovers.
19. Go Shopping on the Rio Cuale
The Rio Cuale is a river that runs from the mountains down into the ocean. There’s a little island in the middle that has lots of little stands selling everything from tacky souvenir items to more authentic, artisan crafts and tapestries.
Be sure to walk the length of the island and stop for a drink at Babel Bar. Once you’ve finished your beverage, walk up the big white staircase into Gringo Gulch – the neighborhood where Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor built a house and settled for a few years.
My favorite way to get on the island is to cross the swinging bridge. You can access it from opposite Cafe Roma on the Centro side and from Calle Constitucion on the Zona Romantica side (Old Town).
20. Join a Free Walking Tour
Sure you can walk around by yourself but why not take the chance to learn about the history of what you’re seeing?!
There are lots of free walking tours that take place all year long but probably the best one is with the Municipal Tourism Office. They take place every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday at 9:00 am and noon (Saturday is only at noon). The meeting point is at the Municipal Tourism Office in the Old City Hall Building. It lasts about 2 hours and there’s no need to make a reservation.
21. Join a Tequila Tasting and Find Your Favorite Flavor
Tequila is by far and away the most well-known spirit from Mexico.
There are many opportunities to try the different types but the best and cheapest way (in my opinion) is to drop into any tequila shop around town. You’ll be able to taste as many as you like before deciding which one to take home (or finish on your vacation).
The chatty sales guys are super friendly and funny. They have some of the best lines to reel you in but they don’t stop there. They’ll give you a little lesson on tequila and it’s importance in Mexican culture.
You should also try other spirits only made in Mexico – mezcal and raicilla.
22. Dance With the Locals in Plaza de Armas Every Sunday
The Plaza de Armas is always the central meeting place in any Latin American city and Puerto Vallarta is no different.
The biggest gathering of the week takes place on Sundays in the square. Everyone gathers around the gazebo and dances to the music pumping out of massive speakers. It’s a great way to meet people and experience the local culture.
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Adventurous Things to do in Puerto Vallarta and Fun Excursions
Just a quick note: you’ll see that I recommend a lot of activities with Vallarta Adventures. I don’t work for them and this post is not sponsored by them. I just think that they provide a really big bang for your buck. All of their guides speak English and Spanish and have really fun personalities. They also have great customer service.
When my parents came to visit in June, I booked all of our excursions with them and my parents are still raving about how much fun they had.
Plus, they offer a 3 for 2 deal where if you book 3 tours, one will be free!
23. Go Snorkeling at Los Arcos
This is something I’ve been dying to do and I just haven’t yet.
Los Arcos is a Maritime Nature Reserve just off Mismaloya Beach. You can spot it from a mile away thanks to the distinctive rocks sprouting out of the ocean. Below the rocks are multitudes of marine plants and animals. Tons of colorful fish, octopus, lobster, dolphins, giant manta rays and sea turtles are just a few of the animals you might see!
It’s one of the top things to do in Puerto Vallarta for snorkelers.
There are a few different ways to get there. The cheapest way would be to go to Mismaloya and hire a panga (small boat). Most of them have snorkels and masks.
Another option would be to rent a SUP (stand up paddleboard) and take yourself or join a SUP tour to the Arches (as they’re also called). Or you could join a boat tour with one of the many tour operators in town. Do you research, though, as some are better than others. I advise going with Vallarta Adventures.
24. Rhythms of the Night – One of the most fun things to do in Puerto Vallarta!
This is the best dinner show and one of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta. It’s the perfect activity for any occasion – date night, family fun night, ladies night, anything!
It’s a choreographed show created by the co-founder of Cirque du Soleil so there’s a lot of high flying acrobatics, dancing, crazy lights, and sounds effects that celebrates Mexico’s ancient customs and rituals. It takes place at Las Caletas – a secluded beach in the rainforest in the southern part of the Bay. It also includes a candlelit buffet dinner.
I took my parents when they came to visit and we all loved it. It’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. The food and performance exceeded all of our expectations!
I highly recommend doing the Rhythms of the Night with Vallarta Adventures. Every tour I’ve ever done with them has included some of the best customer services and their guides always have the biggest personalities.
The entertainment doesn’t stop with dinner and the show. The bartenders on the boat (oh, did I mention there’s an open bar?!) double as MC’s and entertainers. They tell jokes and put on a hilarious performance for the full 45-minute boat ride to Las Caletas and back.
There’s a reason they’re the #2 show on TripAdvisor. Check out the reviews and book your trip!
Insider Tip: Avoid massive crowds by going when the cruises are not in port.
25. Explore Las Islas Marietas
The Marietas Islands are a group of uninhabited islands out in the Bay about 35 km (22 miles) from Puerto Vallarta.
The selling point of the islands is the Hidden Beach. It’s a tiny beach that visitors can only reach from the water and it’s partially enclosed by the cliffs overhead which is what makes it so appealing.
The waters around the islands are teeming with marine life. For this reason, it’s a protected nature reserve. In 2017, they started limiting the number of visitors to a limited amount per day to help protect the islands. The earlier in the day you go, the more likely it’ll be that you visit the beach.
For those on a budget, the best way to see the islands is by going to Punta de Mita and booking your trip with the Cooperativa de Turismo.
26. Go on a Canopy River Adventure
Canopy River is an ecotourism company here in Puerto Vallarta that runs most of the super adventurous tours up in the mountains.
They have lots of different options including:
- Ziplining + River Rafting
- ATV Tour
- RZR Tours
- Horseback riding
- Jorullo Bridge Crossing – the longest suspension bridge for vehicles in the world
All of these tours leave the sweltering city and head up into the Sierra Madre mountains where you’ll zip across the mountains, haul ass down the trails in a RZR or ATV, and drive/walk across the longest suspension bridge for vehicles in the world. They also have combo tours for the ultimate dose of adrenaline.
For non-thrill seekers, they have an excursion called “Fiesta in the Mountains.” You’ll get to experience a colorful Mexican fair with dancing, food, and games all while learning about Puerto Vallarta’s history and way of life.
27. Skydive Over the Ocean
If you’re a super adrenaline junkie, this is the thing for you!
I don’t need to explain what this is. If you’ve ever daydreamed about jumping out an airplane 10k feet above sea level, this is one of the best places you could do it. Who wouldn’t want to get a bird’s eye view of the entire Banderas Bay?!
Skydive Vallarta is your go-to company for this activity.
I have not tried skydiving in Puerto Vallarta but I did try it in Moab, Utah, over Canyonlands and Arches National Parks during our gap year travels.
This and the Canopy River tours are the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta for adrenaline junkies!
28. Go Scuba Diving
You can see lots of marine life just by snorkeling but there’s so much more to see beneath the surface of the water!
If you have your open water certificate, there are a couple of PADI recognized places to book a trip with.
For those who don’t have their certification, why not get it here in Puerto Vallarta! PV is the main diving destination on the Pacific coast of Mexico. The types of dive sites in the Bay include islands, a shipwreck, and whale watching expeditions.
29. Book a Sailing Charter
There’s no shortage of sailing companies and tours in Puerto Vallarta. You can charter your own private sailing trip with a group of friends or family and ask them to take you so all the best beaches only accessible by boat.
There are some companies that can also go to Los Arcos and Las Islas Marietas. Combine that with stops at a couple of beaches and the trip is well worth it.
If you don’t have a big group and just want to try sailing you can join a tour. I’ve personally been on a luxury sailing trip with Vallarta Adventures. It was an incredibly fun experience that included an open bar and lunch.
30. Whale Watching
Every winter from December to March, humpback whales leave the Arctic and return to the Bay to breed and hang out for a while.
The best way to see these magical creatures is by joining a professional tour so you can get close and watch them jumping and flipping out of the water and be able to hear their sounds.
Look for companies that have an official permit from Semarnat (the Mexican Ministry of Environmental and Natural Resources). Ocen Friendly Puerto Vallarta comes highly recommended. Whale watching is at the top of the list of best things to do in Puerto Vallarta.
31. Chase all the Waterfalls
There are plenty of waterfalls to find in the area! A quick hike will reward you with beautiful cascades of water. These are the most popular ones:
- Palo Maria
There is no shortage of kickass things to do in Puerto Vallarta. I’ve really come to enjoy this little town so much that I’m considering staying for longer. There’s just so much that I still haven’t seen and explored!
If you try any of these things, please leave a comment and let me know how you liked it! Don’t hesitate to let me know if there’s something missing from this list, too.
Most of these activities happen in and around the city but the fun doesn’t stop there! I’m currently working on two more guides about Puerto Vallarta: where to eat and the best day trips from Puerto Vallarta. Keep an eye on the blog so you don’t miss them!
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