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  • sunset-Puerto-Vallarta-Mexico - A dramatic sunset in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • Ballenas-Guayabitos-Nayarit-Mexico - Sailing off Guayabitos on the west coast of Mexico.
  • rappel-waterfall-Nayarit-Mexico - Guides help travelers rappel down a waterfall north of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • Marietas-Island-Nayarit-Mexico - Marietas Island, about 15 miles off the coast of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, offers snorkeling and scuba diving.
  • Golf-Punta-Mita-Bahia-Nayarit-Mexico - The scenic Punta Mita Bahia Golf Course near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • Tail-of-the-Whale-Golf-Pacifico-Nayarit-Mexico - The third hole at the Punta Mita Golf Course, near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, is called Tail of Whale because of its distinctive shape.
  • wedding-sayulita-Puerto-Vallarta-Mexico - Two kids take part in a wedding at the Plaza Sayulita, Mexico.
  • egret-Puerto-Vallarta-Mexico - A snowy egret at water's edge near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • zip-canopy-Puerto-Vallarta-Mexico - Take a zipline across the forest —upside down? sure! — at Canopy el Nogalito in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • puffer-scuba-Puerto-Vallarta-Mexico - A scuba diver face to face with a puffer fish near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • bird-men-Puerto-Vallarta-Mexico - The Voladores de Papantla (flyers of Papantla, also sometimes known as hombres pajaro, or "bird men") on the Melacon in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • Puntarenas-Costa-Rica - The shoreline of Puntarenas on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica at sunset.
  • Puerto-Vallarta-Mexico-2 - Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, is home to a vibrant nightlife and world-class cuisine.
  • isla-cuale-market-Puerto-Vallarta-Mexico - The colorful Isla Cuale market in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • art-Puerto-Vallarta-Mexico - Beaded Huichol art in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • Huichol-art-Nayarit-Mexico - Huichol artwork near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • Huichol-Nayarit-Mexico - Performers in traditional Huichol costume near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • beach-Puerto-Vallarta.jpg - A beautiful beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • beach2-Puerto-Vallarta.jpg - Sun and fun in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • Canopy-River-Puerto-Vallarta.jpg - A Canopy River tour outside of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • feast-Puerto-Vallarta.jpg - A local feast in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • Los-Arcos-Puerto-Vallarta.jpg - Los Arcos National Marine Park near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • Malecon1-Puerto-Vallarta.jpg - The Malecon of Puerto Vallarta.
  • Malecon2-Puerto-Vallarta.jpg - People watching on the Malecon of Puerto Vallarta.
  • ships-Puerto-Vallarta.jpg - Cruise ships in Puerto Vallarta.
  • Playa-Muertos-Puerto-Vallarta.jpg - Playa los Muertos in Puerto Vallarta.
  • river-expedition-Puerto-Vallarta-jpg.jpg - A river expedition outside of Puerto Vallarta.
  • rooftops-Puerto-Vallarta.jpg - Rooftops in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • marketplace-Puerto-Vallarta.jpg - A marketplace in Puerto Vallarta.
  • Flamingos-in-Las-Caletas - Flamingos near the entrance of Las Caletas, Mexico.
  • pacific-coastline-waves2.jpg - Waves crashing to shore along the Pacific coastline in Mexico.
  • Dawn-Princess-Puerto-Vallarta-Mexico - Dawn Princess in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • Puerto-Vallarta-Vision-of-the-Seas - Vision of the Seas in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • San-Pancho-Sunset-Nayarit-Mexico - Sunset in San Pancho, also called San Francisco, on the Pacific coast of Mexico north of Puerto Vallarta.
  • Macaw-Las-Caletas - A staffer at Vallarta Adventures shows off a macaw during a shore excursion to Las Caletas near Puerto Vallarta.
  • Mariachis-Las-Caletas - Mariachis perform during lunch at Las Caletas near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, during a Ruby Princess shore excursion.
  • pleasure-boat-Puerto-Vallarta - A sightseeing boat in the waters of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • Las-Caletas-paddleboarding - Visitors from Ruby Princess paddleboard in the calm waters of Las Caletas.
  • Las-Caletas-welcoming-party - The colorful if touristy welcoming party at Las Caletas, Mexico.
  • Las-Caletas-float-1.jpg - Swim out a few yards and bask on a floating oasis at Las Caletas, Mexico.
  • Las-Caletas-Vallarta-Adventures-staff.jpg - A crew member of Vallarta Adventures during an excursion to Las Caletas near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • whale-watching-Puerto-Vallarta.jpg - Whale watching during a Vallarta Adventures excursion off of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • horseback-riding-Puerto-Vallarta.jpg - Horseback riding in Las Palmas, near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • Our-Lady-of-Guadelupe-Puerto-Vallarta.jpg - The Crown of Our Lady sculpture on top of the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe
  • ATV-stream-Puerto-Vallarta.jpg - Visitors cross a stream on an ATV tour outside of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • Banderas-Bay-Puerto-Vallarta,jpg.jpg - A view of Bandera Bay in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
  • boat-tour-Puerto-Vallarta.jpg - A boat excursion out of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Puerto Vallarta travel guide: What to do & see

our guide

The vibe

Anyone who calls Puerto Vallarta a “fishing village” hasn’t been there in 50 years. Expect a resort city of 500,000-plus residents and tens of thousands of snowbirds and tourists, with all the attendant congestion.

During the high season of November to March, as many as 8,000 visitors a day arrive by cruise ship alone.

Yet amid the resort hotels, the big-box stores and the expat mansions perched on jungle-clad hillsides, there are tons of reasons to love PV. The growing city now stretches for miles along beautiful Banderas Bay, but its cobblestone core is as intriguing as ever, its beaches just as inviting, its restaurants among Mexico’s best and its activity options incredibly diverse.

The red-tiled roofs rising between the green slopes of the western Sierra Madre and the deep blue of Banderas Bay make Puerto Vallarta instantly recognizable in photos and help the city retain its authentic appeal despite growth and modern construction. 

Cruise ships that call on Puerto Vallarta

Top reasons to go

  • Captivating scenery with jungle-covered mountains and a sparkling sea
  • From fine art, gorgeous jewelry and one-of-a-kind fashions to pure-dee schlock, lots of shopping options here.
  • PV is easy to navigate, with many soft-adventure options. Do nothing or do it all.
Take a zipline across the forest —upside down? sure! — at Canopy el Nogalito in Puerto Vallarta.
Santiago Almada / Creative Commons BYTake a zipline across the forest —upside down? sure! — at Canopy el Nogalito in Puerto Vallarta.

Things to do & see in Puerto Vallarta

Get your bearings by strolling the seaside esplanade, aka the Malecón, which is dotted with sculptures and bordered by shops, galleries and restaurants.

Shopping

Viejo Vallarta (Old Vallarta ) is centered around the Rio Cuale, which flows through town and is crossed by numerous bridges. Here many colonial-era houses have been converted to boutiques, restaurants, galleries and nightspots, their architectural integrity maintained by laws that ban neon signs and decree that all buildings be painted white. Puerto Vallarta is a good place to buy artwork of the indigenous Huichol people, typically masks and animals made of wood and covered in beeswax into which beads are set, or "paintings" made with yarn pressed into beeswax. Both feature incredibly intricate patterns and designs. 

The central square (zócalo) is a great place to rest your feet and watch the world go by. Isla de Cuale, an island in the middle of the river, is a shady oasis with handicraft stalls and attractive places to grab a bite. 

More shopping and dining opps are concentrated in the Zona Romantica, on the south side of the river and stretching to the Malecón. If you love bargaining for traditional Mexican crafts and clothing, don’t miss the Rio Cuale Flea Market, two stories of leather, textiles, pottery and such where the prices get better as the day goes on.

Top beaches in Puerto Vallarta

There are many choices, and your ship will likely offer transportation to several. In the downtown area, Playa Los Muertos and Playa Olas Altas are popular with locals as well as tourists, both with beach bars, vendors and activity options galore. The southern section of Los Muertos, dubbed “Blue Chairs” after an adjacent resort of the same name, is one of Mexico’s best-known hangouts for gay men.

South of the city is Playa Mismaloya, made famous in “Night of the Iguana,” the 1964 Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton movie that put PV on the map. The much-photographed Los Arcos rock formation is offshore. North of the city, Bucerías, a community that attracts snowbirds from the United States and Canada, is flanked by gentle surf and soft sand.

Marietas Island, about 15 miles off the coast of Puerto Vallarta, offers snorkeling and scuba diving.
Courtesy of Riviera Nayarit CVBMarietas Island, about 15 miles off the coast of Puerto Vallarta, offers snorkeling and scuba diving.

Take an eco-tour

Canopy zip-line tours are all the rage here as elsewhere in Mexico, and they’re not a bad value for the money, especially if you snag a coupon or an online deal that includes transportation. Canopy Los Veranos was the first player and remains a leader with 15 “zips” covering about two miles. Vallarta Adventures offers day-long “extreme adventure” tours including a zip-line course (with Mexico’s longest line at 4,000 feet), rappelling from treetop platforms, off-roading through the jungle, and hillside water slides. At least a half-dozen other operators keep prices and experiences competitive.

Other outdoor pursuits

Puerto Vallarta’s tour operators have the market covered like a blanket. From boat excursions to snorkeling, scuba diving, parasailing, fishing, kayaking, horseback riding and golf, it’s all here.

Cooking classes and food tours

Cookin’ Vallarta aims squarely at cruise-ship passengers with hands-on sessions that start with a trip to a local produce market and include lots of background on Mexican cuisine. For another local perspective, sign up with Puerto Vallarta Food Tours for three hours of sampling regional specialties at off-the-beaten-path eateries in the downtown area or in the seldom visited Pitillal neighborhood near the cruise-ship terminal.

Walking tours

Meet the locals on guided walking tours that explore neighborhoods, architecture, gardens, culinary specialties and more.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, is home to a vibrant nightlife and world-class cuisine.
Radu Ursu / Courtesy of Carnival Cruise LinesPuerto Vallarta, Mexico, is home to a vibrant nightlife and world-class cuisine.

Family-friendly options

If you’ve got the bucks, Dolphin Adventures will provide an unforgettable experience. So will Vallarta Adventures’ day tour to Las Caletas, a beach hideaway once the home of film director John Huston. Older kids will thrill to a zip-line canopy tour (see above). A pair of wooden ships, the Pirate Ship and the Marigalante, appeal to the young and the young at heart with sword fights, pirates swinging from yardarms and other “yo-ho” themed silliness. Daytime excursions on both vessels include lunch and a two-hour beach stop.

Inside tips

  • Rent a car. Your cruise line won’t encourage this, but if you know enough Spanish to interpret road signs, you’ll enjoy ditching your fellow passengers to access beaches and other points of interest on your own. Look for rental-car kiosks at the port, across the road from where passengers disembark. Do stick to main roads and be sure to take out full insurance; better safe than sorry!
  • Go boho. The car-less village of Yelapa is an idyllic and legendary hippie hideaway that has grown up in recent years but still retains its bohemian vibe. Hire a water taxi at the Playa Los Muertos pier for the 45-minute trip.
  • Relax along a river. El Eden and Chico’s Paradise are jungle restaurant-bars with huge and picturesque palapas, swimming holes, mariachis, zip-line canopy tours and more. The food at both is expensive and just so-so, but the sublime settings invite hours of lingering. Be forewarned that tour buses unload frequently at both places, spilling crowds that don’t stay for long. Great destinations for visitors with rental cars. Don’t forget a towel and swimsuit!

Don’t miss

  • The view from the iconic Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe. You, too, can take postcard shots of Banderas Bay from this hillside landmark with a tower topped by a lacy crown.
  • Fish on a stick. Yes, there’s lots of great food in PV, but there’s something to be said for a skewer of fresh fish or shrimp grilled over coals at a street-side stand or beach restaurant.

YOLO (You only live once!)

Spa indulgence. Pamper yourself with a visit to Terra Noble or Spa Palenque, full-service day spas in tropical garden settings.

The scenic Punta Mita Bahia Golf Course near Puerto Vallarta.
Courtesy of Riviera Nayarit CVBThe scenic Punta Mita Bahia Golf Course near Puerto Vallarta.

Best bets for dining

  • High end: For atmosphere and tradition, you can’t go wrong at La Palapa, a 50-year-old, fine-dining landmark on Playa Los Muertos. The main dining room, in an open-air, thatched-roof palapa, is gorgeous in itself, but to up the romance factor, arrange in advance to be served at a candlelit table set up at water’s edge just for you and your sweetheart. On the scene more than 30 years, Daiquiri Dick’s, also on Playa Los Muertos, is renowned for its breakfasts and its sumptuous appetizers, as well as the namesake cocktail. In town, Hacienda San Angel Gourmet is a rooftop aerie with sweeping bay views and an international menu. 
  • Mid-range: De Santos during the day is a chill-out restaurant that caters to locals as well as gringos with a Mediterranean menu and lounge music; at night, it becomes a loud and happening hotspot. For outstanding Mexican cuisine, seek out the tiny and somewhat hard to find Red Cabbage Café in the Zona Romantica. El Arrayan is another “must-try” choice for visitors who relish gourmet Mexcan. For scrumptious food with a view (you have to climb several flights of stairs to get there), Barcelona Tapas is a small-plate haven where, with advance reservations, you can join a cooking class and prepare a three-course lunch.
  • Budget: Did we mention fish on a stick? Taco stands? Don’t leave PV without joining the locals for an economical meal at a street stand; however, do assess hygienic conditions before ordering.

Best time to go

High season: November–May.

Low season: July–September is hot and humid,

Rainy season: Summer is when PV gets most of its 50 inches of annual rainfall, along with the occasional tropical storm.

Fun facts

  • Banderas Bay (Bahia de los Banderos, or Bay of Flags) was named by Spanish explorers for local warriors seen carrying colorful banners made of bird feathers.
  • Playa Los Muertos (Beach of the Dead) allegedly takes its name from a bloody battle between pirates and local tribes.
  • Casa Kimberly, now a tourist attraction in the “Gringo Gulch” section of town, was actually a pair of houses Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor bought in 1964. The couple’s sizzling affair during the filming of John Huston’s “The Night of the Iguana” attracted international papparazzi and started the tourist boom that now draws upward of 3 million visitors per year. Check status before visiting.
Guides help travelers rappel down a waterfall north of Puerto Vallarta.
Courtesy of Riviera Nayarit CVBGuides help travelers rappel down a waterfall north of Puerto Vallarta.

When you arrive

Docking information

Ships dock at the cruise terminal about three miles north of town. Three large ships can be accommodated, while a fourth can anchor in the bay and tender passengers to shore.

Getting around

Taxis are plentiful and rental cars are an option. Local buses run set routes up and down the coast and are the cheapest way to go. 

Need to know

Documents: U.S. and Canadian visitors need a valid passport.

Language: No, not everyone speaks English. But most who deal with tourists do, and you’ll have no problem navigating your way around town even if you don’t know a word of Spanish.

Currency: The Mexican peso. Change money at ATMs, which are easy to find.

Safety: The U.S. Department of State issues travel warnings for many areas of Mexico, mostly where crime and violence related to drug cartels have increased. Puerto Vallarta itself is not typically one of those places and, like most tourist areas in Mexico, is generally considered safe. See Cruiseable's safety tips for cruise passengers. To learn more about safety in specific areas, log onto the State Department's web page on Mexico travel warnings

Your take

How about you? Have you been to Puerto Vallarta? Planning to go? I'd love to hear about your experience or see your photos! What was the highlight?

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Janet Fullwood
Janet Fullwood is an editor, writer and photographer-at-large specializing in travel and hospitality topics.

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Overheard

“The region’s surfing and yoga culture draws legions of devotees here, but well-heeled travelers may be surprised to hear that the food I tasted in Vallarta surpassed meals I’ve paid triple for in New York.”

National Geographic Traveler

“In common with many Mexican resorts, it has a dual character: in the chi-chi Zona Romantica you’ll find some exceptional art galleries and upmarket boutiques among the souvenir shops; further from the beaches, there’s a vibrant city barely troubled by the visitors, with street food as tasty as you’ll find anywhere in Mexico.”

London Telegraph

“Years of work and millions of dollars have revamped the Malecón into an eye-popping, 12-block-long art show peppered by dozens of sculptures, mosaics and paintings, along with all kinds of indoor and outdoor galleries.”

Huffington Post

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