20 Best Things to do in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (+Map)

My first trip to Mexico exceeded all expectations. I was looking for color, excitement, and local flair, and Puerto Vallarta truly delivered. Now, I have to admit PV was more of a layover on my Mexican trip. While I flew in and out of the city’s international airport, my main destination was a small beach town an hour’s drive north along the Nayarit coastline.

After a week of soaking up the sunshine and enjoying the laid-back vibes of this surf town, I headed down to Puerto Vallarta for two days in the city. Luckily for me, I was set up with accommodation fit for a queen. And by this, I mean I had family who had a timeshare in one of the luxury hotels between Las Glorias and 5 De Diciembre. I was hooked up with a sea-facing suite, a breakfast buffet like no other, and even a few personal connections in the hotel. This really set the stage for an incredible few days in Puerto Vallarta.

If you are looking for a place to stay, I would look in the Zona Romantica or Las Glorias neighborhoods. The Hotel Zone is another great option, but it lacks the local flair I was after. It’s super safe and well-connected but is pretty much just a road lined with high-rise hotels.

Walk the Malecon Boardwalk

El Malecón

The first thing I do when I visit any new city is get familiar with my surroundings on foot. The hotel I was staying in happened to be towards the main center of town, so it was easily walkable into the city. If you stay further out in the Hotel Zone, you will have to catch a cab or an Uber to get downtown.

Malecon Boardwalk

I left the hotel and walked south along the national highway 200 until I reached the 5 De Diciembre neighborhood. I strolled through the area, popping into a few shops and past beaches along the way. This area is still pretty touristy, with most shops selling similar things (beach toys, beach clothing, and all the essentials tourists might have left at home, like sunscreen and medicines).

Malecon Boardwalk

The Malecon is a picturesque seaside promenade that stretches twelve blocks along the city’s Centro and Zona Romantica neighborhoods. It covers close to two miles and takes around 45 minutes to walk in one direction non-stop. The promenade overlooks the city’s golden sand beaches and crosses the Cuale River. It’s also wheelchair accessible and safe for kids.

Malecon Boardwalk

Designed with tourists in mind, the promenade is lined with restaurants, bars, shops, boutiques and galleries. There was a good mix of touristy and authentic shops, but I have to admit, this wasn’t my top location for shopping in the city.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church

Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Towards the beginning of the boardwalk, you’ll pass by the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church (known by locals as the Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe). One of the city’s most iconic landmarks, this historic church attracts visitors from around the world with its deep-rooted Catholic heritage.

It was built in the early 20th century and showcases a blend of architectural styles from Spanish colonial to neoclassical and even Baroque. For me, admiring the church from a distance was enough, but the church is open to the public with no entrance fee. Just be aware that it is an active place of worship, so you’ll need to dress and act respectfully.

The Parque de los Azulejos

Parque de los Azulejos

About a fifteen-minute walk further south along the Malecon, the Parque de los Azulejos is an outdoor space made up of hundreds of mosaic tiles. Also known as Lazaro Cardenas Park, Parque de los Azulejos was the recipient of a major overhaul project, which transformed it into a colorful public art installation of shimmering tiles.

The artworks celebrate the area’s rich cultural heritage, including its local flora and fauna, historical figures, landmarks, icons of Mexico, and even folk legends native to the region. Every tile here has a story, with secret messages and signs hidden amongst the glass artworks.

Enjoy An Autnentic Lunch

Autnentic Lunch

When lunchtime rolls around, and your tummy starts rumbling, Puerto Vallarta stands ready to satisfy your foodie cravings. Mexican food is as vibrant and colorful as the country’s culture and landscape. The humble taco, tamale, and enchilada are born from a flavorful fusion of indigenous Mesoamerican flavors with Spanish, African, and European influences.


In Zona Romantica, Mariscos Cisneros is one of the best spots to grab a bite of ceviche and other fresh seafood. On busy days, they have a taco stand on the street outside the restaurant. It’s an authentic Mexican restaurant about ten minutes walk inland from the coastline. It’s one of the more affordable restaurants in town, and you can expect to spend under $15 for a main meal and a drink.

Si Senor Beach is another incredible seafood restaurant located on the beach in front of the Malecon and Los Muertos Pier (a modern pier that juts into the sea at the heart of the Malecon). It’s a little more touristy and therefore pricier, but the food is delicious and well worth it for the views.

Pro Tip: Any restaurant or shop along the Malecon is bound to be more expensive than spots further in the city center. During peak season, these beachside restaurants are much busier and may even require reservations, so I recommend heading inland to find a more authentically Mexican spot to eat.

Explore the Zona Romantica Neighborhood

Zona Romántica

After lunch, my 24-hour Puerto Vallarta recommendation is to walk up and through Zona Romantica into the Emiliano Zapata neighborhood. There are plenty of local shops in these areas. For craft markets and local Mexican art, head to the Mercado Rio Cuale and the Cuale Island Flea Market on Cuale Island. Located between Emiliano Zapata and Centro, this small island is home to some of the best stalls for Jalisco-region folk art, jewelry, fabrics, and even bespoke clothing.

Zona Romantica

The official market building is open between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., but plenty of other stalls and shops around the area open earlier and close later in the evening. The Flea market closes a bit later, at 9 p.m.

Zona Romantica

If you’re like me and love beautiful hand-blown Mexican glassware, Mundo de Cristal is the place to go for margarita glasses, lighting fixtures, and other homeware goods.

Dinner at Cafe des Artistes

DinnerAnother restaurant along the beachfront

My top dinner recommendation in this city is Cafe des Artistes in Centro. Having consistently won awards and been mentioned in travel articles, Cafe des Artistes is founded on innovative techniques, cross-cultural recipes, and farm-to-table sustainability principles. Ingredients are locally sourced, and dishes are created with flair and style. You know it’s good when everything they serve is worth taking a photograph of.

It’s a fine-dining establishment with wine pairing options and different menus, including a six-course vegetarian tasting menu, a four-course sharing menu for two, and a la carte options. You can’t go wrong with the beef short rib and roasted sea bass with beurre blanc.

Another top option is Trio, a Mediterranean restaurant designed to transport guests to old-world Europe for the evening.

Pro Tip: make a reservation for dinner, especially during the busy season. Waiting times can be long for popular spots like Cafe des Artistes.

Playa de los Muertos

Playa de los Muertos

A brief stroll towards the coast from Zona Romantica will bring you to the beloved Playa de los Muertos. The soft golden sand will embrace you with open arms and makes for a relaxing back rest as you bathe under the warm Mexican sun.

At Playa los Muertos, the turquoise water comes in and out, tempting you to dive in for a swim. Throughout the day, the beach continues to add more patrons, creating a lively atmosphere. If you’re up for more that sunbathing, check out the many activities, including jet ski rentals, kitesurfing, and parasailing. The latter providing exceptional views over town.

Walking around the cityWalking around the city

If you weren’t in the know, Puerto Vallarta is known for its incredible nightlife and liberal LGBTQI+ party scene. Walking between the Malecon to the Zona Romantica and into Playa de los Muertos, you’ll pass by infinite options of bars, pubs, restaurants, and dance clubs.

The best way to experience a night in this city is to hop between clubs and bars until the sun comes up. Between the live music, special events, dive bars, and even street performances, there is never a dull moment in this vibrant center.

The Tasting Room is my choice for a delicious cocktail. Open from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m., this is the best place to explore the world of tequila and agave. Bar la Playa in Zona Romantica is known for its inventive drinks and creative spirit. Drinks take a while to make, but they are absolutely worth it.

Islas Marietas

Islas Marietas

On one of your many beachfront strolls, you will have caught a glimpse of Islas Marietas, an archipelago in the middle of the Bay of Banderas. Islas Marietas is located within Los Arcos National Marine Park and provides visitors with a memorable experience. Some have even called it Mexico’s Galapagos.

There are ample tours taking you from Puerto Vallarta to the famed islands. Each offers an opportunity to swim with rare species within a stunning underwater world.

A must visit part of Islas Marietas is Hidden Beach. In order to make your way to the beach, you’ll need to arrive at low tide and swim through a narrow channel. On the other side, the beach becomes clear and is completely enveloped by land.



About 30 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta, Bucerias is a charming coastal town and a rewarding day trip. It’s home to Playa y Pueblo, a five-mile stretch of powdery white sand backed by small bars happily lacking the touch of mass tourism. Along the beach, you’ll find spots to ride horses and ATVs along with Wibit Adventures Water Park. The latter home to towers, pyramids and tunnels all floating offshore.

To explore on dry land and experience local culture, make your way to Bucerias’ Golden Zone. Here, you’ll discover local markets, galleries, and the town’s bustling main square. From November to April, Bucerias Art Walk occurs every Thursday evening and the Art District and Golden Zone comes to life.

Los Arcos National Marine Park

Los Arcos National Marine Park

Puerto Vallarta’s Bay of Banderas is the second largest on earth. It’s no shock that such an expansive harbor would offer many adventures for travelers. Within the bay is the Los Arcos National Marine Park. This protected area contains rare species and fish coated with every color under the sun.

On a tour of the national marine park, visitors will be able to visit several dive spots to either snorkel or scuba dive. This will unveil the unforgettable nature that roams beneath the surface. Common swim partners will include dolphins, hawksbill turtles and octopuses. At the right time of year, you’ll also see migrating whales from the comfort of your boat.

To complement your dive, you’ll explore the rest of the bay, which includes Islas Marietas and the memorable Mismaloya Arches.

Playa Las Animas

Playa Las Animas

The local beaches around Puerto Vallarta are as soft and golden as you imagine, but along the coast, there are several resplendent beaches that are backed by mountains instead of bustling restaurants. Some can only be accessed via boat or with a hike.

One of those is Playa Las Animas. Here, you can enjoy a more remote but equally paradisaical experience where you share the turquoise water with few others. You can head here on a water taxi, but the beach is also connected to a memorable two-hour hike. Walk along the side of a coastal mountain, with amazing views and untouched coves that are serene settings for a welcome rest.

The beach is home to charming food shacks fringed with dense jungle, providing a different type of beach day.

Go Whale Watching

Go Whale Watching

The warm, secluded, and protected waters of the Bay of Banderas attract migratory humpback whales every December. They arrive in significant numbers, with sightings growing by the day. They hang around until April, providing you with ample time for a whale watching experience.

If you have a set of binoculars, you can do it all without spending a dime by simply standing on El Malecon. But for a closeup, visceral experience, you’ll want to sign up for a tour. Half-day and full-day tours run throughout the season, with a variety of options. Many include food and drinks adding up to a thrilling whale watching tour.



A fun day trip from Puerto Vallarta, Yelapa, is a lovely coastal town lined with golden sand. Yelapa is a mere 20 miles south of Puerto Vallarta, but the town has a distinctly slower pace of life.

While travelers are busy staying in the local area, you can easily get away from it all with a boat taxi ride to the remote fishing village. In Yelapa, there is little in terms of accommodation and it’s a town that’s friendly to budget travelers.

The main highlight is the local beach. Surrounded by mountains, it’ll be just you, locals, the blue ocean, and some traditional palapa restaurants. If you’re searching for a place to check out from the world, you can’t top this nearby paradise.

The Marina

The Marina

An upscale neighborhood in Puerto Vallarta, the Marina is the place to go for elevated dining and great shopping. Not to mention their opulent waterfront. For some, the Marina is the first port of call as they swing their yacht into town.

After arriving at the Marina, make a beeline for the resident boardwalk, where you can catch a glimpse of the luxury yachts big and small. On the other side will be a series of elegant boutiques and high-end brands. Eventually you’ll reach the Tau Beach Club, which comes with craft cocktails, mouthwatering eats and seaside views.

Between October and May, the boardwalk is home to a night market on Thursdays. Peruse the art, jewelry and authentic textiles alongside delicious street food and live music.

Vallarta Botanical Garden

Vallarta Botanical Garden

Time in Puerto Vallarta can be as serene or hectic as you like, but if you seek a chance to catch your breath, head to Vallarta Botanical Garden. It’s a chance to enjoy a break without even leaving town. Walk among the orchids and wildflower gardens and feel at peace.

The miles of nature paths showcase the garden’s gorgeous plant and tree collection. These include native species, a riveting desert garden, and delightful rows of vanilla orchids. To rest your legs, sit by the garden’s river, which also makes for a refreshing dip.

Before leaving, check out the restaurant and artisan shop for homemade chocolate.

Isla Cuale

Isla Cuale

Between downtown and Zona Romantica, is the flowing Rio Cuale. Along the river is the leafy oasis of Isla Cuale. Just as it’s not attached to Puerto Vallarta, Isla Cuale has a distinct personality.

You can cross the bridge to reach the unique island. From there, venture along the many paths that will take you by a happening marketplace. Discovery rows of artisans slinging art, trinkets, and ceramics.

Isla Cuale

Further along is a statue of John Houston, the director who helped start Puerto Vallarta’s rise to fame, but no time on the island would be complete without visiting Museo de Cuale. Explore the art museum that celebrates Indigenous culture with a stunning archaeological and creative collection.

Mirador de La Cruz

Mirador de La Cruz

For some of the best views in town, put on your most comfy shoes and walk to the top of Mirador de La Cruz. The landmark translates to the Cross on the Hill and comes with a brilliant lookout offering complete views of both the city and the bar.

Getting to the summit won’t come without raising your heartbeat, but we promise it’s worthwhile. Begin on Abasolo Street or Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez Street, both offering relatively direct routes to the top, with the latter being steeper. You can even take a funicular to finish the last section prior to the lookout.

Once you’ve made it, take your time exploring the various viewpoints that offer different views.

Join a Food Tour

Join a Food Tour

Puerto Vallarta’s culinary scene is as vibrant as the buildings within Zona Romantica. Wherever you are in town, from El Malecon to the Old Town, you’ll have easy access to street food, with delightful aromas around every corner.

Exploring the food scene here is as adventurous as snorkeling in the Bay of Banderas, but to make the most of it, it’s a trip worth embarking on with a local expert. There are several food tours to choose from. These include venturing through the downtown area stopping for unique tastings of delicious elotes and other authentic eats.

Another experience combines everyone’s favorite, tacos, with tequila and cocktails as you explore the hidden gems of Zona Romantica.

Playa Las Gemelas

Playa Las Gemelas

Five miles south of Puerto Vallarta, is Playa Las Gemelas, a duo of pristine, small beaches. Gemelas translates to twins and visitors will have a choice between the north and south beach. A 1000 feet of rock wall stands between the both of them, with the north section being the easiest to access.

The best time to visit is during the week, as both small beaches can quickly become crowded. If you arrive at a quieter time, Playa Las Gemelas is a lovely alternative to the waterfront beaches in Playa Vallarta. The blue-green waves make for fun swimming, and you can snorkel the outer reaches or take the sea kayak for a paddle.

There are several resorts in the area, but beachgoers should pack their own food and drink, as there are no restaurants in close proximity.



If you could point to a singular thing that led to Puerto Vallarta’s popularity blowing up, it would be Mismaloya. What was once a stunning but humble fishing village, rapidly transformed as its captivating beauty was broadcast to the world.

In 1964 the Night of the Iguana was released after director John Huston was inspired by Mismaloya. Fast forward to today and it’s lost none of its natural charm. The beach is nine miles south of Puerto Vallarta and is a veritable paradise. As you enjoy the popular shore, you’ll have easy access to small palapas slinging cold cervezas and fresh-caught fish.

Beyond the beach, Mismaloya is a small town with an endearing culture. The surrounding mountains harbor much of Puerto Vallarta’s incredible biodiversity.

Map of Things to do in Puerto Vallarta

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