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20 Unmissable Activities in Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta is a stunning Mexican resort city located on the Pacific Ocean's Bahía de Banderas. It's a popular stop for cruise ships, offering a variety of activities that cater to different interests, from beach lounging to adventure sports. But the town deserves an extended stay, and if Elizabeth Taylor were alive, she'd say as much. Lazy turquoise beach days, check. The glitzy yacht life, check. Food orgasms, check. So what are you waiting for? Let's go!


01 Explore the vibrant Malecón Boardwalk

You could spend an entire day (and night) at the Malecon boardwalk shopping, eating, and stumbling across surprises. For example, it's not unusual to find people sitting so still you think they're made of beach sand, or spoilt seagulls demanding supper from innocent passersby. The promenade is lined with Mexican art, skateboarders glide past power walkers, and there's plenty of entertainment for kids.

Columns and arches at Puerto Vallarta under a blue sky HannamariaH / Getty Images

02 Relax on the famous Playa Los Muertos

Los Muertos Beach is laden with soft golden sand and stocked with rentable umbrellas and lounge chairs. Vendors walk by selling shrimp banderillas, ice cream, and fresh fruit. If you don't have sweetness dripping off your fingers or down your chin at one point or another, you might have to question how you're spending your time. The waves can become unwieldy for poor swimmers, so take care when bathing or frolicking with children. Don't forget to snap pics of the curved pier.

Aerial view of the Puerto Vallarta beach - 3 Hugo de Jesus Hernandez Rivera / Getty Images

03 Hang ten in Punta Mita's surfing hotspots

The Punta de Mita peninsula virtually guarantees enormous aqua kahunas. Whether your favorite sound is the rhythm of crashing waves or your favorite pastime is surfing, you'll be pleased with Mexico's central Pacific coast. Lay in a hammock and observe the thrill-seekers, or get stuck in whatever your experience level. Beginners can take classes and rent boards at Stinky's or Playa El Anclote, and pros can head for La Lancha or Punta del Burro. In the Riviera Nayarit, beach bums may even bump shoulders with millionaires. Punta Mita is a sanctuary that has played host to the likes of Bill Gates and the Kardashians.

Wide shot of female surfer sitting on surfboard in ocean Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

04 Visit the lush Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens

Vallarta Botanical Garden is an unexpected gem you could get pleasantly lost in for hours. It's up in the Sierra Madre's tropical highlands, and we can't recommend it enough. The restrooms are clean and well-kept, and the restaurant serves appetizing food. There are many nature trails, but if you have a snake phobia, you might want to avoid the one that passes by the river and its resident black boas. The brave can change into bathing suits and swim in the water. Watch hummingbirds feeding, look out for various species of birds, and take pics of the enchanting orchids. Don't forget to wear closed shoes in case you encounter carpenter ants.

Open air tropical botanical garden kadecanessa / Getty Images

05 Take a scenic hike to Mirador de la Cruz Del Cerro

For the best views in Puerto Vallarta, start at the Malecon and hike to Mirador de la Cruz Del Cerro. That's Hill of the Cross Viewpoint for those of us who can't speak Spanish. After a sweaty, intense climb, you'll reach an observation deck, and the town and bay unfurl beneath you like a carpet. The funicular may or may not be working when you visit—good luck with that.

06 Experience luxury at Marina Vallarta

Marina Vallarta is bougie—of that, there is no doubt. But if you're in a 24k magic kind of mood, you'll want to soak it all up. See if you can make eyes at someone to get on a luxury yacht. Built in the 1980s, Marina Vallarta has a championship 18-hole golf course and upscale resorts with private beaches. Take pics with the whale sculpture in this trendy neighborhood and browse the weekly market stalls. You never know who you might bump into.

Aerial panoramic view of Marina Vallarta in Puerto Vallarta miguelnaranjomx / Getty Images

07 Uncover Hollywood history at Casa Kimberly

The glamorous starlet Elizabeth Taylor and her actor husband Richard Burton had an on-again-off-again relationship that was catnip for tabloid newspapers. The couple often vacationed in Puerto Vallarta and lived at Casa Kimberley for a time. The home was converted into a boutique hotel, which pays homage to the icons. The Elizabeth Taylor suite has accents commissioned by Taylor herself. How do you like the sound of a human-heart-shaped pink marble bathtub or a Swarovski crystal-studded chandelier?

08 Enjoy the tranquility of Conchas Chinas Beach

Conchas Chinas beach is not the most accessible beach around, but its elusiveness is rewarding. The beach isn't as hectic as others, and you can really kick back and relax. The water sparkles invitingly and rock formations create small pools for wallowing in, but you'll need to be careful where you step or wear protective aqua shoes. Take a picnic with you and anything else you may need—you won't find chairs or umbrellas at the drop of a hat. You will probably find shells, as the playa's name suggests.

09 Dine at the Local Secret, Casa 449

Casa 449 is a fantastic little brunch spot where you'll experience good service, a classy atmosphere, and even better food and coffee. Try the flavor-packed molletes and chilaquiles, and sweeten the deal with caramel crepes, French toast, or waffles. Dishes are presented with finesse, which is always a positive sign. Get some salsa to take home with you.

10 Embark on a luxury yacht tour of Banderas Bay

If you just pictured a young Antonio Banderas sailing on a white vessel, his long hair flowing in the wind, you're not the only one. Luxury yacht tours in Banderas Bay are a splurge, yes. But if you're in a large group, you can swing a four-hour tour. Your day could look like secluded beaches, sea life spotting, sport fishing, and water activities such as kayaking or snorkeling—all done in style. Snacks and drinks are included in most tour packages.

Luxury private motor yacht sailing at sea PaulVinten / Getty Images

11 Visit the iconic Plaza de Armas

Puerto Vallarta's public square buzzes with weekend activity, starting on Thursday night. Fuel up on exciting, affordable Mexican snacks and street food before enjoying live music and traditional danzón dancing. Plaza de Armas is a place to socialize and let the work week's worries ebb away for a little while. The locals gather here religiously.

12 Attend a service at the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe

The Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe was completed in 1940. The architecture is neoclassical with nods to the renaissance, and the noticeable crown is baroque in style. Open daily as a place of worship where all are welcome, the 12th of December has special significance. It commemorates Juan Diego's vision of the Virgin Mary with fireworks, a mariachi soundtrack, and festive foods.

Unusual angle of Guadalupe Church bell tower with paper flags. Sandra Cesca / Getty Images

13 Go whale watching in Banderas Bay

Between December and March, 30-ton humpback whales make the relatively warm ocean near Puerto Vallarta home for mating and giving birth. It's a soft introduction to life before the calves discover the cold polar regions. The action ramps up from January to February, when you're more likely to see the newborns. You'll also come across other marine animals like different species of whales, dolphins, harmless sharks, and even crocodiles—what you spot depends on your luck. Whale-watching boats generally have hydrophones that allow you to listen in on the surreal whale song. Hopefully, it'll produce a more uplifting association with the sound than Netflix's Jeffrey Dahmer series—IYKYK. Tours are about four hours long.

Boat trip on Tenerife Piter1977 / Getty Images

14 Immerse yourself in the culture of Zona Romantica

Romantic Zone seems pretty self-explanatory, like a Lovers' Lane. But Zona Romantica, aka Old Vallarta, isn't just for those caught up in a love haze. It's a trendy LGBT-friendly area full of cafes, art galleries, and stores, and encompasses Los Muertos Beach and Las Amapas Beach. Dine on Restaurant Row, watch a show at the open-air amphitheater, and look for Olas Altas Farmers Market in Lázaro Cárdenas Park.

15 Witness the Rhythms of the Night Show

The Rhythms of the Night performance is a highlight on any Puerto Vallarta itinerary. It's the city's favorite dinner show, packed with acrobatics and special effects. You'll marvel at the athleticism, start tapping to the beats, and leave with memories of the spectacle. The show switches things up, so returning holidaymakers have something new to look forward to.

16 Learn about naval history at Museo Naval

You can learn all about Mexico's maritime history from pre-Columbian times to now. The exhibits take about an hour to cover, and you'll see many model ships en route. You'll be happy to know that the air conditioning offers a welcome respite on scorching days, and the restaurant isn't a token gesture.

17 Take a day trip to the fishing village of Mismaloya

There's so much to do on a day trip to Mismaloya, a former fishing village. Remember Richard Burton? He filmed Night of the Iguana in Mismaloya, and parts of the movie set remain to this day. When you're done getting the lowdown on Hollywood trivia, get active with stand-up paddling, settle down for a massage, or venture further to Los Arcos National Marine Park to coo at turtles and scuba dive.

Aerial view of a woman exercising on a stand up paddle board Nejc Gostincar / Getty Images

18 Escape the crowds at Playa Las Gemelas

Of course, we've lined up another beach for you. This is a beach holiday, after all. Playa Las Gemelas is family-friendly, with brochure-worthy waters and the distinct Girasol Sur condos lining the shore. For a post-swim snack, you can procure fresh ceviche, skewers, and dorilocos. There are no bathrooms, so the stairs leading to the beach sometimes have a faint whiff of urine. But don't let that put you off or you'll miss out—just hold your breath for a few seconds, and you're good to go.

19 Experience the secluded beauty of Yelapa

Yelapa is unique. The indigenous community own the land, and outsiders may only lease it. Most of the town is distantly related, and electricity only arrived in the new millennium. Yelapa's seclusion ensures a travel experience that's hard to find elsewhere. You'll need at least five hours to parasail, swim, and get a feel for the place, and the boat ride from Puerto Vallarta takes just under an hour.

Where the River Meets the Ocean Spacewalk / Getty Images

20 Try authentic Mexican cuisine on a Puerto Vallarta food tour

We don't know about you, but Mexican cuisine is our favorite. It's colorful, spicy, and well-balanced, and inspires many a chef's kiss emoji. You can get all the insider info on the best local eating places during an official food crawl. Vallarta Food Tours comes highly recommended. The company has themed tours, and the OG downtown walking tour is a classic. So, is there some biria and mole with your name on it?

Beautifully Styled Shredded Beef Tacos On Corn Tortillas With Dots Of Guacamole grandriver / Getty Images

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