Nestled between the Pacific Coast and the Sierra Madre mountains, Puerto Vallarta – just ‘Vallarta’ to many – is one of Mexico’s top coastal destinations. It’s where dazzling beaches, vibrant nightlife, and gastronomic delights collide – a heady mixture that makes for the ultimate holiday experience. Is Puerto Vallarta worth visiting? We certainly think so!
Whether you’re hoping to experience Mexico’s famous mariachi music, swim with dolphins or drink tequila in the state where it was born, there’s plenty of rich and memorable experiences to be had in this part of Mexico. That’s why the coastal city is the second most-visited tourist destination in the country – attracting beach bums, partygoers and yogis alike.
Need further convincing? We’ve pulled together a list of 11 reasons why Puerto Vallarta is absolutely worth visiting.
The buzzing nightlife
Not everyone who heads to Puerto Vallarta is after a quiet time. Once the sun sets on its golden beaches, Puerto Vallarta’s party scene comes to life. The town has a wide array of nightlife options to suit every type of reveller – whether you’re after a chilled couple of cocktails in a beachside bar or to party throughout the night.
Vallarta is famous for its LGBT-friendly bars, most of which are located in the Romantic Zone (or the Zona Romantica, as it’s known locally). We recommend Blue Chairs Rooftop Bar on Los Muertos for sea views. But if you want more choice, head to the long street of Lazaro Cardenas. There, if Mr Flamingo doesn’t tickle your fancy, head next door to La Noche! It’s all good.
The other most famous nightlife area of Puerto Vallarta is the Malecon. That runs up and down the length of the whole city, linking the Zona Romantica in the south to the Zona Hotelera up north. As it goes, it offers all manner of bars and party joints, some of which form the nerve center of the spring break parties in February and March – we’re talking Senor Frog’s et al!
It’s a beach-lover’s paradise
Tourists seeking an idyllic beach setting will doubtlessly be drawn to Puerto Vallarta. The water is the perfect temperature for bathing almost all year round, and there’s an ample selection of different stretches of shoreline to discover. Whether you’re after a buzzy beach vibe, or something a little more low-key, there’s a spot for every type of beach-goer here…
Playa Los Muertos is probably Puerto Vallarta’s main beach. This place is usually the first port of call for visitors who head in to soak up a dose of Mexican sun, and stay for the bustling atmosphere that comes courtesy of the many restaurants and bars that surround the beach. If you’d rather venture off the beaten track, Conchas Chinas is a more peaceful spot. On one side of the beach is the dramatic jungle of the Sierra Madre, on the other sits the dazzling expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Due to its proximity to the jungle, you can also spot a great array of wildlife here, from birds and reptiles, to all kinds of fish, mollusks, and crustaceans in the sea.
Many visitors will fall in love with Playa Palmares at first sight. This beach has absolutely crystal clear water and silky soft sand – it’s truly a dream beach. The only drawback is that accessing the beach can be a tad difficult, requiring a little climb down through the rocks. Foodies will be drawn to Boca de Tomates, famed for its selection of restaurants, all serving fresh seafood at very reasonable prices. If you’re after top-notch ceviche and huachinango zarandeado, look no further!
Finally, a little further afield is Yelapa, a nearby beach town requiring a 45-minute water taxi to reach. Fans of hiking will enjoy the nearby walk through the jungle and mountains up to the waterfall. You’ll definitely want to reward yourself with a dip in the cold water after a trek!
Visit the Marietas Islands
Making up a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the Marietas Islands are one of the undisputed jewels of the Bahia de Banderas. They are home to an abundance of tropical species and stunning, untouched natural landscapes. Visitors can expect to see dolphins, sea turtles, manta rays, and even humpback whales here at different times of the year.
Tourists are only allowed to set foot on one part of the islands: The famous Hidden Beach (Playa del Amor). All who do so are bound to be stunned by the beauty of it all and the sense of seclusion, since the beach is tucked into a collapsed coast cave and feels totally cut off from the rest of the world!
The intense natural beauty and biodiversity of the Marietas waters have long attracted divers, and there are now quite a few options for diving day-trips. For those without a PADI qualification, there’s always the option of a boat tour from Puerto Vallarta itself.
Puerto Vallarta is definitely worth visiting if you’re a more adventurous soul. There are all sorts of outdoor adventures to choose from. From the more regular snorkeling and beach tours to heart-racing zipline experiences. Canopy River offer a great selection of zipline and rappelling tours through the forest (shot of tequila to dull the nerves included!). On the local beaches, particularly Los Muertos, you can find parasailing, water-skiing and jet-skiing.
Equally, the town has plenty for those looking for something active but perhaps a little less high-octane. There are lots of canoe and kayaking experiences, including some where you might find yourself paddling along next to a whale! Hikers will be drawn to the area too, with a great selection of walking trails to explore, including through the jungles on the south side of the Bahia de Banderas from the small town of Boca de Tomatlan.
Traditional Mexican cuisine
Food is undoubtedly one of the top reasons to visit Puerto Vallarta. The town is brimming with delicious Mexican cuisine, particularly fish dishes…
A particular highlight is huachinango zarandeado, a dish of grilled red snapper marinated in roast peppers, garlic, and spices. Another specialty is grilled mahi-mahi, skewered and cooked over coals before being served with hot sauce and lime. Lastly, we suggest trying ceviche while you’re out there. It’s technically Peruvian but Mexico has its own version, consisting of raw fish, usually scallops or shrimp, with onions, chilis such as serranos or jalapeños, and lime juice. The lime juice cooks the fish, turning the flesh opaque and giving it a chewy texture. Ceviche is usually served with tortilla chips or on a whole tostada, and quite frequently accompanied by guacamole.
If you’re interested in learning about the local cuisine in more depth, check out Vallarta Food Tours. They offer a great service for newcomers looking to acquaint themselves with the west coast’s culinary scene, and at a reasonable rate too! Is Puerto Vallarta worth visiting for foodies? The answer is yes!
It’s (close to) the birthplace of tequila!
How could we write an article about Jalisco and not mention tequila? Arguably Mexico’s most famous export, tequila was born in the state of Jalisco, not that far from the city of PV itself! There’s plenty of opportunity in Puerto Vallarta to both drink and learn more about the cultural tradition of tequila making.
Vallarta Tequila Tastings offer several different tasting packages to suit all sorts of drinkers. Meanwhile, anyone wanting a more in-depth look at the process of tequila making might want to go to a distillery. There are several in the Puerto Vallarta area that offer guided tours, including Rancho Verano, Baston del Rey, and Noble Corazon.
However, the most dedicated of tequila fans might prefer to make the jaunt up to the town of Tequila itself. For that, you’ll need to travel about 4-5 hours inland, first to the city of Guadalajara and then onto the namesake town. It’s laden with distillers and tasting rooms, and even plays host to the famous name of José Cuervo!
Yoga and meditation
If you’ve come to Mexico to relax and unwind, Puerto Vallarta is a great option for you. There are many wellness-oriented boutique hotels and spas in the area. The Westin Resort & Spa comes highly recommended, with its glorious beachfront location and excellent facilities. Another lovely spa destination is ABJA Spa Casa Velas. Although small in size, with just five treatment rooms, they offer a wide range of activities, from yoga and meditation sessions to nutrition workshops and art therapy.
Yoga aficionados will find plenty of studios and retreats to enjoy. The ones located close to the beaches are usually the most popular. Take Xinalani, which offers a great variety of yoga packages in a wonderful location. Then there’s Beyond Yoga, which will whisk you away to the jungle-covered hills just above the city for a restorative holiday of downward dog poses and more!
Because Sayulita is just up the road
Prepare to be enchanted by Sayulita. This quirky little town of sandy plazas and cobbled streets is one of the most famous surf destinations in the whole of Mexico. On top of that, it holds the distinction of being a Pueblos Magicos – one of 135 of the country’s most beautiful and historic locations. The best part? It’s a mere hour-long bus ride out of PV to the north, so you can easily visit for a day or 20 (most folk get stuck for longer than they planned!).
The main draw is long, scythed Sayulita beach. It’s got two distinct surf spots: An easy beach break for beginners and a more challenging reef break for improvers. Board rentals are easy to come by. They spill right out onto the sand and string all the way down Pelicanos and Gaviota streets adjacent to the sands.
More recently, Sayulita has garnered a reputation for being something of an artist’s colony and a party hub. Be sure to check out all the independent sellers on Sayulita Plaza and hit the market place to buy unique Mexicana souvenirs. Later on, venues like Don Pedro’s and the pumping El Patio get wild with after-surf shindigs fueled by happy-hour margaritas. Take us back!
Puerto Vallarta sits smack dab on the edge of the Riviera Nayarit. That’s a well-known vacation mecca that spans hundreds of kilometers of pristine beaches. And it gets some of the finest swell on the whole of the Mexican Pacific…
Seriously, there’s surf spot after surf sport after surf spot in these parts. Aforementioned Sayulita is where most people will begin. However, that’s really only a beginner destination. There are better-quality breaks at the mouth of the Bahia de Banderas near Punta Mita, along with hidden surf towns like San Pancho and Lo de Marcos further north.
There are a couple of different ways to plan a surf trip around Puerto Vallarta. You can either hop on a bus and head north to one of the beaches, or book onto an organized tour. The latter is a great option because the guides will often reveal secret spots and have a better idea of where to look for good conditions on any given day.
The Zona Romantica
The Zona Romantica is one of the most enthralling parts of Puerto Vallarta. It’s wedged into a valley under the gaze of the rising Sierra Madre Mountains, unfolding in block after block of quaint cantina and cobblestone street until it reaches the Pacific Ocean at Los Muertos Beach.
The area is surely the most visited of all in the city (save perhaps for the Malecon promenade). It lives up to its name with a clutch of boutique hotels that offer rooms in centuries-old buildings and little coffee bars that spill onto the sidewalks.
At night, the Zona Romantica turns into arguably the most famous LGBTQ+ area in the country. There are uber-welcoming bars that get pumping until the early hours, running the gamut from English pubs to tequila taverns. It’s just an all-round fun area to get stuck into!
The Bahia de Banderas
If there’s one defining feature of Puerto Vallarta is the greater Bahia de Banderas, the Bay of Banderas. A huge opening in the Mexican Pacific Coast, it stretches more than 18 miles from top to bottom and pierces more than 23 miles inland from the beautiful Marietas Islands (see above) to the city of PV itself.
The whole area is a playground for beach lovers and hikers. The north side is given over to resort towns like Punta Mita, which spill out onto talcum-white beaches that have sculpted surf breaks. The middle of the bay is home to the buzzy Malecon of Puerto Vallarta and the urban beaches. Then you get the south side of Bahia de Banderas…
Welcome to paradise, folks. Starting with the small town of Boca de Tomatlan, this area is all pristine coast jungles inhabited by lizards and multicolored birds. It’s linked up by a lovely coastal walking path that strings together fantastic beaches like Colomitos and La Animas, culminating with the cut-off fishing village of Yelapa.