Balancing on the elbow of Mexico’s Jalisco state, Puerto Vallarta has long been a favorite beachside destination for Americans, Canadians and Mexicans looking to soak up some sol. But what sets Puerto Vallarta apart from Mexico’s other resort towns? It comes down to a convenient intersection of three settings: secluded beaches, lush forests and a city that has stayed true to its pueblito way of life.
In our Insider’s Guide to Puerto Vallarta, we’ve enlisted the help of Room5 México’s María José Bricio to bring you a true-to-form Mexican holiday with the best of the city’s walks, side trips, activities, adventure, gastronomy and hotels. What are you waiting for? ¡Vámonos!
Data from trivago indicates that the cheapest months to visit Puerto Vallarta are June, September and October, while the most expensive times to visit are the three first months of the year. Budget travelers should be aware of the high risk for hurricanes and heavy downpours in and around the end of August to the beginning of September.
The Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board publishes an up-to-date event listing for travelers curious to see what live entertainment they can catch on their visit.
Familiarize yourself with the city first on a walk or light jog along the Malecón. Starting from the Hotel Rosita on the north end, the waterfront boardwalk extends all the way south to the Hotel San Marino facing the Playa de los Muertos.
Take a few breathers along the way, stopping to admire the string of sculptures by renowned Mexican and international artists. Our favorite is Alejandro Colunga’s “La Rotunda del Mar,” a circus of eight surrealist chairs playing with both human and imaginary elements.
At the halfway point, Rafael Zamarripa’s iconic Seahorse sculpture has become a symbol of Puerto Vallarta. A few paces south is the equally-striking Los Arcos with the steeple of the Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe church towering to your left.
For extra fuel, snatch up a multitude of fruits, snacks and sweets from hawkers along the Malecón as well as at the Río Cuale market. Locals swear by the thirst-quenching magic of fresh-pressed agua frescas, coconut water and tejuino, a refreshing shake made from fermented corn masa and brown sugar with the added zing of lime and a dash of salt. If you find yourself on the Los Muertos Pier on a Tuesday afternoon (12 p.m. – 4 p.m.), go about sampling the regional offerings at the Ceviche and Aguachile Market.
Streets lining the center of town are a shopper’s paradise with stores stocking one-of-a-kind jewelry, gifts and original art in addition to the requisite Mexican souvenirs for folks back home. Pop into the nondescript Galleria Dante to admire the original paintings, sculptures and décor from regional and international artists and the quaint inner courtyard.
Hotel Rosita, Puerto Vallarta’s first hotel, has been a witness to the city’s evolution from a small fishing village to the all-season sun destination we know today. Back in 1962, the hotel played host to the cast and crew of The Night of the Iguana including silver screen darlings Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Ava Gardner.
In the city’s Marina, gleaming yachts bob lazily waiting for their next expedition. While some may be moored for locals, you may catch a glimpse of boats from further afield like Canada and the States. This postcard (Instagram?)-perfect shot is completed by the Faro (lighthouse) with a panoramic bar overlooking the harbor, ideally enjoyed with a Modelo Especial beer in hand. During the day, check out the cafés, ice cream parlors, restaurants and boutiques waiting for you in the area around Marina Vallarta.
If you’re taking on PV as a family and especially with little ones, don’t pass up the chance to pay a visit to Aquaventuras and come face-to-face with its flocks of dolphins and sea lions. A full day’s worth of fun awaits at the park in Nuevo Vallarta with shows, attractions and the ten best waterslides in town!
Don’t be mistaken, a getaway to Puerto Vallarta is also a chance to reconnect with nature. Cruise the mangroves swimming with river crocodiles and green iguanas overhead on a boat tour of the Estero el Salado Protected Natural Area. The faint of heart (or those preferring the extra cuteness factor) may prefer to do a Sea Turtle Release offered July through March and bookable through most beachside hotels.
Craving a shot of adrenaline? Vallarta is the king of ecotourism and adventure.
Banderas Bay, which encompasses Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit, is the place to hit the waves. Pleasantly warm waters and a varying degree of surf breaks will please amateur and expert surfers alike. Mexican visitors tend to prefer the north side of Banderas, frequenting chilled-out Sayulita and picturesque San Francisco.
Some may argue that the best view of the Sierra Madre jungle is actually from high above. At nearly 4000 feet-long, Vallarta Adventures’ zipline will send you slicing through treetop canopies at a heart-stopping 60 miles per hour. Closer to the ground, activities like rock wall rappelling and ATV tours are sure to be nothing short of intense.
Room5 Mexico’s María José Bricio recommends setting aside at least one day for an excursion out of town like the white sand beaches of Yelapa and Majahuitas. Travelers can expect a confluence of secluded beaches and rainforests with a side of boho-hippie.
The Marietas Islands were one of French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau’s favorite spots on the Pacific. This uninhabited archipelago punctuated by caves and tunnels is the ideal excursion for wandering divers and snorkelers. Make sure to time your visit to coincide with low tide when you can slither into the Playa escondida (Hidden Beach) also known by the more affectionate moniker Playa del amor (Love Beach).
The isolated beach will leave you astounded, as if Mother Nature had commissioned a sunroof for the protected island. In reality, it was actually military exercises predating the Islands’ national park status that bombed out the initial opening. Natural erosion has chipped away at the edges leaving us with the beach marveled at today.
There’s no ignoring the fruits of the sea when the Pacific is at your doorstep. A local Vallartense secret is Mariscos Tino’s, self-titled as the Cathedral of Seafood. A hefty range of seafood cocktails and ceviche tostadas are built from fresh-caught ingredients dressed in zesty toppings. The house specialty, Conchas Tinos, come stuffed with mixed seafood though not before getting an au gratin finish.
CAFÉ DES ARTISTES
Maintaining its position as one of the most coveted restaurants in Vallarta for the past 20 years, Café des Artistes keeps locals and visitors coming back for seconds, thirds and fourths… and you’ll soon get why. Set in a charming mansion in the Centro, the restaurant has a certain mystical mood thanks its memorable glass teardrop chandelier and an intimately-lit garden. Head Chef Thierry Blouet is considered a pioneer of Puerto Vallarta’s gastronomic boom which has turned heads across the country and transformed the city into a gourmet destination.
His updated take on French and Mexican cooking traditions has won the Café numerous awards as well as praise from critics and mesmerized diners. On the current menu are Chilaquiles with Smoked Magret and Duck Confit accompanied by arugula, huajicori cheese, avocado and a port reduction. To finish, take a dessert with the ease of a day at the beach: the Café’s Cheesecake with piña colada flavors.
Dressed in all white, La Leche has been delighting guests with their own take on modern signature cuisine set in a contemporary art installation. The milky-white aesthetic, complete with bleached bottles and boxes, allows diners to focus their appreciation on the bold colors and flavor profiles of its ingredients.
La Leche’s Head Chef Alfonso Cadena is a stovetop rockstar who tenderly incorporates design and music into his culinary endeavors. As a Mexican TV personality, Chef Cadena has his own loyal following of diners coming from near and far to sample his ever-changing menu.
Mainstays at the self-styled ‘Gourmet Warehouse’ include a pink-tinted beet risotto, the exquisite La Leche duck and the Q.M.T. (Quiero mi tuna): a seared slab of tuna painted in contrasting flavors. Keep an eye out around town for their monochrome Fast Truck currently serving up burritos to-go.
The Malecón tends to be Puerto Vallarta’s fiesta nucleus for locals and visitors. The proximity of favorites like Señor Frogs, la Bogeduita del Medio and Club Mandala to one another means that an impromptu evening of bar hopping may be in order!
If you’re looking for more of a relaxed evening with your loved one, head to the south end of the Malecón around the Playa de los Muertos area. Start the evening with tapas and cocktails over at 116 Pulpito and follow it up with some mezcal sampling at Bar Morelos.
In the same corner of the city, the Zona Romantica has been welcoming gay visitors to what is considered the city’s most open-minded neighborhood. LGBT visitors and their friends can start the night with a round at Anonimo and get their groove on all night-long at the aptly-named La Noche. Fight back the inevitable Tequila crudas (hangovers) with snacks and fresh juice at the Old Town Farmer’s Market which hosts producers from within a 75 km (46 mile) radius of Puerto Vallarta.
CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa
The five-star CasaMagna Marriott is an easy pick for parents and little ones looking for some beachside fun. Their Inclusive Getaway package for two adults and two children under 12 grants you full access to the sports facilities and the Kids Club, in addition to unlimited drinks and three meals a day in the resort’s restaurants. Dining options include traditional Mexican, Japanese and seafood enjoyed al fresco at Las Casitas next to the resort’s stunning infinity pool.
Looking to travel on the cheap? Hotel Tropicana can’t be beat with its local hospitality at affordable rates. The hotel is found in Vallarta Tradicional at the crossroads of the Playa de Los Muertos, the Malecón and the Centro.
Preserving its retro feel, the Tropicana’s private beach and pool are reliably clean with friendly and accommodating hotel staff. Staying in Vallarta Tradicional means that you’ll be walking distance away from all of the sights in-town and near neighborhood restaurants for a spontaneous shrimp taco or two.
The Westin Resort & Spa Puerto Vallarta
At the mouth of the Marina Vallarta, the Westin affords its guests some of the best sea views in PV from its spacious rooms. As soon as you walk into the lobby, you’ll be eased into vacation mode with colorful interior architecture and Mexican furnishings. Active types will surely make the most of the resort’s tennis courts and fully-equipped fitness studio, while bon vivants may be interested in treating themselves to a beachside massage or seaweed wrap with guarana.
Guests can expect the normal comforts of a Westin stay including their Heavenly Beds, dual showerheads and plush robes. All rooms have their own private balconies for maximal relaxation with panoramic views stretching across Banderas Bay, the Centro and the resort’s grounds. Guests can opt between room only rates or the all-inclusive package.
Find solace at the Westin’s Las Pergolas Beach Club whose thirteen stylish pergolas (open cabanas) are ideal for a morning or afternoon lazing at the beach. The resort’s two meandering pools are also relaxing choices for resort guests looking to cool off under the canopy of palm trees.
Casa Velas Hotel Boutique
Visitors from around Mexico are already in on Puerto Vallarta’s best kept luxury resort, Casa Velas. The recipient of numerous hotel accolades, the all-inclusive luxury boutique resort is famous for its manicured exotic gardens, patrolled by roaming peacocks and dotted with koi ponds. Though a short drive from the airport and the city’s Marina, Casa Velas retains an undisturbed atmosphere thanks to the two adjacent golf courses of the Marina Vallarta Golf Club.
Guestrooms are sanctuaries of rest owing to original artwork, L’Occitane bath amenities and a pillow menu that is sure to guarantee sweet dreams to even the most finicky sleepers. Need to tweak your outfit ensemble for a bit more glamour? Play mix and match with Casa Velas’ jewelry and designer handbag rental from luxury brands such as Pineda Covalin, Adolfo Domínguez and Tory Burch.
Famished locavores will fall for Casa Velas’ garden fresh cuisine sourced from the property’s Botanical Garden where over 30 types of fruits, vegetables and herbs are grown. Emiliano, the hotel’s main restaurant, will have your palate singing with dishes like sautéed Baja mussels topped with chipotle cream and the festive Confetti Shrimp marinated in Tulum achiote and paired with an orange salsa.
Rivera Del Rio
Over 640 user ratings on trivago have awarded Rivera Del Rio an average score of 94/100 making the boutique hotel one of the best rated in Puerto Vallarta. Found on a quiet residential street, the pink-clad Rivera Del Rio faces onto the Río Cuale with lush hilltop views from the property’s terraces. Rivera Del Rio’s storied mansion is uninhibited in its charismatic details and mix of materials, think: marble columns, brass chandeliers, stained glass windows and mosaic tiled floors. Each of the property’s rooms and suites bares its own personality from the sensual Scarlet Room with its terracotta tub to the buoyant Candelaria Suite.
A complimentary breakfast spread every morning, an outdoor rooftop pool and whirlpool tub in addition to the personalized service from third-generation owner Alex Killen set the Rivera Del Rio apart from the pack. Over the ages, celebrities from Elizabeth Taylor to Kevin Costner have stayed over at the hotel tucked away into the Zona Romantica. Why not add your name to the list?
Original text by Maria José Bricio
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