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Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Puerto Vallarta

Travelers seeking sun-drenched coastal beauty and outdoor adventure, look no further—Puerto Vallarta has it all. After spending a day on dazzling white-sand beaches or wandering the town’s quaint central streets, it’s easy to see why it ranks as one of Mexico’s most popular coastal destinations. Traditional markets and fragrant street-food stands make for delicious food tours, while nearby rainforests and the Sierra Madre mountains create opportunities for horseback riding, ziplining, and ATV driving. For water lovers, the reefs surrounding the Marietas Islands and Banderas Bay teem with tropical fish and bottlenose dolphins, ideal for scuba diving and snorkelling. El Malecon, Puerto Vallarta’s hip-and-happening oceanfront boardwalk, and Zona Romantica (Old Town) are ideal spots for sunset strolls. Once the sun has set, revelers flock to the neon glow of Marina Vallarta, a modern strip pulsing with restaurants, bars, and clubs. Dedicated party animals take a VIP nightclub tour of Puerto Vallarta to enjoy an open bar and skip-the-line entry to the city’s trendiest venues. With summer comes the chance to observe humpback whales on a whale-watching cruise while in the tropical paradise of Las Caletas, jungles and caves harbor wildlife year-round. Guided day trips to traditional Mexican villages and tequila distilleries offer an opportunity to get to know the local culture.
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El Malecon
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Puerto Vallarta locals and visitors alike strut their stuff on El Malecon, the city ’s iconic boardwalk overlooking the Bay of Banderas. It’s the place for sunsets strolls, rollerblading, ice creams and admiring the many public street sculptures that adorn the boardwalk.

You’ll see sculptures of dolphins, loving couples, a seahorse, angel and various abstract works. The malecon also takes in the color and vibrancy of the local fish market and the graceful arches known as Los Arcos that make up the city’s public amphitheater for outdoor entertainment.

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Banderas Bay (Bahia de Banderas)
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Beautiful Banderas Bay - or Bahia de Banderas - is just one of the reasons why Puerto Vallarta is such a highly sought-after beach resort destination.

The Pacific Ocean bay is Mexico’s largest, lapping the two Mexican states of Jalisco and Nayarit. Its long beautiful coastline runs for 42 miles (68 km), 25 (40) of them in Puerto Vallarta.

Banderas Bay is the number-one location for sports and eco adventures on the water, from parasailing and surfing to yachting from the port’s ritzy marina.

Whale-watching in these waters is also popular, especially December to April when the whales come here to calve.

Get out on the water of Banderas Bay in a sea-kayak, or cruise to one of the many islands dotting the bay.

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Los Arcos National Marine Park
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One of the most popular snorkeling destinations in the Bay of Banderas is Los Arcos. The protected marine park has all manner of treats in store for avid snorkelers and divers.

There are islands to visit, reefs to dive, tunnels to swim through and caves to explore, providing plenty of the arches and grottoes that give the park its name.

The marine life is stupendously varied, from clownfish to rays, octopus and lobsters and angelfish.

Organize a day cruise for relaxing at sea and peerless diving and snorkeling in the caves of Los Arcos.

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Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe)
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Puerto Vallarta’s Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe was built over the course of several decades in the first half of the 20th century.

Built in rustic pink stone, to a neo-baroque design, one of the prettiest details is the crown that tops the church bell tower.

The liveliest time to visit the church is December 1 to 12, when crowds celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe with street processions, festive food and mariachi music.

The festival coincides with the anniversary of the founding of Puerto Vallarta, so locals have even more reason to celebrate.

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Marina Vallarta
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One of the major attractions in Puerto Vallarta, Marina Vallarta is a self-contained stretch of boardwalk, white sand and retail outlets that has become so well-known for its beauty and success that it was a model for its sister cities of Cabo, Mazatlan, Ixtapa and Cancun. Easily identifiable by its large, 450-slip marina and lush 18-hole golf course, Marina Vallarta’s main attraction is its beautiful promenade, whereupon you’ll find numerous boutique beachfront shops and restaurants, including a lighthouse that makes for great viewing of the bay.

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Los Muertos Beach (Playa Los Muertos)
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The Beach of the Dead - or Playa de los Muertos - may not sound like the most promising place for a day by the sand, but for an authentic and truly lively Puerto Vallarta beach experience, it can’t be beat.

The gay-friendly stretch of sand fronts a pier and moored excursion boats, and is lined with bars and cafes. Locals and families also love this beach, and the diversity of the crowd is part of its appeal.

The swimming can be good at Los Muertos, and out of the water the ambiance, beach volleyball and people-watching will keep you entertained.

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Gringo Gulch
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Antique, charming, historic—all of these have been used to describe this quaint little neighborhood in Puerto Vallarta. Known as the site where the first settlers decided to live, Gringo Gulch offers spectacular views of downtown Puerto Vallarta and the Rio Cuale. A steep, staircase-slung hillside dotted with white-washed villas, this is one of the most romantic and captivating neighborhoods in this 500-year-old town, and it also served as the site of Richard Burton’s film Night of the Iguana, starring Elizabeth Taylor. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore this neighborhood, see its numerous beautiful mansions and experience some of the best views in Puerto Vallarta.
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Vista Vallarta Golf Club

There’s no denying that one of the major draws to the resort town of Puerto Vallarta is the weather. And warm, beach-going weather also means great golfing weather, perfectly suited for a day at the Vista Vallarta Golf Club. Designed by famous golfers Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf, the Vista Vallarta Golf Club is routinely selected as not only one of Mexico’s best courses, but one of the most beautiful settings for a game of 18 holes in the world. Surrounded by tropical mountains and the Pacific Ocean, it’s hard to find anything not to like about this pinnacle of golf resorts.

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Nuevo Vallarta
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A luxurious and spacious hotel and resort zone, Nuevo Vallarta lies at the center of beautiful Banderas Bay—a long, sandy stretch of beach and cool Pacific water known for its small fishing villages. Born from the tourist boom that was Puerto Vallarta in the 1970s, Nuevo Vallarta was built to offer all that the traveler could want: luxury hotels, fine dining, boutique shopping and some fabulous water sport attractions. The Marieta Islands preserve lies just a few miles offshore, and the water here is home to countless species of fish and larger marine life including the elusive sea turtles. Whale-watching is another seasonal event and one that shouldn’t be missed, much like a visit to this pristine part of Puerto Vallarta.

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More Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta

Aquaventuras Park

Aquaventuras Park

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It should be noted that Aquaventuras Park has more slides than some ski resorts have runs—just to provide an idea of the water park's size. Set just north of Puerto Vallarta, the park has 10 different slides visitors can use to splash into the various pools. Travelers shouldn't miss the opportunity to raft down Orca Road or try the Slippery Seal before eventually drifting down the park's lazy Turtle River. In addition, it's the animal encounters that add wild adventure to the park—visitors can catch a ride on the backs of two different dolphins or score a kiss from a furry sea lion. The fun isn't all wet either, as the Aquaventuras ziplining courses look out over the pools and Mexico's largest rock-climbing wall is also onsite.
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Sierra Madre Mountains

Sierra Madre Mountains

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Creating the perfect backdrop to the sea, the jungle-clad mountains of Mexico’s Sierra Madre Mountains range are tailor-made for rural day trips from Puerto Vallarta.

All-terrain vehicles head out on safari, highlighting the region’s natural wonders and offering the opportunity to hit the beach or river for a swim en route to the mountains. Going off-road to the Sierra Madre mountains is a great chance to see everyday Mexican villages off the beaten track, whether you go by Jeep, four-wheel drive or mountain bike.

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Marietas Islands (Islas Marietas)

Marietas Islands (Islas Marietas)

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Never has a bombing ranged looked so beautiful than at Mexico’s Marietas Islands. Here off the coastline of Nayarit outside of Puerto Vallarta, these two volcanic, bird-covered rocks hold hundreds of scars caused by years of bombing by Mexico’s early military. Thanks to conservationist’s efforts, however—most notably Jacques Cousteau—the Mexican government agreed to protect the islands, rather than blow them up. Today, what remains of the islands above and below water is nothing short of astounding. Schools of colorful reef fish swarm in Technicolor clouds on the reefs, and sea turtles, dolphins, and enormous manta rays are regularly spotted near shore.

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Boca de Tomatlan

Boca de Tomatlan

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Tucked into the corner of the Bahia de Banderas of the Pacific Ocean is the quiet fishing village of Boca de Tomatlan. A wonderful throwback to a simpler way of life, this charming seaside town is sandwiched between the Horcones River, Boca Bay and the mountains of Puerto Vallarta. Popular among divers and Caribbean escape artists alike, this little slice of tranquility lies just 10 miles south of downtown Puerto Vallarta and is the idyllic retreat for all who dream of tropical beaches, rich forest jungle, peace and quiet.

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Las Caletas Beach (Playa Las Caletas)

Las Caletas Beach (Playa Las Caletas)

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The private beach resort of Las Caletas is a day-trip destination like no other for spoiling the senses.

The former home of maverick movie director John Huston, this tropical beach haven is surrounded by protected rainforest and palms.

There’s everything you could possibly need for a relaxed, luxurious day at the beach. Chill-out in a hammock, de-stress with a soothing massage, take a guided diving or kayaking tour, snorkel with sea lions, learn to cook paella or stroll through the bird-filled orchid gardens.

Las Caletas can also be visited at night for a magical dinner under the stars and Mexican dance show.

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Puerto Vallarta Cruise Port

Puerto Vallarta Cruise Port

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Sail into the calm Bay of Banderas for a warm Mexican welcome at Puerto Vallarta. This lovely beach resort city is on the mid-west coast of Mexico, lapped by the Pacific Ocean. Make your way downtown from the Marina Vallarta Maritime Terminal for an aquatic, eco-friendly or relaxing shore excursion.

If your ship is mooring at Puerto Vallarta, you’ll dock at the Marina Vallarta Maritime Terminal, 3 miles (5km) north of the city center. Alternatively, your ship might anchor just offshore, in which case a tender will float you ashore. Taxis line up to take you downtown; negotiate the fare (around US$5) before you head off.

Puerto Vallarta’s number one attraction is the beach, and the full-facility resorts lining the sands. After soaking up the rays, take a leisurely stroll along the waterfront promenade to shop for silver jewelry and ceramics, sculptures and glassware.

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El Tuito

El Tuito

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A small and charming Mexican town located just an hour’s drive from Puerto Vallarta, El Tuito draws visitors with its slow-paced, traditional vibe. With only one main road, you’ll find that most of this village’s attractions are centrally located and make for easy walking. The main plaza is home to the majority of the town’s activity, as well as the main church and El Tuito’s historical center.

Note the Spanish colonial homes with their unique orange glazing, try the local artisan cheeses for which the area is known, sample delicate pastries from the local bakery, note the murals at the city hall and stop by the Church of St Peter, which boasts a giant boulder as its main alter. El Tuito is a great day trip from Puerto Vallarta if you’re looking for an authentic dive into the true Mexican town experience.

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