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Sasha Savinov By
Posted 13 Oct, 2019 | One Comment
Posted in: Mexico, Travel Blogs

You know those places that you visit for a day and immediately want to stay forever? Puerto Vallarta Mexico is one such place. This charming town in Banderas Bay is one of the most popular places to visit in Mexico, and rightfully so. 

With the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Sierra Madre mountains on the other, Puerto Vallarta is truly a stunning location. Add in the beautiful church with its tree-lined plaza and the scenic promenade known as the Malecon, and you’ve got one good looking city.

While Puerto Vallarta welcomes in boatloads (and planeloads, for that matter) of tourists and is home to several all-inclusive resorts, the city prides itself on its traditions and culture. On a walk around town, you may see a cowboy riding his horse up the cobblestone streets. Or perhaps a mariachi band roaming the beach to serenade visitors. 

Many come to Puerto Vallarta to relax on la playa, but there’s a lot more to the city than just sun and sand. You can also go hiking, snorkeling, mountain biking, fishing, and even skydiving! There’s so much to do here that you’ll end up planning your return trip before you even leave.

puerto vallarta mexico travel guide

I first came to Puerto Vallarta a few years ago with plans to stay for a month. Like many others before me, I fell in love with the place and decided to stay. It’s been my home away from home for the past two years now, and I’m excited to introduce Puerto Vallarta to you in this comprehensive travel guide. 

Where to Stay in Puerto Vallarta Mexico

For a relatively small city, you have tons of choices when it comes to accommodation in Puerto Vallarta Mexico. For simplicity’s sake, I’m just going to focus on the actual city of Puerto Vallarta and its different neighborhoods. Heading south from the airport, these are:

  • Marina Vallarta
  • Hotel Zone
  • 5 de Diciembre
  • El Centro
  • Zona Romantica

Here’s a short description of each neighborhood with a recommendation for one of the best places to stay there:

Marina Vallarta

The Marina is where the cruise ships dock in Puerto Vallarta, and they’re actually working on an impressive new cruise ship terminal at the moment. This area is home to some really nice all-inclusive resorts as well as a world-class golf course. It’s a popular place for families and those seeking a bit of peace and quiet on their trip — something that can be hard to come by in Mexico!

San Tropico is a lovely boutique hotel in the Marina that is centered around a garden with an outdoor pool. It’s not too far from the beach and they also provide bikes if you don’t feel like walking. Click here to see the latest price from Booking.com.

Hotel Zone

As you might expect, the Hotel Zone is full of hotels. Clever name, isn’t it? The beachside is home to massive resorts while crossing the main road brings you into a very local part of town with plenty of options for shopping and dining. 

If you’re not into the all-inclusive thing, Suites Mar Elena is a good option in the Hotel Zone. Here you’ll find comfortable rooms and an outdoor pool at a reasonable rate. Click here to see the latest price from Booking.com.

5 de Diciembre

The “5th of December” neighborhood is a great place to stay in Puerto Vallarta Mexico. It’s located in between the Hotel Zone and Centro and is primarily a residential area, but there are some solid choices for accommodation here as well. This is a good place to base yourself as you’ve got easy access to the beach and public transportation.

Casa de Chayo Boutique Hotel is a really nice place with fantastic ocean views. They go out of their way here to make sure you feel at home on your visit. Click here to see the latest price from Booking.com.

El Centro

As the name would suggest, this is the central part of Puerto Vallarta. Here you’ll find the beautiful Parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the main square, and the Malecon. El Centro is also home to some of the best shopping and dining options in town. If you want to be in the thick of it all, this is definitely the place to stay.

If you’re looking for a nice place to lay your head in El Centro, Luna Liquida is a solid choice. This well-appointed hotel is located just a few blocks up the hill from the church, and they’ve got some awesome views from their infinity pool. Click here to see the latest price from Booking.com.

puerto vallarta travel guide

Romantic Zone

Once you cross the river from El Centro, you find yourself in the Zona Romantica (Romantic Zone). Despite the name, this part of town isn’t just for couples. Here you’ll find a wide variety of options for accommodation, as well as tons of cafes, spas, restaurants, shops, and bars. It’s probably the most fun part of Puerto Vallarta to stay in.

La Casa del Descanso is an excellent choice in the Romantic Zone. This beautifully decorated B&B is in a great location for taking advantage of all that the area has to offer. Click here to see the latest price on Booking.com.

For a more detailed look at these neighborhoods and the best accommodation in each, be sure to check our comprehensive guide on where to stay in Puerto Vallarta.

What to Do in Puerto Vallarta

There are plenty of awesome things to do in Puerto Vallarta, from beach hopping to adrenaline-filled adventures to partaking in the culinary and nightlife scenes. It wasn’t easy narrowing this list down, but here are my top 5 picks for PV:

1. Walk the Malecon

The Malecon is an oceanfront promenade that goes from El Centro down to the Romantic Zone. It’s about 1.5 km (~1 mile) long and is the perfect place for a leisurely stroll.

In addition to the beautiful views of palm trees swaying and the waves crashing, you can also admire the impressive collection of sculptures. Pull this guide up on your phone so you know what you’re looking at. From mid-November to mid-April, you can also join a free walking tour of the Malecon every Tuesday at 9:30AM. 

If you hear the sounds of a flute, that means it’s almost time for the Dance of the Flyers. This ancient Mesoamerican ceremony involves a group of men spinning through the air from atop a 30-meter pole and is quite the sight! 

That’s not all, as you’ll also find artists selling paintings and drawing portraits, cultural events in the small amphitheater, and plenty of shops, bars, and restaurants along the way. 

walking the malecon in puerto vallarta

2. Soak Up the Local Culture

One of the many reasons I love Puerto Vallarta Mexico is the vibrant culture. From the hardworking street food vendors, to the roaming mariachi bands, to the many festivals that take place here, there are many ways to soak up the local culture when you visit.

A great place to dive into the culture of Puerto Vallarta is the area around the Parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe. First of all, the church is the most iconic symbol of the city and it’s absolutely gorgeous. 

In front of the church, you’ll find the Plaza de Armas. This is the main square of Puerto Vallarta and is a popular gathering place, especially in the evenings and on weekends. Come here on a Sunday night and you’ll often find people eating street food and dancing to traditional Mexican music.

There are lots of fun events that take place in Puerto Vallarta throughout the year. Mexican holidays such as Independence Day and Day of the Dead are quite big here, and there are also all different kinds of festivals — music, sports, art, food, and much more. And actually, soaking up the culture is one of the top things to do in Mexico as a whole.

3. Go for a Hike

While lounging on the beach is fun and all, Puerto Vallarta is also a great place to go for a hike. You don’t have to go far, either, as the town itself is built on a hill.

In town, there are a few easy walks you can do. The Cerro de La Cruz (Hill of the Cross) is a straight shot up from the Malecon and isn’t too difficult to reach. It takes about 20 minutes to get up the stairs here, where you can enjoy some incredible panoramic views of the town.

Another excellent choice is the hike that takes you from Boca de Tomatlan to Las Animas beach. You can catch the bus from the Romantic Zone down to Boca for 10 pesos, cross the bridge, and just walk along the coast. On the way, you’ll pass by a few stunning beaches that are practically deserted. 

Eventually, you reach Las Animas beach, where you can reward yourself with some shrimp tacos and a margarita. Once you’re ready to go back, just hop in a water taxi back to Boca and get back on the bus. It’s an easy day trip from PV and tons of fun!

4. Explore Isla Cuale

The Rio Cuale flows in between El Centro and the Romantic Zone and out into the ocean. There’s also a small island in the river, known as Isla Cuale. This is a cool place to explore and it should definitely be on your list.

There are a few different bridges connecting the island to town, and there’s plenty to see and do here to keep you busy for a while. Peruse the market, drop in the cultural center, or just grab a drink and a bite to eat in one of the restaurants or bars. 

On the weekends, the little beach is packed full of local families who come here to picnic and swim in the river. You can also catch live music in the afternoon over at Babel Bar, which is a really fun place to hang out.

5. Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

For a small city, Puerto Vallarta Mexico sure has an impressive number of restaurants, bars, and clubs. If all you want to do on your trip is lounge on the beach, go out for a nice dinner, dance all night and repeat, I wouldn’t judge you at all! 

drinking on holiday in puerto vallarta mexico

Save the diet for when you go back home because you’ll want to do some serious eating here. You’ve got amazing street tacos, local seafood joints, high-end restaurants, food trucks, and so much more. Save some room for some ice cream and churros if you can.

As far as drinking goes, PV has tons of options. Try the local craft beer at Monzon, give pulque a try at La Pulqueria, grab a margarita at Joe Jack’s, or sample some mezcal at a local cantina like La Casa De Hugo. The options are endless here.

After dinner and a few drinks, you’re ready to hit the town. There’s always something going on here, from stand-up comedy to local rock bands jamming out to late-night dance parties with DJs. The world is your oyster on a night out in Puerto Vallarta.

If you need some guidance in planning your trip, go ahead and bookmark this guide on how to spend one week in Puerto Vallarta.

Where to Eat in Puerto Vallarta

One of the best parts about traveling to Puerto Vallarta Mexico is going out to eat. From pulling up a stool at a taco truck to enjoying a candle-lit seafood dinner on the beach, you’ve got plenty of choices.

Here are three of the best restaurants in Puerto Vallarta — one for each meal of the day:

Breakfast – Fredy’s Toucan

  • Hours: Open 7 days a week from 8 AM-2:45 PM
  • Phone #: 01 322 223 0778
  • Location: Basilio Badillo 245, Romantic Zone (Click here for directions)
  • Rating on TripAdvisor: 4.5/5

This place is always bumping for breakfast and is popular with everyone. Locals, expats, and tourists alike all flock here to enjoy dishes like their famous Campesino breakfast or Mexican omelet. Be sure to come hungry, as their portions are quite massive here.

Fredy’s also has an impressive drink menu, from mimosas to cappuccinos to smoothies, you’ve got plenty of options. You might have to wait a bit for a table, but it’s well worth it. Prices are very reasonable here, especially for how much food they give you.

Lunch – Restaurante Dianita

  • Hours: Open 7 days a week from 8 AM-6 PM
  • Phone #: 01 322 107 7090
  • Location: Calle Francisco I. Madero 243, Romantic Zone (Click here for directions)
  • Rating on TripAdvisor: 4.5/5

There are plenty of touristy spots on the Malecon or the beach to eat lunch, but my recommendation goes to this local joint in the Romantic Zone. They have a different menu del dia (menu of the day) every day and it’s always delicious.

For the menu of the day, you can choose a soup and a main course, and you also get a refreshing agua fresca as well. The food is awesome, the staff are all super friendly, and best of all you can fill up for less than $5 here.

Dinner – La Palapa

  • Hours: Open 7 days a week from 8:30AM-11PM
  • Phone #: 01 322 222 5225
  • Location: Los Muertos Beach, Púlpito 105-3, Romantic Zone (Click here for directions)
  • Rating on TripAdvisor: 4.5/5

Having dinner on the beach while enjoying the sunset is definitely one of the highlights of a trip to Puerto Vallarta. This highly-rated restaurant has been a PV favorite since 1959 and they’re showing no signs of slowing down.

While they have an extensive menu and are open all day, my recommendation goes to a nice seafood dinner here. Order up their catch of the day and a tasty cocktail, and you’ve got yourself one amazing dinner experience.

For more, be sure to have a look at our guide to the best restaurants in Puerto Vallarta, which includes the three mentioned above plus ten tasty others.

puerto vallarta mexico tacos

Best Beaches in Puerto Vallarta

Most visitors to Puerto Vallarta Mexico are looking for a bit of sun and sand. Banderas Bay has a vast array of beaches to choose from, each offering something different. 

The beaches of Puerto Vallarta are generally white sand, but not that blinding white sand you’ll find on the Caribbean side of Mexico. While some beaches are a bit rocky, they’re all fine for sunbathing and swimming. 

Depending on the time of year, Puerto Vallarta doesn’t really get waves, so it’s not the best place to go boogie-boarding or surfing. You’ll have to head up the coast a bit to Sayulita if you’re chasing waves. Having said that, if you’re unsure of the ocean conditions, just ask your hotel or a local to advise you. 

There are a few beaches right in town, while others require you to travel a short distance north or south along the bay. Here are three of the best beaches in Puerto Vallarta:

Los Muertos Beach

This is the quintessential Puerto Vallarta beach. It’s located right in town and is the most popular beach to visit. There are plenty of restaurants and bars where you can get a sun lounger, or you can just bring your towel and plop down in the sand.

Here you’ll find the sail-shaped pier that has become an iconic symbol of the city. This is where you can catch water taxis to head south to places like Boca de Tomatlan or Yelapa.

There are plenty of fun activities on offer here, including paragliding and jet-skiing. You can also join in a game of beach volleyball, hire a mariachi band to serenade you, or just chill out and sip your margarita. Click here to get directions to Los Muertos beach. 

los muertos beach puerto vallarta

Mismaloya

This beach is located south of town (click here for directions) and can be reached by bus or taxi. It’s a very famous place, as this is where the movie The Night of the Iguana was filmed. Starring Richard Burton (who was joined by his love interest Elizabeth Taylor), this film put a sleepy fishing town firmly on the tourist map.

Mismaloya has a few beachfront restaurants that will let you hang out and use chairs and umbrellas so long as you’re ordering. The best thing about this beach, though, is it’s proximity to the Los Arcos National Marine Park. Going on a SUP and snorkeling tour of Los Arcos is definitely one of the coolest things to do.

Las Gemelas

With a name meaning “the twins,” you actually get two beaches in one here! Las Gemelas is also located south of town, about halfway down to Mismaloya. You can check it on the map and get directions here.

This is a great beach to come to if you’re looking to escape the crowds. It’s kind of hidden in a way since you can only access the beaches from the fancy condos here or a steep and narrow path off the main road. You won’t find any facilities here, but it’s a fun place to spend a few hours if you bring a book and a cooler with food and drinks. 

Top Tours in Puerto Vallarta

When you feel like getting up out of your sun longer, there are lots of awesome tours to choose from. You have water-based options like snorkeling or fishing, adventure activities like ziplining and ATV riding, and plenty of great foodie tours. Here are three of the absolute best tours in Puerto Vallarta:

Rhythms of the Night

  • TripAdvisor Rating: 4.5/5
  • Cost: $139 – $169 for VIP
  • Tour times: Tours depart Monday-Saturday at 5-5:30
  • How to book: Online (click here)

How does a Cirque du Soleil-esque show on a hidden beach with a delicious dinner and open bar sound? That’s exactly what you get when you sign up for Rhythms of the Night — one of the top Puerto Vallarta tours.

A boat brings you to the remote Las Caletas beach, where you sit down to a buffet dinner with the option to add free-flow drinks. Next up is the show, which is a mind-blowing combination of acrobatics and dancing. It’s an amazing show and a fun night for all.

Vallarta Food Tours: Original Downtown Tour

  • TripAdvisor Rating: 5/5
  • Cost: $49.99 for adults and $39 for children
  • Tour times: Tours run hourly starting at 10:30 and last about 3.5 hours
  • How to book: Online (click here), by phone (888-360-9847 US/Canada, 322-222-6117 Mexico)
  • Location: Av México 1193-A, 5 de Diciembre (click here for directions)

There are so many amazing local restaurants and street food vendors in Puerto Vallarta Mexico that it’s a bit overwhelming. For the uninitiated, it can be tough choosing where and what to eat. 

Cue the folks at Vallarta Food Tours, who have several options for diving into the culinary offerings across town. Their original downtown tour is the perfect introduction into the food scene here. With nine different stops, you definitely get your money’s worth on this tour! Click here for Goats On The Road’s review of this tour company. 

Marietas Islands

  • TripAdvisor Rating: 5/5
  • Cost: $80-100 for adults and $40-50 for children for islands, $170 for islands and hidden beach (adults only)
  • Tour times: Tours depart the Marina at 9 from Tuesday-Sunday; the Hidden Beach is only open Wednesday-Sunday
  • How to book: Online (click here) or by phone 322 180 0597 (Mexico)
  • Location: Delfines No.44, Sayulita (click here for directions)

You actually have to travel a bit from Puerto Vallarta to join this tour, but it’s well worth it. The Marietas are a group of uninhabited islands in Banderas Bay and they’re home to a postcard-worthy “hidden beach.” Many people run tours here, but the one from Chica Locca comes highly recommended.

On their tour, you’ll get to enjoy snorkeling, SUPing, or kayaking, and they even have a few water slides on the boat! Throw in an open bar, a tasty meal, and plenty of hammocks to chill on, and you’ve got one awesome day out at sea. They’re located up in Sayulita, but you can meet them at the pier in La Cruz if you’re staying in PV. 

marietas islands tour puerto vallarta

Click here for our full list of the top 10 best tours and excursions in Puerto Vallarta.

Is Puerto Vallarta Safe?

This is a very common question from people considering planning a trip to Puerto Vallarta Mexico, and that’s understandable. It’s definitely a good idea to investigate the safety situation before booking a vacation anywhere in the world. 

I’m happy to tell you that the short answer is a resounding “Yes!” Puerto Vallarta is a safe place to travel.

In other places in the State of Jalisco (such as the large city of Guadalajara) you need to be a bit more cautious when you travel there, but Puerto Vallarta is safe.

While it’s certainly true that there are some rather dangerous areas of Mexico, these are generally located near the borders of each state and are far away from Puerto Vallarta. Of course, it’s always the crime and violence that makes the evening news in other countries, leading to a skewed view of the overall safety of Mexico.

To put it into perspective, it would be like canceling a trip to Myrtle Beach because you heard about violent crime in Baltimore. Would you cancel your trip to the Greek Islands because of violence in Syria? Seems a bit ridiculous, doesn’t it?

After all, Mexico is the 14th largest country in the world. If you put it on top of a map of Europe, Mexico stretches all the way from Ireland to Turkey. Obviously, not all areas of Mexico are the same when it comes to safety!

As one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Mexico, safety is a huge concern in Puerto Vallarta. The city has twice the amount of police required by the federal government, and violent crime here is incredibly rare.

I’ve been here for about two years now and the worst thing that’s happened has been getting overcharged on a taxi here and there. We take the local buses, walk around with our computers and cameras, and we even stay out late partying once in a while. 

That being said, you should still take the normal precautions you would anywhere else. Leave important things like your passport locked in your hotel room, preferably in a safe, and keep a copy on you. Don’t carry a lot of cash on you, especially not in a wallet hanging out of your back pocket. 

is puerto vallarta safe

Taxi drivers are honest and hardworking people here, for the most part. Of course, there are some bad apples who will try to overcharge you. Just agree to a price beforehand and all is well. If you want to be extra cautious, take down their number just in case you need to report them. Don’t accept rides from unmarked cabs, especially the ones at the airport who will surely rip you off.

Just like you would anywhere else, you need to exercise some common sense here. Stick to well-lit areas at night, don’t go flashing your shiny new iPhone on a crowded bus, don’t accept drinks from random people, and all that good stuff. 

Speaking of drinking, there’s plenty of that going on here. Puerto Vallarta Mexico is definitely a party destination, especially around American spring break and Semana Santa (Holy Week). I encourage you to go out and enjoy yourself here, but don’t overdo it. Tourists who end up in sketchy situations here tend to find themselves there as a result of drugs and alcohol. 

Unfortunately, it seems like break-ins are becoming increasingly common in Puerto Vallarta. This isn’t really a concern if you’re staying in a hotel or a fancy all-inclusive resort, but more so if you prefer to rent apartments from sites like Airbnb. We’ve never had a problem, but know people who have had their places broken into. Just make sure you properly lock everything when you go out and when you’re sleeping (and only stay at reputable places). Plus, never open the door to any strangers.

travel puerto vallarta

Before traveling to Puerto Vallarta, or anywhere for that matter, make sure you have travel insurance and that you understand the policy. If you have an emergency here, the number to call is 911, so at least that’s easy for those coming from north of the border.

Having said all of this, crime can happen anywhere in the world. Be aware, but not paranoid. Do your research, seek the advice of locals and enjoy your stay in Puerto Vallarta. 

Ready for Puerto Vallarta Mexico?

Well, that’s it for this guide, amigos. It took me two years of research (and by research, I mean eating tacos and drinking beer on the beach) to come up with all this information for you.

I hope it helps you plan an awesome trip to Puerto Vallarta. I’m sure you’ll enjoy your visit to this little slice of paradise in Mexico that I call home. If you have any questions or comments about PV, please leave a comment below!

For more on this country, check out our comprehensive travel guide to Mexico.

Images in this post are courtesy of Shutterstock.

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Sasha Savinov

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Sasha is regular contributor to Goats On The Road. He’s also an English teacher, language student, blogger, and video producer. He and his wife run Grateful Gypsies, where they write about life abroad, long term travel, and live music. Follow Sasha on his website, social media accounts below and on YouTube.

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