Puerto Vallarta Travel Guide: Mexico's Pacific Coast is Calling Your Name - Full-Time Travel

Puerto Vallarta Travel Guide: Mexico’s Pacific Coast is Calling Your Name

Puerto Vallarta Travel Guide: Mexico's Pacific Coast is Calling Your Name

When it comes to places we’re dreaming of visiting in 2021, the city of Puerto Vallarta, on Mexico’s tropical Pacific coast, sits right at the top of the list. The perennially popular vacation spot is blessed with the golden beaches of Banderas Bay, lush emerald jungle and the dramatic mist-cloaked slopes of the Sierra Madre mountain range. 

Red-tiled roofs and cobblestone streets complement the area’s natural beauty. History and tradition are a huge part of what makes this place so special, but the city manages to harmoniously marry its past with a thoroughly modern present. In Puerto Vallarta, you can practice yoga on the beach and sample a flight of beers at a microbrewery, visit the landmark church Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, then relax poolside at one of the destination's many resorts or beach clubs. 

Fascinating Facts About Puerto Vallarta: 

  • The federal government of Mexico designated Puerto Vallarta’s old town a cultural heritage area in 2018, granting it protected status. 
  • Puerto Vallarta is situated in the state of Jalisco, known as the birthplace of Mariachi music, charros and tequila.
  • This coastal city is one of the few destinations globally where you can experience swimming with wild dolphins in their natural habitat. Banderas Bay is home to a pod of resident bottlenose dolphins that like to play near the cove’s calm, clear waters.

There’s good news if you’re planning to escape the winter: Puerto Vallarta is open to tourists, and new and resumed direct flights make it a convenient vacation destination from all major U.S. and Canadian cities. Negative COVID-19 tests (PCR or LAMP) must be conducted no more than 72 hours prior to departing Puerto Vallarta by both U.S. and Canadian governments; additionally, documentation of a confirmed recovery after a previous infection is accepted for re-entry into the U.S. Reassuringly, the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) certified Puerto Vallarta with a Safe Travels stamp back in the summer. The city is committed to the highest level of safety and sanitization standards, and indoor attractions and venues are currently operating at reduced capacity to enable social distancing. That being said, these are challenging times, and the city of Puerto Vallarta will be ready to welcome you whenever you’re ready to travel again. Our destination guide was compiled with the help of city insiders. Keep it saved for whenever you decide to make the journey. 

Meander to El Malecon

Wandering foreign streets and soaking up new discoveries is one of life’s most underrated pleasures, and you’d be hard-pressed to find streets more beautiful and interesting than the ones in Puerto Vallarta. Head to the old town, where you’ll pass through historic squares shaded by the violet blooms of jacaranda trees, cozy restaurants made for canoodling, and hidden shops full of artisanal goods. Where Old Vallarta meets the ocean, the city’s famous Malecon begins its mile-long stretch along the bay. Visit at sunset for peak romantic vibes, and use this guide to discover the best sculptures, galleries, shops, and restaurants.

Soothe Your Soul With a Nature Excursion 

There’s something uniquely beautiful about the way Puerto Vallarta’s verdant mountains descend right to the shoreline; the tangle of jungle plants petering out to a smattering of palm trees lining the ocean. Here, you can spend the morning zip lining through the canopy before spreading out on the sand with your favorite beach read. Puerto Vallarta’s Banderas Bay is famously lovely, but if you want to experience something extra special head to Las Animas, a gorgeous stretch of beach lined with restaurants and bars serving icy margaritas. Las Animas isn’t accessible by road, so you’ll have to hop in a water taxi or do the secret hike from Boca de Tomatlan, stopping at secluded coves and snorkel spots along the route, including Colomitos, a hidden jewel of a beach considered to be the smallest in Mexico.  

Travel Deeper Into Traditional Culture

Everywhere you go in Puerto Vallarta you’ll encounter artistry and performance. From the roaming Mariachi bands and the open air sculptures lining the Malecon, to the Parque de los Azulejos (Puerto Vallarta's first tile park) and the street art that embellishes the walls of the downtown area – there's something to appeal to every visitor. 

Adventure Away Your Pandemic-Induced Inertia

Puerto Vallarta’s laid-back atmosphere makes it a great place to downshift and relax, but with more than 50 outdoor activities, it’s equally renowned for its adventurous spirit. Try off-roading or parasailing with Vallarta Adventures; river tubing, horseback riding and ATVing with Canopy River; swim with dolphins in the wild and spot whales with Wildlife Connection; set sail for the day on the Marigalante Pirate Ship and watch its fireworks display each evening; or take a guided hike through Vallarta Botanical Gardens to learn about the indigenous flora and fauna of Jalisco (spoiler alert: this is jaguar habitat!)

Meet Mexico’s Most Inclusive City  

As soon as you arrive in Puerto Vallarta, you’ll sense its universally welcoming atmosphere. The city is lauded for being perhaps the most inclusive destination in Mexico, and LGBTQ+ travelers will feel safe and respected from the moment they arrive. The Romantic Zone in particular has an abundance of gay-welcoming hotels, spas, bars, and beach clubs. Mantamar Beach Club Bar & Sushi is the go-to spot for sun-lounging and afternoon cocktails with a VIP atmosphere.

Sample the Culinary Spectrum 

Photos courtesy of La Palapa

What’s not to love about the endless variety of dining options in Puerto Vallarta? You’ll be tempted by street tacos and food trucks while out exploring the Cinco de Diciembre and Romantic Zone neighborhoods, but when you want a more memorable dining experience, you won’t have to look hard. Book a table at award-winning Icú for a multi-course feast of seasonally devised meals paired with the finest Mexican wines; La Leche – an artsy all-white dining room lined with milk bottles – for food so fresh the chef tweaks the seasonal menu every day; La Palapa, Puerto Vallarta’s first beach-side restaurant, for fresh-from-the-ocean seafood and tropical cocktails accompanied by live music; or Cafe Des Artistes for French-Mex dishes in the elegant setting of a century-old hilltop home. To truly eat like a local, book a three-hour, small-group grazing session with Vallarta Food Tours

Like Tequila and Mezcal? Meet Raicilla!

Puerto Vallarta is situated in the Mexican state of Jalisco, which is where everybody’s favorite good-times spirit, tequila, was invented in the 16th century. If you’re open to something unfamiliar, we recommend seeking out raicilla – a traditional agave spirit that’s indigenous to Puerto Vallarta and distilled locally. Made by roasting agave, raicilla has distinctive floral and fruity notes and pleasant acidity, coupled with a subtle smokiness reminiscent of mezcal. If you want to drink it the way the locals do, sip it neat rather than in a cocktail. 

Stay in Style 

Whether your vacation budget has expanded or shrunk this year, you’ll find accommodation options to suit your needs in Puerto Vallarta. 

Adults-only, all-suite hotel Casa Velas regularly appears on lists of the city’s best places to stay. The hotel is renowned for its beautiful grounds filled with roaming peacocks and herb gardens growing organic produce for dishes served at the hotel’s signature AAA Four Diamond restaurant Emiliano and used in spa treatments at ABJA Spa de Casa Velas. The property is beloved for its tropical pool, beach club, and access to Puerto Vallarta's best golf courses. 

Located by the sea in the Romantic Zone, glamorous Almar Resort Luxury LGBT Beach Front Experience bills itself as “the only gay luxury beachfront hotel in Puerto Vallarta.” Lounge on a cabana beside the infinity pool by day, then head to the resort's Top Sky Bar for live music, entertainment and cocktails after dark. 

Our top pick for families is the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & SpaDon't let the elegant and modern design fool you – the hotel has plenty to keep children entertained, from the water playground to the sea turtle nursery and weekend fireworks show. Add to that multi-bedroom suites with private outdoor space and Netflix on every TV, and Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa becomes a very appealing base for your next family vacation.

This story is sponsored by Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board