The intricate sand statue of two life-sized men playing chess drew a small crowd of curiosity seekers wondering how it was constructed. Nearby the brand-new Puerto Vallarta Pier with its soon-to-be-iconic, graceful, curving sculpture sparkled in the brilliant sunlight, towering over the shimmering clear waters of Banderas Bay. Suddenly a slight movement caught my eye and I looked more closely at the sand statue, who winked at me. The two statues turned out to be two young men somehow encased in sand, astonishing the onlookers.
Puerto Vallarta offers consistent sunshine, friendly residents, warm waters and lush, tropical foliage. Add to that a rich cultural heritage, a plethora of public art and world class restaurants and you have all the ingredients of a tourist attraction. From the time that director John Huston brought his ultra-famous crew of Richard Burton and Ava Gardner (not to mention Elizabeth Taylor, who had no official role but tagged along with Burton) to this coastal paradise to film “Night of the Iguana” in 1964 travelers have flocked to idyllic beaches to enjoy sun and surf.
Many visitors come to Puerto Vallarta to de-stress from a harried life north of the border, though some come to pursue language learning or creative pursuits. Some come for a visit and stay for a season or a lifetime—Puerto Vallarta is home to an active group of expats and part-time residents, some of whom live on their boats.
If you’ve never been to Puerto Vallarta the following list represents the tried and true activities that have stood the test of time. If you’re a return visitor you’ve probably done some or most of these but there are some updates to a couple of them. If you’re a regular visitor you don’t need this list at all and you’re probably pressing further out from the core, toward Sayulita or San Sebastian.
No matter where you are staying head to Old Town to discover for yourself the charms that have enchanted generations of visitors. The beguiling white buildings, red roofs and cobblestone streets signal that you’re in the right place. Start with a walking tour of Old Town to see many of the most famous landmarks of Puerto Vallarta and check out the first four or five items on the list. To get the most out of your experience consider taking a city tour with an experienced, English-Speaking guide from a tour company such as Caribbean Nexus Tours.
See the list to see the top ten things to do in Puerto Vallarta.
This is only the beginning—tee times, zip-lines, four-wheel drive and four-footed equestrian tours, dolphin training and many other adventures can be found in Puerto Vallarta. But sometimes a lazy day along the Malecon, transfixed by human sculptures and the flow of humanity, is the perfect way to get into the rhythm of the place.
Where to stay:
Puerto Vallarta is divided into several geographic zones, all of which contain various types of lodging ranging from hostels to boutique hotels to all-inclusive luxury compounds. See “Where to Stay in Puerto Vallarta” to learn which zone is right for you or check out the sample listed below
1. South Zone: Grand Miramar Cub and Spa
2. Downtown: Los Arcos Hotel
3. Hotel Zone: Sheraton Buganvillas Resort
4. Marina Vallarta: CasaMagna Marriott
Several airlines provide direct air service fromSan Francisco (SFO) to Puerto Vallarta (PVR), including Alaska Airlines and United. Prices for airlines departing from SFO are currently starting at around $500. Flight time is about 3.5 hours. Check Skyscanner for more information.
According the U.S. Department of State a visa is not required for citizens of the U.S. but you must carry a valid passport.
Stroll along the Malecon, an esplanade that separates downtown from the sea, and see a variety of permanent and fleeting sculptures, gaze at the views and do a little shopping for silver, tequila or art.
Along the banks of the Cuale River that separates downtown from Old Town a shoppers paradise has gradually replaced the original market and now trinkets of all types can be found at the flea market.
Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Every hour you can hear the sonorous tones from the bell tour of this important church that been the hub of the Catholic majority here since 1903 when construction was begun around a small chapel–construction that continued intermittently until 1952. The church looks humble on the outside but is ornate and well cared for on the inside.
Los Muertos Beach
This beautiful stretch of sand is one of the best places to people-watch, located across from Downtown. There’s always a lot of action at Los Muertos Beach, with volleyball games, sunbathing and parasailing.
Traditional Mexican folklore dances can be seen on Wednesday’s at the Viva Fiesta Puerto Vallarta, and on Fridays at the Lazaro Cardenas Plaza. Listen for the music, check the Puerto Vallarta events calendar or inquire at your hotel.
If you’ve seen the attractions in town, spent some time at the beach and pool, and still need some pampering take advantage of a luxurious spa da. It doesn’t get more luxurious than the Ohtli Spa at the CasaMagna Marriott in Marina Vallarta, which features four plunge pools (all different temperatures), a lap pool, complete gym, sauna, Swiss shower, mani-pedi room, several massage rooms, including a spacious couple’s massage room with large tub and an extensive collection of Huichol art.
Snorkeling at Los Arcos
If you’d like to get out on the water an easy activity is to go snorkeling at Los Arcos, a prominent collection of large rocks rising from the sea that are visible from Old Town. You can see completely through arches in the rocks and the water is quite clear. Small boats can be chartered inexpensively or several tour operators, including Puerto Vallarta Tours, offer day trips.
Every year between December and March the Humpback whales make the trek from Alaska to Puerto Vallarta to spawn. Several tour operators, including Vallarta Adventures, offer whale watching trips.
Go sailing on Banderas Bay to a number of beaches and deserted coves, or for a sunset sail. Charters can be arranged at Marina Vallarta or sailing tours can be arranged through Vallarta Adventures.
Day trip to Yelapa
A sleepy town with a gorgeous beach and medium-sized waterfall, Yelapa is unique in that the only access is by boat. A popular day trip, tours to Yelapa can be arranged through Vallarta Adventures, or the adventure quotient can be increased by chartering a small boat from the many private boat operators at Mismaloya, just outside of Puerto Vallarta to the south.