Puerto Vallarta is a destination that has been welcoming travellers for many years, and it’s one of our favourite places to visit in Mexico. Whether you’re a backpacker on a budget, a digital nomad looking to spend a month, a couple wanting a week-long vacation, or an expat looking to settle down, there’s an area of Puerto Vallarta that’s right for you.
The city is split up into neighbourhoods (zones), with the endless things to do in Puerto Vallarta spread out along Banderas Bay and beyond. In reality, it doesn’t really matter which part of the city you stay in, as getting around is easy.
You will, however, want to choose your zone carefully based on the vibe you’re after and the budget you have.
Here’s a quick rundown of the zones in PV starting at the airport and going south:Marina – more upscale than the hotel zone, with the Marriott Hotel, Westin & more.Hotel Zone – just a few mins drive from the airport, this area has many hotels, restaurants, malls, a Walmart & Sams Club.Centro (Old PV) – smaller homes, residential area, the Malecon (oceanfront promenade) runs along here, many restaurants and bars. This area is on the north side of the River Cuale and offers affordable accommodation.Centro (Romantic Zone) – located on the south side of the River Cuale, you’ll find numerous bars, cafes, restaurants and Playa Los Muertos Beach. This is a popular area with a large gay community. The accommodation ranges from budget to top end.Conchas Chinas – meaning “Chinese Shells” based on the seashells found here, this is a more affluent/posh area of Puerto Vallarta with gated communities and high-end condos.
Learn more about where to stay in Puerto Vallarta with our accommodation and neighbourhood guide. And, for a complete rundown on travelling to the city of PV, check out our detailed guide here.Now that you have an idea of what each neighbourhood has to offer, here is my list of 20 cool things to do in Puerto Vallarta!1. Walk…Everywhere!
I have to put walking as #1 on the list of things to do in Puerto Vallarta. Exploring on foot is the best way to get a feel for the city, and most areas of PV are reachable by walking.Walking the streets of Puerto Vallarta is the best way to see it all
This is a great way to see what the vendors are selling, to people watch and to get a lay of the land. You never know what you’ll stumble across when discovering the city on foot…just make sure to wear good shoes as the sidewalks and roads are very uneven.2. Join a Food Tour
Did you know that Mexico’s cuisine has made the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO? This award hasn’t been granted to any other national food groups! Mexican food is so much more than tacos and quesadillas and the best way to learn more about the tasty foods is to join a tour.
We’ve done food tours all around the world, and our favourite ones are in Mexico. In Puerto Vallarta, check out Vallarta Food Tours. This company offers a mix of culture, walking and food tours, making it a great way to learn about the city of PV while simultaneously feasting and working off the calories.Visiting the taco stands is a highlight of a food tour in Puerto Vallarta!
There are a few foodie tours on offer with Vallarta Food Tours, but we went on the “Original Downtown Tour”, which took us through the center of PV on both sides of the river. We ate numerous dishes and tried some drinks as well. We highly recommend this tour if you’re a foodie! Click here to learn more and check out the video we made:3. Rhythms Of The Night (one of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta!)
If you’re looking for a mini Cirque de Soleil / cultural show / dinner / theatre experience, then Rhythms of The Night will be something you want to check out. We saw this performance a few years ago and although we’re not big fans of large group tours, this show was spectacular and worth every penny. This is one of the top tours in Puerto Vallarta.
The evening starts with a sunset cruise (including open bar) across Banderas Bay to Las Caletas, which is a beautiful private cove. When you arrive, you’ll be greeted by a beautifully lit area with tiki torches and candles.
You’ll then be shown to your seat in the outdoor auditorium, which is surrounded by palm trees. The seats are all staggered, so even though there are people sitting in front of you, you’ll have no issues seeing the show.Watching Rhythms of The Night – we don’t usually love touristy shows, but this one was great!
The show depicts various stories of the ancient Hispanic civilization and Mexican folklore. During the performance, there’s live music, dancing, contortionists, fire-twirlers and more. Following the show you’ll enjoy a large buffet dinner before returning to Puerto Vallarta by boat. Don’t miss this show! ☞ Click here to learn more about the tour and to book tickets.
⇒ See Also: Things To Do in Mazatlan – 21 Experiences You Don’t Want to Miss4. Watch Sunset
There’s just something about the sunsets on the Pacific Coast, and in particular, Puerto Vallarta. Some of the best sunsets we’ve ever seen have been from here. Grab a drink and enjoy the show. Great viewing places include anywhere along the Malecon, up the hill behind the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, or from El Barracuda which is our favourite beach bar.The sunsets in Puerto Vallarta are spectacular
*Note: Puerto Escondido is another epic Pacific Coast destination for sunsets in Mexico. If you have a chance, try to visit there as well!5. Playa las Gemelas
Surprisingly, just about 20 minutes drive south of Puerto Vallarta, you’ll find beaches that look like they should be Cancun or Playa del Carmen rather than the Pacific. Playa las Gemelas has turquoise water and whitish sand. When we visited, there were quite a few waves, but no riptides or undertow and the waves were fun to swim in. Other visitors have had completely calm water here, so it really just depends on the weather, and the time of year.
There are just 2 condominium complexes on the beach and nothing else…not even any toilets. Bring a cooler filled with beer, water and snacks and spend the day. The walk to the beach is fairly steep and down some uneven steps, but it’s worth it when you see the view.
To reach here, you’ll want to park at Condominios Girasol Sur (in front along the road). There is no actual parking for the beach, so you’ll need to find some on the street, or in the few roadside spots in front of Girasol Sur Condos. Alternatively, you can take a local bus and get dropped off here.
This is by far our favourite beach in the area. Don’t miss it! Click here for directions.Hiking down the steps to Playa las Gemelas6. Booze Tour (with a side of food)
For those of you who like to drink tequila – it’s Mexico, who doesn’t?! – this tour is for you. During our recent trip to Puerto Vallarta, we joined the “Mex-ology” tour and enjoyed a late afternoon of Mezcal, Tequila, Raicilla, craft beer, Kahlua coffee and other hand crafted cocktails.
To go along with the booze, you’ll get some tasty food to help soak up the alcohol. The dishes we had were full portions of fish tacos, meat tacos, seafood “enchiladas”, onion rings, crickets (yes, crickets!) and delectable dessert. Not only will you be having fun, and feeling a bit tipsy by the end of it, but you’ll learn a lot about the traditions and creation of these alcoholic beverages.Tasting Mezcal, with a side of crickets on our food & booze tour
We had a great day with our guide. So much fun in fact, that she took us out for some late-night shenanigans where the expats and locals like to hangout! Click here to learn more about the Mex-ology Tequila, Tacos & Cocktails Tour.7. Eat Fresh Oysters
While there’s definitely a Puerto Vallarta restaurant for everyone, sometimes it’s nice to eat street (beach) food. If you’re an oyster lover, you’ll be happy to know that you can get fresh oysters on the beach.
Just under the bridge that crosses the River Cuale, you’ll see many vendors selling these tasty morsels. Plastic tables and chairs are set up so you can sit and enjoy your plate of food by the water, or you can take them to go. Squeeze some lime juice on, sprinkle with some salt and add some hot sauce if you like. Enjoy!
☞ SEE ALSO: Playa del Carmen Mexico: The Ultimate Travel Guide
8. San Pancho
About an hour drive from Puerto Vallarta is the beach town of San Pancho (San Francisco). This small town isn’t as quiet as it once was, but it’s still a nice place to visit. What’s surprising is that even though it’s not a very big place, there are lots of things to do in San Pancho.
You can go golfing for the morning (or late afternoon), eat some really good international food, take Spanish lessons, do yoga, go surfing, watch the baby turtles be released and more. It’s a cool place to spend the afternoon as it’s just an hour away from Puerto Vallarta. Note, the ocean here is quite rough and isn’t a great place for swimming. You could check out Bucerias for swimming.The lovely golf course in San Pancho9. Walk The Malecon
One of the many great things about Puerto Vallarta is the long Malecon (oceanfront promenade) which runs for about 1.5 kilometers (1 mile). This is the perfect spot to enjoy a stroll, without having to deal with the crazy traffic that whizzes along the narrow streets.
Along the Malecon you have the beautiful ocean on one side, and many shops, restaurants and bars on the other (selling $1 margaritas and Coronas!). There are also numerous art installations and street performances as well here. The Malecon is the hot-spot, especially in the late afternoon and evenings when it’s a cooler temperature. And actually, wandering along the Malecon is one of the most popular things to do in La Paz as well.The Malecon always has something going onWhere to Stay in Puerto Vallarta
There are numerous resorts, hotels, boutiques, hostels, Airbnbs and apartments for rent in Puerto Vallarta.
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