Puerto Vallarta is one of Mexico’s most popular coastal destinations. Once you’re here, it’s easy to see why. With stunningly beautiful beaches, a charming and lively urban core, an abundance of incredible parks and nature preserves, and the most welcoming local culture and vibes, Puerto Vallarta truly seems to have it all.
Not only does Puerto Vallarta have plenty of beautiful beaches, but it truly manages to provide a warm welcome to visitors near and far while maintaining its local heritage and uniquely colorful spirit. Today, we will guide you through the best Puerto Vallarta resorts, restaurants, nightlife, landmarks, and more.
Let’s Begin with an Introduction to Puerto Vallarta
Located in the northwestern corner of the Mexican State of Jalisco, Puerto Vallarta opens up to the Pacific Ocean’s Bahía de Banderas and abuts Jalisco’s border with the neighboring State of Nayarit. Though Puerto Vallarta is quite far from the U.S. and Mexico border, its enduring popularity as a tourist and expat/digital nomad destination means that you can easily find all sorts of international creature comforts here, as well as plenty of languages (including English) spoken all around town.
At the same time, though, Puerto Vallarta manages to feel more like an “authentically Mexican beach town” than other perpetually popular Mexican coastal destinations. Though many Puerto Vallarta resorts carry some very familiar multinational brands, it’s quite easy to stroll around the city and discover a vibrant array of exciting options for Puerto Vallarta nightlife, dining, shopping, and so much more.
What Are Some Fun Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta?
If you’re looking for things to do in Puerto Vallarta, you will find plenty of activities throughout the region, and you shouldn’t find any reasons to be bored. Like to get out in nature? Then you will love the pristine tropical landscapes of the more remote beaches south of town. If you’re more of an urban explorer, the city of Puerto Vallarta abounds with artistic flair and charming streetscapes. And if you want a taste of Mexican surf culture, then the northern beach towns on the Nayarit side of Banderas Bay really know how to make waves.
Riviera Nayarit/Northern Beaches
If you like surfing, then you will love the big waves and chill vibes of Sayulita, which is 46 kilometers (or about 29 miles) north of Puerto Vallarta. Sayulita’s main beach is where you will find the best waves for surfing. Also, it’s the easiest beach to reach. Sayulita is even easier to reach if you’re staying in Punta Mita, a town that’s about 18 kilometers (or about 11 miles) south of Sayulita. Since Punta Mita is generally where you will find the region’s most exclusive luxury resorts, it’s also where you will find the area’s best golf courses: Bahia and Pacifico.
Centro and Zona Romántica
Moving back into town, there’s never any shortage of things to do in Puerto Vallarta. If you simply want to immerse yourself in the local culture, I highly recommend an outing to the Malecón, then walking around the historic heart of town (Centro) to discover more of the local culture. With its iconic crown pillar, the Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe cathedral is a great place to snap some photos and appreciate this city’s unique design, plus it’s a short walk from the fascinating street art at Calle Iturbide. A few blocks north of the cathedral, Corsica Art Gallery is another wonderful spot to dive into the local art scene, especially if you love Mexican postmodern art. You will also find several more art galleries all around Corsica.
Continuing south, Zona Romántica is right across Rio Cuale from Centro. Here is where you will find Los Muertos Beach and its landmark pier, yet this beach attracts more of a local crowd than the tourist-centric beaches to the north. Moving inland, Galleria Dante is one of Puerto Vallarta’s largest art galleries, and they proudly showcase a wide array of works by merely 60 artists. If you’re more into edible art, you should check out Mercado Emiliano Zapata, a mostly traditional Mexican farmers’ market that carries everything from fresh produce to local fish and meats, a tortilla factory, street food stands, and even some novelty items and artisan crafts. If you need some quality time outside, Isla Cuale is a calm and verdant oasis in the heart of the city where you will find walking trails to the beach, restaurants, and even a flea market.
If you’re interested in exploring the more remote southern beaches of Banderas Bay, then you will either have to hike your way from Boca de Tomatlán or ride a boat from Puerto Vallarta. If you prefer going by boat, I highly recommend the experts at Vallarta Adventures, and I personally recommend trying the luxury catamaran trip to Playa Majahuitas. Not only is Majahuitas simply gorgeous, but it’s also the perfect beach for swimming and snorkeling, plus Majahuitas has a full day club on shore for landlubbers to enjoy.
What Are the Best Puerto Vallarta Resorts?
Whether you seek all-inclusive resorts, local boutique hotels, or a different kind of accommodation, Puerto Vallarta likely has what you want. If you’re specifically seeking an all-inclusive resort, you will actually find some great options that are in town and close to the center of the action. For maximum luxury and a more secluded backdrop, it’s hard to beat Punta Mita on the north end of Banderas Bay.
When it comes to Puerto Vallarta all-inclusive resorts, the Hyatt Ziva may be your best bet. It sports a stunning oceanfront location in the beautiful Conchas Chinas neighborhood on the south side of town, a private cove and beach for supreme rest and relaxation, and a dazzling array of amenities that make it feel less like the all-inclusive stereotype and more like a sophisticated resort. Not only is the Hyatt Ziva an all-suite resort, but all their suites sport handcrafted furniture, plush beds with Egyptian cotton sheets, fully stocked mini-bars that are restocked daily, and 24-hour in-suite dining.
Two more Puerto Vallarta all-inclusive resorts worth considering are both Velas Resorts: the family-friendly Velas Vallarta all-suite resort, and the adults-only Casa Velas boutique resort. Both are in the chic yet centrally located Marina Vallarta neighborhood. Velas Vallarta offers direct beach access, while Casa Velas offers a more intimate setting at the Marina Vallarta Golf Club.
Other Puerto Vallarta Resorts Worth Considering
If you want a hotel in Marina Vallarta, but don’t need an all-inclusive package, The Westin Resort & Spa, Puerto Vallarta manages to feel like a great getaway destination while keeping you close to Centro, the marina, and the airport. All of the Westin’s rooms and suites are quite spacious, and they include large marble bathrooms, beautiful wood furniture, Westin’s signature Heavenly Beds, and floor-to-ceiling windows. Outside, you can enjoy the Westin’s perfectly landscaped pool area and private beach access.
Moving north, the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita sits between two secluded beaches. It probably has the most Instagram-worthy pools you’ll find anywhere, and it’s the perfectly posh launchpad for endless adventures on land and at sea. If you want more tranquility, the St. Regis Punta Mita Resort sits on 22 lush acres at the end of the peninsula, so you can really feel those “land’s end” vibes.
Where Are Puerto Vallarta’s Best Restaurants, Bars, and Clubs?
Regardless of whether you’re staying at the Four Seasons, the AAA 5-Diamond-rated Carolina on the resort’s property is a great spot for a fancy dinner in Punta Mita. If you prefer a more casual lunch or dinner in Punta Mita, El Barracuda is famous for its dishes featuring the freshest local produce and locally caught fish, plus El Barracuda has locations in Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta’s Centro district.
Moving back into town, Planeta Vegetariano is Puerto Vallarta’s OG for plant-based cuisine, and the buffet house is still a local favorite for hearty and tasty vegetarian and vegan food. If you’re up for a special splurge for dinner, you must try Chef Joel Ornelas’ “Creative Menu” full of delectable surprises at Tintoque by Rio Cuale. If you’re craving something different, Bonito Kitchen is a Pan-Asian restaurant in Zona Romántica that has some of the city’s best ramen. Plus they have fantastic dumplings, oxtail pho, and craft cocktails.
Speaking of cocktails, let’s briefly discuss Puerto Vallarta nightlife. Right in the heart of Centro, El Colibrí is a tropical speakeasy that serves uniquely inventive cocktails, local craft beers, and Mexican wines in a festive jungle-themed environment that’s mere steps away from the Malecón. A little to the south, Zona Romántica may be Puerto Vallarta’s most famous LGBTQ+-welcoming “gayborhood,” but it offers plenty of fun bars and clubs for everyone to enjoy: Monzón Brewing is Puerto Vallarta’s hometown craft beer, Elixir Mixology Bar may have the stiffest and tastiest drinks in town, and Roxy Rock House is a live music institution that continues to party all night (except Sundays).
Puerto Vallarta Is Beautifully World-Class, Yet Uniquely Mexican
Puerto Vallarta resorts certainly know how to impress with beautiful beaches, tropical landscaping, and luxurious accommodations, but there’s much more to explore in Puerto Vallarta beyond the region’s most famous hotels. From wild all-night fiestas in the heart of the city to exciting days exploring the local art scene, and from pristine beaches that are only accessible by boat to the nonstop excitement at the Malecón, Puerto Vallarta is a fabulous place to experience the best that the Mexican Riviera has to offer. It’s certainly become one of my personal favorites, and hopefully you now have a better sense of how to plan your perfect trip here.
Wondering whether a visit to Puerto Vallarta or Melaque is a better choice for your next getaway? Check out this guide next as we compare the two popular resort towns.