Puerto Vallarta has long been one of Mexico’s most captivating coastal destinations. Still, it’s understandable for travelers who may not be familiar with this side of Mexico to ask about what to do in Puerto Vallarta.
Fortunately, there’s plenty to do throughout Puerto Vallarta and the surrounding areas. Whether you prefer spending lazy days at the beach or taking a challenging hike in the mountains, there’s plenty for you to do outdoors. If you’re into pub crawls and club hopping at night, or if you’re into mural tours and gallery hopping during the day, Puerto Vallarta excels in art and entertainment. No matter if you’re craving an elegant multi-course meal at a fine restaurant or a fun outing full of tasty street food, Puerto Vallarta has plenty to whet your appetite.
Regardless of what exactly you’re looking to do in Puerto Vallarta, our guide can help you find what you’re looking for.
A Quick Guide to Navigating Puerto Vallarta
As you figure out what you want to do in Puerto Vallarta, it helps to know what is where. On the north end of town, you will find the international airport and Marina Vallarta. South of the marina, you will soon reach the historic heart of the city: the Zona Hotelera, 5 de Diciembre, Centro, and Zona Romántica neighborhoods. Since these are the most urbanized areas, this is where you will find most of Puerto Vallarta’s best restaurants, nightlife, and arts and cultural venues.
North of the marina and the airport lie the beach communities of Riviera Nayarit, including the popular expat town of Sayulita and the posh resort town of Punta Mita. Off the coast of Punta Mita lie the Islas Marietas, a small archipelago of uninhabited islands that abound in natural beauty. (We will discuss these islands in further detail later.) Basically, the northern beaches are perfect for those who want beautiful beaches that don’t feel too remote.
South of Zona Romántica is Conchas Chinas, a neighborhood featuring steep hillsides, stunning beaches, and high-end condos and vacation rentals. Farther south, you will find a series of pristine beaches, some of which are only accessible by boat or foot. And generally, to the east of town, you will notice the majestic Sierra Madre Occidental mountains. The south end of Banderas Bay and the surrounding mountains truly are best for visitors who want to “get away from it all.”
What to Do in Puerto Vallarta If You Love Art and Culture
If you like arts and culture, you will love Puerto Vallarta! For the optimal “culture vulture” experience in the city, plan on staying in Centro and Zona Romántica. In Centro, start at the Malecón and admire the many gorgeous sculptures dotted along the downtown shoreline. As you move inland, you will start to find more of the city’s famed art galleries. Depending on how much time you have for gallery hopping, make sure to include Corsica Art Gallery, Galerie des Artistes, and Galeria Pacifico on your itinerary. For cool street art, head to Calle Iturbide and spot the amazing murals along the pedestrian path.
Zona Romántica has plenty more galleries for art lovers to peruse, including the esteemed Galleria Dante. In addition, you can check out Art VallARTa, a comprehensive community arts center and “artist incubation tank” featuring studios, classrooms, an art supply store, exhibition space, and even a theater. For more wearable and usable art that you can take home, head to Casa Oaxaca for handcrafted goods from Mexican artisans, and to Isla Cuale (at Rio Cuale) for multiple boutiques and markets featuring local artisan goods.
If you prefer a guided tour to make your way around town, keep in mind that the city offers free walking tours of Puerto Vallarta’s historic downtown (Centro) on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday. For more art-oriented tours, check out Galeria Pacifico’s free art tours of the Malecón that include many fascinating details and backstories of the iconic sculptures of the city’s seaside promenade. Galleria Pacifico tends to offer these tours every Tuesday morning from November to April.
What to Do in Puerto Vallarta If You’re a Nature Lover
For those who enjoy the simple art of finding harmony with Mother Nature, Puerto Vallarta is a nature lover’s paradise. Even if you only have time to stay in town, you can enjoy much of the region’s natural beauty by strolling along the paths of Isla Cuale, or by hiking from the Malecón (in Centro) and making your way uphill to Mirador La Cruz del Cerro for the best views in town.
If you can handle a roughly 20-minute drive south from Centro, head a little past Conchas Chinas to Playa Las Gemelas. The sand is amber-hued and quite clean, and the water is a lovely shade of turquoise—this is one of the best beaches in the area for watersports. If you have more time to drive, hike, and explore, continue south on Highway 200 to Mismaloya for a quaint beach surrounded by gorgeous jungle scenery. For those seeking even more adventure, drive farther south on Highway 200 to Boca de Tomatlán. The town itself is a charming fishing village with its own near-pristine beach, and it’s the ideal launchpad for hikes to the more remote southern beaches that can not be reached by car.
If you’re on the Nayarit side of Banderas Bay, Monkey Mountain and Mirador El Toro are close to Sayulita, and they offer plenty of lovely natural scenery alongside incredible coastal views. For a more exhilarating adventure at sea, take a tour to Islas Marietas for the wonderful “hidden beach.” You can snorkel and dive to see the local dolphins and tropical fish, and experience prime whale watching from December to March. For a perfect beach day closer to town, Playa Careyeros in Punta Mita has nice and easy trails, as well as a wonderful white sand beach to explore and enjoy.
What to Do in Puerto Vallarta If You Love the Nightlife
For revelers who may be asking what to do in Puerto Vallarta for both nightlife and daytime parties, there’s no shortage of opportunities to get your party on. A favorite is Vallarta Adventures’ day cruise to Playa Majahuitas, one of the remote beaches south of town (and past Boca de Tomatlán). Not only can you enjoy some quality time swimming and snorkeling off shore, but Playa Majahuitas has a fun day club that’s perfect for reveling and relaxing, and the boat itself has a bar and sundeck on board.
Puerto Vallarta knows how to throw great parties at sea, and they have plenty of fun on dry land as well. For the best Puerto Vallarta nightlife, you probably want to stay in Centro or Zona Romántica, where most of the area’s bars and clubs are concentrated. But if you do find yourself looking for something in Punta Mita, Mita Mary Boat Bar at the St. Regis offers a surprisingly laid-back beach bar experience, and The Shack at the Four Seasons actually brings the bar right to the water’s edge.
Heading back to town, Roxy Rock House may be Puerto Vallarta’s most famous live music club, and that’s for good reason: Cover bands play late every night except Sunday, and it’s an all-around festive atmosphere where everyone can let loose. For a younger crowd and DJs spinning the most pumping reggaeton tunes, Bar Morelos is where it’s at. While Puerto Vallarta is very LGBTQ+ friendly overall, Bar Frida may be the city’s most legendary queer-inclusive bar. And for simply great cocktails by the beach in Zona Romántica, Bar La Playa is a must-try.
What to Eat in Puerto Vallarta If You’re a Foodie
Puerto Vallarta may not be large, yet this city’s culinary scene packs in a whole lot of big flavors. Depending on what exactly you’re seeking, you can find great dishes at restaurants across Banderas Bay.
For great Puerto Vallarta restaurants that serve mouthwatering breakfast, brunch, and lunch, Coco’s Kitchen in Zona Romántica serves delectable pancakes, huevos rancheros, and chilaquiles, plus they have some good healthy options. If you want even healthier fare that still tastes good, Salud Super Food is another solid option for breakfast and lunch.
When you’re ready for a special splurge for dinner, Chef Joel Ornelas oversees the creation of some of Puerto Vallarta’s most innovative cuisine at Tintoque at Rio Cuale. For something more romantic, El Dorado is located right by Playa Los Muertos in Zona Romántica, and they’re famous for their mouthwatering mariscos (or seafood), unique cocktails, and candlelit tables. For something more casual, Tacos Sahuayo is a solid option for street-style local cuisine, and it’s perfect for urban explorers who want to taste more of “the real Puerto Vallarta” beyond the most tourist-heavy parts of town.
At Punta Mita, Makai is open for lunch and early dinner, and here is where you will find Chef Sebastián Renner’s fresh and unique take on farm-to-table cuisine. Meanwhile at Hector’s Kitchen, Chef Hector Leyva continues to wow locals and visitors with his eclectic Mexican contemporary fare that’s always made with locally sourced ingredients.
There’s Plenty You Can Do in Puerto Vallarta
Hopefully, you now have some better ideas as you figure out what to do in Puerto Vallarta. Though it’s far from being Mexico’s largest city, Puerto Vallarta might be one of the most fascinating. While it’s easy to envision a major tourist destination having a lot of activities, I’m still impressed by the breadth and depth of Puerto Vallarta’s offerings.
Not only does Puerto Vallarta have fantastic beaches, but it also has beautiful mountain parks worth exploring, as well as a colorful and cultured city center, and a multitude of delectable restaurants and free-spirited bars all over. Even if you can’t stray too far from the city center, you will still have an abundance of options for exciting art, culture, nightlife, beaches, hiking, and much more. And no matter where you stay in the region, you will likely have a whole lot to see and do.
Interested in learning more about visiting Puerto Vallarta? Check out this guide to planning the perfect stay in Puerto Vallarta resorts.