The Best of Puerto Vallarta
Nominated for Best City in 2018 by Condé Nast, with tropical year-round weather and packed with adventure and nightlife, Puerto Vallarta is a destination you must visit at least once in your life. The Sierra Madre Mountains cradle this gem that faces the expansive Banderas Bay on the Pacific coast of Mexico. If you’re searching for a resort city with jungle vibes and sun-kissed beach days, Puerto Vallarta is calling your name.
Fun is the best word to describe Puerto Vallarta. It’s the perfect mix of beach life, water sports, and the thumping bass of nightclubs. It’s easy on the senses as well with views of the stunning Señora de Guadalupe church, quaint cobblestone plazas, and heaps of places to eat and shop.
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Best Puerto Vallarta Photo Opp
Looking for a fun photo opp that doubles as a keepsake of your time in Puerto Vallarta? The Puerto Vallarta city sign, complete with a gigantic seahorse, can be found on the notable El Malecon boardwalk.
El Malecon, Spanish for “esplanade” or “pier”, is 12 blocks long and stretches for nearly a kilometer. At one end of El Malecon is the traditional Hotel Rosita, and on the other end is “Los Arcos” Amphitheater, where you can catch free concerts and performances. Be sure to arrive early in the morning to avoid a tourist-crowded photo.
Best View of the City
The Lighthouse Lookout on Matamoros in downtown Puerto Vallarta is a stop to make for a beautiful view of the downtown and gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean. The lighthouse was built in 1932 and used by the city to guide ships until 1978. In 2006 it became accessible to the public after renovations adding stairs and a terrace.
The lighthouse has inspired painters and photographers worldwide for decades and is located near another picturesque area called Gringo Gulch. For a romantic evening, head there at sunset to watch the city glow.
Best Place for a Cocktail with a View
La Cappella is touted as the go-to for a scenic cocktail or romantic dinner in Puerto Vallarta. The open-air terrace overlooks the majestic Sierra Madre Mountains and Banderas Bay, with a view of the top of Señora de Guadalupe church. The dining area will transport you back to Colonial Mexico with its periodic architecture and interior design. There is a dress code here but who doesn’t love a reason to dress up?
La Cappella, an Italian restaurant, is owned and operated by Hacienda San Angel and is one of the city’s top luxury boutique hotels. Their menu includes traditional delights and modern twists on the classics. Your taste buds will be satisfied with their wine collection and Italian cocktails 7 days a week. In need of a morning pick-me-up? Complimentary mimosas are served with brunch.
Best Beach in Puerto Vallarta
Playa Gemelas, one of many beaches in Puerto Vallarta, holds the coveted top spot with tourists and locals alike. Whether you’re a bronze-god/dess or fair-skinned and require some shade, there will be a sandy spot for you here. The water is swimmable and the vibes are laidback. It’s also only a 20-minute drive from the city center and nearby to the city’s best snorkeling at Los Arcos.
If you’re arriving by bus, hop on the bus for Boca de Tomatlán or Mismaloya from outside the Oxxo at Basilio Badillo and Constitución. Let the driver know where you’re going and to notify you when to get off. Additionally, some hotels offer transportation to and from the beach.
Best Street Taco in Puerto Vallarta
Picture a freshly made taco filled with mesquite grilled steak, melting cheese, and an assortment of beans, fresh cilantro, and onion, cooked in a light tomato broth and topped with your choice of salsa. That, is the Volcan, the most famous taco at Tacos Memo in Puerto Vallarta. If that doesn’t make your mouth water, I’m not sure what will.
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Tacos Memo is open every day for your tasting pleasure, except for Wednesdays, from 5pm until 2am. A must experience during your time in Puerto Vallarta, Tacos Memo will exceed all your taco dreams.
Best Churros in Puerto Vallarta
Julio’s Churros is another well-known foodie destination in Puerto Vallarta. Located in the 5 de Diciember neighborhood and open 7 days a week from 6pm – 9pm, this street treat is a family run business that has been around for over 20 years.
Below is my video about Churro stands in Puerto Vallarta.
Best Foodie Find – Tajin
For those who pride themselves on making an excellent cocktail, you’re going to want to add Tajin seasoning to your repertoire. With lime and salt, and chili peppers for a mild touch of heat, Tajin is a versatile ingredient. It can be used as a topping on watermelon, mangos, apples, cucumbers or jicamas. The mix of cool and spicy is a sizzling way to enjoy a summer treat. It can also be used to marinade fish or meat, or if you’re adventurous, popcorn! I bought a bottle at the airport before leaving, but now realize is can be purchased everywhere – including Costco and Amazon.
Best Cocktail – Paloma
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Paloma is the perfect summertime cocktail and Puerto Vallarta knows exactly how to serve it: on the rocks, with tequila, fresh lime juice and Jarritos (grapefruit-flavored soda). In the United States, Fresca or Squirt can be used as a substitute for Jarritos. There are many stories about how the Paloma was created, but I’d rather sip away than stay stuck in the past.
Best Foodie Tour
The best way to experience a new place is to taste your way through it. Vallarta Food Tours has you covered with a walking food tour through the neighborhoods of Emiliano Zapata, Centro, and 5 de Diciembre. You’ll get the chance to taste full-portioned samples of a multitude of authentic local foods including (but not limited to!) pozole, sopes, churros, marlin quesadillas, tacos, beer, and mezcal.
The tour lasts about 3.5 – 4 hours and includes insights into Puerto Vallarta’s history as well as it’s food culture. To top things off, you’ll become an expert in the “sip, slip, exhale” way of properly drinking mezcal, a distilled drink made from agave.
Best Adventure Experience
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When adventure calls your name, there’s only one response: YES! At Canopy River in Puerto Vallarta, your adventure needs are covered with zip lines, river tours, ATV tours, mule rides, and crossing the extensive and impressive Jorullo Bridge.
Don’t worry if you can’t make up your mind. Canopy River also offers combo tours. After you’ve worked up an appetite, their restaurant; Los Coapinoles, has delicious Mexican food and a refreshing bar to refuel at.
Last, and most exciting, is Canopy River’s Fiesta in the Mountains – a Mexican party every Wednesday you won’t want to miss, complete with bull riding, games, tasty snacks and drinks (including non-alcoholic beverages), live mariachi music and more.
Best Place to Watch the Sunset
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The number one ingredient for a romantic evening is a sunset, and the number one place to enjoy one in Puerto Vallarta is at Playa Los Muertos Pier. The central sail lights up with multi-colored lights at night to add to the ambiance.
Best Nostalgic Old-Hollywood Spot
Gringo Gulch is a residential neighborhood, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s not worthy of your time. This historical area is located in downtown Puerto Vallarta on the north side of the Cuale River. Puerto Vallarta originally earned its fame from the paparazzi photos of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s affair during the filming of The Night of the Iguana in the 1960’s. After the filming, the two bought a home together and today it’s one of the swankiest hotels in Puerto Vallarta; Casa Kimberly.
Gringo Gulch is now also home to expatriates living under gentrified rooftop patios in open-air villas surrounded by cobblestone streets.
Compare Hotels and Airbnbs in Puerto Vallarta
Best Adult All-Inclusive Resort
Casa Velas in Puerto Vallarta is your go-to destination for some rest and relaxation without the kids. It’s located along Marina Vallarta Golf Club and a short walk to the beach, as well as a few minutes from the airport. To reach El Malecon, it’s an enjoyable 15-minute drive.
Every suite is stocked with L’Occitane products, a beach bag to use on location, and free wifi, among other amenities. Their pool is the picture of relaxation with palm trees all around. There is a fitness studio with yoga and fitness classes, as well as equipment for your own workout. Post-workout you can enjoy the spa, swim-up bar, hot tub, or hydrotherapy. Your tastebuds won’t be forgotten at Casa Velas’ 4-Diamond restaurant, Emiliano’s, or their beachside Ocean Club.
Getting Around Puerto Vallarta
The simplest way to travel around Puerto Vallarta is by taxi or Uber. For a local flavor, you can also take the public bus. There are no printed bus routes or fare information for tourists but if you visit the Visit-Vallarta.com website, there is plenty of information to help you navigate.
The zones (traveling from the airport, going south) in the city are:
- Marina – Marina is a ritzy area, as is evident by the presence of the Marriott and Westin hotels, among other well-known luxury chains.
- Hotel – This area is a few minutes from the airport and has everything from restaurants and malls to a Walmart and Sams Club.
- Centro / Old Town – On the north side of the River Cuale, you will find this quaint residential area, along with El Malecon boardwalk, restaurants, bars, and affordable tourist accommodation.
- Centro / Romantic Zone – Travel to the south side of the River Cuale for bars, cafes, restaurants, and Playa los Muertos Beach. The Romantic Zone is a popular area with a large gay community and accommodation to serve every budget level.
- Conchas Chinas – Conchas Chinas was named for the Chinese seashells in the area. It is a gated community with high-end condos.
When to Visit Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta has a warm tropical climate all year-round. The average daytime temperature is 80F, with cooler evening temperatures in winter months. It is easy to get to Puerto Vallarta from both the U.S. and Canada.
Puerto Vallarta is great for those seeking the sun. In fact, there are between 280 and 310 days of sunshine in a year. There are basically two seasons –
November – May: – This is the dry season. There is very little rain and the skies are generally cloudless. The daytime temperature ranges from 78F – 85F, while nights are between 55F – 60F.
June – October: – This is the rainy season. It starts in mid-June and the rain increases until there are daily downpours from July until September. Most of the rainfall comes in the late afternoon or during the night. The total rainfall in the city is 45 – 60 inches a year. Average temperatures during this season are 88F – 93F and it feels very humid.
The best time to visit is between April and June. Prices are affordable, the weather won’t tucker you out, and there are fewer tourists vying for the perfect selfie. On the other hand, if you love whales the best months to visit Puerto Vallarta are January to March.
6 Indispensable Items to Pack for a Puerto Vallarta Vacation
- Get the Fodor’s Puerto Vallarta: with Guadalajara & Riviera Nayarit.
- Bring a good quality mirrorless camera for getting those beautiful Casa Velas beach landscape shots. I use the Sony Alpha a6000 .
- Sunscreen is a must-pack item for a trip to Puerto Vallarta, so make sure to bring Neutrogena Sunscreen, Broad Spectrum Spf 45
- A great cross body travel bag. Crossbody bags prevent theft and are much easier to access.
- Don’t forget sunglasses for the beautiful sunny days. A.J. Morgan Unisex Sunglasses are a great choice and very affordable!
- Water shoes are a great item to pack for any beach vacation. They take up little room when packing and great if you end up at a beach that is rocky or with very hot sand.
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Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.
Alexa Meisler is the editorial director of 52 Perfect Days. Born in Paris, France she has since lived in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. She currently resides in San Diego with her husband and son where they enjoy exploring California and Mexico.
Travel has always been a part of her life; traveling to such places as Morocco, Tangiers and Spain as a young child as well as taking many road trips to Mexico with her grandparents as a young girl. Since then, she has traveled abroad to locations such as Russia, Taiwan and throughout Europe.
Prior to working at 52 Perfect Days she was a freelance travel writer; focusing on family and women’s adventure experiences.