Located about midway on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, Puerto Vallarta has long attracted an international crowd of artists, tourists, and sun-seekers alike. No longer the “remote fishing village” it was when “Night of the Iguana” was filmed here in 1964, it has boomed to be one of the top Mexican destinations for travelers. Whether that’s a good thing or not is subject to opinion but it remains an intriguing and dynamic location that can be explored in-depth on its own or can be a stop in a longer tour.
How to Get to Puerto Vallarta
Located in Jalisco state, Puerto Vallarta is easily accessible. The importance of tourism has increased the frequency of flights to and from Puerto Vallarta. Since it’s not a major hub, you can fly from just about anywhere to Mexico City and connect from there. If you fly to Guadalajara, there are buses that go to Puerto Vallarta with regularity but it takes much longer than flying directly. Taxis are readily available at the Puerto Vallarta airport to bring the newly arrived anywhere in the area. As with anywhere, be sure to ride with an official cab and not just someone offering a lift into town.
Where to Stay in Puerto Vallarta
With the increased popularity of Airbnb, Puerto Vallarta has experienced a flood of offerings. There are also plenty of luxury and beach-side resorts. Please keep in mind that if the owner/manager is not a local, there is a good chance that they might not live in PV year-round. Communication may therefore be a bit difficult if they’re back home if home is many time zones away. Below, you can find some of our specific accommodation recommendations.
Outfitted with kitchens in suites, Estancia San Carlos is perfect for those who don’t want to eat out for every meal or for those who want to experiment with local ingredients at home. The suites are simple but well equipped and the communal pool offers a quiet little spot to relax and to decompress. It’s a great option for families or groups of like-minded friends.
So you’ve finally gotten your mother to agree to take the kids for a long weekend and you want to be as far from little ones as possible? Villa Lola is it! This adults-only bed & breakfast is beautifully decorated with local art and color, providing the perfect way to adult without adulting.
Definitely on the luxury end of things, The Green House is absolutely gorgeous. Located in the upscale Marina Vallarta north of the Romantic Zone, it’s modern without being sterile. Book an in-room massage to totally spoil yourself.
For those looking to steep themselves in wellness, look no further. Beyond Yoga Retreat offers 8 day stays that include daily yoga practice, pools, meals, and off-site experiences like snorkeling. It’s a wonderful haven to take yourself out of other overly-touristy spots.
You’re in Mexico: the food is amazing. To follow, we have staples that offer Mexican and International dishes but keep in mind that street eats are always the best and also the riskiest. A taco from a street vendor will probably be the best you’ve ever had, but choose wisely and select a vendor who has people queuing up. Midday snacks like jicama with tajin are readily available from street vendors and definitely worth trying. Similarly, as tempting as it might be to eat at a rustic beach bar, it might be wise to stick to drinks unless it’s very busy.
Simply put, Café des Artistes is one of the most beautiful dining experiences anywhere. Sit outside in the lush gardens and choose a wine from an extensive list, which (thankfully) includes many fantastic Mexican wines from Valla de Guadalupe. The dishes are just as creative as the surroundings, an inventive blend of local ingredients and traditions but with international technique and inspiration. Café des Artistes shows just how much of a standout Mexico is on the culinary scene.
Since Vallarta is indeed a tourist town, many restaurants cater to the Euro-American palate. Thankfully, El Arrayán strives instead for authenticity and serves up fantastic Mexican dishes without the slops of refried beans for no reason. A bonus is the Mexican-focused wine list, something not seen nearly enough around town.
While Si Señor offers up Mexican classics that veer over towards Tex-Mex at times, it’s always fresh and well done. The ambiance, though, is what really makes the experience worthwhile. Sit outside and admire the fanciful décor while watching their beautiful pet parrot parade about.
A Page in the Sun has been in Vallarta for a few decades now, so let’s call it a staple. While it offers pretty standard café fare, the multi-lingual books are the big draw. You might even bump into an ex-pat who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone that you do back home.
We’re not necessarily recommending burgers and pizza while you’re in Mexico, but we are certainly recommending local beers! Los Muertos has created a tasty and inventive array of different brews. Pop in during a hot afternoon to cool off.
Because we love you, we want to provide you with remedies for overindulging in too much tequila: pancakes. The Pancake House has been serving up stacks for over 30 years and shows no sign of slowing down. If you’re not quite in the mood for such a big breakfast, no worries – the fruit plates are always fresh and loaded with local goodies. They’re the perfect way to start your day.
There is no shortage of water sports offered in Puerto Vallarta since it is indeed a beach town. You can do anything from paragliding to sailing on a luxury yacht to snorkeling among dolphins – the options are almost limitless. Keep an eye out for tours that are eco-friendly and seek to reduce environmental impact, as well as for those that keep respectful distances of all-natural life. While we all want to explore, we want to be able to keep the eco-systems healthy and happy so that others can also explore in the years to come.
Beyond water experiences, there is plenty to do around Puerto Vallarta! If you ever do tire of swimming or of sunning yourself on the Pacific coast, here are some interesting options.
Yelapa is a little village to the south of Puerto Vallarta that is accessible by water taxi. Formerly a favorite of Carlos Santana and other ‘70s musicians, it still attracts a rather bohemian bunch. If you spend the night, it’s a refreshing way to unplug entirely and just be. To get there, head down to Los Muertos beach and look for the water taxis – they’re impossible to miss.
While there are many different cooking classes offered throughout Vallarta, Cookin’ Vallarta remains the best of the best. Chef Enrique will guide you through a local market to pick the best produce and ingredients for his seasonal and traditional menu, and he provides historical anecdotes as he goes. Back at his home, he and his wife walk guests through creating an incredible meal that they then enjoy together. It’s a warm, engaging, fascinating, and delicious experience.
There’s no shortage of galleries around Puerto Vallarta and attending an opening is a fun way to engage with locally-based artists. Some of the more interesting galleries are:
Featuring the works of Mexican and Mexican-American artists, Corsica displays a creative outpouring of paintings and sculptures that will challenge your perception of modern Mexican art.
Focused on indigenous Huichol art, Peyote People has vividly colored bead art, colonial works, and more. It’s a stunning array of color and design that spans different eras in Mexican history.
Uno has been around since the early 70s so it rightfully claims to be Puerto Vallarta’s oldest gallery. By focusing on the works of Mexican artists, many of whom are from Jalisco state, Galería Uno highlights just how invigorating and vibrant the art world really is.
Since tequila must be made in Jalisco, it’s only fair to pay it homage while you’re there! There are many tours based out of Puerto Vallarta so find one that includes everything you’re looking for. A very straight-forward but informative tequila tour is through Puerto Vallarta Tours and includes lunch at a tequila distillery. It’s geared more towards much smaller groups, but it’s a fun way to spend the day.
Plan Your Getaway
Puerto Vallarta stays moderate since it’s a coastal town but it can certainly get very hot mid-summer. The best time to go is April through June since the weather is just about perfect. July through September can be a double whammy of hot and rainy. Most tourists flock there for the winter months so expect much more expensive accommodations and airfares if you choose to go then. Be sure to download the free Winetraveler App to follow along with this itinerary or customize it yourself.