It’s crazy to think of it now, but we’ve lived in a small eco beach town just an hour north of Puerto Vallarta in Nayarit for the past two years. And yet, we still haven’t fully checked off our things to do in Puerto Vallarta bucket list!
What we love most about Puerto Vallarta is its accessibility, diversity, and charm. Sure, the city does have its luxurious hotel zone and marina, but once you get out and explore on foot you can really experience the lovely local Mexican culture.
There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to what do in Puerto Vallarta. Some come just for the resorts and beaches, but PV has so much more to offer. There are fun things to do in Puerto Vallarta for couples on a honeymoon or for bachelorette parties. Plus, the town has endless family-friendly activities, outdoor adventures, and stuff to do for solo travelers. With that said, it’s no wonder that Puerto Vallarta is quickly becoming one of Mexico’s top tourist destinations!
Read more below for the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico!
Quick Guide to Puerto Vallarta’s Neighborhoods
Puerto Vallarta has such cute neighborhoods that are easy to get around. PV isn’t an enormous city by any means, but it is spread out so taking public transport is necessary to get around.
If you want to be able to walk to Puerto Vallarta’s top attractions, restaurants, and shops, you’ll need to find a hotel or Airbnb (get $55 off your first stay!) right in the Old Town (Zona Romantica) and El Centro neighborhoods. Here are the main neighborhoods in Puerto Vallarta to know before you arrive.
Parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Puerto Vallarta’s Old Town
1. Zona Romantica – a charming, historic part of PV known as Old Vallarta, Old Town, or South Side, as it’s located south of the River Cuale. Nightlife, boutique shops, and budget hotels are in abundance here as well as local markets, bars, and squares. The Playa de Los Muertos and the Muertos pier is found here too. Recommended place to stay: Hacienda Alemana
2. El Centro – the Centro is located on the north end of the River Cuale. Most tourists will arrive here first via the boardwalk (Malecon) which stretches between both the Centro and Zone Romantica. You’ll find many art murals, shops, restaurants, and historic sites tucked away in this bustling neighborhood. Best hostel in this neighborhood for budget travelers: Ten to Ten
3. 5 De Diciembre – 5 de Diciembre is a safe and popular neighborhood for long-time expats and locals who escape the crowds of the Centro and Old Town. This neighborhood is hilly, colonial, and charming. You’re just a 5-minute walk from the Centro and Zona Romantica and closeby the hike that leads to the Mirador de la Cruz viewpoint overlooking the entire Banderas Bay. Best place to stay: Casa de Chayo
4. Marina Vallarta – the Marina is one of the most upscale neighborhoods in Puerto Vallarta. Just a glance at the ships in port gives a hint at the luxe lifestyle of some of PV’s tourists. In this neighborhood, you’ll find the Galerias shopping mall, large shopping centers like Wal-Mart, and access to the northern beaches near the Hotel Zone. Recommended place to stay: San Tropico Petit Hotel
5. Zona Hotelera – the Hotel Zone is marked by towering condos and all-inclusive hotels. The highlight of this neighborhood is the beaches and perhaps its proximity to the airport. It is close to the marina and thus attracts tourists to reap in Vallarta’s luxuries (if that’s the type of travel you like).
6. Conchas Chinas – this neighborhood is further south than Vallarta’s Romantic Zone. It’s more of an exclusive neighborhood and community reserved for wealthy expats and tourists. However, its beautiful Conchas Beach with jungle and coastline views does attract locals and travelers alike to spend the day away from the crowds in the center. Recommended place to stay: Patio Azul Hotelito Boutique
The top three places to stay, in my opinion, are in the Zona Romantica, El Centro, and 5 de Diciembre neighborhoods. You can get around easily on foot and the main attractions and beaches within easy reach.
Now that you know where to stay, here are the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta during your trip!
Ultimate Bucket List for Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta
1. Wander in the Zona Romantica & Centro
The first thing you should do in Puerto Vallarta is to explore the Zona Romantica and Centro neighborhoods. They are chock-full of things to do. I always recommend exploring here on foot first just to get a feel for downtown Puerto Vallarta. After all, you’ll most likely be spending your time wandering these streets, dancing between the bars, and trying out all the food.
The Malecon, or seaside boardwalk, is where most of the action happens. It spans 12 blocks and one-mile, stretching from the El Centro to the end of the Zona Romantic neighborhood. The best thing to do in Puerto Vallarta is walking the length of the buzzing promenade with friends and soaking in the salty air and tropical vibes!
2. Hike to the Mirador Cerro de la Cruz Viewpoint
One of my favorite things to do in Puerto Vallarta for couples or with family is hiking to the Mirador Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross). It is a small yet grueling 30-minute hike up a flight of 250-some stairs to the top but the panoramic, unhampered views of the turquoise Banderas Bay make it worth it! Don’t forget to turn around and get an eye-full of the scenic Sierra Madre mountains surrounding Puerto Vallarta too.
To reach the trailhead, skirt the Centro neighborhood and follow the cobblestone streets via Abasolo street to the hills. Once there, it’s easy to find the stairs that lead to the top.
Make sure to bring water, and ideally go in the morning before the heat of the day sets in. Once at the top, soak in the beautiful views. There are several climbable concrete viewing platforms to get a better look at the bay.
There are no toilets or amenities at the top, either, so make sure to bring water and use the bathroom before heading out. Watch your step on the steep stairs on the way down.
3. Eat & Drink Your Way Around Vallarta with a Food & Booze Tour
Authentic food and drink tours in Puerto Vallarta are exploding with popularity (and flavor). It’s no secret that one of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta (and Mexico in general) is to discover the food scene. Vallarta is teeming with local taco stalls whipping up the best of the best in tacos al pastor. And because of its location, Vallarta also serves up the best seafood tacos you could imagine – shrimp, mahi-mahi, and marlin (“the bacon of the sea” – my favorite!).
Not to mention, since Puerto Vallarta is in the state of Jalisco (the state of tequila and mezcal!), now’s your chance to try the famous spirits of Mexico. Tequila and mezcal tours are extremely fun outings with friends or family and are a great way to discover Mexico’s heritage!
The most popular food and drink tours are booked through Vallarta Food Tours. The local guides take you around a 3-hour walking tour to seek out the hidden gems of Puerto Vallarta!
4. Visit Mismaloya
Puerto Vallarta owes its fame today to the once sleepy fishing village of Mismaloya in the Banderas Bay south of Vallarta.
They say it was here in Mismaloya, a charming beach cove surrounded by jungle, that ignited tourism to the area. And it’s all thanks to the 1964 Jim Huston film The Night of the Iguana.
In fact, the movie set is apparently still there, although in shambles, by the beach.
5. Lounge on Puerto Vallarta’s Best Beaches
Obviously, the best free thing to do in Puerto Vallarta is to visit the beaches. The most popular one (and easiest to reach) is Los Muertos Beach, which is right by the pier that juts out into the bay in the heart of historic Puerto Vallarta. Right on the other end of the Muertos beach is another small beach called Playa Amapas.
If you stroll further south of the River Cuale you’ll come to the more secluded Playa Conchas Chinas. This beach is in the Conchas Chinas neighborhood and features silky-soft white sand and rock formations. To get there only takes 15 minutes walking.
Staying on the north end of Puerto Vallarta? No problem! You can find Tranquila Beach and Playa Camarones just steps away. There are of course more beaches around but they require boat rides or are in neighboring towns via the Hwy 200.
Don’t forget your reef-friendly sunscreen when hitting up these amazing beaches!
6. Ride an ATV Across the Longest Hanging Bridge in the World!
A fun thing to do in Puerto Vallarta for the adventurous at heart is a thrilling tour on an ATV or RZR that traverses through the Sierra Madre mountains surrounding Puerto Vallarta. The best part You cross the longest vehicle suspension bridge in the world – Jorullo Bridge! We haven’t gotten to try it yet but I’ve heard the folks at Canopy River give an awesome tour. (Click here for reviews and booking).
7. Take a Peek Inside the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe
When wandering around Puerto Vallarta on foot, make sure to stop by and take a peek inside the historic Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Puerto Vallarta).
The Renaissance-style parish nestled in the historic downtown is iconic of Puerto Vallarta’s downtown skyline! It’s especially alluring if you take a boat out and see PV from the water.
It’s open Monday to Friday from 10-2 and 4-7 and on Saturdays from 10-2.
If you happen to be in Puerto Vallarta from December 1st-12th during the Days of the Lady of Guadalupe then you’ll be just in time to witness a huge street festival filled with music, food, dancing, and more!
8. Visit the Islas Marietas Archipelago
Taking a boat to the uninhabited islands of Marietas Islands National Park is by far one of the most popular things to do in Puerto Vallarta. You can snorkel, scuba dive, and swim or kayak to Playa del Amor–an open-sky hidden beach only accessible by water.
View of the Islas Marietas from the Mirador de la Cruz with a 50-200 mm lens
The national park is protected as its rich with both marine and birdlife, of which there are over 100+ species including the blue-footed boobie. There is a daily limit on how many people can enter the park, so if you want to go it’s better to book your trip in advance.
9. Go on a Thrilling Zip-Lining Adventure
Of all the things to do around Puerto Vallarta, zip-lining is definitely a must! Puerto Vallarta is so special because it has the Sierra Madre mountains, lush rainforest with exotic plants and wildlife, huge valleys, and of course, the turquoise-blue Banderas Bay that’s teeming with marine life.
We once went zip lining in Puerto Vallarta with the Los Veranos Canopy Tour. It included a scenic boat ride across the bay to Boca de Tomatlan, where we then rode in a shuttle to reach the zip line park. The zip lines were fun and the experience was fast-paced. The tour ended with an amusing tequila tasting and an on-site restaurant where you could dine with a view on the river. So all of that was indeed fun, BUT there was also an “animal sanctuary” attraction that didn’t sit well with me. I do not support animal tourism and therefore have a hard time recommending Los Veranos.
Instead, you could try zip-lining with Vallarta Adventures or Canopy River.
Note: Canopy River zip line tour also includes riding mules as part of their zip line package. Is horse or mule riding as bad as animals in cages? Honestly, I used to ride horses growing up, so I don’t feel like they are the same. It all depends on how they are treated.
10. Go Scuba Diving or Snorkeling at Los Arcos
Snorkeling or diving at Los Arcos is a fun thing to do in Puerto Vallarta if you want to go on an underwater adventure! The rock formations that form Los Arcos (“The Arches”) date back thousands of years and it’s interesting to get up close and see the variations in the granite coloring.
The area became protected in 1984 as the Los Arcos National Marine Park. You can swim through the arches and explore the fossilized reef surrounding the rocks as you snorkel or scuba dive!
A private boat tour offers insight into the history of the rocks as well as snorkeling time and a visit to a nearby popular beach–Playa Las Animas.
11. Take a Day Trip to Sayulita
Visit the boho surf town of Sayulita to have one of the best day trips from Puerto Vallarta. Sayulita is a super chill place to visit and there are so many things to do in Sayulita in just a day. It’s one of Mexico’s 100+ “pueblo magicos” or magic towns which means it has tremendous cultural, historical, and indigenous significance.
For this reason, tourists flock to Sayulita. Many come to try their hand at surfing, stroll through the colorful flag-covered streets while peeking in all the hippie-chic boutiques, and hang out at one of Sayulita’s awesome cafes.
To get to Sayulita from Puerto Vallarta takes 40 minutes driving on Hwy 1. You don’t necessarily need to book a tour for Sayulita, but you can if you’re more comfortable having the trip organized. Otherwise, you can take a fairly cheap taxi or Uber (around 500-600 pesos) or a bus (50-120 pesos).
12. Take a Day Trip to San Pancho
Just next door to Sayulita is the eco-conscious pueblo of San Pancho (where Paul and I have lived for the past two years). Even though this town is not as near as touristy as Sayulita, it still attracts a diverse audience to come to soak in the town’s down-to-earth vibe. Despite its small size, there are tons of things to do in San Pancho that make visiting incredibly worthwhile.
From the restaurants to the beach, to the Entreamigos community center, and all the festivals and events in between, this town is a must-see place to visit around Puerto Vallarta.
13. Shop at the Local Puerto Vallarta Markets
Of all the things to do in Puerto Vallarta, shopping is a must! There are loads of places to shop for Mexican clothing, art, beachwear, souvenirs, and more. The best deals for Mexican handicrafts and local art will be at the flea and street markets on Isla Rio Cuale (the little island in between the two rivers near the Muertos pier) and around the Old Town / Zona Romantica (wander around the Basilio Badillo street).
You can also check out the Vallarta Saturday Market (Olas Atlas Farmers Market) for Mexican food, live music, baked goods, and locally-made jewelry, clothes, and more.
14. Go Surfing at La Lancha
If you want to go surfing in Puerto Vallarta – either to learn or to sharpen your pro skills – then head to Playa La Lancha. You’ll be right alongside the locals of Nayarit when you go to catch the waves at La Lancha.
The beach is somewhat hidden off the highway on your way to Punta de Mita from Puerto Vallarta. You can get there by taking a bus or taxi or by booking a surfing tour from Sayulita or San Pancho. (Use my link to get $15 off your Airbnb Experience!)
15. Whale Watch in the Bandera’s Bay
Going whale watching is considered one of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta among both locals and internationals. Every year, Humpback whales make their annual trip down to the warm waters of the Banderas Bay to give birth to their offspring.
As a result, your chance of spotting a whale during your visit to Puerto Vallarta from the months of December-March is extremely high! We’ve seen whales from a distance just from watching the sunset on the beach.
You can also take a boat tour from Puerto Vallarta or go with a local guide in any one of the smaller towns along the coast. Make sure to research the tour company to ensure that they operate responsibly to protect and conserve marine life. Ocean Friendly Tours Puerto Vallarta is one such company, headed by Oceanologist and nature photographer Oscar Frey.
16. Visit the Fishing Village of Yelapa
For an off-the-beaten-path thing to do in Puerto Vallarta, take a boat and head to the quaint fishing village of Yelapa. Yelapa is truly a little slice of heaven.
You can hike to waterfalls, hang out on the beach with a margarita in hand, or just take in the picturesque views of the boats on the bay surrounded by rolling palm-tree laden hills. You can also combine your Yelapa trip with a visit to the private cove of Majahuitas on this boat tour.
17. Dance the Night Away
Puerto Vallarta’s nightlife is pumping! There are popular gay beach clubs (like Mantamar), cabarets, craft breweries, salsa bars, fancy clubs — you name it. In my opinion, all of it makes Puerto Vallarta even more awesome. Puerto Vallarta is diverse and inclusive.
For that reason, Puerto Vallarta is known as being one of the most LBGT-friendly cities to visit in Mexico. So whether you want to chill on the boardwalk with a beer, learn salsa, or sip on fancy cocktails — there are tons of things to do at night in Puerto Vallarta!
18. Go on a Free Walking Art Tour
Art is abundant in Puerto Vallarta and what better way to see the artwork than with a free walking tour? You can stroll through downtown every Wednesday from 6-10 pm and visit public art galleries offering visitations and wine to their guests.
Participating in the art walk is not only one of the best free things to do in Puerto Vallarta it’s a great way to meet the local artists and get to know the shop owners, neighborhoods, and local culture through art!
19. “Rhythms of the Night” Dinner Show
Rhythms of the Night is a Cirque du Soleil dinner show exclusive to Puerto Vallarta! The show is written and directed by Gille Ste-Croix who is a co-founder of the Cirque du Soleil. (Fun fact: He also started the Circo de Los Ninos circus school in San Pancho where I took aerial silks lessons).
The acrobatic show is set outdoors in a fire-lit amphitheater on the private Caletas beach and recounts the history of the Aztecs through performance and lights. The evening ends with a candle-lit dinner on the boat at sunset. It sounds amazing, right? The whole experience is one of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta and is supposedly worth every penny (we haven’t seen it yet!). I can’t wait to try it. If you go, make sure to let me know how it went!!
20. Watch Sunset Over the Pacific Ocean
Though my favorite sunsets are in San Pancho, Puerto Vallarta also is perfectly set up to watch the sunset right from the beach.
San Pancho sunset
While many tourists spend at least one evening watching the sunset in Puerto Vallarta from a boat on the water, you can just as easily watch the sky fill up with color as you sit on the Puerto Vallarta Malecon with a margarita in hand. Some of the best bars to watch the sunset in Puerto Vallarta are Bar Oceano, Residencies Sky Bar, and Monkey Bar. You can also see it from the Muertos Pier.
21. Enjoy a VIP Dinner & a Movie Experience
This next thing to do in Puerto Vallarta you likely won’t find on any other blog. But it’s something that we have done many times together with friends — go watch a movie at the Cinepolis VIP movie theatre located inside the upscale La Isla Shopping Village / outdoor shopping center.
The theatre seats fully recline and have a dinner service feature to call on a waiter for all your food, popcorn, and drink needs. Plus, you can combine it with a day of shopping and exploring that side of Puerto Vallarta (the Hotel Zone). If anything, it makes for a fun thing to do in Puerto Vallarta when it rains.
22. Relax at a Holistic Spa or Yoga Retreat
Last but not least on this ultimate guide for top things to do in Puerto Vallarta is treating yourself to an epic spa day or wellness retreat. Beyond the beaches and bars, PV is known for having a laid-back, health-conscious community. So if you’re feeling under the weather or just want beauty treatment, you can visit the holistic medicinal practitioners at the Holistic Bio Spa. They offer all sorts of detox therapies, therapeutic massages, and spa treatments. As for the best yoga retreats in Puerto Vallarta, there’s two that come to mind: Xilani and Beyond Yoga. Both are luxurious and eco yoga retreats that won’t disappoint!
Enjoy These Top Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta!
I think this list of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta should keep you busy for the duration of your stay! Puerto Vallarta is one of my all-time favorite cities in Mexico (and probably the world). It is a special place which is why so many tourists return to it every year to soak up its sunshine. I’m already itching to go back!
Finally, If you find more things to do in Puerto Vallarta then please drop me a comment. I’ll gladly add it to the list!! As always, don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions!