Puerto Vallarta is a travel destination well worth visiting on the Pacific coast of Mexico, located approximately 750 miles northwest of Acapulco in the state of Jalisco—the pioneers of Mexico’s famous mariachi music.
Puerto Vallarta has perennially warm weather, globally known landmarks, leisure and culture as rich and diverse as the colors on a folkloristic dress!
Puerto Vallarta: Cool Facts, Warm Water
Formerly called Puerto Las Peñas, Puerto Vallarta was renamed in 1918 for its state governor, Don Ignacio L. Vallarta. Though Mexico has a well-earned reputation as a hardcore spring break party paradise; blissful retiree heaven; and romantic honeymoon destination for couples seeking a tropical retreat from city life.
Located within one of 20 cities and lagoons, known collectively as the Mexican Riviera, Puerto Vallarta is a former mining town originally inhabited by the indigenous Aztatlan people—later inhabited by Spanish explorers in the early 1500s.
With a population of only 1,500 people in 1880, the first foreign visitors to the area began arriving by plane in the 1940s; taking up residence in what was known as the “Gringo Gulch” Quarter. In the 1980s, mass tourism in the area really took off, and today, more than 300,000 residents—30,000 of whom are ex-pats—call Puerto Vallarta home.
Vallarta is regionally known as the “San Francisco of Mexico” altogether for its hospitality to the LGBTQ Community, as well as similarly deep-rooted historical architecture, reverence for liberal arts, and cultural richness.
One of the best ways to tour the many areas and attractions of Puerto Vallarta is by foot. Peak travel season is typically from December until May, when the weather is pristine. The summer months of June through September often bring higher temperatures and more rain.
Water temperatures drop to a still-refreshing 72°F in March and soar to a hot-tub like 88°F in late summer, allowing for year-round swimming conditions, though caution should be taken in regard to strong undertows and large waves.
Avoid referring to Puerto Vallarta as PV—a true giveaway you’re a tourist—and rest assured that both filtered and bottled water is available in the majority of restaurants and hotels. The most popular beach in Puerto Vallarta—Bahía de Banderas—translates to Bay of Flags, and includes 62-miles of pristine coastline with plenty of beauty to appreciate for all ages.
Perhaps most glamorously known as the filming location for John Huston’s 1964 Hollywood hit, “Night of the Iguana,” starring Ava Gardner and Richard Burton; visitors can still explore the shores of the fishing village of Mismaloya today.
Additionally, Puerto Vallarta was also used in the filming of more modern films such as 1987’s Predator with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and 2011’s Limitless, starring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro.
Top Accommodation Options in Puerto Vallarta
For first time visitors to this Pacific coastal paradise, it’s helpful to know that Puerto Vallarta includes several zones. While the Marina is known for its upscale accommodations and residential homes, the popular Hotel Zone is the most convenient to the airport and filled with attractions to keep you entertained at all hours of the day.
Centro—the oldest area of Puerto Vallarta—is mostly residential and sits on the north side of the River Cuale, while Centro is located just south of the River Cuale. It’s home to the gorgeous Playa Los Muertos beach and a traveler-friendly LGBTQ community.
Finally, Conchas Chinas—translating to “Chinese shells”—is the most exclusive residential area with several gated communities.
Trading Places International’s Lindo Mar Resort offers onsite perks such as a pool, day spa, boutique shop, sun deck, in-room kitchens and kitchenettes, balconies and patios, a restaurant, and a private beach. Plus a sauna, hot tub, concierge, activity desk, and onsite bar and lounge round out the experience.
Those in search of ultimate “treat yo’self” luxury will delight in the premier accommodations of Ocho Cascadas, replete with two-bedroom, two-bathroom villas featuring private pools overlooking the turquoise waters of Banderas Bay and charming streets of downtown Puerto Vallarta, only a five-minute walk to the beach.
Open-air architecture and amenities like in-villa massage services, kitchen, an onsite concierge, and floating chef services—where meals can be prepared in the comfort of your own villa. Should none of the above options suit your fancy, stress not.
Trading Places International offers three additional accommodation options only ten miles away in the town of Nuevo Vallarta.
If our Classic or Prime members deposit their timeshare weeks with us, we avail plenty of Puerto Vallarta resorts for which they can timeshare swap. Travelers seeking chic, modern accommodations with a welcome mix of traditional Mexican culture will love the all-inclusive Mayan Palace Puerto Vallarta for example.
Mayan Palace features amenities like onsite gardens and a flowing river, as well as pools, a calm swimming beach, sports bar, cocktail lounge, boutique shops, kids activities, live entertainment, a grocery store, and a playground.
Just nearby, the popular Costa Sur offers a private beach, a restaurant, a pool, a day spa, a gift shop, in-room kitchens and kitchenettes, sun deck, balconies and patios and more.
Outdoor Adventures in the Mexican Riviera
If you’re struggling to entertain yourself in the outdoors in Puerto Vallarta, there is, fortunately, a simple remedy: get out of bed, open the door. With daily activities and adventures such as horseback riding, parasailing, tennis, golf, deep-sea fishing, sailing, surfing, mountain biking, snorkeling, boating, waterskiing, kayaking, ziplining, eco-tours, and skydiving on offer, the coast of Mexico is truly your adventurous oyster.
Join a scuba diving tour to top spots like the drop-offs at El Chimno, caves and tunnels and Los Arcos and Las Marietas, and the cave descent of El Morro. From December to February, take a whale-watching boat tour to admire the many humpback whales passing through to give birth in the warm waters before making their distant swim back to Alaska.
Snorkel, kayak, or paddleboard at the stunning Los Arcos National Marine Park, located conveniently just south of Banderas Bay, and when open and accessible, take a boat tour 22-miles out to sea to visit the protected islands of the Islas Marietas National Park to access to the collapsed sea cave known as Hidden Beach.
To soak up the sunshine during a day on the beach, head to the bustling, golden sand Playa Los Muertos, or drive 20 minutes south to the gorgeous, calm waters of Playa Las Gemelas.
Spend the day walking around the alluring Marina Vallarta promenade, cobblestone streets of Banderas Bay, or the 12-block promenade and oceanfront esplanade known as Malecón. There you’re likely to see a variety of street performers—including the impressive five-man act performing the traditional dances of the Papantla flyers—as well as cozy restaurants and breathtaking views.
Watch the sunset at Los Muertos Pier, and on Sundays, head to the Zócalo—also known as the Plaza de Armas—to watch live music entertainment and dancing.
Also on land, take the hiking trail along the water from Boca de Tomatlan to Playa Las Animas, or go for a more challenging, yet totally rewarding, hike up to the Mirador Cerro de la Cruz.
Want to explore beyond Puerto Vallarta? Take a day trip to the Sierra Madre Mountains or Vallarta Botanical Gardens for worthy out-of-town adventures.
Arts & Culture in the Heart of Puerto Vallarta
Admire the beauty and architecture of the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and join a free walking tour to learn more about the area’s history and culture; which is hosted by the Municipal Tourism Office every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday.
Get your shopping fix at the impressive Mercado Municipal Rio Cuale, open since 1979, and walk the arts and crafts markets of Isla Río Cuale. Take a self-guided walking tour of the area’s many local art galleries on the Wednesday night Art Walk, or browse local goods at the Zona Romántica’s farmers’ market, held annually between November and May.
For more entertaining nightlife, enjoy live music at places like the Jazz Foundation and El Soñador, catch a theatrical act at Act II Stages, or go all out and splurge on tickets to the Rhythms of the Night cultural show, which includes cocktails and a sunset cruise to the private cove of Las Caletas, followed by live music, contortionists, fire spinners, a buffet dinner, and plenty more.
Tacos, Tequila, & Beyond
When in Mexico, eat Mexican food. Okay we know that wasn’t a revelation, but still… it had to be said.
For the best Mexican eats and treats, be sure to visit the fondas—food stalls—on the top floor of the Mercado Municipal Rio Cuale for tacos, mole, and baked vegetables, as well as the splendid fish tacos at Maria Bajia, plus tacos of all varieties at Pancho’s Takos.
Hit breakfast at Restaurante Fredy’s Tucan, followed by post-beach cervezas at local breweries like Monzón Brewing Co. and Los Muertos Brewing. Stock up on picnic-worthy produce at the Municipal Market of Colonia Emiliano Zapat, and indulge in seafood delights at Tony’s Hideaway or all-you-can-eat vegetarian dishes at Planeta Vegetariano.
Celebrate with a romantic meal at the fine dining establishment of Cafe des Artistes, featuring castle-like architecture and a French and Mexican fusion menu, or upscale European dishes at TRIO. Get your pasta and Italian food fill at Barrio Bistro, or keep it relaxed with fresh oysters on the beach.
For a foodie favorite, join the Mex-ology Tequila, Tacos & Cocktails Tour to try various samples of tequila, mezcal, Raicilla, and craft coffee. Or take a class at the Choco Museo to learn how to make hot chocolate truffles and traditional mole.
To enjoy adult beverages, head to El Barracuda beach bar, or try the regional specialty of Jaiscan tequino, a cold drink crafted from fermented corn. When all else fails, cool off with an agua fresca.