Is Puerto Vallarta worth visiting? You bet it is! We simply love this sun-splashed town on the Bahia de Banderas. It’s got real pizzazz and character. From its Zona Romantica to its tequila-sloshing promenade on the Pacific Ocean, the jungle-dressed Sierra Madre mountains behind to the paradise beaches that string along the bay to the north and south, there’s all sorts that make it a stand-out place to visit in Mexico.
These days, more than four million people each year drop in to explore this happening town on the edge of Jalisco state. Many are cruise shippers making their way up the Pacific coast. Others are backpackers looking to discover the hidden coves of the surrounding Bahia. But the biggest spike in arrival numbers matches with the US spring break. That’s when thousands upon thousands of revelers descend on the rambunctious drinking holes down the bumping Malecon of PV.
Whatever sort of traveler you are, this guide can offer some tempting answers to that burning question: Is Puerto Vallarta worth visiting? It runs through the top-class city beaches and the sleepless nightlife, the food and the most enticing corners of the city. We have a feeling that you’ll be packing the sombrero and the maracas before it’s even finished…
The Zona Romantica
You don’t get a name like Zona Romantica without being a darn atmospheric neighborhood. Tucked between famous Los Muertos Beach and the rising foothills of the Sierra Nevada on the south side of the city, this area oozes charm and character. It’s a grid of crisscrossing lanes that occasionally open onto a café-filled plaza. For the most part, though, it’s all tight-knit streets shaded by fig trees and dressed in cobblestone.
There’s life everywhere you look. From the taquerias by the shore to the hidden cantinas on the babbling Rio Cuale. Exploring and getting lost in the Zona Romantica is actually one of our all-time favorite things to do in Puerto Vallarta. You’ll happen upon rocking bars like Los Muertos Brewing and packed Mexicana kitchens like Andale’s. You’ll also encounter the LGBTQ+ scene of PV. That really gets going down the strip of Basilio Badillo in the early evening.
Ask any spring breaker who’s ever been to Puerto Vallarta and they’ll tell you – the Malecon is where the action is. Also known as the Puerto Vallarta Boardwalk, it’s a long stretch of shoreline walking path that connects up the whole city from end to end. It starts in the fun-filled Zona Romantica (see above) in the south and rolls all the way to Rosita Beach in the north. That’s just over a whole mile of pure energy and hedonism, folks!
Yep, the Malecon is the place to party in Puerto Vallarta. The very middle of the strip is where it bends to match up with Paseo Díaz Ordaz. There, you’ll find saloon-style brewhouses and bars like Zoo and Mardi Gras that get positively wild when the college breakers are in town. There are also pizza joints and Mexican taco kitchens, ocean-side beer bars and margarita lounges.
The Malecon isn’t solely for letting loose. It’s also a convenient way to walk through Puerto Vallarta. A morning run here can, sometimes, be just as fun as an all-night drinking session. You’ll also want to drop by to see the iconic statues of Neptuno and the Seahorse Monument, not to mention the curious Playa Los Muertos Pier at its far southern end.
Cute chair swings. Amazing tacos. Tequila. Just a few of the reasons to visit @marriottpv in Puerto Vallarta. My latest for @TheTorontoSun https://t.co/qiPO8k2unx pic.twitter.com/axLTx5l6xQ
— Simone Paget (@simone_paget) May 30, 2019
We’ve already touched on this, but just in case anyone’s still in doubt: The nightlife in Puerto Vallarta is wild.
Is Puerto Vallarta worth visiting solely for the after-dark parties? The thousands of spring breakers that drop in come March and April certainly seem to think so. They send the whole city into overdrive, especially down the Malecon. That strip of ocean clubs and neon-lit beach bars gets pumping at that time of year. The major venue names to know are La Vaquita and La Santa, which host some of the most off-the-hook shindigs of all.
You don’t have to join the big crowds in the late winter and early spring to make the most of the PV nightlife, though. Los Muertos Beach has margarita bars serenaded by mariachi music. There are local booze cruises to hop aboard. Oh, and you can head off on tequila-tasting excursions deeper inland – this is Jalisco state, after all!
Active travelers will find oodles in the way of hiking paths in the area of Puerto Vallarta. You can scramble up through the jungles to conquer the peak of Monkey Mountain just to the north. That will offer sweeping views over the Nayarit beaches of San Pancho and Punta Mita. To the south is the trek to the spectacular Yelapa Waterfall, which gushes over rocks through the jungles above the Bahia de Banderas. We also love the coastal hike that wiggles from Boca de Tomatlan to the beaches of Animas and the coves there, past lux hotels and taquerias on the sand.
Be sure to bring a good anti-bug spray and some hardy trainer-style trekking shoes if you’re planning on hiking in the Sierra Madre around Puerto Vallarta. It’s also always a good idea to start your excursions early, before the tropical sun has had a chance to really get swinging.
Puerto Vallarta itself isn’t known for its surf. However, some of Mexico’s best spots await to the north of the city. They lie on the so-called Riviera Nayarit. It’s in a different state altogether (the state of Nayarit, in fact) but is easy to get to on a local bus (around 1.5 hours) or by car.
The surf territory starts with Punta Mita, where breaks like La Lancha offer prime wedges for intermediate surfers. Push further and you’ll arrive at Sayulita. That’s arguably the most famous surf town in all of Mexico. It’s blessed with a number of breaks but is suited to beginners and cruisy longboarders the most. Finally, there’s San Pancho. It’s an atmospheric little coast town with cobbled streets and sidewalk bars, along with a challenging shore break that’s fast and steep – better for experienced surfers.
The good news is that there are loads of surf outfitters and tour guides based in Puerto Vallarta. You shouldn’t have to search too hard to find someone willing to take you up to the Nayarit waves. What’s more – this is Mexico, so board rental and tuition is cheap!
Up there with Cozumel and Playa del Carmen, Puerto Vallarta is an undisputed scuba mecca of Mexico. The playground for divers is the wide Bay of Banderas. That pulls in Pacific currents to create a unique habitat for all sorts of exotic marine creatures. There are loads of dive sites in the area too, like the Chimo reefs, where sea turtles swim with barracuda, or the Los Arcos beginner spot, with its curious rock formations.
The Marietas Islands are on a whole other level. A designated national park that lies 21 miles off the coast of PV, they have protected reef ecosystems where dolphins and whales are regular visitors. Oh, and they have stunning beaches out of the water – like the much-photographed Hidden Beach, which is completely secluded in its own open-air cave.
Ah, the beaches. Why else would you set your sights on the sun-splashed Mexican Pacific? From Zihuantanejo (remember that one, Andy Dufresne) to the rugged shores of the Baja, this whole side of the country is a stunner. The area around Puerto Vallarta is no different, either. It’s got all sorts – urban beaches backed by stylish cocktail joints, hidden tropical coves where the water’s greenish blue, surf bays bashed by wild waves.
Perhaps the crème-de-la-crème of the PV beaches is to be found to the south of town. That’s where the Bahia de Banderas curves to face north. You can catch a local bus from the Zona Romantica straight to them. Look for the ride to Boca de Tomatlan – the ticket should cost just $1.50. It’s a pretty ride to a rustic little fishing town. Then, you can trek a palm-topped shoreline trail to some stunning coves and inlets, like the impossibly wonderful Playa Colomitos and Las Animas Beach.
There are also some top-quality beaches in Puerto Vallarta itself. Los Muertos Beach is the most famous of the bunch. It’s a hubbub from morning until night, filled with sunbathers and swimmers. Being super-close to the Malecon, it also has loads of bars and eateries within reach. Be sure to stick around for sunrise – the fading light there is pretty spectacular
Is Cancun or Puerto Vallarta better?
That really depends on what you want out of your trip to Mexico. Puerto Vallarta is a lived-in city with local bars, coffee houses, and urban beaches, but it does boast some fantastic hotels and a buzzy Malecon that’s a spring-break favorite. Cancun, meanwhile, is more of a resort, with calm waters on the Caribbean Sea – the perfect choice if you want to relax and unwind but don’t mind skipping a little bit of culture.
What is the best month to go to Puerto Vallarta?
We’d say the peak time to Puerto Vallarta is just after the spring-break rush, around April, May, and June. Those months tend to have good weather and affordable hotel prices, not to mention fewer crowds. You should also find that the surf conditions on the beaches of Nayarit coast are pretty reliable in spring, but scuba divers might want to push their trip to the fall, when visibility is better and the seas are generally calmer overall.
Is Puerto Vallarta cheap?
The average budget per day for Puerto Vallarta is around $35 per person. That includes a stay in a low-cost hostel and food, but not nights out on the town or any excursions. Of course, you can spend a whole load more than that, but the point is that the city is generally in-line with the norm in Mexico, and comes in cheaper than Caribbean resorts like Cancun and Tulum.
How many days do you need in Puerto Vallarta?
That really depends on what you come to do. We think three days is perfect for checking off the main sights, partying down the Malecon, and dealing with the inevitable hangover that comes with it. However, you’ll need longer if you want to hike the Sierra Madre and do day trips out to beach and surf towns like Sayulita, while there’s really nothing wrong with spending a whole fortnight chilling in one of the big resort hotels in the city – they’re pretty deluxe.
So, is Puerto Vallarta worth visiting?
It most certainly is! This salt-washed city has loads going for it. There’s a touch more culture on offer thanks to areas like the immersive Zona Romantica than in comparable resorts over in Cancun, for example. You also get some seriously wild nightlife, eye-watering beaches on the Bahia de Banderas, world-class surf breaks, and diving for all levels. Is Puerto Vallarta worth visiting? We can hardly believe you asked!