Puerto Vallarta is more than just a beach vacation. It’s a vibrant, stunning juxtaposition of golden beaches, green jungles, meandering mountains, and intriguing culture.
After returning from a fantastic stay in Puerto Vallarta, I’m in love with this incredible region on the Pacific coast of Mexico.
One quick note – I use the term “Puerto Vallarta” a bit loosely here. That’s the name of the airport and local town closest to the airport – but the entire region is spread between two states, Nayarit and Jalisco states. The region encompasses the gorgeous Bay of Banderas which is one of the most beautiful bodies of water in the world.
The town of Puerto Vallarta is somewhat in the middle of the horseshoe shaped Bay of Banderas, with 50 miles of stunning coastline flanked by the mountain range known as the Sierra Madre. Hotels and resorts are scattered all along this coastline, so work with a trusted travel advisor to make sure you understand where your resort or hotel is located, and be sure to let them know if you want to be within walking distance of restaurants or local communities and ask their advice about which area is best to stay in. Let him or her know if you’re okay with a slightly longer ride from the airport in exchange for a very special location. There’s really no bad location, just different atmospheres and access to sights.
For example, I stayed in the southern zone about 10 minutes from the historical center of Puerto Vallarta, which meant I was only about 10 miles from the Botanical Gardens and the Ocean Grill Restaurant which I mention in this article, but someone staying a bit north of the airport, for instance, could be an hour away from these locations. Punta Mita, Nuevo Vallarta, Riviera Nayarit, and even Sayulita are all distinct entities from the actual town of Puerto Vallarta, but my article here addresses the benefits of visiting the region not just the specific town. When you contact me for your Puerto Vallarta vacation, I’m diligent about explaining where each resort in your customized proposal is located and why I think it’s a great location for your needs specifically.
Here are eight reasons why you should consider this area for a Mexican vacation.
The ocean and the weather in Puerto Vallarta
I know I said that this destination is “more” than just a beach vacation — but it’s pretty fantastic if you only want beach, nevertheless!
The Pacific ocean here isn’t as turquoise as its Caribbean counterpart – it’s more of a very special emerald color. Beaches here tend to be golden sand. There’s something distinctly magical about taking a sea kayak out and seeing the mountains meeting the sea dramatically from a new viewpoint – reminiscent even of a Tahiti or South Pacific coastline. It’s a destination sure to please any photographer!
With 50 miles of coastline on the Bay of Banderas, many beaches have unique characteristics – some could be rocky, some have strong undertows, yet others have finer whiter sand and barely any waves. I found the beaches at both resorts to be swimmable, but do be aware weather and time of year could affect the ocean patterns. The water was not cold at all, yet still refreshing. I liked how the ocean water was not necessarily OVERLY warm either.
The weather here is tropical, and fairly consistent. The rainy season is from June-mid October, with June-July-August-September being the hottest months and not quite as comfortable to walk around exploring! November through May is generally considered the “nicest” time to go, although I visited in late October and was perfectly content.
The average high temperature during the cooler months is 80 degrees fahrenheit, with the hotter months reaching 90 degrees, and the region itself does have high humidity all year round. January and February can fall to 60 degrees at nighttime, which can feel cold after a day of sun, so locals often will have long sleeves on in the evening!
It’s also extremely rare that hurricanes hit Puerto Vallarta – a very compelling reason to check out the Pacific coast if you’re thinking about traveling during hurricane season!
Be sure to tell your travel advisor if you prefer a hotel with a private beach, as most beaches here are open to the public. By law, all beaches in Mexico are public, but hotels or resorts with geography on their side, such as being located in a private cove, can feel more exclusive.
The Puerto Vallarta area is consistently rated as some of the best food in Mexico, outside of Mexico City. You can dine at an international-themed Michelin-star restaurant or grab some bites from a street vendor. I may never appreciate American tacos again after having real tacos in Puerto Vallarta. The food here is delicious and even if you’re staying at an all-inclusive resort, most people like to venture out at least once to experience the local quality restaurants.
And the prices are great as well. We had lunch at Andale’s in downtown Vallarta for four people, with margaritas and entrees for all (with some people having multiple margaritas…) and the bill was about $50 USD.
A fantastic restaurant experience in the southern part of the area is the Ocean Grill Restaurant. This lovely restaurant is built on the side of a cliff overlooking the crystal water about 40 minutes south of downtown Vallarta. You need to make a reservation because they have a boat that comes and picks you up to access the restaurant (the only alternative is a long hike to access the area). Afterwards you are free to swim if you like before taking the boat back. My grilled mahi-mahi in their specialty sauce, caught fresh that day, was one of the best fish I’ve ever taken. The guacamole and their signature mint ginger margarita were both delightful as well. The water was so clear that while we were eating we could easily see large polka-dotted brightly colored fish playing below.
Although you’ll find a healthy number of ex-pats living here, this area is specifically considered to be less “touristy” than the Caribbean resort side of Mexico. Many travelers here love leaving their resorts to explore local towns, secluded beaches, or vibrant jungle paths.
Throughout the year, you’ll find art & film festivals, gourmet cuisine, environmental events, Restaurant Week, farmers’ markets, fishing tournaments, folkloric dance festivals, native Huichol artwork and temple tours, and more.
One place I was really impressed by was the Botanical Gardens. They are quite a distance from central Puerto Vallarta but worth the trek in a taxi or an organized tour. Their restaurant there has incredible food, and it’s set up with hummingbird feeders (staff will also give you little containers to hold to see if the hummingbirds will come to you!) all around. It’s a truly beautiful spot to take a meal. You can see over 200 species of birds that inhabit the gardens, and you’re free to actually swim in the river that passes through the gardens as well. There are a couple great hiking trails here as well, so it’s truly a pleasant way to spend the day surrounded by lush tropical plants. We only had about 2 hours here, and I definitely think we could have spent twice that amount of time if we had taken advantage of the hiking and swimming.
You’re guaranteed an incredible sunset every night. Pull up a chair at a beachside restaurant or from your private balcony and enjoy Nature’s fireworks each evening.
Activities in Puerto Vallarta
There is so much to do in Puerto Vallarta so it’s perfect if you’d like to take a break from the beach every so often.
Whale watching in the winter, zip lining, excursions to mountain towns, cooking classes, taco tours, kayaking, snorkeling, visiting the Marietas Islands, strolling and shopping in colonial towns, horseback riding, visiting the botanical gardens, taking a boat out for the day, having lunch at a traditional ranch, watching dolphins in the bay, jungle hikes, browsing artists works for sale, and more. Let’s not forget that tequila got its start in the town of Tequila just three hours away, so tastings and distillery tours are also available.
Animals & ecotourism
Jaguars have been spotted in some of the forests. Dolphins race in the sea. Humpback whales come here every winter from Alaska. Coatis, known as “Mexican racoons” and brightly colored birds, along with iguanas can often be spotted even on hotel property. And of course, the adorable sea turtles, whose hatchlings you can help release into the sea if your hotel participates in a conservation program.
Again and again, I was struck by the warmth and friendliness of the local people. Their pride in their region and their eagerness to introduce newcomers to the Puerto Vallarta area was impressive.
Transportation is also easy here – official taxis are safe and Uber also runs successfully here. There are also public buses between several areas that are easy to use.
While I always recommend caution in any new area, and to follow the same safety procedures you would at home, the staff at the hotels I visited and the local people at restaurants were all very proud of their town and area’s safety ratings, and in pre-Covid times it was very acceptable to be out late at night in town for dinner and to take a taxi back to your hotel with no problems.
Variety of accommodations available
You can stay in a boutique hotel, an all-inclusive resort, a 5-star treehouse hideaway, or rent a private villa. There are adults-only properties and family-friendly resorts. Share the same hotel with a high-flying celebrity, or get to know your landlady with a local bed & breakfast. There’s something for every budget! You can even stay in the house that Richard Burton bought for Elizabeth Taylor (how’s that for a 32nd birthday present??) – glamorous Hollywood has been coming here since the 1960s!
One of my favorite parts of the accommodations here is when the pools overlook the ocean. There’s nothing quite like soaking in a refreshing pool while hearing the crash of waves just a few feet away.
Here are some of my favorite pools:
The three tiered pool runs down to the ocean and has different water temperatures according to your preferences.
This incredible adults-only hotel is known for the best rooftop infinity pool in the area – can you blame them?
Swimup Suites at Hyatt Ziva
Who wouldn’t love this view every day with your own semi-private pool??
Marival Distinct Luxury Residences
Residences here can have a rooftop private pool or villas have their own private pool in a secluded garden as well. This resort is perfect of families or groups of friends as you can have a private 3-bedroom villa with all-inclusive amenities!
Visiting Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Those are my top eight reasons as to why I enjoyed the Puerto Vallarta area, and why I plan to return! Am I missing anything from my list, or do you have any questions? Reach out to me here and let me know!
P.S. Are you curious about what measures resorts in Mexico have put in place while traveling during a pandemic? Here’s my summary of what I observed.