When people think of Mexico, images of turquoise water, white sand beaches and margaritas usually come to mind. But being on the west coast, Puerto Vallarta is much different than spots like Cancun which are on the Caribbean side. Instead, its beaches are golden, the water is a little rougher and chances are you’ll see more retirees than spring breakers.
Still, it’s a fantastic place to get a dose of Mexican culture—along with a great tan. Here are some tips on how to spend your time in and around picturesque Puerto Vallarta.
Strolling through town
Puerto Vallarta is a city that feels more like a town thanks to its historical charm: think cobblestone streets, cute cafes and gorgeous cathedrals. It’s easy to spend an entire day simply strolling around, popping into the mouth-watering restaurants or checking out the silver artisans and vibrant artwork. Old Vallarta (the Romantic Zone) is one of the best districts for this, as is Isla Rio Cuale which is made up of passageways filled with small souvenir shops.
Easily the most photographed spot in the whole city, it’s worth making a stop at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. The church’s steeple can be seen from blocks away, and you’ll find it just off the main square.
Another popular spot is the Malecon, a boardwalk that winds along the edge of the ocean. Not only are there lots of little shops, bars and restaurants to duck into, but it’s also lined with neat statues.
It’s safe to assume that unless you’re a teetotaler, you’ll be enjoying your fair share of tequila, cervezas (beer) and margaritas during your time in Mexico. A great way to learn more about the country’s favourite liquor is by taking part in a tequila tasting. A popular place to do this is at Cava Antigua, where you get to learn about the fermenting, distilling and aging process of the Blue Agave, which is how they make their tasty tequila.
I’m not going to lie: I kind of have a rule where I specifically avoid tequila, as it’s traditionally brought a very quick end to some fun nights. That being said, the candied tequilas you can taste at Cava Antigua are fantastic and don’t have the burning aftertaste of, say, Jose Cuervo. We tried an almond tequila that tasted exactly like Amaretto or Disaronno, as well as a coffee one that was just as delicious as a shot of Baileys—but with way more of a kick! Tours last about an hour, and can be done as part of an excursion or on your own.
Flying high above the palm trees dotting the desert-like landscape is a thrilling way to see a more wild side of Mexico. Also known as a canopy tour, daredevils get suited up into a harness, then latch onto cables connecting different spots along a tree tops. Unless you’re peeing-your-pants-scared-of-heights, you’ll enjoy screaming at the top of your lungs as you speed along the wires, getting a panoramic view of cacti-specked hills that make up Mexico’s backcountry.
Zip-lining excursions can be done on their own, or as part of a tour that include driving around the countryside, stopping for a tequila tasting, lunch and the canopy tour. Prices are around $70 per person for the full day.
If you’re in the mood to get away from the beach and channel your inner outlaw, book an ATV Jungle Tour. Often combined with zip-lining, this excursion sees you hop on a quad and wind your way through little Mexican villages.
Due to a lack of paved roads, it feels more like off-roading as you splash through puddles and speed along dusty pathways. Depending on who you book with, you may get to head out solo, or do it as part of a guided tour that includes cliff jumping, stops at waterfalls and lunch.
If you’re still looking for an excuse to get off the beach, there are a number of tour operators in the area offering trips such as:
- Whale watching
- Scuba diving
- Deep sea fishing
- Boat tours
Most activities can be arranged at resorts, though you’ll likely pay more than booking directly through the tour operator.
Currency: The national currency is the Mexican Peso, but many places also accept US dollars.
Language: The locals speak Spanish, but since it’s such a tourist spot many people in the hospitality industry also know English.
How to get there: Visitors land at the Gustavo Diaz Ordaz Airport, and it’s a quick drive into town. Many tourists book their trip as part of an all-inclusive stay, meaning flight, hotel, food and transfers are all taken care of.
Getting around: Taxis are plentiful in Puerto Vallarta, and there is usually a flat rate of $5 US to get around town.
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