Located on Mexico’s Pacific coast in the northwest corner of the state of Jalisco, Puerto Vallarta rings Mexico’s largest natural bay, the Bahia de Banderas. This popular beach resort area is one of the main ports of call for catamaran tours, has a well-deserved reputation as a gastronomy hub, and is also a great launching point to a wide variety of natural and cultural attractions. Here are our suggestions for the 10 best day trips from Puerto Vallarta.
1. Beautiful Banderas Bay
If you want to explore this gorgeous, isolated part of Mexico, then you can start off with a scenic ocean cruise across Banderas Bay to the isolated cove of Las Caletas. As evening falls, this place transforms into a magical paradise filled with the sights and sounds of ancient rituals. Enticing aromas of freshly grilled food will lure you towards a private beachside dinner table bathed in the soft glow of candles. Afterwards, stories of an ancient civilization are told through live music and modern dance, as one of Mexico’s most innovative contemporary dance troupes transports you on a mystical journey through ancient Mexican culture and history. After the show, you’ll end a perfect evening with a nightcap beneath the stars on the short cruise back to your point of departure.
2. Catamaran living
Board a first class catamaran, sail to the southern shores of Banderas Bay and discover the isolated and unspoilt natural beauty of Las Caletas Beach Hideaway. Once settled on shore the variety of options are endless, from therapeutic massages or facials at the hilltop spa to quintessential Puerto Vallarta snorkeling tours, paddleboarding, kayaking, scuba diving, jungle hikes, cooking classes and a visit to the orchid gardens and interactive parrot center. Las Caletas is, simply put, Mexico’s Garden of Eden, a wonderful and enchanting tropical beach haven where you can kick back, relax and let all the stress slip away.
3. Flocking towards Puerto Vallarta
If you are vacationing in Puerto Vallarta and you love birds, you are in for a treat! With more than 350 bird species in a variety of ecosystems, the choices include tropical deciduous forest, the rugged Sierra Madre mountains with elevations of more than 10,000 feet (3,000 meters), lagoons, small rivers and creeks, agricultural areas, coastal environments and more. Among the more popular species are the Green Jay, Tropical Kingbird, San Blas Jay, Yellow-winged Cacique and the colorful but elusive Rosy Thrush-Tanager.
4. Spectacular San Sebastián
If you are looking for a weekend away from the beach and surf, and feel like exploring the mountains, valleys, rivers and beautiful landscapes of Jalisco, we recommend visiting the picturesque towns around Puerto Vallarta, which offer many different options for a quick trip – San Sebastián, 47 miles (75 kilometres) away, is one of the best options.
5. Surfing safari
Even though Puerto Vallarta and the entire Banderas Bay is stock-full of beautiful sandy beaches, the real surf action is located on the North side of the bay. Warm water, a variety of surf breaks, and gentle winds that are usually offshore, make the Punta de Mita area an ideal surf destination. Expert surfing teachers will start off with an introduction to surfing while still on the beach. Once everyone is comfortable with their surfboards, your group will paddle out into the gentle waves and catch that exciting first wave! This is one of the most popular Puerto Vallarta activities, and a great experience for families and couples.
6. Marietas magic
The Marietas Islands – consistently listed as the best places to visit in Mexico – are without a doubt one of the activities you should put on your short list of tours and adventures to enjoy during your stay. Here, you’ll experience a wonderful day trip in an inflatable speed boat that heads out to explore the Marietas Islands, an ecologically diverse sanctuary with a stunning hidden beach nestled just out of sight. You can snorkel in and out of cave formations and rock archways, admire the extraordinary terrain and more than 100 species of tropical fish that call these rock reefs home. Cruise around the islands on this informative eco-discovery tour with an expert guide who will point out the unique wildlife and numerous species of birds. You may even be treated to a show from the numerous schools of wild dolphins that live in the bay.
7. Speeding through the coastal waters
Board an inflatable speed boat and head out to a secluded ocean cove and an unforgettable day of fun at Puerto Vallarta’s only natural waterpark. This is a fun-filled day for the whole family that includes a hands-on encounter with sea lions, a mind-bending ride on the high speed Thriller boat, zip-lines, a gravity defying hillside water slide and an adrenaline inspiring catapult into the sea – the perfect choice for those who have an insatiable craving for adventure!
8. Scuba Diving fun
Puerto Vallarta is one of Mexico’s top scuba diving destinations, offering a wide diversity of locations and conditions, from easy-to-get-to sites close to the mainland to more adventurous locations farther offshore. Los Arcos, specifically, is a protected national marine park famous for small, granite islands that protrude from the sea and which are visible from downtown Puerto Vallarta. Underwater you will find caves, deep tunnels, arches and a stunning reef that is home to lobster, octopus, moray eels, turtles, and many species of tropical fish. Corbeteña and El Sequial, on the other hand, attracts all manner of sea life. A profusion of manta rays, turtles, sharks and dolphins are native to these waters, and huge schools of tuna circle this tiny island in search of food. Here experienced divers can explore caves, arches and steep walls among moderate currents and depths of up to 120 feet (36 meters). This trip is available for private groups of 8 divers or more.
9. Mountain maneuvering
The Sierra Madre Occidental is a major mountain range system of the North American Cordillera, that runs along the Gulf of California. The Sierra Madre is part of the American Cordillera, a chain of mountain ranges that form the western “backbone” of North America, Central America, and South America. You can get off the beaten path and explore the real Mexico in a specially designed Mercedes Benz Unimog Jeep that will take you on a voyage of discovery over chassis-challenging terrain, through mountain streams and past long forgotten settlements on a mission to reach the heart of the Sierra Madre mountains. You’ll get to visit a typical village home and learn the subtle art of Mexican cooking, enjoy a relaxing hike through the subtropical forest and end it all on a secluded beach with an open bar, delicious food and spectacular swimming.
10. Sailing the Caribbean
Learn to sail on board a luxury French sailboat and explore the spectacular turquoise waters surrounding Puerto Vallarta. After an introduction to the essentials of sailing the tropical winds of the Pacific will carry you to secluded bays and picture perfect beaches, often accompanied by wild dolphins and even whales, rays and turtles. Anchor in a protected cove where you can swim and snorkel among a huge variety of tropical marine life. This is a perfect way to relax and be pampered while surrounded by the spectacular natural beauty of the region.
Puerto Vallarta – and especially the older part known as Viejo Vallarta – was once one of the country’s most glamorous getaways, with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton among the A-list fans. Now the destination is drawing a new set of stylish devotees for its vibrant local community and charming architecture. Because of this authentic but still party-happy vibe and the excellent beaches, Puerto Vallarta has become one of the country’s preferred getaways, both for snowbirds and for visitors looking for a long weekend escape.