It’s no secret – world-renowned beaches and all-inclusive resorts are what most travelers imagine when planning a trip to the lovely and diverse destination that is present-day Mexico. While Mexico’s Riviera Maya usually receives the majority of the spotlight, Mexico’s Pacific coast has some of its own treasures to offer visitors. One such destination is the Jaliscan beach town of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Located on Mexico’s west coast in the state of Jalisco, this once modest fishing town has transformed into a booming resort city with enticing beauty, culture, and cuisine. Now considered one of the country’s most sought-after destinations, Puerto Vallarta offers an unforgettable experience to people of all ages and backgrounds.
Come explore the nearby Sierra Madre Mountains or explore the many islands, reefs, and rock formations within Vallarta’s bay shores. With a million Puerto Vallarta attractions that answer the question of, “What to do in Puerto Vallarta?”, planning your visit to this Pacific coast favorite should be a no brainer. However, if you aren’t quite sold yet, below you will find 10 surprising fun facts about Puerta Vallarta that are sure to leave you impressed and ready to purchase your airfare. After all, Puerto Vallarta is a place you don’t want to miss.
1. Puerto Vallarta’s fame came with the release of a Hollywood movie
It’s probably hard to believe that with such stunning tropical beauty and a vibrant local culture Puerta Vallarta hasn’t always been on the radar of tourists looking for the next “it” destination. Believe it not, after its initial “discovery” in the early 1500s by Spanish explorers, this tropical eden would be practically forgotten about for nearly 300 years! Acting as nothing more than pit stop for merchants on long ocean voyages and the occasional visit from roaming pirates. It wouldn’t be until 1918 that the area officially became a municipality of the Mexican state of Jalisco and given its present day name of Puerto Vallarta – named in honor of Don Ignacio L. Vallarta, a reputable representative of the State.
Even so, for the next twenty years Puerto Vallarta remained nothing more than a small fishing village – its beauty and splendor left unbeknownst to the world.
That would all change in 1964 with the release of the Hollywood film “The Night of the Iguana”, starting then famous actors Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The film, which highlighted the beauty of Mismaloya Beach would attract foreign investment in the 1970’s, which would eventually lead to the massive expansion of the town.
As can be seen now, Puerto Vallarta has never ceased growing – home to all-inclusive resorts, boutique hotels, shops, restaurants, bars, plazas, and of course – mesmerizing ocean views.
2. Puerto Vallarta boasts an international resident community
That’s right – while this majestic coastal town still exudes its traditional culture and heritage, the booming tourism industry over the past few decades has not only attracted visitors from around the globe, but travelers looking for a new place to call home.
As the population of Puerto Vallarta continues to increase dramatically each year, it becomes more and more evident that many of its new inhabitants come from far away lands – including the United States and Canada. Between the years 2000 and 2010 alone, the resident population of Puerto Vallarta increased by 71,000 inhabitants to a recorded 255,000 people in 2010. That’s huge! It has only continued to grow from there, especially as members of the Baby Boomer Generation continue retiring in great numbers.
Not only will Puerto Vallarta continue to see its expat population rise, but also the steady stream of tourists that fill its shores each year. Today, Puerto Vallarta is Mexico’s third largest vacation destination and host more than 2.5 million visitors each year. Woah baby!
With charming neighborhoods and beautiful beaches nestled beneath the stunning backdrop of the Sierra Madre mountains, it’s no wonder that these numbers continue to rise each year. The friendliness and hospitality of this truly remarkable Mexican paradise signifies a guaranteed good time for you and yours.
3. Puerta Vallarta is composed of vibrant, unique neighborhoods
You wouldn’t initially think so, but Puerto Vallarta is actually quite large. Unlike many Mexican resort towns, Puerto Vallarta has not only seen an incredibly impressive rise in tourism, but in newcomers looking for a place to call home. While the growing population on first thought may seem unattractive to visitors contemplating a future visit, the rising population has actually led to the development of a city community based on a number of diverse and thriving local neighborhoods.
For example, if you’re a first time visitor and want an upfront seat to all the action, the neighborhoods known as El Centro (Downtown) and Zona Romántica (Romantica Zone) are the best options – as this is where all the action usually takes place. Home to an incredible nightlife and the famous Malecon (boardwalk), these neighborhoods are a must see whether you choose to reside here or not. The Malecon, which spans both zones, is lined with bars, delicious restaurants, famous nightclubs, beautiful sculptures, and art exhibits. Not to mention, this is the top spot to take in the mesmerizing ocean sunset. Zona Romántica also has its own square that hosts a weekly open-air market, where you can try delicious cuisine, shop handmade crafts and jewelry, as well as clothing. As two of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods, you’ll want to make sure to set aside time to explore these unique and lovely communities.
For those who love to be in on the action, but also want that resort room with beach views and an all-inclusive buffet, then the Zona Hotelera (Hotel Zone) is the place to be. Located between the airport and downtown, this is where visitors will find high rise condos along stretches of golden-sand beaches and opposite elegant shopping malls. It’s also a great area to stay if you’re on a budget – as the restaurants in the area are cheaper, and if you’re staying at an all-inclusive resort, you don’t have to budget for all your meals and activities.
The other two well-known neighborhoods are Marina Vallarta (Vallarta Marine) to the north and Zona Sur (South Zone) to the south. Marina Vallarta is the city’s northernmost zone, near the airport, and comes highly recommended for families, as there are plenty of family friendly activities in the are. Equipped with a golf course and numerous cafes and restaurants, what’s not to love about this neighborhood?
The Zona Sur (South Zone), is the city’s – you guessed it – southernmost zone. Here, the Sierra Madre mountains roll right into the sea, offering guests a more secluded atmosphere with little development. Ideal for the ultimate getaway vacation, visitors are sure to feel like they’re on an isolated island even though the bustling downtown area is just a quick cab ride away.
Simply put – Puerto Vallarta isn’t a destination that caters to any one specific need or personality type. With its continued expansion has come increased diversity and the development of truly vibrant and unique neighborhoods. Now, all you have to do is pick yours!
4. Puerto Vallarta sits along one of the world’s most beautiful bays
It’s impossible to miss – whether you fly down into the city’s international airport or make your way into the city via land transportation along Federal Highway 200, its bright blue waters and unimaginable immensity are sure to leave you speechless.
Known as one of the largest, deepest, and most breathtaking natural bays in the entire world, Bahia de las Banderas, or Banderas Bay, was quoted as “one of the Most beautiful bays in the world” in an article published about the world’s 29 most beautiful bays by worlds-bays.com.
Stretching for over 55 miles (89 kilometers), and divided almost precisely in half between the states of Jalisco and Nayarit., Banderas Bay offers guests relatively tranquil waters and depths that provide a safe have for the region’s rich and diverse marine life.
In fact, the bay is home some incredibly popular ocean dwellers such as the Pacific Dolphin and Manta Ray. However, it’s the slow yet impressive Sea Turtle that captures the hearts of many who visit its waters. Not only is Banderas Bay a sanctuary for the turtles who mysteriously choose Puerta Vallarta’s beaches as their hatching ground (which are now protected by numerous turtle conservancy groups), but is perhaps most known for a truly magical annual phenomena – the migration of the Humpback Whale. As these gentle giants rest in the Bay’s warm waters, they feed, mate, and even deliver their offspring who return years later to complete the wonderful circle of life.
As if that weren’t enough, the Bay is home to an astounding number of marine species and the ideal climate for exhilarating water sports. With over 600 species of fish, marine turtles, manta rays and a multitude of tropical birds, guests are guaranteed and up close and personal experience with these remarkable sea creatures. This makes it the top spot to partake in Puerto Vallarta snorkeling activities, as well as other water activities such as parasailing, jet skiing, surfing, kayaking, scuba diving, and fishing – all which make the Bay a perfect destination for those who wish to enjoy a little action while taking in the surrounding scenery.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
5. Puerto Vallarta is surrounded by the iconic Sierra Madre Mountains
It doesn’t take long for your eyes to slowly wander from the glistening waters of Banderas Bay to the spectacular and lush mountain backdrop of the Sierra Madre Occidental.
A rugged mountain range that spans from the Rio Grande de Santiago in the state of Jalisco all the way north through several other western Mexican states, the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountain Range boasts some of the richest biodiversity in all of North America and consists of nearly two-thirds of all the standing timber in Mexico. Due to its unique tropical and temperate influences, the range boasts a unique and rich ecology and wildlife, including 23 different species of pine, 200 species of oak, 300 species of rare orchids, colorful bougainvillea, and more than 350 species of birds, monarch butterflies, and exotic mammals and reptiles. With such diverse in its bird population, the Sierra Madre Occidental has become a top destination for birding in Puerto Vallarta.
In addition, this vibrant landscape is home to countless rivers, marshes, and swamps all teaming with wildlife and waterfalls at every turn. For those who like to hike, rappel, zip-line, water-raft, or to simply breathe in the fresh mountain air, there is no better place than Puerto Vallarta’s Sierra Madre Occidental. And who knows – you may just perhaps catch a glimpse of its many native inhabitants, ranging from the native Jaguar, Black Bear, and White-Tailed Deer to the native Green Iguana, Mexican Beaded Lizard, and even Crocodile.
Does this sound like the coastal paradise you had in mind? Or does this sound even better than you imagined? With such diverse landscapes, wildlife, and natural wonders, Puerto Vallarta is not only the ideal beach get-a-way, but the ideal vacation for all of those who look to experience Mexico at its finest.
6. Puerto Vallarta stunts not one, but multiple world famous beaches
Even with such diverse landscapes and opportunities to explore a constantly-changing tropical terrain, most visitors who travel to Puerto Vallarta would rank going to the beach as one of their most desirable activities. Afterall, Mexico’s endless array of waterfront entertainment and outright beauty make its beaches especially attractive to travelers of all types. Luckily for those who pick Puerto Vallarta as their destination, this once tranquil fishing town offers a myriad of impressive beaches.
Situated at diverse points throughout the bay, Puerto Vallarta’s most famous beaches all have one thing in common: providing guests a sensational vacation experience.
If you and yours are looking for a romantic get-a-wa, head over to Conchas Chinas, Puerto Vallarta. Here, the beach is often the site of beautiful weddings – with fine golden sand, crystal-clear waters, and brilliantly displayed rock formations, Conchas Chinas creates the ideal site for romance.
Or perhaps beach action and people watching are more your style. If so, be sure to visit the centrally located Los Muertos Beach situated just off of Downtown, Puerto Vallarta. Located on the southern end of downtown, this beach is is one of the city’s most popular – and therefore, most active. Whether you look to lay out on a lounge chair, enjoy a competitive game of beach volleyball, or get a little crazy on the local banana boat rides, this beach has it all. To add to it, there is a slew of restaurants just off the beach that serve up everything from gourmet meals to fish on a stick. Made popular by Hollywood celebrities, this beach has seen it all – if only sand could talk!
Speaking of activity – water sport enthusiasts should make their way over to another famous beach known as Playa Camarones (Shrimp Beach. Located just off of the Hotel Zone, Playa Camarones offers visitors a number of thrilling water activities – head out on a parasailing adventure, grab a paddle board, swim in the warm crystal-clear waters, or simply enjoy the action from the sunny beachside. Other than a few beach clubs and restaurants that serve up a generously strong margarita, you’ll find that the majority of the beach is rather calm – making the perfect get-a-away for both the sports junkie and professional vacationer.
Other beaches to consider are Boca de Tomatlán ( where you can hike the mountains and beach hop all the way to Playa Las Animas), Playa Las Gemelas ( a secluded resort beach), and Playa Mismaloya (once the beach favorite of Hollywood royalty). Simply put, when choosing which beach to visit, you really can’t go wrong.
7. Puerta Vallarta offers unparalleled nature excursions
Jaw-dropping landscapes, lush vegetation, diverse wildlife, and stunning turquoise waters can only mean one thing – stellar nature excursions.
Due to its impeccable location and one-of-a-kind ecosystem, Puerto Vallarta is home to an endless array of tours and activities to suit just about every age group and budget. That’s right – if you are someone seeking an adrenaline rush or someone looking for a little entertainment from your beachside bungalow, Puerto Vallarta has you covered.
Thrill junkies will love the region’s nearly limitless number of zip lines, rappelling courses, and mountain climbing trails. Guests can even take advantage of the bay’s diverse marine life and plan tours to swim with Ocean favorites such as dolphins and sea lions – that’s right – sea lions! To end the night with someone special, you don’t always have to eat dinner and walk the beach. Why not on board one of the incredible Banderas Bay sunset cruises, which offer guests a magical evening aboard a sailboat that sets sail to a secluded beach. Oo la la!
While horseback riding along the tropical coast is another major hit among visitors, those who don’t mind getting a little wet while getting their dose of adrenaline are sure to love Puerto Vallarta’s numerous water activities, which include whale watching, scuba diving, snorkeling, and surfing.
Can’t make up your mind? Not to fret – all of these activities are nearby, if not directly a part of Puerto Vallarta itself. This coastal city’s exotic landscapes do much more than meet the eye – they meet the needs of all our inner explorers!
8. Puerto Vallarta’s cuisine is the stuff Mexican dreams are made of
Have you ever been nestled all snug in your bed, while visions of tacos danced in your head? No? Well that’s all about to change after your unforgettable Puerto Vallarta experience. Not only will you dream about tacos, but also of tamales, tortas, and elotes, oh my!
In addition to the city’s traditional Mexican street food, Puerto Vallarta is home to over 900 restaurants that cover the entire culinary spectrum – ranging from from food stands that offer impeccable seafood tacos, to elegant establishments offering international cuisine.
As the only destination in Mexico to host an International Culinary Festival for over fifteen years, the city of Puerto Vallarta offers guests world-class chefs, ambitious local culinary talent, fresh ingredients, and a truly bursting flavor – or as the locals call it – sazon!
For example, if you wish to enjoy dinner with sand between your toes and a stunning ocean view as the sun sets over the Pacific, enjoy the reasonably priced and extremely delicious cuisine of La Palapa. This family owned restaurant combines fresh, local ingredients with Asian and French elements – making for some truly tasty dishes.
You can’t visit this coastal paradise without splurging on some of the region’s finest seafood. At Mariscos El Coleguita, guests can enjoy a relaxed, friendly atmosphere as they embellish in freshly caught and cooked seafood favorites, including the famous Puerto Vallarta Ceviche. With complimentary tequila shots and banana desserts with every order – this is no brainer.
Of course, while on vacation, we sometimes just want to treat ourselves to a nice, fancy meal. That for that special night out, Cafe Des Artistes has you covered (well, not financially). This high-class dining experience embedded in breathtaking interior, is run by acclaimed chef Thierry Bloet, who offers his guests a delicate and delectable cuisine. If you go here to celebrate a birthday or anniversary, be sure to speak up – you just might get a special deal. That is, if you can eat any more. Here, you will experience a full fledged three course meal enough to last you into the morning. But who cares, you’re on vacation, right?
Either way you go, you are guaranteed to be left feeling satisfied.
9. Puerto Vallarta still maintains its original, Mexican charm
While taking in all the incredible surrounding landscapes, unique neighborhood personalities, lively beaches, and fancy cuisine, don’t forget to recognize the presence of the once small fishing town that once called these shores home. As can be seen through the kindness and smiles of the locals, or in the architecture that brings to life the Centro Historico (Historic Downtown), the heart of Puerto Vallarta lies in its traditional culture and heritage.
These traditions come to life each time the locals take to the streets to parade in honor of the Virgin Mary, or every time the local brass band strikes up a tune in the town plaza – enticing both visitors and locals like to tap their feet and dance to the rhythms that have entertained crowds for generations. Perhaps after a days worth of exploring or working up a sweat dancing in the town’s plaza, you can enjoy a scoop of traditional Mexican ice cream or perhaps even a fresh-fruit popsicle – or nieve as the locals call it.
Hollywood actors may have made it shores famous and developers may have expanded its city – but heart and soul of Puerto Vallarta shines brighter today than ever before – and boy, is it a sight to see!
10. Puerto Vallarta shares its local fame with the town of Tequila
Last, and most definitely not least, it’s important to recognize one of Mexico’s most iconic spirits and often times a friendly companion of ours during our lovely, tropical get-a-way – tequila!
Not only does Puerto Vallarta offer guests an extensive list of places to enjoy tequila – be it a small, hole-the-wall dive bar, local tequileria (where they make Tequila), or upscale restaurant – but it offers guests an up close look back in time to learn about how this local favorite quickly evolved into one of the Nation’s (and now world’s) favorite spirit.
It all starts in the town of – you guessed it – Tequila, Mexico. Located just a little over an hour outside of Puerto Vallarta in the state of Jalisco, the town of Tequila is not only where tequila originated, but also provides visitors is an incredible interactive experience as they learn how the drink originated and is made today.
That said, you might want to make this a two day trip – you’re likely to get a little wobbly after spending some time in the “land of tequila” – literally. This should be relatively easy – there are plenty of bed and breakfasts nearby who welcome in the many stumbling tourists who have spent the day participating in factory tours, tequila tastings, and cantina karaoke.
If your unable to make a trip there during your stay – don’t get too down. As mentioned before, there are plenty of places to enjoy this drink at its finest within city boundaries. If you’re looking for a more upscale drinking atmosphere, head over to Oscar’s Tequila Distillery, which features an in-house tequila distillery that offers tastings and drinks by the glass all while overlooking the Pacific Ocean from along the Rio Cuale.
If you’re a more casual person, check out the local favorite known as La Negra, which offers guests a relaxed atmosphere below a massive tree canopy outside the oldest house in the neighborhood known as Bucericas. Equipped with food, live music, and additional traditional drinks such as Mezcal and craft beer, La Negra has something for all.
Be sure to take it slow – while it’s possible that you’ve experienced Tequila before, the purity and strength of freshly distilled Mexican tequila is sure to leave you… well, you know as they say, “One tequila! Two tequila! Three Tequila!… Floor”.
There you have it – 10 surprising fun facts about Puerto Vallarta that are sure to have won you over. As you can see, when you mix all this together, and then add a dash of your personal touch and flavor, a trip to this unmatched Mexican paradise is an experience you just can’t pass up.
Whether you want to kick back and relax on the bach, experience hard-core adventures such as Puerto Vallarta diving activities , or perhaps a little bit of both – the sun-kissed city of Puerto Vallarta is sure to entertain and inspire you throughout your vacation and beyond. Now, quit looking for excuses and plan your trip today!