When you first hear of the tiny coastal town of Puerto Vallarta, your first response will likely be ‘where is Puerto Vallarta?’
But for all the years the town has been overlooked, it has never slouched in the beautiful beach department. And today, it offers all the amenities of a world-class seaside resort, while being an authentic Mexican city. Its manageable size and friendly vibe also make it easy to mingle with locals, essentially providing a slew of reasons to visit with the whole family.
Kids will love strolling or cycling the mile-long waterfront promenade – otherwise known as the malecon. The action-packed path is lined with shops, restaurants and street performers. The visual stimulation is high, with giant sand creations constructed right before your eyes and permanent sculptures that you can climb on. All this complements the natural soundtrack of the Pacific – which also happens to be the go-to spot to learn to surf or swim with wild dolphins. And if you climb to the top of the Matamoros lighthouse, you might just catch the best view in town.
Puerto Vallarta’s cobblestone streets are full of artists selling their work. You’ll also find many fine galleries representing local artists, and shops selling the crafts of the indigenous Huichol people. Yarn paintings, beaded bowls, jewelry and folk art make excellent souvenirs.
The Old Town Farmers Market, on the other hand, is held each Saturday. It’s a producers-only market, and everything is grown or made within 50 miles of town. Flowers, produce, homemade food and locally made crafts are all for sale. You can also watch weavers and basket makers in action, and listen to live music.
The natural landscape of Puerto Vallarta is striking, with palm-fringed sandy beaches, a habitat rich for bird watching trips, and the lush backdrop of the Sierra Madre. You’ll have your pick of beautiful beaches in town, but consider a day trip outside city limits to explore one of the many semi-deserted beaches. Hire a water taxi at the marina and take a trip to Yelapa. Hemmed between jungle and ocean, it’s a time warp, as electricity and telephones only arrived this century. The boat lets you off right on the beach, and some visitors never venture any further. You’ll need to climb a fairly steep path to get to the village, but ambitious kindergarteners should be able to handle it. Once you’ve aced the ascent, you’ll be smack in the middle of a rural Mexican village. Of all the Puerto Vallarta tours on offer, the kids will undoubtedly have their most eye-opening experience here, as they peek into the rustic life of the town’s several thousand inhabitants.