During the 1800s the small fishing village of Las Peñas eked out a living through exports of seafood, bananas, coconuts and corn. This small economy ensured slow growth until many decades later when the town was discovered by Hollywood. Once Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner came to the area to film John Huston’s “The Night of the Iguana”, many others followed suit, including investors.
Fast forward to modern Puerto Vallarta Mexico and it is not hard to see why this beautiful city ranks high on many travelers’ lists of places to see. Blending old and new against the enviable backdrop of the magnificent Banderas Bay and las Marietas Islands, and flanked by the equally impressive Sierra Madre mountain range filled with rivers, waterfalls and charming mountain villages, this magical destination now offers a wealth of experiences to be enjoyed by visitors of all ages.
Like all paradisiacal places Puerto Vallarta is also a photographer’s dream location, with a wealth of money shot opportunities just awaiting discovery around every turn. We love good photographs too and have compiled a list of our top Instagrammable spots in this charming Mexican seaside city.
1. The Mozayko Vallarta Project
In commemoration of the 44th anniversary of the municipality of Puerto Vallarta, local artist Natasha Moraga initiated the project with a view to telling the story of this region through its recreation on attractive, clean spaces (walls in particular).
Using mosaic (a method of composing a work of art using pieces of materials such as stone, glass, mirror, ceramics, and other substances, and applying these on a three dimensional or flat surface) Natasha (and her husband Daniel) have created some incredible pieces.
Be sure to find the mosaic wall on Pino Suarez Street in the Olas Altas neighborhood, and the very large wall on Albatros Street in Marina Vallarta (close to the American School).
2. Murals everywhere
Head out on foot through the neighborhoods of 5 de Diciembre (5th of December), Zona Centro (Central Zone) and into Zona Romántica (Romantic Zone). This is an expedition that will require at least 4 to 5 hours in order to get your fill of all the incredibly beautiful murals in the region.
When planning your trip make sure that you end up at the Rio Cuale Island last, as it is a great place to end your photo expedition. The island is itself now an outdoor gallery and hosted exhibitions have included the nationally famous #RESTORECORAL Mural Project.
Pack water, money for food and put on comfortable walking shoes.
3. Taco restaurant
For those who have not yet discovered the delights of Mexican cuisine and are wondering where to eat in Puerto Vallarta we suggest starting with ‘tacos’, a traditional Mexican dish consisting of a corn or wheat tortilla folded or rolled around a filling.
Traditionally locals may use a variety of fillings (this differs by region) from beef to pork, chicken, seafood, vegetables and cheese. In Puerto Vallarta, because of its location on the pacific coastline, most popular are marlin, crab, deep fried fish, octopus and shrimp. The taco is eaten without utensils and is always accompanied by different salsas (in this region really hot habanero chilli is a favorite), guacamole, cilantro (coriander), tomatoes and onions.
Be sure to try tacos at El Carboncito, El Barracuda (great sea view) or Tacos Revolucion.
4. Conchas Chinas Beach
Banderas Bay is the 7th largest bay in the world and as such boasts innumerable opportunities to explore and enjoy coastal gems, not the least of which is one of our all-time favorites, Conchas Chinas, the closest beach (going south) to Puerto Vallarta’s Old Town.
It is the natural beauty of this little enclave that makes it so attractive to photographers. A fascinating combination of the rugged and imposing Sierra Madre mountain range and the crystalline Pacific coast, creating a unique natural context that is sure to dazzle your senses.
Aside from great pictures this beach is ideal for families and couples who want to kick back and relax as it is somewhat challenging to get to (either by local bus, taxi or car – so no crowds) and does not have the usual buzz of the more popular party beaches.
Great for swimming, snorkeling and diving this beach is also one of the most romantic for those who seek memorable sunsets and is rated one of the best beaches in Puerto Vallarta.
5. Guadalupe Church
In 1903 worked started on the initial foundations of what would become the “Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe” (Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish). After enlargement and reinforcing of these foundations were completed construction got underway in the early 1920s, and after a series of interruptions due to war and change of administration, the church was finally completed in 1987.
Today this iconic building dominates the skyline and is one of the most popular representative symbols and landmarks of Puerto Vallarta. If you are fortunate to visit the region during December you will witness one of the country’s greatest showings of religious tradition during the Our Lady of Guadalupe Festival. This important annual celebration not only showcases the unique and colorful blend of indigenous and Catholic symbolism, but also the warmth and festive spirit of the Mexican people.
The party continues until well into the night so take a well-stocked daypack with as you will not want to return to your lodging for a change of clothing or something else you may have left behind (extra battery power for your camera is an essential item).
6. Tequila bar
This may not be everyone’s favorite drink but in Mexico, tequila reigns supreme, and probably needs no introduction to visitors from abroad.
Just in case you didn’t know of its origins, tequila is a regionally distilled alcoholic drink made from the blue agave plant, primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila, close to the capital city of Guadalajara, as well as the highlands of the state of Jalisco.
As with any alcoholic drink, the region in which it is produced, the soil in particular and other unique climatological characteristics create subtle differences in flavor that connoisseurs can readily distinguish.
While most foreigners usually shoot tequila with salt and lime in Mexico it is served neat. Ask your waiter or bar staff to recommend their favorite blend and do try it the Mexican way.
7. Mismaloya Beach
Mismaloya is the beach where it all started, where a sleepy fishing village’s future was forever changed by the arrival of the Hollywood stars and media. It is precisely this historic value that make the beach, local village and port an obligatory stop for photographers.
Aside from a relaxing time amongst locals, enjoying a well-deserved and very cold beer and delighting in some delicious seafood you can also try your hand at paddle boarding (SUP), swimming and snorkeling from the shore. Great views of the ecological reserve of Los Arcos can also be enjoyed from Mismaloya, an imposing set of granite rock islands are inhabited by various aquatic species and birds that is a favorite spot for snorkelers, scuba divers and day cruises in the bay.
Expect to spend a day relaxing in a stunning natural setting that rates as one of the top sites for bird watching in Puerto Vallarta.
8. Boca de Tomatlan
South of Puerto Vallarta is the small river port of Boca de Tomatlan. While the beaches may not be the best in Banderas Bay this port is probably the most representative of local Mexican fishing village culture. It is also the gateway to the southern part of the bay, accessible only by boat.
Expect to see the backdrop of the Sierra Madre mountains, jungle clad cliffs spilling into the sea, a colorfully built and decorated riverside village, locally operated water taxis, soft sand beaches, gentle ocean surf, delicious traditional seafood and lots of friendly people. Thanks to the confluence of various ecosystems there is a significant population of birds that inhabit this region, including parrots, egrets, herons, hummingbirds and many species of seabirds.
Be sure to carry enough cash to cover your day trip’s activities, food, drink and round-trip transportation.
9. Talpa de Allende
No visit to Puerto Vallarta would be complete without venturing inland to explore and discover the remnants of authentic Mexican mountain culture. The town of Talpa de Allende, surrounded by beautiful pine covered mountains, dates back to 1599 when the Spanish founded it as part of an important silver mining region.
In addition, Talpa has for centuries served as one of the most important religious sites in all of Mexico. Located in the center of the town is the church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario (Our Lady of Rosario), which is home to the tiny, miracle working Virgin of Rosario.
Best time of the year to visit is either during Easter or in October when the virgin’s birthday is celebrated. Literally millions of pilgrims visit this site during these two periods, occasioning massive expressions of color and religious commitment that should not be missed by anyone who loves to experience local culture and events.
This is a trip for those who are more adventurous and actively seek off the beaten track experiences.
Finally, the Bohemian paradise that attracts artists, surfers, digital nomads and just about anyone who seeks small town tranquility.
The typical daytime rhythm in Sayulita starts out with healthy breakfasts, morning exercise either in the form of hiking through some of the jungle trails, surfing or paddle boarding, and then a delicious seaside lunch complete with fresh seafood and great margaritas.
From then on, the day can be spent wandering around the very small town (in about 15 minutes you could do a loop around the main area of town and the plaza). After that, it’s time to grab another drink or some ice cream and relax in a hammock. A visit to the local turtle sanctuary is also an enjoyable afternoon activity.
Nighttime brings to life the numerous bars around the main plaza and on the beach. If you are lucky you may even see some live music under the stars. Be prepared for some good parties as more often than not the town does not go to sleep early.
Puerto Vallarta is any visitor’s dream spot as it offers so many diverse locations and attractions, from old Downtown (definitely a valuable part of Mexico’s cultural heritage) to the more modern Marina Vallarta and the Nuevo Vallarta residential area. The Romantic Area blends art and architecture, complete with red tile buildings, narrow streets, art galleries, small cafes, bars, restaurants, boutique hotels and traditional markets.
The rugged, imposing Sierra Madre mountains rises from subtropical forest through canyons, crags and waterfalls to drier pine forests and isolated mountain towns. And the entire coastline along the Bay of Banderas, from the southern fishing villages all the way along stretches of beautiful beaches to the northern side complete with hotels, beach bars and golf courses, is a world filled with so many incredible things to do.
So pack your daypack, arm yourself with all the equipment you need (including loads of battery power and digital storage space, and get out to explore all the incredibly Instagrammable spots that are waiting for you to discover in this wonderful Mexican seaside destination.