Meet Puerto Vallarta’s Don’t-Miss Attractions

Puerto Vallarta is a meeting point in every sense of the way. Located on Mexico’s west coast, the city rests right where the Sierra Madre Mountains meet the Pacific Ocean, in beautiful Bay of Banderas. Here, vibrant Mexican culture and sun-kissed beaches meet luxurious resorts, exciting activities and pulsating nightlife. The city offers travelers from across the globe the opportunity to meet genuinely welcoming locals, who contribute in more ways than one to Puerto Vallarta’s world-wide appeal. It’s hard to sample all that the city has to offer in one stay, but here are some places and activities your group won’t want to miss.

Puerto Vallarta offers quite the eclectic art scene, reflected in its impressive number of art galleries, museums, public sculptures and cultural festivals. In historic Old Town—Zona Romantica—with its peaceful, Pueblo-style ambience and signature cobblestone streets, you’ll find dozens of galleries exhibiting paintings, ceramics, sculptures, stained glass and photography by local, national and international artists. Here, the Municipal Market provides a taste of local artisan work, jewelry, clothing, leather and authentic Mexican cuisine. And you’ll find no shortage of great souvenirs.

The historic center is also home to the renowned Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. With its distinguished crown and magnificent architecture, the church is one of Puerto Vallarta’s most treasured landmarks and a symbol for the city worldwide. Every year, thousands of pilgrims gather on the grounds, especially in December, during the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Just a block away from the church, Plaza de Armas (the main plaza) is another city attraction, a great place to people-watch and indulge in ice cream, or enjoying one of the many concerts and art exhibits. On Sundays, after church, the plaza becomes a lively outdoor dance floor for lovers of the traditional “danzon.”

From here, head to Rio Cuale Island, set halfway between the Romantic Zone and downtown, and visit the Cuala Cultural Center. You can reach the island by crossing the river on one of the swinging bridges—definitely the most exhilarating way to get there. And be sure to soak in the gorgeous mountain views from famous Gringo Gulch, named after the colony of well-to-do “nortemericanos” who reside there.

From the other side of the island, hit the Malecón, Puerto Vallarta’s legendary boardwalk, and enjoy sea views and gentle breezes while exploring all of the shops, restaurants, lounges and galleries, many of which center around Los Arcos amphitheater. After dark, plenty of fun nightclubs and bars keep the party going.

You’ll find no shortage of beaches in Puerto Vallarta, whether you’re looking to simply soak up the sun, fill the day with watersports, enjoy a peaceful sunset stroll or catch glimpses of frolicking humpback whales and dolphins in the bay.

In the hotel zone, Playa de Oro is flanked by an arc of hotel and resorts and offers beach-goers an endless list of ocean adventures. Playa de Oro was recently awarded Blue Flag Certification—a worldwide eco-label—by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE).

Among the most popular beaches, Los Muertos and Olas Altas await on the southside of the Malecón and promise perfect spots for swimming, people-watching, oceanfront dining, and watersports. Conchas Chinas (curvy shells or Chinese shells), just south of Zona Romantica, offers a more peaceful and unique beach experience. Here, sugar-white sands, sapphire-blue waters and a backdrop of verdant mountains create a dreamy setting, while natural pools—formed by encircling rock—reveal schools of colorful fish and other sea animals.

Don’t miss the chance to explore Los Arcos Marine Natural Park, between the beaches of Las Gemalas and Mismaloya, an area incredibly rich in birds and sea life. Discover the colorful reefs, caves and deep tunnels while snorkeling or scuba diving—the water stays perfectly warm year-round!

Another memorable eco experience await at Vallarta Botanical Gardens, a 20-acre nature haven that rests 1,300 feet above sea level in Cabo Corrientes, just 30 minutes from old town. Savor the scent of roses, orchids and marigolds and spectacular vistas. Entry is only 100 pesos (roughly $5) and buses leave every 30 minutes from Puerto Vallarta.

If your group craves something more action-packed, Wild Trek Adventures offers zip lining, buggy and ATV tours that take you “beyond the tourist,” traversing beautiful wilderness and discovering charming villages around Puerto Vallarta.

When it’s time relax and focus on the mind and body, head to tranquil Terra Noble, a price- and view-worthy day spa overlooking Banderas Bay. Here, a cleansing, two-hour temazcal sweat lodge ceremony is often followed by tea on the spa’s patio. Plus, groups can sign up for painting and clay and sculpture workshops. Terra Noble also offers individual spa packages, such as the “Stress Recovery,” which combines a facial, sea-salt body scrub and soothing massage. Say spaaaah….

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Isabelle Gullo-Abitia

Isabelle Gullo-Abitia

Isabelle Gullo-Abitia has worked as a freelance writer and editor since 2001, having contributed to publications such as Elite Weddings, Spa, Islands and Health. She also runs a Santa Barbara County nonprofit called C.A.R.E.4Paws, whose mission is to reduce pet overpopulation and keep animals out of shelters. When away from the computer, Isabelle enjoys running, salsa dancing, photography and playtime with her son, Julian, and the family’s many dogs and cats.

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