One of things that I love so much about Mexico is its vibrant colors regardless of where you go in the country. Recently, I headed back to Puerto Vallarta, which while a popular tourist hot spot, there are ways to escape the hustle and bustle of the crowds. Even when walking along the infamous El Malecon, Puerto Vallarta’s downtown waterfront boardwalk, if you choose an off-time, you can have a relatively quiet walk, capture fabulous photographs and make some worthwhile food stops along the way.
If you make Puerto Vallarta a long weekend getaway from America’s West Coast (and why not? It’s only a few hour flight), then here are ten fun things to explore on the ground:
1. Malecon Boardwalk
While it may be fairly central and loaded with tourists, it’s still an interesting place to walk down, especially at night. There’s a vibrant culinary and arts scene along the boardwalk, which is lined with sculptures and local work. There are also quaint shops and food stalls to explore along the way. At the end of the boardwalk, there’s entertainment in an open door theatre area, which is lovely just after the sun sets. There was a clown performing when we are there although acts change all the time depending on the season and night. There’s a vibrant late night bar scene along the Boardwalk as well, some so massive that you can listen to 80’s on one side and Hip Hop on the other. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the sunsets: be sure to take them in, especially along the water. It’s oh so romantic even if you’re there with a family in tow. Below, nt far from the boardwalk, making our way to a few fun eateries nearby along the water’s edge.
2. Walk Through Old Town & Emiliano Zapata (the Romantic Zone)
There’s a historical and old section of town which makes for such a lovely walk. You’ll go through Venustiano Carranza Plaza, walk past the Santa Cruz Catholic Church and see some lovely stalls and shops along the way, including Mundo de Cristal, which is a bit like an institution for ceramics. In other words, it feels more like a museum than a ceramic shop. Also worth mentioning if you’re into artistic stuff and ceramics, is the Mundo de Azulejos on Venustiano Carranza. Oh so beautiful! The architecture is just stunning and there are so many nooks and crannies you can meander down — why not get lost for awhile exploring what the town has to offer? Bring a camera, a sunhat and sunglasses and just GO! There is so much charm along the way — from colorful buildings not far from the main drag to stone statues representing Puerto Vallarta’s historical past. A charming boutique hotel in this area, which exudes quaintness, colorful energy and elegance all at the same time. Oh yeah, and the area is fun both in the daytime and at night!
3. Go for Beach Walks & Talk to Locals
I’d strongly recommend not just walking along the beach in the center of town or along the beach in front of your hotel, but take a boat tour to an island that is a bit more remote and go for a beach walk. Take your time!! Be present!! Talk to locals along the way!! I met many locals and all of them had an interesting story to share…. And, some even had candy and other snacks to sell…. At one local beach side eatery, I was able to get some fresh Ceviche as well – oh so delish! It always tastes fresher when you’re right on the ocean’s edge. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention limes — they seemed to be everywhere. Mexicans love their limes and use them with everything. I ran into this guy walking along the beach with a massive bag of limes over his shoulder – “What for?”, I asked. “Everything,” he responded with a smile. Isn’t that the truth — from Ceviche and Margaritas to guacamole and tomato salsa salads, limes are used. Thankfully I’m a huge fan of limes and we use them frequently at home when we cook, from salads and fruit to sprinkling lime juice on sauteed fish and chicken dishes. Some of the smaller boats you can take from the mainland to more remote beaches… Locals have so much to teach you about their local culture, so be sure to listen carefully. Even if there’s a language barrier, you’d be surprised what you can learn from their art, their food and their customs by watching and being present.
There’s plenty of great shopping in Puerto Vallarta, whether it’s more traditional types of items (below), or the fabulous ceramics I mentioned above. It’s a very artsy town, so there’s plenty of crafts, artwork, ceramics, knitted clothing (think bathing suit cover-ups and tops), leather sandals, homemade hammocks and beautiful tapestries. There are also plenty of leather shops, where you can find colorful and well-made cowboy boots, bags, flip flops, wallets and backpacks.
5. Festivals, Parades & Celebrations
Be sure to check the local schedule to see what is happening in town. From festivals and parades, to local food events, there is plenty to celebrate. Since it is such a vibrantly colorful place, when celebrations happen, you should take the opportunity to not just attend, but participate whenever possible. In my experience, Mexicans love to dance, yes, even in the street. And, music is such an integral part of the culture that it’s worth learning a bit about who they are through their music. In addition to asking your hotel concierge for ideas, be sure to ask a local for suggestions. When I was there in June, musicians made their way down the Malecon Boardwalk and it was incredibly lively – both adults and children participated in the celebration.
6. Take a Boat Tour & Snorkel
Located near Mismaloya in the Bay of Banderas, beautiful Los Arcos is the most popular diving and snorkeling destination in Puerto Vallarta. We took a boat out to the diving area, which took about an hour and a half and lunch was provided as was drinks….in other words, there was no shortage of Margaritas and limes on board. The boat tour is small enough to find your own spot on board (and take in the beautiful views) while not feeling overcrowded — it is a bit like those standard day cruises you might take in any tourist destination. Everyone was friendly and towards the end of the day, I ended up dancing up a storm with locals on the deck — it’s amazing how quickly you learn moves you had never seen or heard of after a Margarita or two. The water is warm which was a welcome relief after dealing with cold East Coast waters most of my life. They have plenty of snorkeling gear on board, so there’s no need to bring your own. The time you actually get to snorkel with some of the tours is a bit on the short side however, so if you want to go out for a few hours, be sure to either rent your own boat or do a private tour that has more flexibility than some of the larger boats. After you leave Los Arcos, you have an hour or so on the boat before you pull back into the port at Puerto Vallarta — the views are great and isn’t just so lovely to take in the fresh sea breeze? It always makes me feel so alive! Happy as a camper, I’m still loving my favorite swimwear brand to-date, Sauvage and my Aspire sunglasses! (Bravo – both of them come with me on every sunny getaway!!) Time to head back to port….
7. Birding & Getting Lost in Nature
You can go inland a bit for viewing wildlife in more rural areas or quite frankly, there is plenty of interesting bird life to see right along the coast, which I would recommend. The natural beauty is absolutely stunning, so be sure to stay present along the way — I brought my waterproof camera so I could capture shots while swimming and snorkeling.
8. Kayaking and Paddle Boarding
Let’s face it, I’m a bit biased since I grew up on a lake, but I love to kayak and paddle board and it’s one way to keep you close to the water while you take in all that natural beauty. There are plenty of places to rent kayaks and paddle boards. We stayed at the Marriott and they had paddle boards on-site for us. On our snorkeling trip, they stop off at an island where you can also take paddle boards out directly from the beach.
9. Puerto Vallarta Food Tours
Everyone who reads this site regularly knows that I’m a huge foodie and take every opportunity to explore the local foodie scene. Puerto Vallarta Food Tours does a great job at introducing you to some of the tastiest options in Puerto Vallarta. Sure, there’s a fish market (you’re on the coast after all) but there’s also a lot of quirky eateries and stalls to experience in addition to a popular restaurant scene. For example, there’s Tuba — yes, that’s his name. You’ll find him roaming through Old Town and the Malecon area with a cool white hat on and he’s been offering up his delicious Tuba drink since 1998. It is oh so delicious – it’s a little sweet but not overly so and its laced with walnuts! YUM! Fresh coconut water anyone? Aside from the designated stops you make on the food tour, there are plenty of scrumptious things to taste along the way — food is everywhere on Puerto Vallarta streets, so foodies, beware!!! Coconut shrimp and it was oh so divine! Other places worth noting include Tacos Robles, which is a Birria Taco Stand on Constitucion Emiliano Zapata. This was by far my favorite spot for classic tacos — it is a family run taco stand as well; it’s obvious that the mother is the artistic genius behind the recipes. It’s been around since 1986 and is still popular today. Two thumbs up! There’s the ever so authentic Tacos El Cunado (taco stand) on Francisco Rodriguez. They were so fresh and so delicious – be sure to try their spices and add a pinch of salt. Cesar’s Coconut Stand has been around since 1968. A family run business, they care about quality and it shows – the coconut juice is oh so pure and freshly cut open while you wait. Below, the Tortilleria La Gloria is the local tortilla factory in town – you can even see how they’re made. Also fantastic are the Stuffed Pepper Tacos at Mariscos Cisneros on Aquacate 271 — Marco, the owner, does a great job with shrimp tacos, octopus, fish and jalapenos! Yum. While the owner is retiring and moving on, it’s still worth mentioning a Puerto Vallarta chocolate institution which was still open while we were there in June: XocoDivas Chocolates, a shop of Artisan chocolates along Basillio Badillio. They will apparently still sell at markets periodically but no longer have a storefront. Along the street, you can find donuts – try one; sure, they’re decadent and fattening but they’re also oh so good!
10. Outdoor Dining & Tequila Tasting at the Marriott
The Puerto Vallarta Marriott offers outdoor patio dining in their Herb Garden. On a beautiful summer night, it’s the perfect thing to do. Their food is exquisite as well – in fact, I thought their Ceviche was better than the options I tried in town. We tasted a variety of things while we were there, but on our last night, we had a pre-fix menu which included Roasted Beet, field greens, orange segments, goat cheese and caramelized Macadamia Nuts, with a Citrus y Balsamic Vinaigrette to start, followed by a Roasted corn cream Caviar Cuilacoche (cake), followed by a Crab cake with mango sauce, red onions and a chilli sauce, with our main entree being a Filet Mignon with Marrow crushed caramelized onions, foam goat cheese in a demi glace. WOW! Warm chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream with a strawberry compote was served for dessert ….. We paired all of it with both California and Mexican wines. For Mexican white, I went with the Chardonnay Reserva La Cetto and the Chardonnay Varietal Santo Tomas. The Marriott does tequila tastings at La Cava upon request. We sipped and learned about the tequillas we were tasting from the resort’s tequila ambassador Audrey Formisano. We started with the Casa Magna Tequila Joven which was a young one year old tequila and we paired it with a mozzarella salad. Then came a seafood and avocado dish which we paired with the Casa Magna Tequila Reposado, which had been aged around 9 months in oak. We finished off with the Casa Magna Anejo (aged) tequila, which had been aged in an oak barrel for 4-5 years. With the most aged tequila, we had a chicken dish before moving to our main dinner in the courtyard. I’d strongly recommend doing this when you’re in Puerto Vallarta. Other tequila that I tried while I was in Mexico….. Glorious days gone by….let us know what you end up doing in Puerto Vallarta on your next trip by commenting below!