20 things to do in Puerto Vallarta, and some life updates: I moved to Vallarta!
Thank you for reaching out! Just to clarify, I left Sayulita in October 2020 and moved to Nuevo Vallarta, about 30 minutes from Puerto Vallarta. I still go to PV a lot (twice a week) since I signed up for the co-working space there. I go to PV a lot because I want to learn about the lifestyle and trends. Believe me, I never explored PV when I was living in Sayulita for over 1.5 years!
There are many things to do in Puerto Vallarta but in this post, I will only share those activities I have experiences with. If you ever make it here, I would love to meet you. Please send me a message and I can show you around!
Puerto Vallarta is one of the most underrated cities in Mexico. I actually did not find out about PV until I visited Guadalajara (about 4h away from PV). When one thinks about moving to Mexico, the south is always the options (big cities like Merida or more often than not, Cancun).
This city has lots of ex-pats and most of them are young professionals. I just started going to a co-working space there and I discovered how many Americans and Canadians are living here! The cost of living in PV is affordable – you can rent an awesome 2-BR house for as low as $500 USD. The gastronomic scene is also thriving. There are lots of restaurants in Puerto Vallarta I think it will take me forever to visit them all!
The best thing about Puerto Vallarta is that it’s for everyone. Families traveling with kids, solo travelers, couples, and even LGBTQ! If you do not know yet, well, this is the gay capital of Mexico where every year, they do a vibrant pride parade. Even if there’s no pride parade, you will see lots of gay tourists here, especially in the Zona Romantica. It’s totally safe and there is no discrimination!
Is Puerto Vallarta open? What’s the current situation in PV?
As of January 11, 2021, Puerto Vallarta is open for tourism. I was just there the other night. Weeknights tend to be quieter while weekends can be packed. There are many tourists here at the moment. You just need to know that masks are not mandatory on the streets but you need to wear them when you are entering restaurants and bars.
Other than that, there are no heavy COVID precautions in Puerto Vallarta. They do have some last minute lockdown announcements though (like for example, last October during day of the dead). PV is one of the most touristic cities in Jalisco so the government keeps a close eye on it. But don’t worry, you won’t get trapped here during COVID. And even if you did, PV is a great place to be in during a lockdown!
Should you have any questions about the current situation in PV, please don’t hesitate to get in touch through my social media channels or via e-mail. Meanwhile, here are the top things to do in Puerto Vallarta based on my local experiences.
#1: Explore Puerto Vallarta's Malecon
You will come across the word Malecón as it is widely used in Latin American countries. Almost all of them have a Malecon! It basically refers to any esplanade along a waterfront. Puerto Vallarta’s Malecon is one of the most iconic in the region. This is where you will find the vibrant local life of PV.
The most common sights here are the sculptures by the Malecon, made by renowned and famous artists. Rows of restaurants and shops dominate the whole area – from Mexican to Western dining options. There are also lots of Asian restaurants which I really love because when I lived in Sayulita, this was the thing I was missing the most. One of my favorite Indian restaurants is by the Malecon!
You can do this by yourself but if you want to have a guided tour (where you can learn about Puerto Vallarta’s history, you can hire a guide to take you around. A private guide starts at $25 USD per person although there are lots of free walking tours that are tip-based. Just ask your hotel who they recommend.
Bars used to be open til late but I’ve been going to PV a lot lately and all bars close at midnight. This used to be a very vibrant area for nightlife but since COVID started, the parties have toned down.
#2: Go to El Colibri for cocktails
Now this one is not sponsored, I promise. I just love the vibe at El Colibri! Their bar is a little bit hidden and from the outside, it seems like an abandoned building but as soon as you find the entrance, you will enter a jungle-themed bar with outdoor seating. Whenever friends visit me, I always bring them here because it’s super close to the Malecon (about 2 minutes walk) and the place is really great to introduce the cocktail culture of Puerto Vallarta.
They recently opened so for a time, their menu was limited to cocktails and drinks only. They allow you to have food delivered to El Colibri since they don’t sell it. They usually recommend the vegetarian pizza place next door. However, during my visit last week, I was happy to find out that they are already serving food! Their new food menu is very simple: pizza, salads, and cheese platter. I will not regard El Colibri as a place for dinner but it could be a nice pre-game bar before having dinner at a restaurant elsewhere.
#3: Join a yoga class
Puerto Vallarta is also big on health and wellness activities. Yoga is one of the popular outdoor activities – they always do it by the beach! Tina is a local yoga teacher in Puerto Vallarta. Two years ago, she left the Pacific Northwest and moved to PV with her family and her dogs. She is a certified CorePower trainer (certificate obtained in Portland, Oregon) and she also teaches Power Vinyasa and Yin Yoga.
Tina does her classes in the morning at the beach in Puerto Vallarta – a great spot to do yoga while enjoying the view of the Bay of Banderas. Her classes last 60-75 minutes and she’s really great at giving her clients a great yoga experience. I feel like a lot of people are forgetting about their health while traveling so if you want to make up for all the drunk nights in PV, join Tina’s class!
#4: Cooking classes and market tour
The food culture in Jalisco is a must-know. If you are someone who loves to cook, there are lots of cooking classes in Puerto Vallarta with locals! The good thing about learning how to cook in Mexico is that everyone is very generous. They share everything that will make you understand and master the dish. You can even cook it at home! Here, you will also discover the most exotic ingredients in Mexico that you will not find somewhere else. In one of the cooking classes I attended, they even e-mailed all the recipes in English after the class!
But what I love the most about this is that the local chef will first take you to the market to buy your ingredients. As someone who just moved to Vallarta, I feel like knowing where the best markets are is essential in living here. I really had fun and I felt like I knew everything about the markets in PV! Being a port city, seafood is guaranteed fresh (fish of the day). We normally buy fish from local fishermen.
#5: Discover Zona Romantica, Puerto Vallarta's gay neighborhood
Puerto Vallarta is the country’s gay capital. This is one of the reasons why many LGBTQ travelers are attracted to PV. The gay culture here is so vibrant they even have their own neighborhood! Zona Romantica, at first, was very shocking to me. I wasn’t used to seeing public displays of affection, especially from very hot gay men. I was really surprised by this culture as I did not expect it to be that public!
I told you that recently, the bars at the Malecon close at midnight but thanks to Zona Romantica’s lively vibe, there’s always a place to go after hours! Me and my girlfriends who are straight always go here with our gay friends. There is no discrimination here – everyone is welcome! Just be careful as some are very sensitive with straight people going to gay bars. They once told me that I might be sending the wrong impression. I also had an experience where a woman kissed me out of nowhere! It wasn’t offending as Puerto Vallarta’s gay scene is very accepting. Everyone just wants to have fun with no drama!
#6: Whale watching
If you are here now, as in now, January 11, 2021, it’s whale season in the riviera! I was just in Sayulita last week and saw lots of whales really close to the shore. From January to March, we are blessed to see the migration of whales up close. Most of them are mom whales traveling with their young. It’s really a spectacular thing to do not just in Puerto Vallarta but the in the neighboring small Mexican beach towns like San Pancho and Sayulita.
In Sayulita and San Pancho, you can simply sit on the beach and see the whales but in Puerto Vallarta, I recommend that you go on a whale-watching cruise. It’s a little bit fancy but very affordable. The cost per person starts at $50 USD and it will take you to the whole Bay of Banderas. Food and drinks are also included in these tours. It’s usually the activity I recommend to friends visiting with their children.
#7: Visit Colomitos Beach
I visited Colomitos beach on my own (and my dogs) but got a little lost since I was not familiar with the route. If you want to be adventurous, you can definitely do it on your own but if you are traveling in groups, you can hire a local Colomitos beach guide who can also give you a few insights about this hidden beach in Puerto Vallarta.
Local guides Alejandro and Moises are nature lovers and adventurers who left their professional careers to live a simple but fruitful life in Puerto Vallarta. They are the best guides for the Colomitos beach tour – they’ve been doing this for years! If you plan to do this without a guide, I can recommend a great boat man that I made friends with in Boca de Tomatlan (the port where you will start the hike) so get in touch and I’ll share the contact details! Otherwise, support Alejandro and Moises’ super-local tour by booking below.
#8: Visit Majahuitas
Majahuitas is one of the most beautiful coves in Mexico. I already visited Mahajuitas twice and loved it! It’s like a beach club. I would typically recommend it to groups of friends who want to go on a day drinking trip on the cove. They have restaurants and bars in the island so you don’t have to bring anything! The beach chairs and umbrellas are also resort-style.
I’ve never done this trip on my own. I always sign up for a Majahuitas island tour. Some Majahuitas tour also cover Yelapa, another Puerto Vallarta beaches favorite. Apart from day drinking, there are many things to do in Majahuitas including water sports like snorkeling (the waters are clear!), paddle boarding, and kayaking. The last time I was here, people even brought their private yachts. This island has a little fancy branding.
#9: Rhythms of the Night Dinner Show
I did not think this was going to be fun at first. I have been invited a lot by a tour company in Puerto Vallarta to do this but I never had interest. Probably because I didn’t have someone to go with but when I did, I really really enjoyed it! Rhythms of the night is an acrobatic dinner show. It’s quite famous in Puerto Vallarta so I decided to give it a try. I think all of my friends have already done it before I did.
This show is directed by Gilles Ste-Croix, which is also a co-director for Cirque du Soleil. It is about Aztec legends, civilizations of humanities, and mythical stories. The dancers are professionals and have superb acrobatic skills! My favorite part from this tour is that it begins with a sunset cruise through the Bay of Banderas until you reach Las Caletas for the show. I really loved that ride!
#10: Visit Las Caletas Beach (all-inclusive)
I’ve done this trip on my own before but I recently did the all-inclusive Las Caletas experience on board a catamaran. Las Caletas is a private beach and is ideal for nature lovers and beach bums. There are lots of outdoor activities here, too! I celebrated the birthday of a friend here last month and I can say it’s also a good place to celebrate anything!
There is a small jungly hike that you can do (or hire a guide for it). If you opt for the all-inclusive package, food and unlimited booze will be included. Gears for stand up paddleboarding, kayaking, and snorkeling are also included. There is also a mezcal tasting and cooking class that goes with this tour. If you want to scuba dive in Las Caletas, then you have to book that tour separately (from $150 USD). You need to have a PADI open water certificate in order to dive in Las Caletas. This is the perfect day trip (and one of my favorites) in this things to do in Puerto Vallarta list!
#11: Visit all the beaches in Puerto Vallarta
Do you know how many beaches are there in Puerto Vallarta? Over 15! I have not visited them all, to be honest, but I already did half. I probably need to write a standalone post for PV beaches! This is also one of the reasons why I chose to live in Vallarta – I love having both the city and the beach vibe (if you remember, I lived in Barcelona and Tel Aviv). Puerto Vallarta just gives you the best of both worlds!
All beaches in Puerto Vallarta are within walking distance or a 20-minute drive. From living in Sayulita (less than an hour from PV), I’ve discovered lots of small beach towns in Nayarit. I’ve been told that the south does not disappoint so here I am, slowly exploring all the beaches in Puerto Vallarta. So far, my favorite is Conchas Chinas and Colomitos beaches. I will put up the guide once I have completed them all!
#12: Hike Sierra Vallejo
The Sierra Vallejo hike is one of the activities that I discovered in Puerto Vallarta lately. Get a full view of the majestic Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains of Mexico. I’ve been asked for a lot of outdoor things to do in Puerto Vallarta and this is the one that I highly recommend. I am still in the process of doing some more outdoorsy stuff so bookmark this page and I will definitely update it as I go. Remember that I only recommend things (and brands) that I have experience with.
This is a guided 2-hour tour. I don’t really recommend you doing this on your own. This includes transportation from Puerto Vallarta, English tour guides, hiking/trekking poles, helmets, and snacks. Note that the food that comes with the tour is not a meal so it’s better to have a heavy meal before the hike. This is an easy hike (5 km) and it’s for everyone so don’t worry! Highly encouraged to wear shoes. The gypsy in me forgot to wear (proper) shoes when we did this hike so I suffered a lot after the tour!
#13: Day trip to San Pancho and Sayulita
I don’t understand why this happens a lot but people who visit Sayulita miss Puerto Vallarta and vice-versa. In my experience, I know a lot of people who write to me on Instagram and they don’t have any idea that Sayulita exists! While day trip tours to Sayulita and San Pancho are all over PV, you can simply do this on your own. It’s just a 40-minute ride to visit both these amazing beach towns!
These two towns have very different vibe than PV, mostly because they are smaller. You can go around both in half a day but I recommend staying more in Sayulita since there are more things to do there. If you ever plan to do this on your own without signing up with a tour company, let me know and I can show you around town! Otherwise, you can always refer to my Sayulita travel guide for tips.
If you want to do this on your own, driving from Puerto Vallarta to the Nayarit area is a good road trip! You can simply rent a car in PV and do the drive yourself. It will give you more flexibility to stop whenever you like – this area is highly recommended and I’ve done this road trip a lot.
#14: Salsa nights at La Bodeguita del medio
La Bodeguita del Medio is a Cuban bar that has three branches in Mexico: Playa del Carmen, Mexico City, and Puerto Vallarta. I never not go here whenever I am in PV because they just don’t have salsa music – there is a salsa band playing which makes the dancing more fun! It doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to dance. Ladies, the Latin men always lead the way. You just have to follow!
This place is not only for dancing but is also good for dinners (they have a wide food menu) and all sorts of drinks. Whenever I come here, I don’t even look at the menu anymore because they have everything! I remember the first time I came here, I asked them what they have for drinks and they said “everything.” Whether you are craving for tequila, mezcal, or even red wine, La Bodeguita del Medio has it all. This is a great place for groups of friends looking to have a fun night in Puerto Vallarta!
#15: Tacos and tequila crawl
You don’t want to visit Mexico without trying tequila and tacos. Jalisco, the state where Puerto Vallarta is located in a tequila capital! Going on a taco and tequila tour in PV will introduce you to the city’s vibrant nightlife and exceptional culinary scene. Most guides who offer this tour are locals so you’re going to be in good hands! I assure you that you will not find these places on your own. This is really a big city! If you’re adventurous enough and feel like you can do this on your own, of course, no need to sign up for a tour. Walk and do things on your own works in PV, too!
Some popular tacos include steak, fish tacos, shrimp tacos, tacos al pastor, and the iconic dish of Jalisco, the birria. Apart from tequila, you will also get to know other popular Mexican flavors like raicilla and mezcal. I am not a raicilla person and I always prefer mezcal over tequila. I always tell the bartenders to make me a mezcal margarita instead of tequila because it works! Back home, you’re probably used to shooting mezcal and tequila at one-time but here, you need to drink them slowly.
#16: Snorkeling and freediving photoshoot
I’ve always been interested in freediving. I took a few lessons in the Philippines, and some in southern Mexico and I feel like this is a very healthy and adventurous activity. I reached up to 2 minutes underwater with breathing techniques. It really is something interesting to learn! Sebastian is a local underwater photographer in Puerto Vallarta. He’s lived in PV for more than 20 years and he really swims like a fish!
Sebastian is a certified lifeguard, diver, swimmer, and water guide. He started this underwater photography tour to share the most emblematic waters of PV through his camera. You don’t even need to know how to swim when you do a session with him. He has floaters that will make you look like a pro freediver in your pictures. Check out Sebastian’s gallery and see!
#17: Watch the sunset on a stand up paddleboard
I have my own paddleboard so I often go to the beaches of PV – it’s perfect for SUP because the waves are not big! Although I have a lot of friends who do SUP surfing in Sayulita and San Pancho where waves are bigger, I prefer to do it in PV since I only like SUP-ing when it’s flat. I am not a professional but Serch, a local paddleboarder in Puerto Vallarta is a professional.
His SUP tours/lessons last 1.5 hours that start in Camarones beach (I love this beach!) all the way to Los Muertos pier and back. It may look like a long paddle but a not-so-fit person like me was able to do it – I believe you can do it, too! Serch will help you all the way and again, don’t worry because PV beaches don’t have big waves. This is one of the best ways to see our sunset here in Puerto Vallarta!
#18: Sunset tequila tasting
Did you know that tequila is from the state of Jalisco? Puerto Vallarta is part of this state so a tequila tasting activity is a must-do! I am honestly not a tequila fan but I enjoyed learning about it during my trip to Tequila, Jalisco (yes, the city is literally called Tequila) where I learned a lot about tequila in Mexico. Oh no, this is not the tequila we all know from home – this is the real deal. You can easily take a day trip to the city of Tequila for a full-experience. It’s just 3 hours away by car from Puerto Vallarta.
But if you don’t have the energy to drive, you can experience the same in PV. Local guide Alejandro does a lot of tastings and is knowledgeable with tequila. He’s been a bartender for 10 years until he realized he works for himself and does his own tequila tasting tours. In his tours, he will teach you how to properly drink tequila (in Mexico, you drink it slowly) and will also teach you how to pair it with food. This is a really fun activity and I really recommend Alejandro’s tours!
#19: Go around PV on a bicycle
I have my own bike and PV’s malecon is always the best place to cycle! Alright, PV’s streets are cobblestones but the Malecon is flat so it won’t be a pain to bike the whole area (end to end). This is one of the best ways to experience Puerto Vallarta and you can always stop on your own. If you want a guided tour (where the guide explains every stop, history, and culture of this amazing city), I recommend joining Ernesto’s bike tours, a PV local who can give you insider tips about PV.
Ernesto does this tour with his son, Matias, a 17-year old with a great voice. Growing up, Matias was influenced by Ernesto’s crazy obsession with mother nature and the outdoors. This father and son duo will give you a great time cycling around PV so I hope you can support them!
#20: Visit San Sebastian
San Sebastian is not a popular destination for people visiting Puerto Vallarta but I really love the local community here! If you are interested in seeing rural life outside the touristy PV, then you should check out this destination in the Sierra Madre. This will take at least 7 hours so it’s better to dedicate a full day to it! From Puerto Vallarta, San Sebastian is about a 1 hour and 40 minutes drive.
In this tour, you will see whitewashed structures, remnants of mining, and a town untouched by tourism. The drive to San Sebastian is also very scenic as it is located in the mountains. For most of my friends who come from Riviera Maya and visit me here, they always say that the only thing missing in the south is the mountains! The beauty of visiting Puerto Vallarta is that we have it all – mountains, beaches, all-inclusive resorts, etc. This side of Mexico is really a great destination to explore!