Puerto Vallarta is one of Mexico’s sunniest and most colorful destinations. It’s bursting with things to see and do, and the locals are always ready to welcome tourists. Your only concern is choosing which things to do in Puerto Vallarta.
Puerto Vallarta has many facets. In some corners, visitors will find the charm of old Mexico. In others, they will find opportunities to dance the night away at the hottest club in town. Tourists may choose to be lazy on the white-sand beaches or soar above the turquoise waters while parasailing.
With diverse dining, shopping from local vendors and interacting with native wildlife, you’ll never run out of things to do in Puerto Vallarta. Now all you have to do is choose.
Top 20 things to do in Puerto Vallarta
1. El Malecon
When you are looking for things to do and see in Puerto Vallarta, walking El Malecon belongs at the top of your list. El Malecon is the city’s memorable boardwalk. It presents the perfect opportunity to explore Puerto Vallarta from one end to the other.
Along the way, you’ll be able to take in stunning ocean views as well as public art installations. Some of the city’s most famous beaches and cultural attractions are found along its length.
El Malecon stretches along Banderas Bay for more than a mile. Strolling here during the day is essential to make the most of the views, markets and sites. However, it’s just as vital to make a visit here after dark.
When the sun goes down, the nightlife thrives along El Malecon. Many of the city’s top clubs and bars are located along its length. There’s something here for everyone from raucous spring breakers to an older crowd that’s seeking a sophisticated wine bar. Plenty of LGBTQ friendly spots are clustered here as well.
Access to El Malecon is free and available 24/7. Its northern end is located at the Hotel Rosita while its southern end is marked by the Amphitheater that sits next to the Plaza de Armas.
2. Los Arcos
Also known as Los Arcos de Mismaloya, Los Arcos is a collection of tiny islands that jut out of the sea immediately south of Puerto Vallarta. They may be reached via numerous day cruises or by taking a short drive. When considering what to do in Puerto Vallarta, this site should definitely be on your list.
Los Arcos Marine Park was established in 1984 to protect this beautiful area. The granite islands may be glimpsed from the city’s downtown district, but they are far more breathtaking when viewed up close.
The park is a wonderland for people who enjoy snorkeling and scuba diving. With caves, tunnels, arches and a reef to explore, enthusiasts could easily spend several hours or even a few days.
While at the park, visitors may spot all sorts of birds including parrots and pelicans. Also present are incredible varieties of fish, turtles, mantas and rays.
3. Whale Watching Tours
A Puerto Vallarta whale watching tour is an opportunity to enjoy breathtaking natural beauty. With an expert guide to lead the way, tourists will be able to spot enormous humpback whales in their natural habitat.
Along Banderas Bay, these surprisingly graceful creatures have their seasonal breeding ground. A knowledgeable guide tells guests more about humpback whales even as it’s possible to watch the sea mammals interacting with each other and going about their daily activities.
Most of these tours last approximately three hours, and they are presented in a variety of languages. Many tours provide a bottle of water and a light snack during the outing.
4. Playa las Gemelas
When it comes to deciding what to do in Puerto Vallarta, the beach is at the top of most people’s lists. Many of the local beaches are busy and crowded. Playa las Gemelas is about a 10-minute drive south of the city. Consequently, it tends to be far quieter, especially on weekdays.
Visitors who are seeking a peaceful escape with beautiful blue waves and white sand will love this spot. Because the waves are particularly gentle here, this is a fantastic place for a swim, even for little ones.
However, a trip here does require a bit of planning. No services are found at Playa las Gemelas, which means that visitors would be wise to bring plenty of water, food, sunscreen and other necessities. Without vendors to create noise and annoyance, this is a quiet, refreshing escape.
5. Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe
This church boasts one of the city’s most famous facades, and it is one of the top things to see in Puerto Vallarta. The chiming of the bells may be heard throughout the Old Town quarter, calling worshipers to service.
While the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe is always a highlight for tourists, it is especially busy between December 1 and 12 when the Feast of Guadalupe is observed. With street processionals, live music and dancing, this is an event not to be missed.
Even in other seasons, the church is a charming excursion. It’s visible from El Malecon, and most people at least pause to observe its Renaissance-style tower. Of particular note is the “crown” that adorns the tower’s top. It’s one of Puerto Vallarta’s most recognizable symbols. Visitors are welcome to enter for free.
6. Isla Rio Cuale
Somewhere along Banderas Bay is an inlet where the Rio Cuale feeds into the ocean. Within the midst of the river is an oasis of an island. Not only is this island in the middle of a river but also it’s in the center of Puerto Vallarta. This should make it fairly easy to find, yet first-time visitors sometimes have difficulty locating it.
Isla Rio Cuale is most easily found by walking south along El Malecon until you encounter a bridge that takes you across the river. Here, you’ll find access to the island.
Isla Rio Cuale first appeared in 1926 when the river suddenly grew and then forked. Known as the Isla de Los Ninos at the time, the island eventually became a tourist attraction. Today, it’s one of the most popular things to do in Puerto Vallarta. It provides a shady spot that features numerous vendors and sites of interest.
A Cultural Center is found on the island’s eastern end, and you’ll also discover Gringo Gulch, where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had houses during the filming of The Night of the Iguana, nearby. Gringo Gulch maintains a bohemian vibe to this day, and is a gathering place for artists of all descriptions.
READ MORE: Check out our complete guide to the best areas to stay in Puerto Vallarta!
7. Vallarta Botanical Gardens
If you’re looking for an attraction that the whole family will want to see in Puerto Vallarta, consider a trip to the botanical garden. In existence since 2005, the gardens cover 64 acres, showcasing specimens from the Tropical Dry Forest Biome as well as other exotic plants from around the world.
Through tours and classes, the gardens provide environmental education. However, most tourists come here simply to enjoy the lush gardens and the delectable on-site restaurant, Hacienda de Oro.
The Vallarta Botanical Gardens provide a restful retreat from the bustle of the city. Spend a half hour lounging on a bench, and take in the views. As it is also a preserve for birds, this is a wonderful attraction for ornithologists.
8. Playa Los Muertos
This is the most popular beach in the region. As such, anyone who is wondering what to do in Puerto Vallarta will only have to take a few steps off of El Malecon to discover the answer. Playa Los Muertos is the site of unstoppable action. A new pier was completed here in 2013, which only adds to the attraction of the site.
This is the perfect place for people watching and for seeing all that the local vendors have to offer. Plenty of bars and restaurants are adjacent to Playa Los Muertos. If you’re looking for an ocean swim, a chance to parasail or to build a sandcastle, this is the place to do it.
When you’re looking for things to do in Puerto Vallarta, sometimes it’s a good idea to get out of the city. Bucerias is a charming, old-fashioned fishing village that sits just to the north of the Puerto Vallarta airport.
While it was once quite untouched, things are happening in Bucerias these days. Though the village remains small and relatively quiet compared to its larger neighbor, this is a fantastic community for finding art galleries and gourmet restaurants.
While the south side of the village is gentrified, crossing the bridge to the north side provides a look at an authentic Mexican fishing village.
Exploring this village of contrasts, be certain to take in the wide, uncrowded stretch of beach. If you’re in town on a Sunday, venture toward the streets that surround the village’s main plaza. They are closed off for an open-air market that’s not to be missed.
10. Zona Romantica
The city’s Romantic Zone, which also may be referred to as Old Town or Old Vallarta, is the perfect answer if you’re wondering what to do in Puerto Vallarta. You’ll find the Zona Romantica just south of downtown. It is frequently the busiest section of the city thanks to its concentration of shops, restaurants and bars.
Because this is the oldest part of the city, the streets are smaller and the architecture is older. This is an incredibly charming quarter that is filled with colorful sites. Many expats live here, and tourists who have visited Puerto Vallarta more than once tend to congregate in this neighborhood.
The Zona Romantica is the home of Playa Los Muertos and the Old Farmers’ Market among many other attractions.
11. Quimixto Falls
At the southern end of Banderas Bay, close to the mouth of the La Puerta River, sits Quimixto. It is a small fishing village with a lovely beach that is divided into two sections. One is close to the town while the other is more distant. This is the main beach, and it provides the superior sand and waves as well as a lovely restaurant known as Los Cocos.
If you follow the La Puerta River about one mile inland, you’ll encounter beautiful Quimixto Falls. The hike is an easy one, and the falls provide plenty of incentive to get there. If you don’t want to hike, you can hire a horse to take you there.
Feel free to swim in the river at the base of the falls, and don’t forget to take plenty of photographs.
If you’re looking for things to do in Puerto Vallarta and you have any interest in surfing, then you have to consider a day trip to Sayulita. It’s a mere 25 miles to the northwest of the city, and surfers the world over consider it paradise.
Tourists who feel like the vibe in Puerto Vallarta has gotten too hectic are known to escape to this sleepy village. Sayulita boasts a laid-back attitude that lets everyone just do their own thing.
The waves here are consistent and long, making it an ideal destination for those wanting to hang 10. Affordable stands serving delectable Mexican dishes are found everywhere in Sayulita, making it an excellent destination for an authentic meal as well.
13. Zipline Tours
If you’re looking for things to see in Puerto Vallarta, then maybe it will help to get a new perspective. Several tour companies offer zipline tours in the area, each one more exciting than the last. This is a fantastic way to see the lush vegetation outside of the city as well as some spectacular views.
Many tour operators combine zipline adventures with other activities like hiking, kayaking and swimming. Some even boast animal sanctuaries, restaurants, boat rides and tequila tasting to provide a full day of entertainment.
14. The Marietas Islands
Islas Marietas National Park was designated as a World Heritage Site in 2004. For breathtaking landscapes and opportunities to view wildlife in its natural habitat, it would be virtually impossible to beat the Marietas Islands.
Tour providers operate adventures here every day, with the highlights being the opportunity to kayak, paddle board or snorkel in superlative surroundings.
The Marietas are home to world famous Hidden Beach, which also may be called Love Beach. Accessible only at low tide, this beach is well known for its situation in the midst of a crater.
Boat tours leaving from Puerto Vallarta or nearby Punta Mita take visitors to this one-of-a-kind destination daily.
15. Sunset at Daiquiri Dick’s
When looking for things to do in Puerto Vallarta, the sunset should be on every traveler’s list. You can view it from any beach or the balcony of a swank hotel room, but why not try it with an ice-cold daiquiri in your hand?
That’s exactly what you can do at Daiquiri Dick’s, a unique Puerto Vallarta institution. Casual yet elegant, this bar and restaurant is in the heart of the popular Romantic Zone. Stop in for fresh bread from the bakery, inventive seafood dishes and Dick’s signature cocktails.
With an oceanfront location that lets you make the most of the sunset, Daiquiri Dick’s is a can’t-miss Puerto Vallarta original.
16. Vallarta Zoo
If you’ve got kids with you or you just appreciate the opportunity to see wildlife up close and personal, then the Vallarta Zoo is a must do. That’s especially true because this is a zoo with a twist. Here, you get to feed the animals, and perhaps even pet them too.
When you enter the Vallarta Zoo, be certain to pick up some bags of food for the animals. Inside the bag are all sorts of healthy snacks. When you arrive at an animal enclosure, a sign will tell you which healthy treats are favorites of the animals within. Be sure to have your camera at the ready.
The Vallarta Zoo is located outside of the city and is in jungle surroundings. You’ll need a rental car, taxi or public bus to get there. A café is on site if seeing all of the animals enjoy their snacks makes you hungry.
17. Boca de Tomatlan
Catch a public bus to take an 11-mile trip south to the fishing village of Boca de Tomatlan to enjoy stunning beaches and fantastic dining. It’s an incredibly scenic drive, and the fun is only beginning as you arrive.
A trip to Boca de Tomatlan is an opportunity to experience authentic Mexico. It’s referred to simply as “Boca” by the locals. You can catch a water taxi from here to visit the beaches at the south end of Banderas Bay, but you just might find plenty of reasons to stay where you are.
Surrounded by jungle and lush with bougainvillea, papaya and hibiscus, Boca is an incredibly scenic spot. While much of Puerto Vallarta has been updated to appeal to modern travelers from all over the world, Boca is a slice of traditional Mexico.
In addition to a lovely beach where you can sunbathe and swim, you can check out the many local trails and sample the whiskey that’s brewed nearby. Don’t forget to enjoy lunch or dinner at one of the unforgettably authentic restaurants.
18. Dinner Cruising
For people who are wondering what to do in Puerto Vallarta, a sunset cruise is the obvious choice. Numerous tour operators provide a wide variety of options. These may range from stately and elegant to raucous and wild and include everything in between.
Regardless, you’ll have an experience that you’ll never forget as you set sail an hour or so before the sun goes down. You can expect superior service and fine dining that includes all of your favorite wines and cocktails. While you enjoy a veritable feast of local and international cuisine, you’ll be delighted by live entertainment.
Many of these tours make stops at some of Puerto Vallarta’s most well-known beaches and other sites. You’ll be treated to a live show, music and spectacular views as the sun goes down. A dinner cruise frequently is the most memorable event on any visitor’s itinerary.
19. Take a Tequila Tour
Anyone can become a connoisseur of Mexico’s national drink with a tequila tour. In fact, for many visitors this adventure tops their list of things to do in Puerto Vallarta. On the tour, you’ll learn that agave is only grown in Mexico, making tequila the natural choice for the national beverage.
Tequila tours typically take visitors to a farm where agave is grown, harvested and distilled. This is a fascinating opportunity as many of these ranches have been in operation for centuries, and often they are being operated by the descendants of the original owners.
Tourists are invited to understand and observe the tequila-making process from beginning to end. Of course, this always involves the opportunity to sample some of the product as well as to make purchases before the day is done.
Tequila tours often require five or more hours and include stops at restaurants and perhaps other interesting sites along the drive. This is a can’t-miss activity for anyone who loves tequila.
20. ATV Tours
If your idea of a great vacation involves some pulse-pounding excitement, then an ATV tour is just your style. This is the perfect tour for someone who appreciates the fast-and-furious lifestyle. If you’re traveling with a group and not everyone is enthusiastic about the idea of operating their own ATV, have no fear. Shared ATVs take care of that problem for you.
The variety of ATV tours that are available in and around Puerto Vallarta is astounding. Feel free to book a short tour that lasts just a couple of hours. If you’re ready for more, reserve a half- or full-day tour.
You can choose a jungle trek that has you exploring the Sierra Madre as well as authentic Mexican towns and dirt roads, stopping at swimming holes and waterfalls along the way.
Alternatively, you could opt for an extreme backcountry tour that has you traversing multiple rivers and encountering some of the roughest country around. Some ATV tours stick to the beach or close to it, combining the adventure with a bit of surfing or snorkeling. Still others have you sampling tequila along the way.
If you’re not into ATVs, consider choosing a tour by dune buggy, Jeep or even horseback. The options are practically endless, giving you an impressive list of things to do in Puerto Vallarta.