Top Things To Do in Puerto Vallarta
Hollywood film stars and turbulent lovers Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton are recognized today for making Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, such a tourist-hot spot. After filming the 1964 movie, The Night of the Iguana, Liz Taylor fell in love with the natural beauty and seclusion of this Pacific oceanside town and made it a home for herself—a heaven on earth. Millions of tourists have visited the town since then, basking in Puerto Vallarta’s year-round sunshine, lush greenery, delicious street food, and vibrant culture.
Soak up the sun at the Barceló Hotel on Banderas Bay
1. Vallarta botanical gardens
Typically, botanical gardens are not the first item on a conventional things-to-do list. However, the ones located in the Puerto Vallarta hills are a one-of-a-kind tropical oasis. If you are looking for a truly calming experience away from the bustle of the city, the botanical gardens are the perfect first stop. There, you’ll find dozens of hiking trails, a vanilla plantation, and a plant conservatory boasting a vast collection of orchids. For a much-needed break from the heat and humidity, step inside the restaurant La Hacienda de Oro, where you’ll be escorted up the steps to a breezy, air-conditioned patio bar overlooking the tropical paradise below. Servers will offer you cold water, a purple orchid in each glass. Enjoy live music from a mariachi band, and for a snack, treat yourself to authentic homemade tortilla chips and fresh salsa. Step downstairs to the gift shop and the quaint chapel nearby, where the gardens frequently host events and weddings.
2. Old TOWN Puerto Vallarta, el Malecón, & Los Muertos Pier
There is always something to do in the old town of Puerto Vallarta, known by locals as the Emiliano Zapata neighborhood. On a quiet Sunday afternoon, walk through the main square and along the Malecón boardwalk. You’ll find dozens of art galleries, opal boutiques, local shops selling handmade huaraches, and numerous bars where you can taste test reposado, mezcal, or añejo tequilas. As you stroll the mile-long Malecón, you’ll stumble along all sorts of sights, including Los Muertos Beach and Pier. Designed by José de Jesús Torres Vega and completed in 2013, Los Muertos Pier was a major landmark during the Puerto Vallarta renovation project. The sleek, spiraling pier is simply breathtaking; it stands indomitably along the crowded beach. Walk the modern curvature design and admire the locals brave enough to backflip into the water. Later on Sunday nights, the center of town near Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church lights up with a sprawling night life scene—live music at the Los Arcos Amphitheater and salsa dancing on the plaza where decades ago, young men courted young women.
3. La Zona romántica, Río Cuale, & Casa Kimberly
Once at the center of downtown, head south to la zona romántica. Peppered with colorful houses and gay-friendly bars, this neighborhood is what makes downtown Puerto Vallarta so enchanting. Along each colorful and vibrant street, notice all the vendors selling the same mosaic of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton walking hand-in-hand beneath the pristine white puente del amor, or the lover’s arch, located at Casa Kimberly, Liz Taylor’s vacation house. Guests can relive the greatest, and arguably the most caustic, love story of all time, as they enjoy the spa, pool, tequila bar, restaurant, and luxurious suites of this enchanting 4 star private villa. If you're interested in simply exploring the neighborhood, you’ll want to find la Isla Cuale, right at the heart of Puerto Vallarta. Stop by the flea market as you make your way across the Río Cuale over the walking river bridge. Take a break at the cultural center, where you can find a statue of famed film director John Huston, before you walk up the hundreds of steps of the Gringo Gulch Bridge. You’ll stumble upon the Mulholland Drive of Puerto Vallarta, where you’ll glimpse historical plaques on every street corner and below, a phenomenal view of the city. Continue north, before turning left at Calle Zaragoza, where you’ll encounter the bridge, the villa, and a statue of the two lovers.
Take a colorful stroll through la zona romántica
4. Mismaloya Beach & Los Arcos
During my visit to Puerto Vallarta, we stayed at the Barceló Hotel, an all-inclusive hotel I would recommend to anyone looking for a calm, rejuvenating vacation. We were surprised to discover that the hotel, located south of the downtown area, was located right next door to the small village of Mismaloya, famous for serving as the location of Taylor’s Night of the Iguana. If you’re hoping to find a more secluded beach than the downtown Puerto Vallarta beaches, Mismaloya is perfect for you. You’ll find local vendors selling hammocks, swimsuits, and beach dresses. Along the southside of the inlet, you can walk along the rocks and find the arches and remnants of the dilapidated set from the 1960s film. The inlet is relatively private and you have a prime view of Banderas Bay and the famous Los Arcos granite rocks. Each morning, you’ll spot fisherman heading out to Los Arcos for their day’s catch. In the afternoon, rent a jet ski or kayak from one of the local vendors and snorkel beside the protected National Marine Park. In the evening, you might catch a wedding at the Barceló Hotel, or chose to embark on a romantic sunset boat tour.
5. Las Islas Marietas
If you want to take in the beauty of the Nayarit region, las Islas Marietas National Park are a must-see. It’s definitely a trek from Puerto Vallarta, so I would recommend arriving to the small town of Punta Mita where you can take a five mile boat road to the islands. Although the islands are a bit out of the way, they’re certainly worth it. Make your visit a romantic day-trip getaway—you’ll fall in love with the spectacular beauty of these uninhabited, pristine islands; the abundant flora and fauna; and the striking, world-famous “love beach” or “hidden beach.” You might spot manta rays, wild dolphins, or if you’re lucky, the rare blue-footed booby.
For more information on things to do, visit The Official Tourism Guide of Puerto Vallarta. Can you think of more wonderful places to see in Puerto Vallarta?
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