A popular stop on Mexican Riviera cruises, Puerto Vallarta is a historic city nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Madre mountains. Known for its colonial charm, food and beaches, there’s plenty to do in this sunny region.
Cruise ships dock directly in Puerto Vallarta, making it easy to access the city’s many attractions. Cruise passengers can relax and explore at their own pace or join cruise ship excursions or day trips from well-known local operators.
Whether you’re looking for a lively beach, a tranquil nature retreat or an action-packed excursion, there’s something for everyone and every budget.
The biggest problem when visiting this port is trying to choose between all the amazing things to do in Puerto Vallarta. Here’s our list of the top ten to try.
Puerto Vallarta’s famous boardwalk, Malecon, hugs the ocean for eleven blocks, where tourists can take a leisurely stroll and enjoy the area’s scenery, culture, food, and entertainment. This bustling promenade is an integral part of town life, showcasing statues and other local artwork, as well as shops selling authentic regional produce.
A sight not to be missed is that of the Papantla Bird-Men, the legendary aerialists who swing from above, dressed in traditional costumes as part of a ritual of celebration to the gods. Be sure to snap a photo at the famous Puerto Vallarta sign and seahorse statue.
To cool off, relax under one of the many palm trees or take a short break in the sun at a bar or try a local culinary delight.
For cruise passengers looking for an easy day of port at a nearby beach, Playa de Los Muertos is a great option, located just off the Malecon boardwalk. Although the name is less than appealing, translating to Deadman’s Beach, it’s one of Puerto Vallarta’s must-see spots. The origin of its name has had several iterations throughout history due to pirates frequenting the area. Rest assured, it’s a safe place now.
Everyone is welcome at this popular beach, including families. The water is relatively calm most of the time, which makes it a good place to swim.
Along the beach there are plenty of activities including jet skis, parasailing, banana boat rides and beach volleyball to name a few. There is a huge range of food and drink options, and most establishments allow patrons to use their chairs and umbrellas as long as they purchase drinks or food items. Local musicians play for the crowds, creating a great atmosphere. There are many small vendors selling silver jewelry, accessories, and souvenirs.
Vallarta Botanical Gardens
Probably not what some people expect from a renowned beach, but the area around Puerto Vallarta is lush and tropical, so if you’re looking for an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, visit the Vallarta Botanical Gardens, nestled in the mountains around the city.
This area is both tranquil and full of diverse vegetation. The manicured and natural gardens are home to local wildlife, which can be explored on the many paths through the gardens.
Expert guides teach guests about the area, visiting sites such as the Cactus Garden and the Tropical Fruit Orchard with an impressive collection of oak trees, wild palms, and agaves. The Conservatory of Orchids and Native Plants is also magnificent, with nearly 300 species native to Mexico. End the day with a culinary experience featuring local produce and traditional dishes from the region.
Puerto Vallarta is legendary for its food scene. It offers international cruises to suit any palette or preference, but its local richness is diverse, including ocean seafood and fantastic agricultural produce.
There are plenty of ways to explore, from casual tastings to dining experiences. Many tours offer samplers at different restaurants, adding some history and tequila along the way. Another option is a DIY tour along popular spots like the Malecon or Downtown.
Be sure to try the pescado zarandeado, a charcoal-grilled fish, or a number of maize (maize) dishes such as Sopa de Elota, a sweet corn soup. The corn theme is complemented by tejuino, a corn drink fermented with alcohol. A little lighter, Sangrita is an orange juice sweetened with ground onion, chilli and salt.
Dining and cocktails go hand in hand, but given the importance of tequila in this region, it deserves its own special mention.
There’s a reason why Puerto Vallarta is one of the best places to tour tequila; it is located in the district of Jalisco, which is the birthplace of the famous drink. It is believed to have been first developed 2,000 years ago by the Aztecs from agave juice.
There are many ways to experience tequila. A sophisticated connoisseur tasting, a tequila museum, or a visit to one of the many local distilleries to see how it’s made are all great options.
The countryside Hacienda Doña Dona Engracia is a local favorite, where guests are treated like family as they see tequila production firsthand. Taste fresh salsa and try your hand at making a few cocktails.
If you love to explore, this Spanish colonial city has plenty of charm and impressive architecture. Take a guided tour or wander alone; either way, it’s easy to get around, with plenty of taxis and hop-on hop-off buses.
The city’s rich past is showcased in the historic Zona Romantica. One of the oldest parts of the city, it still boasts cobbled streets, stunning buildings and a mix of new restaurants, shops and bars. Our Lady of Guadalupe Church is another popular place to visit. Located in the town square, it was built at the beginning of the 20th century and has an impressive crown on its tower.
A hidden gem, Isla Cuale is a small island that sits near the Zona Romantica and is easily accessible via bridges on either side. A delightful walk, it has markets, lots of birds, parrots and a local museum.
The beautiful waters of the Pacific Ocean offer a multitude of marine activities, and one of the most popular is snorkeling.
An amazing place to visit is Los Arcos (Arches) of Mismaloya The arches were originally part of the mountain range, but time and erosion have allowed the sea to claim it, and it is spectacular.
Located in the Marine Life Protected Area, there are plenty of opportunities to see local marine life including colorful fish, lobsters, octopus, rays and eels, even sea turtles. The reefs around arches provide a natural base for diving and exploring. For the more experienced, underwater the rocks have multiple tunnels with incredible natural rock formations.
Just south of Puerto Vallarta, Las Caletas is a secluded beach paradise accessible only by boat. Surrounded by the jungle, guests truly experience seclusion, making them feel like they are away from the world.
You can easily spend a day sipping cocktails while enjoying the beach or many other activities to explore, such as popular water sports such as scuba diving, snorkeling, paddle boarding and kayaking.
On land, choose between guided nature walks, yoga, cooking classes or the spa. Visit the bird and deer sanctuaries, and animal encounters, or families can enjoy the children’s area.
It is important to note that this area is restricted and visitors cannot go there alone. It’s an all-inclusive experience through a local travel company, Vallarta Adventures, which leases the land to the Chacala Native community.
For those who love nature and also a bit of excitement, a canopy tour is a fantastic option to consider. The beautiful backdrop of jungle and mountains provide incredible views for this high-energy activity.
What exactly is a canopy tour? This is a zipline tour that has a number of pre-arranged routes through the treetops. A popular activity at many port stops, however, Puerto Vallarta takes it to the next level thanks to the area’s incredible topography. With the area’s lush jungles and incredible vistas, it’s a fantastic experience.
There are several different companies offering tours, also in combination with other activities such as mountain biking and rafting, to make a full day of adventure.
Swim with dolphins in the wild
The oceans around Puerto Vallarta team up with marine wildlife, including bottlenose dolphins that frequent tropical waters. This area of the west coast is a paradise for animal lovers who want to discover the local marine life.
Cruise passengers can visit these splendid creatures in their natural environment. No pools or enclosed spaces, just the wide open Pacific Ocean. Accompanied by biologists, tours visit areas well known for dolphins, with the chance to swim with them in the wild, and other animals such as turtles and rays. From December to March, some lucky visitors can see humpback whales.
Another benefit is that these tours support marine ecology research, giving back to the community.