Things to do in Puerto Vallarta, México

Since the 90’s, Matt’s grandparents have spent part of the year living in beautiful Puerto Vallarta, so much of his family has spent quite a bit of time exploring the area. I have been lucky enough to visit twice now, and have come to love this vibrant coastal city.

There are so many great things to do in Puerto Vallarta, whether you’re in need of some relaxing beach time, want to experience the culture and bustling city scene, or are looking for adventure.  Our first visit was several years back on a stop on the way back to the U.S. after bouncing around South America for a year. We were a bit exhausted at that point and spent our couple weeks mostly strolling around the city and lounging by the water. Our last visit was more packed with adventures in the surrounding areas. So, take it from us when we say Puerto Vallarta can be enjoyed many different ways!

Here are some great activities to consider adding to your Puerto Vallarta itinerary.

Colorful Puerto Vallarta
Colorful Puerto Vallarta

1. Walk the Malecón

The Malecón de Puerto Vallarta is a long beachside path that runs between Hotel Rosita and the Olas Altas park. There are tons of restaurants, souvenir shops, street food vendors, and other shops along the path. As you walk, you’ll see various sand sculptures and art installations, such as the Puerto Vallarta letters, Bailarines de Vallarta, and more. There are also sometimes street performers around.

Just below the path is the beach. Some of the coastline is rather rocky and you won’t see many people swimming or hanging out there, but other areas are more sandy and ideal for relaxing. Being right near the heart of the city, these beach areas are often packed. Some spots aren’t the best for swimming because there are many boats, the current can be strong, and/or the river dumps into the sea nearby.

In our opinion, there are much better beaches to hang out at around Puerto Valllarta, but the Malecón area is a great place to stroll and just be among the busy city scene.

The Puerto Vallarta letters along the Malecón
The Puerto Vallarta letters along the Malecón

2. Hit the Shops

In addition to the various boutiques and souvenir shops lining the Malecón, there are many other shops on the surrounding streets where you can buy more souvenirs, art, clothing, crafts, and packaged food items like sweets, sauces, spices, tequila, and more.

There are also multiple markets in the area that have abundant local goods. Take a walk through the Mercado Municipal, Isla Cuale Mercado, or Pueblo Viejo Mercado. The Olas Altos Market is also a nice spot to stop on Saturdays for fresh fruit, street food, and various handicrafts.

Puerto Vallarta is quite touristy and the prices have increased over the years. We have found that the items sold here are a bit more expensive than some of the other goods elsewhere – like outside the main tourist spots in areas such as Pitillal. Brush up on your bargaining skills for the markets! Also be sure to carry cash.

Shops in the city - Things to do in Puerto Vallarta

3. Hang out at the Beach

As it’s situated right on the coast, Puerto Vallarta offers many opportunities to enjoy the beach and various water activities. As mentioned earlier, the beaches around the Malecón and heart of the city, including Playa Camarones, Playa Olas Altas, and Playa Los Muertos, are often pretty packed.

There are other beaches area that are a bit more peaceful if you’re looking to hang out for some of the day. Some of these include Conchas Chinas, Punta Negra, Palmares, and Las Gemelas. They are easily accessible by bus. Some have snacks and options to rent kayaks, paddle boards, umbrellas, and chairs, so bring some cash. There many other beaches further to the south and north around Bahía de Banderas as well!

Note that some of the beaches in the area are private to the resorts lining them. Also keep in mind that this stretch of coastline is quite rocky and the sea is known to often have a very strong current, so use caution if you decide to go for a swim.

Enjoying a coconut at Playa Las Gemelas
Enjoying a coconut at Playa Las Gemelas

4. Climb up Cerro de la Cruz

The area around Puerto Vallarta is quite hilly and making the short, but steep, walk up Cerro de la Cruz is a great way to take in some of the views over the city and coastline.

This mirador is open 24 hours, but we recommend making the climb in the morning or closer to sunset to avoid the heat of the day. Walk up Calle Abasolo, which turns into a steep and narrow street leading up the hillside. There are various murals and art galleries around if you’d like to explore the area more. The street dead ends at some steps that will lead you to the Cerro de la Cruz viewpoint. There is a funicular by the steps, though we haven’t seen it running. From the Malecón area, it only took us 20-30 minutes to get to the top.

At the mirador, there is a tower with a few levels of viewing platforms. We enjoyed the shade and cool breeze as we took in the views. Atop the hill, there is a tall cross that gives the hill its name. There’s also a little café up there if you feel like a drink and snack while you enjoy the views.

Views from Cerro de la Cruz
Views from Cerro de la Cruz

5. Visit the Plaza de Armas and Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

Whenever we visit anywhere in Latin America, we like to visit the Plaza de Armas. These central squares often display beautiful historic architecture and are bustling spots great for enjoying the city’s atmosphere.

Puerto Vallarta’s Plaza de Armas has some nice benches to relax on, offers a view of the sea, and is often decorated with bright flags. Just nearby, you’ll see the tall tower of Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. This renaissance-style church stands tall over the surrounding buildings and is topped with a unique crown-like structure that you can’t miss as you walk about the area.

While not as grandiose as many of the churches in Europe, it still has a pretty interior with some unique details. It is free to enter, but as this is a place of worship, don’t go in in skimpy beachwear. The church is open Monday to Friday 10a.m.-2p.m. and 4p.m.-7p.m. and Saturdays 10a.m.-2p.m. Hours may vary for mass and the church may close to the public during certain events.  Check the website for any updates.

Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe is perhaps the most famous Puerto Vallarta landmark
Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe is perhaps the most famous Puerto Vallarta landmark

6. Taste some Delicious Local Cuisine

We absolutely love Mexican food and dishes vary by state, so we recommend trying some food typical of Jalisco.

Being on the coast, there are many seafood dishes, including shrimp and fish burritos and tacos, camarón embarazado, and aguachile. You’ll also find dishes typical in many areas of México that are worth trying in Jalisco for their own regional flare, such as tamales, frioles charros, birria, mole, tacos de barbacoa and more.

Some traditional drinks to try include tejuino (a fermented corn drink), cantaritos (a citrusy tequila cocktail), various juices and smoothies made from fresh fruits, and of course some mezcal and tequila.

There are many great restaurants around Puerto Vallarta’s city center. However, we enjoyed heading further inland outside the tourist area or up north into Pitillal where you can find some amazing street food vendors and small local joints for a much better deal. Pitillal also has some great churro stands.

There are various food and tequila tasting tours in Puerto Vallarta if you’d like to try a catered variety and want a deeper dive into the cuisine of the region.

A shrimp burrito from a street stall
A shrimp burrito from a street stall

7. Have a Relaxing Spa Day

We haven’t done this while in Puerto Vallarta, but having a spa day is a popular activity among travelers here. There are many resorts in the area and some wellness centers and spas in the city where you can find a variety of offers, including different types of massages, cold plunges, saunas, beauty treatments, aromatherapy, and more.

During peak times, we recommend booking an appointment in advance.

8. Take a Tour or Day Trip


There are so many great tour options in Puerto Vallarta if you’d like to explore the city more in depth or want to venture out to see the surrounding areas. Tours can be found online on sites like Vallarta Adventures, Get Your Guide, Viator, and on other individual tour company sites, or you can find tour operator offices in the city. However, we recommend booking in advance when possible and looking online at companies before you book a trip with one.

Within Puerto Vallarta, you can take a free walking tour to learn more about the city and its history. As mentioned, there are also various food tours in the city that can give you a taste of the region’s top dishes and some that focus more specifically on tacos, street food, tequila tastings, seafood, and more. Additionally, there are cooking classes if you want to learn to make some delicious dishes at home!

There are many options to explore beyond the city as well, whether you’re looking to see more of the coastal areas, enjoy the ocean, venture further inland, learn more about the culture of this area of Jalisco, etc. Below are some of the top tour excursions, which are often offered by various companies.

Tours - Things to do in Puerto Vallarta
Tours - Things to do in Puerto Vallarta

Day Trips

There are plenty of amazing places around Puerto Vallarta that you can explore on your own as well. There are several neighboring cities you can explore in a day and some beautiful natural areas nearby. You can get around the area fairly easy with car rental or public transport, which is cheaper than taking a tour.

Enjoying Las Animas after a hike from Boca de Tomatlán
Enjoying Las Animas after a hike from Boca de Tomatlán

Note that, while exploring these areas is doable on your own, there is also the option to take a tour to these spots if you aren’t comfortable going without a guide, prefer a more structured visit, or just don’t want the hassle of finding your way around and taking public transport. Here are some of the most popular day trip destinations:

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