Puerto Vallarta Travel Guide

Puerto Vallarta is mostly associated with resort life, but beneath its romantic beachfront facade is a city that thrives on handmade local art, excitingly innovative food, and a strong Indigenous and LGBTQ community.

Where to Stay

Depending on the vibe you’re looking for, there are a few different options when it comes to hotels in Puerto Vallarta. The good thing is that all of the neighborhoods are fairly close to each other (walkable even!), so it’s not like you’ll be confined to one specific barrio. Here are our top three neighborhood recommendations:
El Centro

As the name suggests, this part of downtown Puerto Vallarta is the most central to the city’s action. This neighborhood extends from the beach to the pocket of residential properties lovingly nicknamed “Gringo Gulch,” so you have your choice of views. El Centro’s main hub of activity revolves around the town square, where there is nightly music, dancing, performances, and events. There are many restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, so it’s one of the more lively neighborhoods. The best part is, you will never get bored!

Hotels in El Centro

Casa Kimberly (luxury): Renovated from the former homes of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, this adults-only boutique hotel is a romantic’s dream. Richard Burton is largely recognized for the expansion of this once-small fishing village of Puerto Vallarta, and this hotel allows visitors the opportunity to experience PV from its historic (yet lavish) beginnings. Each of the nine guest suites has its own theme and personality, with sweeping views of the city, hand painted tiles and access to one of the best contemporary Mexican restaurants in Puerto Vallarta.

Keep in mind: The hotel’s spa is exclusive to guests.

Luna Liquida (mid-range): Owned by well-known Mexican rock vocalist Fher Olvera, the property offers comfortably spacious rooms for couples, friends, and families. There is free on-site parking, so if you choose to rent a car, it is a perfect option since parking around downtown can be hard to find. The rooms are colorful and decorated with pieces from local and regional artists. All guests have access to a shared kitchen along with the rooftop terrace. However, since the hotel is on a hill, you may need to grab a taxi back if you are not comfortable taking a short hike.

Zona Romantica

A tiny bit quieter than El Centro, Zona Romantica is the best option if you want a selection of low key eateries, boutique shopping, handmade crafts and souvenirs. Just a short walk (20-30min) from El Centro, Zona Romantica is pulsing with its own artsy vibe. It is also the hub for the city’s LGBTQ + businesses and special events.

Hotels in Zona Romantica

Garlands del Rio (mid-range): Garlands Del Rio is a rustic bed and breakfast, characterized by large bright rooms with vaulted ceilings and classic Vallartan decor. The property offers luxury, such as high quality beds and smart TVs, at an affordable price and welcoming atmosphere. They have a wide range of suites, from accessible rooms on the first floor with no step barriers to smaller rooms to accommodate solo travelers. This B&B is perfect for art lovers, with many galleries and museums just down the street.

Casa Doña Susana (mid-range): An affordable adults-only hotel, this boutique offers romantic colonial themed rooms with wood furnishings hand-crafted by Mexican artisans. The hotel boasts two restaurants and a bar that features live music from local bands and a dance floor. There are daily activities available at the hotel, such as city tours and art walks to nearby galleries. The concierge can also personalize an itinerary for you based on your interests and budget. By staying at Hotel Casa Doña Susana, you have access to facilities at any of their sister properties in Puerto Vallarta as well!

Marina Vallarta

By far the most luxurious neighborhood of Puerto Vallarta, the area is filled with posh shopping experiences, decadent restaurants, and some of the best golf courses in the country. The Marina is where all of the cruise ships dock and a great spot if you are looking for a higher-end vacation environment. 

Keep in mind: It is further away from the downtown area, about a 15 minute taxi ride, but the neighborhood has everything you need for your entire trip!

Hotels in Marina Vallarta

Casa Velas (luxury): An adults-only affair, this boutique hotel offers complete relaxation with onsite activities such as yoga, painting, happy hour mixers, and cooking and mixology classes. The hotel’s outdoor decor revolves around its lush tropical gardens and koi ponds, creating a secluded and intimate oasis atmosphere. The suites are spacious and wheelchair accessible, and offer luxury en-suite amenities such as a pillow menu, marble countertops, goose down-comforters, and a personal beach bag. The main restaurant, Emiliano, is a four star upscale restaurant specializing in innovative Mexican cuisine. There are also two bars, one swim-up and one beachside, where the bartenders can craft a special cocktail just for you!

Westin Resort & Spa Puerto Vallarta (mid-range): This family (and pet!) friendly hotel offers bright spacious rooms right on the beach. The resort is very balanced between beach space, green spacious outdoor areas, and upscale indoor facilities. There are multiple rooms that are disability accessible, with tub seats, transfer showers, and grab bars in the restrooms and wider doors. The staff is fluently bilingual in Spanish and English, and the concierge is very knowledgeable of the surrounding areas and can offer off site food and shopping suggestions, as well as local tours and transportation services to see the city. The fitness center is perhaps the largest of any hotel in the city, with dozens of machines and free weights, a lighted outdoor tennis court, two pools, and multiple outdoor running maps designed by New Balance.

San Trópico Petit Hotel (budget): Located in a more residential area of the Marina, this hotel offers an easy-going atmosphere to enjoy the beach. For fans of golf, the hotel offers a beautiful 18-hole course with views of the Pacific coast. There is free onsite parking, and the option to rent bikes. The hotel is also partnered with a locally-run surf school, Lunazul Surf School, that provides affordable surf lessons and board rentals!

Where to eat

Puerto Vallarta is a foodie’s paradise. From family run taco trucks to 5-star celebrity chef establishments, the taste palette of Jalisco will have you drooling from sunrise to sunset.

Budget: For quick eats and cheap eats, Puerto Vallarta has a plethora of options. Some of the most notable taco spots are Sonorita (get the tacos al pastor!), Tacos de Cabeza el Chulo, and Pepe’s Taco! But, if in doubt, you can always take a food crawl with Vallarta Food Tour, rated as one of the best food tours in Puerto Vallarta.

The guides will take you around to the best local spots in town and can even throw in a tequila, mezcal, and local beer pairings. Aside from some of the best tacos, the boardwalk lining the beautiful beach offers multiple fruit stands with a full Mexican topping bar. Hello Tajín, fresh squeezed lime juice, and chamoy!

Sit Down Restaurants

There are also a number of sit-down restaurants on every block. For breakfast, head either to La Palapa Restaurant or Coco's Kitchen! If you’ve had enough tacos, there is a super cute food cart area called Food Park, which offers a variety of options to fit anyone’s cravings! And El Mole de Jovita has some of the best mole in the city! Gaby’s Restaurant is also a classic favorite. Or, consider making the trek out to Ocean Grill Vallarta, a cash-only spot that requires both a reservation and a water taxi to the restaurant.

For those with dietary restrictions, El Arrayan offers a robust gluten-free and vegetarian menu!

Upscale Restaurants

To add to the artsy-vibe of the city, there are plenty of cafes to sip and settle into, a local favorite being A Page In The Sun. If you are looking for something more of the smoothie variety, visit ONO Smoothie Bowls to get your perfect blended bowl.

Huichol Art

Hands down, shopping in Puerto Vallarta is incredible. Not only are there a variety of unique shops dotting the colorful streets, but many of them are locally owned and showcase handmade items, gifts, and souvenirs. Jalisco has one of the largest populations of Indigenous Huichol people (or Wixárikas), and in Puerto Vallarta, there are numerous Huichol-owned galleries and stores to view and buy their art, jewelry, clothing, and more—such as Tierra Huichol (multiple locations), Peyote People, and Gallery Huichol. If you are looking for Mexican blankets, souvenirs, trinkets, or...literally anything else, head to the Mercado Municipal Rio Cuale flea market to browse dozens of stalls! Or, if you are just looking for cute made-in-Mexico clothes and accessories, you can head to Ay Guey downtown! 

Outdoor Activities

Marietas Islands National Park

Well, let’s start with the beach. I mean, the beach is RIGHT THERE! Even if you aren’t a beach person, it’s worth it alone to just stroll along the boardwalk. It’s an incredible shoreline. But if you are more adventurous, there are multiple booths offering fun water sports like jet skiing or flyboarding. Or you can take a boat out to go scuba diving or snorkeling at Marietas Islands National Park. But if you aren’t a fan of the water, you can still enjoy nature by taking a hike to one of the many nearby waterfalls like El Nogalito or Palo Maria, or swing through tree top canopies with Los Veranos Canopy Tour.

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Cooking Class

Cooking classes aren’t numerous in Puerto Vallarta, but there are a few. One of the more popular ones is by Chef Manuel, a professionally trained chef, who takes the group to a local market to show them how to pick the best and freshest ingredients, and then prepare a dish at his home. At $107 USD per person, with a 2 person booking minimum, it isn’t the most affordable or a great option for solo travelers. So, a great alternative is to take a churro making class! With Chef Rafael, you will not only learn how to make delicious churros, but also have the opportunity to sit down with a local and learn about Puerto Vallarta over a cup of hot Mexican chocolate!

Cultural Events & Entertainment

The Rhythms of the Night Sunset Cruise is a great way to learn more about Mexico through dance, music, and a delicious meals during the performance. Just make sure to grab your tickets a few weeks in advance as they tend to sell out quick! Also, along the Malecón, you may be able to spot Papantla Flyers as they climb a 50-ft pole to perform the 1500 year old ceremony. The Papantla, or “Birdmen,” Flyers are part of a prehispanic tradition used to invoke water during extended dry seasons. The men represent falling raindrops in the sky, and the symbolic songs are played on flute by the flyer positioned at the top of the pole. Mexico’s Papantla Flyers were designated by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009. In Puerto Vallarta, you can watch the Papantla Flyers for free at least twice a day along the Malecon, though tips are highly encouraged! The Boutique Theatre is also a great option, and showcases local English and Spanish shows in the theatre’s small but talented community.

How to Get Around

With an international airport (PVR), getting into the city is extremely easy and affordable, either by renting a car or hailing a taxi or rideshare.

Although the main city is fairly walkable, Uber is highly prevalent in Puerto Vallarta and there are many areas of the city with free WiFi. However, if you do choose to rent a car, just note that parking in the downtown area can be tricky to find. Make sure to check if your hotel offers free parking.

How Long to Spend in Puerto Vallarta

All in all, Puerto Vallarta is an amazing city with incredible cuisine and a wide variety of cultural activities. Four or so days is the perfect amount of time to get a good feel for the city, and still leave you wanting to come back again. However, if you happen to have a few extra days, consider taking a trip out to San Sebastian or Sayulita, both about an hour drive from Puerto Vallarta. Or you could even combine Puerto Vallarta and the state capitol, Guadalajara, in a fun 10-day adventure! 

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