The 20 Best Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta
These top 20 things to do in Puerto Vallarta were recommended by real locals and will guarantee you see the very best of this incredible coastal city.
In Puerto Vallarta, you have the opportunity to experience vibrant local Mexican culture and a luxurious beach holiday all at once. From the shops and quaint cafes on the Malecon to hidden beaches and tranquil coves to epic night clubs overlooking Banderas Bay, there’s something for everyone in this Pacific paradise.
But, you can’t trust just anyone to tell you how to experience the best of Puerto Vallarta. As much as we love our city, we admit that tourist traps are popping up left and right.
That’s why the local experts at PV Nightlife decided to put together a top 20 list of things to do in Puerto Vallarta made 100% by locals!
We’re excited to share our beautiful city with you, but before we dive into our list, let’s take a look at the parts of the city you’ll want to explore.
Districts of Puerto Vallarta
- North Zone: This area north of the city stays pretty quiet. Those looking for peace and relaxation can come here for lazy beaches, traditional villages, and good access to watersports like kite surfing.
- Nueva Vallarta: This area is where the all-inclusive resorts are, so it’s not the best place to experience PV culture. Locals aren’t big fans of this area, but it’s a good spot for families looking for the ease of a package holiday.
- Marina Vallarta: This is the first zone in Puerto Vallarta proper, yet it’s still relatively quiet and romantic. The Marina is a great place for shopping, grabbing drinks, and watching the sunset. It’s home to some high-end cafes and hotels, but locals often go here for happy hour.
- Hotel Zone: The hotel zone is modern and convenient. You won’t find a lot of history here, but you’ll find all the malls, big supermarkets, cinemas, and of course, hotels. There’s also a nice harbor here, but the Hotel Zone is best for shopping and enjoying some air conditioning!
- Downtown: This is where the magic happens! Downtown is the heart of Old Vallarta and home to our favorite place—the Malecon. It’s a long boardwalk along the beach that is full of shops and cafes. We love to sip coffees and cocktails in the fresh ocean air while people watching the day away.
- Romantic Zone: Love is in the air in this small central district. It’s where you’ll find many of the most popular bars and restaurants, and it’s known for being trendy. There’s almost always something going on in the plazas, and Los Muertos beach is the hot spot for tourists looking for spring-break style fun in the sun.
- South Zone: Leaving the city, the South Zone extends for over 25 miles south of Puerto Vallarta and is pocked with little beaches and villages. It’s easy to access by car, bike, or bus, and it’s also a popular spot for coastal hikes. Locals love to go to the beaches here to escape the crowds in the city!
Now that you know a bit more about Puerto Vallarta’s city districts, it’s time to jump into our list of things to do in Puerto Vallarta!
Top 20 Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta
We asked a lot of locals for their input on this list, so you can take the numerical order with a grain of salt (and then some lime and tequila, preferably!). This list is a mix of local favorites and what locals think tourists MUST do when they visit PV.
1. Playa las Gemelas Beach
Admit it—the first thing you want to do when you touch down in Puerto Vallarta is hit the beach! Playa las Gemelas is the one to visit first, according to locals.
Many tourists head straight to Los Muertos Beach, but it can be a bit rowdy and crowded. Playa las Gemelas is quieter and more relaxing, plus the water is an amazing mix of glowing turquoise and emerald. It’s one of the most beautiful beaches in the city.
Getting to the beach requires climbing some stairs, but it’s worth the trip. As you descend to the water, you’ll pass under a canopy of jungle greens and ropey vines that provide a perfect transition from “real life” to “stress-free, margarita-sipping holiday.”
2. Stroll on the Malecon
There’s no better way to get acquainted with Puerto Vallarta than to walk along the picturesque Malecon, a long boardwalk that spans most of the city’s coastline. Here, you’ll find a mix of tourist-friendly attractions like street performers, artists, and vendors of all kinds. It’s also home to plenty of historic restaurants and cafes where you can stop for a drink or a bite and enjoy some stellar ocean views.
3. Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe
This is the most popular sightseeing attraction in the historic center, and the locals are very proud of it. Our Lady of Guadalupe is a beautiful architectural monument inside and out, and it’s a symbol of PV culture. Make sure to pay a visit regardless of your religious affiliation. Just make sure to be respectful!
4. Eat Street Food (Tacos, Tacos, Tacos)
It’s not hard to find an abundance of street food in Puerto Vallarta, but only the locals know the best of the best.
Here’s what you’ve got to try:
- Tacos: Try our spicy shrimp tacos for a real local treat.
- Tortas Ahogadas: A local sandwich filled with pork, tomato sauce, and chili. It’s a bit like a Mexican sloppy Joe!
- Pescado Embarazado: This is basically a roast fish on a stick. But, the fish is marinated in lime and served with fresh salsa. It’s healthy and delicious!
- Tamales: The perfect grab-and-go street food.
- Grilled corn on the cob: It’s no delicacy, but we love this roasty, salty street food.
And here’s where to go to find the very best street food:
5. Take a Boat Tour
Most of the things to do in Puerto Vallarta take place on the waves, but you don’t have to be a swimmer or a surfer to enjoy our emerald seas. Hiring a boat is much more affordable here than it is in most other cities, meaning you can live the high life on a private yacht or take a relaxing fishing cruise with your buddies for less than the cost of a nice meal.
Or, if you’re looking for a party, try one of our bumping party cruises. Most party cruises have great DJs and plenty of singles looking to mingle. Even better, most include an open bar all day.
To find out how you can rent a boat or join a party cruise, get in touch with the local booking experts at PV Nightlife.
6. Plaza de las Armas
This is the main square in Puerto Vallarta, and there’s something fun happening here every day. It’s a great spot to buy local art, and it’s very close to the Malecon and Our Lady of Guadalupe church.
Make sure to take a photo with the statue of our city’s founder, Ignacio Vallarta, and take some shade under the beautiful bandstand gazebo in the center.
7. Experience Mismaloya
If you have time for an excursion, we recommend Mismaloya in the South Zone. This small fishing village captures the essence of what Puerto Vallarta was before the hotels and resorts moved in. Plus, it was where the classic film “The Night of the Iguana” was made, which pretty much put Puerto Vallarta on the map.
A nice blend of tranquility, history, and untarnished beaches, Mismaloya is a perfect skip away from the city for those looking to get away from it all.
8. Take a Hike
If your idea of getting out of town doesn’t involve going to a different town, then go for a relaxing hike through the South Zone. There are miles and miles of quiet beaches here, and the paths are safe and relatively easy (as long as you don’t take a short cut through the mountains).
Hiking along the coast is a wonderful way to experience the sea at your own pace, and it doesn’t take much planning. The main road is never far, so you can hop a bus back to the city whenever you’re ready. Just make sure to bring enough water and sunscreen.
You can start your hike from the end of the Malecon and head down to Conchas Chinas (it only takes about 40 minutes). From there, more adventurous hikers can continue south all the way to Boca de Tomatlan.
9. Share the love in the Zona Romantica
For food, drinks, and plentiful attractions, the Romantic Zone is the place to be. Weekends are full of life here, so be sure to make reservations for restaurants and bars. But there’s something going on every night of the week in Plaza Lazaro Cardenas. From traditional dancing to live music to local artisanal markets, you and a special someone are sure to see sparks fly in this part of the old town.
10. See the Sunset over Banderas Bay
Puerto Vallarta’s jovial streets are home to many shows and attractions, but the best one takes place on the horizon over Banderas Bay. Cozy up with a special someone on the beach and enjoy a fiery sunset before heading out for a night to remember.
Here in Puerto Vallarta, watching the sunset is our equivalent of stopping to smell the roses. Don’t forget to take in the peaceful vibes of our city and do the same!
11. Hit the Clubs
All of the locals we spoke to agreed on one thing—you CANNOT leave Puerto Vallarta without at least one night of wild fun at a PV club.
Puerto Vallarta’s clubs are a point of pride in the city. They are known for their excellent service, signature drinks, and world-class DJs. When partygoers talk about the best clubs in the world, PV’s clubs rank in the top spots with Las Vegas and Ibiza clubs. The difference is that they cost a lot less to enjoy!
Here’s where locals recommend for the best PV clubbing:
- La Santa: La Santa is best known for having an on-site pool. Are you ready for your night to get wet and wild?
- La Vaquita: A barnyard-themed bash, La Vaquita has a very relaxed dress code and serves massive drinks in styrofoam cups. A place to let loose!
- Strana: A cathedral of light and sound, Strana is one of the most exclusive and immersive clubs in the city.
Nightclubs in Puerto Vallarta are very popular, so you need to book in advance to avoid long lines which often extend out the door and into the street. Or, you can let the locals at PV Nightlife take care of it for you and enjoy VIP access all night long.
Bonus: Puerto Vallarta Accommodation Hacks
The quality of your vacation in Puerto Vallarta will depend greatly on where you choose to stay. This city is full of resorts and hotels, but locals don’t recommend these places.
Resorts are ok for families, large groups, and the elderly, but those who want to explore and make the most of their trip won’t like the fake atmosphere and overcrowding.
Hotels are a luxurious way to travel, and Puerto Vallarta has some excellent ones to choose from. The downside is that you’ll pay international prices to book somewhere like the Hilton or the Hyatt.
If you’re traveling with your family or a group, we highly recommend booking a private villa instead of traditional accommodation. You can actually book a beachside villa with luxury décor and amazing amenities for less than the price of most hotels.
Even better, your villa can be customized in any way you like. You can ask for a private chef, a driver, for a mariachi band to come at night—the possibilities are really up to you.
When you work with an agency like PV Nightlife, there’s no limit to what you can do and where you can stay. Get in touch now to view beachfront villas and to turn your accommodation into a private paradise.
12. Scuba Diving
If you’ve never been Scuba diving before, Puerto Vallarta is the place to have your underwater adventure. If you have, you’ve never seen ocean floors like ours!
Enter a wonderland of crystal-clear waters and interact with playful fish and other sea life. You’ll encounter amazing rock structures, reefs, massive schools of fish, and even ghostly shipwrecks.
The Scuba tours in PV are led by licensed professionals, so all you have to do is suit up and be amazed!
13. Colonia Emiliano Zapata Municipal Market
The food culture in Mexico is protected by UNESCO—it’s the only culinary tradition to have that honor! So, when deciding what things to do in Puerto Vallarta, visiting a local market is an absolute must.
The Colonia Emiliano Zapata municipal market is full of colorful produce, tropical fruit, seafood, local spices, street food, and so much more. The best thing about this place is that everyone here is super helpful and always smiling. It’s the perfect place to get some cooking tips from real locals while going on a tasting spree.
The market is open every day from 6 AM to 3 PM. We recommend going in the late morning. It’s the perfect time to see all the vendors while they’re still fully stocked and to work up an appetite for lunch.
14. Los Muertos Beach
Los Muertos Beach is one of the hottest spots in the city. It’s great for lounging, swimming, and watersports, and it’s also full of bars and restaurants with music and beach sports. It’s more of a party beach than a relaxing spot, but that isn’t a bad thing!
Los Muertos is located directly off the Malecon, so it’s the most accessible beach in the city. In fact, it’s impossible to miss, as it’s visible from most of the city center. Even if you don’t like crowded beaches, stop at a beach kiosk for a margarita or two. The fun is contagious!
15. Mirador de La Cruz
Mirador de La Cruz is an observation platform just outside the city center. The locals know this spot offers the best views of Banderas Bay and the lush mountains bordering the city, but you won’t find many of us making the climb on a hot day!
The trek to Mirador de La Crus takes about 40 minutes from the Malecon, and the last 20 minutes are made up of steep climbs and stairs. Nevertheless, this is where you’ll be able to snap panoramic photos of the city and the sea that will make all your Insta followers jealous, so bring your walking shoes and don’t miss it!
16. Into the Wild
Just outside Puerto Vallarta’s antique streets, you can venture into the unknown and explore Mexico’s lush jungle terrain. Don’t worry, there aren’t any dangerous animals lurking in the depths, but there are plenty of exotic flowers, fresh fruits, colorful insects, and other amazing things to see.
You can tour the jungle on foot with a guide or you can schedule an ATV tour for an off-road adventure. We don’t recommend exploring the jungle alone.
17. Have a Spa Day
Take a break from all the adventure, sun, sand, and tequila by detoxing your body and rejuvenating your skin at one of Puerto Vallarta’s famed spas. Featuring specialized treatments made from sea minerals and local ingredients, there’s no better way to experience the ultimate in personal pampering while doing something good for your health.
These spas are well-known by locals as being reasonably priced and extremely professional:
18. Marina Vallarta
Marina Vallarta is a place where the wealthy bump elbows with locals and tourists who like to watch as boats pass over the horizon. Known for its iconic lighthouse bar, this area of the city is quiet and breezy, and it’s the perfect place to take a date before dinner in the Romantic Zone.
Locals don’t hang out here often, but we like going for happy hour at the rooftop bars nearby. Many luxurious clubs and hotels, such as the Marriot, offer half-priced drinks in the early evening, making this a great place to live it up on a budget.
19. Dine in Style
Street food is delicious, by you’d be missing out if you didn’t treat yourself to a bit of fine dining in this food capital of Mexico. Puerto Vallarta is known for amazing BBQ and seafood dishes, and the chefs here are some of the most creative in the world.
Diners can enjoy rich salsas made with local fruits and vegetables as well as light tortillas and hearty soups like the local favorite “birria,” a spicy pork stew served with lime.
PV has also been influenced by an influx of international chefs, making this city a unique culinary jewel on the Pacific.
Here are some local favorites for decadent dining:
- La Leche: Foodies looking for the perfect sharable photo love La Leche. The entire restaurant is white, making the colorful dishes burst with life.
- La Palapa: Fine dining on the beach. Enjoy fantastic views and incredible seafood.
- Café des Artistes: Featuring French and Mexican fusion, Café des Artistes may be the most upscale restaurant in the city.
20. Mezcal and Tequila
Two of our most beloved local pastimes—mezcal and tequila! Puerto Vallarta is a place for sipping and snacking, and our favorite liquors make each night go down smooth.
Both tequila and mezcal are produced in the Jalisco region of Mexico (where PV is located), so this is one of the best places to try artisanal liquors from some of the finest distilleries.
For a great selection of straight mezcal and tequila as well as signature cocktails and snacks, we have to recommend Bar Morelos. This place gets pretty busy and has a club on a separate floor, so you’ll need to book a table if you don’t want to get stuck standing.
Are you ready for your trip to PV? There are so many things to do in Puerto Vallarta that the hardest part is choosing! That’s where we come in at PV Nightlife.
Our local guides and experts are dedicated to putting together the perfect evening, weekend, or complete holiday for you. And our packages are never pre-set. We dedicate a planner to your vacation who works with you to deliver the exact holiday you want.
Don’t get stuck waiting in lines or dealing with sold-out signs when you’re looking for things to do in Puerto Vallarta. Contact PV Nightlife today to make your PV vacation perfect.