Wrapping around the Bay of Banderas, Puerto Vallarta is an amphitheater for the natural beauty that is the Pacific Coast making it a premier destination for beach and sun seekers. The large horseshoe-shaped bay hosts four in-town beaches as well as half a dozen beaches to the north and south. The broad variety of locations, accessibility, types of sand and intensity of the water means that there is a beach for every kind of vacation you want whether it's just rocking in a hammock with margarita in hand, snorkeling, swimming or the very popular Puerto Vallarta past time of people watching at one of the more crowded tourist spots. Out on the water, you can scuba, fish, go whale watching or dance the night away on a sunset cruise around the bay.
If you can pull yourself out of your lounge chair, Puerto Vallarta has much more to offer than sandy feet and ice cold cervesas. In downtown Puerto Vallarta, the malecón (boardwalk) runs along the water's edge and anchors a thriving collection of shops, restaurants, night clubs, art galleries and hotels. On the malecón itself, you'll find art of all shapes and sizes. Sand sculptors create masterpieces daily. Bronze sculptures that celebrate ocean life, family and romance dot the boardwalk. Their providence, artists and cultural significance are the subject of weekly walking tours.
At the north end of the malecón, watch the voladores take to the sky with their whirling, twirling aerial dance. At the southern end, every night offers a different show in Los Arcos, the open air theater, that rotates folkloric dancers, jazz concerts, children's magic shows and school talent shows as well as political and community events. Artists often set up to sell their paintings, handicrafts and other work in the periphery of the theater. Across from Los Arcos is the traditionally Mexican Plaza de Armas, complete with shade trees, gazebo and plenty of benches. Settle in with a treat bought from one of the many street vendors, listen to the live music, watch the families gathering in the square and enjoy life passing by all around you. On the opposite side of the plaza (to the east) is the beautiful and picturesque Cathedral of Our Lady Guadalupe. It is the hearth of many religious and cultural events here in the city including the 12-day pilgrimage each December through the streets that celebrates The Festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Traffic is thick on the (primarily) one way streets of downtown Puerto Vallarta but you'll probably want to wander on foot anyhow. Only on foot can you pop into each shop to find the perfect souvenir. You are in no danger of getting dehydrated even on the hottest of days as there are plenty of bars and restaurants to refuel. Many of the restaurants along the malecón have terraces where you can leisurely eat, drink and soak in the stunning panoramic view of the bay splayed out before you.
Keep heading south from the malecón and you'll come to a bridge that crosses the Rio Cuale and enters Zona Romantica. In the center of the river is the Isla Cuale, home to several popular restaurants as well as a quaint artisan's market. Zona Romantica is where you will find cafes, intimate neighborhood bars, specialty art and clothing shops and live performance theaters. This area is also home to a thriving gay community with many hotels, bars and night spots that cater to LGBT visitors. Gay or straight, Zona Romantica is the place to go to get a "small town" vibe where restaurant owners will sit down to have a drink at your table and having a conversation with an entire coffee shop is a normal morning ritual.
Meanwhile, north of downtown Puerto Vallarta is the modern marina and hotel zone. Here you'll find high rises, all-inclusive resort packages, cruise ship docking, international shopping and restaurant chains and, yes, even a Walmart in case you left your toiletry kit at home. If you're looking for modern convenience and luxury, there are hotels and restaurants here that will satisfy your every need. However, make sure to head into "Old Vallarta" to experience authentic Mexican flavors, sounds and sights.
Just are there are a myriad of beach options -- from the secluded Quimixto which is only accessible by boat to surfers' paradise at Sayulita to the hopping in-town crowds on Playa Los Muertos -- there is a neighborhood, restaurant and hotel choice that will fit just about anyone's "fun in the sun" vacation agenda. A willingness to poke around, test the waters and even get out of town to explore the beach towns that hug the coastline will reveal which Puerto Vallarta is best for you.
Calle San Salvador 117
Behind the Buenaventura Hotel, Col. 5 de Diciembre
Fraccionamiento Lomas de Terra Noble
P. Suarez 158
at J.O. de Dominguez