City Guide: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
My boyfriend and I made a trip down to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for vacation a few weeks back for some r&r after a ridiculously hectic work schedule simmered down. It was my fourth time in the city and his first, making is super fun to show him around, do some of my favorite things and explore areas I had never been to. If you’ve never been to Mexico, this is a great city to start with. It’s very tourist friendly and there are a number of people that speak English (as well as Spanish). If you are willing to step outside of your comfort zone and venture out of the tourist areas, you will learn a lot about Mexico and meet some lovely people that are excited to show you around and teach you about the great things to do in the city. This guide will get you started on planning your trip, but be open to talking to the locals and discovering new places and fun activities.
Ah yes, probably the most difficult part of trip planning. This determines where you will spend most of your time.
In the past I’ve stayed at a hotel at the Marina. A fun spot at – you guessed it – a Marina. The beaches are not pristine in this area, although it’s nice because it’s away from the hustle and bustle of downtown with easy access to great restaurants and shopping. If you wish to go into town, you do need to pay for a taxi ride to and from your hotel – not a problem if you have a larger budget or if you plan to spend most of your time at your hotel pool. There are a number of condos and Airbnbs you can rent in this area as well.
This time around, we stayed in the Amapas neighborhood on the south end of town. It’s very close to Old Town, a charming and laid back area of city with great food and shopping. This was a very convenient area to stay in, because we were able to walk to town, walk to the beach, and catch a bus. We stayed in an Airbnb in the hills – there are a number of condos that you can rent in this neighborhood. I would highly recommend staying in Amapas or Old Town if you want to be close to the city.
So you’ve made to PV and you’re staying in a kick ass place. Well now you need to get out and DO something! There are so many things to do in Puerto Vallarta, that you really need to plan ahead and book the excursions that you wish to do before you get there. We did a few really fun things on this trip.
We kicked off our first day with a taco tour by Vallarta Eats. I was so glad that we did this on our first day there because it was a great way to orient ourselves to the city streets and we were able to make a list of go-to taco stands that we revisited over and over again on our trip. Marismas has the most amazing fish tacos I have ever had, and we enjoyed birria tacos for breakfast from some small stands most mornings of our trip. The best part about this tour? They took you out of the tourist area and into restaurants that are frequented by locals, places you probably wouldn’t know about otherwise. They also teach you how to identify food establishments that probably won’t make you sick – see the plastic bags on the plates? That’s a good sign of a clean establishment! Vallarta Eats offers other tours as well that I would try next time.
On our second day, I took my BF to the the Puerto Vallarta Zoo. I had visited the zoo many years ago and remembered it being a cultural experience. If you have an issue with the zoos in the U.S. I would not recommend visiting this zoo because it will likely bother you. The animals are well taken care of, although they are not all in what I would consider to be stimulating environments. It’s interesting to think about the differences in perspectives on zoos, because in the states is feels like the exhibits are designed for the animals but at the PV zoo, it feels like the exhibits were designed for the humans. There’s really no better way to explain it.
The best way to get to the zoo is by bus which you can catch off of Basillo Badillo and Calle Constitucion in Old Town for eight pesos. This bus will take you to Mismaloya/Boca de Tomatlan. Riding the bus in itself is an experience and is vastly different from riding a bus in the U.S. From what I can tell, there is no specific protocol for stopping at certain stops – in fact, it’s hard to tell if anything is officially a bus stop. Often times people just wave down the bus, the bus pulls over and they get on – it’s a similar protocol for getting off the bus. It’s very very cheap and it’s very fun. You also get to enjoy a beautiful view of the water. The bus ride is probably 20 minutes or so to the Mismaloya stop for the zoo.
When you get off of the bus you will walk up a dirt road (wear good walking shoes!) for another 15-20 minutes or so through the small town of Mismaloya. It’s not a particularly busy town although it makes for a good walk. Eventually you’ll arrive at the zoo where you will enter and pay an entry fee as well as the option to hold a baby animal and purchase a bag of food for the animals. Holding wild animals like this is an interesting and memorable opportunity – and yet again, something you will never ever see in the U.S. We also received a bag of food that was filled with corn, carrots, bread, peanuts and the like with instructions on which animals are allowed the various kinds of food. From there you head into the zoo.
The zoo has A LOT of wild cats, from what I could tell they breed them regularly. You’ll also find normal zoo animals but in enclosures that are, er, not all that enclosed. You can feed the ostriches and the giraffe right out of the palm of your hand. You’ll also find animals that may not seem all that exotic, such as rabbits and guinea pigs. Overall it’s a very interesting experience and worth the trip if you’re looking for something different to do.
One of my favorite things to do when I’m in Puerto Vallarta is to go on an ATV tour. It’s a great way to see the mountains and it’s super duper fun. My go-to ATV company is Unique ATV Tours. They are run by an expat and have more safety protocols than some of the other tours I’ve been on (uh, filling up my gas tank with my ATV running? No thanks). So naturally, I made the BF do this with me and he had a great time.
On the Mini-X Extreme tour they take you through old town and up in the mountains where you make a couple of stops and different restaurants, waterfalls and nice areas to just sit back and have a drink. They end the tour with a tequila tasting because nothing goes better with driving ATVs on the edges of cliffs than a few shots of tequila. That being said, it’s very fun and the guides are very kind and patient if you have never ridden an ATV before.
There are so many other things to do in PV, fishing, snorkeling, hiking, boating, horse back riding, zip lining – you name it you can probably do it. We also hiked from Boca de Tomatlan to Colomitas Cove which I would recommend if you are a fairly skilled hiker that isn’t afraid of heights and you’re steady on your feet. When in PV, get out of your comfort zone and try new things, this your chance to do things that you can’t do at home!
Puerto Vallarta has some FANTASTIC food. Tourist or local, I guarantee you it’s delicious. Here’s a list of some of my favorite spots.
- 116 Pulpito (Gastro Pub)
- Victor’s Place (Mexican)
- Pancho’s Takos (Mexican, Tacos)
- Cuates y Cuetas (Mexican)
- Mariscos Cisneros (Mexican, Street Vendor)
- Marisma Fish Taco (Mexican, Street Vendor)
Enjoy your trip!