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 Puerto Vallarta 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 waters ports 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. Its 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 Waterton Lakes National Park hotels 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.
Locals like to spend time at Bar La Playa, or if you’re looking for something a little wilder, try Senor Frog’s.
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:
- El Carboncito
- Taqueria Mendoza
- Food Park PV
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!