Puerto Vallarta has it all. It boasts an enviable position along the Pacific Ocean and a balmy, pleasant subtropical climate, making it an ideal beach destination. There’s also a vibrant, picturesque downtown filled with centuries-old churches and sensational local taquerias, making the city a street food mecca. Puerto Vallarta is a vacation resort that still feels real. Added to that, it’s the perfect base for whale-watching tours and visits to local nature trails or villages.
You could easily spend a week or more in Puerto Vallarta. But three days is enough to give you a well-rounded introduction. Here are some tips and recommendations that I’ve gleaned throughout multiple visits—though I still haven’t exhausted my PV bucket list.
Expect afternoon showers (and cheaper hotels) June–October. To snorkel, dive, or whale-watch, November–February is best.
If you only have time for one thing, make it a stroll down the colorful and café-filled Zona Romántica.
First take a stroll along the beach down the 12-block Malećon boardwalk. Browse boutiques, galleries, and café terraces in the laid-back Zona Romántica neighborhood. Make the most of your time and see city highlights on a tour with a local guide—good for first-timers, as hotel pickup and drop-off are usually included.
Get up early to hit the beach. If you’re in Puerto Vallarta for the humpback whales migration to the Bay of Banderas (mid-November to March), take a whale-watching tour. See the larger-than-life mammals swim to the surface and learn about their habits—and the conservation risks they face—from a marine biologist.
For the rest of the year (or if you prefer dry land), join a hiking or ATV tour through the rugged hills and jungles of the Sierra Madre mountain range. Don’t miss the chance for a little inland exploration, passing from oceanside beaches to forested mountains and freshwater rivers.
Divers and snorkelers will want to hop a boat to Marietas Islands, a small uninhabited archipelago that is part of a UNESCO-protected biosphere reserve. You’ll find plenty of rocky coves and inlets—ideal for exploring the region’s underwater flora and fauna. If you’re feeling glamorous, get there by chartered yacht.