Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - At the end of this year, my family and I will be visiting Puerto Vallarta, which will make it my umteenth time enjoying this beautiful and safe city. In fact, just thinking about visiting Vallarta, I am nostalgic for my home away from home, as there are so many things to do in addition to making time to relax.
Located on the gorgeous Banderas Bay and surrounded by 40-kilometers of mountains, rivers, coastline, and beaches, the ever quaint and charming city is home to Jalisco natives, international residents, Canadian and US expats, and retirees who now call this beautiful destination their home.
Due to its nearly perfect year round climate, Puerto Vallarta, by nature, promotes a healthy, active lifestyle for locals and visitors. Year after year, the city is named one of the best places in Mexico to retire - which speaks volumes about its safety and desirability. According to AARP, "Our choice in Mexico is the Puerto Vallarta region, located on the Pacific Coast in the state of Jalisco. Its combination of first-class amenities and charming, palm-fringed villages have made it an appealing retiree draw, as well as a popular tourist destination."
"Framed by the Sierra Madre and the Bay of Banderas our area provides all kinds of ecosystems and settings for adventure," said Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board when asked why PV is such a desirable destination for outdoor activity. "We have everything a visitor could want, from zip lining on Mexico’s longest line, to ATV or horse-back riding, to swimming with the dolphins, to releasing crocodiles and turtles, and mountain climbing."
Puerto Vallarta is also one of the most important places in Latin America for biodiversity, because it protects an impressive number of species – both flora and fauna - on land and in the sea.
No matter what your interests, this impressive and colorful city lays out its welcome mat for all to enjoy.
The following 16 recommendations below are experiences or activities I suggest as a frequent traveler to Vallarta (even though there are hundreds of cool things to do.)
• Visit the famous and iconic Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Located in downtown (or el Centro), you don't want to miss this gem in the heart of the city. Our friends at Vallarta Lifestyles give a beautiful description of the church here. What is very cool to see are the locals who always show respect as they pass by with the sign of the cross.
• See a performance at Vallarta’s Theater, El Teatro Vallarta. A modern building, this impressive artistic space opened its doors in March 2010 and holds a capacity of approximately 900 people. It offers spectacular stage productions including the Russian State Ballet, the world renowned Filippa Giordano pop opera singer, and the must-see Fandango extravaganza. The theater also houses an exceptional modern art gallery featuring some of Mexico’s most up-and-coming talent.
• Walk the new Malecon. Completed just in time for last year’s Tianguis Turistico (Mexico’s largest annual travel and trade show), this promenade offers the perfect platform for taking in the sites, sounds, and tantalizing aromas of the local scene. On Sunday evenings, you will find musicians, artists, and local vendors selling all types of food, merchandise, and fun souvenirs for kids. See the street performers show off their skills as well. A Top 3 must-do/must-see according to Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board.
• Take a surf or stand up paddle board (SUP) lesson. Although I have yet to try this myself, I have friends in the area north of Vallarta who do this frequently. On a visit last year, while on a drive along coast out to Punta Mita, I witnessed many 'SUPers' enjoying life out in the ocean.
• Visit Los Mangos Library (Biblioteca Los Mangos). Thankfully, I learned about this hidden little gem one year ago from friends in the Puerto Vallarta Writers Group when I was asked to speak about travel blogging at their annual conference held at Los Mangos. This beautifully landscaped, peaceful, and resourceful community cultural center/library provides book lending in English and Spanish, and holds classes for kids and adults, including art, yoga, language, dance, theater, reading, computer access, and much more.
• Volunteer for the day with PEACE Mexico. PEACE (Protection & Education: Animals, Culture, and Environment) is a nonprofit organization working along the Bay of Banderas, Mexico, and beyond, to increase educational and economic opportunities through community development programs in the areas of education, environment, animal health, and economic development. PEACE offers many volunteer opportunities, as well as internships. A great way to give back to the local community.
• Whale watching in Puerto Vallarta. Recently named one of Trip Advisor’s Top 10 Great Tours by Nature.
• Turtle release – witness or participate in the spectacular turtle release program. Many hotels have special agendas to enrich their guests' experience during the turtle-hatching season. This activity made The MEXICO Report’s "Mexico Bucket List" as well.
• Visit Los Arcos and Los Muertos Beach (Top 3 must-do/must see according to Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board). I am a fan of Playa Los Muertos, especially for the fresh fish tacos, great music, and lively beach scene.
• Experience the "Romantic Zone" – another top three must-do/must see experiences according to Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board.
• Walking Tour of Puerto Vallarta. Recently Travel Age West published a fantastic piece on this great way to get to know the hidden spots of this charming city.
• Eat out and Dine around – Basilio Badillo, known as Restaurant Row in Viejo Vallarta, offers a fabulous and varied selection of gastronomy to satisfy any palate. Don’t miss the Festival Gourmet International Puerto Vallarta/Riviera Nayarit November 8-18th, 2012.
• Waterfall hike in Yelapa – Take a panga (water taxi) from Boca (taxi or bus to Boca de Tomatlan) to Yelapa to experience this memorable adventure.
These final activities are the top three out-of-the-ordinary experiences to put on all travel itineraries, recommended by the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board.
• Extreme Adventure Zip Lining. I have yet to try this but I’ve put it on the agenda for our upcoming trip. Just to be sure, I checked out the comments on TripAdvisor and I was happy to see that the section is filled to the rim with positive feedback.
• Swim with the dolphins. We participated in this activity four years ago when we were last in Puerto Vallarta for a family vacation. Our activity was only the dolphin excursion which is simply a session in the water with the dolphins, but it worked out perfectly because of children’s ages at the time. We all loved it!
• The New Eco Adventure. From bird watching and sea kayaking, to Macaw Conservation trips and Crocodile Adventures, Puerto Vallarta offers some type of eco-adventure for all.
"Visitors to Puerto Vallarta will find a Mexican pueblo that has become a cosmopolitan destination but maintains its heritage," said the city's Tourism Board.Depending on what time of the year you plan on traveling to Puerto Vallarta, be sure to check out the local event calendar on Banderas News to explore other exciting opportunities including annual gourmet festivals, fishing or golf tournaments, sailing races, and especially the annual International Festival of Altruism, hosted by CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa each May - where dozens of non profits come together to generate much needed funds for their organizations.