Mexico is known for its outstanding beach towns that attract hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. But, just because a destination is popular doesn't mean that there are no under-the-radar secrets to be discovered. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico's west coast beach capital, is a destination that is very much on the tourist map, yet still provides adventures off the beaten path for those who are willing to explore.
Strategically located on the Bay of Banderas, the city itself has a fabulous marina, hotel zone, and historic downtown, and is a haven for luxury, fine dining, all-inclusive resorts, local culture, art, history, adventure travel, and more. It is also within driving distance from some of the smaller beach communities that sit along the bay.
Of course there is plenty to see and do in resort areas and on adventure tours, but travelers who dare to venture off the beaten path will find there's much more to discover.
The hike is relatively unknown to tourists and is mostly a local activity, but those who make the journey are rewarded with dramatic views over turquoise-colored water, private beaches and coves, and even a secret beach club that acts like a private party hideaway on its own stretch of sand. To access the hike, hire a taxi or take a local bus south to Boca de Tomatlan to find the trailhead. To return travelers can hire a water taxi back from Las Animas to Boca de Tomatlan.
Speaking of beaches, visitors can discover a small beach community only accessible by boat. The small fishing village of Yelapa is surrounded by jungle-blanketed mountains, offering a quiet beach escape far from the activity of Puerto Vallarta's more central beaches. A handful of restaurants dot the shore, and there are a few basic hotels for those who wish to spend the night. One of the best things to do in Yelapa is take a hike into the jungle to find the beautiful waterfall.
Get your cameras ready for one of Puerto Vallarta's 'wow' factors: its sunsets. Epic almost any night of the year, the skies over Banderas Bay explode with fiery colors. While most visitors will pick their perches down along the shore, those in the know will be high above the city taking in the sunset and views from the Mirador Cerro de la Cruz. This hilltop vantage point offers sweeping views over the entire city, the Zona Romantica, and Banderas Bay. It's beautiful at any time of day, but for those truly Instagrammable photos, sunset from up here is unbeatable.
Finally, foodies will delight at the off the beaten path dining that packs the city. While the restaurant gastronomy scene is absolutely worthwhile, it's the local spots that truly set Puerto Vallarta dining apart. Roam the taco trucks in the 5 de Diciembre neighborhood, or sink your teeth into delicious fish tacos and ceviche at El Solar Beach Club. Tip: Remain at El Solar after sunset for live music and a local party almost every night of the week.From isolated beaches to the next undiscovered taco experience, adventures in nature, and everything in between, Puerto Vallarta might be one of the most popular destinations in Mexico, but it offers a world waiting to be experienced off the beaten path.