What to Do in Puerto Vallarta and The Best Time to Visit—The Perfect 3-Day Itinerary
Planning a beach getaway to Mexico and wondering what to do in Puerto Vallarta? Well, you’ve come to the right place! This post will help you plan that perfect 3-day itinerary for the town known to many as “PV”.
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty details, here’s a little introduction to this popular beach destination. Puerto Vallarta is located in Banderas Bay in the state of Jalisco. With the ocean on one side and the Sierra Madre mountains on the other, it’s got postcard-worthy scenery everywhere you look.
This little slice of paradise has long been a favorite of snowbirds and cruise ships. It’s also a major LGBTQ destination and is fast becoming a digital nomad hot spot as well. In fact, I’ve lived in PV on and off for the past four years. The secret is definitely out about PV!
In this post, we’ll take a look at the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta. Read on for recommendations on the top beaches, restaurants, bars, and everything else you’ll need to plan an unforgettable trip there.
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- Walking tour of downtown
- Beach time
- Night out on the town
- Day trip
- Isla Cuale
- Food tour
- Beach bumming
- Dinner & show
Start strong with your “What to do in Puerto Vallarta” 3-day tour with these fun activities!
Walking Tour of Downtown
When people ask what to do in Puerto Vallarta, taking a walking tour of downtown always comes up. This is a great way to get to know the city before you hit the beaches and the bars.
While there’s nothing wrong with a self-guided tour, you might as well take advantage of the free walking tours. These depart at 9 a.m. noon on Tuesday and Wednesday, as well as on Saturday at 9 a.m. from City Hall.
The tour starts right in front of the city’s iconic Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. You’ll learn a lot about the history, culture, and architecture of Puerto Vallarta from a knowledgeable local guide.
If you can’t make one of the free walking tours, it’s easy enough to make your own tour. Just head to Hotel Rosita (the first hotel in PV, by the way), and you’ll be at the entrance of the city’s famous Malecon. Alternatively, check out this city tour or here’s another fun thing to do in Puerto Vallarta.
This mile-long oceanfront esplanade is what sets Puerto Vallarta apart from other Mexican beach towns. In addition to the beautiful views, it’s home to dozens of unique sculptures. Just open this guide on your phone, and you can learn all about them as you stroll.
If at any point you should feel a bit famished, there are countless cafes, restaurants, and bars as this is the heart of the city. Places right on the Malecon tend to be a bit touristy and overpriced. All you need to do is walk a block or two inland to find local joints like El Campanario or Planeta Vegetariano.
Los Muertos Beach
After a busy morning of exploring the city, it’s time to relax a bit. Vamos a la playa! There are many beaches in Puerto Vallarta, but none quite like Los Muertos Beach.
This famous beach is located in the city’s Zona Romantica (Romantic Zone), also known as Old Town. It’s always hopping down here, especially on the weekend. Sit down at one of the many beachfront establishments like Swell to get a chair and umbrella. Or, just plop your towel in the sand.
If you’re the type who gets bored sitting around on the beach, there’s plenty to keep you entertained. Jump in a game of beach volleyball, rent a jet ski, take your friends on a banana boat, or go parasailing. Or go zip lining!
Los Muertos Beach is also a jump-off point for many day trips from Puerto Vallarta. From the sailboat-shaped pier, you can head to places like Boca de Tomatlan or Yelapa. Both are easily visited on a day trip if you don’t mind spending a few hours on a boat.
Night Out On the Town
Head back to your hotel to wash the sand and sunscreen off and get ready for a night out on the town. You’re spoiled for choices when it comes to places to eat, drink, and be merry in the bustling Zona Romantica.
Whether you’re looking to hit up the local taco trucks or sit down to a fancy sunset dinner on the beach, there’s something for you in Old Town. A few spots to consider are Pancho’s Tacos and Mezcal y Sal.
You’ll also find wine bars (Ofelia’s), craft breweries (Monzon), fancy rooftop cocktail spots (Sky Bar), and plenty of good ole’ fashioned dive bars (El Soñador, Bar la Playa). Tell them Sasha sent you if you make it to those last two. There are a lot of great bars in Puerto Vallarta with tons of options by the beach and in Zona Romantica.
On any given night in PV, you can find live bands, drag shows, stand-up comedy, and DJs spinning until the wee hours of the morning. This town likes to party, so you’re in for a treat if you do, too!
Since the bars and clubs can get pretty crowded during high season, the best time to visit Puerto Vallarta is in November or April to avoid tourists and get the best experiences at the bars.
Just a word of wisdom on partying at bars in Puerto Vallarta from someone who has lived there for a few years now and goes out often—don’t forget to stay hydrated and be aware of your surroundings. It’s a safe town for the most part, but it’s easy to run into trouble if it’s past midnight and you’re a confused, tequila-drunk tourist.
There are a lot of great options for day trips around Puerto Vallarta.
Many of the top things to do in Puerto Vallarta aren’t actually in the city proper. You’ll need to hop on a bus, get in a cab, or join a boat tour to access many of them. Hopefully, you don’t have too bad of a crudo (hangover) from night one because it might have to be an early start!
One of the best day trips from Puerto Vallarta is a visit to the Islas Marietas. This group of uninhabited islands was formed by volcanic activity thousands of years ago. Check out this tour to the Marietas Islands for an easy day trip with no work!
It’s a long day, but it’s possible to visit them on tour from PV. Highlights of a trip to the Marietas Islands include swimming to the Hidden Beach and seeing blue-footed boobies. Most tour operators go there, but I’ll toss in a personal recommendation for Off the Grid.
For those who get seasick and would rather stay on land, the Vallarta Botanical Gardens are an excellent choice. From Old Town, just walk to this corner to catch the bus down there. It’s also not a bad Uber/taxi ride out there, but it can be tough finding one back.
The gardens are very well-maintained and are beautiful to spend a few hours wandering around. You can also swim in the river here and sit down for lunch in their restaurant. It costs 200 pesos to enter and is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday.
When you’re back in town and cleaned up, head out for a stroll around the scenic Isla Cuale. This small island in the Cuale River is full of local merchants. It’s the perfect place to grab some souvenirs like Lucha libre masks and ponchos.
While you’re down here, you can pop in to check out the Museo del Cuale. It’s a small museum with some exhibits and artifacts on the area’s history. If it’s closed, the island is still a pleasant place to walk around for a bit.
At the eastern end of the island, you’ll find a staircase that heads up to the area known as Gringo Gulch. Walk up there to see Casa Kimberly, a luxury hotel and restaurant that was once home to Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
If you want to find the best food and just have three days in Puerto Vallarta, let a local guide help you out. There are many options for food tours here that will take you to the places that locals love as well as some hidden gems.
From personal experience, I can recommend Vallarta Food Tours. They have several different tours you can choose from, including their fun Mex-ology tour, where you get to try six different dishes and six cocktails. That’s how you get the party started on a night in PV!
If you’re not in a food coma after that and still have the energy to go out, the world is your oyster. In fact, you can even find some of those if you’re still hungry!
Even if you’re too tired to party, at least check out the night scene on the Malecon. It’s a great way to soak up the local culture and walk off all those tacos and other street food like elote and churros.
Finish strong with day 3 of your Puerto Vallarta itinerary.
Nothing says “I’m on vacation” quite like a leisurely brunch with bottomless mimosas. That’s exactly what you’ll get at the Sheraton’s Sunday Champagne Brunch.
Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., you can sit down here to enjoy a fantastic buffet accompanied by free-flow bubbly and usually a live band. It costs 540 pesos per person (around $26 USD), and you can also use the pool until 6 p.m.
If that sounds like too much, never fear. There are plenty of excellent places to grab brunch in PV. Fredy’s Tucan is a popular choice in town, as well as La Palapa on the beach.
In addition to Los Muertos, there are lots of other great beaches in Puerto Vallarta. Playa Camarones is a local favorite and is quite lively on a Sunday afternoon. You’ll find local families hanging out and wandering mariachi bands for hire.
The restaurant-bar combo of El Barracuda and El Solar is the perfect place to set up shop for a beach day. The bar typically has a DJ spinning on Sunday afternoons as well. Mango’s Beach Club is also a solid choice in the area.
If you’re looking for a more laid-back beach, you can head up the coast a bit to Playa Las Glorias. There’s not a lot going on here, but you can find a place to sit and a cold one at Flamingos Beach Club.
Dinner & Show
One of the most fun things to do in Puerto Vallarta is the Rhythms of the Night show. It’s written and directed by a co-founder of Cirque du Soleil and set in the jungle just steps away from a remote beach.
This is far more than just a show, though. It begins with a sunset cruise around the bay down to Las Caletas. Non-alcoholic drinks are included, and you can add an open bar for just $10 USD per person.
In addition to the spectacular show, the all-inclusive treatment continues with a fantastic dinner and more free-flow drinks. Tours depart at 4:30 and 7 p.m. in the high season and cost $139 USD per person.
If you don’t feel like shelling out for the tour, you’ve still got lots of options in town. Check out the calendar at Act 2 PV, as they always have great shows. Before the show, head up to Chicitini for cocktails and an elevated view of the sunset.
Other Great Ideas to Explore in Puerto Vallarta
If any of the suggestions in the 3-day itinerary don’t interest you, here are some other great ideas you can swap them out with!
- Explore some of the art galleries in Puerto Vallarta. Galleria Dante is one of the best spots for paintings from local artists. Posters International is also a unique spot for those who like poster artwork and want to get some prints to take home.
- Go whale watching. This is a popular and unique activity in PV. The best months for whale watching are January and February. The best way to go whale watching is to book a tour in Banderas Bay.
- Check out Centro Historico. The boardwalk through this part of town goes for miles and is filled with sand sculptures and live entertainers. There are also a few small cafes you can pop into and grab a bite to eat.
- See the boats at Marina Vallarta. If you’ve traveled by boat or are planning to rent a boat, Marina Vallarta is amazing with WIFI, pump-out services, and dry docks. Even if you don’t plan to go boating, the marina is super peaceful and has several restaurants and bars to relax in.
Traveling to to Puerto Vallarta
Most travelers fly into Licenciado Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport (PVR). There are direct flights to cities all over the US and a few in Canada and Europe. During the high season (November-March), there are more options for direct flights.
Once you arrive at PVR, you’ll have to go through the gauntlet of timeshare salespeople and unofficial taxis. Give them all a “No gracias” and just get out of there as quickly as possible.
If you want to take a cab, there’s an official counter with rates posted clearly. How much you pay depends on which zone you’re traveling to. It’s definitely an inflated rate, but it’s still cheaper than back home.
Uber works in PV, but it’s tricky at the airport. You need to exit the airport, cross the pedestrian bridge, and get picked up on the other side.
Alternatively, you can just catch the local bus to town for 10 pesos. That brings us to our next point…
How to Get Around Puerto Vallarta
Getting around PV is actually very easy. For starters, it’s not that big of a town. If you’re staying in Zona Romantica, you’ll be able to walk most places on this itinerary.
Whenever your feet need a break, the local buses are pretty straightforward. Just look at the windshield as they have the destinations written out. Buses with a “Centro” sign go through town on the main road while those with “Tunnel” go through—you guessed it—a tunnel.
The bus costs 10 pesos to ride, and it’s good to have exact change. Some drivers still give change, but others just have a machine now. Check out this post for more info on the bus system.
Taxis are also plentiful in PV and are honest for the most part. It definitely helps to speak a little bit of Spanish to make sure you know the rate in advance as they don’t use meters.
If you have a working phone, Uber is also an option. These days more drivers use the InDriver app, though, as they earn more on there than Uber. As a customer, you bid on the ride, and you need cash to pay the fare.
Best Time to Go to Visit Puerto Vallarta
There’s definitely a high season and a low season in PV, mostly because of the weather. It can be downright miserable between July-October with high temperatures and humidity as well as frequent storms.
The high season lasts from November to March, with the peak coming between Christmas and New Year’s. Semana Santa (Holy Week) is also a very busy travel time across all of Latin America. It brings huge crowds to PV.
To take advantage of nice weather but avoid the crowds and high prices, consider visiting PV in November (before Thanksgiving) or April (avoiding Holy Week).
Best Places to Stay in Puerto Vallarta
As a tourist town that caters to all types of travelers, you’re spoiled for options when it comes to accommodation. From budget-friendly hostels up to all-inclusive luxury resorts, PV has it all.
Whether you decide to go the all-inclusive route or not is entirely up to you. Personally, I recommend giving it a pass for your first trip so you can visit the amazing restaurants and bars in Puerto Vallarta.
Here are a few different options for the best hotels in Puerto Vallarta to satisfy different budgets:
- Budget—Los Muertos Hostal: For those on a budget, it’s hard to beat this highly-rated hostel. You can get a bed in a six or 8eight-person dorm for just over $10 a night, and it’s just a block from the beach in Old Town.
- Mid-Range—Tropicana Hotel: As far as beach hotels in Puerto Vallarta go, this one is a great bargain. It’s got a pool facing a private area on Los Muertos beach, and even their best rooms go for less than $100 a night.
- Luxury—Hotel Mousai: Where do you even begin with this place? It’s a super fancy adults-only hotel with a rooftop infinity pool, a private beach, a luxurious spa, and much more.
Day Trips from Puerto Vallarta
With the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other, there is a wide range of day trip options from PV. Here are some of the best:
- Islas Marietas: take a boat trip to visit these uninhabited islands
- Yelapa: a chilled-out beach town that feels like an island
- Boca de Tomatlan: this small town is the starting point for a fun hike around the coast to Las Animas beach
- ATV/Zipline: options abound for taking a day trip into the mountains for ATV riding and/or ziplining
- Vallarta Botanical Gardens: beautiful gardens with a restaurant
- Bucerias: a smaller beach town across the state line in Nayarit
- Sayulita: a popular surfer/yogi destination about an hour away from PV
Ready for PV?
Now that you’ve got a good idea of what to do in Puerto Vallarta, you should be primed and ready to have an amazing trip there.
This 3-day itinerary will give you a taste of all that PV has to offer. It serves as a nice intro to the city, but you’ll most definitely be left wanting more.
Should you happen to fall in love with the city and find yourself dreaming about moving there, you’re not alone. Take it from me—we planned to spend one month in PV and ended up moving there! Check out this post about the cost of living in Puerto Vallarta if you want some more info.
Get excited for some sun & sand and tacos & tequila because PV is waiting for you!
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