Puerto Vallarta Mexico is what I like to think of as the connoisseur’s Mexican destination. While there are miles of sandy beach, parasailing action, zip-line courses and pirate ship excursions, there is also a layered culture and a rich history. That could be the reason, combined with its reputation as a safe destination, that the city is enjoying a renaissance. Travellers who are ‘beached out’ are turning to the allure of Puerto Vallarta’s multi-faceted charm. Our Puerto Vallarta itineraries will help you experience the best of the region, and plan a visit that you will never forget.
Up until the mid-sixties, Puerto Vallarta Mexico was a small village, important as a port from which silver from mines in the mountains was shipped and as a fishing harbour. When actors and directors, like Elizabeth Taylor and John Huston, started coming here, it became an ‘it’ place, attracting development, affluent tourists and then a whole group of artists. Now Puerto Vallarta is the pearl of Mexico.
While the artists may have come for the wealthy patronage, they stayed for the light and the colour. Puerto Vallarta is a place where the clear light reflected from the Bay of Banderas meets the mists of the Sierra Madres Mountains. The effect turns the city into a painting in the making, irresistible to anyone with a creative eye. The colonial architecture, the graceful towers of Our Lady of Guadeloupe Cathedral and yellow, red and blue doors overhung with bougainvillea have inspired the work of visiting artists and students who come to study at the local art schools.
Puerto Vallarta’s character also means that streets are always full of people walking the Malecon, enjoying the evening passeo, or exploring the cobblestoned streets of the old town. Little surprise then that I have logged many miles on foot when I visit.
Most of the hotels are clustered within walking distance of the action, while local buses and taxis will get you anywhere that’s too much of a walk. Puerto Vallarta’s popularity has fuelled the growth of a large hotel industry here, with everything from international chains to exclusive boutique hotels.
The hotel district along the ocean, in Nuevo Vallarta, is perfectly located, close to the beach and city centre, and within easy reach of the airport. Here you will find grand hotels that offer multiple swimming pools, spas, tennis and excellent restaurants.The Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit & Spa Vallarta is right on the beach in Nuevo Vallarta, with a three-tiered infinity pool, golf course, tennis, and a top end spa that specializes in treatments which incorporate ancient ceremonial rituals and natural Mexican ingredients. Its Restaurant Frida offers haute cuisine while the Aqua Bar at the pool allows you to swim up for a casual lunch.
From the hotel district, it’s an ambitious but interesting walk to the old town and the Zona Romantica, where the Malecon snakes along the ocean past Los Arcos and vendors sell everything from beach sandals to grilled mahi-mahi on a skewer. The walk will take you past sculptures by Sergio Bustamante, Ramiz Barquet and others as well as incredible sand sculptures. Farther along, the activity of Playa Los Muertos, with its southern end a popular gay and lesbian playground, celebrates the easy beach ethos.
Puerto Vallarta is well known as a gay and lesbian friendly city, with hotels, clubs and adventure tours that cater to the gay community. The famous Blue Chairs section of Los Muertos Beach is the centre of the gay beach area, with its aqua chairs clustered along the beach and a rainbow flag flying from the restaurant. The nearby ‘green chairs’ of Club Lido are part of a gay-owned club that provides on-the-beach drink service and good food. Hotels like Casa Cupola — its tagline reads “the most luxurious gay boutique hotel in the world” — is home to a good fitness centre and Taste, a highly recommended restaurant.
On Wednesday evenings I often join the weekly Art Walk in the old town section of Puerto Vallarta, when galleries stay open late and serve wine and nibbles. I love the unconventional sculptures at Galleria Uno and the playful interpretations of traditional subjects by Roberto Vazquez at Gallery Pacifico.
After the walk, it’s time for dinner. The food scene in Puerto Vallarta is legendary, another reason that the city is an enduring favourite with discerning travelers. Every November, the city hosts the International Gourmet Festival, where local and international chefs celebrate the cuisine of Mexico. This attention to food means there is an embarrassment of great choices for dinner. Bistro Teresa, on the top floor overlooking the main square and with a fabulous view of the bay, is typical of the fine dining you can enjoy in this city by the sea, where the fish is freshly caught steps from the restaurant, and where the shrimp have the snap and sweetness that tell you they have but recently been delivered to the café’s back door by a Matzatlan shrimper.
Dining in the lower town is livelier, with small cafes spilling out onto the street and rooftop dining rooms crowded and sociable. At No Way Jose, orange washed walls, blue pottery and chicken with mole sauce sing the flavours of Mexico. Café des Artistes and Trio offer upscale dining.
When the charms of the ocean fade, I turn up into the old cobblestone streets of the old Puerto Vallarta, and visit the mercados for bargains, — sterling and turquoise jewellery, bottles of tequila and vanilla, little packets of epazote and beach cover-ups.
For serious shopping the little places along the streets of the old town, like Mundo de Azulejos and Talavera Etc offer handmade tiles, silver, furniture, pottery and fine jewellery. The pottery from the village of Mata Ortiz is highly collectable, its pieces smooth surfaced, balanced in the hand, and skilfully formed. I bought one small Mata Ortiz pot and a handcrafted perforated tin lamp that, when lit, fills the room with little stars of light. Saturdays see the sidewalks of Basilio Badillio crowded newly arrived visitors, or regulars on their way to the main square for the weekly market.
There are other day trips, all within reach of Peurto Vallarta, to the botanical gardens, to Los Arcos National Marine Park for great snorkelling and scuba diving, to the fishing village of Sayulita for surfing or the colonial town of San Sebastian for its history and beauty, but my favourite thing to do in PV is walk down to the beach to sit with my feet in the sand, a frosty margarita in hand, to witness the passeo and to watch the sun set over the Bahia de Banderas.
It’s a magical place.
It’s beautiful here, always, with an active local culture that flourishes twelve months of the year. But summers are very hot, and the Fall is rainy season. Best time to be here is from late November to early April.Those are, of course, also the busiest months. Locals that I spoke with told me that they love the summer months, when life slows down to a crawl and you can always get a table at your favourite restaurant.
I’m in love with this place, so my answer here is obvious – as much time as you can! It requires more than a long weekend, unless you live close enough that the flights are short. A week is good – you can cover the main points, relax with some beach time, and become addicted to the culinary delights. Many Americans and Canadians come for months at a time, settling in to the local life and escaping the cold.
High Season – November to April
Low Season – May to October
The great thing about weather in Puerto Vallarta is the consistency — never too hot or too cold, day after day of sunny skies, and a rainy season that consists mostly of rain in short bursts. Mornings start out coolish, and the evenings are often cool and refreshing too, especially after the heat of the day.
Average temperatures in January range from a high of 80F (26 C)to a low of 62F (16C). In August those temperatures rise to 90F(32C) high and 74F (24C)
See what the beach looks like in real time at this webcam.
January 1 – New Year’s Day (Año Nuevo), national holiday. Banks and public government offices remain closed for the day.
January 6 – Three Kings Day (Día de Reyes) is a traditional gift-giving day,
February 5 – Anniversary of the Mexican Constitution, national holiday and parade. Banks and public government offices remain closed.
February 24 – Day of the Mexican Flag. Mexican celebration
First Tuesday in March – Carnaval Day. Party with masks, kids parade in the streets
March 21 – Benito Juarez Day, is a national holiday honoring the renowned former president who is known as the “Lincoln of Mexico.” March 21 First Day of Spring, and the beginning of the Springbreak season.
April – Semana Santa and Pascua, (Easter Break); Puerto Vallarta is at its peak occupancy during this pre-Easter Holy week, this period is a normal national vacation and there’s “spring break” from school, with local families taking holiday time.
April 30 – Día del Niño (Children’s Day). Local children participate in a parade on streets and enjoy the party.
May Cultural Festival (Festival Cultural de Mayo) – Every year the local government organizes the “Festival Cultural de Mayo”, with events and activities all through the month.
May 1 – Labor Day, national holiday. Banks and public government offices remain closed.
May 5 – Celebration the defeat of the French Army at Puebla in 1862, national holiday, Banks and public government offices remain closed
May 10 – Mother’s Day (Día de la Madre), national holiday. Mexicans love their mothers!
May 31 – Puerto Vallarta Anniversary day.
June 1, Navy Day (Día de la Marina). A Mexican National event since 1942, it’s held in memory of those that June 1, 1917 sailed out in the ship “Tabasco” in Veracruz, the first Mexican merchant ship. This day, in all Mexican harbors, they honor the sailors that have lost their lives in duty, not only in battle, but all activities related to the sea.
September 14 – Charro Day. Mexican Charros (Mexican cowboys) parade through town in morning (beginning at 10:00 am) wearing traditional charro outfits
September 15 – Independence Eve. On this night, the central plaza is filled with revelers participating in the traditional “el grito”, or cry for independence. Led by the Mayor from the balcony in City Hall, it is preceded by the lighting of the flame of independence and a parade through the center of town.
September 16 – Independence day. The festivities continue on Independence Day, a national holiday celebrated by more brilliant fireworks and a parade that winds through the center of town. national holiday, Banks and public government offices remain closed.
November 1 – All Soul’s Day (Día de Todos Santos); on this day, Mexicans pay homage to the souls of the children who have passed on. All banks and government offices are closed.
November 2 – Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos). Families hold a graveside vigil on this night, or at least leave their favorite food and drink on a special alter constructed in their home or on the tomb of their departed ancestors.
November – dates vary-
Puerto Vallarta Art Festival: Each November, the exceptional Festival de las Artes takes place, featuring a month-long series of art gallery shows and open-air, beachside theater performances. An impressive range of artwork is displayed from artists throughout Mexico. All events are free to the public.
Festival Gourmet Internacional de Puerto Vallarta: Mexico’s premier culinary event is the annual Puerto Vallarta Gourmet Festival, over a period of 10 days.
November 20th – Mexican Revolution Anniversary. Banks and public government offices remain closed.
December 12 – Festival of the Virgin of Guadalupe; this important religious and social holiday marks the anniversary of the day the Virgin Guadalupe made her miraculous appearance to a peasant in Mexico.
December 25 – Christmas Day (Navidad). Religious celebration and national holiday. Banks and public government offices remain closed.
The Puerto Vallarta time zone is the CST time zone – Central Standard Time, from the beginning of November to the end of March. Then it switches to CDT, Central Daylight Time, from April to the end of October.
The really attractive thing about PV for me is the casual nature of life. You can live quite nicely in shorts and a t-shirt and a bathing suit. You might need a sweater and long pants for cool evenings, and you may want a dress-up outfit, but life here- even the night life- is laid back and easy. You won’t see many people done up in designer duds. There’s a hippy vibe here, and while many of the visitors and locals may be used to formal wear in their other lives, in the bars, restaurants and on the beaches, the rule is to dress down. So leave the jewels and high heels, the ties and suit jackets, at home. A good linen shirt or blouse and pants or a long skirt will take you anywhere you want to go at night.
Although PV is not as inexpensive as it was in the early days of tourism, it is still a bargain for North American travelers. The strong American dollar, and the relative strength of the Canadian dollar, the British pound and the Euro mean that most things here are at least a third less, and often more. Food is very affordable, particularly fresh fruit, vegetables and local fish and seafood.
Eating out is so reasonable that many long term visitors eat most of their meals in local restaurants, of which there is a huge selection and variety.
Local artisanal goods, like silver and turquoise jewelry, talavera pottery, tiles and linen and cotton clothing are good buys.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in $US.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $20 per person
$$$ => Tickets $25 per person
$ => Rooms less than $75 for a double
$$ => Rooms $75-150 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $200 for a double
$ => $10 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$ => $25 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $50 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $75 per person
$$ => Tickets $75-125 per person
$$$ => Tickets $125 per person
See => http://www.xe.com/cu
Rental cars can easily be picked up at the airport in PV. Budget, Hertz, Thrifty — they are all there, and the prices are reasonable. It is important to be sure your insurance coverage is solid, just in case. And when you are on the road, take care — no speeding, no illegal turns. Local police can be difficult to deal with, and the language is sometimes a barrier.
Many of the resorts, and some of the rental condos offer airport pick-up sevices.
When I visit, and I visit for the long term, I never get a car. I walk everywhere, or I take a bus, or a cab. Taxis are plentiful and $4 or $5 will get you almost anywhere in town. (I end up much healthier and a bit leaner by the end of each visit! Bonus!)
Make sure you have good coverage if you rent a car, and be sure your health coverage is up to date. There are excellent hospitals in the city, should you get ill, but you will probably have to pay upfront and collect from your health plan when you get home, if you have a medical event.
The Mexican peso is the best currency to use when out and about in Puerto Vallarta. Many establishments will accept American currency but you can’t depend on the exchange rate being accurate or fair. Best to use the local currency. Right now, American and Canadian dollars, British pounds and Euros go pretty far in Puerto Vallarta as the value of the peso has fallen.
Tips are expected — I usually leave around 15% – but some of the more elaborate establishments automatically add 20%, though you can negotiate that. I have been followed out of a restaurant by a waiter who felt I had not left him a big enough tip – and he was right. I had miscalculated the peso conversion and left too little. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that many of the people who work in the shops and stores and eateries make very little and depend on tips to keep them going. It is always good to be generous.
Anything local is a bargain, but imported goods can be pricey. Steaks, imported wines, European cheeses are all expensive here.
But tequila is very cheap, as are the local beers. And at happy hour you can enjoy a massive and potent margarita for about $3.50.
Car rentals are easy to arrange and affordable. There is regular bus service throughout the city and, although the buses are a bit rusty and ramshackle, the bonus is that they are very inexpensive — about 8 pesos will get you anywhere – and sometimes a singer with a guitar will hop on board and serenade the passengers.
Taxis are plentiful and cheap.
And this is a highly walkable city — the malecon along the beachfront has got to be one of the best strolls in the world.
Major airlines fly in to Puerto Vallarta regularly in high season, not so regularly in low. Thomson Vacations has added a regular flight from Manchester to PV during the season. The airport is a few miles from the centre of the city, close to the hotel zone and taxis are plentiful at the airport to take you where you want to go.
There are also very comfortable long distance buses, with wifi and movies, that criss-cross Mexico and can get you from town to town.
The airport is about a twenty-five minute drive from the centre of the city, depending on the traffic.
Walk, bus, taxi — easy city to navigate without a car rental.
You can buy bus tickets as you board – about 8 pesos per person.
Puerto Vallarta is located on the Pacific Coast on the Bay of Banderas, one of the largest bays in the world.
The bay measures 42 kilometers from north to south, with the northernmost limit of the bay at Punta Mita, right at the end of the Sierra de Vallejo mountains. To the south, the bay ends in Cabo Corrientes, part of the foothills of the Sierra del Cuale range.
Puerto Vallarta began life as a small fishing village, and an important but small scale shipping port for the silver that was mined in the Sierra Madres. Its life on the main stage began in 1964 when director John Huston, who was a frequent visitor to PV, decided to film his movie, Night of the Iguana, here, and cast Richard Burton and Ava Gardner in the lead roles. Richard Burton was having a sensational love affair with Liz Taylor, even though both of them were still married to other people, and the attention of the world’s press was focused on the goings on in this little Mexican coastal town.
The town blossomed as a result. Celebrities, artists, and tourists began to come, to enjoy the beauty and quiet life to be had here. Today, tourism is the main industry.
Originally named Puerto Las Penas, in 1918 the town was named Puerto Vallarta, after an important representative of the state of Jalisco, Don Ignacio Vallarta.
Today Puerto Vallarta has a flourishing cultural life, with a malecon lined with original sculptures by Mexican artists, art schools, galleries, theatres and a surprisingly colourful blooming of street art.
The people are unfailingly courteous, hate to say no. When you dine in a restaurant, the waiter will not bring you the check until you ask for it — he doesn’t want you to feel that you have to leave or that you are being rushed.
There are an abundance of good places to dine in Puerto Vallarta, but my favourites are the ones that celebrate the excellence of local products and traditional culinary creations. Jalisco cuisine is fresh and casual — tomatoes, white onions, peppers, chilies, limes and garlic are central to most dishes. Pico de gallo, a fresh salsa, will auatomatically appear on your restaurant table, with freshly cooked tortilla chips. Tacos of every sort are ubiquitous and delicious, especially tacos el pastor, and my personal favourite, fish tacos. There are fresh markets everywhere, with abundant and inexpensive local fruits and vegetables, as well as fish markets where you can buy the excellent local shrimp, and fresh locally caught fish.
There’s lots of high end restaurants in PV as well as the small and local places that are reflective of the diet of the people of Jalisco.
This is a Catholic region, and the elegant churches are a testament to the importance of the church in everyday life. All of the major church holidays are celebrated with gusto, but the regular life in PV is largely secular. While most people identify as Catholic, they are generally speaking a liberal and open minded population who accept alternate life styles with a generous spirit.
Most people you will encounter during a visit will speak excellent English but if you are staying for a while it is good to learn some rudimentary Spanish. There are several Spanish language schools where you can take lessons.
James Michener – Mexico
Malcolm Lowry – Under The Volcano
Laura Esquival – Like Water For Chocolate
Hayden Herera – Frida: A Biography of Frida Khalo
John Steinbeck – The Pearl
John Steinbeck – The Log from The Sea of Cortez
Carlos Fuentes – The Death of Artemio Cruz
Carlos Fuentes – Terra Nostra
B. Traven – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Juan Pablo Villalobos – Down The Rabbit Hole
Graham Green – The Power and the Glory
D.H.Lawrence – Mornings in Mexico
Marita Adair – The Hungry Traveler Mexico
Puerto Vallarta is a city that celebrates art around every corner. The malecon is lined with sculptures from prominent Mexican sculptors, there are many excellent galleries, and, if you are inclined, you can take a painting class on the beach, or learn to throw pots or do watercolours with classes at Art Vallarta.
Night of the Iguana
Fast & Furious
A Fist Full of Dollars
Like Water for Chocolate
A Night in Old Mexico
Once Upon a Time In Mexico
Mariachi music is everywhere, but so is jazz, with a pretty respectable jazz festival on the beach in late March. Almost every restaurant of note has live music on the weekends, and there are often strolling musicians on the beach or on the bus who will entertain you for a few pesos.
The state of Jalisco is the birthplace of mariachi. (Listen to some Mariachi here.)
The mariachi ensemble generally consists of violins, trumpets, a classical guitar, a vihuela (a high-pitched, five-string guitar), a guitarrón (a large acoustic bass) and, on occasion, a harp or two. They dress in silver studded charro outfits with wide-brimmed hats. The original Mariachi were Mexican street musicians or buskers. They sometimes accompany ranchera singers such as Vicente Fernandez. (And you can listen to Vincente here!)
Check out the current favourites in Mexican music here.
And then some songs about Mexico –
Toby Keith – Stays in Mexico
Tim McGraw – That’s Why God Made Mexico
George Strait – The Seashores of Old Mexico
Elvis Presley – Mexico
Jimmy Buffet – Mexico
Gene Autry – South Of The Border
The Coasters – Down in Mexico
Official Tourist Board Site: http://www.visitmexico.com/
Puerto Vallarta Tourism: http://visitpuertovallarta.com/
Map of Puerto Vallarta: http://www.puertovallarta.net/map/