Driving in the Old Town of Puerto Vallarta can be a daunting experience, with the cobblestoned streets and busy traffic. But once you are outside the city, it’s clear sailing. Main roads are excellent and well signed. Car rentals are easy to organize at the airport, or from many car rental places in town. For a different experience, rent a dune buggy from Cool Rentals, who also offer guided tours tailored to your interests. (These are perfect when you do not want to drive yourself.) Several companies make curated trips into the countryside.
You definitely want to visit Punta Mita, on the northern tip of the bay. This is where most high end hotels and luxury villas are situated, but it is also has gorgeous beaches and craggy rock formations.
The fishing town of Bucerias, a fashionable place to stay outside of PV, offers good beaches, some excellent markets, and a really good cooking school.
Sayulita appeals to former hippies, those who admire hippy culture and style, and those who love to surf. Beaches lure serious surfers, hence the pretty big annual surf competition. You’ll find plenty of good shops, markets, and cafes. The less developed village of San Francisco, known familiarly as San Pancho, is small and interesting.
Day cruises help you explore Banderas Bay beauty — my favourite is the trip to the Marieta Islands, but other excursions head to Los Arcos and several other beaches and coastal villages.
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Riviera Nayarit is close by and worth an exploration. San Sebastian in the mountains offers a different glimpse of Mexican culture. A trip to Mismaloya includes the zoo, and then travel a bit further, to Boca de Tomatlan, for a great lunch on the beach while watching the water action. Many excursions leave from here. Yelapa makes for a great beach day, inclusive of a horseback ride to a waterfall and to enjoy famous pie ladies.
The Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens is worth an afternoon visit. Its small restaurant is quite good and there’s a little stream for a cool down.
Truly off-piste travelers venture to Cabo Corrientes on the southern coast beyond the Bay of Bandaras. Miles of untouched beaches, small uninhabited coves, and the absence of tourism development (at least till now) leaves this area pristine.