10 Things You Must Do on Your Next Trip to Puerto Vallarta

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Bucket List Worthy  

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Puerto Vallarta is one of those ideal vacation destinations. The sun shines roughly 322 days a year, the water temperature rarely falls below 24-degrees Celsius and it was once voted “The Friendliest City in the World.” So while there’s no question as to whether or not you should visit Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (if you haven’t already), you’ll probably wonder what you should do when you get there.

Sitting poolside, enjoying an authentic margarita and indulging in the city’s remarkable foodie scene should definitely be on your checklist. But once you’ve settled into your vacation by the Bahia de Banderas, you’ll want to check out these unforgettable and off-the-beaten-path Puerto Vallarta activities.

#1. Catch a Parade

Photo credit: Brad Cerenzia
Photo credit: Brad Cerenzia

The local culture is what gives Puerto Vallarta its authentic feel — a trait that many of Mexico’s biggest tourist destinations lack. And one of the best ways to dive head first into the local culture is to attend one of the city’s many parades and religious gatherings. Massive daily processions to the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe are held Dec. 1-12, and the final parade on Dec. 12 is the largest one featuring elaborate floats, talented performers and local marching bands.

#2. Visit Marietas Islands National Park

Photo credit: Christian Frausto Bernal
Photo credit: Christian Frausto Bernal

This picturesque island setting and bird sanctuary, roughly 40 kilometers west of Puerto Vallarta, has only been a national park since 2005, but it’s one of the most scenic places in all of the greater “P.V.” area. Take a tour to the famous Playa de Amor (also known as “Hidden Beach”) with one of the area’s many tour companies or catch a local boat headed out that way from Punta de Mita.

#3. Charter a Fishing Boat

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Kill two birds with one stone and spend a day out fishing and whale watching in the Bahia de Banderas on a local charter fishing boat. Nearly all of the boat captains know the best places to reel in marlin, sailfish, tuna, mahi mahi and a variety of other fish as well as the best places to spot whales, so if you’re not having luck with one, you may have luck with the other.

#4. Lend a Helping Hand

Photo credit: Steve McFarland
Photo credit: Steve McFarland

There’s no better way to get in touch with the local life in Puerto Vallarta than to lend a hand and give back to the community that gives so much to its visitors. The Refugio Infantil Santa Esperanza (RISE) is a non-profit orphanage for children who have been abandoned or mistreated. The organization welcomes visitors to come spend time playing with kids or volunteering in a wide variety of ways. Not only is hanging out with these joyful kids a blast, it’ll make your entire Puerto Vallarta vacation a richer experience.

#5. Dine on the Sand in Bucerias

Photo credit: waywuwei
Photo credit: waywuwei

Escape the resort-dotted beaches and high prices of beachfront dining for the more down-home setting of Bucerias just a short drive north of Vallarta. Spend your day body surfing, shopping or riding horses on the beach, then dine directly on the sand at one of the many authentic beachfront restaurants. Make sure you time your visit to catch the sunset, because this is one of the best places in P.V. to watch the sunset behind the mountains and the ocean.

#6. Learn to Surf in Punta de Mita

Photo credit: Eliel Johnson
Photo credit: Eliel Johnson

If you say you want to learn to surf in Puerto Vallarta, most people will send you straight to Sayulita. But the less-crowded beaches and gentle rolling waves of nearby Punta de Mita offer a much more relaxing learn-to-surf experience.

#7. Take the Bus

Photo credit: Prayitno
Photo credit: Prayitno

Taking the bus may not sound like a dream vacation activity, but if you’re looking to experience Puerto Vallarta’s vibrant local culture, there’s no better way to get around. Musicians, clowns, school children, office workers and fellow tourists are just a few of the many types of people you’ll see on a bus ride to the town “Centro” or back home to the “Marina” or “Hoteles” zone. If you’re in for a little extra thrill, take the “Tunel” bus to the Zona Romantica for a little faster ride through the city’s tight-fitting tunnel.

#8. Ride the Burro at Andales

Photo credit: gabriel saldana
Photo credit: gabriel saldana

A night out on the town in “Old Town” (also known as Zona Romantica) is a must for Puerto Vallarta visitors who like to let loose. This somewhat divey but very popular bar caters to an older crowd by blasting vintage hits from 8 p.m. until closing time. If you stay just long enough, you may see a burro outside (or sometimes even inside) the bar with a somewhat intoxicated bar patron on board.

#9. See a Show at El Teatro Vallarta

Photo credit: Carlos Torres
Photo credit: Carlos Torres

Didn’t expect that you’d be going to the theatre on your trip to Mexico? El Teatro Vallarta opened in the spring of 2010, but the quality of the performances will make you feel like it has been there for decades. This modern theatre — located right near the downtown Malecon — isĀ  the perfect place to relax and enjoy a live concert, local production or even a big-name traveling show.

#10. Snorkel Los Arcos Park

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Snorkel above the shallow coral reef teeming with brightly-colored angel fish, parrot fish, cornet fish and puffer fish as well as octopus, eagle rays and lobsters. A variety of tour companies offer snorkeling packages to Los Arcos and most of them include lunch, equipment and beverages, so just pack your swimsuits, your sunscreen and most importantly — your camera.

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About the Author: Courtney McCaffrey

Courtney McCaffrey is a freelance writer and editor based in Wilmington, N.C. In addition to writing, she lives for travel - seeing new places, learning new cultures and surfing new waves.

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