Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta is the fifth largest city in the Mexican state of Jalisco and is located on the Bahia de Banderas in the Pacific Ocean. It's named after Ignacio Vallarta, who was the governor of Jalisco from 1872 to 1876; prior to that the town was called Las Penas. Once famous for its pearl divers, Puerto Vallarta attracts millions of tourists annually and has been a tourist destination since the middle of the 1800s.

History of Puerto Vallarta

Aside from the fact that archaeological evidence indicates the presence of humans since 580 B.C., little is known of this immensely popular city before the 1800s. Apparently, the area was under the dominion of the Aztatlan culture from about 900 to 1200 A.D., and periodic skirmishes have been documented between the natives and those who would colonize the area. Accounts of piracy and smuggling indicate that the area was used as a landing site in order to evade customs operations at Nayarit.

The town now known as Puerto Vallarta was founded on December 12, 1851 by Guadalupe Sanchez Torres and named Las Penas de Santa Maria de Guadalupe. Business was thriving at that time, including mining, fishing, smugglers, pearl divers, and foragers. Conflicting information on historical documents evokes some questions on the exact date of the founding of Las Penas, but the city was thriving by the 1860s and the population had grown to about 800 residents by 1885.

Puerto Vallarta

© Miss Shari - View of Puerto Vallarta

Las Penas obtained the status of a municipality in 1918 and was renamed Puerto Vallarta; at the time, most of the municipality was the property of the Union en Cuale company under the control of an American named Alfred Geist. His practice of selling only large plots of land at exorbitant prices motivated the citizenry to petition the government for a land grant according to the provisions of the new constitution.

Although the land grant was approved, it was only 23,000 acres and led to dissension among those holding the grant. Developers weren't interested in the land grant because it didn't have a clear title, so growth stagnated for almost half a century.

Puerto Vallarta gained road access to Compostela, Nay in 1942; previously, access was limited to air, sea, or mules; 1942 also saw the first advertisement for Puerto Vallarta as a vacation destination.

Electricity became available 24/7, 1962 brought a new airport, and vacation packages became available for all. John Huston filmed The Night of the Iguana in a town south of Puerto Vallarta and extensive media coverage pushed the town of Puerto Vallarta into the limelight as a tourist destination.

Finally, in 1993, the decades-old squabble over the land grant was resolved and resulted in a rapid expansion of new construction. Retirees, returning visitors, and snow birds were able to own property as a result and the demand for housing grew exponentially.

Puerto Vallarta Attractions

Puerto Vallarta has an abundance of attractions to suit any taste, whether it's outdoor activities, shopping, museums, botanical gardens, or almost any other activity.

  • Vallarta Botanical Gardens display an incredible assortment of both flowering and non-flowering plants. Their spectacular display of orchids is rivaled only by the variety of unusual plants, such as vanilla vines, pineapples, coffee plants, and more. Hiking trails will reveal an abundance of native flora, some not seen anywhere else in the world.
Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens

© Sarah - Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens

  • Zipline and Aerial Adventure Parks provide an adrenaline rush for thrill-seekers and the choice of many zipline companies, such as Extreme Zip Line Adventure, Los Veranos Canopy Tour, Canopy Vallarta, and more, provide a variety of zipline adventures.
  • Bora-Bora Whale Watching is delightfully slow, enabling passengers to observe dolphins, manta rays, and whales, among other types of sea life. The on-board marine biologist can provide an informative monologue and can answer all questions; food and drinks are served.
  • Sea Turtle Camp provides a unique look at alligators, parrots, turtles, and other animals. Baby turtles are often released into the ocean when they are just 24 hours old and visitors can participate in the ceremony.
  • Banderas Bay Hover Tours provides a glimpse of the local culture as well as alligators and rare birds. The hovercraft flies over the river for views of local flora and fauna, and over local villages to provide a glimpse into how the locals live.
  • Los Arcos provides fantastic snorkeling for those interested in diving. Vibrantly colored fish are abundant and big, and the area is secured to ensure the safety of divers of all ages.
Los Arcos Islands, Puerto Vallarta

© cielodlp - Los Arcos Islands, Puerto Vallarta

  • Galleria Dante is Puerto Vallarta's largest art gallery and some say it's the best. Affordable artwork in oils, watercolors, and sculptures in a plethora of styles offer something for everyone.
  • Vallarta Eats Food Tours offer a variety of forays into local cuisine including Tacos After Dark and the Mexican Beer Experience. Be sure to start hungry as ample amounts of food are provided.
  • Los Animas Adventure Park is great fun for the entire family, offering walls to climb, a zipline, suspension bridges, and more. Safety is primary and children of all ages will enjoy this outdoor venue.
  • El Malecon Boardwalk and its side streets provide unique and wonderful shopping, and the entertainers on the Boardwalk include walking bands and mariachis. The ideal place to people watch, the Boardwalk bustles at all hours.
El Malecon, Puerto Vallarta

© Javier Castañón - El Malecon, Puerto Vallarta

Other interesting attractions in Puerto Vallarta include:

  • Aquaventuras Park
  • Cuale Archaeological Museum
  • Dinner theaters
  • El Eden
  • Fishing charters
  • Gringo Gulch
  • Historical and heritage tours
  • Majolica Antica
  • Mercado Municipal
  • Museo Naval
  • Off-road, 4WD, and ATV tours
  • Puerto Vallarta Zoo
  • Rancho Verano Distileria de Tequila
  • Saturday morning co-op
  • Skydiving
  • Surfing, kitesurfing, and windsurfing
  • The Church of Our Lady of the Refuge


Puerto Vallarta Beach

© Harvey Barrison - Puerto Vallarta Beach


Puerto Vallarta Beaches

Puerto Vallarta's beaches are some of the best in the world and are among the three most popular tourist destinations. Some beaches are better for swimming and some for other activities, such as fishing or surfing.

  • Playas Gemelas and Flamingos are two of the best beaches for swimming. The clear, turquoise water and pristine white sand are a spectacular combination and Flamingos provides a small break in the surf.
  • Garza Blanca, another excellent beach for swimming, has a highly rated resort with incredible views and is located on the south shore of the Bahia Banderas just 12 minutes from downtown.
  • Playa Camarones is close to downtown Puerto Vallarta and close to the Villa Premiere Hotel and Spa, which accommodates only those 16 years of age and older.
  • Boca de Tomates beach is 25 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta with an excellent seafood restaurant right on the beach.
  • Olas Altas is located in the romantic zone of downtown Puerto Vallarta; Las Amapas and Conchas Chinas are a mere 5 minutes south of town.
Beach in Puerto Vallarta

© Jonathon McDougall - Beach in Puerto Vallarta

Other beaches in Puerto Vallarta include:

  • Playa Mismaloya
  • Boca de Tomatlan
  • Colomitos*
  • Yelapa*
  • Playa Caballo*
  • Las Animas*
  • Quimixto*
  • Las Caletas*
  • Majahuitas*

*Accessible by water taxi only; other beaches not asterisked are available by car, taxi, or bus.

Puerto Vallarta Travel

A variety of travel options are available to those wanting to visit Puerto Vallarta, which is accessible by air, car, tour bus, or cruise ship. As yet, no trains travel to Puerto Vallarta. Discount airfares often make flying the most cost-effective method for reaching the popular vacation site.

Puerto Vallarta Airport

© Jenni Konrad - Puerto Vallarta Airport

Cruise ships offer a more leisurely method for travel to Puerto Vallarta and great deals are available for passage on a cruise ship. The best prices are available online; travel agents may have last-minute specials available also.

Rental cars are available in Puerto Vallarta, but they are expensive and navigating the roads can be harrowing. Advance reservations are definitely recommended for those who plan to drive a rental car. Valuables should always be stowed in the trunk and not left inside the vehicle.

Taxis are abundant in Puerto Vallarta and most are inexpensive. Since they charge by zone not by distance, be sure to ask the driver what the fare will be. Many carry rate sheets that are available for free to passengers.

Buses are the most economical method for touring the city. They run frequently and service most areas of the city. Green buses are for in-town and gray buses are for excursions out of town. Transfers aren't included with the price of a ticket; each transfer will require another ticket.

Puerto Vallarta Buses

© Kurt Bauschardt - Buses in Puerto Vallarta

U.S. citizens are required to have a passport in order to visit Puerto Vallarta. In addition, Mexico requires a Mexican Tourist Permit, which is usually free to tourists and issued upon arrival. Visitors are required to retain the Mexican Tourist Permit and present it when they leave.

Puerto Vallarta Hotels

Puerto Vallarta offers lodging accommodations to fit all budgets, from the five-star rated Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit to hostels located south of Rio Cuale. Puerto Vallarta's five top-rated hotels, in order of ranking, are the:

  • Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit, rated 5.0 stars
  • Hotel Mousai Puerto Vallarta, rated 5.0 stars
  • Garza Blanca Preserve Resort and Spa, rated 5.0 stars
  • Villa La Estancia Riviera Nayarit, rated 4.5 stars
  • Now Amber Puerto Vallarta, rated 4.5 stars
Grand Velas, Puerto Vallarta

© Grand Velas Puerto Vallarta

Affordable and budget-friendly hotels are located primarily in the romantic zone of downtown Puerto Vallarta. These include:

  • Belmar Hotel
  • Catedral Hotel
  • Eloisa Hotel
  • Emperador Vallarta Hotel
  • Encino Hotel
  • Mocali Hotel
  • Posada de Roger Hotel
  • Rosita Hotel
  • San Marino Hotel
  • Villa del Mar Traditional Hotel

Some others are available in the South zone, the Marina, the hotel zone, Bucerias, and Nuevo Vallarta. Many of these hotels start at less than 40 dollars per night and enable the traveler to enjoy the local culture and downtown ambiance more fully.

Rosita Hotel, Oldest hotel in Puerto Vallarta

© Wonderlane - Rosita Hotel, the oldest hotel in Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta TripAdvisor

For off the beaten path activities, consider the following:

  • Marietas Islands National Park was established in 2005 but it offers some of the most spectacular scenery in all of Puerto Vallarta. Playa de Amor, or Hidden Beach, is a must-see and can be visited with a tour group or a local boat.
  • Help out at The Refugio Infantil Santa Esperanza (RISE), which is an orphanage for abandoned and/or abused children. Visitors are welcome to volunteer or to spend time with the children.
  • Catch the sunset in Bucerias after a day of horseback riding or shopping, then dine at one of the abundant beachfront restaurants while you admire the incredible sunset.
  • Spend a night on the town in Old Town, or Zona Romantica, at the local bar. Vintage music blares after 8 pm and an old-timer may show up with his burro.
Puerto Vallarta Old Town

© Chris Goldberg - Puerto Vallarta Old Town

Facts about Puerto Vallarta

  • Puerto Vallarta is mostly hot and humid throughout the year with a June-to-October rainy season; August will see rain nearly every day.
  • The average temperature is above 90 degrees, with a record high of 113 degrees. Humidity hovers in the 65 to 70 percent range, so most days are muggy.
  • Hurricanes have struck Puerto Vallarta in 2002 and 1971, but they are a relatively rare occurrence.
  • Many of the outlying communities are on a different time zone than is central Puerto Vallarta.
  • Puerta Vallarta has more American and Canadian expatriates than any other country.
  • Puerto Vallarta is considered the birthplace of tequila, which is the name of a nearby valley.
  • With its abundance of attractions, its excellent cuisine, and its popularity as a travel destination, Puerto Vallarta hosts millions of visitors annually.
  • As with travel to any foreign country, a modicum of prudence will help ensure a pleasant trip, but Puerto Vallarta is definitely a must-see for travelers.