Once upon a time, Puerto Vallarta was an off-the-grid town with just 15,000 residents…virtually unknown outside of Mexico. But that changed quickly and dramatically in 1963, when Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton descended on Vallarta to film The Night of Iguana and begin their tumultuous love affair. With paparazzi following the couple’s every move (and in the process snapping photos of the PV scenery), the world had a chance to fall in love with Puerto Vallarta, too. A new “it” destination was born.
Fun fact: our condo Casa Kimberly Dawn takes its name from the Gringo Gulch house Burton bought Taylor after their (first) wedding.
Now, visitors flock to PV for its snazzy shopping, adventures on the water, pulsing nightlife, and the sparkling, jewel-toned waters of Bahía de Banderas. Set off on a spectacular day trip, sample some of Mexico’s best cuisine, and close off the day with a breathtaking sunset and dipping into clubs along the malécon (seaside promenade) to dance the night away.
In Vallarta, you can stay local and take in the culture, nightlife, and buzz of the city, or drive a short distance for a quieter, off-the-beaten path day trip that will introduce you to the many textures of Mexico.
Here are our favorites:
Travel 25 miles north of Vallarta to experience Sayulita, a bohemian surfer town on the Riviera Nayarit. Take your pick of beachfront dining, shopping, and adventures by land (try a jungle canopy tour or ATV ride) and by sea (surfing, whale watching, scuba diving).
Located a 2.5-hour drive from Vallarta in the mountains, San Sebastian is a hit with history buffs: it was the center of gold and silver mining in 17th century Mexico and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tour a tequila distillery or coffee plantation, stroll cobblestone streets, and learn about the town’s mining history at the Hacienda Jalisco’s museum ($2 USD to enter).
Bucerias /Neuvo Vallarata
One of the closest options for a day trip, Buceria is just a 20-minute drive north of Puerto Vallarta. This is a great place to immerse yourselves in local culture, with a 5-mile sandy beach and a relaxed, easygoing vibe. Swim with dolphins, take a sunset cruise, and more.
Don’t miss the Malécon, PV’s 11-block, pedestrian-friendly promenade (though it’s unlikely you’ll miss it – it’s a main hub of activity in PV!). You can spend a whole day on the Malécon: start with brunch at your pick of restaurants, then shop ‘til you drop and meander through street artists at work, live music, sculptures and statues. Top it all off by dancing the night away in one of downtown’s many clubs. Much of the promenade follows the seashore, and the panoramas are Instagram-worthy at every turn. Grab a bench for a front-row seat at sunset!
Our friends at Vallarta Adventures provide a range of activities from heart-pumping to stress-reducing. If calm calls to you, try a luxury sailing trip (by day or at sunset). Or dodge the beach crowds with our personal favorite, the Las Caleta Beach Hideaway tour, which takes you to an exclusive beach within a nature preserve that’s only accessible by sea. Calm beaches, hammocks in the shade, and a hilltop Spa Center await!
If you’d rather get an adrenaline fix, available adventures include flyboarding, surfing lessons, off-roading, zip-lining, waterslides and more.
As the top-rated adventure provider in Vallarta, you can trust the folks at Vallarta Adventures –We love them.
Horseback Riding at Rancho Charro
We love this horseback riding outfitter, Rancho Charro, because the horses are well taken care of and the scenery is beautiful: our favorite tour takes you to a gorgeous waterfall. Lengths range from 3 hours to a full day, and food is often included.
Animals lovers can also enjoy the sea turtle nesting season right outside of Icon Vallarta. Learn about the Olive Ridley turtles and help transport the eggs in their nests to sea turtle nurseries for incubation. Then, at night, watch from a safe distance as the sea turtles make their way home to the sea. Hatching season is June through December.
Foodies will find a lot to love about Puerto Vallarta! From seafood to Italian to familiar American chain restaurants, PV makes sure all tastes are covered. Here are a few of our most recent favorites.
Bravos Restaurant and Bar
Francisco I. Madero #263
This downtown restaurant has an open layout with lots of space so you can dine without feeling cramped. Very tasty, with a varied menu!
Calle Espana 305, Colonia Versalles Puerto Vallarta
On the opposite end of the spectrum is this intimate, off-the-beaten-path bistro, with just 2 outdoor tables and 4 inside. The chef emerges from the kitchen to describe each dish on their rotating chalkboard menu (changes weekly).
Sonora al Sur
Blvd. Nuevo Vallarta #64 Frente a la UT
A steak-lover’s paradise! You can wear shorts to this casual restaurant in Nuevo Vallarta. Pick your own cut of meat and desired thickness and have it grilled to your own idea of perfection.
Want more food suggestions? Our friends Paul and Lindsey – a husband and wife team who live right in Icon Vallarta – own and operate Puerto Vallarta Food Tours and they are experts at finding the best food experiences in Vallarta. Their food tours are top-notch and range from downtown eating extravaganza to street taco adventures. Our favorites are the Taco Tour and The Pittal, which introduces you to authentic Mexican cuisine that most tourists miss. Tell them Exclusive Rental Retreats sent you!
Get a complete overview of Vallarta’s restaurant scene during Restaurant Week, a two-week dining extravaganza held every May in PV. During this event, restaurants charge discounts of up to 50% off – and/or offer affordable pre fixe menus showcasing their best culinary creations. This event is designed to introduce visitors and locals to the best of Vallarta cuisine.
Every Wednesday night from October through May, a total of 8 downtown art galleries open their doors to art-walkers, who can sip cocktails and view works from local and international artists. Stroll through the central historic district of downtown and meet the painters, sculptors, potters, and folk artists behind the magnificent works of art on display.