Puerto Vallarta Sights
Puerto Vallarta is a seaside resort on the Pacific coast of Mexico. While this area can't offer you tours to majestic Mayan pyramids, it still has plenty of sights and things to do to make it worth your while. The town itself has a long and interesting history and the surroundings offer you a chance to see the Sierra Madre mountains, visit small tranquil villages like San Sebastian and explore the underwater world of several marine national parks (we visited Los Arcos). And of course the sunsets - one can't talk about Puerto Vallarta and not mention the stunning sunsets! For more details on places you can see on a holiday here, read on.
Puerto Vallarta Town
Puerto Vallarta, originally called Las Peñas, is a seaside resort on Mexico's Pacific coast in the Bay of Banderas. It gained popularity among tourists in the 1960s for a number of reasons, but the most widely known is probably the media coverage received during the filming of The Night of the Iguana. Its history as a pearl-diving village, which then transformed into a harbour town supporting important Sierra towns, makes it a more interesting place to visit than a purpose-built resort.
Puerto Vallarta is a multi-faceted town - there is the older area with small houses and a lovely boardwalk with numerous statues called The Malecon, there are the beaches (albeit, not as nice as the ones on the Caribbean side, but they do provide a great spot for watching the stunning sunsets) and there is the newer hotel area with tall apartment blocks and numerous shopping facilities (my favourite was La Isla with its luxurious VIP cinema). Other useful services include lots of cheap massage parlours - you are looking at 350 pesos for 75 minutes of massage!
It is easy enough to get around Puerto Vallarta on foot for those who like to walk, but taxis are also cheap and plentiful. Then there are the public buses, which are even cheaper, but mostly rather shabby-looking, so we didn't dare try those.
Another reason to choose Puerta Vallarta as your holiday destination is the fact that it is perfectly placed for airport transfers - after you have navigated the craziness that is the airport arrivals process, it will be quick and easy to get from the airport to your hotel - a blessing if disembarking from a long flight. On the way back to the airport, it does get congested though, so plan standing around in a traffic jam into your schedule.
Estero el Salado
Estero el Salado, a huge protected urban estuary of mainly mangrove and marsh vegetation, is probably the most undermarketed sight in the Puerto Vallarta area, and that's a real shame. For nature and animal lovers this place is a must see as the beautiful mangroves provide home to a multitude of birds, baby crocodiles (the mangroves are too thick for adults), crabs and other animal species. I only came across Estero el Salado by chance towards the end of our stay while researching online where to see crocodiles and boy am I glad I did!
The visit to Estero el Salado is a guided tour. The tours are run several times a day and consist of a short intro to the birds/animals you can encounter there, followed by a boat tour and a visit to an observation point with stunning views (and vultures you can see up close if you're lucky). You then take the boat back to the starting point and for the piece de resistance get to hold a real live baby crocodile in your hand! The tour cost is 300 pesos per person if you are a foreign tourist (cheaper for Mexicans) and, in my opinion, it is very good value for money. For more information about times and to register for a tour, visit the Estero el Salado website.
We were the only people on our tour and the guide was a lovely and enthusiastic girl who gave us lots of information about the different mangrove types and pointed out baby crocodiles and birds along the way. The boat driver made an effort to get as close as possible to the animals so we could take pictures (a heads up that you will need a zoom lens on your camera for good close-up photos). We loved Estero el Salado so much that would have happily visited again if we had more time left in Puerto Vallarta.
Located by the marina of Puerto Vallarta, Estero el Salado a massive area and from the map on their website, it is not obvious where the entrance is. To help you navigate your way there, click here for entrance location on Google maps. It is within walking distance from the cruise ship harbour, but if coming from the area of the Malecon, I would recommend getting a taxi. On the way back, if you want a taxi, you can walk along Avenida Francisco Medina to Galerias Vallarta shopping centre and catch a taxi from there (there is a man arranging taxis right in front of the shopping centre).
Los Arcos National Marine Park
Los Arcos National Marine Park is a cluster of small rock islands located just off the coast between Mismaloya and Gemelas beaches. The islands are very picturesque with arches in them and lots of birds flying around.
Los Arcos is a popular spot for snorkelling, so it might get crowded. When we arrived (with Los Arcos, Las Animas and Quimixto tour), there were two bigger boats including ours plus a lot of smaller boats. The water was murky and there were numerous jellyfish out and about (this was end of March - possibly a seasonal phenomenon). We did see some fish, but it wasn't as impressive as I'd imagined, plus I also started to feel quite sick in the water.
The arches looked pretty awesome, so it would have been fascinating to swim through there, but we didn't get that chance due to where our boat was positioned. With that in mind, my recommendation to you for visiting Los Arcos would be to try and get a smaller boat, perhaps drive to Mismaloya and hire one there - this will significanly shorten your time in the boat to get to the destination (can get problematic due to the choppy sea) and give you more flexibility on what time to go and where to position the boat - you may even be able to take the boat through the arches.
San Sebastian del Oeste
San Sebastian is a small town in the Sierra Madre mountains about an hour and a half drive from Puerto Vallarta. It was founded in the 17th century and was once an important silver mining city. As the mines got depleted and closed, the population shrunk from over 20,000 inhabitants to just a few thousand and these days it is a sleepy and relaxed place, untouched by time. Due to its role in Mexican history and rich heritage, San Sebastian del Oeste is a part of the Pueblos Magicos programme, so definitely worth a visit.
Though silver mining is no longer a big thing here, there is a local silversmith who makes affordable jewellery in his workshop. There is also an organic coffee plantation La Quinta which makes and sells great coffee. And then there are the beautiful quaint old houses and a few cafes and restaurants (worth a try, the lunch we had on the main square was delicious!)
To get to San Sebastian del Oeste, you can go on one of the tours or drive. Getting in by public transportation is a pain as the buses don't go all the way there and you will need to get a taxi from La Estancia. Bear in mind that if you are taking the organised bus tour, there won't be that much time to explore the town on your own - we did wish for a bit more free time to walk around.
Sierra Madre Mountains
Puerto Vallarta is surrounded by mountains - the Sierra Madre range - which not only makes for beautiful views, but also gives you a chance to get both a beach and a mountain holiday in one go. There are different options to explore the mountains and the wild nature: if you want something to tickle your nerves, you can choose from a multitude of ziplining or ATV tours; alternatively, hiking is available for those who prefer a calmer approach.
We went for a hike and learned a lot about the local flora - the poisonous spikey tree, the paper tree with its distinctive dark orange colour, the plant that attracts ants to live in its spikes and protect it - you will be bitten if you touch it. The air was fresh, the birds were singing - it was very enjoyable. But do wear mosquito repellent - we decided to brave it and kept scratching for the rest of the holiday, with some of the marks still visible two months later..
Quimixto is a sleepy and small village about an hour away from Los Muertos pier in Puerto Vallarta by boat. You can't get here by bus or car, so if you don't fancy a long boat ride, you could drive from Puerto Vallarta to Boca de Tomatlan and take a boat from there.
The beach has fine golden sand and is very tranquil, but that's not the main reason to go to Quimixto - the real reason is a beautiful waterfall. When you get to the village, you can follow the main street which ends with a horse rental point - here you can either get a horse for 200 pesos or continue to walk for about 15 minutes to get to the waterfall (if you are coming here as part of the Los Arcos, las Animas, Quimixto tour, they will try to tell you that the walk is very long and exhausting to make you take the horse - don't believe them!). Be mindful though that if you want to take a dip by Quimixto waterfall, there is a minimum spend at the restaurant by the entrance and you will have to leave your things unattended out of sight (you have to climb down from the restaurant) or take them with you into the water.
Are you planning your holiday to Puerto Vallarta and looking for more information?
- For things that didn't turn out as I expected, read my blog post here
- For the foodies out there, I have written about the lesser known foods you can try here
- Also, if you are flying in from the UK, check out the blog post about the flight on Thomson Airways Boeing 787 Dreamliner
- Last but not least, here are some more ideas for fun things to do in and around Puerto Vallarta:
I hope that you now have all you need to make your stay in Puerto Vallarta memorable for all the right reasons. Enjoy!
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