Updated: Mar 19, 2022
On November 9 I wrote a blog "25 Best Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta." My goal was to shoot for at least 10 out of the 25 on the list. Let's see how we did:
Playa Los Muertos
The most popular beach in Puerto Vallarta is also the most crowded and activity-filled beach here during the Christmas season. Just looking at the beach loungers my first impression is that this is a destination for the snowbird, the expat, the retiree, and the winter breaker. Perfect for U.S. and Canadian sun seekers running away from the cold to a destination that caters to their needs. There are Mexican beach vendors and locals peppered amongst the crowd but this beach screams gringo getaway.
Many of the tours and water depart from the spectacular pier inaugurated in 2013. Of course, this popular beach comes with a plethora of cafes, accommodations, bars, entertainment, and restaurants for any taste and budget.
2. Walk the Malecon
Now this was a treat. The Malecon is colorful a 5.9 mile boardwalk ( or route) that weaves its way along the coast. I'm not sure where it officially starts and ends but you can spend the entire day exploring this route and see something interesting and new. Christmas season is festive and lively so if you veer off the route you will find something that stimulates the senses well into the night.
3. Conchas Chinas
I was skeptical about finding a quiet sparse beach in Puerto Vallarta. However, Conchas Chinas is the Holy Grail. It's south of downtown Puerto Vallarta away from the crowds and the noise. There are some restaurants in the area, but this is a spot where you bring a cooler, a book, some mindfulness, and chill out for the day. If you’re up to it, you can actually walk to more lively parts of the coast by scrambling over some rocks and beach trails. bring some sturdy shoes though; the path can rocky and slippery.
4. Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Finally, a taste of old Mexico! Built around the time Puerto Vallarta was founded, this edifice has an iconic feel. It has all the trappings of old Latin American Catholicism. I read that its style is a combination of renaissance and neoclassical. Of course, there is plenty of history here and a colorful celebration that takes from December 1-12. We missed it by a week. A nice link about its evolution to icon status here:
5. Mahajuitas and Yelapa
I generally don't like tours with many tourists, booze, and a DJ crammed onto a catamaran. I had more time I would have opted for a simple water taxi to Yelapa rather than a campy mass tour complete with lip sync entertainment and dance tunes.
Anyways and most importantly:
If you are not a strong swimmer (even with a life vest) do not attempt to swim from the catamaran to the beach at Mahajuitas. On this day the current was strong and swimming against it was exhausting and scary. Instead, take the small boat the guide offers to drop you off. If you get tired grabbing onto the rocks is not an option as there are sharp barnacles that could ruin your day. Also, the tour guide was not sympathetic about adding extra bodies to the smaller boat for those who were struggling to get to shore (my partner was one of them). A critical misstep, in my opinion, by the guide who should have done more assisted struggling swimmers.
Mahajuitas had a nice sandy beach for relaxing and recovering from the exhausting swim from the catamaran. According to my search the resort there is closed but the property is available for day trips and weddings.
Our second stop Yelapa highlighted charming little fishing village and a waterfall which was an excellent walk through. Still unspoiled by glitzy Puerto Vallarta.
photos courtesy of @recespieces #peoplerazzi
After our walk we reached the crowded main beach in Yelapa with just enough time to order lunch, grab a doggie bag and head back to the catamaran.
A lot squeezed into one day but note to self; next time take the water taxi.
I didn't think Sayulita was a possibility given it's distance from Puerto Vallarta and the rush hour traffic we would encounter when we returned the same day. My research described Sayulita as a cool, low key, funky surfer town.
So we hired a driver for the day because we still craved some chill vibes away from our Air BnB which was located across the street from the cruise port.
Being across the street from the cruise port had its advantages. The catamarans for our day trips departed from here.
However, it's a noisy area due to the traffic and the bar downstairs. Remember, Puerto Vallarta is party central and the party can last way into the wee hours of the morning.
Sayulita is everything I imagine about a small beach town; sun, surf, eclectic
eateries, free spirit vibes, and funky boutique shopping. I imagine before expats, tourists, and real estate developers arrived this place it was quite the Shangri-la.
So, I spent sometime lamenting on a paradise long lost; wishing I where there before the boutique shops and crowded beaches. With some fresh ceviche, a lounge chair, and a cerveza I found a patch of happiness and bliss. Still worth the trip if you have time on your itinerary.
7. Zona Romantica
Zona Romantica is probably Puerto Vallarta's signature go to spot if you're looking for a total party scene consisting of upscale restaurants, small cafes, street food, trendy boutiques, art galleries, gay businesses, drag shows, and traditional Mexican flavors. Locals, visitors, and expats converge on these cobblestone streets and create a frenetic type of energy. Zona Romantica is no chill, quiet beach town; it's a vibrant adult playground bustling with activity.
8. Las Caletas
Is a day tour to Las Caletas worth it? ... yes! I saw the pictures and reviews of Las Caletas it was a thumbs up for me. I imagined another boozy, campy, catamaran tour with an overcrowded beach. It was actually a beautiful day trip to a private beach with an excellent breakfast/lunch buffet, activities, beach hammocks, wildlife, and extras for a price (we opted for the massage); an excellent family-friendly excursion I would give 5 stars. There is a large staff there to make sure you have an enjoyable relaxing day. This was a boozy, campy, packaged tour I liked!
So, we accomplished 8 out 25 activities recommended in my previous blog. Not bad given our 10-day time limit. Given the opportunity I would return to Puerto Vallarta and be wiser in terms of location and accommodations. Puerto Vallarta traffic, nightlife, and frenetic can be overwhelming for the more slow-paced mindset. But if you want a non-stop turn-up Puerto Vallarta will be your cup of tea. Note to self: next time opt for quiet Conchas Chinas and a base to explore.