Set against a backdrop of rippling mountains and the sweeping Bahía de Banderas on the Pacific Coast, Puerto Vallarta is one of Mexico's most visually striking cities. The big draw here is the outdoors -- whether you want to cool off in a waterfall, scuba dive with manta rays off Islas Marietas or enjoy a sunset stroll along the Malecón promenade. This sophisticated resort has boutique shopping, happening nightlife and some of Mexico's best dining, yet retains its small-town charm with its tangle of cobbled streets scattered with traditional adobe houses.
Things to Do
The Pacific draws beach and watersports lovers to Playa Olas Altas and lively Playa de los Muertos. Boat tours leave Puerto Vallarta for the coral reefs around Los Arcos and Islas Marietas, home to dolphins and gliding manta rays. From November to March, you might even spot migrating humpback whales. Cool off under the Botanical Gardens's wild palms in the Sierra Madre Mountains, and with a waterfall swim at the riverside restaurant Chico's Paradise. At sunset, sculptures like the iconic seahorse are dramatically silhouetted on the seafront Malecón boardwalk.
Mexican art and crafts are Puerto Vallarta's best buys. You'll find good deals on sarapes (traditional shawls), brightly colored piñatas (papier-mâché models), huaraches (leather sandals) and silver at the Mercado de Artesanías, but be prepared to haggle. In the cobbled streets downtown and along the breezy Malecón, independent galleries and boutiques entice shoppers with contemporary art, leather, wall hangings, and vivid yarn paintings and beadwork.
Nightlife and Entertainment
Puerto Vallarta's fiesta starts on the street, with mariachis singing their hearts out on the Malecón, and free weekend bands and dancing on the leafy Plaza Principal. Downtown is a heady mix of DJ bars, salsa clubs and late-night cafes; some places are gay-only. Isla Cuale has a more low-key, romantic feel, as does cosmopolitan Marina Vallarta. Sip a glass of wine as the pianist plays at Constantini, the most fashionable lounge in town.
Restaurants and Dining
An influx of top chefs from around the globe and November's gourmet festival have solidified Puerto Vallarta's fine dining reputation. Restaurants dish up everything from Modern European to Thai downtown, some with ocean-facing terraces. Everybody is talking about Trio's creative Mediterranean dishes and Thierry Blouet's imaginative menu at Café des Artistes. South of the river is great for fish, Mexican, and Asian food at the popular Archie's Wok. For gourmet sandwiches try Marina Vallarta and cheap tacos the Mercado Municipal.