All Articles 3 perfect days in Puerto Vallarta

3 perfect days in Puerto Vallarta

Kristin Braswell
By Kristin Braswell21 Dec 2023 7 minutes read
Aerial view of Los Muertos Beach, in Puerto Vallarta
Los Muertos Beach
Image: Westend61/Getty Images

Hugging Mexico's Pacific Coast and framed by the Sierra Madre Mountains, beautiful Puerto Vallarta draws crowds of vacationers to its golden sand beaches, especially in the winter and spring break high seasons. It can feel like a mashup of beach retreat meets party town, but there are multiple neighborhoods to explore to find your perfect vacation vibe.

In the historic Old Town, also called “Zona Romántica" (The Romantic Quarter), terracotta roofed-homes and centuries-old churches are just steps away from buzzing bars. Head to the coast to discover some of Mexico’s most intimate beaches and coves, including the remote fishing villages of Yelapa and Sayulita. And join the crowds of both locals and tourists sipping tequila and strolling the Malecon boardwalk along Banderas Bay.

This 3-day itinerary will help you make the most of your time in Puerto Vallarta. We've included Tripadvisor reviews and ratings so that you can be sure to visit the places that other travelers have loved, too.


DAY ONE

Birds flying past Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Puerto Vallarta
Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Image: Alan Serna/Unsplash

MORNING: Explore the city, from street to sea

El Centro is the heart of downtown Puerto Vallarta and includes the iconic Malecon, a pedestrian boardwalk that rolls along the coast for 12 full blocks along the Bay of Banderas. It's where both locals and travelers come to eat and be entertained. Although it’s a popular nightlife spot, mornings are quiet and a great time to stroll and look at the outdoor art without the crowds. Start with breakfast at Mi Querenica, where there’s all day dining and the morning menu includes Motuleños eggs, molcajetes with meat, and chilaquiles.

Then head to the nearby Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe (La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe), a pink-hued neo-Baroque structure that is the city’s most important Catholic attraction. There’s a lovely courtyard and Renaissance-style tower to explore here, too. Then stroll to Cuale River Island, an island accessible via footbridges in Old Town, that’s lined with art and restaurants along the Cuale River.

AFTERNOON: Discover a vibrant art scene

For lunch in Zona Romantica, MAKAL offers fusion flavors like seared ribeye with tomatillos and roasted zucchini with pipian and cotija cheese from Chef Diego Guerrero, who was named one of the “Best New Chefs in 2023” by Food & Wine en Español.

Afterward, roam through Puerto Vallarta’s art galleries and check out the street mural art. Galleria Dante features more than 60 artists whose art spans three decades in a hacienda-style villa.

Travelers say: “Galleria Dante is a huge, comprehensive gallery with a roster of the most important and finest artists in Mexico. Claire the owner is a lovely and knowledgeable dealer. a must visit for any art lover.” -@Peter M

At Peyote People, yarn paintings and beadwork created by Huichol Indians are available to view and purchase, in addition to pieces from indigenous tribes in Oaxaca.

EVENING: Delve into an impressive gastronomic scene and entertainment

At Café des Artistes, Chef Thierry Blouet has created haute cuisine for more than 30 years in a historic downtown home. The French and Mexican influenced restaurant serves gourmet dishes such as confit of suckling pig and ravioli with poblano peppers, all set in a room with mountainside views.

After dinner, The Palm Cabaret in the Zona Romantica is the place to go for live entertainment, including fun drag shows.

MALECÓN AREA TOUR OPTIONS

  • The evening street taco tour with Vallarta Food Tours highlights street vendors and restaurants owned by Mexican families with recipes typically passed down through generations.
  • Get a taste of the depth of flavor in Mexican cuisine with this Market Visit and Cooking Lesson tour, where you’ll be able to shop for ingredients at a market and make dishes like shrimp ceviche and red snapper.
  • Explore the Malecón on two wheels on this fun private bicycle tour (there’s even a stop for ice cream with views of Banderas Bay).

Worthy detours along the way

DAY TWO

Coconut Shrimp at La Palapa, in Puerto Vallarta
Beach dining at La Palapa, in Puerto Vallarta
La Palapa
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

MORNING: Explore the diversity of beaches

Hit the beach early and spend time at downtown’s family-friendly beach Los Muertos Beach. Enjoy a snack from one of the many vendors like salted cucumbers and fresh Tehua oysters. The bustling pier here is where a number of boats depart for day excursions.

Travelers say: “This beach is at the heart of holiday life in Puerto Vallarta. It has many restaurants fronting it with seat service in many places. There are a few clubs that provide extra service for a price. To the south end of the beach is the extremely popular area for the LGBTQ community, with lots of seating, eating and drinking options.” -@StephenP

AFTERNOON

Have lunch on the beach at Mar y Vino and nosh on bites of seared tuna and grilled oysters. Then catch a panga (water taxi) to discover the beaches south of Puerto Vallarta that are only accessible by boat. These include Colomitos, which has such a compact stretch of sand that it’s often referred to as the smallest beach in the Pacific Ocean. From here you can swim in the clear waters or hike a number of marked trails.

Another fishing village accessible by boat, Yelapa is known for its “pie ladies” who sell baked goods on the beach. There’s one in particular that you’ll want to seek out: Chelly Rodriguez. She's been baking pies for three decades, a tradition originated by her mother. Ask anyone on the beach to direct you to her, and be sure to order the banana cream pie.

For snorkeling, take a 30-minute boat ride from Los Muertos Pier to Los Arcos de Mismaloya. Here, a protected national park is visited by snorkelers looking to discover its rich marine life.

TOUR OPTIONS

EVENING

Head to family-owned La Palapa for dinner at a prime location on Los Muertos Beach. Dishes here are Mexican recipes with Asian and French influences like tuna tataki and al pastor potstickers. This is also a prime location to view turtle releases from August to December, or see whales in the bay from December to March.

Worthy detours along the way

DAY THREE

White orchid at Vallarta Botanical Garden, in Puerto Vallarta
Vallarta Botanical Garden
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

MORNING/AFTERNOON: Find solace in the foliage

Take a 40-minute drive from the city center to Vallarta Botanical Garden, where you can easily spend the whole morning and afternoon immersing yourself in greenery that follows a meandering river (bring a bathing suit and you can even take a dip). Spanning over 70 acres of land, the garden recently achieved status as a Protected Natural Area under the category “Voluntarily Destined Area for Conservation.” Here, you can discover Mexico’s native plant and wildlife species.

Plan to have lunch at Hacienda de Oro which overlooks the gardens. Specialties include a vanilla bean mojito with vanilla from the gardens, plus a number of taco varieties from fried fish to grilled beef.

Travelers say: “Beautiful garden!!! The best part was hiking the puma(?) trail and swimming in the river! So don’t forget your bikinis and if you have water shoes that’ll help you cross the river. After the hike, you’ll need to hydrate and you’re in luck! The restaurant inside has incredible views over the garden and one of the best cocktails I’ve had made with Vanilla!” -@lbbylove

EVENING: Get glammed up for dinner

For a special evening out, it’s hard to go wrong at The Iguana Restaurant & Tequila Bar. The open-air restaurant is located at Casa Kimberley, a boutique hotel that was once the home of Elizabeth Taylor when she and Richard Burton filmed “Night of the Iguana” (thus that restaurant name). The menu is filled with contemporary Mexican cuisine like poblano peppers in a puff pastry, plus mezcal flights and rare tequilas. The views here are stunning, and there’s a 13-piece mariachi band that keeps the atmosphere lively. (Note: Be sure to follow the dress code.)

TOUR OPTIONS

Worthy detours along the way

Know Before You Go


From December to April, sunny weather with little humidity makes for enjoyable stays and if you’re lucky, humpback whale sights in the Banderas Bay. From June to November you may encounter rainy weather and be susceptible to hurricane season. However, July to November is when turtles come to lay their eggs in the sand, and visitors can participate in its conservation efforts by helping release young hatchlings into the ocean.



Most businesses are open seven days a week, except for some museums, which may be closed on Sunday and some restaurants may be closed on Monday. Check their website for hours. Most attractions are open every day except for Sunday.



Shops are generally open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays. Banks typically close at 5 p.m. and are closed on Sunday.



Old Town: Also referred to as Zona Romantica, make this your homebase if you’d like to be just steps away from restaurants and a thriving nightlife. Casa Kimberly, formerly the home of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, features an outdoor swimming pool and open-air restaurant in a chic, bluffside setting.

El Centro: Located in the central part of town (hence the name), staying here makes it easy to get to major sites like El Malecon and Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Hotel Rio Malecon Puerto Vallarta is the perfect spot to base yourself in the neighborhood and with 47 rooms, some with kitchenettes, affordable prices, and a pool.

Southern Puerto Vallarta: Nestled in the Sierra Madre mountains, close enough to all the action but far enough to feel completely secluded, Garza Blanca Preserve Resort & Spa Puerto Vallarta sits on an exclusive coastline of 85 acres overlooking Banderas Bay; all 156 suites here have private terraces.



By taxi: You can call a taxi or hail one on the street. Uber is also an option in Puerto Vallarta.

By boat: There are a few beaches south of Puerto Vallarta that are only accessible by boat. You can board a water taxi from Los Muertos Pier or Boca de Tomatlán, and it’is also possible to charter a private boat for a day on Banderas Bay.

Airport transfers: Hotels will typically provide airport transfers or recommend a trusted operator to get you into town from the airport, about a 20-minute, 5-mile trip to the center of town.


Kristin Braswell
Kristin Braswell is travel journalist and founder of CrushGlobal Travel. She has penned pieces for Vogue, CNN, USA Today, Essence, NPR, Architectural Digest, Ebony and The Los Angeles Times. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.