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14 Unique Day Trips from Puerto Vallarta with Itineraries (+ hidden gems and secret spots) for 2024

14 Unique Day Trips from Puerto Vallarta with Itineraries (+ hidden gems and secret spots) for 2024

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Opportunities for day trips from Puerto Vallarta are endless – whether you want undisturbed beaches, sleepy fishing villages, mountain adventures, hiking, hidden beaches or historic towns, you have so many options.

While there aren’t any ruins near Puerto Vallarta (you’ll have to visit the Yucatan for that), the whole coast is surrounded by ocean bays, beaches and the Sierra Madre mountains, providing endless possibilities for fun and adventure.

These ideas are perfect for people looking for:

A day off the beach or resort

Things to do on a cruise ship stop

Getting off the beaten path

Some new things if you feel like you’ve done all the regular day trip stuff!

By the way – the tours, ideas and itineraries on this list are things you can actually do.

For instance, the tourist town of Tequila is often mentioned as a great day trip, but it’s well over 4 hours away, so probably not a place that you’re going to visit if you only have a week in Puerto Vallarta. 

So, here are some of the best excursions and places to see near Puerto Vallarta on a day trip.

(This post contains affiliate links, meaning if you click through and make a purchase I may make a small commission. I only share information about things I know, love and trust!)

1. Hot Springs at Nuevo Ixtlan Aguas Termales

Watch the full video tour!

hot springs in the jungle

Yes, there are hot springs you can visit near Puerto Vallarta, less than a couple hours away making for a perfect day trip.

You will head inland, closer to the Sierra Madre mountains (read – stunning scenery)!

The hot springs known as Nuevo Ixtlan are natural, but the owners have created about a dozen stone tubs (of different sizes) where the natural thermal water is piped into.

The water stays at about 25 degrees celsius, so it’s pleasant to visit all year round.

Now, unless you know the area and have a high clearance vehicle, I recommend you book a tour. 

TipBook this tour through Viator like we did

It includes transportation, visiting a local market, a soak in the hot springs, a fresh BBQ lunch and a massage on the beach after a full day of adventure. Wow!!

P.S. – there’s more than just these hot springs in the area, check out this full guide to the 8 best hot springs and waterfalls near Puerto Vallarta.

2. Swim in a Natural Saltwater Pool

Try something different and head north into the Riviera Nayarit to explore some beautiful beaches that are mostly known only by local surfers.

Your final destination is a spot called Alberca de mar at Punta Mita. It’s a natural pool in the ocean!

This trip is for the adventurous. It’s perfect if you’re looking to leave the busier pace of Puerto Vallarta or if you feel like a fun day off the resort. 

You’ll be heading north towards Punta Mita.

Find your way to the untouched Burros Beach (here’s a google marker).

Follow a short hike through the jungle to the next beach, which is the left side of the Grand Palladium Resort.

This is where a natural, saltwater pool is located for you to swim and lounge in.

Of course, the easiest way to find it is by staying at the Grand Palladium Vallarta Resort & Spa!

3. Botanical Gardens, River Swimming and Tequila Distilleries

Instead of a day trip to the town of Tequila (which is 4 hours from Puerto Vallarta), head to the tequila distilleries down by the Botanical Gardens near Mismaloya.

Make an entire day out of it by strolling through the botanical gardens for a couple of hours admiring the orchids, cacti, cacoa plants and coffee trees.

Then swim in the river onsite, have lunch and explore the several tequila distilleries in the area. 

You can either do this on your own by book a tour.

We booked this tour through Viator and loved every moment.

Pro tip – I find it very useful to know some conversational Spanish when I’m on holiday in Mexico. Rocket Languages is my favorite program to learn Spanish. Try it out here for a free 7-day trial.

Knowing a few phrases in Spanish has helped us get better deals, find great hidden gems and avoided being ripped off multiple times!

4. Take a Water Taxi in the Quaint Fishing Village of Yelapa

Spend a whole day in Yelapa, a laid back village only accessible by boat.

No cars here, but you’ll see plenty of horses. Many folks describe Yelapa like Puerto Vallarta was in the 1970s.

To get here, take an orange bus heading to Boca de Tomatlan. The best spot to catch it from is the southern end of the romantic zone, and it should be about 30 pesos.

Inside tip – sit on the right side of the bus to enjoy the view and scenery.

Once you’re in Boca, grab a water taxi – negotiate the price before you get on the boat (should be about 200 pesos).

The boat ride itself is quite the experience – it’s about 30 minutes.

If you’re visiting in the right season, you might be able to spot whales (drivers are always watching and will point them out).

Choose to get off at the second boat stop which is the Yelapa town centre (the first stop is the beach).

Tip – first check the boat return times so you can plan when you need to be back by.

Walk around the charming little fishing village and find somewhere to eat.

Then, follow the path that takes you behind all the houses that will lead you towards a waterfall hike.

There are vendors along the way, so you can always ask them to make sure you know where to go.

Enjoy the beautiful views and swim in at the base of the waterfall.

On your way back, hit the beach and look for the pie lady!

Playa Isabel is the beach to visit if you want shallow and more swimmable water. 

Make it easy by booking a day trip!

Your guide will pick you up from your hotel, arrange the boat ride, lead you through the jungle to the waterfall, recommend best places for lunch and show you around Yelapa and its best beaches. 

Read more >> Travel Planning Guide to the Best Puerto Vallarta Beaches

For added off the beaten path fun from Puerto Vallarta, I recommend strolling through the winding roads up through the hills and checking out the authentic restaurants and bars. 

Need a cool place to stay in Yelapa?

Casa Coco via VRBO

Chances are you’ll fall in love with this laid back spot and won’t want to leave (or maybe you missed the last water taxi??) 

I recommend Casa Coco a beautiful home with the most perfect sun-filled terrace overlooking the ocean.

From here you can also access the Cathedral Waterfall (about an hour hike), which is the bigger and better waterfall that most tourists miss. 

Interested in another Mexican Eco-Resort? Read more about our incredible stay at this one in the middle of the mayan jungle. 

5. Ancient Petroglyphs in the Middle of the Jungle

Image credit Airbnb

On this day trip, you will head to Altavista to visit a sacred archeological site known as Pila del Rey.

On your guided hike through the jungle, you will come to a natural pool surrounded by smooth large rocks covered in ancient signs and symbols that were carved thousands of years ago.

Get off the beaten track and immerse yourself in the incredible history of the Indigenous people of this region.

6. The Old Town of Mascota, Jalisco

Travel higher up in the mountains to the historical town of Mascota, a charming place found among the Sierra Madre mountains.

On your way there, stop at a raicilla and tequila distillery, then arrive in town and tour the ancient churches, petroglyphs and old cobblestone streets.

You’ll also visit the scenic spot called Yerbabuena, a lagoon plaza. 

This tour includes stops at Mascota and Talpa de Allende – both are Pueblos Magicos or ‘magic villages.’

This tour includes hotel pickup and breakfast and lunch.

While you can rent a car and drive yourself, the road is tricky to navigate and having a driver allows you to enjoy the stunning scenery along the way.

7. San Sebastián del Oeste

Step back in time to the 1700s by walking through the narrow, historic streets of San Sebastián del Oeste, probably one of the best non-beach things to do outside of Puerto Vallarta.

Stroll through the romantic, narrow streets in this jewel of a town nestled within the mountains.

On your way, stop at the bridge for great photos and pick up something yummy at the bakery.

Visit La Quinta for organic coffee and a tour of the plantation behind the storefront, go for a tasting at the Don Lalin tequila distillery for their unique flavors – like pomegranate tequila.

Check out the gold and silver mines and have an amazing lunch or dinner at the Italian restaurant, Montebello.

There’s also a scenic spot called La Bufa higher up in the hills, where you can either hike up or drive for an amazing lookout. 

I suggest a guided tour to visit San Sebastián del Oeste, as your guide will take care of all the driving and share the fascinating history of the area and stories of the families who live there. 

I recommend this tour, where you guide will tell you all about the small villages you pass through, take you to many of the places noted above.

If you’re visiting Puerto Vallarta on a day trip from a cruise, book this private tour who will pick you up at the port and tour you around the 17th-century mountain town of San San Sebastian del Oeste.

Cute Coastal Communities

8. Surfing in Sayulita and San Pancho

Sayulita is a hip little surfer town, but there’s a lot more to it than that.

If you like trendy vibes and think of busyness as more of an energetic vibe, then Sayulita is the place for you.

I think it’s totally worth going up to Sayulita for a day trip, even if you don’t surf.

My guide to fun things to do in Sayulita on a day trip has tons of ideas for you.

But if you do want to try it, there are plenty of instructors who will work with you for a one-hour private lesson – and it’s so much fun!

a girl wearing a pink and black bathing suit surfing on a turquoise surf board

But, it’s also fun to explore the colorful streets and visit the cute boutique shops.

Suggestion – Maybe some of your group wants to surf and others don’t? Book a hike & yoga session!

You’ll enjoy a tranquil hike through the jungle that leads you to a quiet beach where you instructor will guide you through a practice as you listen to the gentle waves.

Then, find a spot on the beach, order yourself a passion fruit margarita and watch everyone else surf!

There are some world class restaurants here (especially if you’re vegan), so definitely stick around for dinner.

close up of a yellow drink in a round glass on a table at the beach

And whether you come here to surf or not, you should go find the hidden beach, a 10-minute stroll passed a picturesque cemetery to your own personal, perfectly clear water oasis. 

On the other side of Sayulita (north) if you want to keep exploring, a little further is Las Cuevas beach and then Mal Paso.

Have something to eat at Don Pedro on the beach, especially if you love ahi tuna – you’ll know where to find it, it’s usually the busiest place but for a reason!

The best place to stay in Sayulita is the Hotel Peix, it’s a small boutique hotel right on the beach in a perfect central location.

Even if you don’t stay overnight, you can still be served from their beach lounge chairs and they have the best rooftop bar. 

Or check out my full guide to the best places to stay in Sayulita

Alternatively, you could visit San Pancho, less than 15 minutes north of Sayulita, for a more chill experience.

If you want a similar beach and a few shops and restaurants, San Pancho is basically a low-key version of Sayulita.

9. Sunday Market hopping in Bucerias and La Cruz

Sunday is market day and if you love farmer’s markets, you will love the ones in Bucerias and La Cruz.

La Cruz is well known for being the best in the area.

The food is great and there are many unique, hand-made items here that aren’t normally found in all the other touristy shops.

La Cruz is about 30 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta.

And of course, you might as well visit a perfect beach while you’re here – Destiladeras Beach is just north of town.

It’s super quiet and one of the nicest beaches around, plus the water is very clear and shallow.

Find some beach chairs to rent where staff will serve you food and drinks. 

Between La Cruz and Puerto Vallarta is Bucerias, a charming community with a great blend of locals and expats.

If you want a massage on the beach, come to Bucerias where it’s much cheaper.

Stroll through the colorful streets and on a self-guided ‘instagrammable spots’ tour.

Then park yourselves at Karen’s on the beach for happy hour!

Or, plan a half-day cultural tour where you get to meet local families and artisans who will share their stories, show you their way of life and cook you lunch!

Read more about visiting Bucerias here.

a street in Bucerias

Tip – need help deciding between Bucerias and Sayulita? Read my full comparison post here!

10. Outdoor Adventures at the Canopy River

Enjoy a fiesta in the mountains as they call it! Come here to walk or ride an ATV across the Jorullo Bridge – the longest suspension bridge in the world that can support vehicles.

Ride the zipline through the jungle over the Cuale river.

And if you need some liquid courage to help you get across the suspension bridge…there’s plenty of margaritas and beer at the restaurant.

Or enjoy a great meal at the restaurant afterwards. 

Book the highest rated tour on Tripadvisor which includes the Jorulla bridge, zip line, mule riding through the jungle and then tequila tasting at their mountaintop bar, which also has an infinity pool to lounge in!

11. Speedboat Ride and Zipline into a Tequila Bar Tour

This tour is the perfect day trip for cruise ship passengers.

On the Los Veranos Canopy Tour, you can enjoy a speedboat ride and soar above the Sierra Madre foothills on a network of 15 zip lines, with the last one ending at a tequila bar!

Then make sure you’ve got your swimsuit because right from the bar, you can take the natural waterslides into the calm river pools to cool off.

12. Visit Mayto and Tehuamixtle – Off the Beaten Path Beaches

Mayto Beach

About two hours south of Puerto Vallarta are Mayto and Tehualmixtle beaches – they are pristine and make for a fun and relaxing day trip that’s off the beaten tourist path.

These beaches are long and wide and visited by very few, making it a great way to find open space to relax and distance from others.

At Mayto, you can visit the Campamento Tortuguero to help release baby turtles into the ocean!

And if you want calm water to swim in, Tehuamixtle is the beach you want to visit. 

Tehualmixtle beach

Grab this tour that will take you by boat to several hidden beaches (including Mayto and  Tehuamixtle) as well as a stop at the botanical gardens.

You’ll have a chance to go snorkeling in the crystal clear waters. In this day and age with all the health concerns, I recommend bringing your own gear.

I like this full face mask and snorkel, a total game changer! 

Plus, there are some ultra romantic hotels here if you’re looking for a getaway that’s a little more slower paced and secluded – try Hotel Mayto.

13. Hacienda Tour on Horseback with Tequila Tasting

image credit Airbnb

For something a little different to do just outside of Puerto Vallarta, try horseback riding through the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains.

You’ll ride to a traditional Hacienda. where you’ll get a tour of the beautiful property and countryside, enjoy a traditional Mexican lunch and taste the different tequilas that are made from the agave plants grown on site.

Oh, and bring your bathing suit as you’ll pass by a river and a natural hot spring for a quick dip!

Book this awesome tour with Carlos!

14. Cycle Along the Coastline to Punta de Mita

If you’ve been laying on the beach or by the pool and are in need of a little exercise and sightseeing at the same time, this tour is for you.

You will cycle about 40 miles on a gorgeous route through the hills, have lunch and admire beautiful Punta de Mita and then head back to PV. Bikes are provided!

Book your tour here (plan for about 4-5 hours).

>> Staying at an all-inclusive resort? Here’s a Packing List (17 things you should always bring)

I hope you’ll find that most of these day trip ideas are a fresh perspective. You might be wondering why there are some popular day tours not included on this list.

Visiting Marietas Island (the hidden beach) is one of them.

I visited a few years ago and it was honestly overrated. There were way too many people and the beach itself was underwhelming – one of those places where the photos were way nicer than the experience.

I’ve heard they have since restricted the number of people who can visit at a time, so it’s nice to see some responsible tourism practices going on.

Instead, I’ve curated some more unique ideas that can be done on your own (if you have a car or want to take the bust) or with a local tour guide in a small group for a more personal experience.

In my opinion, it’s these types of trips that always turn out the best! 

More Puerto Vallarta & Mexico Posts:

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