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Travel Planning Guide to the Best Puerto Vallarta Beaches

Travel Planning Guide to the Best Puerto Vallarta Beaches

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The pacific side of Mexico is an incredible place to visit for a warm and sunny vacation. Since it’s on the west coast, the sunsets are unbelievable. The main hub and most popular tourist destination here is Puerto Vallarta.

As vacationers flock here by the millions arriving by air and cruise ships, the Puerto Vallarta beaches are no doubt one of the main reasons to visit.

If you’re a sun-seeker or beach bum at heart, this is the place for you. Honestly, the entire area surrounding Puerto Vallarta offers all kinds of beaches suitable for different types of travellers.

There are family beaches, surfing beaches, gay-friendly beaches and party beaches. Coupled with rugged landscapes and jungle backdrops, Puerto Vallarta has some of the best beaches to discover.

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Puerto Vallarta Side vs. Cancun Side of Mexico

If you’ve never been to this side of Mexico, it’s important to know that the sand, beaches and water are different from the other side of Mexico, near Cancun and Tulum. It’s a completely different ocean over there, so that means a different ecological environment.

For instance, surfing is great on the west coast of Mexico, especially in places like Sayulita and Punta de Mita. In fact, these places are pretty well known in the surfing community, because when it’s surf season, the waves are big and consistent. Contrast this to the Atlantic side of Mexico.

Even though it’s the same country, this area does not produce waves like the west coast. 

When compared to Cancun, I still prefer the beaches in and around Puerto Vallarta much better. Yes, Cancun beaches are made up of that soft, white sugar sand and the water is a little more turquoise and Caribbean looking.

But most beaches here are now lined with mega resorts and jam packed with tourists. 

Photo courtesy of Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board

By contrast, Puerto Vallarta was initially a small fishing village before it became a tourist draw. And because of that, you can still find many amazing restaurants and shops serving traditional fare within walking distance along almost any Puerto Vallarta beach.

While there are definitely large hotel resorts to be found here, too, it’s nowhere near the scale and prevalence as in Cancun.

And in my opinion, when you’re looking for the best beach experience, as long as there’s sand, warm water and few people, you’re in for a good time.

Also, Puerto Vallarta sits within a bay called Bahia de Banderas, or Banderas Bay. It’s a very large bay which extends over 60 miles of sandy coastline.

Because of the slight protection within the bay, you might find that swimming is quite agreeable all around here. Plus the Malecón makes for great walks and strolls. 

What Type of Sand You Can Expect at Puerto Vallarta Beaches

On this side of Mexico, the sand is yellow-gold in color and more coarse when compared to the sand near Tulum and Cancun.

It’s pleasant enough to walk on and won’t hurt your feet. Some have described it as finely ground up seashells.

Whether or not this is true, it’s still perfectly fine to frolic and get it between your toes.

If you’re worried about this or if your feet get a little sensitive (the sand does get hot) you can wear flip flops or a pair of beach shoes to help.

The beaches here are nice, especially at golden hour, when the sun begins to set. It lights up the sand in a golden orange hue that can’t be found on the other side of Mexico. 

How Swimmable Are the Beaches?

Most beaches in and around Puerto Vallarta are very swimmable, but there are some that are better than others. The water is warm here, especially if you’re visiting between December and April.

Even when we visited in early-November the water was the perfect warm temperature to swim in.

Earlier in the high season, the water is calm and perfectly fine for swimming. Later in the afternoons as the wind picks up you will get small waves and surf breaks, which we found great for boogie boarding. 

The best part about these beaches though, is that there’s no seaweed! The beaches on the Atlantic side of Mexico are currently facing an abnormally high amount of Sargassum (brown seaweed). Puerto Vallarta beaches are free and clear of this slimy stuff.

And I can’t stress the incredible sunsets here enough. Every night is different, whether its cotton candy purple and pink, or 8 shades of orange– you’ll get a stunner each night.

Photo courtesy of Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board

Best Time to Visit

To get the most out of your trip, I think the best time of year to visit and enjoy the best Puerto Vallarta beaches is either mid-November (right before high season) or early-April (right at the end of high season).

This is because you still get great weather, less tourists and slightly lower prices (and more hotel options and vacation rental vacancies).

And if you’re visiting in early-November, you might get lucky and get to witness baby turtles hatch in the sand and make their way to the sea by moonlight.

On our last visit to Puerto Vallarta, we hit the beach just after dark looking for the little creatures, and finally on our 3rd night we saw one! It was an incredible experience that any beach and animal lover will never forget.

Main Beaches Within Puerto Vallarta Proper

Here’s all the info you need about the best beaches to visit (including pro tips), working your way north to south.

Playa de Oro (Best for Cruise Ship Visitors) 

Puerto Vallarta is a popular cruise ship destination because of its many beaches, great restaurants and a range of day-trip excursions. Playa de Oro is the closest beach option to visit if you’re arriving at the Puerto Vallarta cruise port for the day.

Photo courtesy of Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board

It is located in the ‘Hotel Zone’ so you will need to buy a day pass to use the beach, loungers and facilities and pools (as these are otherwise reserved for hotel guests only).

If you don’t want to pay for a cab, this area is about a 10-15 minute walk. Try Hotel Crown Paradise or the Krystal Vallarta

There are also a few hotel options within the Marina that also have private beaches (which is the closest) in which you can also purchase a day pass for the resort.

Try the Club Regina or the Marriott for the best pools.

Keep in mind that if the hotel is full or near capacity they may not offer day passes, and many of the passes vary depending on what’s included. This is the most recent list for hotels in Banderas Bay that offer day pass options.

Playa Camarones

On the northern edge of downtown (centro), Playa Camarones is a clean beach that is nice and wide, but not the best for swimming.

Most days it’s only recommended if you’re a strong swimmer; it might have something to do with being so close to the Marina which is just north of here.

There are lots of little stones, so it is a little more rocky compared to other beaches. If you want to do beach activities like rent jet skis, beach horseback riding, or try out parasailing, you can find them here.

Perfect For:

Beach activities, low key hangouts and definitely sunset walks.

Stay At:

Sunset Plaza Beach Resort & Spa or the Fiesta Americana

Playa Los Muertos and Olas Atlas Area

This beach is just south of the Malecón, the main boardwalk along the beach (which is also one of the most popular attractions in Puerto Vallarta).

Playa los Muertos is the main public beach in town and the most visited. You cannot miss it, as its well-known landmark is an impressive 200 foot pier.

You will find soft golden sand at this beach and few pebbles compared to the other beaches north in town. Definitely swimmable here, and there are small waves that can be fun to play in, but some days are more treacherous than others.

The undertow can get strong at times. It’s about a 15 minute cab ride from the cruise ship port. 

This beach gets busy, but it’s a lively and energetic vibe, as this is where the action is! You can also rent loungers and umbrellas for a fee, and many will waive the fee if you order a minimum spend on food and drinks.

There are lots of beach vendors here, trying to sell you everything from sunglasses to foot massages. And depending on what time of year you visit you might see whales breaching in the distance, too (usually from mid-December to mid-March).

It’s a very inclusive beach, meaning many families hang out here, a lot of young people and folks from the LGBTQ community. The further south you go on the beach the more gay friendly it becomes, near the blue chairs. 

Pro Tip: try the banana boat experience if you’re up for some water fun. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. You and your friends go for a wild ride on a huge inflatable banana! Just make sure you leave your hat and sunglasses on the beach!

Perfect For:

People who like lively beaches with lots going on and grabbing a seat at a table on the beach, drinking mojitos, eating ceviche and people watching

Stay At:

Playa Los Arcos to be closest to this beach or try the Almar Resort for free beach lounger access. 

Conchas Chinas Beach

This beach is located at the south end of town (just beyond the ‘Romantic Zone’) and is way less visited compared to other sandy spots.

You will also find many more locals than tourists here if you’re looking for those hidden gems.

Photo courtesy of Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board

Much bigger rocks and formations are found here, but these have created little tide pools of shallow water, so it might be of interest for families with children who love to explore and dig around.

Snorkeling is great here, too! There are also tons of tiny seashells, which is the reason for the name behind the beach.

Because the Sierra Madre mountain range is quite visible from this beach, it is one of the most picturesque beaches in Puerto Vallarta and the perfect spot for a photo shoot! 

Perfect For:

Hanging with the local crowd, plenty of photo opportunities and collecting seashells.

Stay At:

Quinta Maria Cortez for incredible balcony views (and adult-only) or Playa Conchas Chinas Hotel for beachfront Mexican charm.

You could also try the Costa Sur Resort which has its own man made lagoon that makes the water calm and perfect for snorkeling and stand up paddle boarding.

They’ve built up the rocks to create a private and protected beach, so if you’re specifically looking for a resort that has one of the best beaches, this is a great choice.

Bonus Tip: Mirador Cerro de La Cruz

While this isn’t a beach, it’s an incredible lookout to admire the city, the entire bay and its beaches. After you’ve got your fill of sun and sand, enjoy another perspective of the beach from above.

It’s a steep set of stairs, but you’ll reach an observation deck for the far-reaching views. 20-30 minutes uphill depending on your pace, but so worth it. Head there in early morning or for sunset to avoid the midday heat.

It’s located in old town so you will likely have a 15-20 minute walk to get there, but you can also find a local taxi driver who can take you most of the way.

Beaches South of Puerto Vallarta

Playa Palmares

One of the nicest beaches in the area is located about 15 minutes south of the romantic zone. Here, the sand is a little closer to that white Caribbean sand and the water is much more clear, so it’s perfect if you want to explore and go snorkeling.

Definitely stop at Canto Palmares for the best views and seafood.

You’re also super close to some interesting waterfalls in this area.

Perfect For:

Relaxing family time

Stay At:

Hotel Mousai for the most incredible infinity pool in the area.

Playa la Gemelas

Perfect to get away from the main touristy beaches without traveling too far. It’s about a 20 minute bus ride. There are stairs required to get down to the beach, so it can be a little tricky for people with mobility issues.

Good spot for a relaxing beach day. Sundays you’ll find many more locals here. Sand is a little softer and more white-colored, the water is clear and great for snorkeling. The fresh coconut drinks are great here, too.

Perfect For:

A relaxing beach day to escape the busy city

Stay At:

Grand Park Royal Luxury Resort for incredible beach views.


If you want to try out ocean fishing in Mexico, Mismaloya beach is the place to do it. There are tons of private boats and fisherman who will take you out on the water for a few hours, then they bring your catch of the day to one of the restaurants nearby, cook it up and serve it to you on the beach.

A few years ago we caught a tuna fish and we were served fish tacos on the beach.

Mismaloya – photo courtesy of Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board

As far as swimming goes, the waves can get pretty rough. Just watch for the flags indicating the ocean conditions throughout the day (green, yellow and red).

And if you’re coming to Mismaloya, you might as well head to Playa los Colomitos, which is a few minutes south, and a bit hidden away.

Perfect for:

Ocean fishing, fresh seafood and cheap massages on the beach.

Stay At:

Barceló Resort for a great value family resort.

Playa Las Animas

This beach is only accessible by hike or boat/water taxi. The water is much closer to that clear Caribbean blue sea color, and the waves don’t get very big here. It’s also shallow for the first little bit, so it’s great for kids.

If you want to get some hiking in during your Mexico trip, you could hike the trail from Boca de Tomatlan.

It’s an easy to moderate hike and will take you anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours, but there are small beaches along the way that you can cool down for a quick dip, such as Colomitos Cove.

If you’re on the hunt for hidden beaches near Puerto Vallarta, this is the best way to find them.

Colomitos Cove

Perfect for:

White sand seekers, those up for some fishing or exploring and escaping the tourists.


If you’re looking for a unique place to stay to enjoy some secluded beach time, check out the Xinalani Retreat.

It is just south of Playa Las Animas and has incredible villas built into the cliff which provides expansive views of the jungle and a private beach and incredible menu of healthy power foods. 

Inside Tip – book this awesome tour with Juan Carlos who will lead you hike and take you to hidden beaches and an off the beaten path waterfall.


The beach at Yelapa is one of the most beautiful beaches in the area and arguably one of the best ones to visit from Puerto Vallarta.

This place is neat because you can only arrive by tour boat or water taxi, and there are no cars here! That also means there are no big resorts, so this place feels a little more remote and authentic.

From town it’s about 30 minutes by water taxi. The sand is that beautiful white soft stuff, the water is clear and perfect for swimming and snorkeling.

Many people day trip here, and combine a visit with a hike to the waterfall.

Inside Tip – book this 6 hour excursion that will show you around Yelapa and take you on a jungle hike to beaches and the waterfall.

Photo courtesy of Can Travel Will Travel

For local insider tips, try this beach tour which brings you to Yelapa and the guides will tell you where to find refreshing waterfalls to splash around in nearby!

They also bring you to the hidden away Majahuitas Cove where the water is crystal clear. Then, you get an open bar on the boat ride back!

Perfect For:

Day trip explorers or a quiet getaway for some rest & relaxation.

Stay At:

Hotel Lagunita to stay in traditional thatched-roof bungalows on the beach.

Beaches North of Puerto Vallarta


The beach in Bucerías is one my favorites. First of all, it’s huge so there’s lots of room and it never feels crowded. With only one large resort, there is plenty of public beach to enjoy.

And because of where it is situated in the bay, you can see the tall resort and condo buildings of Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta in the distance.

The sand is soft and we were able to swim in the water each time we visited. The cover photo for this post also showcases how soft the sand is here. The beach massages here are cheaper than Puerto Vallarta, too!

Perfect For:

Families and low key beach time.

Stay At:

Unelma Bungalows for your own private beachfront oasis.


Sayulita is a cute and colorful town known for its surf culture. Head here if you want to try out surfing as they get consistent baby waves that are perfect for beginners.

The beach itself is usually busy with lots going on, but this is part of the fun! You can also walk 15 minutes to a hidden beach and likely only share it with a few others.

Perfect For:

Surfing and those looking for a mix of an energetic beach with the option for seclusion nearby. 

Stay At:

La Esquina for rooms with large balconies overlooking the water and one of the best hotel pools in Sayulita.

Hidden Beaches

There are some pretty noteworthy hidden beaches near Puerto Vallarta that should definitely be experienced if you have the time.

Marietas Islands

These are a group of islands out in the middle of the bay that formed from underwater volcanoes.

The most popular is the hidden beach in which you have to swim through a small rocky tunnel (almost like a cave) that opens up to an incredible beach that makes you feel like you’re underground.

Photo courtesy of Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board

These islands are only accessible by tour, and with the area’s growing popularity over the last few years, the government has now placed a cap on the number of visitors per day. So if you’re planning to visit, it’s best to book ahead.

Las Caletas Beach

If you want to experience a perfect day at a secluded and isolated beach, I would highly recommend checking out a tour to take you to Las Caletas Beach.

Via catamaran, they bring you to this less-visited beach, where you can wander through the orchid garden in the jungle, swim and snorkel, nap in a hammock on the beach, get a cooking lesson and enjoy an open bar.

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