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Top 10 Places Not to Miss in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in 2024

Top 10 Places Not to Miss in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in 2024

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Consistently voted as one of the top 10 most friendliest cities in the world, Puerto Vallarta is a premier beach destination – unlike anywhere else in Mexico.

It’s distinguished by its unique architecture, stunning beaches, tropical mountain terrain, diverse cuisine, lively atmosphere and timeless charm.

Here are the top 10 must-do experiences when you visit this magical part of Mexico. 

Watch the full video of this blog post here!

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!

Marietas Islands

Marietas Islands are a protected cluster of islands located off the coast of Puerto Vallarta, with one of the most famous beaches in all of Mexico – known as hidden beach, a crater beach believed to be formed by military testing in the early 1900s.

Due to conservation efforts, visits are restricted to about 100 people per day. 

If you are one of the lucky visitors who gets to visit the beach that day, you’ll have to jump in the water and swim through a small cave to access the beach.

It’s definitely one of the most unique beaches you’ll visit in your lifetime. 

Tip: For the best chance at getting to the hidden beach, book this tour that leaves in the morning.

If you book a tour and can’t get to the hidden beach, not to worry. There are still beautiful beaches within the cluster of islands that you can relax and snorkel from. 

And if you visit between December and March, there’s a High chance of seeing dolphins and might get lucky and see whales. 

View prices & availability for the Marietas Islands Tour here

Rhythms of the Night

Rhythms of the Night is the most popular experience from Puerto Vallarta!

You’ll start by taking a sunset cruise which includes free drinks and appetizers and arrive at a private cove, where everything is illuminated only by candlelight and tiki torches. 

Following the candle light and sounds of the bongo drums, you’ll head toward the outdoor amphitheater to be seated for the show.

The show is a mix of creative dance, acrobatics, mysticism, live music, fire dancers and more.

I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s basically like a Cirque du Soleil-style show with a Mexican flair.

You’ll then enjoy dinner on the beach and have free time to explore the enchanting island before heading back to the city. 

Here are a few tips from my experience that you might find useful if you book this tour:

  • You can book your tour to leave from either the Puerto Vallarta Marina or Nuevo Vallarta Marina – just choose whichever one is closest to your hotel/Airbnb
  • It’s nice to arrive a little early and enjoy a drink at the palapa-roof bar!
  • Use the bathroom before you board! (there are bathrooms on the boat, but they can get kinda gross and long lineups).
  • I recommend booking the later tour, so that you can see the sunset as you depart (but you’ll eat dinner after the show).
  • Make sure you try some of the appetizers they serve on board, because dinner won’t be until later!
  • Definitely wear a sweater or bring one – even if it’s hot during the day, it gets breezy on the water and chilly on the boat ride home.
  • Enjoy the boat ride! It’s a long one, but it’s a great time!
  • I didn’t think the VIP tickets were worth the extra cost.

Book Rhythms of the Night here!

I also wrote a more detailed blog post about Rhythms of the Night and also vlogged about my experience!

Vallarta Botanical Gardens

The Vallarta Botanical Gardens is a serene sanctuary full of hundreds (if not thousands) of different species of flowers, tropical plants and cacti varieties.

They have over 300 different varieties of orchids alone.

There’s even a butterfly sanctuary and a spot along the river where it’s shallow and calm enough to swim as well as multiple trails through the lush gardens and tropical scenery. 

There’s also a restaurant onsite, and even if you aren’t hungry, I highly recommend stopping in for a glass of their chilled hibiscus tea.

The gardens are located about 30 minutes south of Puerto Vallarta, and you can take a bus to get there.

We booked a day tour which included sampling coffee in a local village and a fun tequila tasting, in addition to visiting the gardens.

Taco Culture!

Taco culture in Puerto Vallarta is a vibrant and essential part of the city’s culinary landscape. 

In my opinion, this is how you really experience the city.

Street tacos are a staple of local cuisine, offering a wide variety of fillings and styles.

These tacos are typically served on small, soft corn tortillas and can be filled with a range of ingredients.

Tacos al pastor, though, are especially popular.

This style of taco is made with thin slices of pork that have been marinated in a blend of spices and chilies, then cooked on a vertical rotisserie, similar to the cooking method used for Middle Eastern shawarma.

The pork is typically served on small corn tortillas and garnished with chopped onions, cilantro, pineapple, and a squeeze of lime juice.

If you’ve never ventured into the world of street tacos, I highly recommend taking a walking taco tour early on in your trip.

I’ve done both a morning and evening taco tour and I learned so much!

Not just about where to find the best tacos, but how to order them, what time of day each type of taco should be eaten, interesting facts about the city and more.

Here are the two taco tours I took:

Then, once you’ve had your lesson in tacos, you’ll be itching to go explore on your own!


The Malecón in Puerto Vallarta is a vibrant and essential experience that captures the essence of the city’s culture, beauty, and social life.

It’s the heartbeat of the city. 

This seaside promenade buzzes with activity from dawn til well well after sunset.

It’s a place to admire the ocean views and is a lively community hub. Everything and everyone converges here – walkers and joggers, photographers, artists and vendors, happy hour seekers and shoppers.

It stretches for about a mile along the coastline of Banderas Bay and a leisurely walk here is a  must-do on any trip to Puerto Vallarta. 

Even though I’ve visited Puerto Vallarta dozens of times, walking along the Malecon is something I do every trip.

Here are some tips you should know if you plan to hang out along the Malecon:

  • Drink prices are often more expensive on days that cruise ships are in town
  • Shop around for the best prices for drinks – you can negotiate!
  • Look up! There are some great bars and restaurants located upstairs that are often easy to miss – these are great spots to watch the sunset.
  • Save room for dessert! At night, vendors set up street food that is a dessert lovers heaven! My favorite are the dessert crepe stands.

Unique Neighborhoods

Puerto Vallarta is truly a mosaic of unique neighborhoods, each with its own flavor and charm.

Among these, Centro and Zona Romántica stand out as vibrant hearts of the city, offering visitors a rich blend of culture, history, and contemporary life.


Centro, or Downtown Puerto Vallarta, is the city’s historic core, where cobblestone streets echo with tales of the past and vibrant Mexican culture is palpable in every corner.

At the center of it all stands the iconic Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, whose elegant crown-topped tower dominates the skyline and serves as a focal point for both locals and visitors.

I recommend taking a leisurely stroll through the neighborhood’s narrow cobblestone streets and admire the traditional Mexican architecture.

I absolutely love the red tile roofs, whitewashed houses adorned with flowers and vines, large wooden doors and wrought iron balconies.

Tip: I highly recommend the free walking tour put on by the local municipal tourism office.

  • This 2.5 hour walking tour took us through downtown and really made us feel safe after learning about all the neighborhoods and culture.

Zona Romantica

Next is the Zona Romantica, the oldest part of Puerto Vallarta and the city’s bohemian corner – known for its charming, narrow streets, and laid-back yet lively vibe.

It’s teeming with parks and plazas, local boutiques, artisan shops, cozy cafes and home to some of the cities best bars and restaurants. 

The neighborhood’s crown jewel is Los Muertos Beach, a lively stretch of sand known for its iconic pier.

The beach is a hub of activity, offering water sports, beach dining, and a front-row seat to some of the most stunning sunsets on the Pacific coast.

Pro tip: grab a hotel with an infinity pool overlooking this neighborhood for the best view in town! This is the view from the Rivera del Rio hotel in the Zona Romantica

Cuale River Market

The Cuale River naturally divides the two neighborhoods.

Not only does it offer a scenic escape with its lush greenery and cooling breezes, it’s also home a tranquil island oasis which hosts a vibrant artisan market.

Here, you can find a wide array of goods, from traditional Mexican handicrafts to unique souvenirs to clothing and jewelry.

At the river market you can find such unique souvenirs!

My favorite market stall is the guy who sell license plate signs! He can make you any sign you want, that day!

I got him to make me an Aly Smalls sign that I will cherish forever!

Hill of the Cross Viewpoint (Mirador)

The view from up here is incredible! Worth the hike.

Now to get a great view of these neighborhoods and for a little exercise, hike to the Hill of the cross viewpoint. 

Perched above Puerto Vallarta, this viewpoint offers breathtaking 360-degree panoramas of the city, Banderas Bay, and surrounding mountains.

Accessible via a moderately challenging hike through cobblestone streets and stairways, this spot rewards hikers with unmatched views you’ll find anywhere else in the area.

In my opinion, this is the best free thing to do in Puerto Vallarta.

I loved climbing the streets of Old Town Puerto Vallarta, it felt like old world Europe.

Once you’re at the top, you’re greeted by the expansive vista of Puerto Vallarta’s picturesque cityscape, framed by the majestic Sierra Madre mountains, lush tropical greenery and sparkling blues and greens of the Pacific Ocean.

I recommend doing this hike in the morning or at sunset – it would be too strenuous in the midday heat.

Bring water but also small change – sometimes locals will be out selling cold drinks to hikers.

Thisis probably the best place to take epic photos in Puerto Vallarta.

Beach Towns 

Venturing beyond Puerto Vallarta’s vibrant streets, two nearby beach towns are worth a visit – Yelapa and Sayulita.

Each offers a unique glimpse into the laid-back coastal life, making them perfect day-trip destinations.


The Yelapa waterfall is cold but refreshing!

Yelapa, accessible only by boat, is a secluded paradise and feels like a throwback to the Puerto Vallarta of the 1970s.

The journey to Yelapa by boat is an experience in itself, and if you’re visiting between December and March as you might be lucky enough to spot whales breaching in the distance.

On arrival, you can unwind on its pristine beaches, explore the charming streets that lead to waterfalls hidden among lush greenery, and try fresh seafood on the beach. 

Colorful Yelapa

We opted to get off at the second pier, which takes you to the town. Then, it’s only a 10-minute walk to the amazing waterfall.

After the waterfall, we hung out at the beach and ate ceviche!

And if you see the pie lady, flag her down! She sells the most amazing pies – we devoured the lemon meringue.

For more details, I’ve got a full video about getting to and enjoying Yelapa for the day.


Our fun day touring Sayulita! We hit the colorful streets, beach bars, and found a black sand beach with crystal clear water

Nestled on the opposite end of the bay from Yelapa lies Sayulita, a vibrant surf town with a bohemian spirit.

Its colorful streets are lined with artisanal shops, eclectic cafes, and lively bars.

The main beach is a surfers’ paradise, offering waves for all levels and beach bars for spectators, while nearby beaches promise quieter spots for swimming and sunbathing.

Sayulita is great for shopping, beach bars, trendy photos and surfing.

Tip: If you only have time to visit one place, I would recommend this Sayulita day tour – which kind of gives you the best of both worlds!

  • You’ll visit Sayulita and have time to explore the fun town for a few hours, but then your guide whisks you away to a private beach with clear water where he cooks you a grilled lunch on the beach!

Hot Springs

A highlight of any trip to Puerto Vallarta is a visit to the natural hot springs.

Deep in the heart of the jungle at the base of the Sierra Madre mountains, you’ll find an oasis of stone tubs filled with natural thermal healing waters.

They’re a little tricky to find on your own, so it’s best to visit with a tour guide.

We booked this unique tour that included a few surprises, including an amazing grilled lunch, and massages on the beach on your way back to the city.  

Book the hot springs tour here

Tequila & Mezcal Culture

Visiting Puerto Vallarta offers a unique opportunity to dive into the vibrant culture of tequila & Mezcal – two of Mexico’s most cherished spirits.

Nestled in a region famous for its blue agave, Puerto Vallarta is a gateway to exploring the traditions and flavors of these iconic drinks.

Real tequila can only be produced in this region of Mexico and it’s celebrated in local bars as well as local tours to nearby farms which offer a taste of Mexico’s heritage. 

We enjoyed this Tequila vs. Mezcal tasting experience at a lovely Cantina in downtown Puerto Vallarta.

  • We to to sample how different Tequila and Mezcals taste in different types of cocktails – all in a fun & lively Mexican cantina atmosphere (with optional dancing)!

Another way to experience tequila culture is at sunset from a rooftop bar.

Puerto Vallarta’s skyline isn’t just a view, it’s a whole vibe.

Find something in old town overlooking the city with the ocean in the distance.

Pictured above is our cocktails at La Capella, considered one of the most romantic restaurants in the city.

You’ll be enchanted by the views of the terracotta roofs of the surrounding homes and villas, the iconic bell tower of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, and beyond, the endless horizon of the Mexican Pacific.

More Puerto Vallarta Reading:

Full Travel Guide to Puerto Vallarta for First-Time Visitors

8 Scams to Watch Out for in Puerto Vallarta

Complete List of 49 Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta

The Most Unique Things to Do

Free Things to Do

Best Puerto Vallarta Neighborhoods to Stay in