Puerto Vallarta Itinerary: 4 Days in Paradise

What started as a small fishing village in Banderas Bay along the Pacific Coast of Mexico is now a major destination for travelers, and it’s no surprise why! Puerto Vallarta is naturally beautiful, with fantastic food, plenty of activities, and unique places to stay. You’ll love this Puerto Vallarta itinerary that will help you see the best the area has to offer.

Behind the beaches to the west, you’re in the Sierra Madre mountains, and just north of Puerto Vallarta, there’s the Sayulita (magic town). This region of Mexico has so much to offer. I’ve been to Mexico four times, most recently Tulum, but Puerto Vallarta was my first time along the Pacific Coast, and it did not disappoint. Here’s my itinerary for four days in Puerto Vallarta.

Table of Contents

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Where to stay in Puerto Vallarta

There are so many great resorts and places to stay in Puerto Vallarta. Choosing where to stay depends on what you’d like to do there.

We personally were using credit card points to book and wanted to spend the least amount possible out of pocket. We also wanted to try an all-inclusive for the first time together and went with Hilton Vallarta Riviera. We were so happy with this choice. It was close to everything, had excellent service, and a beautiful beach.

All options are shown from budget to luxury pricing below.

To be in on the action

Playa Los Arcos This beachfront hotel is in Puerto Vallarta’s Old Town, overlooking Banderas Bay. It features 3 outdoor pools with a waterfall, a spa, free Wi-Fi and free on-site parking.

Casa Colibrí Malecón Located in Puerto Vallarta, a 4-minute walk from Camarones Beach and 300 yards from the center. Some units also have a kitchen equipped with a microwave, a toaster, and a fridge.

Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa This luxury resort is located next to Marina Vallarta Golf Club and offers a private beach area with an infinity pool overlooking Banderas Bay.

All-Inclusive Resorts

Barcelo All Inclusive This elegant, all-inclusive, Mexican-style resort offers relaxing spa services, a variety of activities, and a wide range of dining options just minutes from downtown Puerto Vallarta.

Hilton Vallarta Riviera All Inclusive This is a mainstay for travelers who want a more authentic experience of Puerto Vallarta. Nestled in the cradle of a private cove at the base of the Sierra Madre Mountains, this spectacularly oceanfront resort leaves no separation between you and the inspiring beauty of these coveted surroundings. Here’s my full review of the Hilton Vallarta Riviera All Inclusive.

Day 1: Explore Puerto Vallarta

On the first day of your trip, relax at your hotel and orient yourself to Puerto Vallarta. Beachy trips like this need some built-in relaxation, but with so much close by to do, it’s worth exploring on your first day!

Walk the Historic Neighborhoods

The Zona Romantica (Romantic Zone) and Viejo Vallarta (Old Town) are the two best neighborhoods in Puerto Vallarta to explore. Start out at the centrally located Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the nearby Plaza de Armas.

These neighborhoods are also full of street art, galleries, and boutiques worth stopping in. Walk through this area while stopping in the shops and trying local goods. This is the perfect spot to get unique souvenirs that aren’t just a magnet or pen.

Eat Birria Tacos

One of my favorite kinds of tacos is birria. Birria is a meat stew or soup made from goat, beef, lamb, mutton, or chicken. The meat is marinated in an adobo made of vinegar, dried chiles, garlic, and spices before being cooked in a broth. They are served with cheese and fried on a skillet top usually. They originated in Jalisco (the region Puerto Vallarta is in) and well worth getting!

Birria is typically eaten for breakfast or lunch in Jalisco. You want to do this earlier in the day and there are stands all over Viejo Vallarta where you can get three plus a Coca-Cola for $5 USD. We went to Tacos de Birria Alex, which has a sitting area. SO GOOD.

Do a Tequila Tasting

Once your stomach is full, it’s time for some tequila. All over Puerto Vallarta, you’ll find tequila tastings. You want to be careful of the spot you choose. Many are selling not only tequila but timeshares or could overcharge you. Make sure you come in with an idea of what you want to spend and negotiate. Choose a reputable place to go into by checking reviews.

I say all this because we did overpay for a bottle after our tequila tasting at one spot. We did enjoy the experience trying really unique tequilas but I can’t say I’d recommend going there so leaving it unnamed for you!

Walk the Malecon

The Malecón is a 12-block, mile-long esplanade in Puerto Vallarta’s Centro and Zona Romántica, in the Mexican state of Jalisco. The waterfront crosses the Cuale River via Puente Río Cuale. Features include Los Arcos, the Malecón Lighthouse, and a collection of sculptures.

You’ll enjoy strolling along the beach here, but I would recommend other beaches before spending time at the beach in downtown Puerto Vallarta.

Often times along the beach, you’ll find performers, artists, and local artisan goods. The sunsets from the beach are also beautiful!

Dinner

After a day of exploring, you’ll want to fill up your stomach with some awesome food. There are many great restaurants in Puerto Vallarta. El Panorama, Iguana Restaurant & Tequila Bar, La Cappella, and Panchos Takos all come highly recommended! We opted for dinner at our resort each night since it was included.

Day 2: Snorkeling and Sea Turtle Release

After your first day exploring Puerto Vallarta, it’s time to relax on the beaches and take in some of the natural beauty! Puerto Vallarta is located in Banderas Bay which is the second largest bay in the world. This makes the beaches here calmer than a lot on the Pacific Coast and teaming with wildlife.

This area is home to four different types of sea turtles, several times of dolphins, orcas, whales, tons of birds, and more. Mexico has a lot of conservation efforts taking place in this region as well, making it the perfect place to responsibly enjoy the wildlife.

There’s no better way to do this than by visiting a national park for some snorkeling! Los Arcos (The Arches) is a national park about 20-30 minutes away from downtown Puerto Vallarta and the perfect day trip.

Puerto Vallarta to Mismoloya Bay

You’ll start your day by either meeting with your tour in Puerto Vallarta or heading directly to Mismoloya Bay. We booked our tour through Airbnb Experiences and drove to meet them since it saved us time and allowed us more time at the beach after the snorkel trip! Driving in Puerto Vallarta is easy and safe.

Mismoloya Bay is a colorful little beach town where most tours to snorkel Los Arcos begin. It’s a great place for taking in some coastal scenery, as well as swimming and snorkeling in crystal clear waters. In addition to snorkeling, there are lots of other activities you can do here – from kayaking and fishing trips to jungle tours and bird watching.

In Mismoloya Bay is the Barcelo All-Inclusive Resort. We stayed at a Barcelo while in El Salvador and loved it. They offer day passes, so you can spend the rest of your day with a day pass for the resort enjoying all the amenities if you’ve chosen not to stay at an all-inclusive while in Puerto Vallarta.

Los Arcos Snorkeling Tour

Los Arcos is named for a set of five islands comprised of gray granite islands pushing up out of the ocean in arch formations. They are a short boat ride away from Mismoloya Bay and are part of a protected national park called Los Arcos Marine Park, which was founded in 1984.

Along with arches, in Los Arcos National Marine Park, you’ll find caves, deep tunnels, and a coral reef. The warm blue waters are home to a number of tropical fish and other sea creatures. These include eels, rays, trumpetfish, and even sea turtles.

With colorful coral reefs, tropical fish in the water, and birds soaring overhead, Los Arcos is filled with natural features that give you a taste of the tropical flora and fauna of Banderas Bay, Mexico. Thanks to its national park protected status, this unique and flourishing ecosystem is preserved and untouched.

Our tour spent about 30 minutes taking us around the islands, teaching us about the marine life, and the local legends about the islands. The water is stunningly blue here and extremely clear so even from the boat, you’ll be spotting wildlife. We saw sea turtles and plenty of colorful fish in the clear water from the boat.

After riding in our boat for about 30 minutes around the islands and taking the boat through the caves, we headed to the snorkel spot. There are coral reefs found between and through the caves within the islands. We saw so many colorful fish and marine life here.

While 30 minutes does not sound like a lot, it was enough with the strength of the waves that they warned us about. Our tour brings water and medicine for sea sickness because it is common here with the larger waves. Be prepared by bringing water and taking precautions against sea sickness if you are prone to it!

Spend your Afternoon Relaxing

Choose a way to relax this afternoon! Whether that be with drinks on the beach, hanging out at your hotel’s pool, or staying in Mismoloya Bay with a day pass at Barcelo. After an active morning, it’s perfect to take some time to just relax.

In the evening, it’s time for one of the most amazing activities that should be on everyone’s bucket list!

Sea Turtle Camp Visit and Release

Puerto Vallarta is home to five different types of sea turtles that all lay their eggs here. The season for releasing baby sea turtles in Puerto Vallarta and the Riviera Nayarit is between the months of August and December, although it occurs frequently outside this period of time. Tours for this operate year round, but in the off-season, they don’t happen daily.

The Boca de Tomates Saving Sea Turtles release camp & sanctuary is right behind the Puerto Vallarta airport on the beach. You’ll see airplanes taking off right over your head on the beach! We booked through Airbnb, but there are some other options as well.

Book a tour here through Viator!

The staff shared that an average of 60,000 baby turtles are released each year. The babies are released at sunset to minimize the risk of being prey to birds, fish, and other natural predators. It is well worth going on a tour here to learn about sea turtles and conservation efforts and support local work to save the sea turtles!

Your donations to the sea turtle release camp help keep the conservation efforts alive by supporting the hard work of a dedicated team of Mexican biologists and volunteers to increase the survival rate of sea turtles.

This is one of the coolest things I have ever gotten to do! The baby sea turtles are so cute, but it’s also a great feeling to help save such a precious animal.

Tours start at 6:30 pm or 7 pm because releasing them in the evening/at night gives them the best chance at survival. It also makes for some stunning photos of the sunset with the baby sea turtles!

The tour will end around 8 pm, and you’ll want to plan transportation back from here before the tour because gates close at 8 pm to keep poachers from being able to enter the nature reserve unseen at night. We drove ourselves and had no problem, but we did see a few people get stranded (even after our guide warned us a few times).

Day 3: Relax at the Beach and Kayak the Bio Bay

Photo by Taylor Beach on Unsplash

Relax at the Beach

Beaches in Puerto Vallarta have warm water, top-notch facilities, and exotic natural beauty with every variety of sand and crystal-clear seas. From endless stretches of powder-white and golden sand to surfing, snorkeling, and simple sunbathing, it’s all found in Puerto Vallarta. Puerto Vallarta’s beaches offer just about every kind of tropical comfort you could ever want.

The best beaches in this region are spread throughout the city, from the downtown area to the historic Romantic Zone and beyond. Here are a few beaches to spend your afternoon at:

    • Mismoloya: you’re already here, spend the day with a day pass at Barcelo or relax at one of the restaurants along the bay!
    • Playa de los Muertos: in the heart of the action, and you want to party with the hippest young crowd
    • Playa Colomitos: golden sand and a cascading waterfall erupting from a backdrop of a lavish jungle mountain
    • Las Gemelas Beach: crystal clear waters, soft golden sand, and beautiful rock formations
    • Playa Conchas Chinas: favored by locals for its gorgeous, untouched sand and waters, and serene surroundings devoid of crowds

Kayaking Bioluminescent Bay

In the evening, it’s time for a once in a lifetime experience. Kayaking through a bio-luminescent bay. There are very few in the world. Three are in Puerto Rico; one is here in Puerto Vallarta!

May to November is the best time of year to see bioluminescent plankton (also known as dinoflagellates). The glowing plankton makes their appearance around summer, drawn to warm waters. From November to March, comb jellies take to the cooler water.

The bioluminescence experience is unique and offers the opportunity to observe the glowing microorganisms throughout the year in Los Arcos National Marine Park from the safety of a kayak or SUP. This experience goes on at different times depending on the moon phase.

There’s nothing quite like having these glowing creatures all around you under the moonlight. This is a perfect way to spend your day.

Purchased on Shutterstock

Day 4: Adventure in the Jungle

One of the best features of Puerto Vallarta is the vast jungle that surrounds it. Exploring the jungles of the Sierra Madre is one of the top activities you’ll find in this area.

Over 350 species of birds call the jungle home, as well as countless other species of animals, including iguanas, monkeys, jaguars, armadillos, ocelots, and more. Jungle Tours will help you explore this vast wilderness and get way off the beaten track.

The most popular tours through the jungles are via ATVs and dune buggies. We saw several of these tours that leave directly from Puerto Vallarta or nearby.

If ATVs or dune buggies are not you’re thing, you can also zip line or take a hike to a waterfall to explore the jungle surrounding the area.

Still too much adrenaline? Visit the Botanical Gardens instead for a relaxing stroll and learn about the wildlife in this amazing region of Mexico.

Other Options

If you’re looking for something different on your trip, here’s some other options for additional days of your trip!

1. Day trip to Sayulita

About an hour from Puerto Vallarta is Sayulita. Sayulita is backed by the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains outside of Banderas Bay. It’s known for beaches with strong surf, like the central Sayulita Beach. Galleries in Sayulita sell artworks by Huichol indigenous people. It makes a perfect day trip!

2. Go on a walking tour or art tour

A free walking tour around Puerto Vallarta is the perfect activity to learn about and explore the city! This walking tour meets at the Municipal Tourism Office downtown and runs twice a day at 9 am and 12 pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and then again at 9 am on Saturdays.

It takes about two hours, and you’ll be led by a certified guide through the historic downtown area. It’s the perfect way to learn more about the culture and history, including some great insider secrets about the city! It’s free to join, and no registration is necessary.

3. Whale watching

Whale watching in Puerto Vallarta is another activity on the water that’s very popular. The whale watching season in Puerto Vallarta runs from December to April, with multiple tours in Banderas Bay running every day during this time. On the tours, you’ll head out for around 4 hours in search of Humpback Whales. You may also see dolphins and seals too.

I hope you’ll enjoy everything you do in Puerto Vallarta. It’s an amazing place, and this Puerto Vallarta itinerary will help you see all the best this city has to offer.
Puerto Vallarta is naturally beautiful, with fantastic food, plenty of activities, and unique places to stay. You'll love this Puerto Vallarta itinerary that will help you see the best the area has to offer.
Puerto Vallarta is naturally beautiful, with fantastic food, plenty of activities, and unique places to stay. You’ll love this Puerto Vallarta itinerary that will help you see the best the area has to offer.
 
Meghan

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