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Puerto Vallarta Checks All Your Winter Vacation Boxes

This coastal city in the Mexican state of Jalisco has a food scene, culture, and stunning beaches.

Winter has officially arrived in North Texas. You’re over the novelty of cozy clothes and fires, and you can’t quite remember what summer feels like (work with me here), so it might be time to consider an escape to a warm weather destination. The Riviera Maya is always a popular choice, but if you’re looking for a different vibe, perhaps a beautiful and historic city perched on the edge of a majestic landscape, Puerto Vallarta will check all your boxes. 

Surrounded by the Sierra Madre mountain range, Puerto Vallarta is a bustling city with different neighborhoods, all unique in their own right. Whether you want to lounge on the beach, wander the streets of Zona Romántica, eat your way through the day, or head for one of the more laid-back fishing villages nearby, all these options await. 

History buffs will want to make time for Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, the stunning Catholic church in the heart of town. It’s a short walk off El Malecón, the beach boardwalk that meanders along the edge of ocean and land. Listen to the bells chime 30 and 15 minutes before each mass, enter the church to look at the artwork, and admire the architecture.

Those looking for scenic beauty should check out La Cruz del Cerro, the lookout with stunning views of the city and the entire Bay of Banderas. Another good option is a visit to the Vallarta Botanical Garden. Recently designated a Protected Natural Area, this green space spans over 120 hectares (nearly 300 acres) and is home to Mexican native plants. It is also home to several endangered species, like the military macaw. 

If a hike is what you crave, be sure to check out the trail from Las Bocas to Las Animas. It’s a two-hour trek with a blend of ocean views and lush vegetation from one end to the other, and it’s a perfect way to spend a morning or afternoon. 

For those who love to shop, traversing Olas Altas, the famous shopping street in the Zona Romántica is a must. Also known as the main street of Old Puerto Vallarta, it starts at the south end of El Malecón and ends at Pilitas Street. Here’s where you’ll find local vendors beckoning with artisan-made goods, a farmer's market in Tile Park offering fresh cheese and pasta and local dishes, and plenty of fashion boutiques. 

Where are my foodies?! You’re in for a real treat when it comes to the gastronomical offerings in Puerto Vallarta. Not only can you choose from restaurants serving the best local fare, but you can reserve a food tour of the city where you can eat all the street tacos (also known as the arriero) your heart desires. A meal at Restaurant Fernando is a must if you’re craving the best pescado zarandeado (fresh fish smoked with a smoky adobo rub) and if you’re looking for a proper cendaduria to dine on corn-based delicacies like pozole, tamales, and enchiladas, head for Cenaduria Tia Anita in the El Pitillal neighborhood. 

If you want to have someone plan for you, consider booking a food tour. That way, you’ll get a bit of everything all organized in advance. Vallarta Food Tours offers different packages, depending on your taste buds. Three that top the list are The Street, a 3-hour street taco adventure, The Original Downtown Tour, which gives you a taste of Old Town, and the Seafood Lovers Tour, which includes fresh ceviche, fried octopus, grilled calamari, aquachile, tostadas, and more. 

Of course, when visiting Puerto Vallarta, one of the trickiest decisions will be deciding where you’ll soak up some sun. There are so many stretches of sand that it’ll be up to you to decide what type of experience you want.

For a bustling beach scene, head for Playa Camarones, where there are several beach clubs, water sports rentals, and vendors for umbrellas. If you’re up to visit one of the nearby fishing villages, Mismaloya is a good choice. Just 15 miles south of Puerto Vallarta, it has a laid-back vibe and boasts emerald waters and lush vegetation. For a more private beach experience, go to Colomitos Beach, where the water is perfect for snorkeling. If you’re feeling up to it, hike in on the trail that starts at Boca de Tomatlán. Los Muertos Beach & Pier is also a must-visit, and it’s located right in Puerto Vallarta. Admire the pier and the boats that come in and out of the bay. 

There are any number of resorts and hotels to choose from; some of my favorites include Velas Vallarta for a family friendly all-inclusive resort, the Suites at Sapphire Ocean Club for its location in the heart of Zona Romántica, Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel & Romantic Getaway for an adults-only trip, and the Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit as the best overall all-inclusive resort near Puerto Vallarta. 

Getting to Puerto Vallarta is easy, too. The main airport is just five minutes from the marina and only 30 minutes from downtown, making getting from Spot A to Spot B easy. It’s no wonder this Mexican city in Jalisco is on bucket lists, tops “best of” lists, and is, quite simply, an experience you shouldn’t miss.

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