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Puerto Vallarta is the second most popular cruise port on the Mexican Riviera, after Cabo San Lucas. But as Carnival is abandoning its weekly Mexican Riviera cruises from Los Angeles/Long Beach in 2013, many of the visits to the city will come from ships plying Panama Canal routes
Puerto Vallarta is named after Ignacio Vallarta, a former governor of Jalisco. Situated on the Pacific Ocean's Bahia de Banderas. The Bay of Banderas arcs along the pacific coastline and is one of the deepest of the Pacific Bays. Puerto Vallarta lays on a narrow coastal plain at the foot of the Sierras Cuale and San Sebastiàn. The City of Puerto Vallarta is the government seat of the Municipality of Puerto Vallarta which comprises the city as well as population centers outside of the city extending from Boca de Tomatlán to the Nayarit border (the Ameca River).
 
Puerto Vallarta is a land of gorgeous sandy beaches, majestic mountains, and small-town allure. Located in the heart of the Mexican Riviera, a beautiful stretch of coastline running from Mazatlán to Manzanillo, Puerto Vallarta is second only to Cancún in its popularity with tourists.
The city of Puerto Vallarta traces its history back to the 1500s, when it was first visited by Spanish explorers. Later, migrating Mexicans and even pirates added their individuality to this unique city. Today, Puerto Vallarta remains a place enriched with history and culture, welcoming all people to join in its beauty. Puerto Vallarta offers its visitors a wide range of lovely hotels, inns, resorts and restaurants, which are sure to fit any budget.
 
Tours are offered year round to sites such as Los Arcos and Huichol Indian villages. Kids will find places to explore and learn about around every corner of this Mexican paradise. Puerto Vallarta is alive with the feeling of "old Mexico." It is not rare to see donkeys roaming the streets and artfully designed homes reminiscent of days long past.
 
While areas of Puerto Vallarta can make you feel as if you have entered early 20th century Mexico, only walking distance away, the same city offers the feeling of a modern world-class resort with all the amenities of home. The city's twenty-six miles of coastline offer some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, with plenty of boardwalk on which to stroll or browse the wares of the street vendors, who always offer something unique as a reminder of this beautiful and historic city.
 
In recent years, Puerto Vallarta has also gained a reputation as being a prime area to take part in many adventurous "ecotourism" activities. Outfitters are springing up all over town, providing the necessary equipment and expertise to enjoy a day of mountain biking, sea kayaking, and deep-sea diving.
 
As you approach Puerto Vallarta by sea, you'll see the old city on the south end of the bay, with the roofs of its buildings crowned with tile, then a spread of high-rise hotels up to the Marina Vallarta area. As you look further north, more high-rise hotels crowd the beaches. The Sierra Madre mountains provide a stunning backdrop for the city. Cruise ships arrive at the city's pier between 7:00 am and 9:00 am, and depart between 4:00 pm and 7:00 pm. In 2015, Puerto Vallarta is slated to host 313,000 passengers sailing on 142 ships.
 
Your ship will dock in the Marina Vallarta Maritime Terminal, about three miles north of downtown. Some ships, however, will anchor in the harbor, and passengers must use the ship's tender. Check with your cruise line to determine your circumstances.If you're taking a ship's excursion, you will board your bus or other transportation at the Maritime Terminal. Across the street from the Terminal are a number of small shops, snack bars, liquor stores, a Banorte ATM machine and several cyber cafes.
 
Docking & Local Transportation
Cruise ships dock at the Terminal Maritima, slightly north of town near the airport. From there, you can easily get to the downtown area via taxis or buses.There are no shortages of taxis (322/225-0716) in Puerto Vallarta, and rest assured that they are affordable as well. If you're looking for transportation into the city, you can pick up a taxi or a bus just outside the Terminal area. A typical trip from downtown to the Marina Vallarta will run from $3 - $5. In addition, you can hire taxis for personalized, hourly tours, which will cost anywhere from $10 -$12 per hour. Make arrangements with your driver before leaving on a driving tour,
 
White taxis that pickup at the airport and the cruise terminal are federally licensed and cost more than regular yellow taxis. To save some money, head over to the main street and flag a yellow taxi down. Taxis have no meter and you need to negotiate a rate. Better yet, take the local buses which are cheap (6.5 pesos, Dec 2011) and frequent. To go downtown, take any bus marked "Centro" heading south but not "Tunel" since these bypass downtown. To head back, look for buses marked "Marina" or "Walmart".
 
Puerto Vallarta also has an efficient bus system, running the length of the coastline as well as to other local destinations. For $0.35 a ride, you can travel to the Marina, to local shopping sites, beaches, and much more. Buses run from 6am to 11pm daily.
If you are interested in taking a day trip to Las Animas, Quimixto, and Yelapa, consider taking a water taxi, departing from the pier at Los Muertos Beach. A round trip ticket to these destinations will cost anywhere from $10 -$12.
 
You can spend a lot of time walking around the city. Downtown is where you'll find the sculptures on the Malecon, or sea-side boardwalk, with the church and the city hall sharing space around the city square. A short (5 minute) walk further south will have you passing over the Rio Cuale, with its outdoor vendors and pretty park-like setting. The arty district of Olas Atlas (also called the Old Town or the Romantic Zone) is just south of the Isla Cuale. Restaurants abound in this area, as well as along the seashore.
 
Things to See and Do
One of the most relaxing and memorable ways to spend the day in Puerto Vallarta, is a stroll through the downtown area and the seafront boulevard known as the Malecón. Colorful homes line the cobblestone streets, and nearby are several monuments that are worth noting. Among them is the Parrish of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe church. Located at 370 Hidalgo, it is a lovely cathedral topped with a replica of Empress Carlota's crown. Just south of the church is a charming municipal market, home to quaint shops, artists, and cafes.
 
Many folks visiting Puerto Vallarta may opt to spend several hours on a boat tour of the bay and surrounding areas. One such option is the Marigalante (322/223-0309), a perfect replica of Columbus's Santa Maria ship. A daytime cruise is available (lunch included) as well as evening sunset cruises.
 
In the 1600s, the bay of Puerto Vallarta was known as "Humpback Bay" in recognition of the thousands of migrating Humpback whales who journey to these waters yearly to bear their young. They still return to this day, and an organized whale-watching tour is the best way to get a glimpse of them. Several companies offer guided boat trips to view these magnificent mammals. Open Air Expeditions, located at Guerrero 339 (322/222-3310), and Vallarta Adventures (322/297-1212, www.vallarta-adventures.com) feature small boats and knowledgeable guides to take your on your whale-watching journey.
If you are really adventurous, then perhaps a hot air balloon ride is worth you while! Day-Off Hot-Air Balloon Tours (Morelos 536, 322/223-2002) offers a sunrise and a sunset trip daily. Float peacefully over the beautiful coastlines and jungles in what is sure to be an unforgettable experience.
 
Malecón
With lovely views of the wide bay, this seaside promenade is by far one of Puerto Vallarta's favorite spots. Visitors and locals alike make their way here during the evening for a relaxing stroll between palm trees and funky sculptures and to catch a glimpse of the spectacular sunset.

Horseback Riding
The Bay of Banderas is ideal for practicing all kinds of water sports, from scuba diving and water skiing, to sailing, and more. One of the world's best bays for deep-sea fishing, it offers great opportunities to catch sailfish, marlin, and tuna.
The mountains surrounding Puerto Vallarta are perfect for engaging in horseback riding, jungle hikes, mountain biking, and bird watching but these are only some Puerto Vallarta attractions. It is sure to have whatever level of action you are looking for.
 
A variety of tours is available featuring visits to mango orchards, cattle ranches and farmland, small rural villages, and a river where you can swim. Start your ride in a small jungle village. Ride in an ecological reserve astride some of the best trail horses in the region. On Sundays, horseback rides include a trip to a typical Mexican rodeo.
 
Whale Watching
This is an important element of Puerto Vallarta sightseeing. At least three different varieties of whales migrate to the warm waters of the Bay of Banderas in Puerto Vallarta between the months of December and April.The largest and most famous of these whales is the magnificent humpback whale. This cetacean travels many thousands of miles from the Bering Sea to its winter refuge along Mexico's tropical Pacific coast. One of its meeting places is the Bay of Banderas where it conducts its activities related to courting, mating, and birthing. Furthermore, it evokes the admiration of both locals and foreigners as it performs its spectacular breaches, showing off its acrobatic abilities.
 
To see these awesome mammals swimming with their calves and soaring out of the ocean with eye-opening, majestic maneuvers is, without a doubt, a tremendous emotional experience.
You will have the opportunity to see Humpback Whales performing their incredible aerial displays; full breaches, arcing dives, pec slaps, and head slaps. If you are lucky, you might even see a newborn calf swimming alongside its mother -some of them can be quite inquisitive and sometimes swim close to the boat.
 
Las Caletas
Only accessible by sea, Las Caletas stands out against a steep, jungle-clad backdrop of green canopies. This well-secluded, tropical nature preserve awaits your discovery. An hour's sea cruise to paradise ensures that you witness some of the most dramatic coastal scenery Vallarta has to offer!
If pure relaxation is your personal desire, then Las Caletas is the perfect setting: comfortable hammocks are hidden in shady spots for you to discover and enjoy. As you rest, the gentle lapping of the surf on our private, golden beach beckons you to take a closer look.
 
Skimming Along Banderas Bay
Puerto Vallarta is set on ocean-deep Banderas Bay, which has watersport attractions aplenty. Intrepid fishermen come to hook big game including yellowfin, sailfish, amberjack, and trophy-size black marlin. Surfers are drawn to the tall waves off the nearby beach town of Lo de Marcos. Scuba divers seek out Vallarta waters for their crystalline visibility, black coral formations, and large marine life such as sea turtles and dolphins. Yachting season kicks off with the San Diego to Puerto Vallarta Regatta in the fall and reaches a fever pitch with the Banderas Bay Regatta in March.
 
Puerto Valletta's twenty-six miles of coastline ensure that you will find a stretch of it to your liking. Listed here are just several beach spots you might like to peruse. Playa Mismaloya is located five miles south of town and is a gorgeous cove inviting snorkeling and sunbathing under the sun. The closest beach to town is Playa del Sol, featuring broad sandy shores and a variety of restaurants and services. The beaches of Quimixto, Las Animas, and Yelapa are accessible only by boat, but are well worth the trip to marvel at their secluded beauty.
 
Snorkeling, Scuba Diving, and Fishing
Vallarta Adventures (322/297-1212, www.vallarta-adventures.com) offers beginning as well as expert diving trips in Puerto Vallarta. Guides will take you to the Chimo reefs, the Marietas Islands, and many other underwater hotspots. If you have come to Puerto Vallarta to get certified, then the folks at Vallarta Adventures can assist you with that as well. The Cooperativo de Pescadores (322/222-1202) is an organization that can arrange a fishing expedition of any size and length you desire.
 
Eating Out
Trio (322/222-2196), located at Calle Guerrero 264, is an exciting restaurant in Puerto Vallarta that has delicious seafood entries, vegetable, and beef dishes in a memorable, relaxing setting. A recent addition to the restaurant is a rooftop bar; a perfect spot to enjoy an evening sunset. If you don't mind paying for an amazing natural setting, then try one of Puerto Valletta's unique jungle restaurants. El Nogalito (322/221-5225) is one of these, featuring an open-air setting beside a crystal clear jungle stream. The food is excellent, and the view can't be beat!
 
Kit Kat Club (322/223-0093), located at Calle Púlpito 120, is a subdued, classy bar and lounge that is the perfect place to enjoy good drinks in a hip setting. If dancing is your calling for the evening, then head to the unique dance spot known as the Zoo (322/222-4945) where terrific music complements a great setting, featuring dancing cages for the truly animalistic!
 
Memo’s Pancake House--Memo’s specializes in pancakes and waffles – from plain to fanciful creations topped with fruit, nuts and whipped cream. They also serve eggs Benedict, burritos and freshly squeezed orange juice. To top it off, the bottomless cups of coffee are brewed from house-roasted beans.
 
Daiquiri Dick’s -- A long-time favourite on the beach strip known as Olas Altas (translation: high waves), Daiquiri Dick’s serves a combination of Mediterranean, Mexican and Asian dishes. Start with a frozen strawberry/banana daiquiri and then order the luscious shrimp tacos. Finish your meal with key lime pie.
 
The Red Cabbage Café -- This off-the-beaten-path hideaway on the Cuale River specializes in classic Mexican fare such as peanut soup, mole from Pueblo and chilies en nogada. The menu here is based on the food served at the wedding feast of famous Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. This restaurant is open Monday through Saturday for dinner.
 
Hacienda San Angel --  In the heart of the city, owner Janice Chatterton bought and renovated five traditional villas, linking them with winding walkways, tropical gardens and hand-carved fountains. Starting in the reception lounge (once the home of actor Richard Burton), the Hacienda San Angel is furnished with exquisite art and antiques and looks like something from the pages of Architectural Digest. Until recently, only hotel guests could dine here. However, due to popular demand, non-guests may also now reserve ahead for an al fresco table on one of the many terraces or in the dining room. Try the coconut shrimp soup, seafood pasta and Angel’s flan.
 
Brasil Steakhouse -- Bring a voracious appetite to this all-you-can-eat emporium. Service is fast and friendly, starting with an array of salads and dipping sauces. The waiters make the rounds with long skewers of sizzling meat, carving mouth-watering portions directly onto your plate! On a typical evening, five kinds of beef, including filet and rib-eye, turkey, ribs and pork loin will be on the menu.
 
Joe Jack’s Fish Shack -- The atmosphere is funky and casual, but the cooking is superb. Located in the Romantic Zone on Basilio Badillo, Joe Jack’s is a fun spot for lunch or dinner. Shrimp and avocado tostados or whole red snapper roasted with garlic and chilies slide down extremely well with a gazpacho bloody mary or ginger mojito. On Fridays, be sure to dip into the all-you-can-eat beer-battered fish and chips.
 
La Leche--  Minimal black-and-white decor propped with hundreds of milk cans creates a dramatic backdrop for chef and owner Alfonso Cadena’s sensational dishes. His menu changes daily, based on seasonal local produce. Catalan ceviche, cinnamon shrimp, “orange crush” duck and chocolate pudding with popcorn ice cream are just a few of the surprises. La Leche is in the Hotel Zone beside the Fiesta Americana hotel.
 
Archie’s Wok -- Archie was director John Huston’s personal chef when he was in Puerto Vallarta filming The Night of the Iguana. In 1986, Archie opened this restaurant just steps from the Los Muertos Beach. His family continues to run this much-loved establishment. Kick off your meal with a mai tai or maybe a passion fruit margarita. Favourites from this Asian-inspired menu include Thai coconut shrimp, barbecued riblets and “drunken” noodles. Vegetarians also have plenty of options. From Thursday to Sunday, a harpist plays soul-soothing tunes here in the evening.
 
Barcelona Tapas -- Your climb up a few flights of stairs is rewarded with terrific food at this authentic Spanish tapas restaurant. It’s popular, so make a reservation and ask for a table with a view on the second level. Home-baked bread and complimentary potato salad start the meal off right. In addition to fabulous hot and cold tapas, there’s also seafood paella. Order a pitcher of either red or white sangria to accompany your meal.
 
Trio Restaurant, Bar and Café -- Located in a colonial home in Centro, Trio serves Mediterranean food with great style and impeccable service. The Lebanese salad is a winning combination of thinly sliced baked beets topped with marinated goat cheese. There’s always a special fish of the day and terrific vegetarian dishes to choose from. Here, you can order main courses in small or regular portions. Either way, save room for the warm chocolate cake for dessert. A friendly sommelier is also on hand to help you choose from an extensive international wine list.
 
Shopping
Shops stretch along Agustín Rodríguez across from Puerto Valletta's Municipal Market, where you can find everything from jewelry and leather goods to the ever prevalent t-shirt kiosks. The Marina Vallarta also has two shopping centers that offer limited goods. Neptuno Plaza is one of them, and features several notable American clothing chains and general goods stores. If you are looking for native Huichol Indian art, then take a trip to the Huichol Collection (322/223-2141) at Morelos 490.
 
Malecon-area boutiques are among shoppers' favorite attractions. Bargains include silver jewelry from Taxco and soft leather shoes like woven huarache sandals that take one day to custom-make. Galleries specialize in local artists’ paintings, village pottery from Mata Ortiz and Casas Grandes, or riotously colorful Wixarika (Huichol) Indian beadwork and yarn paintings. The open-air arcade along the Cuale River sells inexpensive crafts like tooled leather items, woven and beaded jewelry, embroidered blouses and bags, and hand-painted “Talavera” ceramics.
 
For years, shopping in Puerto Vallarta was concentrated in small, eclectic shops rather than impersonal malls. Although plenty of independent stores still exist, it's now home to large, modern shopping centers between the marina and hotel zone areas as well. Vallarta is known for having the most diverse and impressive selection of contemporary Mexican fine art outside Mexico City. It also has an abundance of silver jewelry, beachwear, and Mexican souvenirs.
 
The key shopping areas are central downtown, the Marina Vallarta malecón, the popular mercados, and the beach -- where the merchandise comes to you. Some of the more attractive shops are 1 to 2 blocks in back of the malecón. Start at the intersection of Corona and Morelos streets -- interesting shops spread out in all directions from here. Marina Vallarta has two shopping plazas, Plaza Marina and Neptuno Plaza, on the main highway from the airport into town, which offer a limited selection of shops, with Plaza Neptuno primarily featuring home decor shops.

Plaza Peninsula (located on Av. Francisco Medina Ascencio 2485, just south of the cruise ship terminal and north of the Ameca River bridge; no phone number or website), in front of a large waterfront condominium development of the same name, is home to more than 30 businesses, including Vallarta's first Starbucks, as well as art galleries, boutiques, and a varied selection of restaurants. The Galerías Vallarta, on Av. Francisco Medina Ascencio 2920, adjacent to Walmart and directly across from the cruise ship terminal (tel. 322/209-1520; www.galeriasvallarta.com.mx), is a large shopping and entertainment mall anchored by the high-end Mexican department store Liverpool. It houses a variety of boutiques, including Levi's, Nine West, and United Colors of Benetton. Among the selections for dining are Chili's, Subway, and Sirloin Stockade. For entertainment, there's a 10-screen movie theater. The mall is open daily from 8am to 2am; most stores are open from 11am to 9pm.
 
Puerto Vallarta's municipal flea market is just north of the Río Cuale, where Libertad and A. Rodríguez meet. The mercado sells clothes, jewelry, serapes, shawls, leather accessories and suitcases, papier-mâché parrots, stuffed frogs and armadillos, and, of course, T-shirts. The market is open daily from 9am to 6pm. Upstairs, a food market serves inexpensive Mexican meals. An outdoor market is along Río Cuale Island, between the two bridges. Stalls sell crafts, jewelry, gifts, folk art, and clothing.
 
Vallarta's locally owned department store, LANS, has branches downtown at Juárez 867 (tel. 322/226-9100; www.lans.com.mx) and in both Plaza Peninsula and Plaza Caracol. LANS offers a wide selection of name-brand clothing, accessories, footwear, cosmetics, and home furnishings.
 
Known for sustaining one of the stronger art communities in Latin America, Puerto Vallarta has an impressive selection of fine galleries featuring quality original works. Several dozen galleries get together to offer art walks every Wednesday from 6 to 10pm between November and April. Most of the participating galleries serve complimentary cocktails during the art walks. It's a very popular weekly event among the local expat residents.
 
Puerto Vallarta offers the best selection of Huichol art in Mexico. Descendants of the Aztecs, the Huichol are one of the last remaining indigenous cultures in the world that has remained true to its traditions, customs, language, and habitat. Huichol art falls into two main categories: yarn paintings and beaded pieces. All other items you might find in Huichol art galleries are either ceremonial objects or items used in everyday life.
 
Yarn paintings are made on a wood base covered with wax and meticulously overlaid with colored yarn. Designs represent the magical vision of the underworld, and each symbol gives meaning to the piece. Paintings made with wool yarn are more authentic than those made with acrylic; however, acrylic yarn paintings are usually brighter and more detailed because the threads are thinner. It is normal to find empty spaces where the wax base shows. Usually the artist starts with a central motif and works around it, but it's common to have several independent motifs that, when combined, take on a different meaning.
 
Beaded pieces are made on carved wooden shapes depicting different animals, wooden eggs, or small bowls made from gourds. The pieces are covered with wax, and tiny chaquira beads are applied one by one to form designs. Usually the beaded designs represent animals; plants; the elements of fire, water, or air; and certain symbols that give a special meaning to the whole. Deer, snakes, wolves, and scorpions are traditional elements; other figures, such as iguanas, frogs, and any animals not indigenous to Huichol territory, are incorporated by popular demand. Beadwork with many small designs that do not exactly fit into one another is more time-consuming and has a more complex symbolic meaning.
 
You can learn more about the Huichol at Huichol Collection, Morelos 490, across from the sea-horse statue on the malecón (tel. 322/223-2141; open daily 9am-10:30pm). This shop offers an extensive selection of Huichol art in all price ranges, and has a replica of a Huichol adobe hut, informational displays explaining more about their fascinating way of life and beliefs, and usually a Huichol artist at work. However, this is a timeshare sales location, so don't be surprised if you're hit with a pitch for a "free" breakfast and property tour. Peyote People, Juarez 222 (tel. 322/222-2302, or -6268; www.peyotepeople.com; open Mon-Fri 10am-9pm, Sat-Sun 10am-6pm), is a more authentic shop specializing in Huichol yarn paintings and bead art from San Andres Cohamiata, one of the main villages of this indigenous group, high up in the Sierra Madres.





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