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Puerto Vallarta Travel Guide | Things to Do, Eat and Drink

Puerto Vallarta Travel Guide | Things to Do, Eat and Drink
Reading Time: 12 minutes

Updated: 3/9/2022 | Puerto Vallarta Travel Guide

We used our Alaska Airlines credits to book our flight to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We decided to go during Winter to escape cold and dreary weather in Seattle, Washington.

During Winter, the weather in Puerto Vallarta is in the low 70s during the day and in the 60s at night. We think that’s perfect weather for snowbirding away from the cold PNW Winters.

Before diving into our Puerto Vallarta travel guide, let’s go through all the neighborhoods that you might want to explore.

Puerto Vallarta Neighborhoods

Here is the list of Zones in PV that you may want to spend some time in.

  • Marina – more upscale than the hotel zone. Includes the Marriott Hotel, Westin and where the cruise ship docks. It’s closest to the airport.
  • Hotel Zone – just a few mins drive from the airport, this area has many hotels, restaurants, malls, a Walmart & Sams Club. We stayed at the Sheraton Bouganvalias resort in this area.
  • Centro (Old PV) – Filled with smaller homes, residential areas, the Malecon (oceanfront promenade) runs along here. The Malecon itself has many restaurants and bars and even street vendors. This area is on the north side of the River Cuale and offers affordable accommodation and many things to do and see.
  • Centro (Romantic Zone) – located on the south side of the River Cuale, you’ll find numerous bars, cafes, restaurants, and Los Muertos Beach. This area is very popular with a large gay community. The accommodation ranges from budget to high end.
  • Conchas Chinas – translates to “Chinese Shells” based on the type of seashells found here. This is a more affluent/posh area of Puerto Vallarta with gated communities and high-end condos.
Sunset in Puerto Vallarta

Sunset in Puerto Vallarta at Sheraton Bougavalias Resort

Puerto Vallarta Travel Guide

Our Puerto Vallarta travel guide is a quick recap of the experiences that we LOVED. It’s easily become one of our favorite destinations. We hope that our guide can help you enjoy it too!

What to See and Do

  • Puerto Vallarta Malecon – A beautiful boardwalk along the coastline with many statues of commissioned artwork. You’ll definitely want to see Los Arcos and here you’ll find various food and product vendors selling street food and agua frescas (fresh juices) along the Malecon. Be sure to bring plenty of pesos if you’re doing a street food adventure. Most vendors will also accept USD or CAD.
  • Church of Our Lady Guadalupe – This church is located in Old PV. You’ll see the top of the church sticking out from the malecón. You can’t miss it.
  • Go Whale Watching – Catch the Humpback whales along the Pacific Coast. The water is a beautiful turquoise blue here and great for watching whales. Check out the whale watching tours here.
  • Isla Rio Cuale – Rio Cuale is a river separating Zona Romantica from Old PV. There’s also a little island with lots of artisanal shops. Be sure to check it out if you’re looking for souvenirs and unique gifts.
  • Los Muertos Beach – Located near Zona Romantica, this beach is a must for beach lovers. Come with a towel, swimwear, and enjoy a dip in the warm waters.
walking along the Malecon in Puerto Vallarta

Gazing from the Malecon

What to Eat

  • Archie’s Wok – Former chef to Hollywood film director John Huston, Archie passed away in 1993 after establishing Archie’s Wok in 1986. But his widow Cynthia Alpenia, daughter Kiyoki and son Sergio carry on the legacy of this lovely Asian fusion restaurant. The menu pays tribute to most of the Asian cuisines – lumpia Filipino eggrolls, Cantonese-style cashew chicken, fragrant Cambodian red beef curry simmered with tamarind and coconut milk, and Vietnamese fish wrapped in banana leaves and grilled over charcoal.Thai classics – like their popular Pad Thai, Thai garlic shrimp with fresh ginger, and beef tongue in Thai coconut sauce with basil – stand out. The spice-averse will be happy to know that the kitchen goes easy on the heat, letting the delicate flavors shine on their own. Salad lovers shouldn’t miss the spinach and watercress with caramelized pecans, feta cheese and roasted red pepper, tossed in a refreshing hibiscus flower vinaigrette. Finish with the delightfully light citrus cloud dessert.
  • Cafe de Artistes – For fine dining in Puerto Vallarta, put award-winning Café des Artistes high up on your list. Very high! We’re talking true artistry in cooking. Chef and owner Thierry Blouet has created an exquisite fine dining experience at Café des Artistes. It’s become an icon – and one of the top restaurants in Puerto Vallarta for over 30 years! The restaurant is located a few blocks from the Malecon in a beautifully restored 100-year old building.
  • The Churros Guy The Churros Guy posts up just outside of Iglesia de la Santa Cruz. It’s rumored that Churro stands would be next to churches for parents as a way to motivate children to go to church, hence the nickname “Churro Church” which describes the event of going to church then getting churros afterwards. You can see the Churros Guy winding out and frying fresh churros throughout the day.
  • El Campanario – This is a quick dining establishment with simple traditional dishes such as Pozole, Tostadas, Sopes and Taquitos. It’s cheap and does the trick. It’s located next to the Church of Our Lady Guadalupe.
  • Joe Jack’s Fish Shack – Sit upstairs and people watch. They have fresh seafood here with delicious tacos and even buckets of shrimp you can peel.
  • La Bodeguita del Medio – Cuban restaurant that also sells cigars and offers late-night entertainment with live bands. If you’re needing a break from Mexican food, we highly recommend La Bodeguita. It’s also located along the Malecón.
  • La Gaviota – This fine dining restaurant is located on the Sheraton Bougavilias property. We were blown away at the presentation and offerings. We recommend coming here and watching the sunset while you eat dinner. The price is VERY good for what you receive. We recommend the Rock Soup, sous vide papaya, pre-Hispanic lamb, and European seabass.
  • La Leche – It’s well worth heading a short way out of the center of town for the gourmet Puerto Vallarta food experience at La Leche.  Leche means “milk” in Spanish. And the décor is all white on white at La Leche. The monochromatic design of the white chairs, white bookshelves with white paint pails, white walls and white plates is meant to help you better appreciate the tastes and smell of the food, without being overwhelmed by visual distractions. (La Leche received the “Best Restaurant Concept” from Travel + Leisure magazine in 2011.) It’s basically a blank canvas for the real art – the food. The daily inspirations of chef Alfonso Cadena are behind the ever-changing menu. Curiosity is what keeps people going again and again to La Leche to discover his new creations. A vegetable soup (served in a large white mug, of course!) might be enhanced with a smudge of sweetened puree beets on one side of the cup’s lip. Dress up and ditch the beach attire at your hotel. And make reservations, because this is a sought-after restaurant in Puerto Vallarta.
  • La Palapa – La Palapa has been around for some 60 years now. And it’s one of the most romantic Puerto Vallarta restaurants on the beach (the first PV beach resto too). The setting is the big draw. Listen to lapping ocean waves as you enjoy white tablecloth service by candlelight. The best tables are those right in the sand. Others are sprinkled about under a thatched palapa roof supported by wood columns, encircled by spiraling ropes of white mini-lights. Classic entrées emphasize seafood dishes like pan-seared red snapper with green asparagus and grilled Pacific shrimp with potato puree and crisp parmesan. (If you’re salt-sensitive, you may find the kitchen a bit too liberal with the salt though.)
  • Makal -Did you know there’s a Michelin-star chef in PV at Makal? Well, you do now. He’s Chef Graham Campbell, the youngest person in Scotland to get a coveted Michelin star. And you’ll just have to try Makal yourself to see how Mexican food under his influence can be one of the most delectable cuisines in the world! The mole sauce, in particular, is said to be sublime. As for drinks, the Mezcal-based cocktails have created as much buzz as the resto’s food. A new restaurant in Puerto Vallarta (opened in 2021), Makal is contemporary and mod inside, with colorful mural art and an exposed brick wall. We’ve not yet been to Makal – and we can’t wait to dine here next time we’re in PV!
  • No Way Jose – The barman might serenade patrons at any moment. Or you can get whisked off your feet to dance to the live music. No Way Jose has a great festive atmosphere – and there’s no way you won’t have fun here! Popular with visitors, this is also a place where the locals eat in Puerto Vallarta for an evening out. Dishes are mostly Mexican-inspired with a contemporary twist. The chile en nogales (stuffed pepper) and the pollo en mole (chicken in mole sauce) are some of the house favorites. Portions are plentiful. And the hospitality of the staff is what you’d expect from a true Mexican restaurant. No Way Jose is also known for its variety of events (like flamenco dance shows) and extensive cocktail menu.
  • The Iguana – A restaurant and tequila bar that should not be missed. The decor is very hip.
  • Sonorita Olas Alta – Best Al Pastor and Volcan de Bistek I’ve EVER had. This was the last stop for us on our taco tour and it blew our minds away. They’re remodeling and adding a second story. We can’t wait to go back and try more things and a delicious steak.
Volcan de Bistek from Sonorita Olas Alta

Volcan de Bistek from Sonorita Olas Alta

  • Tacon de Marlin – Marlin and seafood joint that sells burritos, tacos and more. Try all the sauces to find the one you like the most. It’s affordable and delicious. There are two locations. We recommend going to Tacos Chilo (scroll down below for more info) if you’re still hungry afterward.
  • Tacos de Cabeza el Chulo – This family run taco stand is located just a few steps north of the Churro Man. Head or Cabeza tacos are made from various parts of the cow head after it’s been steamed off the bone. The meat is chopped and then served on a steamed tortilla. The taco is super soft and melts in your mouth. We highly recommend coming here.
  • Tacos Chilo – Little taco cart that serves 6 pesos (30 cents) tacos! It’s been around since 1980, so they definitely know what they’re doing. The size is small, but the flavor is delicious and they make a great snack if you have an extensive food itinerary.
  • Tintoque

Tips to Dining Like a Boss in Puerto Vallarta

Many vendors will accept USD and CAD at their establishments. Make sure to ask them what their exchange rate it. The exchange rate will sometimes be posted on the walls within restaurants.

The current exchange rate is 19 pesos to 1 USD. Vendors will typically offer a conversion rate of 17 pesos per 1 USD for the convenience of paying with USD.

While in Mexico, don’t be afraid to try all the taco stands. Make sure you bring some activated charcoal to reverse any stomach concerns and drink lots of water to stay hydrated and healthy.

Unlike most of Mexico, it is safe to drink and use the water in Puerto Vallarta. Make sure it is filtered prior to drinking.

We also recommend getting a water bottle or cup to prevent single use plastic waste. Hydro Flask sells awesome reusable cups.

Related: How to Stay Healthy and Hydrated while Traveling

Vallarta Food Tours | Original Downtown Vallarta Food Tour

Vallarta Food Tours | Original Downtown Vallarta Food Tour

What to Drink

  • The Blind Tiger (now closed)– Leave it to us to find a good craft cocktail bar in Puerto Vallarta. After two many single liquor, sugar bomb drinks, we found a place that we’d gladly spend all our money at when we move to PV. It’s a 1920’s speakeasy style bar with creative cocktails that we think are on par with Seattle’s cocktail bar scene. It’s owned by three men, two of whom are from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. They also play some pretty awesome tunes here.
  • Insu Sky Bar – Insu Sky Lounge is TripAdvisor’s #1 restaurant in Nuevo Vallarta and for good reason! With a prime perch on the rooftop terrace of the Marival Distinct Luxury Residences and is open to the public in the evenings. Their tapas plates of duck tacos and savory tequila shrimp are perfect for sharing while watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. You’ll also want to try one of their amazing craft cocktails.
  • Monzón Brewing Co. / Monzón Cerveceria Artesanal – If you love craft beer, you’ll have to visit Monzon. They create all styles of beer from stouts, IPAs to sours. They were out of sours when we visited. They also name their beers after their beloved pets. Get a tasting flight of as many beers as you like and enjoy!
  • Noble Corazon – Sign-up for a tour here. Many tours will also offer tequila tasting as a stop on their daily tours. We bought the Extra Anejo (extra aged) and Mango tequilas here.
  • Twisted Palms Bar –  Come here for Monday Martini Madness and get a classic Martini, Manhattan or Gigi (our favorite!). The Gigi sounds sweet, but it’s surprisingly tart, fruity and refreshing without an overly sweet taste. Think of a Jolly Rancher without all the sugar. This bar is also owned by Alan, who is also Canadian.
  • Tuba by Concepcion – Tuba is a refreshing fermented coconut cream and apple vinegar beverage that is typically served on hot days. It’s mixed with apples and walnuts to give it a crunchy texture. It has the taste of lychee and is delicious! Depending on how long and when the Tuba is fermented impacts the flavor of the beverage. Find him walking around downtown near Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish with a white hat. He has been serving Tuba since 1998.
Cocktail from Blind Tiger

Craft Cocktail from Blind Tiger

Where to Party in Puerto Vallarta

There are two main areas to party in Puerto Vallarta. 

#1 Along the Malecon

Walk along the Malecon and you’ll find plenty of establishments to party at. They’ll be playing loud EDM, dance or Spanish music.

When going to a nightclub, make sure you pay with a credit card when possible. If you are paying with cash, make it obvious that you know how much you are giving the cashier to get the correct amount of change back. Confirm with another friend, customer, or employee.

Some parts of Mexico have been known to do the old switcheroo and take advantage of tourists.

We highly recommend the following establishments:
  • Mandala Night Club – EDM; reminds me of an establishment in Las Vegas, Nevada.
  • Senor Frogs – Hip hop and mainstream music
  • La Vaquita – Spanish Music and Hip Hop

#2 Gay Clubs in Zona Romantica

As soon as you enter the Zona Romantica (Romantic Zone) you’ll notice a change in atmosphere and attitude. As you walk around town you’ll find tons of establishments with dancing music and men (sometimes women) overflowing from the clubs. 

We recommend the following establishments in Zona Romantica:

Where to Stay in Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta offers a wide variety of lodging for various budgets. It really depends on what type of lodging experience you prefer.

A nice hotel will cost you around $150-$200 USD per night. Busier seasons will cost around $300-$450 per night.

An AirBnB will be around $50-$100 USD a night.

You can also find hostels for as low as $12 USD a night.

If you’re a Couchsurfer (like us!), I did not see many offerings online, so we decided to go with a resort during their slow season (lower prices).

Related: Couchsurfing Best Practices and Tips for Hosts and Guests

How to Get Around in Puerto Vallarta

The best way to get around Puerto Vallarta is by walking. You’ll discover new sights and businesses walking around town. We loved discovering our favorite taco joints by simply exploring on foot.

Taking a group tour is also ideal as it takes you around town and allows you to both walk and ride. Many group tours are offered in English and Spanish. It’s customary to tip your tour guide $10-$15 USD.

If you’re tired of walking, consider taking an Uber. It is inexpensive and easy to get around using Uber throughout all the zones.

Should I Learn to Speak Spanish to Visit Puerto Vallarta?

Luckily, you do not need to know Spanish in order to travel to Puerto Vallarta. Many vendors will understand and speak English either transactionally or even fluently.

If you’d like to practice Spanish, we recommend using the Duolingo language learning App.

Flying into Puerto Vallarta

Most travelers will fly into Gustavo Diaz Ordaz or Puerto Vallarta International Airport (PVR).

We traveled from Seattle with a 12-hour layover in San Diego, Calif. We booked with Alaska Airlines points which made it very affordable to travel to other Mexican states from Puerto Vallarta.

The Uber ride from the airport to other zones was very quick and inexpensive.

If you’re taking a taxi from your hotel to the airport and vice versa, make sure you have the correct change or else the exchange rate is 15 pesos to 1 USD.

It is typically 17 pesos to 1 USD when you use Uber.

From PVR you can fly domestically into other Mexican states. We ended up booking a flight to Mexico City (CDMX) after leaving Puerto Vallarta for only $46 USD with checked bags.

We highly recommend flying into CDMX from another state because it will take you at least 2 hours to get through immigration in CDMX.

Final Thoughts

We hoped you enjoyed our Puerto Vallarta travel guide. It’s easily become one of our favorite destinations because of the beaches, weather, delicious food, and friendly people.

It’s still a very touristic town, however, we were glad it offered a lot of attractions that would inspire is to return.

If you’re ever headed there, let us know! We may want to join you!

If you liked our Puerto Vallarta Travel Guide, please share it on Pinterest. Thank you!

Puerto Vallarta Travel Guide | Schimiggy Reviews

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