Swap chilly weather for warmer climes this winter with a trip to the golden shores of the Mexican Riviera. Framed by the jungle-clad Sierra Madre mountains on one side and sparkling Bahía de Banderas (Banderas Bay), the enticing coastal enclave of Puerto Vallarta was first made famous by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the mid-1960s.
Today, its quaint bougainvillea-lined cobblestone streets and sun-kissed beaches still serve as major draws. The fifth largest city in the state of Jalisco – home to the storied Mexican spirit’s namesake town of Tequila – and considered one of the safest in the country, from the Colonia Centro (central downtown) and Malecón (oceanfront boardwalk) to Zona Romantica (Old Vallarta) and beyond, the vibrant resort town offers plenty to experience and explore.
What to see and do
Take an art walk
There’s more to Puerto Vallarta than sunbathing and sipping Margaritas. Home to a thriving arts scene, one of the best ways to get acquainted with its historic centre is on a guided art walk. Every Wednesday from late October until early May, the tour covers around 15 studios and installations in the streets just off the malecón.
Alongside numerous murals and that adorn several of the area’s buildings, highlights include modern design gallery MannMade Mexico and the longstanding Galería Uno. Maps are available for those who prefer to explore at their own pace on a self-guided tour. Well-worth a stroll, the malecón is dotted with beautifully abstract sculptures, including The Boy on The Seahorse by Rafael Zamarripa and The Good Fortune Unicorn by Aníbal Riebeling.
Explore beautiful and hidden beaches
Just minutes south of the Romantic Zone, local favourite Conchas Chinas Beach is considered one of the finest stretches of sand in Puerto Vallarta. Its crystalline waters are a fantastic spot to swim and snorkel during low tide while sunset drinks at La Playita Restaurant are a must. Take a water taxi to the quaint fishing village Boca de Tomatlan or ‘Boca’ to the locals, for lunch in one of the pretty beachside restaurants.
Scuba divers, snorkellers and stand up paddle boarders will be delighted with the coral reefs and abundance of marine life, including rays and trumpetfish, at Los Arcos National Marine Park. Protected since 1984, multiple groups operate excursions to The Arches, including the top-rated Paddle Zone Eco-Adventures.
Perhaps one of the most iconic destinations is La Playa del Amor. Also known as Hidden Beach or the Beach of Love, it’s located in the Marietas Islands just a few miles offshore in the neighbouring state of Nayarit.
Recently reopened, the National Protected Areas Commission has limited visitors to 116 per day in groups of 15 or less for thirty minutes at a time. In order to give the coral reefs a much-needed rest from human impact snorkelling and diving are no longer permitted, allowing those lucky enough to make the trip a chance to enjoy the beach in all its original uncrowded glory.
Swim with wild dolphins
With its lush jungle and picturesque Banderas Bay backdrop, Puerto Vallarta is a popular destination for eco-tourists, and swimming with wild dolphins one of the region’s genuinely unrivalled experiences. Championing bottlenose dolphin research since the late 1980s, Wildlife Connection is one of the most respected outfitters in town.
Their knowledgeable local guides, including biologists and professional wildlife photographers, lead small groups to swim alongside these fascinating marine mammals in their natural environment. Whale watching is another major draw here. Every winter, humpbacks migrate to the bay’s warm waters, with the population reaching its peak in late December through January. Praised for their focus on respectful encounters, Whale Watch Vallarta is another reliable outfitter.
Where to eat
From street food staples to gourmet cuisine, Puerto Vallarta is something of a foodie hot spot and one that takes immense pride in its culinary heritage. In a charming century-old home just blocks from the Malecon, you’ll find Chef Thierry Blouet’s landmark restaurant, Café des Artistes.
Lauded for its French-Mex haute cuisine and considered one of Vallarta’s most iconic dining destinations, it’s been a local ‘see and be seen’ set favourite for almost three decades.
Try the five-course prix fixe tasting menu with wine pairings or order a la carte and pick out something from the 350-bottle cellar, which includes a selection from budding Mexican wine regions Valle de Parras Zacatecas and Dolores Hidalgo.
Nestled above town in ‘Gringo Gulch,’ fans of Hollywood will love the story behind Casa Kimberley, a gorgeous hacienda-style villa that Richard Burton bought for Elizabeth Taylor in the 1960s. Now a nine-suite luxury boutique hotel, its restaurant The Iguana is open to non-hotel guests for dinner.
Awarded a place on the coveted Paris-based restaurant rating selection, LA Liste, enjoy a top-shelf sipping tequila from the bar before moving through to the open-air dining room whose offerings from its contemporary Mexican menu are as sublime as the views.
Enjoying a prominent position in Puerto Vallarta’s northern hotel zone near the ritzy Marina Vallarta, chef Alfonso Cadena’s trendy snowy white ‘blank canvas’ dining concept LA LECHE enjoys its reputation as an innovative showcase for Latin and Mexican inspired dishes. With a focus on hyper-local ingredients, the menu is devised and written out daily depending on what’s in season. For late-night cocktails and dancing, head to the private second-floor bar, La Nata.
Where to stay
Located just five minutes from the airport on a beautiful semi-private beach and an easy 20-minute drive from downtown, Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa offers travellers the best of both worlds when it comes to choosing a place to stay. With 433 guestrooms, including 28 suites, it’s a sizeable property but one that feels intimate and secluded.
Featuring gorgeous views across Banderas Bay, private terraces, a baby grand piano in the living area, and a decadent French soaking tub in the bathroom, a stay in the property’s stunning penthouse presidential suite will add that significant wow factor to any trip.
A recent $20 million refresh and a slew of signature experiences, including culinary-focused staycations and a sea turtle conservation programme that allows guests the chance to release baby sea turtle hatchlings from the nursery, add to the resort’s appeal.
Other highlights include the rather photogenic swimming pool (the largest in Puerto Vallarta), contemporary swim-up bar concept NOSH, plus the Instagram-worthy cabana day beds and island-inspired poolside Coco Bar for boozy cocktails and zero-proof alternatives served in a fresh coconut.
Visit Ohtli Spa for Huichol-inspired spa treatments – the fire opal balancing stone massage is a signature therapy – or learn more about Mexico’s official beverage with tequilier, Audrey Formisano.
The only Marriott property in the world to create its own tequila line, CasaMagna was developed in 2006 and is available in three expressions: Blanco, Reposado, and Añejo. Made from agaves grown on the property, which take around ten years to cultivate and another three to five years to age, a highly coveted limited-edition CasaMagna Reserva Especial Tequila is available to VIP guests or the most elite Marriott Bonvoy Members.
When to go
Sitting in a geographical sweet spot on the same latitude as Hawaii, Puerto Vallarta enjoys a subtropical climate with almost year-round near-perfect weather. While the rainy season usually lasts from June to mid-October, daytime temperatures hover around a balmy 26 Celsius and stay at a very pleasant 18 Celsius most evenings, making April through November some of the best months to visit.
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic operate flights to Puerto Vallarta in connection with respective partner carriers American Airlines and Delta via major U.S hubs such as Dallas Fort Worth and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta. It’s a one-hour flight from Mexico City with Mexican airlines, including Aeromexico and Volaris.
One of the best ways to explore Puerto Vallarta is on foot, but local taxis and Uber are prevalent and easy to use. For longer trips or the freedom to explore more of the surrounding area, consider renting a car. Major agencies, including Alamo, Avis, Hertz, Europcar and Enterprise, have offices at the airport and across town.
While the Jack Nicklaus designed fairways at Punta de Mita Golf Club are reserved for members and guests of the Four Seasons and St. Regis resorts, Puerto Vallarta features ten additional courses. Ranging from oceanfront to urban, the Marina Vallarta Golf Club is a block from the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa. About an hour’s drive up the coast, the former sleepy fishing village now haute hippy surfing enclave, Sayulita is home to boutiques, galleries, and yoga studios and makes a lovely day trip.
COVID-19 entry requirements
Currently offering some of the easiest COVID-19 entry requirements globally, Mexico has quickly become one of the most popular travel destinations during the pandemic. The state of Jalisco was recognized with a Safe Travels Stamp by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).
In accordance, mask requirements are in firmly place, businesses are routinely checking temperatures at the door, and hand sanitizer can be found everywhere across Puerto Vallarta. Social distancing guidelines are also being enforced with restaurants, cafes and beaches currently operating at 50 percent capacity.