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I really looked forward to our trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We booked it with only 2 weeks notice, which felt so luxurious, but a little tight.
As it got closer I started to really research what there might be to do besides the famous beaches, and was suddenly overwhelmed with options! My excitement only grew as I anticipated all of the things to do in Puerto Vallarta. Here’s our list of the top 8 things to do in Puerto Vallarta for families!
Here are the Top Things to do in Puerto Vallarta for Families:
1. Visit The beaches
Finding the best beach in Puerto Vallarta can get tricky, though. The city is on the edge of a bay, which can stir up some murky water. Some areas areas are also more rock-lined than sandy, which can lead to beautiful views but not as much playing fun.
We suggest actually getting out of Puerto Vallarta to Nuevo Vallarta to the north or Sayulita to the farther north (and stay for a day or two!) or to Las Animas Beach or Los Muertos Beach to the south. Both of them feature the turquoise water you want and sandy beaches for playing.
Note: Don’t expect to go shell hunting here. Unfortunately the only ones you’ll find are sand dollars! And the sand dollars are live, so if you take one you’re a jerk. But they are super cool to watch wash up and back out!
2. Wander Old Town Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta is so old and beautiful!
Downtown can get a little dicey- you’ll see gorgeous old statues and cathedrals on one street and a ghetto neighborhood on the next, but please just go and see where you end up! We felt completely safe to wander around the whole time.
As you walk over cobblestones look for beautiful churches, stucco buildings, tiled feature walls, colorful banners strung between buildings, statues, hanging flowers, and vivid colors.
Oooooooh the colors. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a vibrant photo wall!
Just be sure to get out and actually try to see the city. That’s the reason you left home, isn’t it?
3. Rio Cuale Flea Market
I know, I know. The words “Flea Market” drum up thoughts of bespectacled millennials ironically rifling through dusty bins of old books for the perfect set of vintage Encyclopedia Britannicas.
Yes, that’s one definition.
The Rio Cuale Flea Market, however, is simply an island in the middle of the Rio Cuale with a walking path that meanders through various vendors of Mexican souvenirs. The wares are typically the same from one vendor to the next, but it’s so fun to wander around! Test out the different items, interact with the owners, and choose one souvenir from each place.
As compared to other local markets this one is definitely haggle-friendly, but less pushy. Start by offering 50-7% of the asking price, but stay good natured about it. Don’t be a jerk or it’ll leave everyone involved in a bad mood. If a price is still too high simply walk away with a smile and “Buenos Dias!”
Personally, I hate being cornered and made to feel guilty for not buying something I just don’t want. I bet we all do.
Frida Kahlo earrings, anyone? Or tapestry, shoulder bag, jewelry box, or caricatured painting, for that matter?
Related: Gay Puerto Vallarta Guide
4. Puerto Vallarta Canopy Tour
Oh. My. Word. If you pay for ONE activity in Puerto Vallarta please let it be a Puerto Vallarta Canopy Tour with Los Veranos Canopy Tours!
We spent all day with them and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Not only did we get to defy gravity above a gorgeous river, this particular tour also includes an hour drive back and forth in an open-air truck through some gorgeous sections of the coast, built-in time to enjoy an incredible and authentic restaurant, exotic native animal sanctuary, free kayaks, slides, and tire swings on the river, and a margarita and tequila tasting!
It’s always a blast to go on a zip line, but I just can’t get over how this particular tour included so many aspects of native Mexican culture. It was so much more than just an experience of flying. I feel like we understand Mexico better because we went!
5. Go SCUBA Diving Puerto Vallarta
If you’re into that sort of thing.
I’m not into facing my arch nemesis (any kind of shark), so I choose to be the bigger person and keep away (you know, for the shark’s sake).
Ben, however, loves it and was really excited to SCUBA in Puerto Vallarta! He was the only diver signed up for a particular time slot, so he and the dive master took a casual boat ride to Los Arcos and had a great time talking and diving together.
Ben saw tons of exotic fish, crustaceans, sting rays, etc. In an area as tourist-dense as Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, it’s nice to be reminded of the need to conserve, protect, and appreciate our natural resources. SCUBA diving is a great way to remember that our actions above land can affect the thriving life under water!
Puerto Vallarta can be a great place to SCUBA. The water is warm and an incredible color. There are also limestone karsk islands which make a great landscape to dive near. When you go for a SCUBA trip in Puerto Vallarta you aren’t just looking for fish, you’re also getting a great view of an incredible coastline.
6. Take a Boat Ride
Take a boat ride. Just annnnnnnnnnnnny boat ride. Just go.
We took a water taxi from the marina to Nuevo Vallarta. There are other water shuttles to specific areas as well as dedicated boat tours, booze cruises, and fishing trips.
Basically there’s a lot of boats.
The point is that the Puerto Vallarta coast line is really incredible, and you should take advantage of any opportunity to view it! Thanks to their temperate climate, the water temperature is pretty much always perfect. We were there in December in shorts and t-shirts and could have stayed under the sun with a light spray of water alllllllllll day.
BONUS: From December to March many boat rides will catch glimpses of the Humpback Whale migration! We didn’t see any on our short trip across the bay, but I heard reports from many other people that their fishing/ snorkling/ boozing boat ride got them unexpectedly close to the Humpback Whales. Two activities for the price of one! How cool is that?!
7. Eat Street Food.
AKA: Eat all the food. ALL THE FOOD. Come on, it’s Mexico! Does this really need explaining? Ok, ok. I’ll go a little further.
For starters I should point out to NOT DRINK ALL THE DRINKS. Some, sure, but be careful about ones using water. Untreated local water can make you sick! So as far as beverages are concerned choose bottled water (make sure the seal is unbroken) and mixed drinks from a clean, reputable place ONLY!
Eating street food sounds exotic and scary, but it’s the sort of thing that we insist on doing because it heightens our cultural experience. Plus it’s usually much more awesome than ex-pat-operated restaurants. In Puerto Vallarta we tried freshly cut coconut prepared the local way with lime juice, salt, and chili seasonings, coconut water served in a plastic bag, freshly made churros, and lusted after street al pastor tacos.
Don’t be scared, just be careful. Eat foods that seemed prepared in a clean way. Have small bills available. Know how to say numbers in espanol so you can understand the cost. No sweat!
I’m salivating just thinking about it.
8. Take The Bus
I completely understand that this one sounds pretty out there. It’s another thing we always like to try to feel more connected to the local culture, but the bus system in Puerto Vallarta was actually super easy, safe, and pretty fun!
We love the bus system in Puerto Vallarta because it’s a great way to get to your destination, much cheaper than a taxi or Uber, often takes you through new parts of town to enjoy, there’s no awkward chit chat with local drivers, and is fun.
We asked the concierge at our hotel for instructions on where to catch the bus and how to transfer to where we needed to go, then followed the bus on Google Maps with our phones to confirm we were going in the right direction and got off at the right stop. The Only one of the 5 bus trips we went on was slightly full, but even then everyone was respectful of our space and tried to help us get to our destination.
Just be smart. Like eating street food, be careful about using the bus. Keep your wallet, passport, or valuables in a front pocket or zipped tight in a purse, and don’t be confrontational to other people.
Watch our full video on all of the adventurous things to do in Puerto Vallarta for families, plus some gorgeous drone footage of the city and beaches!
If you’re going on a trip to Puerto Vallarta I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you enjoyed doing, too!
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