If Puerto Vallarta isn’t on your travel bucket list, you need to add it right this minute. This trip was probably in the top three vacations I’ve ever been on. The four other friends that joined me on this wild adventure would agree that it was the trip of a lifetime. We spent five days exploring this beautiful city and were all hit pretty hard with the melancholy feels when it was time to head home. I encourage you to read through this entire post as it is a fantastic read, because by the end you will want to book a flight to Puerto Vallarta immediately. But for those of you who would rather skim through the writing and focus on the stunning pictures, here are the trip highlights and biggest takeaways:
- Puerto Vallarta IS. A. DREAM. If 85-degree weather, tropical climate, warm sands, sparkling oceans, lush palm trees, fresh seafood, mouth-watering street tacos, delicious fruity drinks, really good tequila and a bright, colorful atmosphere aren’t enough to convince you, then please continue on….
- There is so much to do! Whether you vacation just to relax in the sun with a margarita in your hand, or you’re more of the adventurous, outdoorsy vacationer, there are things to please everyone in PV.
- The entire vacation was extremely inexpensive. The American dollar = about 20 pesos (Mexican currency). To give you an idea of how affordable things are in Puerto Vallarta, most margaritas range from 30-60 pesos (so about $2-3) depending on how boujie of an establishment you’re at. So you can feel guilt-free for ordering that second round (or third or fourth.)
- Transportation is also incredibly cheap. They DO have Uber in PV; each ride was about 45-65 pesos to go 3-4 miles. Taxis are just slightly more, but still very inexpensive. You can also barter with the taxi drivers for a cheaper price if you feel they’re cheating you (they’re not metered like taxis in the US).
- Street tacos are on every corner. Yes, it’s likely to get sick from eating too many street tacos, but we got lucky. No one in our group got sick the whole trip!
- Tequila is plentiful, and it’s the real stuff too. None of that artificially-flavored tequila. Real, fresh agave. And people offer it to you like its water.
- The locals are extremely friendly, inviting and genuinely hilarious.
- Speaking Spanish is helpful, but not essential. Two people in our group speak Spanish semi-fluently, which helped in a few situations, but you can still get around and converse knowing minimal Spanish. Most people know enough English to have a simple conversation.
- Don’t drink the tap water. Bottled water is the way to go! You can brush your teeth and shower in the water but try not to swallow, it could make you really sick.
- You will constantly be bombarded by beach vendors trying to sell you anything from little trinkets to back massages. I was constantly having to tell them “no gracias,” because there are so many of them and they won’t leave you alone. But if you do see something you like that they’re trying to sell you, it’s an easy way to practice your bartering skills.
Here’s a helpful map of all the places you will read about below:
WHERE WE STAYED
The most gorgeous Airbnb ever! Here’s a link to the exact condo. The complex is called Icon Vallarta and I can’t recommend staying at this residence enough. You get all the amenities of an all-inclusive hotel without the crazy resort prices. We had five people in our group and this condo was more than enough space for us; it could easily sleep 8-10. The towers are just steps from the beach with relaxing ocean front pools, views of the entire bay and part of the city (from our 16th floor condo in Tower 3) and the complex is very safe and secure. Icon even has its own beachfront bar and lounge area! The complex is about a 10-15 minute uber/taxi drive (or a 45-minute romantic sandy beach stroll) from the main Puerto Vallarta boardwalk and Old Town.
Merely moments after we arrived, we quickly unpacked, threw on our bikinis and raced down to the beach front bar to enjoy coronas in the sand like a stereotypical commercial scene you’d watch during super bowl Sunday. The staff were all friendly and so helpful (especially the condo greeter Marcos and the bartender Antonio). I could go on with my wonderful comments, but you can see for yourself:
WHAT TO DO
If you want to spend the entire day being pampered and sipping fruity beverages on the beach….
Make your way to Sapphire Ocean Club on Playa Los Muertos. For a very affordable price (I think 60 pesos/person, so $3) you have all-day access to their lounge chairs, umbrellas & cabanas, towels (so you don’t have to lug your own), a swimming pool and excellent food & beverage menus. They even have an on-call masseuse if you’re in need of a good rub down. I highly recommend ordering the chips & guac, some of the best guac I’ve ever had. #AChipOffTheOl’Guac
I was reppin’ my Portland Trail Blazers “Rip City” shirt at Sapphire (this was the day they beat the Denver Nuggets to advance to the Western conference finals, holla!) But don’t these pics make you want to teleport to this exact spot?!
In need of a few new bathing suits for your own tropical vacation? Check out my post on the best suits of the season here: 25 swimsuits under $100!!
If you want to learn about the history of Puerto Vallarta and go shopping….
Head into Old Town! The main town square, where you’ll find the iconic Catholic Church (Parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe), is in the heart of Old Town and there are so many street vendors and cute shops to explore. You’ll also find art galleries, museums and monuments where you can learn all about this history of Puerto V. Bonus tip: want to have an incredible meal right in the sand near Old Town? Wander a few blocks north to El Barracuda to enjoy the most romantic beach dinner (or just a very enjoyable beach dinner if you’re with your buds).
If you want to go out dancing…
Note that Puerto Vallarta is extremely gay-friendly (which we LOVED) so a handful of the clubs we went to are gay clubs. But some of my most memorable nights have been at gay clubs. Here’s a list of the party spots you should check out:
Mandala, Zoo & La Vaquita are the biggest and the most clubby. Think Vegas-style lights and theatrics, but with more Mexican flair. They play a mix of Spanish & American Top 40 hits. All three are right next to each other facing the main boardwalk right along the beach.
If you want something a little less clubby but still want to get your groove on, check out Mr. Flamingo or Co-De. Both are notorious gay clubs. Smaller atmospheres but so much fun. We shut down Mr. Flamingo on a Tuesday night around 2:45am dancing our butts off to J-LO and Britney, bitch. And we felt oh so fabulous!
For reference, here are a few ideas for your nighttime attire. It’s still wonderfully warm at night, which is just the best feeling ever (especially if you’re visiting from somewhere in the PNW where it gets quite cold at night). Here’s a link to the tropical wrap dress I’m wearing in the left pic below!
If you’re looking for a wild jungle adventure….
Doing a zip-lining tour is a MUST. We booked our tour day through Los Veranos Canopy Tours, which I would highly recommend. You can find deals if you go through a third-party booking company, but we booked ours directly on the Los Veranos website for $99/person. Pro tip: If you book 48 hours in advance you get 15% off (so $85/person).
Our zip line guides were hilarious and made everyone feel safe throughout the course of the day. Our adventure started with a very thrilling 25-minute speed boat ride across the bay to a very secluded beach town surrounded by jungle foliage. Then a tour van drove us another 10 minutes up into the lush hills and dropped us off at the Los Veranos Adventure Park area. After a very entertaining instructional guide to zip lining from the staff, we took off on foot even higher up into the treetops and began our exhilarating zipping experience. There are 15 zip lines ranging in height and speed, and if you’re afraid of heights I probably would sit the zipping out. But I’m a bit of an adrenaline junky so I loved every minute of it.
After zipping, there are a number of activities you can choose to do before you end the day with a tequila tasting! We had lunch and enjoyed freshly-made drinks (get the passion fruit rum beverage!) before heading to the wildlife sanctuary to feed monkeys, toucans and a very sassy macaw. Then we took a dip in the river and explored some of the local surroundings. The tequila tasting was great – even if tequila isn’t your favorite alcohol, you’ll learn a lot about how tequila is made and a few of the options are flavored, so you may be surprised and actually like it!
* Note: You don’t have cell service while in the depths of the jungle. The entire tour takes about 5-6 hours, so be prepared to fully enjoy your no-phone life.
Another pro tip: They have a special photographer who takes photos and videos of you while you’re zipping, but it’s super expensive to purchase the content. They don’t recommend bringing your phone on the zip lining part of the adventure, but if you have pockets that zip (or wear a fanny pack) bring your phone / camera to snap some pics yourself. I made the mistake of not doing this, so I don’t have any pictures since I didn’t want to pay $90 (American) for the zipping photos they took.
Doesn’t this look like the #BestDayEver?!
If you’re in search for the best tacos…
Look no further than Tacos Arandas. We ate here three times in 48 hours. Yes, we tried a few other taco spots too, but these were by far the best.
TBH you can find street tacos on literally every corner, but some are safer than others. I’ve heard horror stories of very sick visitors eating at the wrong local taco stand and ruining their vacation. So if you want real authentic tacos without the chance of getting terribly ill, go here.
If you’re looking to get out of the city….
Take a day trip to the gorgeous surf town of Sayulita! We took a busy, un-airconditioned bus, which was a fun adventure; travel time: about an hour and a half. You can also Uber, which may be more comfortable and get you there quicker, but the bus was only 50 pesos, whereas an Uber would cost you at least 500 pesos.
Right after we arrived in Sayulita, we stopped for lunch at Organi-K where I blissfully enjoyed a fresh acai bowl while watching the local people from the cafe deck. I remember that moment so perfectly, thinking how relaxed and at peace I was with everything in the world right then and there…
We spent an entire day in Sayulita, mostly soaking up sun on the beach, and wished we had another day to spend exploring the quaint, colorful town. Known for its giant waves, Sayulita attracts many surfers which attributes to the town’s chill vibe. The main beach was packed with people but it seemed like the majority were locals.
Once the sun began to set, we made our way into the main town square and enjoyed some pre-dinner drinks (at a restaurant I cannot seem to find on Google maps, sorry!) before our reservations at Sayulita Cafe Casa del Chile Relleno (our waiter on the beach recommended it!) It’s safe to say that our meals were so delicious, we ate them before we could take photos to prove how incredible they were. But in case you were wondering, I ordered the shrimp fajitas and they were out of this world. And, we were all given a complimentary shot of tequila! We were enjoying our night so much that before we knew it, it was 11pm – the buses stop running at 10pm. So we had to track down a taxi to take us back to Puerto Vallarta, which cost about 700 pesos ($35 split between four people, not bad for an hour’s drive!) We all were so charmed by Sayulita!
and if you want to get some seriously incredible sunset pics that make your friends jealous…..
You can basically do that anywhere, but my advice is find the nearest beach and a buddy to take pics with. We saw some breathtaking sunsets, each night was a different kind of wonderful. Here’s just a few to pique your interest even more:
As I’m writing this post and reminiscing about our trip, I’m longing to return to Puerto Vallarta. I’ve been to other parts of Mexico (well, Cabo Spring Break 2015, which was a wilddddd time), but I enjoyed the vibe of PV a lot better. You can bet I’ll be back within the next few years, possible with the same exact group because we traveled together so seamlessly (shout out to you Elena, Sav, Paulo and Sir Jordan!)
If you are planning your own trip to PV and have any other questions please ask away! If I can help you have the same trip-of-a-lifetime experience as we did my heart will be happy.
As always, thank you for reading!! XOXO