Cruise to Puerto Vallarta, México and you’ll be surrounded by the calm waters of the Banderas Bay on one side, and the Sierra Madre Mountain range on the other. On your Panama Canal cruise, Puerto Vallarta may be just one stop of many, but it's not hard to be enamored with its ease and proximity to lush rainforests just beyond the city limits.
Puerto Vallarta blends the vibe of a bucolic Mexican fishing village with a luxurious resort town. Downtown is a hub for nightlife, shopping, and some of the area’s top-rated restaurants. You’ll immediately recognize the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a landmark literally adorned with a crown, jutting out of the Puerto Vallarta skyline. Or head to Los Arcos for a photo op of you and preserved Romanesque arches overlooking the bay. Puerto Vallarta manages to capture everything you’d want in a destination—scenic beaches, plentiful chances for eco-excursions like horseback riding in the mountains, dolphin and whale watching, or swimming and sunbathing at Playa de Los Muertos.
A top on many tours in Puerto Vallarta, the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a symbol of the city—its tower is instantly recognized as the jewel of Puerto Vallarta’s skyline, and the church even features an elaborate sculptured “crown” at the top of the tower, glittering in the midday sunlight from wherever you are. Each year, there’s a 12-day festival honoring Guadalupe in December.
Stretching across 62 miles of blue water and marine life, Banderas Bay is one of the largest bays in all of México, Puerto Vallarta is nestled within. While you’re on a Puerto Vallarta cruise, explore Banderas Bay for sport-fishing and wildlife, including whale watching, or take a boat along the bay, stopping in the small villages to look out at the ocean views.
Whether you’re in a group or by yourself, you can arrange an unforgettable opportunity to swim with dolphins in Puerto Vallarta. Tours are about 40-minutes long and they include plenty of time to play with dolphins and get an understanding for their habits, their quirks, and all the reasons why they’re one of the world’s most unique species. Perfect for kids and animal lovers. The Dolphin Discovery center is about six miles from the cruise port, so a taxi or car is the fastest way to get there.
This beach tends to be crowded and bustling, ideal for an action-packed day of parasailing, water sports, swimming, and more. Playa de Los Muertos is one of the busiest beaches in this part of México, and you’ll find plenty of bars and restaurants near the beach. When you get tired of the sun, seek shelter for a cold drink.
These iconic arches welcome you to Plaza Morelos facing the ocean, and they’re one of Puerto Vallarta’s recognizable structures. Stop to take pictures at Los Arcos before continuing your jaunt down the boardwalk. It’s a free sight, and gives you a chance to look out into the Bay of Banderas as you continue on to cafes, restaurants, or shopping in the plaza.
This neighborhood is also called the “romantic zone” near the pier in Puerto Vallarta. Sculpture installations, street art, and landmarks are easy to find along these walkable, cobblestone streets. Many of the best restaurants in Puerto Vallarta can be found in Olas Altas. Take a walk here for food, shopping, and friendly locals.
This area of México is famous for its tequila, and tasting tours are abundant. You’ll discover tequila and mezcal in new ways, including the history of tequila in the area and the distillation process required. You’ll also learn how to properly sip tequila. A must for foodies and lovers of tequila.
One shore excursion you can organize while on your Puerto Vallarta cruise is horseback riding. You can ride horses at sunset or under waterfalls. Many tours will take you up the hills into foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains, surrounding you with tropical rainforest. There’s no better way to explore this verdant landscape than horseback.
Head on a walking tour of the lush Sierra Madre Mountains just outside of Puerto Vallarta, where you can check out the 1.2 mile trail solo or with a group via tour. This is best for a day-long excursion so you don’t miss anything. After your scenic walk, you can take a dip in the brackish Cuale River, where families often picnic on the weekends.
Café des Artistes
Address: Guadalupe Sanchez 740, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
This is considered one of Puerto Vallarta’s best restaurants—romantic and candlelit, with blown glass hovering and shimmering above the tables. Chef Thierry Blouet brings Latin influence to dishes that require classic French sensibility, like tartar of mahi-mahi with watermelon or the lamb shoulder with crusted pistachios. One way to experience an evening here is with the six course chef tasting menu. You can choose two or three dishes from their bistro menu. Reservations highly recommended.
Mariscos El Coleguita
Address: Calle Popa Loc. 17, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Mariscos El Coleguita is a casual yet intimate experience close to the marina in Puerto Vallarta. They bring tequila to your table where you can get two on-the-house shots. Local seafood like tilapia, white fish, shrimp, and more are staples on the menu. Dessert, like the tequila, is provided—they’ll send fried plantains with a condensed milk for dessert to your table.
Address: Los Muertos Beach, Pulpito 105-3, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
La Palapa is designed to give you gorgeous views of the seaside. It’s one of the upscale options offered in Puerto Vallarta, taking pride in good service and even better food. Their bread and butter are their fresh, seasonal seafood dishes—like the seared salmon or seafood risotto—but they offer plenty of vegetarian and vegan-friendly options, too.
Address: Avenida Los Tules 300, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
You’re probably going to eat a ton of great food while onboard your cruise ship. You might find yourself needing to cleanse or detox from the indulgent desserts or one too many mojitos. Playa Detox brings you nutrient-rich smoothies, juices, soups, and veggies to keep you energetic while you’re stopped on your cruise to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Address: Iturbide 270 Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Vegetarians will find Planeta Vegetariano their haven while in Puerto Vallarta. Because so many Mexican dishes include meat, and the coast brings about a lot of seafood influence, finding vegetarian dishes can be a challenge. The menu changes daily, but there’s almost always a salad bar. Soy carnitas, vegetable lasagna, and soy carnitas are top choices.
What we know about Puerto Vallarta mostly dates back to the 19th century, but there’s evidence of local people interacting with and fighting with Spanish conquistadors as early as the 14th century. In the 19th century, this area was called El Carrizal, then named Las Penas, and the town outgrew its reputation as a fishing village quickly, becoming an integral trading and port city in record time.
In the 1960s and 70s, the Mexican government made necessary provisions and updates to the town’s infrastructure, building an international airport to service the growing tourism economy. 1964 brought Hollywood stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton to Puerto Vallarta as they filmed John Huston’s “The Night of the Iguana,” which propelled Puerto Vallarta into the public eye. In the 1970s, resorts and hotels popped up, introducing more luxury options for travelers in the area. The boom in tourism continued even as recession and poverty crept up in Puerto Vallarta, devaluing the peso in the process. Today, Puerto Vallarta cruises are still bringing a large amount of foot traffic into the city and is still known as a luxury destination and has grown as a destination for LGBTQ travelers, now home to a variety of friendly bars, nightclubs, and beaches.
Your ship will dock three miles from downtown at the Marina Vallarta Maritime Terminal, where you can easily exchange your currency, schedule a tour at a kiosk, or use one of the ATMs to grab some extra pesos.
The bus system in Puerto Vallarta is very efficient, running about every five minutes to destinations across the city. A bus ride will set you back 7.50 pesos, and their system doesn’t allow transfers. Taxis outside the cruise port gate tend to be more affordable than the drivers who roam inside the port. You can walk to get to downtown, or take a taxi for less than $10. Taxis are abundant in the city center. Water taxis are popular to get from the pier at Playa de Los Muertos to the beaches.
The main shopping in Puerto Vallarta can be found in shops, boutiques, and souvenir shacks on Morelos Street. Since the late 1970s, Vallarta’s flea market scene has boomed. The Mercado Rio Cuale is a haggler’s paradise, where handmade goods, jewelry, and Costa Rican clothing are all on sale. Vallarta is also home to a burgeoning arts scene where you can find work from Mexican painters and sculptors for sale. Mexican eateries and affordable food stands are staples of the flea market too.
The official currency in Mexico is the peso (MXN), and one US dollar (USD) is the equivalent of around 19 pesos. Because of the influx of American tourists in Mexico, USD is accepted in a lot of popular tourist spots. However, credit cards aren’t as popularly used in Mexico as they are in the US, so you tend to be better off with carrying cash. When it comes to tipping, it’s definitely encouraged. 15-20% at bars and restaurants is the norm. It’s also polite to tip your tour guides and drivers a few extra dollars.