After spending a week in the beach town of Puerto Vallarta, I feel like I can make a fair judgement on the coastal city.
It’s just not for me.
While we were planning our travels through Mexico, we wanted to include a beach area somewhere in our travels. Touching three bodies of water – the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea – we had our choice of places. Between the two of us, Rachel and I have been to the Yucatán peninsula several times, so we have a solid idea of what places like Cancún and Tulum would offer.
From a logistics standpoint, three places made (sort of) sense in relation to the rest of our map – Puerto Escondido, La Paz, and Puerto Vallarta. After reading some blogs and watching some videos, we chose the latter because of the supposed art scene and proximity of hiking.
Here’s our viewpoint after a week-plus in PV.
Our initial travels to Puerto Vallarta didn’t go as planned. Actually, a few things were messy to begin the stay…
Firstly, our flight out of Oaxaca was delayed, causing us to miss the connecting flight to PV. The airline was unapolgetic and we were essentially left with a Starbucks giftcard and 7 hours to kill (thankfully my insulin cooler is tested for 36 hours) at the airport.
Second, we opted to stay in a local neighborhood to get a feel for what living here would be like. This put us a good bit of distance from the “what-to-do” section of the city. The closest grocery store was about a 40-minute, roundtrip walk from our Airbnb and everything else around us was really just housing.
Numero tres, this was really just another misfortunate fluke, but it did impact our initial impression. Our flight into Puerto Vallarta hit us with a change in weather. We went from a cool, dry morning in Oaxaca to a muggy, hot night in PV. Dressed with our warmest clothes to save weight in our bags, we were miserably hot and sweaty by the time we got to our new Airbnb. I went to rinse off and get ready for bed, but when I went to hop into the shower, the water trickle, trickle, trickled out of the spout. Uh-oh. The hot side dripped out cold water and the cold handle only added more coldness. I managed to get clean enough. We messaged our hosts in the morning and they had a plumber out to fix the shower a couple days later. Problem fixed.
What We Didn’t Like
We chose Puerto Vallarta because of a supposed art scene that could be found on the Malecón. After our long walks here, we only found bad souvenir shops and over-priced boardwalk restaurants. The vibe here was much more centered on shops for spring breakers and food for non-adventurous families. Dodge the caravans of energetic kids, controlling parents that somehow helicopter over their families yet are oblivious to everyone else, and slow-trailing grandparents. The sculptures are cool, but you see them and move on (the quick Papantla flying men show is pretty cool though.) This wasn’t our vibe.
When at the beach, you should go to the beach. Right? We tried a few different ones and have pretty consistent good things to say about them. Whiteish sand, not a lot of rocks, and the waves are calm without being boring. The downside is that they face west, meaning they get a lot of shade from the buildings and trees that border the sand. This might be fine for some, but we enjoy drying in the sunshine. Some of the beaches we stopped by were:
- Playa Los Muertos – busy af
- Playa Gemelas – almost no section is safe from the tide.
- Playa Colomitos – pretty small for how busy it gets.
- Playa Las Animas – this one was actually nice although it was getting busier as the day went on.
There just wasn’t much to do. There’s a lot of restaurants and hotels, but once you’ve chosen one, you don’t really hop around between them. Unless you’re looking for really bad shirts, once you’ve seen one shop, you’ve essentially seem them all.
What We Did Like
We tried to like PV and a few things came about that were either fun or rewarding. There are some nice hikes nearby, albeit you need to find transportation to them either via Uber or the bus.
We did a hike one morning from Boca de Tomatlan to Playa Las Animas. This involved taking a 15-minute Uber from our Airbnb to Zona Romantica (~$100MXN) then catching a 40-minute bus to Boca de Tomatlan ($10MXN/pp.) Once there, the hike was really nice. It’s listed as moderate-to-intermediate, but there are some inclines and scrambles that may get you tired. It gets easier as you go. Head back the river to a pedestrian bridge, then hug the path closest to the shoreline. The path is well-worn and you pass several beaches where you could hang out for a while.
The street art is cool and ever-changing. A lot of it was created with the initiative of bringing awareness to an attempt at restoring the local coral. There’s also a really nice viewpoint called the Mirador el Cerro de la Cruz that gives an incredible view of the city. It’s worth sweating your way up here.
The most fun we had was walking (even though it’s not a super walkable city with the amount of traffic) and eating amazing tacos al pastor at the small, roadside stops that opened around 7pm.
There’s a market on Saturday mornings called Olas Altas as well where you can find more unique items and tasty food. We got some pretty good pad thai and pallela. It’s marketed as a farmers market but its a bit more posh than that.
I’m sure Puerto Vallarta is fun if you fit a few specific demographics, but we didn’t fall into any of their target categories and felt like we missed out on an opportunity to further explore the city we just came from – Oaxaca – or another city we were going to explore next.
5 Things We Liked About Puerto Vallarta
- Hiking from Boca de Tomatlan to Las Animas.
- Hiking up to the Mirador de la Cruz.
- Checking out the street art.
- Eating all of the street tacos.
- Shopping at the Olas Atlas farmers market.
5 Things We Didn’t Like About Puerto Vallarta
- The Malecón was too busy and full of tacky shops and restaurants.
- The beaches were all at the mercy of the shade, the tides, or the crowds.
- Once you’ve walked to the Malecón or to Zona Romantica, you’ve seen it.
- There’s a lack of real culture that we found. It’s a touristy beach destination. Nothing wrong with that; it just wasn’t for us.
- For having to walk everywhere, it isn’t very pedestrian friendly.