Puerto Vallarta is found on Bahia de Banderas (Bay of the Flags), on the Pacific Ocean. This is Mexico's largest natural bay and full of beautiful beaches from Sayulita in the north to Yelapa in the south.
The Bahia de Banderas region not only includes Puerto Vallarta, but a host of other, less known areas of beauty near the resort. Most people who adventure outside of the resort head south for the beautiful beaches of Las Animas, Quimixto & Yelapa via boat or the famous jungle spots surrounding Puerto Vallarta.
What many don't know is if you head north into Nayarit and past Nuevo Vallarta, you'll find a less touristy area with stunning beaches and small Mexican villages. Downtown or Old Town also offers some great walking tours including Gringo Gulch and Isla Cuale. Any choice you make will be a good one as Puerto Vallarta offers many sights to see.
Eden & Chino's Paradise
You'll find these exotic locations just inland along the small rivers which empty into the bay. Eden is inland from Mismaloya & Chino's is inland from Boca de Tomatlan. In both spots you'll find restaurants with good food and tropical jungle views. After eating you can crawl around the boulders and sun yourself or take a refreshing dip in the stream. Upstream from Eden there are usually a couple of pools to swim in and relax in this tropical paradise.
A bit farther upstream from Chino's is Chico's Paradise, another of these fantastic spots in the hills of Puerto Vallarta. The only problem is getting there and returning. If you don't have your own transportation, you'll have to either catch a cab or a bus heading through. Inquire in town before you leave.
Boca de Tomatlan
Is a small beach and fishing village located just beyond Mismaloya. The small cove is surrounded by steep, jungle covered hills and is a great place to catch a boat for Yelapa or the other small villages down the coast or to just relax and watch the day go by.
The former neighborhood of Liz Taylor & Richard Burton, Gringo Gulch was, and still to a point, an American/ Canadian enclave. It is located in hills above Old Town. Casa de Elizabeth, formerly Elizabeth Taylor's house & now a bed and breakfast, gives tours on Sunday mornings. Richard Burton built a bridge above the street connecting his home to hers.
An island in the middle of Rio Cuale, this scenic spot features shops, restaurants, a small park and the Museo Arqueologia with its various exhibits on the area and Mexico.
Much of Puerto Vallarta's life focuses on the Malecon and adjacent El Plaza de Armas. With sweeping views of the bay, the Malecon becomes popular with families and tourists near sunset. It is also home to many of the cities famous statues, such as the city landmark, "Boy on a Seahorse", sculpted by Ramiz Barquet. The plaza or zocalo is the center for various activities. Government offices can be found here including the Tourism office.
Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe
This church looks much older than it is. It was completed in 1951 and crowned with a unique steeple, which some say was modeled after Maximillian's wife Carlotta, who wore a crown with a similar design. Whether or not this is true, Guadalupe Cathedral is one of the most photographed churches in Mexico. You'll find it near the Plaza.
Yelapa, Las Animas & Quimixto
Long a famous day trip from Puerto Vallarta, Yelapa has become a must on most tourist's lists. There are no roads in, making this destination only accessible by boat. The small bay and little village is perfect for a change of pace. There are many restaurants to enjoy a meal, you can swim or hike or even vist the Cola de Caballo waterfalls. If you are feeling adventurous and pine for the 'silence' of falling asleep to the lapping of small waves on the shore, you can arrange to spend the night in Yelapa. It is recommended to make arrangements before you arrive.
The two small villages of Las Animas & Quimixto, on the southern edge of the bay, are almost the same. You'll find a somewhat more relaxed feeling than Yelapa as these villages receive less tourists. Each has long sandy beaches and small palapa restaurants serving seafood to its daily visitors. Quimixto also has a small waterfall. Both villages are excellent for getting away from lively Puerto Vallarta, even if for only the day, and you'll find various boat tours in town to get you there.
The Beaches of Puerto Vallarta
Playa de Los Muertos, just south of Rio Cuale, is the main beach in Puerto Vallarta with hotels & restaurants lined up along it's shoreline. It's sandy expanse is popular with tourists and locals alike. A small pier to the north begins the start of Playa de Olas Atlas, really an extension of Playa de Los Muertos. A rather quiet beach, Playa Camarones, is found to the north of the malecón.
To the south of Old Town is Mismaloya and it's fine, but small beach. The La Jolla de Mismaloya resort and a string of palapa-thatched restaurants. The set of Night of the Iguana, the movie which sparked the romance of Liz Taylor & Richard Burton in the early 60's, not to mention the tourism boom, is found on the point to the south. You'll find a restaurant and gift shop there.
Farther to the south is Boca de Tomatlan, and the little fishing village of the same name along the jungle-fringed shore. Here you can catch a boat for the famous beaches of the southern end of the bay.
Las Animas, Quimixto & Yelapa
These famous, idyllic beaches are the end of the line for most boat tours from Puerto Vallarta and Boca de Tomatlan. In fact, the only way to get here is by boat.
Playa Las Animas is the closest beach to Puerto Vallarta and is perfect for swimming and snorkeling. Playa Quimixto is the next beach to the south. The lush palm groves and pristine beach offer the idyllic tropical beach scene of most advertising campaigns for tropical locations. On horseback you can head for a nearby waterfall and swimming hole. You'll find spartan lodgings and a few restaurants.
Yelapa is by far the most popular beach destination on Bahia de Banderas. This classic Bohemian, seaside cove is pure paradise. The nearby village has a South Seas atmosphere. Several beachfront restaurants serve the incoming day visitors and overnighters. A waterfall named Cola de Caballo (Horsetail Falls) is one of the attractions of this relaxing village. It's about a 20 minute hike into the jungle and falls over 100 feet, depending on the amount of water from seasonal rain.
About a third of the population is made up of American and Canadian snowbirds. There is also lodging available for those who wish to spend a night or two.
Beaches of Nayarit
To the north of Marina Vallarta, Bahia de Banderas is split by the state of Nayarit. Nuevo Vallarta, a beachfront section of newer hotels has classic sand beach perfect for sun worshiping or water activities.
Bucerías is a small beachfront town with a relaxed atmosphere, American and Canadian vacation and retirement homes and a lovely beach. the small village makes for a great getaway from Puerto Vallarta.
Turtles nest on the beaches around La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. There is a turtle center here and you can view the sanctuary from a viewing stand as well as receive information on the turtles.
Beaches along the Malecon
Puerto Vallarta's landmark cathedral
Pangas anchored at Mismaloya
Playa de Los Muertos
The Village of Yelapa