Besides its many artificially constructed attractions, Puerto Vallarta and its surrounding regions offer a host of natural marvels. For lovers of the great outdoors, here are a few that are especially notable.
Around Puerto Vallarta and the Bay of Banderas, be sure to do some snorkeling at the Los Arcos sea rocks and underwater sanctuary offshore at Mismaloya. Best access is by day cruise from the maritime terminal cruise ship dock. Farther afield, if you have the time, be sure to go on a day cruise for whale-, dolphin-, and bird-watching at the Islas Marietas.
Farther north, San Blas provides a stage for a number of unmissable bird- and wildlife-watching opportunities in its fauna-rich mangrove hinterland. At the very least, take the jungle-river boat tour to La Tovara spring.
Also from San Blas, plan a two- or three-day excursion to two-square-mile offshore Isla Isabel, the wildlife-rich cone of an extinct volcano and a government eco-study center.
Surfing enthusiasts can find plenty of action in the Puerto Vallarta region. The best surfing conditions customarily occur during the late summer–early fall, when Pacific hurricanes sometimes drive huge swells ashore at many favorite spots along the coast.
Surfers know many other good local spots, north and south of Puerto Vallarta: On the Bay of Banderas’s north shore, Punta el Burro and El Faro (good intermediate and advanced breaks, at Punta Mita, near the lighthouse, Accion Tropical surfing lessons, tel. 329/291-6633); on the Nayarit Coast, Sayulita, Playa el Naranjo (beginning and intermediate, Luna Azul surfing lessons, tel. 329/291-2009), and Matanchén. On the Bay of Banderas’s south shore, try Boca de Tomatlán and Quimixto for intermediate breaks.
On the Jalisco Coast, go to Ipala and Las Peñitas (intermediate to advanced, on the Cabo Corrientes coast south of Tehualmixtle), Playa el Tecuán, Playa la Manzanilla (intermediate to advanced breaks), and Barra de Navidad (beginning and intermediate, at the jetty).
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Puerto Vallarta, 7th edition