48 Hours in Puerto Vallarta: The Ultimate Itinerary

Once a small fishing village, Puerto Vallarta rose to prominence in the 1960s when a few major Hollywood stars took a liking to it. Although Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton are gone, Puerto Vallarta remains a major tourist destination known for its beautiful beaches, picturesque cobblestone streets, and fantastic food scene, not to mention its scintillating nightlife. Two days is just enough time to sample these delights while leaving plenty of experiences you’ll want to delve deeper into on a future trip. To help you make the most of your time, we’ve put together an itinerary that features some of the best experiences, restaurants, and nightclubs. Here’s how to spend an unforgettable 48 hours in Puerto Vallarta.

01 of 06

Day 1: Morning

The Seahorse by Rafael Zamarripa on The Malecon in Puerto Vallarta

Douglas Peebles | Getty Images

 

9 a.m.: As soon as you land at Licenciado Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport, find a taxi or your pre-arranged transportation to your hotel. For a stay that’s romantic and luxurious as well as convenient, Villa Premiere is an excellent choice. This adult-only boutique hotel is located just a couple of blocks from Puerto Vallarta’s seaside boardwalk known as the Malecón. This will give you a tranquil spot to return to at the end of your full days exploring this beach town, but you’ll never be too far from the action. 

If you're still feeling some stress leftover from your travels, after the complimentary welcome neck and shoulders massage, any remaining tension will have melted away, and you’ll be ready to start your weekend relaxed and energized. After checking in to your ocean-view room, if you’re feeling peckish, make your way to the hotel’s La Ceiba restaurant for a quick breakfast while enjoying ocean views and breezes.

11 a.m.: Get your bearings with a walk along Puerto Vallarta’s Malecon. This seaside walkway is lined with sculptures, and many local artists set up stalls to display their work along here as well. There are galleries, shops, and restaurants galore, so take your time browsing as you go. Along this walkway you’ll have the chance to take photos of some of Puerto Vallarta’s most iconic landmarks, including the church dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe with its signature crown (which some say is a replica of the crown worn by Empress Carlota, the wife of Maximilian of Hapsburg), and the statue of a boy riding a seahorse.

If you’re feeling energetic and want a birds-eye view of the coastline, climb up to the Matamoros lookout point for a fabulous view of the city and Banderas Bay. This old beacon has been remodeled and now has a viewing platform from which you can see the Romantic Zone. You’ll have to climb up several flights of stairs, but the Instagram-worthy views make it worthwhile.

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02 of 06

Day 1: Afternoon

Souvenir stalls on Cuale Island in Puerto Vallarta

 Blok Photo | Getty Images

1 p.m.: Make your way to Isla Cuale for some shopping. A footbridge leads from the Malecón over the River Cuale and will take you there. Here, you’ll find plenty of shade to escape the heat of the day. This little island has an abundance of trees shading walkways that are chock-full of stalls selling handicrafts and knick-knacks. Pick up some souvenirs to take back with you, then make a quick visit to the small but interesting Museo del Cuale, where you can learn a bit about the ancient history of the area.

3 p.m.: Ask for a table with a view overlooking the river at River Café, and watch the birds flit around and see how many iguanas you can spot in the trees while you enjoy the house guacamole with freshly fried corn chips and a margarita, or perhaps something more substantial if you’ve worked up an appetite from all the walking you’ve done so far today.

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03 of 06

Day 1: Evening

Tacos al Pastor with pineapple and lime

 grandriver | Getty Images

5 p.m.: Puerto Vallarta is famous for its sunsets, so you want to be sure to be in the best place to enjoy the nightly celestial spectacle. Los Muertos beach is an excellent spot. Walk out to the pier and enjoy the views from there, then make your way to the iconic La Palapa restaurant on the beach and sip a cocktail with your feet in the sand while you feast your eyes on the fantastic display.

7 p.m. Although Puerto Vallarta has more than its share of fantastic restaurants, the street food is also excellent and gives you a chance to see how locals live (and eat!). If your Spanish is not great and you’re not familiar with the street food options, it can be daunting, so book a taco tour and you’ll have an expert guide you through the best street food stands in town and you can concentrate on savoring the food, not trying to figure out what to order. The Tacos After Dark Tour by Vallarta Eats starts at 7 p.m. and gives you the chance to try a wide variety of local foods.

11 p.m.: After walking and sampling many different foods, you'll probably want to make it an early night so you'll have plenty of energy to hit the beach tomorrow, but if you want to have a little more fun before turning in, enjoy some live music at Roxy Rockhouse, or Garbo’s Piano & Jazz Bar, both located in the Romantic Zone.

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04 of 06

Day 2: Morning

Pier At Beach Against Sky in Puerto Vallarta

Stephanie Hohmann / EyeEm | Getty Images

8 a.m.: Get an early start this morning, so you have some time to enjoy the beach as well as some other activities on the water. Pack a bag with your bathing suit and a towel, and don’t forget the sunscreen and a hat. Make your way to the Marina area where you can have a delicious and filling breakfast at Mr. Cream, which specializes in pancakes and waffles, but they also have savory options like eggs, bacon, and hashbrowns, or you can try a Mexican breakfast dish such as chilaquiles.
10 a.m.: No trip to Puerto Vallarta is complete without getting out on Banderas Bay, so after breakfast, join an excursion or hire a water taxi to take you to one of the tranquil beaches located to the south of the city. If you’re visiting between December and March, you can make it a whale-watching excursion, but you can see bottlenose dolphins at any time of year. If you choose to do some snorkeling around Los Arcos Marine Park, you’re sure to see many different colorful fish and marine animals. Vallarta Adventures runs various excursions, including a day trip to Las Caletas beach, which was the private beach hideaway of movie director John Huston, and you can participate in a range of water activities or a guided nature walk.

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05 of 06

Day 2: Afternoon

Seafood dishes at a Puerto Vallarta restaurant

 grandriver | Getty Images

2 p.m.: Select a casual palapa restaurant for lunch. Las Animas beach has a selection of beachside restaurants serving fresh seafood. Some of the traditional dishes you can try include a molcajete, which is a volcanic grinding stone, but in this case, it’s filled with meat, seafood, and cheese, covered in a spicy sauce and cooked all together. You can also try some freshly caught fish or a shrimp or octopus dish. Wash it down with a michelada, a beer cocktail with spicy salsa and lime juice, or stick to a more familiar beverage to accompany your beachside meal.

4 p.m.: Spend a fun afternoon taking part in some watersports. Puerto Vallarta offers excellent snorkeling as well as parasailing, jet-skiing, and even stand up paddleboarding. When you tire of the water, take a walk or horseback ride along the beach, or venture into the jungled mountains surrounding the bay. You can ride an ATV or a zip-line while you enjoy scenic views. You may even spot some parrots or other colorful birds. Once you're tired out from your day of fun in the sun, make your way back to Puerto Vallarta and your hotel for a short break before freshening up and heading out again in the evening.

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06 of 06

Day 2: Evening

Sunset at Los Muertos Pier in Puerto Vallarta

Edward Kreis, dK.i imaging | Getty Images

7 p.m: While Puerto Vallarta has a wonderful selection of restaurants, a mainstay since the 1990s is Cafe des Artistes, founded by Chef Thierry Blouet, who has designed a menu that combines the best of Mexican and French cuisine. Sit in the garden surrounded by trees and twinkling fairy lights, or if you prefer an air-conditioned space, inside the elegant dining room. Order the chef's six-course tasting menu so that you can sample a variety of wonderful creations. Be sure to save room for dessert because the Napoleon of Gianduja Chocolate, Orange and Spices is to die for.

11 p.m. If you’re looking for an all-night dance party, Puerto Vallarta has several clubs where you can party the night away. Mandala, La Santa, and La Vaquita are the largest and most popular dance clubs where the music is pumping from midnight until the early hours of the morning. If you’re looking for a more laid-back or less rowdy evening out, you can enjoy the upscale, yet relaxed, atmosphere at Bar Morelos Mezcaleria which caters to a slightly older crowd. It offers tastings of a variety of mezcals and tequilas, as well as a full menu of mixed drinks.

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