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Between the hike-friendly foothills of the Sierra Madres and 26 miles of supersoft sand, you'll find Puerto Vallarta, a charming town set along the horseshoe-shape Banderas Bay, with both ocean and mountain diversions.
Zigzag through the streets of Viejo Vallarta (Old Town), past the Baroque-style Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, topped with a golden crown. Listen to mariachi melodies in palm-shaded plazas or just people-watch while you stroll the seaside boardwalk, the Malecón. Find locally made leather huaraches (sandals) and bright sarapes (shawls) at the main flea market, Mercado Municipal, then catch a little culture at the Mexican Fiesta, with its folkloric dancing, clowns, piñatas, and fireworks (vallartadiscovery.com). Basilio Badillo (known as Restaurant Row) is where you'll find the bustling Café de Olla; stop in for authentic fare like enchiladas and quesadillas. Outside of town you can take a horseback ride (ranchoelcharro.com) or visit a turtle camp—in August visitors can release hatchlings into the sea (ecotoursvallarta.com). And to the south, in the town of Mismaloya, Zoologico de Vallarta has white Bengal tigers, and guests can hand-feed giraffes and other animals (zoologicodevallarta.com). Or take an hour-long boat ride to Las Caletas to relax in beach hammocks overlooking amazing vistas (vallarta-adventures.com).
Where to Stay
The centrally located 236-room Buenaventura Grand Hotel & Spa has three pools and a giant Jacuzzi. Rates start at $135 and kids under 12 stay free (hotelbuenaventura.com.mx). The small and simple Hotel Playa Conchas Chinas, also within walking distance of Puerto Vallarta's commercial zone, has kitchenettes and a pool—as well as a great view of the bay (conchaschinas.com, from $99).
Spend an afternoon on the city's south side at Playa de Los Muertos, a bustling beach where musicians and dancers perform and bodybuilders strut their stuff.