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Puerto Vallarta Geography

Image credit: Sergunt | Thinkstock
Image credit: Sergunt | Thinkstock

Puerto Vallarta is wedged between the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains and the Bay of Banderas in the Mexican state of Jalisco. The Bay of Banderas, or Bay of Flags in English, is Mexico’s largest natural bay and has over 50 miles of shoreline.

The city sits on a narrow coastal plain that widens to the north, reaching its widest point along the Ameca River, which separates the state of Jalisco from the state of Nayarit. Three rivers – the Ameca, Cuale and Pitillal – flow from the mountains to the bay.

Beyond Puerto Vallarta, a number of smaller villages and towns ring the Bay of Banderas, from Cabo Corrientes on the southwest tip of the bay to Punta Mita on the northwest tip.

Puerto Vallarta has many Colonias (neighborhoods) but mainly is divided into three major districts.

The hotel zone stretches along the bay from the downtown area north to the international airport and is lined with hotels, condominiums and shopping centers. You will find all of the major brand name hotels and familiar retailers like Walmart and Costco in this area. On the northern end of the hotel zone is Puerto Vallarta’s marina. Residential housing spreads east from the hotel zone to the mountains.

Centro is the downtown shopping and dining area just south of the hotel zone and north of the Cuale River. The city’s mile-long malecon (boardwalk) separates the bay from Centro’s charming cobblestone streets and shops. Puerto Vallarta’s iconic Our Lady of Guadalupe church rises above shops and homes that climb up the side of the hills above Centro.

On the south side of the Cuale River, Zona Romantica, or the romantic zone, is known for its shopping and laid-back beachfront restaurants. The malecon crosses the Cuale on a footbridge and spills into a row of condominiums, restaurants and shops that stretch beyond Playa Los Muertos beach. South of Zona Romantica, some of the most desirable condos and homes in Puerto Vallarta are strung along the southern beaches and up the hillsides overlooking the bay.

Like most of mainland Mexico, Puerto Vallarta observes Central Standard Time, including many of the cities on or near the Bay of Banderas in the Mexican state of Nayarit. When you cross the Ameca River just northwest of the international airport you will be in the state of Nayarit. Puerto Vallarta and the Bay of Banderas area switches to daylight saving time the first Sunday in April and returns to Central Standard Time the last Sunday in October.