The Puerto Vallarta lifestyle is a blend of laid-back beach town ambience and international resort living wedged between tropical green mountains and the deep blue Bay of Banderas. The locals call it PV or just Vallarta and it is known widely as the “Jewel of the Mexican Riviera.”
For expats, PV is more than just its magnificent beaches and tourist attractions. The city also is well known for its restaurant scene and a variety of social and cultural events, from concerts to local charity benefits to the annual Puerto Vallarta Film Festival.
If you love the beach, there are plenty of places to love starting with Playa de Los Muertos in Zona Romantica. This is the city’s main beach Vallartans share with visitors. If you get hungry, just amble over to one of the many excellent beachside restaurants.
Farther north, the hotel zone between Centro and the international airport has long strands of beach, but if you are looking for those wide expanses of golden sand that you see in travel brochures, look no farther than the beaches of Nuevo Vallarta and points north. If you love surfing, try the beach in Sayulita. The drive from PV is less than an hour and the town is laid-back fun.
Consider also the beaches south of the city at Mismaloya and Conchas Chinas, as well as the beaches that line the southern shore of the bay, like Yelapa. To access those beaches, though, you will need to take a water taxi or rent a Panga (a small motorboat). Bay cruises also stop at Yelapa for an hour or two each day.
A popular snorkeling spot is Los Arcos National Marine Park, about a 7-mile drive south of PV. You can also whale watch from mid-December through the end of March and often spot dolphins and sea lions.
The Bay of Banderas is Puerto Vallarta’s playground. Any day of the week you can surf fish and deep-sea fish, swim, surf, sailboard, kiteboard, snorkel, scuba dive, kayak, sail and ride a jet ski on Mexico’s largest natural bay. Some of the newer activities include paddle boarding, fly boarding, kite boarding and ziplining. Sitting on the beach sipping a margarita is always a welcome alternative.
If you are a tennis player or golfer, there are a number of excellent courts and courses that ring the bay, including nearly a dozen golf courses, several world-class.
Expats in PV often lead a very active social life. Many belong to the city’s numerous charities, which activities include visiting local hospitals and rural communities to deliver toys to children on January 6 in celebration of El Dia de Los Tres Reyes Magos, or Three King’s Day. Other organizations favored by local expats provide scholarships to high school and university students who have limited resources and high scholastic achievement, and who attend public high school and university in Vallarta. These charities hold events throughout the year.
Another cultural event to observe is Dia de Los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead Festival, which is held at the end of October and the first few days of November. This is when the city of Puerto Vallarta honors the dead and celebrates the life of those who have passed.
Puerto Vallarta also has a well-earned reputation for the quantity and quality of its restaurants. From street-side fish taco stands to upscale dining, you can find just about anything you want at whatever price you are willing to pay. Some of the finest dining can be found in and around the downtown area. Restaurants like Maximillian, Trio and Café des Artiste are elegant and fabulous. Newcomers such as Tre Piatti, Pulpito 116, Boccon di Vino, The Swedes and Mestiza are giving the old favorites a run for their money. But if watching the sun sink slowly and romantically over the bay is your thing, beach restaurants Daiquiri Dick’s and La Palapa in Zona Romantica are hard to beat.
If you are an adventurous eater, try the local pescado embarazado (no, it is not an embarrassed fish). It is fish — usually school shark or marlin — roasted on a stick and served with Salsa Huichol. Also try Birria, which is goat or lamb meat boiled in a picante sauce consisting of cumin, oregano and ginger. It is served with lime, onions and tortillas. Another great dish to try is torta ahogadas, which translates to “drowned sandwiches.” It is made with birote, a local white bread, stuffed with pork pieces (or other meats) drowned in spicy chili and tomato sauce.
Day-to-day shopping for food, clothing, furniture and other consumer products is easy in PV. The large “big box” stores and shopping malls mostly are located in the hotel zone, the marina and Nuevo Vallarta. More traditional Mexican goods are sold in shops and mercados in the city center.
Plaza Galerias Vallarta – a sprawling mall with many stores and a wide variety of consumer choices – and Walmart and Sam’s Club are located across from the cruise ship port in the northern part of the hotel zone. A little farther south in the hotel zone is another large shopping center, Plaza Caracol. Just a few blocks from Plaza Caracol is Costco. Plaza Marina is in Marina Vallarta and the Paradise Plaza shopping center is located in Nuevo Vallarta, about 15 minutes west of the international airport.
If you are looking for local goods and fresh foods, try the public markets in Centro and Mercado Isle Cuale and Mercado Municipal Cuale on or near the Cuale River. All of the major Mexican supermarkets like Soriana and Ley are well represented in PV.
Finally, if you are an art lover, you will love Puerto Vallarta. The city has several art walks each year to show off its wide range of top-notch galleries. Most are located in Centro and Zona Romantica.