Puerto Vallarta, Mexico is THE perfect destination getaway. There’s so much to enjoy in the city center, you may never want to leave. But you’d be missing out if you didn’t do some exploring and include a few day trips from Puerto Vallarta. This Pacific coastal area is full of charming small towns, pristine beaches and secret coves. Here’s a few of my favorites.
This post contains affiliate links which means I may earn a commission if you book or buy something through a link I provide. This keeps Southerner Says online and on the road. Thank you for your support.
Puerto Vallarta has always been a popular area for vacationing Mexicans. However, it was the famous movie, Night of the Iguana, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the 1960’s, that put this region of Mexico – and Puerto Vallarta – in the spotlight for Americans. Suddenly, everyone wanted to visit.
What To Do in Mismaloya
Although, the movie set is long gone, you can still visit the golden sand beaches that Elizabeth and Richard rolled around on in the movie. Mismaloya is an idyllic spot located on a gorgeous bay, surrounded by jungles that spill into the ocean. Because the bay is somewhat protected, it’s perfect for swimming, kayaking and stand up paddling.
While you’re in Mismaloya, visit Los Arcos National Marine Park. The park is right off the coast. In fact you can see the large rocks that form Los Arcos right from the beach in Mismaloya. The park has underwater caves and a small reef for snorkeling and scuba. Ask one of the many boat captains along the beach about taking a tour.
If the water activities aren’t your thing, then just pick one of the bountiful chairs on the beach and take it easy for the day. Mismaloya is perfect for relaxing and enjoying a meal right from your beach chair or table. Hire a local musician for a few songs and practice self-care and get a massage. I promise, the only thing you’ll have to worry about all day is moving your chair when the tide comes in.
Getting to Mismaloya
Mismaloya is 8 miles south of Vallarta. If you don’t have a car, take the orange and white bus at the corner of Basilio Badillo y Constitucion in the Romatic Zone. The fare is less than $.50 (8 pesos) one way. Get off at the Mismaloya Beach stop. There will be a cobblestone street that leads to the beach. You could also go by taxi or Uber. By car, take Hwy 200 south of of downtown to Mismaloya.
Boca De Tomatlan
Further south down the coast from Puerto Vallarta, is Boca de Tomatlan or Boca as the locals call it. It’s exactly what you picture in your mind a small Mexican fishing village should be. Besides fishing, Boca is where tourists and locals alike, go to catch the water taxi to the southern beaches that aren’t easily accessible by road.
What to do in Boca
Boca is a good starting point for several day trips from Puerto Vallarta but you could also just spend a day there fishing or boating. There are plenty of pangas – or boats – for hire to take you out sightseeing if you prefer a private tour.
There are a few restaurants, with tables right on the sand, in Boca. They each have their own colored umbrellas and are ready to serve up the freshest fresh catch of the day.
One of the restaurants – not on the beach – that I keep reading about is Ocean Grill. I haven’t had a chance to visit but from what I’ve read, it’s quite the experience, only accessible by boat. After making reservations to dine there, the owners send a boat to pick you up and take you to the restaurant. Sounds wonderful!
Getting to Boca de Tomatlan
Boca de Tomatlan is located 15 miles south of Vallarta. If you don’t have a car, take the orange and white bus at the corner of Basilio Badillo y Constitucion in the Romatic Zone. The fare is less than $.50 (8 pesos) one way. Get off at the Boca de Tomatlan stop and walk the short distance to the beach. You could also get there by taxi or Uber. By car, take Hwy 200 south of of downtown to Boca.
If you really want to get off the beaten path for the day – or longer – then take one of the water taxis from Boca de Tomatlan and head further south down the coast to Yelapa. The fact that it’s only accessible by boat only adds to it’s charm.
What To Do in Yelapa
Yelapa is the prettiest little village on a crescent shaped beach. It looks like a postcard come to life. Because it’s divided by a river that flows out of the jungle, in addition to all the usual fun beach activities, if you follow the river inland, you’ll wind up at a beautiful waterfall and swimming hole.
Yelapa has plenty of beachside restaurants – my favorite is Juanitos – that will set you up with a chair and umbrella and serve you food or drinks for as long as you are there.
Besides it’s beauty, Yelapa is probably most famous for the pie or “pay” made there. Yes, I said pie. For almost thirty years, the pie lady of Yelapa has been making pies and selling them on the beach. Try one or try them all. There’s chocolate, coconut or cheese and I’ve read, there’s a lime flavor. I’m dying to try that one.
Getting to Yelapa
Yelapa is located about 30 minutes by water taxi from Boca. From Puerto Vallarta you can take the orange and white bus at the corner of Basilio Badillo y Constitucion in the Romatic Zone. The fare is less than $.50 (8 pesos) one way.
Get off in Boca de Tomatlan stop and once you walk into town just ask someone on the beach about the water taxi to Yelapa. The water taxis leave Boca every hour. Roundtrip fare is $180 pesos or about $10 USD. It’s a little cheaper if you pay the roundtrip price.
From Puerto Vallarta
If you would rather not travel to Boca de Tomatlan by bus to catch the water taxi, you can hire a boat around the pier at Los Muertos beach in Vallarta. There are also plenty of tour kiosks on the malecón offering organized tours. Or book through Viator.com. I’ve linked some tours below.
Sayulita is a hip little beach town located to the north of Puerto Vallarta in the neighboring state of Nayarit. It’s an easy day trip from Puerto Vallarta but I would recommend staying at least a couple of days. I spent two days in Sayulita and had a great time getting to know it.
What To Do in Sayulita
Sayulita has a laid back, easy vibe so, take a yoga class or head to a spa in town. For those that like to do something more active. Sayulita’s location of the coast is one of the prime place to learn to surf. It’s also a very artsy town full of art galleries and shops featuring locally handmade items.
Get out of the center and go exploring. The area around Sayulita has plenty of hidden beaches. Rent a golf cart or an ATV and see what you can find.
Getting to Sayulita
Sayulita is located about 25 miles north of Puerto Vallarta. It takes about an hour to get there. You can travel to Sayulita by Uber, taxi or bus. If you choose to go by bus, catch the green and white Compostela bus from the airport or from the bus stop in front of Walmart. Look for a bus that has Sayulita written on the windshield. The fare one way is 35 pesos or about $2 USD. A Uber should cost about $30 USD one way.
One of the most exciting day trips from Puerto Vallarta is an organized tour to las Islas Marietas or the Marieta Islands. The islands are located a few miles off the coast of Nayarit but are easily accessible from Puerto Vallarta. The island’s most famous feature is the crater like Hidden Beach. The islands are also home to the blue footed booby. Las Islas Marietas are one of the only places outside the Galapagos Islands where you will find it.
What to do at las Islas Marietas
Getting out on the water is one of the best ways to get to know Puerto Vallarta and it’s natural treasures. Besides kayaking, stand up paddle and snorkeling around las Islas Marietas, the boat ride to the islands across the Bay of Banderas is an excellent opportunity for spotting whales and other wildlife. .
getting to the marieta islands
Book a tour to las Islas Marietas with a reputable company at one of the tour kiosks along the malecón or online through a tour company. You can read more about my personal experience in this article about Visiting las Islas Marietas on a Tour.
Day Trips From Puerto Vallarta
All of these day trips from Puerto Vallarta could be done on your own, with the exception of Marieta Island tour. Only licensed tour operators are allowed to give tours of the islands. So, the next time you visit Puerto Vallarta, spend some time outside the city and explore a few of the smaller, less crowded Pacific beaches of Jalisco and Nayarit. Getting there is just half the fun.
Tips For the Best Day Trip From Puerto Vallarta
- Head out early to avoid crowds and tours on the days that cruise ships are in port.
- If you ride the bus, have pesos and change. Even exact change is very helpful.
- Most of the water taxis are covered, but if you don’t want to be in the sun on your trip, make sure your boat is a covered boat.
- For your safety, make sure your boat has personal floatation devices.
- If you travel by boat and are prone to getting seasick, you might want to take something or try the wristbands to prevent motion sickness.
- Take a waterproof bag or backpack so you’ll have a place for your belongings and help them stay dry. I like this bag. Good size but a little pricey. I have one I bought in Iceland when I was there and I’ve never found anything like it in the states. This one is more affordable.
- If you’d like to have a backpack plus a cooler on your day trips then RTIC makes a very good affordable one that can be packed in a suitcase or even this small soft-sided one is handy.
- The boats can be wet so you’ll probably want a good beach towel for your lounge chair or the sand. This one is good and these microfiber ones are great for dry fast and easily packable.
- One last thing that’s important to have is reef friendly sunscreen to protect yourself and those reefs and the environment around Puerto Vallarta. Enjoy!