the blue waters of los Arcos Marine Park a great day trip from Puerto Vallarta

Day Trips from Puerto Vallarta: 7 Amazing Beach Towns

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico is the perfect vacation destination. With its location right on the Bay of Banderas and so many activities in the city center, you may never want to leave. However, you’d be missing out if you didn’t explore some other places and include a few day trips from Puerto Vallarta. The Pacific coast Of Mexico is full of laid back small towns, pretty beaches and secret coves ready for exploring.

Day Trips From Puerto Vallarta

Everyone’s idea of a day trip is different. For me, day trips means maybe a couple of hours travel and if the travel is interesting or if I’m seeing something new, then I might go a bit farther.

This list has easy, very realistic day trips from Puerto Vallarta. No Guadalajara or Tequila. I love both of those places but I personally would not attempt either in just a day. There’s just too much to see and do there and they deserve more time in my opinion.

Related: How to Spend 24 Hours in Guadalajara

Also, if you aren’t the kind of person that wants to be around a lot of people on a tour – I’ve done all of these day trips from Puerto Vallarta solo and on my own without an organized tour.

Best Day Trips From Puerto Vallarta

Mismaloya

The Pacific coast of Mexico has always been a popular tourist destination for vacationing Mexicans. However, it was the famous 1960’s movie Night of the Iguana, starring Richard Burton and Ava Gardner, that put Puerto Vallarta – and especially Mismaloya – in the spotlight.

With the presence of Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Puerto Vallarta for the filming, amid their very public affair (scandalous for that time), and the popularity of the film, suddenly, everyone wanted to visit the Pacific coast of Mexico.

Although, there’s only a few remaining remnants of the movie set, you can still spend a day on the golden sand beaches in the movie. The gentle bay, surrounded by jungles that seem to fall right into the ocean, is perfect for swimming, kayaking and stand up paddling.

On the beach, pick a lounge chair and take it easy for the day. Have a meal, sample oysters or fresh seafood from a table right on the sand. Hire a local musician to serenade you or practice a little 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.

the beach at Mismaloya, Mexico one of the best day trips from Puerto Vallarta
The golden sand of Mismaloya

How to Get to Mismaloya

Mismaloya is 8 miles south of Vallarta. To get there by bus: 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 stop. There will be a cobblestone street that leads down to the beach. You could also go to Mismaloya by taxi or Uber. If you have your own car, take Hwy 200 to Mismaloya.

Los Arcos National Marine Park

Los Arcos National Marine Park is right off the coast of Mismaloya. In fact, you can see the large rocks that form Los Arcos right from the beach.

Named for the arched granite rocks that have pushed up out of the ocean, these domes contain underwater caves, tunnels and there’s even a small coral reef. It’s one of the best places to take a boat tour, swim, snorkel and scuba in Puerto Vallarta.

a view of los Arcos National Marine Park in Mismaloya
Los Arcos National Marine Park

How to Get to Los Arcos From Puerto Vallarta

The transportation instructions for Los Arcos are the same as getting to Mismaloya. Once you are there, then you can book a boat from one of the operators on the beach. If you would like to be a little more organized about your plans, you can book a tour online – some tours are linked below – or visit the tourism kiosk at Los Muertos Beach near the pier right in Puerto Vallarta and go from there. The boat ride from PV will take a bit longer but it makes for a fun day.

Boca De Tomatlán

A bit further south down the coast from Puerto Vallarta, is Boca de Tomatlán or Boca as the locals call it. Boca is postcard pretty and exactly what you picture in your mind when you think about a small Mexican seaside fishing village. Besides fishing, Boca is one of the main places to catch the water taxi to the southern beaches that aren’t easily accessible by road.

Boca is a good starting point for several day trips from Puerto Vallarta but you could also stay ashore and 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.

Or have a meal at one of the the restaurants that line the beach with their colorful umbrellas, ready to serve the fresh catch of the day.

Brightly colored umbrellas on the beach at Boca de Tomatlan one of the best day trips from Puerto Vallarta
Choose your table for beach side dining

How to Get to Boca de Tomatlan From Puerto Vallarta

Boca de Tomatlan is 15 miles south of Puerto Vallarta. For public transportation: take the orange and white bus at the corner of Basilio Badillo y Constitucion in the Romantic 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 can also get there by taxi or Uber. By car, take Hwy 200 south to Boca.

Yelapa

If you really want to get off the beaten path for the day – or even longer – then take one of the water taxis from Boca de Tomatlán and head further south down the coast to Yelapa. The fact that it’s only accessible by boat only adds to it’s charm and intrigue.

Yelapa is the prettiest little village situated on a crescent shaped bay. It looks like a painting 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, you can follow the river inland and hike to a gorgeous waterfall and swimming hole.

Yelapa has plenty of beachside restaurants to choose from. My favorite is Juanitos. They will set you up with a chair and an umbrella in the sand and serve you food and drinks all day long.

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.

Yelapa forever written on a boat in Yelapa
Yelapa Forever

How to Get to Yelapa

To get to Yelapa from Puerto Vallarta, take the orange and white bus at the corner of Basilio Badillo y Constitucion in the Romantic Zone. The fare is less than $.50 (8 pesos) one way.

Get off at the Boca de Tomatlan stop and walk into town. Once you get there 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.

If you would rather not travel by bus to Boca de Tomatlan, you can hire a boat at the kiosk in front of the pier at Lost Muertos Beach. There are also other tour kiosks along the Puerto Vallarta malecón offering organized tours or check out the links below.

Vallarta Botanical Gardens

If you just aren’t a beach person then, one of my non-beach favorite day trips from Puerto Vallarta is the Vallarta Botanical Gardens.

This paradise in the jungle, just about an hour from Puerto Vallarta, is like another world. It gets bonus points too, since the elevation is higher, it’s a tab bit cooler and a nice break from the coast on a hot summer day.

Besides plenty of lush plants and shade trees, a really great restaurant and a small chapel on the property, there are also several hiking trails down to the Rio Cuale which was very refreshing in the humidity.

Don’t miss the beautiful Koi pond with some of the biggest lily pads I’ve ever seen and the hummingbirds that were everywhere! It apparently was hummingbird season in June. I could have watched them for hours.

Tickets for the gardens cost approximately $15 USD and that includes a free agua de Jamaica in the restaurant.

the koi pond at Vallarta Botanical Gardens

How to Get to Vallarta Botanical Gardens

There are plenty of organized tours to the Botanical Gardens but it’s really easy to go on your own using public transportation. From the Romantic Zone, take the blueish green and white bus from the corner of Aguacate y Carranza.

These buses are marked Transportes de Tuito y Anexos. When you get on just tell the driver you want to stop at the Botanical Gardens. When you are ready to come back to town, there’s a covered bus stop across the street on the north side of Highway 200. Wait there until a bus headed north comes by.

Sayulita

Sayulita maybe one of the coolest little beach towns in the neighboring state of Nayarit. Although I recommend staying at least a couple of days – I spent two days in Sayulita and had such a fun time – Sayulita is a a really easy day trip from Puerto Vallarta.

With an easy laid back vibe, Sayulita is a lot smaller than Puerto Vallarta. It’s the ideal getaway for relaxing, taking a yoga class or visiting a spa. For those that want to be a bit more active, Sayulita’s location on the coast is one of the best places to learn to surf.

Since it’s also an artsy town, Sayulita is full of galleries and local shops featuring authentic art, clothing and handmade embroidered items like wallets and bags. It’s a great place to pick up some souvenirs and support local artists.

the main beach in Sayulita, Mexico
The main beach in Sayulita

How to Get to Sayulita

Sayulita is located about 25 miles north of Puerto Vallarta. It takes approximately an hour to get there. You can go by Uber, taxi or bus. To take the bus, you’ll need to get to the north side of town and 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.

Islas Marietas

One of the most fun and exciting day trips from Puerto Vallarta is a tour to las Islas Marietas or the Marieta Islands. This group of islands are located a just few miles off the coast of Nayarit but are easily accessible by boat from Puerto Vallarta. Only licensed tour operators are allowed to give tours there so you will need to book a tour.

Although most people visit for a chance to swim into the island’s most famous crater-like Hidden Beach, you can also kayak, stand-up paddle and snorkel around the islands. And the boat ride to the islands across the Bay of Banderas is the perfect opportunity to spot whales.

The islands are full of wildlife with over 100 species of birds, including the blue footed booby. Las Islas Marietas are one of the only places in North America outside the Galapagos Islands where you’ll have an opportunity to see it.

Kayaker enjoys Islas Marietas

How to Visit las Islas Marietas

You can 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. I’ve linked below to some of the tours that include Hidden Beach. Get tips and read more about my day trip to the islands in this Visiting las Islas Marietas on a Tour article.

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How to Plan Day Trips From Puerto Vallarta

When planning day trips from Puerto Vallarta, depending on your travel style, you have a few options. You can arrange to go on your own in a rental vehicle, hire a driver, go on public transportation or go with an organized tour.

Renting a car and driving in Puerto Vallarta is fairly easy. Although traffic is a bit heavy in town, it’s better once you leave the city. For the most part, the roads are nice and well maintained.

Watch for topes – road bumps – and save the out of town driving for daylight hours only. To get the best price on rentals use Rentalcars.com. I’ve also read really good things about locally owned Gecko Car Rentals but I have not used them personally.

If driving doesn’t sound like something you’d want to do, it’s Mexico, so bus travel is very convenient. In fact, the buses are so frequent, many times you can just hop on one without much planning.

There’s been a couple of times I decided at noon that I wanted to get out of town and see something different and it always works out. The buses are constantly going north and south on the coast.

Alternatively, you can always find an Uber, taxi or a driver that will take you to many places. Just make sure the plans are clear so that you don’t get stranded or waiting a long time somewhere for a ride.

For organized tours, local companies are plentiful. I’ve listed a few tour suggestions below since there are a couple of places that are only reachable with a tour, as in the case of the Marieta Islands. Tours can be booked ahead of time via Viator.com which offers flexible payments and cancellations

Day Trips From Puerto Vallarta Tips + Packing List

Here’s a few tips for planning Puerto Vallarta day trips. There are plenty of stores and even Walmart and Costco in Puerto Vallarta but I’ve also included a few useful things to take along with you.

  • To beat the crowds, head out early on your day trips and skip tours the days the cruise ships are in port.
  • If you plan on going by bus to any of these Puerto Vallarta day trips, make sure you have pesos including small bills and coins for the bus and bathrooms.
  • The water in the Bay of Banderas is usually pretty calm but if you are prone to getting seasick, it’s helpful to have medication on hand or invest in wristbands that help prevent motion sickness.
  • Some of the beaches in Puerto Vallarta are covered with rock that hurt your feet when getting in and out of the water. Having a pair of aqua socks or water shoes is a good idea to protect your feet.
  • When traveling by boat, a waterproof bag or backpack is a necessity for keeping your belongings dry. I like this bag. It’s a little pricey but also doubles as a backpack. Here’s more affordable option and it even comes with a phone case.
  • It’s also nice to have a good beach towel for your lounge chair or for sitting in the sand. This one is big and these microfiber ones are great for fast drying and easily packing. Or you can always keep it local and buy one from a vendor on the beach.
  • A couple of other things that are really important to have on hand are reef friendly sunscreen and bug spray for the gardens. Especially in summer.

Final Thoughts on Day Trips From Puerto Vallarta

The Puerto Vallarta area is definitely surrounded by some of the best beaches and small towns. Frequent public transportation and tours make it one of the best and easiest destinations for day trips.

Next time you visit, instead of spending all your time in town, head out of the city and take a few day trips from Puerto Vallarta to explore a few of the smaller, less visited sights in Jalisco and Nayarit. Getting there is just half the fun!

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