Best Beach Towns: Puerto Vallarta with kids

Puerto Vallarta offers a bit of everything for families enjoying a Mexican vacation, from beaches to city life to mountains, all touched by the warmth of the sun. While accommodations are an important aspect of any family vacation, no matter how great the resort, I always advocate getting outside hotel grounds to explore your destination further. During our recent stay, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to depart hotel grounds to explore the culture, wildlife, and landscape of the area.

Puerto Vallarta’s downtown and famed Malecon boardwalk:

The downtown district and boardwalk are a 5-10 minute taxi cab ride from the Marina Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta beach resort areas (and will only set you back 80-100 pesos). While the area is unapologetically touristy, it makes for a fun taste of the city, and families armed with a sense of adventure can easily detour from the main drag onto more side streets for a more genuine experience.We started at the north end of the Malecon, where you’ll find bike rentals (and fun push car rentals for little ones), plenty of eateries, and, during the holiday seasons, amazing sandcastle works of art along the beach.

After poking around in the shops, we headed south to the other end, where we posed by Malecon’s arches, then veered up several blocks from the ocean. There we found the beautiful Church of our Lady of Guadalupe (open to the public most hours), quaint courtyards, and less touristy shops (including a candy store perfect for kids to sample traditional Mexican sweets). Continuing south would have taken us to the main flea market (located next to the Rio Cuale), housing several stories of art, food, and traditional craft vendors. Even if you’re only browsing, the area is a feast for the senses!

Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta’s public beaches:

North and south of downtown, Puerto Vallarta’s public beaches span from one end of the resort district to the other, offering an array of beach and water sports, more vendors, and fun in the sun. We were lucky enough to access public beaches right from the Velas Vallarta resort, but if you’re staying off the beach, follow public beach access signs. Once on the sand, it’s easy to walk from cove to cove. Right from the sand, extreme sports operations will ply you with offers for sports fishing excursions, parasailing rides, and the like; I recommend booking such extensive excursions through your resort conceirge instead. We did, however, rent a kayak from a vendor at the Malia resort desk (located in front of the Malia Vallarta resort north of the city center). For $15 (US) a hour, we could paddle out (with provided life jackets) to explore the ocean on our own. Even departing straight from the resort zone and not venturing far, we saw schools of fish, water birds of prey, and were told to expect dolphins.

Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta’s neighboring mountains:

When you’ve tired of the beaches (I know, right?), head for the hills. Puerto Vallarta is sandwiched between the Pacific and the Sierra Madre mountain range, which plays host to a number of hiking, horseback riding, and jungle canopy excurions offered by reputable tour operations. (Again, we recommend inquiring about these at your resort’s concierge or activities desk.) A hike-and-snorkel combination excursion can offer the best of both worlds, of course, but the more leisurely pace of a horseback ride can give families a glimpse of not only the mountain vistas but the rural lifestyle of Puerto Vallarta’s regional ranches and farms. We loved that Rancho el Charro offers rides from their family-owned ranch, provides lunch, and, in the case of their Wild Tour, takes guests to a breathtaking waterfall deep in the mountains.

Whatever your interests, don’t be afraid to venture out from the grounds of your resort to explore. Families will find Mexican residents of Puerto Vallarta to be friendly, fun, and happy to tout the many beauties of their city.