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The Unique Neighborhoods In and Around Banderas Bay

Published Aug 10, 2009 - (Updated Dec 3, 2012)


Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Summer/Fall 2009 issue.

It’s impossible to paint all of Banderas Bay with the same brush, so to help you get a taste of the different neighborhoods around the bay (“colonias” in Spanish), we’ve created this handy list of some of the most popular. Whether you are looking for a place to live, browsing through a Puerto Vallarta travel guide or hoping to catch up with friends later for a restaurant adventure, this overview will help you get your bearings.

Riviera Nayarit

San Pancho

  • Vast stretches of unspoiled white sandy beach grace this quaint beach pueblo north of Sayulita that features a few art galleries and interesting little shops.
  • Variety of small bed and breakfasts, as well as homey overnight accommodations.
  • Small-town atmosphere without beach crowds and noisy nightlife.
  • Professional polo matches worth checking out.


  • This charming beach town north of Punta de Mita could be the set for a vintage surf movie, since the waves break year round.
  • Open water outside of sheltered Banderas Bay offers great surfing and boogie boarding.
  • Beach town atmosphere with surf shops, restaurants and souvenir outlets.
  • Fun day trip or overnight stay at the campground or one of the affordable inns along the beach.

Punta de Mita

This spectacular area encompasses the entire peninsula on the northern tip of Banderas Bay and is also the gateway to the Marietas Islands and some of the best surfing, diving and deep sea fishing in the region.

  • Upscale development and world-class hotels including the St. Regis and Four Seasons.
  • Town of El Anclote offers a variety of shops and services as well as boutique condo developments.
  • Other amenities include two Jack Nicklaus golf courses, beach club, tennis and gourmet dining.

La Cruz de Huanacaxtle

  • Tradition blends with the modern in this authentic fishing village, with new luxury developments located along the bay north of Bucerias.
  • Traditional eateries and fine restaurants.
  • Marina Riviera Nayarit at La Cruz offers an ultra-modern marina with a variety of social events in the new facilities.
  • Abundant water activities and sport fishing.


  • This beach town north of Nuevo Vallarta is brimming with eclectic restaurants and bars and offers a diverse nightlife.
  • Blend of beach and urbanization.
  • Close to Vallarta but seemingly miles away.
  • Plenty of live music and other entertainment for a perfect place to spend an evening.

Nuevo Vallarta/Flamingos

  • This vibrant and growing community combines resorts, golf and beach condos and golf course homes, making it a destination in itself for international visitors and a permanent home for others.
  • Set along the longest beach in the bay, stretching from the Paradise Village Marina to Bucerias.
  • Diverse services including hotels shopping centers, restaurants, sports center, golf courses, marinas and the Vallarta Yacht Club.
  • Eveything you need is readily available within this area.


  • North of the airport and bordering Nuevo Vallarta but untouched by modern development, Jarretaderas maintains its traditional charm.
  • Great local restaurants and interesting authentic shops.
  • Bed and breakfast offer a chance to experience real Mexico.
  • Small-town weekly market.

Puerto Vallarta

Marina Vallarta

  • Between the Hotel Zone and the airport, this haven for sailboats and yachts boasts numerous high-end resort hotels, golf courses and condominiums.
  • Malecon flanked by gourmet restaurants and first-class shopping.
  • Fishing charters, boat tours and golf.
  • Home decor shops in/near Plaza Neptuno offer stylish items.

El Pitillal

  • Formerly a small town outside of Vallarta, El Pitillal offers the small-town/pueblo feeling of real Mexico and features a beautiful central plaza.
  • Cathedral and tequila factory.
  • Great street food.
  • Unique shops with trinkets and treasures.

Hotel Zone

  • Stretching north from El Centro to the Marina, this area houses many of the hotels and resorts in Vallarta, but that’s not all.
  • Maritime Terminal welcomes cruise ships and is a departure point for many water tours.
  • Numerous retail services, including shopping centers, grocery stores and movie theaters.
  • Set along a beautiful stretch of beach.


  • This typical Mexican neighborhood is across the street from the Hotel Zone.
  • Traditional family neighborhood with older style Mexican homes.
  • Restaurants and traditional eateries offer great tacos, churros and sopes.
  • Numerous local businesses and the Los Mangos Public Library.

El Centro

  • The heart of the city, the downtown area is home to many of the “must see” landmarks.
  • Malecon offers amazing public sculptures, people watching and free entertainment.
  • Main Plaza, Los Arcos Amphitheater, Lady of Guadalupe church and Naval Museum.
  • Plethora of restaurants, bars, galleries and home to the Old Town Art Walk.

Gringo Gulch

  • First made popular by celebrity residents such as Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, this residential area gave birth to high-end real estate trends that began in the 1960s and continue today.
  • Fabulous views and eclectic sights.
  • Boutique hotels, traditional Mexican architecture and interesting restaurants.
  • Stairways and narrow streets great for exploring on foot.

Emiliano Zapata

  • Also called Old Town and Zona Romantica, this area is bordered by Vallarta’s most popular beach, Los Muertos, and is particularly popular among the gay community.
  • Restaurants, cafes and bars in a cozy atmosphere.
  • Popular meeting place.
  • Plenty of shopping opportunities.

Paso Ancho

  • Located along the Libramiento, or Tunnel Road, this rural neighborhood is set in the jungle.
  • Mountain, river and jungle views.
  • Hiking trails through lush local fauna.
  • Basic eateries with traditional cuisine.

South Shore

Conchas Chinas

  • One of the original high-end enclaves in town, this hillside neighborhood on the southern tip of Vallarta features classic villas interspersed with modern luxury developments. (This variety of housing options interspersed with hotels and unique restaurants is available from Conchas Chinas south to the town of Boca de Tomatlan.)
  • Spectacular views of Banderas Bay.
  • Tranquil Conchas Chinas beach, accessible on foot from Los Muertos beach.
  • Curving roadways and diverse architectural styles.


  • Made famous by the 1964 movie Night of the Iguana, this little beach settlement is a popular destination.
  • Accessible via car or local bus on Carr. 200 Sur or by water taxi.
  • Quaint beach restaurants, resorts and nearby condominiums.
  • Nearby zoo, canopy tours and jungle set of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie Predator.

Boca de Tomatlán

  • South of Mismaloya on Carr. 200 Sur, the fishing town of Boca de Tomatlán is known to locals as simply “Boca,” which means “mouth” in Spanish.
  • Principal water taxi departure point for South Shore destinations such as Quimixto, Las Animas and Yelapa.
  • Easily reached by local bus, car or water taxi from Vallarta.
  • Trailhead for popular and picturesque hiking trail heading south to Las Animas beach.

Further South

  • As you continue south, more intriguing spots can be discovered along the scenic highway or by taking a water taxi to some of the most beautiful secluded beaches in the bay.
  • Vallarta Botanical Gardens and several canopy tours in the area.
  • Charming town of El Tuito less than an hour from Puerto Vallarta.
  • Water taxi to Yelapa, a charming beachfront fishing village with a variety of overnight options.

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