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Puerto Vallarta & Riviera Nayarit Beaches


Enjoying a privileged location midpoint on the Banderas Bay coast, the Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit beaches are beach-goer nirvana, the bay itself offering 34 miles of coastline — and 26 of them beaches! As a rule of thumb, beaches to the north in Nayarit on the Costa Vallarta tend to be longer and wider, the foothills of the Sierra Madre just that little bit further back from the sea than in Jalisco, giving them a different character. South of Puerto Vallarta the mountains actually tumble into the sea in places, so there are lots of small coves and intimate sandy stretches. The water here is deeper and there are fewer people.  Sundays are the busiest beach days, the one day of the week that most workers get off and spend with their families. While you might think they would eventually tire of Puerto Vallarta beach-going because they can do it any time they want, Sunday at the beach is a very strong local tradition.

The Ultimate Beach Guide

What’s your idea of the perfect beach? Maybe it’s a stretch of sand lined with trendy shops, restaurants and bars, exacting service and comfy reclining beach chairs under a shady palapa. Or perhaps the thought of a secluded beach with clear water, a picnic lunch and your trusty beach bag full of nautical necessities is your idea of perfection. Or you may love the organized activities, music and high-energy environment typical of beach club-style waterfront resorts. Or maybe you’d prefer some combination of the above. Here in Banderas Bay, you can find them all. And with our handy guide, planning your beach day is as easy as saying, “Surf’s up!”

Riviera Nayarit Beaches

San Pancho: Huge white sandy beach almost vacant even during the winter months. New public changing rooms and showers, with beachside eateries for your convenience. Beach aside, San Pancho is a getaway on its own. Turn to page 158 to discover this peaceful village. Sayulita: Very popular among surfers. Bars, restaurants and surfing schools along the shore. People watching at its finest. Los Muertos (Sayulita): A 10-minute walk south from downtown Sayulita, past the graveyard. Peaceful waters for scuba and kayak, but you must bring your own! Carricitos: This very private beach is a 15- to 20-minute hike from Sayulita, past Los Muertos beach along a dirt road, offering lush, verdant vistas along the way. Very quiet and secluded. Punta Negra (Punta de Mita): This private beach just north of Punta de Mita serves Casa de Mita, a proud member of Mexico Boutique Hotels, along with other residences located along the beach. Great for walking. El Anclote: Small stretch of beach with many traditional eateries makes this an ideal place to bury your feet in the sand and enjoy a relaxing meal. A number of providers offer surfing and kayaking equipment and instruction. Hotel des Artistes offers a day pass. Emiliano Zapata: Currently no restrooms, but new public showers and changing rooms are being built. A considerable walk from the highway, so best reached with your own vehicle. Destiladeras: Peaceful in the summer and popular in the winter, this is the perfect day-trip beach, with enough amenities to keep you comfortable and enough room to walk along the surf for long distances. Bring your book or iPod. La Manzanilla: Just north of La Cruz, this small but popular beach has numerous shops for beach paraphernalia and is home to popular beach seafood restaurant Siete Mares. Bucerías: Long stretch of beach, ideal for jogging, bathing or simply hanging out. Public access is available through downtown Bucerias, past the main plaza, where you will find a number of eateries. Farther south, there are a number of access roads along Lazaro Cardenas, which runs parallel to the ocean, but there are no eateries or services on this side of town. Flamingos: Serves the hotels and developments located in the Flamingos area of Nuevo Vallarta, such as Villa del Palmar Flamingos and Playa del Sol Grand. Nuevo Vallarta: This beach serves the hotels and developments in Nuevo Vallarta, including Paradise Village and Grand Velas, among others.

Puerto Vallarta Beaches

Boca de Tomates: Located about 1.8 km from the highway on a dirt road, this beach’s main attraction may not be the beach itself but, rather, the number of enramadas, or casual eateries that serve a local favorite: pescado sarandeado (page 100). The water is best for swimming from November to May. El Salado: The main beach at Marina Vallarta, its only point of public access is through Albatros St., turning on Bocanegra. It is very popular among Marina Vallarta residents, who flock to the beach for a morning jog or stroll. Walking to the southern point provides spectacular views of cruise ships arriving and departing from Puerto Vallarta’s Maritime Terminal. De Oro: Between the Pitillal River and the Maritime Terminal, this beach primarily serves the hotels along that stretch (Krystal, Buenaventura). Holi: So called because of its proximity to the Holiday Inn, this beach is really an extension of Las Glorias. Frequently used to hold outdoor concerts and beach sport tournaments. Los Tules: So called due to its proximity to Los Tules condo-resort, located between the airport and downtown. Las Glorias: This is the beach behind Plaza Las Glorias, serving area hotels, most of which have defined their property lines with rocks. Public access north of Mega. Camarones: The stretch of beach located behind Mega Commercial Mexicana (Fco. M. Ascencio location). Dorada: This is the beach in front of the downtown Malecón. Not commonly used for swimming, as the beach is narrow and rocky, it is an interesting walk during low tide and fronts Puerto Vallarta’s famous Malecón, making it an ideal spot for people watching right in the heart of town. Los Muertos (Puerto Vallarta): Without a doubt, the most popular beach in Vallarta and the place for fun! Water and beach sports, great swimming, as well as restaurants and bars in all price ranges make this the best option when you want a little bit of everything. Los Muertos is the only beach in town with its own dock, serving as an arrival and departure point for water taxis heading north or south, as well as day cruise providers picking up passengers along the way. Conchas Chinas: A series of small coves featuring interesting rock formations and tide pools, great for exploring and interesting for children. Away from the hustle and bustle of nearby beaches.

South Shore Beaches

Las Estacas: This beautiful beach is barely 100 meters long and has great swimming for children, but only accessible through the Dreams resort for guests or day pass holders. Los Venados: This beautiful beach accessible only through the Playa del Sol features an artificially made reef that holds back waves for fabulous swimming and snorkeling. Palmares: a beautiful beach just before Garza Blanca. Punta Negra (South of Vallarta) This beautiful beach frequented by fishermen gets busy on the weekend. Limited parking on main highway and a short hike down a paved road to the beach. Gemelas: Twin adjacent beaches, one in front of the Presidente Hotel and the other with public access. Services available for hotel guests or visitors enjoying a day pass. Mismaloya: Lovely beachside restaurants and pangas offering frequent water taxi service to other beaches. Access to the Night of the Iguana set, which used to be an interesting attraction, has been indefinitely blocked. Boca de Tomatlán: The last beach in the South Shore accessible by automobile or local bus. Water taxi service departs to all beaches beyond this point. For adventurous hikers and nature lovers, there is a scenic jungle hike through Colomitos continuing along the coast to Las Animas. Colomitos: A tiny and often deserted beach, barely 100 feet in length, accessible via a hiking trail or water taxi from Boca. Las Ánimas: Family favorite, accessible by water taxi and day cruises. Great for kids due to the gentle surf and long sandy beach. Dive from the dock if you dare! Many kids and adults do. Palapa-shaded beach restaurants and adventure park. Quimixto: Similar to Las Animas, it is a fun day for the entire family and accessed by water taxi and day tours. Las Caletas: This private beach is concessioned by Vallarta Adventures, who offer day-trip and evening options through their spectacular Rhythms of the Night. Majahuitas: Private beach concessioned by Majahuitas Hotel, a common stop offered by boat tours; however, its restaurant and restrooms are only available to hotel guests. Yelapa: Access by day tours or water taxi. You may like this beach so much that you’ll be tempted to spend the night!

To download a complete information box about our beaches go to: www.virtualvallarta.com/images/pdf/puerto-vallarta-beaches.pdf

Tips to Keep Your Beach Adventure Not So Adventurous

  • Protect Your Skin: Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more. Vallarta is located south of the Tropic of Cancer!
  • Make Shade: Use your hat, sunglasses and beach umbrella to make shade where none exists.
  • Don’t Get Bugged: It’s a jungle out there! Keep insect repellent in your beach bag, right next to the sunscreen.
  • Swim With Your Brains: If you’re new to distance swimming in the ocean, you may not have considered that it’s much safer to swim parallel to the shore.
  • Stay on Guard: Many of the beaches in the Banderas Bay area do not have lifeguards on duty. Keep your non-swimmers within arm’s reach.
  • Water, Water: Especially if you are on a beach without amenities, bring copious amounts of water.
  • “No Gracias!”: Beach vendors are a fact of life on most popular beaches, but if you’re not interested, a simple “No, gracias!” will convey your message.
  • Stay Safe: The local beaches are among the safest in the world, but don’t take chances. Leave your credit cards and other valuable documents safely locked in your hotel and consider purchasing an around-the-neck waterproof plastic “safe” for your keys and cash.
  • Rip Tides: Beware of stronger tides north of the bay. If caught in one, don’t panic or fight it. Try to alert someone on shore that you need help, tread water to conserve energy and/or swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the tide.
  • Watch Out for ... Jellyfish: If stung, seek help from a lifeguard. If none is available, flush the area with salt water (not fresh water) or vinegar. Consult a doctor immediately in case of severe reactions such as intense swelling or breathing difficulties. Stingrays: Shuffle your feet through the sandy ocean floor as you walk into the water to alert resting stingrays of your approach.

Catch the Wave

The Banderas Bay area is a surfing mecca for riders from all over the world. Just stand outside the international arrival area at the local airport to see the numerous visitors arriving daily with their surfboards, especially impressive because of the recent baggage restrictions and escalating fees for excess and overweight items.

The body board, a.k.a. boogie board, is shorter than a surfboard and made of foam. Riders generally lie prone on the board, although some prefer drop-knee (kneeling on one knee) or standup. These boards are best suited for hollow, tube-like waves.

Traditional wakeboarding combines the sports of surfing, snowboarding and waterskiing. The rider is strapped into bindings on a foam board similar to a snowboard and pulled behind a boat while holding onto a cable, as in waterskiing. However, a modified style of this sport is popular with children, who put their board on the water along the edge of the beach, then run and jump on it to skim the surface while standing.

Look below for a list of the most popular surf spots in the area, many of which have rentals and/or instruction available.

Other Surfing Areas

  • La Lancha: Reef break between Anclote and Burros via a 10-minute walk down a trail from the highway.
  • Bougainvillea: Reef break next to La Lancha, frequently with fewer riders.
  • El Tizate: Next to La Cruz marina. Breaks are best in summer during storm swells.
  • Quimixto: A winter break south of Vallarta, accessible by boat.

Boat Tours and Water Taxis

There is no better way to get a clear picture of Puerto Vallarta’s spectacular vistas than from harbor cruise. Daytime excursions frequently leave from Puerto Vallarta’s Maritime Terminal, heading south and making stops at many secluded beaches, such as Las Animas, Quimixto and Yelapa. Their evening counterparts can transport you into a world of romantic mysticism (see Rhythms of the Night, pg. 181) or immerse you in a wild pirate adventure, such as that offered by the Marigalante (pg. 87). Cruises offer a variety of amenities, from diving and snorkeling gear to generous supplies of food and beverages. Conversely, water taxis are small powerboats, or pangas, that offer no amenities but can get you from point A to point B fairly quickly, usually from Nuevo Vallarta (Paradise Village) to Puerto Vallarta (Los Muertos) and from Los Muertos and Boca de Tomatlan to the aforementioned South Shore beaches. For nature lovers, a canal tour that travels through Quelele Lagoon’s protected mangroves near Nuevo Vallarta brings you up close and personal with birds, crocodiles and other native species.

Leave Me Alone! Four Beaches to Get Away from it All

If not having to say “hola” or “no, gracias” is your thing, these four spots north and south of Puerto Vallarta may very well be what the doctor ordered for you.

  1. Colomitos: (So tiny, you may have it all to yourself if you get there early enough!)
  2. Emiliano Zapata: (Head south from the access point.)
  3. Destiladeras: (Only during the summer months, however ...)
  4. Las Ánimas: (Head north, walking along the path behind the beach’s rocky point.)

Day Passes: Creature Comfort Solution

If you are not staying at a beachfront hotel but would like to enjoy the experience of doing so, just about every one of these self-contained paradises offers a day-pass option, which allows you to use the hotel’s facilities just as regular guests do. Pass prices and the amenities included vary from hotel to hotel, and during some months, depending on each hotel’s occupancy rate, they may not be available. Check the hotel directory located on page 234 of this magazine and call ahead to get all the pertinent details. You will be guaranteed a well-kept beach, the comfort of pool water, and access to food and drinks. If privacy is what you’re after, the Presidente Intercontinental is ideal due to its beach’s limited public access.

Just a Beach? Not!

Of all the beaches in Banderas Bay, there are three spots where — given the variety of shopping, dining, lodging and activity options — you’ll wish you had booked an overnight stay. Turn to page 158 to discover San Pancho, a peaceful getaway less than an hour north of Puerto Vallarta. Also in Riviera Nayarit, Sayulita has been a magnet for surfers and the hip, bohemian crowd for decades. South of Puerto Vallarta, Yelapa retains the small fishing village feel it had when Hollywood discovered this paparazzi-free hideaway years ago. Sayulita and Yelapa have been previously featured in this publication. Feel free to visit our website, www.virtualvallarta.com, to read more about these wonderful spots.

Top Five Beaches for Kids & Families

Are you exploring Puerto Vallarta and surroundings with toddlers or teens? Keep the following spots in mind!

  1. Las Animas: The gentle surf is great for youngsters, plus diving from the dock is fun.
  2. Los Muertos: There’s a plethora of options in shopping, dining, sunbathing and more.
  3. Yelapa: The water taxi alone is an adventure, and the beach is perfect for simply hanging out.
  4. Sayulita: Teenagers will love the surfing opportunities on the main beach.
  5. Los Muertos (in Sayulita): While your teens surf, relax with their younger siblings at this peaceful cove.

Get Out There

Imagine the exhilaration of paddling along the tranquil and scenic coast of Banderas Bay in a sea kayak, hearing only the sound of the surf and possibly a few birds overhead. Current models of sea kayaks commonly available in Vallarta have evolved from the traditional wood and hide construction of indigenous groups living in Alaska, Canada and Greenland. They now include the “sit-on-top” design commonly constructed from materials such as rotomolded polyethylene (often bright yellow), as well as inflatable plastic models.

Vallarta Adventures (www.vallarta-adventures.com) offers a multitude of sea kayaking options, as does Ecotours de Mexico (www.ecotoursvallarta.com). Or if you are adventurous and want to go out on your own, numerous hotels and resorts have kayaks available for use by registered guests and people purchasing a day pass to use their facilities and equipment. Get out there and get paddling!
Vessel Mania

Ahoy, matey! Whether you’re a landlubber, a crusty old sea captain or somewhere in between, the Vallarta area has the boating experience for you, including charters, rentals, lessons and excursions.

To learn the art of sailing, consider a basic one-day class offered by Vallarta Adventures. However, if it’s high-adrenalin sailing you’re looking for, the America’s Cup excursion is for you (www.vallarta-adventures.com). For simple relaxation, consider a romantic sunset sailing cruise or charter a sailboat for your own custom adventure. Finally, Nuevo Vallarta is home to J World Performance Sailing School, offering multi-day classes for both novices and advanced sailors (www.sailing-jworld.com/puerto_vallarta.htm).

Chartering a boat is a fabulous option when you want to get away from crowds and preset itineraries. Operators such as Charter Dreams (www.charterdreams.com) offer you a choice of vessels and itinerary options, including cruising around the bay or going to a secluded beach. Because these vessels are much smaller than the group tour boats, there is a better opportunity to view wild dolphins, sea turtles and manta rays swimming in their natural habitat. For a chance to see crocodiles and other interesting wildlife, consider the Jungle Canal Tour in Nuevo Vallarta.

The only tough part will be choosing among all of the options. And don’t forget your camera!

Hook, Line and Sinker

It’s every angler’s dream to hook the “big one.” And with incredible year-round fishing in Banderas Bay, all you need to do is book your charter and show up with your hat, sunscreen and camera. Local operators such as Charter Dreams (www.charterdreams.com) take care of the tackle, bait and lures and can help you obtain a Mexican fishing license. In addition to big game fish such as wahoo, snapper and grouper, you can also arrange a bass fishing charter to nearby freshwater lakes. The crew will even fillet your fish upon request, and restaurants in and around Vallarta — such as Adriatico, Barcelona Tapas, Dick’s Halfway Inn, Don Pedro’s, Frascati, Hacienda Xochitl, Tikul, Trio and Vitea — will prepare a feast from your catch!

Pirates in Puerto Vallarta?

Every day, a fearsome pirate captain embarks on a momentous adventure aboard a boat full of people who bear witness to the acrobatic battle this buccaneer wages against the residents of Puerto Vallarta! This dangerous feat takes place on one of the tours offered on the Marigalante, a replica of the largest boat used by Christopher Columbus for his first voyage to America, the Santa Maria.

The Marigalante has been converted into a spectacular attraction for both tourists and locals, who enjoy the nightly fireworks launched from its decks and its majestic passage during the day. If you decide to try the pirate adventure, note that the day tour is for the whole family, while the night is ideal for couples. For more information or reservations, visit www.marigalante.com.mx.

Las Marietas, An Ecological Wonderland

This ultimate eco-tour destination is actually a protected wildlife sanctuary and marine preserve. Located in the northern end of Banderas Bay, these islands accessible only by boat feature varied terrain that facilitates a diverse menu of outdoor activity options. Vallarta Adventures’ Wild Dolphins and Snorkeling excursion offers an all-inclusive day trip to fully experience the magnificence of the Marietas (www.vallarta-adventures.com).

Enjoy observing wild animals such as dolphins, whales, manta rays, tropical fish and a wide variety of birds, including the rare Blue-footed Booby. The warm clear waters surrounding these islands inspire swimming, snorkeling, diving and kayaking, or catching a few rays on the secluded beaches.

Stalking Crocodiles

At Cocodrilario El Cora, you can observe crocodiles in their natural habitat, without needing to hide or move cautiously because safety is guaranteed. The opportunity to experience these reptiles up close, for just a modest donation, includes seeing the adorable young ones in special ponds. You can also enjoy delicious, traditional seafood dishes at restaurant La Laguna, which belongs to the center, its earnings used to maintain the successful program for preserving this species. This small, environmentally friendly park is located in the vicinity of Flamingos golf course. For more information, call 044 (322) 129-8504.

Whale Watching, The Experience of a Lifetime

Every year between from November to April, Banderas Bay becomes the winter home and birthing grounds for numerous humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). Humpbacks are known for their acrobatic leaps and their unique “song,” which includes sounds such as grunts and squeaks. This protected species has no teeth and eats 4,400 to 5,500 pounds of krill, plankton and small fish daily.

The Puerto Vallarta Whale Watching Forum (www.puertovallartawhalewatching.com) is a privately funded ecological group that promotes education and responsible whale watching activities in Banderas Bay. It was founded by Keith May, who returned from his first whale watching tour five years ago with tears in his eyes. Seeing firsthand how many of the tour boats were harassing the magnificent humpback whales, he decided to take a stand and make a difference.

His extensive website is a plethora of fabulous information, including facts on humpbacks, Mexican whale watching regulations and a method to report those who do not adhere to established guidelines. It also includes a list of approved whale watching vessels, including those of Vallarta Adventures (www.vallarta-adventures.com) and Ecotours de México (www.ecotoursvallarta.com). The upcoming official whale watching tour season will run from December 8, 2008 to March 23, 2009, giving expectant mothers time to rest after their long journey south and allowing any newborns time to build their strength in our sheltered waters.       

It’s easy to be a responsible whale watcher:  1) educate yourself, 2) decide on the tour features you desire, 3) talk to others who have recently been on whale watching excursions and 4) look for an operator employing well-trained pilots and trained guides knowledgeable in whale behavior. This will help facilitate a safe and unforgettable experience for both you and the humpbacks. 

Up Close and Personal at the Dolphin Adventure Center

There is so much more to this spectacular Vallarta Adventures (www.vallarta-adventures.com) Nuevo Vallarta facility than meets the eye! It takes 28 trainers and four medical staff to ensure that Karina, Shani, Lluvia, Tonalli and the rest of the dolphins receive the best possible care, while providing visitors with unique, unforgettable experiences swimming with these charismatic marine mammals. These images are but a glimpse of all the hard work that goes on at the center, most of which you can experience first hand by enrolling in the Dolphin Trainer for a Day program.

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