Please don’t get us wrong, we’re thrilled you’ve chosen our home as your vacation destination, and we want you to stay and enjoy as long as you like. But the truth is, Vallarta as a whole comprises many destinations within and around Banderas Bay, and home can mean different things to different locals, depending on where they live. So, whether you’ve just landed at our international airport and are planning to stay for a few days or weeks or you live and work in town year round, the idea of exploring areas away from Puerto Vallarta can be alluring.
If you’re a visitor, there are a dozen or so awesome destinations within a couple of hours of Puerto Vallarta that can complement your vacation experience, each with its own personality and amenities. If you’re a local, getaways are an excellent reward after a week’s work. Whether you take off for a couple hours or a couple days, relying on public transportation, a rental car or the kindness of a friend, the choices are boundless, and many are destinations in their own right.
Assuming that everybody who lands at our airport is actually coming to Puerto Vallarta would do a disservice to the destination as a whole. We know that people book vacations north of Puerto Vallarta—in Nuevo Vallarta or Sayulita, for example—and may or may not schedule time elsewhere. But for this article’s purposes, we use Puerto Vallarta as a central hub, breaking down choices north, south and east of the city.
Riviera Nayarit—the region that begins at the Jalisco state line, just north of Puerto Vallarta—offers the broadest variety when it comes to nearby getaway options, most of them ocean-side and most equally enjoyable for a daytrip or an overnight experience. Nuevo Vallarta and Flamingos feature an increasingly thriving restaurant scene and beautiful beaches with a couple public accesses. Farther north, Bucerias is as popular for its beach—the longest uninterrupted stretch on the entire bay—as it is for its shopping opportunities. La Cruz has blossomed into a mini-destination, largely due to Marina Riviera Nayarit and a popular farmers market that meets there every Sunday. Following the coast will take you all the way up to Punta de Mita, an ideal destination for folks who enjoy surfing, paddleboarding or exploring the nearby Marietas Islands, a protected sanctuary.
A road through Litibu, a planned development currently under construction, connects with Sayulita, an extremely popular surfing destination. Farther north, San Pancho and Lo de Marcos are peaceful beachfront retreats. Located next to one another, Rincon de Guayabitos and La Peñita de Jaltemba are located on what is known as Jaltemba Bay. The former is a planned vacation destination created with middle-class Mexican families in mind, and the latter is the small town that services it. That said, La Peñita has become increasingly popular among expats looking for the peaceful fishing village feel that first attracted them to Puerto Vallarta a few decades back.
All towns south of San Pancho can be easily tackled on a daytrip by way of the “North Shore loop” described on our website, www.virtualvallarta.com. And driving time from Puerto Vallarta to La Peñita de Jaltemba is approximately 70 minutes when driving directly along Carr. 200 Norte, making the town an ideal daytrip on Thursdays, for example, when an unusually large outdoor market featuring myriad Mexican craft stands assembles in the town’s main plaza.
While heading east from Puerto Vallarta does not provide as many options, the highway travels through the Jalisco mountains, offering dramatic vistas and noticeable changes in scenery and temperature. The highway Carr. 70 begins at the Las Juntas rotary just north of Puerto Vallarta’s airport. Several excellent seafood restaurants can be found along the highway on the way to nearby Ixtapa. As the road continues toward the Sierra Madre Mountains, the change in scenery (palm trees to pine trees) and temperature is striking, making this route particularly appealing during the summer, when many try to temporarily escape the heat in Puerto Vallarta.
The junction at La Estancia de Landeros (or simply La Estancia) is of little consequence. However, a 10-minute detour leads to San Sebastian del Oeste, a former mining town and one of the most popular, peaceful and charming getaways in the region. The town had a population of 20,000 at the turn of the 19th century. Most of the population left as the ores were depleted. Recently named one of Mexico’s Pueblos Magicos (or magic towns), San Sebastian is beautifully preserved and largely unchanged from the way it was some 100 years ago.
Farther east, Mascota is a traditional farming town, where the dry mountain air makes it possible to enjoy a variety of activities, such as hiking, mountain biking and fishing. From Mascota, it is easy to detour to nearby mountain towns such as Navidad, Cimarron Chico and Juanacatlan. Continuing some 20 minutes along Carr. 70 from Mascota is the detour to Talpa de Allende, an important religious center, where thousands of pilgrims from all over Mexico gather around Holy Week.
Carr. 70 actually continues all the way to Guadalajara, making this a scenic option to take to the state capital if you are not in a hurry. Given the longer distance, however, time is better spent in places like San Sebastian, Mascota or Talpa if you plan an overnight trip.
Just like its northern counterpart, Carr. 200 Sur passes through a couple of oceanfront destinations before heading inland, making for a truly scenic drive from Puerto Vallarta, and its exploration also can be somewhat accomplished on a daytrip. The first stop along the highway is Mismaloya, once made popular by the movie set for John Huston’s Night of the Iguana. While the set is not open to the public, the town is a popular getaway among locals looking to enjoy one of several beachfront eateries while burying their feet in the sand.
Farther south, Boca de Tomatlán is the departure point for water taxis that can transport you to a handful of destinations along Banderas Bay’s South Shore that are only accessible by boat, such as Las Animas, Quimixto and Yelapa, all featuring great beaches and overnight options. From Boca de Tomatlán, Carr. 200 Sur veers toward the mountains along what is increasingly called Puerto Vallarta’s Palms to Pines Highway. The popular Vallarta Botanical Gardens (www.vbgardens.org) are located along this route and make an excellent daytrip, with hiking paths, a swimmable river, restaurant, bird-watching opportunities and much more.
South of the gardens, El Tuito is a small farming town where organic produce and artisan cheeses can be purchased. A road from El Tuito heads east and back down to sea level, leading to Mayto, Tehuamixtle and Villa del Mar, three small, popular beach destinations in the neighboring municipality of Cabo Corrientes. Continuing south from El Tuito along Carr. 200 Sur leads to Cajon de Peña, a freshwater reservoir ideal for sports fishing and paddleboarding, before eventually reaching Costalegre, a destination of its own.
Whether you favor a peaceful, pine-scented-air retreat in the Jalisco mountains, a radical spearfishing experience in the deep blue sea or surfing at one of the popular spots in the bay, the opportunity to complement your primary vacation destination in Banderas Bay with alternative experiences at nearby destinations awaits you. All of the spots mentioned in this article are described in detail on our website, www.virtualvallarta.com, and with the exception of Mascota, Talpa de Allende and Cajon de Peña, all are located within 90 minutes of Puerto Vallarta.