Not Just for Kids
Published Aug 15, 2006 - (Updated Dec 19, 2012)
Little fingers all wrinkled from the water? Teenagers getting restless? It’s time to pull the kids out of the pool and explore the fabulous activities that make Vallarta such a terrific family scene. From snorkeling to surfing, storytelling to Spanish classes, there’s something cool going on for anyone young – or young at heart!
One exciting escapade is swinging through the trees of the lush tropical forest on any of Vallarta’s canopy tours, where you’ll soar with confidence along zip lines as high as 250 feet. Find adventure on the ground with Jeep and ATV rides over dirt roads through jungles and mountains, or rent mountain bikes for a family adventure. Visit the set of the movie “Predator,” where the crashed helicopter still hangs and you can swing on vines through the forest.
For “cleaner” fun, try Sea Life Park with its water slides, or go snorkeling around the rocks and caves at Los Arcos Marine Reserve or the pristine waters near the Marietta Islands. Observe tropical fish flutter by at these federal eco-preserves, and if viewing from under the water won’t work, try a glass-bottom boat tour for little ones. Travel by boat to the outer beaches south of Puerto Vallarta, where youngsters can hike to waterfalls or investigate the jungle on horseback. Or drive north to the beaches of Sayulita, a charming town on the ocean, not the bay, where surfing is a big activity and teens can rent a board or take lessons.
Get out on the water with the brood on a fishing jaunt or a sailing excursion. Rent gear, tackle and a boat for the outing or take a charter. Jet skis, windsurfers, boogie boards, kayaks and catamarans are all available for hire, along with instruction for you and the kids. Otherwise stay dry over the bay with parasailing or hot air ballooning.
Smack the ball around with your kids on tennis courts accessible to the public at various hotels. Rent racquets – even rent a pro to instruct the family. Drive out to Bucerias and watch X-Treme Soccer one evening. Teams of seven play fast soccer under bright lights, and it’s free to sit in the bleachers. Hitch up to some horses and take the family riding on the beach or at a nearby ranch. Arrangements can be made for an hour or the day.
Children love animals, and Vallarta has creatures of all sizes to see! View whales cavorting in the bay from November through March. You can see them from the beach, or take a boat and you may also see dolphins, manta rays and sea turtles. Get up close and personal with dolphins. There are swims and encounter programs at Sea Life Park or Vallarta Adventures, where children as young as four can frolic with these amazing mammals. The older ones can even be a “trainer for a day.”
You can’t hug crocodiles, but who isn’t fascinated by them? The best way to see these creatures, while feeling safe, is to visit Cipactli, the University of Guadalajara’s well-run reptilarium at its Ixtapa campus. It’s free, and the preserve’s bilingual staff enjoys educating people about these frightening fellows. As an added bonus, more than 40 iguanas live wild here.
Turtles are a tamer reptile, and between July and November children have the chance to help newly hatched babies return to the sea through the community-wide Turtle Preservation Programs that combines protected nurseries for turtle eggs with educational projects. Liberation ceremonies are held at participating hotels, and eco-tour operators host nighttime tours to research camps designed to protect the eggs.
Butterflies, bugs, carnivorous plants and tropical birds are on exhibit at the Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens, along with 3,000 species of plants. Located south of Puerto Vallarta, the gardens also boast a learning center, swimming area and restaurant. And at +KOTA (Mascota), a pet store in Plaza Caracol, employees provide free tours where children can handle the different pets and learn how to care for them.
For a taste of the arts, head to the Cultural Center on the east end of the Isla Rio Cuale, a small arts compound where artisans practice woodworking, painting, photography and music. Check the schedule for classes and theater events. While on the island, pop in at no cost to the newly remodeled Anthropological Museum on the west end and see an interesting panorama of the diverse groups of people who lived in west Mexico prior to the arrival of the Spaniards. And while wandering the area, visit the local artisans’ markets with souvenirs for every pocketbook. Let the kids learn how to bargain!
For a special vacation memory, arrange for the family to take food to the orphanage, Casa Hogar. Los Mangos public library holds a children’s activity program every Saturday, where younger ones can play games and listen to a storyteller in Spanish. The library also appreciates any donations of books you’re not taking back. For longer visits to Vallarta, there are a variety of classes for children in painting, languages, dance, music, sculpture and theater.
Walk the seaside boardwalk, called the Malecon, and snap photos of your offspring climbing on bronze sculptures by famous artists and admiring elaborate sand sculptures. Hang out on any beach downtown and have the girls’ hair braided, while shopping for everything from jewelry to tablecloths.
In the evenings, and especially Sundays, the whole town strolls the Malecon enjoying traditional taste treats from the sticky sweet to the super spicy and listening to music by street groups or at the Los Arcos Amphitheater. Enjoy mimes and clowns and admire the local art, or have a family caricature drawn. Admire the sunset and wait for fireworks to light up the sky and Los Voladores de Papantla to twirl from their towering platform.
Another night, head to one of the big hotels for a fiesta. There’s plenty for the younger ones to eat and lots to see and do while the adults relax with their margaritas. Or take the group to the movies. Many children’s movies here are dubbed into Spanish, so check listings, but cinema in Mexico is a bargain.
Tuck everyone in at the end of the day for a good sleep because tomorrow will be another busy day in Vallarta!