A Well-Crafted 3- or 4-Day Plan to Explore Puerto Vallarta

A Well-Crafted 3- or 4-Day Plan to Explore Puerto Vallarta

Welcome to Puerto Vallarta, an enchanting coastal haven on Mexico’s Pacific coast ringed by the lush Sierra Madres mountain range in the Mexican state of Jalisco, home of tequila and tacos birra – two of the most delicious culinary gifts to the world. Puerto Vallarta is a hop, skip, and a jump from the Western coast of the US and too often overlooked for the destinations along Mexico’s eastern shores!

In this Puerto Vallarta itinerary, we’ll unlock the best experiences this seaside destination has to offer, from exploring the charming Old Town and lounging on sun-kissed beaches to whale watching with humpback whales and a truly one-of-a-kind circus show/experience thing on like, a jungle island which somehow ended in a campy drag show on a boat? I’ll explain later.

s flags in front of theParroquia de Guadalupe Church in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Puerto Vallarta Travel Tips

Before we jump into the Puerto Vallarta itinerary, here are a few tips to help you plan your trip to Puerto Vallarta:

When is the best time to visit Puerto Vallarta?

Between October and April is the best time of year for traveling to Puerto Vallarta. The weather during the winter months is lovely. It’s warm but not hot and the humidity is manageable. It’s the perfect weather for turning off the AC in your room, throwing open the balcony doors, and letting the scent of sea salt and the lapping of ocean waves waft up to your room!

Plus, you’ll be able to go whale watching from December through March, during the annual humpback whale seasonal migration! Humpbacks come to Puerto Vallarta to give birth, so you’ll get to see moms and their babies all around the bay.

How to get around Puerto Vallarta?

You can get around Puerto Vallarta using taxis, Uber, or public buses, and book an inexpensive shuttle to and from the airport. I wouldn’t rent a car unless you plan to leave the city – and for our Puerto Vallarta itinerary, you won’t need one!

Parroquia de Guadalupe Church in Puerto Vallarta Mexico with Bougenvallia

How many days in Puerto Vallarta is ideal?

I’d recommend no less than 3. Our itinerary includes 2 FULL days of activities, plus a half-day when you arrive and when you leave – and I’d say that’s the absolute minimum.

An extra day would allow you more time to relax at your resort or venture outside of the town to explore the highly-rated Botanical Gardens about 45 minutes away from town, or head into the mountains for an adventure, like ziplining, kayaking, and tequila tasting!

Is Puerto Vallarta safe?

Yes! Once described as the most friendly city in the world, this charming getaway is clean, safe, and welcoming for everyone from families to LGBTQ travelers.

I was surprised to find that Puerto Vallarta felt very safe, especially in comparison to some of the other places I’ve visited in Mexico. I wasn’t hassled by anyone during my visit – no aggressive taxi drivers, vendors or scammers. I wasn’t warned to avoid taking Uber so that my driver wouldn’t be attacked, like I was told in Cancun, or stopped repeatedly by policemen for bribes like in Tulum.

I’ve grown so used to having to yell NO GRACIAS or outright ignore people that I had my guard up, so I almost ignored an attendant at the airport who offered to help me with a ride to my hotel, or the friendly vendor on La Isla who simply wanted to point out an iguana in a tree overhead. He was lovely and we had a whole chat about where I was from, and he never once tried to sell me anything. It was a relief to enjoy some travel magic and make connections with locals instead of feeling like a target!

That said, as always, I recommend buying travel insurance for your trip. It covers everything from replacing your stuff if your bags are delayed or lost to trip cancellation or illness during your trip. It’s inexpensive and I’ve used it more times than I care to admit! 

View from the balcony at the Fiesta American All Inclusive Resort and Spa in Puerto Vallarta Mexico
View of Banderas Bay ringed with mountains from my room on the top floor of the Fiesta Americana All Inclusive Resort & Spa, a phenomenal all-inclusive and fantastic place to base yourself for this Puerto Vallarta itinerary!

Where to Stay in Puerto Vallarta?

I recommend choosing between staying at an all-inclusive resort in the “hotel zone,” or a boutique hotel in the Zone Romantica, Old Town, or along the Malecon.

Each accommodation type has its appeals and drawbacks, and both are an excellent base for a trip to Puerto Vallarta. To help you decide which option is the best fit for your trip, read on!

View from the balcony at the Fiesta American All Inclusive Resort and Spa in Puerto Vallarta Mexico
One of my favorite things about the Fiesta Americana All Inclusive Resort & Spa is that every room faces the same beautiful ocean view! From the top floor, it’s especially breathtaking.

All-Inclusive Resort: Fiesta Americana All-Inclusive Resort & Spa

An all-inclusive resort is the perfect base for a relaxing trip to Puerto Vallarta. Most are located within the “Hotel Zone,” which is a short drive or bus ride to both the airport and the downtown/Old Town areas, located in between both. For the ideal all-inclusive experience in Puerto Vallarta, look for beachfront access, a gorgeous pool, delicious food and drinks (all included in your hotel rate!), stunning views, and a phenomenal spa.

During my trip, I was hosted by the Fiesta Americana All-Inclusive Resort & Spa. It was my first all-inclusive experience, and frankly, it’s going to be hard to top!

This resort is one of the first built in Puerto Vallarta, and it set a high standard for the hotels that came later, winning Triple A Four Diamond awards for 20 straight years in a row. And importantly, the food at all 5 onsite restaurants is excellent!

How does an all-inclusive resort work? Essentially, all the food and drinks you care to enjoy is included in the price of your room. So at the hotel, none of the menus have prices. You can order whatever you want from any restaurant on site, including the coffee shop and even room service – all without limits. You can even hop from restaurant to restaurant (like I did… for research!) 

One thing I was nervous about was whether the resort would be filled with honeymooners stumbling around holding drinks at 9am, or perhaps well-dressed elites who all own expensive watches or whatever, exuding White Lotus levels of pretentiousness. But neither was the case. The resort felt both luxurious and totally approachable for regular vacationers, including groups of excited Millennials, relaxed couples, and families. And while bar service is plentiful and the drinks are both delicious and unlimited, everyone seemed to be staying within their limits.

The resort manages to strike a fantastic balance between being family-friendly and the perfect place for couples and bachelor/ette parties of all ages. Families with toddlers were enjoying the amenities just as much as happy couples and groups of 20-somethings!

Room at the Fiesta American All Inclusive Resort and Spa in Puerto Vallarta Mexico

Speaking of little ones, I didn’t bring my toddler along on this trip (I was extremely excited to fly solo for the chance to take a much-needed parenting break) but when I saw how incredible the resort was set up for kids (and dogs!) I felt a few pangs of longing. From the charming playground, organized kids activities throughout the day, quiet beach cove perfect for wading, huge kid-friendly pool with a wading area, and even a kids center where parents can safely leave their child behind to go off on adventures, this is the perfect place for a family getaway. Snacks and food are available all day long – there’s even a buffet for instant gratification. I saw lots of happy toddlers during my trip and can’t wait to return with my Little Bug!

I also loved that all the rooms are essentially the same, complete with a private balcony overlooking the pool and ocean – even at the most inexpensive price point. Views and amenities improve when your room is on the top 3 floors, giving you access to happy hours with hors d’oeuvres, a heated adults-only hot tub and rooftop pool, premium restaurant seating, and a private veranda for breakfast.

I truly enjoyed staying at the Fiesta Americana and would highly recommend making it your home base during your trip to Puerto Vallarta!

Malecon boardwalk stroll along the beach in Puerto Vallarta Mexico

Hotel in Old Town Puerto Vallarta

If an all-inclusive resort isn’t for you or you prefer to be located closer to Old Town, check out the historic Hotel Rosita. Built in 1948 right along the Malecon, Hotel Rosita was the first formal hotel in Puerto Vallarta, with a gorgeous oceanfront design that’s been well maintained and gives vintage 1940s glamour. The rooms are budget-friendly, there’s a pool, and you’ll be steps away from everything in Old Town.

Another option to look at is the Paramar Beachfront Boutique Hotel. Located next to the beach within easy walking distance to the center, the hotel boasts a beautiful rooftop pool and terrace overlooking the ocean (an unbeatable location for the free morning yoga!) and a delicious included breakfast.

Pool at Fiesta American All Inclusive Resort and Spa in Puerto Vallarta Mexico
There’s nothing better than checking into your resort and immediately heading to the pool – or spa!

Puerto Vallarta Itinerary

Day One: Relax – or Take a Taco Tour

When I disembarked from my plane at around noon, I had big plans. I thought I would check into the Fiesta Americana All-Inclusive Resort & Spa, stash my bags in my room, and immediately hop in a taxi to head into town and explore the Zona Romantica.

But instead I just … relaxed. I laid on a beach chair and listened to the waves and ate some ceviche and fish tacos and drank a delicious pineapple mezcalina with a tajin rim, which appeared almost magically by my side. I even got a massage in the spa – there is nothing better than a relaxing massage and a shower after spending your day crammed inside a plane!

After my massage, I dipped my toe in the Pacific Ocean and thought about jumping in for a swim, but decided it was too cold and I am too much of a wuss, so instead I headed to a heated infinity pool with a beautiful view. As I relaxed and the stress of a travel day melted away, my brain slowly turned off and went into vacation mode. And y’all, I suddenly understood the appeal of an all inclusive resort.

So that’s what I want you to do on your first day. Shake off your travel stress, breathe in the salty air, and let yourself fully relax. Take a nice long walk on the shore, and watch a stunning sunset from the beach, have dinner at your resort (or within close walking distance of your hotel), and enjoy a delicious meal steps away from your hotel room.

But hey, if you’re too excited to relax (hey, I get it! I was young once too) hop into a taxi or take a bus into Old Town Puerto Vallarta for an evening taco tour!

On the Tacos After Dark Tour, you’ll get to know the city by night while taking a deep dive into Mexico’s most celebrated culinary creation and enjoy several types of tacos like fish, al pastor (marinated grilled pork), and de cabeza (beef cheek), try Mexican quesadillas (nope, they’re not the same as the US version) and meet a local master of churros.

  • Puerto Vallarta Itinerary Day One Summary: Arrive, check in, eat something, and relax. Schedule a massage! Swim in the pool.  You’ve arrived! Watch the sunset from the beach and enjoy a leisurely dinner at your resort. Alternatively,  take an evening food tour in Old Town Puerto Vallarta.

Day Two: Food Tour of Old Town & Rhythms of the Night

Now that you’ve had a chance to fully relax, it’s time to explore. You’ll start with the absolute best way to get to know a new place: a food tour! (Ahem – yes, we’re HUGE food tour fans – we even run our own in our hometown!)

Your expert local guide will show you hidden gems, locally owned restaurants, and street food stands to get to know the city through its delicious cuisine, all while explaining Jalisco’s culture and history and guiding you through the most beautiful parts of Old Town Puerto Vallarta.

Some of the highlights of this tour include crispy birria tacos (a Jalisco original!), chilaquiles, fresh tortillas, mole, tequila, and Mexican chocolate. Make sure to skip breakfast – you’ll be eating at 8-10 different spots over the course of 3.5 hours!

  • Travel Tip: Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes that can handle cobblestones (here is our travel shoe guide for women and for men), and be prepared to climb some stairs – Puerto Vallarta is built into the mountains, and the best views are seen from above.

After a few hours of exploring the colorful cobblestone streets and winding jungle paths of Puerto Vallarta, you’ll be full and tired, so head back to your resort or hotel to relax for a few hours! This is a great time to book a massage, take a dip in the pool, or lay by the beach. You’re on vacation, after all.

Sunset cruise to Alma by Rhythms of the Night in Puerto Vallarta Mexico
As the sun sets over Banderas Bay, you’ll enjoy a sunset cruise to an experience that is sure to be the highlight of your trip – Rhythms of the Night!

After you’re feeling relaxed and refreshed again, put on your best tropical cocktail attire, because tonight’s activity is going to be incredible. You’ll be taking a sunset boat ride, followed by a candlelit dinner in the jungle and an amazing show under the stars on Puerto Vallarta’s absolute best experience: Alma by Rythyms of the Night!

It’s hard to describe this enchanting experience, but here goes. You’ll start with a sunset boat ride, sipping margaritas and pina coladas and vibing to music that’ll have you dancing along with your crew (who seem to all be professional dancers and/or drag queens). As the sun sets below the horizon and rays of peach and tangering reflect on the sparkling waves underneath your boat, you’ll end your cruise at a secluded beach nestled among rugged rock formations and decorated with the glimmering lights of thousands of candles and torches. Welcome to Las Caletas, a paradise tropical beach hideaway that’s been described as Mexico’s Garden of Eden.

Candlit sign at Alma by Rhythyms of the Night in Puerto Vallarta Mexico
Follow the candlelit paths on Las Caletas through the jungle to an unreal dinner and show…

This is where your evening really begins. First, you’ll follow the firelit paths through the jungle to a beachfront table to indulge in a gourmet meal illuminated by candlelight. And honestly, if you would have told me that was it and it was time to leave after that meal, I’d have been thrilled with that experience as-is. But the meal is just the precursor to the main event, the renowned Rhythms of the Night show.

This show is like if Cirque de Soleil and the Big Apple Circus went to Mexico, took some peyote, and had a spiritual jungle experience. It’s irreverent, it’s whimsical, it’s breathtaking. There are fire dancers and singing and campy, silly fun and contortionists and trampoline monkeys and hauntingly beautiful music and it’s absolutely awesome. This surreal experience was by FAR the highlight of my trip!

Fire dancers at Alma by Rhythyms of the Night in Puerto Vallarta Mexico
This show is like if Cirque de Soleil and the Big Apple Circus went to Mexico, took some peyote, and had a spiritual jungle experience

After the show, you’ll wander back along the candlelit paths through the jungle to board your boats for the return trip home. And I kind of expected this part to be a little bit … idk, chill? Boring, maybe? I thought for sure, that was it! The evening is over now, this is just the transportation back to town. Right??

But … nope. The experience continued on the boat, where things went from silly and fun to downright ridiculous and campy. Let me put it this way: the last thing I was expecting was for our friendly boat crew to break out into a full-on dance-off, magic show, and drag performance, but it turns out that the staff of Vallarta Adventures are some of the most multitalented folks out there, serving drinks AND serving lewks. We danced and laughed the entire ride back home.

All in all, I can’t say this enough: do NOT skip this experience. From the boat cruise at sunset with dance jams and drinks, to the delicious dinner by candlelight in the jungle, to a full-on circus in the jungle, to the afterparty and campy show on the boat ride home – every minute was delightful. What an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience. ( And it’s surprisingly reasonably priced, too!!) Y’all, it’s is well worth flying to Puerto Vallarta JUST to experience Rhythms of the Night.

  • Travel Tip: Your boat will embark at Puerto Magico which is like an airport or bus terminal but for boats, complete with shops and restaurants. Your tour operator should give you a certificate for the port fee and a boarding pass. There are lots of different boats and tours departing from here, so wait until they call you through security for Rhythms of the Night.
  • Puerto Vallarta Itinerary Day Two Summary: Take a late-morning food tour to explore Old Town with an expert guide. After your tour, relax at the pool or on the beach. At 5 PM head to the marina for the boat ride to Alma by Rhythms of the Night, an incredible dinner and show in the jungle.
Room service breakfast on the balcony at Fiesta American All Inclusive Resort and Spa Puerto Vallarta Mexico

Day Three: Whale Watching & Exploring the Zona Romantica

Enjoy breakfast at your resort or hotel this morning. If you’re staying at the Fiesta Americana All-Inclusive Resort & Spa, I HIGHLY recommend ordering room service (ALL INCLUSIVE includes room service, you guys!!) to enjoy on your private balcony overlooking the ocean.

There’s nothing better than waking up and eating some chilaquiles while sipping fresh juice and watching the waves come in (also drinking coffee, I’m not the kind of person who can function off of juice and vibes. Luckily, there’s a (free) coffee ship in the Fiesta Americana which makes an excellent cappuccino!)

Mountains surrounding Banderas Bay in Puerto Vallarta Mexico on a whale watching tour
On my whale watching tour, the views were almost as awe-inspiring as the pods of humpback whales circling Banderas Bay!

Once you’ve enjoyed your morning, slather on some sunscreen and head out to take a whale-watching tour! Banderas Bay in Puerto Vallarta is one of the best places in the world to see Humpback Whales, who migrate here each year to give birth. Humpback mothers and their babies can be seen in the bay from December to March (occasionally as early as November or as late as May), peaking in January and February.

There are several options for whale-watching tours in Puerto Vallarta. Most will include drinks, some food, and about 3 hours spent circling Banderas Bay. We’ve got a couple of recommendations:

  • This tour leaves a little later (9:30 AM) which is great for folks like me who are incapable of doing things early in the morning. The tour includes lunch, and the large, yacht-like boat has comfy hammocks to stretch out and relax on while enjoying the views – not to mention plenty of room to walk around and even bathrooms!
  • This tour gets you up close and personal with the whales on a smaller boat (limited to just 10 participants), and you’ll even be able to hear the whales communicate underwater using hydrophones! The company is focused on sustainable eco-tourism and conservation, which we love. There is a morning and afternoon departure time, or you can choose to add on a visit to the Marietas Islands to snorkel.

After your tour, head back into vibrant downtown Puerto Vallarta in the afternoon to explore at your own pace. You’ve been sitting on a boat all morning and it’s time to stretch your legs!

  • Visit Parroquia de Guadalupe, a beautiful Neo-Gothic church and fantastic spot for photos. There are always colorful flags waving in the wind in front of this church, which change seasonally for each local holiday!
  • Nearby, climb up to Faro de Matamoros Mirador for an incredible view that’s worth all the stairs.
  • Stroll along the Malecon, a palm-tree lined, pedestrian-only paved boardwalk along the beach. The Malecon is lined with sculptures and colorful murals created by artists, as well as inlaid with stone symbols. The stone artworks embedded along the boardwalk were designed by the Indigenous Huichol people, and depict designs such as blooming peyote flowers, which are used in their religious ceremonies.
  • Try La Tuba, a refreshing drink made from fresh-squeezed heart of palm or coconut with a hint of vinegar, topped with floating pecan or apple pieces. It’s unique to this part of the world and wonderfully refreshing. You’ll find vendors selling it along the Malecon.
  • Wander across the hanging bridges and onto La Isla, a lush green walking path between two rivers with a vibrant Mercado full of handicrafts. You can spend hours here strolling under the trees, listening to the rushing waters, and shopping at the beautiful artisan shops as iguanas perch overhead. This was by far my favorite part of Old Town Puerto Vallarta – it feels like a jungle village in the center of a bustling city!
  • Parque Lázaro Cardenas, also called Parque de los Azulejos – aka Tile Park. In this plaza, you’ll find benches sparkling in the sunlight, covered in vibrant mosaics made from colorful ceramics and mirrors. On Saturdays, you’ll find a bustling Mercado here!
  • Playa Los Muertos and the Pier: This beach is known as the “Beach of the Dead” because pirates used to abandon corpses there, allowing them to be carried away by the tides and leaving only bones behind. Today, it is full of happy beachgoers sunbathing and enjoying meals on the shore, and the pirate ships have been replaced with water taxis ready to whisk adventurers away to hidden beaches and tucked-away towns. Take in the view on the Pier, a winding path leading out over the emerald-green waves dominated by a giant sail harkening back to the dark history of this beautiful, vibrant place. This area is also the rainbow-studded entrance to the vibrant LGBTQ+ part of Puerto Vallarta! While you’re here, dip your toes in the water and order a fresh coconut juice from one of the vendors along the beach.
  • If you’re hungry for a quick mid-afternoon snack, head to the tiny Tacos de Birria Chanfay taco shop for authentic birria tacos. I ordered both beef/res and pork/puerco, medium fried (medio), with the consume dip, and it was absolute heaven. (Psst: there’s also a beautiful shop next door to shop for hand-painted ceramics and leather goods at insanely reasonable prices!) Alternatively, try a shrimp burrito or taco at It’s Taco Time, a small stand along the Malecon that serves up amazing food!
  • If you need a place to rest and relax, head to Mar Vino for lunch. The tables are placed in a shallow pool, so you can soak your feet and enjoy lunch while overlooking the beach from above. Try the Nayarit-style fish crackling or soft shell crab tacos. And save room for green guava pie for dessert!
Playa Los Muertos in Old Town Zona Romantic Puerto Vallarta Mexico
The gruesomely named Playa los Muertos is actually a lovely beach with a beautiful pier!

After exploring Old Town Puerto Vallarta all afternoon, enjoy dinner at your resort. At the Fiesta Americana, I recommend making a reservation for El Mexicano, one of the restaurants located on-site. If you haven’t tried them yet, order birria tacos, a Jalisco original consisting of crunchy, deep-fried corn tortillas stuffed with stewed beef and served with a rich dipping sauce, sweet pickled onions and hot peppers, cilantro and lime.

Stay local for your entree with Nayarit-style shrimp served with chili butter, or pick from Mexican classics like Oaxacan or Pepian mole or Veracruz-style fish. Enjoy a drink from the swim-up bar before heading up to your room to throw the balcony doors open and let the waves lull you to sleep.

Birria Tacos from Fiesta American All Inclusive Resort and Spa Puerto Vallarta Mexico
There’s no such thing as too many Birria tacos while in this part of Mexico, y’all. Left: Birria tacos from El Mexicano at the Fiesta Americana All-Inclusive Resort & Spa. Right: Poolside dining at Rosato, another restaurant at the resort. Learn more about the resort’s incredible dining options!

Alternatively, stroll the Malecon and have a romantic dinner in Old Town. For foodies, Cafe de Artist is a must-try, as one of the best and most renowned restaurants in Puerto Vallarta. Be sure to make a reservation well in advance!

For vibes, head to La Palapa to enjoy a beautiful sunset on the beach paired with traditional Mexican specialties or international cuisine.

  • Puerto Vallarta Itinerary Day Three Summary: Have breakfast at your resort before heading out on a whale-watching tour. Spend the morning on a boat in the bay in the company of humpback whales! After your tour, stroll the Malecon, shop under the tree canopy of La Isla, and explore the iconic sights of Old Town Puerto Vallarta before heading back to your resort for dinner.
Beachside seating at the breakfast buffet at. Fiesta Americana All-Inclusive Resort & Spa (accessible with a top-floor room reservation).

Day Four: Final Adventures

Sadly, this is your last day in Puerto Vallarta! Roll out of bed for one last relaxing breakfast overlooking the bay ringed with mountains. If you’re anything like me, you’ll spend the next several hours frantically packing in a rush, but you might be able to squeeze in one last stroll along the beach or dip in the pool.

If you have a little bit of time to pop into town before your flight home, it’s the perfect time to pick up some last-minute souvenirs on La Isla or at the flea market! (I had to do all my souvenir shopping in the airport and probably paid triple what I would have otherwise, oh well.) Stop for a quick and inexpensive lunch at Loncheria de Don Jorge, a small tipico diner located just outside of the flea market in Old Town.

If you’ve got a full extra day, I’d recommend taking a taxi to explore the highly-rated Botanical Gardens about 45 minutes away from town. Or head into the mountains for an adventure, like ziplining, kayaking, and tequila tasting!

And then, sadly, it’s time to check out, say adios, and head to the airport for your flight home. Until next time, Puerto Vallarta!

Tours4fun, Let us take you on a journey!

More Posts

Budget travel Benin

Scroll to Top