Puerto Vallarta makes a perfect family destination. With so much to do and see, a vacation in this vibrant and inviting region in Mexico (West Coast) is likely to include cultural and learning opportunities, in addition to the requisite relaxation.
Jungle meets ocean as the lush forests of the Sierra Madre mountain range descend to meet the Pacific at Bahía de Banderas (Bay of Flags), or Banderas Bay. Diverse in its terrain, culture and architecture, the Puerto Vallarta region, also known as Costa Vallarta, encompasses the entire Banderas Bay area and 40 miles of coastline.
Head to the beach
Beaches in Puerto Vallarta can be sandy or rocky, and each has its own distinct beauty. Bucerias Beach is ideal for families, with a lengthy stretch of golden sand and a gradual sand shelf—although the surf can be rough. Local Vallartans, especially families, frequent Playa Destiladeras. Sunday is a busy day at this wide sandy beach, and many enjoy fresh seafood at any of the oceanfront palapa-shaded restaurants. Mismaloya Beach may look familiar to you – “Night of the Iguana” was filmed here in 1963, and subsequently, Puerto Vallarta became known an international tourist destination.
Go whale watching
Banderas Bay is home to and calving grounds for many whales and dolphins, and multiple companies offer whale watching tours during the Humpback whale season (November through March). Viewing the massive, graceful, and sometimes playful migrating and calving whales is an amazing and unforgettable experience. Be aware that potentially rough water on a boat for three hours without any guarantee that you’ll see whales may be a disaster with young kids.
Puerto Vallarta Whale Watching Forum recommends tour companies that are all run by working scientists, where all of the money paid for the tour goes directly to supporting humpback whale research in Puerto Vallarta.
A sea tour in the off-season can also be fun. Take a day trip aboard the pirate shipMarigalante—kids can play as pirates while parents get to relax and enjoy “pirate punch” on the boat.
Explore local nature
Local tour companies offer a variety of nature excursions. Waterfall horseback rides are a favorite and older kids will love gliding through the jungle on a zip-line canopy tour. 4-year-olds can swim with dolphins and sea lions, or help baby sea turtles out to sea. We don’t have a specific tour company to recommend, however, the concierge desk at any of our recommended hotels can suggest reliable options.
One of our featured properties, the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, is offering a Sea Lion Snorkel Encounter that is reported to be a hit with their guests (we haven’t done it). This unique program gives guests ages 5 and up the chance to interact closely with playful sea lions in their natural ocean habitat. The experience begins on Las Cuevas beach with a brief lesson about sea lion physiology and behavior. A short snorkel tour led by trainers through Punta Mita’s clear warm waters ends in the open ocean sea lion area, where participants can touch, pet, play and frolic with these endearing animals.
Check out Sayulita
A day trip to the fishing village and surfer haven, Sayulita, can be spent at one of the expansive local beaches watching surfers, exploring the cute shops in town, and eating lunch at one of the many restaurants right on the water. About an hour (25 km) from Puerto Vallarta, locals, ex-patriot residents and visitors alike all revere this special little town.
Join the locals at the Malecón
Sunday evenings are family night in Puerto Vallarta. Head out with the family (and most of Puerto Vallarta – locals, tourists … everybody!) to the Malecón, the sea-side boardwalk in El Centro, the heart of downtown. The festive atmosphere includes street performers, mimes and clowns performing along the boardwalk., sand sculptors who recreate well-known works of art, and local artisans selling their wares. With a little luck, you may catch one of Los Arcos Amphitheater’s frequent free shows.
Children’s menus are available at many of the Malecón restaurants. After dinner, tempt your sweet tooth and indulge in fried bananas, crepes, or one of many other deserts and sweets found along the Malecón. As a finale, just after the sun goes down, a fireworks display is set off over the water from on board the Marigalante—a perfect end to the evening.