Puerto Vallarta makes a perfect family destination. With so much to do and see, a vacation in this vibrant and inviting region on the west coast of Mexico 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.
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 people enjoy fresh seafood at any of the oceanfront palapa-shaded restaurants. Mismaloya Beach may look familiar — Night of the Iguana was filmed here in 1963, sparking Puerto Vallarta’s rise as an international tourist destination.
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 whales as they migrate and calve is an amazing and unforgettable experience. Be aware that with young kids, potentially rough water on a boat for three hours — without any guarantee that you’ll see whales — may be a disaster.
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We recommend using a tour company run by working scientists, where all of the money paid for the tour goes directly to supporting humpback whale research in Puerto Vallarta. Our Family Vacation Advisors can help you find the right one.
A sea tour in the off-season can also be fun. Take a day trip aboard the pirate ship Marigalante — kids can play as pirates while parents get to relax and enjoy “pirate punch” on the boat.
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 zipline canopy tour. Kids as young as 4 can swim with dolphins and sea lions or help baby sea turtles out to sea. Some companies and resorts also offer the chance to snorkel with sea lions and interact closely with these playful creatures in their natural ocean habitat.
A day trip to the fishing village and surfer haven of 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, expats, visitors and residents alike all revere this special little town.
Sunday evenings are family time in Puerto Vallarta. Head out with your brood (and most of Puerto Vallarta) to the Malecón, the seaside boardwalk in El Centro downtown. The festive atmosphere includes street performers, mimes and clowns 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 desserts found along the boardwalk. As a finale, just after the sun goes down, a fireworks display goes off over the water from on board the Marigalante — a perfect end to a Puerto Vallarta evening.
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