Puerto Vallarta from the Ruby Princess

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Our first port on the Ruby Princess Mexican Rivera Cruise was to Puerto Vallarta – I was so excited to visit the city my parents honeymooned in and love so much.

A person stands in front of a colorful "PUERTO VALLARTA" sign with a seahorse statue on a scenic boardwalk by the ocean under a clear sky.

Port Call Puerto Vallarta Mexico

Puerto Vallarta is a town that offers tons of activities to ships in port – there are lots of thrilling beach excursions and unique tours on land – but I was looking to limit my time in the sun (I sometimes have to take medicine that can lower sunscreen’s effectiveness on my skin, so I was looking to make my own tour of sorts!). This is the perfect town to explore without a set agenda if you aren’t booking an excursion – it is easy to get around in one of the numerous safe and inexpensive cabs (most take American Dollars), there are plenty of restaurants and shops to explore, and the town is steeped in history just waiting to be taken in!

I was a bit sad I had to miss the fun beach excursion my friends went on due to my sun-sensitivity, but I had so much fun exploring Puerto Vallarta and finding delicious food, I really got a chance to feel connected to the town, and I am so beyond grateful for such an amazing experience with my friend Sara!

large princess cruise ships

My Day in Port Vallarta Mexico

Puerto Vallarta has no shortage of delicious foods to sample – and restaurants are often quick to lure tourists into dining rooms as they wander down the Malecon (as they did with my friend and I.) We were starving and had been waiting to meet up after we both had some little things we each needed to get done once in port, so we jumped at the first menu that was presented to us – and ended up loving the meal more than we ever thought we could! (Don’t you love when you stumble into a delicious restaurant when you’re just starving and you would have settled for anything?)

We loved Viejo Vallarta’s location – high above the Malecon and perfect for people watching – in part because it was by the ocean so we could watch the waves, but it’s also just a short stroll to the Cathedral, which we both really wanted to see.

I ordered a beef and chicken molecajete (knowing there was no way I could ever finish the amount of food, but I just HAD to try it!), and Sara grabbed an incredibly delicious tortilla soup (even though it was a very hot day, her soup was fantastic – rich and tomatoey with a slight smoky flavor that was enticing and warm, but didn’t make us feel hotter.)

Our pick: Viejo Vallarta, just off the Malecon.
Must order: chicken tortilla soup, beef and chicken molacajete.

First off, inspect that the item you’re looking at is actually made in Mexico (as with any store in any city you can easily find a lot of items that are made to look authentic but come from various locations that might be far, far away and not nearly as authentic and craft-produced as you think.)

Next, go into markets with an idea of what you want to spend, as well as a good (well researched) idea of how much an item should cost (what it would cost to buy it at home, less charges to bring the item home) before purchasing. I’m not much of a haggler when it comes to artisan pieces – though you can find an abundance of people looking for the bottom dollar. (In my head, for artisan work that involves small-batch processes, I want to pay a fair price that honors the piece I am buying- versus encouraging vendors to turn to cheaper mass-produced items instead.)

big tower in a city

What to Do in Puerto Vallarta

Take a photo by the Seahorse

Puerto Vallarta’s Malecon area provides plenty of photo opportunities – and none as fun, playful, and vibrant as the giant Seahorse statue in the middle of the city’s colorful block letters!

Puerto Vallarta’s boardwalk, the Malecon

The boardwalk is the perfect place to watch people and the bright blue sea – there is no shortage of entertainment as tourists make their way up the famous boardwalk area and beachgoers zip past on jet skis or in parachutes behind boats.

Zona Romántica

A charming, historic district known for its cobblestone streets, lively nightlife, and numerous dining options.

mexican flag

Los Muertos Beach

One of the most popular beaches in Puerto Vallarta, perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and enjoying beachside bars and restaurants.

Isla Río Cuale

A serene island in the middle of the city with a peaceful park, cultural center, and artisan market.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish

An iconic church with a distinctive crown-topped tower, located in the heart of downtown Puerto Vallarta.

Marina Vallarta

A modern area featuring luxury yachts, golf courses, upscale shopping, and dining options.

square with puerto valiarta written in them.

Botanical Gardens (Jardín Botánico de Vallarta)

A lush, expansive garden showcasing the region’s diverse flora, perfect for nature walks and bird watching.

Vallarta Adventure Tours

Offering a range of activities such as zip-lining, dolphin encounters, whale watching (seasonal), and ATV tours.

Las Caletas Beach Hideaway

A private beach getaway offering snorkeling, kayaking, and relaxation, accessible by boat tour.

a gallery door with cast iron handrail

Mismaloya Beach

A beautiful beach located south of the city, known for its clear waters, snorkeling opportunities, and the nearby “Night of the Iguana” film set.

Sayulita

A charming surf town about an hour away, known for its bohemian vibe, surfing, and colorful streets.

El Salado Estuary

A protected natural area offering boat tours to observe local wildlife, including crocodiles and numerous bird species.

El Faro Lighthouse

Located in Marina Vallarta, climb to the top for stunning panoramic views of the city and Banderas Bay.

colorful wooden figurines

Gringo Gulch

A picturesque neighborhood with historic homes and stunning views, made famous by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

Yelapa

A secluded village accessible only by boat, known for its beautiful waterfalls, laid-back atmosphere, and pristine beaches.

little wooden turtles and minions

Stroll the marketplace right by the ship

Right as you get off the ship, you hear vendors calling out to check out their wares. This is one of my most and least favorite parts of cruise ship ports – it makes it insanely easy to find things you might be looking for (in my case, I had my heart set on bringing back some Talavera plates) but you need to be very careful and picky when selecting items from such markets.

Hotel Suggestions.

If you miss the boat… ugh, or are not cruising here are my hotel suggestions. Crown Paradis Golden is an all inclusive resort which takes all the worry about where you will eat, etc. out of the trip and it is a lovely beachside resort. For a more city central hotel that is still beachside try Tropicana Hotel Puerto Vallarta, you can also search all the hotel options by clicking here.

green seahorse statue with a boy riding on it

Tips for Visiting Puerto Vallarta

Check out these tips and trips as you plan your visit:

Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit Puerto Vallarta is from April to June when the weather is pleasant and hotel rates are lower. The winter months (December to March) are popular for whale watching but are more crowded.

Weather Preparation: Puerto Vallarta has a tropical climate, so pack light, breathable clothing, swimwear, sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses. An umbrella or light rain jacket can be useful during the rainy season (June to October).

skeletons dressed in festive wear

Local Currency: The Mexican peso (MXN) is the local currency. While US dollars are widely accepted, it’s beneficial to have pesos for smaller purchases and tips.

Language: Spanish is the official language, but English is commonly spoken in tourist areas. Knowing a few basic Spanish phrases can enhance your experience.

Transportation: Taxis, buses, and ride-sharing services like Uber are available. Consider renting a car if you plan to explore surrounding areas, but be aware of local driving customs.

Accommodation: Book accommodations in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons. Options range from luxury resorts to budget hotels and vacation rentals.

egg over red sauce with avocado

Beach Safety: Some beaches have strong currents. Pay attention to warning flags and lifeguard instructions, and choose designated swimming areas.

Dining: Puerto Vallarta has a diverse culinary scene. Try local dishes like ceviche, tacos, and fresh seafood. Visit both upscale restaurants and local food stands for a variety of experiences.

Nightlife: The city has a vibrant nightlife with bars, clubs, and live music venues, particularly in the Malecón and Zona Romántica areas. Enjoy responsibly and be aware of your surroundings.

crosses with cloth necklaces on a table

Water Activities: Take advantage of water activities like snorkeling, scuba diving, jet-skiing, and sailing. Book tours through reputable operators to ensure safety and quality.

Shopping: Explore local markets and shops for souvenirs such as handmade crafts, jewelry, and Mexican textiles. Haggling is common in markets, so feel free to negotiate prices.

Respect Local Culture: Be respectful of local customs and traditions. When visiting religious sites or local communities, dress modestly and behave courteously.

Health and Safety: Drink bottled or purified water to avoid stomach issues. It’s also wise to have travel insurance that covers medical expenses and activities.

shrimp and meat with radishes in a bowl

Travel Documents: Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months from your date of entry. Keep copies of important documents like your passport and travel insurance in a safe place.

Tours and Day Trips: Consider guided tours for a deeper understanding of Puerto Vallarta’s history and culture. Popular day trips include Yelapa, Sayulita, and the Marietas Islands.

Local Etiquette: Tipping is customary in Mexico. Generally, 10-15% of the bill is standard in restaurants, and small tips are appreciated for services like bag handling and housekeeping.

Safety: Puerto Vallarta is generally safe, but like any tourist destination, be mindful of your belongings and avoid secluded areas at night. Stick to well-lit, populated areas.

Explore Beyond the Beaches: Puerto Vallarta offers more than just beautiful beaches. Explore the city’s art galleries, cultural centers, and natural attractions like the Vallarta Botanical Gardens.

shrimp and meat with radishes in a bowl

A Taste of Mexico at Home

The cuisine in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, is a vibrant blend of traditional Mexican flavors and fresh seafood, offering dishes like ceviche, tacos al pastor, and grilled fish. Visitors can enjoy a diverse culinary scene ranging from street food vendors and local markets to upscale restaurants with innovative takes on regional specialties.

I love to travel and cook, check out these recipes inspired by my travels to Mexico

brick clock tower

Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish

Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, an iconic landmark in Puerto Vallarta, is renowned for its distinctive crown-topped tower and serves as a central symbol of the city’s rich cultural and religious heritage. This Parish building is a must-visit when in port.

brick clocktower with crown on top

The church is adorned with a crown, made to look like the crown worn by the Empress Carlota of Mexico – and the crown’s design is replicated again inside the cathedral.

picture of Mary with colorful cloth hanging around it

The church is one of the most stunning parishes I’ve visited – with lots of bright, bold colors, and an overwhelming sense of peace. It is definitely worth visiting and checking out the small prayer garden next to it, where you will find a statue of Francis de Assisi, and get a great view of the crown (they were undergoing some renovations when we visited.)

boy praying sculpture

Tissue Flags

Brightly colored tissue flags (often used around Day of the Dead, which was right after we visited) hang across streets throughout Puerto Vallarta, giving everything a festive feel. The delicate paper flags are such a lovely touch to the old town area, it’s hard to resist wandering under them and checking out Puerto Vallarta’s lovely homes and buildings in the old town. There is so much rich history and beautiful architecture to enjoy a few blocks off the tourist area, we had fun just walking and checking out the streets on our way back to the ship!

paper cutouts on a string

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paper cutouts on a string

About Courtney

Courtney loves to share great wine, good food, and loves to explore far flung places- all while masting an everyday elegant and easy style at lifestyle blog Sweet C’s Designs. Sweet C's devoted to finding the best food and drinks you'll want to make or find, around the world!

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