Who wouldn’t want to take their kids to a destination named “World’s Friendliest City” by Conde Nast Traveler and “Best Holiday Destination in Mexico” by USNews.com?
Nestled between the emerald green of the Pacific and the looming Sierra Madre Mountains is Puerto Vallarta, seducing visitors with its colorful culture, friendly locals, and tropical appeal. In addition to the sun-drenched beaches, this Mexican seaside destination offers a myriad of dining experiences, soft and extreme adventure options, and eco-diversity.
And with temperatures between 70℉ – 92℉ depending on the season, any time of year is a good time to go.
1. Take a stroll on the malecón
This pedestrian-only walkway is the heart and soul of the city. The seaside footpath is filled with open-air colorful sculptures along the ocean side and shops and eateries on the town side of the esplanade. The mountains are a distant scenic backdrop. By day the malecón is buzzing with activity and in the evening it’s a good place to view stunning Pacific sunsets. Be prepared to encounter the enticing aromas of local Mexican, Mediterranean, and Cuban cuisines, as well as pizza and American-type franchises. On weekends street performers provide merry entertainment.
2. Pirate cruise
Board the Marigalante for a day-long adventure on the high seas! After serving a full breakfast, the pirate crew entertains with shows, singing, and swordfights. The shows are fun for the entire family, and the pirates actively encourage participation and ask some kids to volunteer in the shows and games. The ship anchors at Majahuitas Beach for a two-hour beach party, with a treasure hunt and tug of war for the kids, and snorkeling and banana boat rides for all. After a grilled buffet lunch, the ship sets sail for the return to port with even more shows and entertainment. I anticipated the pirate ship would be too kitschy, but to my delight, it was a boisterous good time for all ages.
3. Zip line in the jungle
The Los Veranos canopy tour lays claim as the original eco-friendly zip-line adventure in Puerto Vallarta, boasting more than a decade of experience. After a safety briefing and equipment fitting, children as young as six years old can participate in this adventure. The lush jungle course encompasses more than two miles of cable, zooming screaming tourists from tree to tree with views over the Orquideas River. The longest stretch is more than a quarter of a mile long with a stunning birds-eye observation of the ravine below. The property has a restaurant and an animal sanctuary with monkeys, a Burmese python to hold, or test your daring and let a furry tarantula crawl across your face.
4. Swim with dolphins
Swimming with dolphins at Aquaventuras Park Vallarta is a memorable experience. There are several different programs to choose from, including a water experience where kids can bond and interact with the incredible dolphins in a totally natural environment. There are also sea lion shows, a water park with ten adrenaline-pumping slides, and refreshments for a fun-packed, day-long activity.
5. Visit the marina
Another great family jaunt should include Marina Vallarta. Just 15 minutes north of downtown Puerto Vallarta, the marina is in a swanky area with five-star hotels, resorts, and spas. In the heart of the marina is a boardwalk with shops and a heaven for foodies. For a beautiful panoramic, head to the main landmark – the lighthouse – which also hosts an outdoor bar/restaurant.
6. Play at the beach
There are many beaches to choose from, but for families, Los Muertos is a good choice. The mile-long beach is walking distance from the Malecón in the Romantic Zone. Ironically, Los Muertos means “The Dead,” but this strip of crystal aqua water and sandy beach is the liveliest, with the most activities, including water sports and swimming. Umbrellas and palapas are available for rent, and waiters from the beachside restaurants will bring all manner of food and drink right to your beach chair or towel.
7. Test your bargaining skills
Just a couple of blocks off the malecón is the Rio Cuale Flea Market, a two-story marketplace with stall-after-stall of vendors who will help you practice your bargaining skills. The area around the flea market is like a rabbit warren of small shops offering all kinds of goods, Mexican handcrafts jewelry, talavera pottery, and beachwear. Bargaining is expected and it’s all good-natured and part of the cultural experience.
8. Enjoy infinity pools, grottos, and swim up bars
If your kids are like mine, one of the things they really enjoy on vacation is just hanging out at the hotel pool – especially if it’s well-designed. While in Puerto Vallarta, we like staying at the CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa. The Marriott is an upscale, sprawling resort, and is within walking distance to the marina area with little shops and restaurants. It’s located directly on the beach, and although the beach is a lovely setting, it’s the other hotel amenities that appeal to kids. The pool area is a real winner – a gigantic infinity-edge pool, simulated rock grottos, and a swim up bar. (My kids absolutely love ordering non-alcoholic smoothies without adult supervision!) Water volleyball games with other guests spring up spontaneously. For parents wanting to participate in a day tour alone, there is a kid’s club on site with activities for kids ages 4-12.
9. Visit the iconic Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral
This beloved church has been called “one of the most endearing” of the city’s landmarks by U.S. News & World Report. A block from the main square, dominating Vallarta’s El Centro skyline, you can’t miss it.
10. Stroll through the Romantic Zone (Viejo “Old” Vallarta)
For the most authentic Mexican flavor of Puerto Vallarta, head to the old part of the city. Here you’ll find the traditional cobblestone village streets typical of Mexican towns in days gone by. The narrow streets are lined with boutique hotels, family-owned shops, street food, and taco stands. The bustling activity and open markets are part of the appeal. Delectable dining can be found on “Restaurant Row,” Basilio Badillo. Viejo Vallarta is a vibrant area of fun, day or night.
Photo sources: All photos by Patti Morrow except for those listed below