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Puerto Vallarta is one of the most popular destinations on Mexico’s Pacific Coast.
Located at the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains, Puerto Vallarta boasts golden beaches, an ink-blue Ocean, and lush greenery. There’s also plenty of history and culture here, but one of the best activities is taking day trips from Puerto Vallarta.
Check my complete guide to the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta!
When I first visited Puerto Vallarta, everybody talked about Sayulita and Tequila, the two most popular destinations in the region. But as I spent more time in the area, I learned that there are tons of other day trips from Puerto Vallarta, from secluded beaches to mountain getaways.
If you are traveling to Puerto Vallarta and want to discover more of the area, this guide is for you!
Renting a car in Puerto Vallarta
You will need to rent a car to take day trips from Puerto Vallarta. While some places can be accessed by public transportation or boats, it’s easier to take most day trips from Puerto Vallarta if you have a car.
DiscoverCars is my favorite website for finding good rental cars in Mexico. It has a good inventory, flexible rates, and easy navigation.
Check my guide on renting a car in Puerto Vallarta to get familiar with the process and save money!
Where to rent a car in Puerto Vallarta
The best place to rent a car in Puerto Vallarta is at the Puerto Vallarta Airport (PVR). You can do it after you land to spending money on Uber and taxis in Puerto Vallarta. Many rental car companies have offices at the Puerto Vallarta Airport.
Distance from Puerto Vallarta: 16 miles (23km)
Where to stay: Hotel Olas Altas
Bucerias is a mall city between Sayulita and Puerto Vallarta. It’s a perfect alternative to touristy destinations in the area. In my opinion, the beach in Bucerias is better (and cleaner) than in Sayulita!
Bucerias used to fly under the radar but now more travelers are starting to come here. Whether you want to join tours, explore the town, spend a lazy day on the beach or eat in local restaurants, there are plenty of things to do in Bucerias.
And the best part – prices in Bucerias are much lower than in Puerto Vallarta or Sayulita!
2. Punta Mita
Distance from Puerto Vallarta: 1 hr 2 min (42.3 km) via Puerto Vallarta – Tepic and Carr. Federal la Cruz de Huanacaxtle – Punta de Mita
Where to stay: Punta Mita Surf Lodge
Punta Mita is one of the most popular day trips from Puerto Vallarta, known for its luxury resorts. This peninsula north of Puerto Vallarta boasts gorgeous beaches and great surfing.
Although there are many swanky resorts in Punta Mita, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to enjoy this area. You can visit local pueblos where you will find a public beaches with small cafes and restaurants.
Some of the best things to do in Punta Mita are surfing and enjoying food. You can rent the equipment at one of the local beaches and take a surfing lesson.
Distance from Puerto Vallarta: 1 hr 5 min (40.3 km) via Puerto Vallarta – Tepic
Where to stay: Anjali Casa Divina
Located in the neighboring state Rivera Nayarit, Sayulita is a colorful surf town that has become a magnet for travelers. One of the most famous pueblos magicos in Mexico, Sayulita boasts a small-town charm thanks to its artisan market, secluded beaches, and outdoor scenery.
Learn about how to get from Puerto Vallarta to Sayulita
Many travelers also use Sayulita as a starting point for their adventures along the coast of Nayarit. Spend some time in Sayulita to enjoy this artsy pueblo!
Check my complete guide to the best things to do in Sayulita.
4. San Pancho (San Francisco)
Distance from Puerto Vallarta: 43.5 km (1 hour 8 minutes) via Puerto Vallarta – Tepic Highway
Where to stay: Marii Hotel Boutique
San Pancho (or San Francisco) is a hippie town about 20 minutes north of Sayulita. It has a notably different vibe than Sayulita and a more quiet atmosphere. San Pancho sits slightly off the beaten path and is a great alternative to more popular places in Rivera Nayarit.
After visiting San Pancho, continue to other places in Nayarit like Lo De Marcos, Chacala and San Blas located further north along the coast.
5. Lo De Marcos
Distance from Puerto Vallarta: 54.4 km (1 hr 22 minutes) via Puerto Vallarta – Tepic
Where to stay: One and Only Mandarina
Lo de Marcos is a beach town that is a perfect alternative to busy Sayulita. Lo De Marcos remains mainly off the tourist radar and has an even more low-key atmosphere than San Pancho.
Located 30 minutes north of Sayulita and 15 minutes north of San Pancho, Lo De Marcos might be just a bit too small to travel here from Puerto Vallarta. But it’s a perfect stop if you want to combine it with San Pancho and Chacala. Lo De Marcos is a great place to spend a day or two and enjoy relaxed vibes before continuing your adventures in Nayarit.
Distance from Puerto Vallarta: The ferry from Puerto Vallarta Los Muertos Pier to Yelapa Hotel Pier takes between 50 minutes and 1 hour.
Another option is to take a water taxi to Yelapa from Boca De Tomatlan.
Yelapa is a quiet fishing village in Banderas Bay. This pueblo is one of the most popular day trips from Puerto Vallarta. Since you can get to Yelapa only by boat, many travelers come here on a tour.
Snorkeling, diving, and relaxing on the beach are some of the most popular things to do in Yelapa. The area boasts a wide golden-sand beach with a small lagoon on one side and a lush mountain on the other side.
If all you want to eat food and lounge on a beach, Yelapa is a perfect place! It feels completely off-grid and offers a nice getaway from the busy Puerto Vallarta.
Adventurous travelers can take a hike to a waterfall – one of the main attractions of Yelapa.
Is Yelapa safe?
Yelapa is one of the most secluded places in the Puerto Vallarta region. It’s inhabited by a handful of long-time residents and is disconnected from the major travel route
7. Islas Marietas
Distance from Puerto Vallarta: 36 km. It takes from one hour to one hour and a half to get from the Puerto Vallarta Pier to Islas Marietas by boat.
Nicknamed “The Galapagos of Mexico,” Islas Marietas is one of the most popular day trips from Puerto Vallarta. This national park is home to many endemic species.
Visiting Islas Marietas from Puerto Vallarta is possible only with a boat tour. Most tours of Islas Marietas include stops for snorkeling, wildlife watching, kayaking, and paddle boarding.
Another popular stop in the Islas Marietas National Park is Hidden Beach, a patch of sand below the limestone crater. Since there’s a limit on how many people can visit Hidden Beach, you need to pay extra to access this area or buy a tour that includes a stop there.
This specific tour visits Hidden Beach and includes snacks, water, and an English-speaking guide. Some tours include a stop at Hidden Beach, but don’t guarantee it, as the number of visitors is strictly regulated.
8. Sierra Madre Mountains
The Sierra Madre Mountains surrounding Puerto Vallarta offer opportunities for hiking, zip-lining, and off-roading. Take one of the popular tours from Puerto Vallarta to get a break from the heat and sun of the coast,
Sierra Madre Mountains are one of the best day trips from Puerto Vallarta for adventure lovers thanks to the diversity of flora and fauna. Keep your eyes peeled to spot wildlife like snakes, lizards, and tropical birds.
9. Los Arcos National Park
One of the most easily accessible day trips from Puerto Vallarta is Los Arcos National Park. Named after the geological formations dominating this area, Los Arcos is popular for swimming, diving, and snorkeling. It’s also a common stop for many catamaran cruises in the Bahia de Las Banderas.
The clear waters at Los Arcos National Park are perfect for spotting fish, corals, and many marine creatures.
The limestone arches are covered by vegetation and make for a perfect photo backdrop if you want to snap a couple of photos.
10. Playa Colomitos
Distance from Puerto Vallarta: 49 min (23.7 km) via Manzanillo – Puerto Vallarta/México 200
Playa Colomitos is often called one of the most beautiful beaches in Mexico. You can access this secluded strip of sand only by a boat ride or hike, which begins at the Boca De Tomatlan. The water taxi from Boca De Tomatlan to Playa Colomitos costs 50 Pesos.
To reach Boca De Tomatlan, you will need a car, because it’s about 30 minutes south of Puerto Vallarta. If you travel on a budget, you can also take one of the orange buses from Zona Romantica (Boca De Tomatlan is their final stop).
A hike to Playa Colomitos is about one mile but prepare for many ups and downs with steep sections. The hike offers spectacular views of the coastline and surrounding jungle.
You can also take a water taxi to Playa Colomitos from the Puerto Vallarta Pier, where many vendors sell boat tours. It will save you a lot of time and allow you to enjoy the views without too much work.
When you arrive at Playa Colomitos, you will enjoy spectacular views of emerald-green waters, golden sand, and the lush jungle!
11. Jardin Botanico de Vallarta
Distance from Puerto Vallarta: 54 min (31.9 km) via Manzanillo – Puerto Vallarta/Puerto Vallarta – Manzanillo/México 200
Where to stay: Hacienda San Angel
If you don’t have time to take a day trip from Puerto Vallarta, but crave a quick getaway from the city, take a ride to Puerto Vallarta’s Botanical Gardens just outside of the city. This place offers a perfect mix of hiking, green spaces, and artful decorations, and you can also take a dip in the clear waters of Rio Hormones, so don’t forget to bring your swimsuit.
Keep in mind that the water is a bit chilly (or at least it was to me), so bring a towel and wear comfortable hiking shoes. Tickets to Vallarta Botanical Gardens cost 200 pesos per person, and the ride is about 25 minutes away from downtown Puerto Vallarta.
12. Conchas Chinas
Distance from Puerto Vallarta: 11 km (28 minutes)
Conchas Chinas is an upscale area south of Puerto Vallarta where you can find fancy homes and hotels. What’s cool about Conchas Chinas is that it also boasts a nice beach.
Distance from Puerto Vallarta: 148 kilometers (92 miles)
Where to stay: Hotel Nueve Agaves
Known as one of the top-producing regions of Mexico’s famous drink, Tequila is a designated pueblo Mágico and one of the most popular day trips from Puerto Vallarta. Many travelers come here to take tours of local distilleries where they can try the signature drink of Jalisco and learn about its production.
Renting a car in Puerto Vallarta will allow you to enjoy this popular destination since you can take your time exploring the area, visit museums and spend the night in one of the Tequila hotels. Visiting Tequila with a guided tour is also an option, with many combos available.
Distance from Puerto Vallarta: 336 km (4 hours, 55 minutes)
Where to stay: Casa Habita
Guadalajara is one of the best day trips from Puerto Vallarta for culture buffs. The cultural hub of Jalisco State, Guadalajara is the second largest city in Mexico with a population of 1,5 million people. It’s also home to mariachi bands and tequila, some of its most famous Mexican brands.
As the largest city in the country’s heartland, it doesn’t get more authentic than Guadalajara! There are several guided tours of Guadalajara from Puerto Vallarta.
I recommend renting a car for your trip, as you will need a few days to explore this city. Guadalajara is still somewhat under the radar, as many travelers head to Mexico City, so it’s a perfect chance to explore this hidden gem.
The drive from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara is a lot of fun, because you will have a chance to see the beautiful mountainous landscapes along the way.
15. San Sebastian Del Oeste
Distance from Puerto Vallarta: 1 hr 33 min (67.9 km) via JAL 544
Where to stay: La Galerita De San Sebastian
If you are spending a couple of days in Puerto Vallarta and need a break from the heat and humidity of the coast, take a day trip to San Sebastian Del Oeste, a picturesque town high in the mountains (about 4,900 feet in altitude) in the state of Jalisco.
San Sebastian is a small town where you can hike the mountains, ride an ATV and explore the main square surrounded by cobblestone streets and small restaurants and shops. Although you can see the highlights of San Sebastian in just a day, spend a night here, as the sunrises and sunsets here are simply magical!
Distance from Puerto Vallarta: 2 hr 2 min (97.6 km) via JAL 544
Where to stay: Hotel Santa Elena
A sleepy pueblo set in the Sierra Madre mountains, Mascota doesn’t receive the attention of other popular destinations in the region, and yet, it has so much to offer!
Nestled at 4,160 feet of elevation, Mascota remains largely off the tourist radar. But don’t be fooled – it boasts wonderful culture and impressive natural landscapes and friendly locals. A trip to Mascota can be combined with a stop in San Sebastian De Oeste which makes renting a car in Puerto Vallarta worth it!
It takes about 2 hours to reach Mascota from Puerto Vallarta, and the drive takes you through several spectacular mountain passes.
17. Talpa de Allende
Distance from Puerto Vallarta: 2 hr 43 min (126.9 km) via JAL 544
Where to stay: Hotel Dona Francisco
Another hidden gem, Talpa De Allende is one of the places that make renting a car in Puerto Vallarta worth it! A former silver mining town founded by the Spanish in 1599, Talpa de Allende is a site of the annual pilgrimage and a wonderful lesson of Mexico’s history. Spend some time wandering quiet Talpa’s streets, trying Mexican candies, and enjoying the atmosphere of this place.
Tips for taking day trips from Puerto Vallarta
- Bring plenty of water
- Stop for some street food
- Keep the season in mind
- Always carry cash
- Rent a car
How to plan your trip to Puerto Vallarta
If you want to see other places after visiting Sayulita, check some of my tips on how to get ready for your Mexico trip:
Is Mexico safe to visit?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions I get about Mexico travel! Thanks to news headlines, some think that Mexico is a crime-ridden, poor country where tourists get mugged and kidnapped.
But this is completely wrong!
Some parts of Mexico have been affected by cartel violence and are NOT recommended for foreign visitors. But not all of the country is dangerous! Wherever you travel, always use common sense and keep a low profile, to avoid attention. Leave your flashy clothes and jewelry at home and remember that if something seems to be good to be true, it probably is!
Do I need travel insurance for Mexico?
Mexico is a big country full of contrasts, diverse landscapes and wonderful cultural and historic sites. It can take months to explore. If you plan to stay on the road for a few months, I recommend getting Safety Wing, one of the most popular options for long-term travelers.
Do I need a visa for Mexico?
If you are traveling to Mexico from the United States, Canada or Europe, you don’t need a visa for Mexico. All you need to do is fill out a form that you will need to keep and turn in when you leave the country. It’s important to keep it safe, because if you lose it, you will need to pay a fine.
Visa requirements for Mexico have recently changed and if you plan on staying in the country for an extended period of time, you may have to answer some questions about how you plan to support yourself while staying in the country.
iVisa is a great resource for helping you to navigate the process and get your Mexico visa, if you want to stay here for an extended period of time.
Is it safe to drive around Mexico?
Driving in Mexico is one of the hot-button topics thanks to the headlines in the American news. The safety of driving in Mexico depends largely on where you are. Some states are less safe than others. For example the Yucatan Peninsula is considered safe for driving, while some states in central and northern Mexico are much less so.
To stay safe while driving in Mexico, use major highways which have tolls and limit your driving to day time.
Check my complete guide on renting a car in Mexico to learn my tips for driving in Mexico.
Can I drink tap water in Mexico?
No, you can’t. Tap water is not safe to drink anywhere in Mexico, and you should bring a refillable water bottle on your trip or buy bottled water.
The final word on taking day trips from Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta day trips mentioned in this guide are perfect for exploring the region and discovering the culture of the Jalisco State. Puerto Vallarta is an incredible destination, but it can also feel touristy, especially during the high season.
To explore the region beyond the guidebook, take a tour or rent a car and explore more remote corners of the region where you can enjoy mountain views, enjoy hiking and visit some of the least-discovered beaches.