Mexico Pacific Coast holidays are textbook tropical with a twist. Cue popcorn-white beaches, jungle adventures and super surf.
This is the lesser-known of Mexico’s two coasts. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less shiny. Instead of Mayan ruins, you’ve got Puerto Vallarta’s quirky old town. Party-like-an-animal nightclubs are replaced by wild humpback whales. And idyllic isles are swapped for the Sierra Madre Mountains.
Puerto Vallarta is the closest thing to Cancun in this neck of the woods. But it pitches to a posh crowd. It’s got the shopping centres and nightclubs, on top of a cobbled old town – dubbed Zona Romantica – with top-notch taco stands, art galleries and chichi boutiques. It doesn’t do beaches by halves, either. It’s no wonder lovebirds Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were such fans.
Joined at the hip to Puerto Vallarta, Nuevo Vallarta is the smaller, trendier sibling. It lines up the waterparks, golf courses and a smart marina with loads of places to eat – not to mention a long, white-sand beach. Plus, it’s still in Banderas Bay, so the whale-watching’s on another level, too. Come in winter, and you don’t even need to leave the shore to see playful pods of dolphins and humpbacks.
Into the wild
Even further north, you’ll hit Punta de Mita. A former beachfront fishing village turned la-di-da zone full of luxury hotels and golf courses. It’s washed on three sides by the Pacific Ocean, which means great surf and the beaches, coves and bays to boot. If you do want to leave your cosy bubble, there are mountain trails, waterfalls and jungles to scout out, too.
Things to See and Do in Mexico - Pacific Coast
Spoiled for choice
Giant Banderas Bay rules the beach scene in this part of Mexico. Its long coast road strings together beachfront fishing village, Punta de Mita, in the north, and jungle-fringed cove, Mismaloya, in the south, with the seaside city of Puerto Vallarta and laid-back Nuevo Vallarta inbetween. Ocean-skimming jungle, seafront boardwalks and old port towns fill in the gaps.
The big beach
Stroll south along Puerto Vallarta city’s malecón and you’ll sink your toes into Los Muertos beach – one of the most popular spots on this coastline. Locals and tourists alike unroll their towels on this sandy stretch. And with watersports, ocean-view restaurants and front-row seats for the sunset, who can blame them?
The secret beach
You’ll need a kayak or a pair of flippers to see most of the Marietas Islands, due to conservation rules that ban anyone from setting foot on them. Luckily, one’s still open for business – and it just happens to be the most striking. Hidden Beach is tucked inside a giant cavern and only accessible by swimming through a rock tunnel.
The flea markets in downtown Puerto Vallarta flog everything from Cuban cigars to colourful Mexican wrestling masks. The city’s also chock-full of artisan markets dealing in primary-coloured folk art and fancy leather sandals.
Big, modern shopping malls have set up shop in Nuevo Vallarta. Paradise Plaza is packed with 100-plus shops – from art galleries to fashion boutiques. There are loads of places to stock up on basics, too – keep an eye out for familiar faces like Walmart.
For something completely different, head for Bucerias. Its tiny boutiques are decked out with carved lamps, milky telavera pottery, and scale-breaking onyx coasters. There’s also a Monday market in the plaza that’s filled with knick-knacks for art collectors.
Thanks to its reputation as a Hollywood movie location, Puerto Vallarta has a booming film scene, with both ultramodern 14-screen cinemas and low-key movie houses in town. Nuevo Vallarta, meanwhile, serves up marina-side bars serving cold margaritas.
Downtown Puerto Vallarta is big-night-out territory. Take the beachfront prom, the malecón – it’s lined with bars and open-till-sunrise clubs. Other streets house rooftop lounges and sports bars showing everything from the World Cup to the Super Bowl.
Forget the cheese-flavoured Doritos you get in Blighty – home-fried corn chips smothered in melted cheese, blistering jalapenos, and sweet salsa is how they come here. Sometimes black beans, ground beef, and guacamole are chucked into the mix, too.
These blow-your-top-off Mexican-born peppers were christened by the town of Xapa, or Japa. They’re all over Pacific Coast menus – scattered on top of nachos, mashed into jam, spicing up cocktails, or dished up as an appetiser.
Vintage, extra aged, gold, silver, or rested – every type of tequila is embraced on the Pacific Coast. In fact, by law it’s one of the only places on the planet that can produce the tipple. Woody granddad tequilas are aged in casks, while baby ones will be familiar to those with a liking for Jose Cuervo shots.
Quesadillas are a taco-omelette crossbreed, packed full of Oaxaca cheese, ham, and avocado. They’re also the chameleons of the Mexican food scene, changing shape and colour depending on which state they’re served in.
Tinned cans of Ambrosia just don’t cut it in Mexico. Creamy rice pudding is jazzed up with various combos of vanilla, lime zest, tequila-soaked raisins, chocolate, and nutmeg.
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Back in the 60s, Hollywood’s golden couple – Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton – jetted in to Puerto Vallarta and thrust this sleepy town into the spotlight. It’s been a popular pick for holidaymakers ever since, morphing into a fully-fledged seaside city complete with boutique shops, cosmopolitan bars, and restaurants that rival those in Mexico’s capital city.
Nuevo Vallarta sits in Banderas Bay, just north of its big sister, Puerto Vallarta. Its starting point is the swanky Marina Vallarta, and the resort carries on up the coast towards Bucerías. The whole place has an upmarket feel to it, with seven kilometres of pristine sand, a glut of luxe hotels and canal-side villas, and plenty of smart restaurants.
Punta De Mita
Punta de Mita sits on a foot-shaped peninsula, which dips its toe into Mexico’s Banderas Bay. A good chunk of this Pacific Coast beauty was snapped up by developers in the Seventies to create a fancy, gated community of hotels and homes. And there’s still a decent wedge left for wild beaches and a fishing village.
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