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12 Best Day Trips from Puerto Vallarta

12 Best Day Trips from Puerto Vallarta

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Whether you’ve been to Puerto Vallarta every year for decades or this is your first trip to this beautiful Mexican beach town, there are so many day trips from Puerto Vallarta to explore.

If it’s your first trip to this region of Mexico, you’ll no doubt want to spend most of your time getting to know all of the fun things to do in Puerto Vallarta and exploring the local best beaches in Puerto Vallarta.

But if you have more time here, a day trip to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Romantic Zone or Hotel Zone is a fun way to get to know more about this stunning coastline.

Best Way to Explore Day Trips from Puerto Vallarta

The best way to get out of Puerto Vallarta to explore tends to be with your own wheels. If you are happy to drive in Mexico, then consider renting a car from somewhere like Mex Rent a Car or Gecko Car Rentals.

Both offer full coverage and excellent service and you can pick it up and drop it off at the Puerto Vallarta airport, making the whole trip seemless.

While having your own car makes most of these Puerto Vallarta day trips easier, it is possible to explore using public transportation, by hiring a driver for the day, or by taking a group tour.

The bus network around Puerto Vallarta is pretty great, especially for visiting the beach towns to the south. And it only costs 10 Pesos (about 50 cents US) for each local trip.

Where possible, I have listed group tours that make the day easy and fun.

Best Puerto Vallarta Day Trips

Most of these fun Puerto Vallarta day trips offer unique ways to get out on the water or explore other nearby beach towns.

colorful flags over the top of a cobbled street with small shops on both sides.

Sayulita is a popular place to explore and for good reason, it is a beautiful place!

1. Sayulita

This is without a doubt one of the most popular day trips from Puerto Vallarta.

Getting from Puerto Vallarta to Sayulita is easy if you have a car. It takes about 45 minutes to drive along highway 200 (which is hardly a highway, especially once you get past Bucerias).

There are so many great things to do in Sayulita. You could easily spend a few days based here exploring the beaches and all of the restaurants in Sayulita.

This is the place to come near Puerto Vallarta if you want to learn to surf. There are local surf schools like Sayulita Surf School or Lunazul Surf School where you can take lessons or rent boards for the day.

Afterward, head for beers at Yambak and enjoy delicious pastor tacos at Tacos Diaz.

If you are planning to drive to Sayulita, be sure to arrive as early as possible. Parking can be a bit of a problem during peak times around December and January. It’s not impossible, but you’ll have to find a quiet side street and walk into town or pay for town center parking located near the beach.

If you don’t want to drive from Puerto Vallarta to Sayulita, you can take the bus, take an Uber, or head here for the day with a tour.

There are tons of tour options from Puerto Vallarta to Sayulita for the day. Depending on how you want to spend your day you can opt for one of these options:

2. Bucerías

Bucerías is personally one of my favorite beaches near Puerto Vallarta.

If you want to find a beach where you can spread out for the day, that has calm waters for swimming or floating, and is within walking distance of tons of great food, then add Bucerías to your Puerto Vallarta day trips list.

The beach in Bucerías is five miles long. Which means regardless of how busy it gets, there is still plenty of space to relax.

There are a few food and souvenir vendors who walk up and down the beach to sell you things, but it’s not an overwhelming amount and sometimes it’s nice to be able to have a drink or a donut without having to get up, isn’t it?

A few blocks from the sand are tons of great Bucerías restaurants including my personal favorites, Tacos Junior for pastor tacos and Lamara for ceviche.

Bucerías is one of the easiest day trips from Puerto Vallarta. There is tons of free street parking available, so you don’t have to worry about it getting too busy. You can also easily take the bus here from this Sam’s Club bus stop and be here in under an hour.

sunset over the beach with a few people swimming in the ocean.

If you get the chance to stay in Bucerias until sunset, I highly recommend doing it. The sunsets here are some of the best.

3. Boca de Tomatlan

Boca de Tomatlan is a small fishing village located about 30 minutes south of Puerto Vallarta.

I highly recommend taking the bus here from the Romantic Zone. The town is very small and parking is quite limited, especially during peak travel months.

If you are visiting off-peak in October or November or in late spring, you’ll find parking along the river without a problem.

The bus leaves from this bus stop in the Romantic Zone and it terminates in Boca de Tomatlan, so you won’t have any problems getting off at the right stop.

The main draw to Boca de Tomatlan is to take boat trips out to other places. But it is worth spending some time here for the great beachfront restaurants.

This is a no-fuss place where you can grab plastic seat at a plastic table and eat some of the most delicious and affordable seafood in entire region. El Huachinango is my personal favorite spot for their whole grilled snapper.

If you want to do some exploring here on your day trip from Puerto Vallarta, cross the river and walk along the coastal trail to small quiet beaches like Colomitos and Playa Caballo.

beach with some rocks and mountains in the background with clouds above.

The best beaches near Puerto Vallarta require a little bit of work to get to, but they are well worth it.

4. Playa las Animas

There are a couple of ways to get to Playa las Animas from Puerto Vallarta, but driving is not one of those ways.

The only way to access Playa las Animas is to take a boat there or to walk there.

If you want to spend the day hiking along some of the most breathtaking coastline in the region, then get yourself to Boca de Tomatlan as suggested above. Then follow the coastal trail all the way to Playa las Animas.

It is about a 2-hour walk if you stop a bit to drink water and take photos. You can also stop at any of the beaches along the way for a swim or to relax for a while.

Playa las Animas has tons of restaurants and bars along the sand where you can eat lunch, drink ice cold Pacificos or margaritas, and relax in the shade of their umbrellas and lounge chairs.

Then you can either hike back or take a water taxi back to Boca de Tomatlan.

If you don’t want to hike, you can take a water taxi each way. Once you arrive in Boca de Tomatlan you will see tons of small boats near the beach. Most people will offer you a trip before you even have to ask. It should cost roughly 100 Pesos each way (about $5 USD).

There are tour options available for visiting Las Animas as well.

If you want to take a boat directly from Puerto Vallarta without dealing with any buses, you can enjoy a boat trip like this one which is private for up to 8 people. You’ll visit sites like Los Arcos, be able to go snorkeling, and then stop for lunch at Las Animas. Book that tour here.

If you want to do the hike, but you are traveling solo or you simply want to explore it with a knowledgeable guide and other likeminded travelers, this group tour offers the full hiking experience all the way to Las Animas.

5. Los Arcos

Los Arcos is, as the name suggests, a rocky outcrop where there is an arch naturally created by coastal erosion. The area is best known for its snorkeling and is a wonderful day trip from Puerto Vallarta.

The best way to experience Los Arcos is on a boat tour. The boat tours usually start in Puerto Vallarta and take you out to the rocky islands where you can go swimming, snorkeling, or kayaking. They usually include lunch or drinks and snacks and some even stop at nearby islands like Colomitos or Las Animas.

These are some of the best Los Arcos tours that we recommend:

  • Snorkeling Tour: This tour will start in Puerto Vallarta where you’ll meet your guide and take the bus together to Mismaloya. From Mismaloya, you’ll hop on a boat and explore Los Arcos, go snorkeling, learn about the history of the islands, and also get to know the bird life that calls this sanctuary home. This is the best overall experience option. Book that tour here.
  • Kayak and Sunset Tour: This kayak tour starts in Mismaloya, so you will have to get yourself there via bus or Uber. From here you’ll hop on some kayaks and explore Los Arcos while watching the sunset. After the sun has gone down you will head to a bioluminescent spot where your paddles with light up the water. Book that tour here.
  • Private Tour Option: If you are traveling with a large group, be it your family or a group of friends, then a private tour may be your best option. You pay for the boat for the day and then make a personal schedule with the crew which can include stopping at some of the popular nearby beaches before going snorkeling at Los Arcos. Book a private tour here.

If you don’t want to take a group tour and you feel like your Spanish is a decent level, you can get yourself to Mismaloya (by boat or Uber as mentioned above) and simply inquire with the local boats for a trip out to the arches. This will be the cheapest way to explore Los Arcos.

whale breeching out of the water in puerto vallarta mexico

Seeing whales up close is such a special experience.

6. Whale Watching

Like visiting Los Arcos, the only real way to get out and go whale watching is to take a tour. Whether you have gone whale watching before or not, seeing these animals up close never gets old (at least not for me).

I have been whale watching in Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo, La Paz, and a few times in Puerto Vallarta. Nothing beats the feeling of seeing a whale breeching out of the water. Of watching the fins wave to you from shore or from a nearby boat.

The best time to see whales in Puerto Vallarta is between December and March. You will almost definitely see whales if you head out between late December and early Febraury.

Of course, they can never guarantee it, but I have never not seen whales when heading out at this time of year. In fact, you can even see them from the shore easily at this time of year.

There are so many different companies to go whale watching with because it is such a popular day trip from Puerto Vallarta. If you don’t want to book in advance, you’ll find a lot of tour operators around the Romantic Zone or if staying at at resort, you can usually book through the concierge service. 

These are my top picks for the best whale watching day trips from Puerto Vallarta:

  • Catamaran Cruise: This is a four hour boat trip, which is one of the longest options available making it a true day out on the water. You will leave on the Catamaran from Puerto Vallarta and tour the bay while having coffee and breakfast. Then you’ll head out in search of whales. The tour will not only look for whales but also dolphins and other marine life in the area. There is a marine biologist on board to explain the migration patterns and answer any questions you have. Lunch as well as drinks are included before you head back to Puerto Vallarta. Book that tour here.
  • EcoTour: This option is fantastic for those that really want to learn more about the migratory whales that you will spot during the boat tour. On board will be biologists and a tour leader. Snacks and drinks are included and the tour lasts for about 3.5 hours. Part of your booking fee goes towards a humpback whale research project which you’ll learn more about on your tour. Book the ecotour option here.
  • Whale Watching on a Mega Yacht: If you want to explore the Bay of Banderas on a stunning luxurious super yacht with a few beers or cocktails in hand, this is the option for you. This isn’t the best option for families, but if you want to have a bit of a sunset whale watching day out, this is a great option. Book the mega yacht tour here.

7. Botanical Gardens

Located to the south of Puerto Vallarta, the Botanical Gardens are a fun day trip from Puerto Vallarta where you can learn more about the native flora and wander through this peaceful oasis.

To get here, you can take the bus from this bus stop which usually says El Tuito on the window. Sometimes it will also say Jardin Botanico on there, but not always. Tell them you want to go to the Botanical Gardens. Bus tickets on this bus cost about 50 Pesos. The bus runs roughly every 30 minutes.

The alternative option is to take the same buses to get to Boca del Tomatlan which are mentioned in #3 of this list. From Boca de Tomatlan you can take a taxi to the botanical gardens and then opt to take the bus back. 

Entry is currently 300 Pesos per person (about $17 USD). Check out the website of the Botanical Gardens to learn more about opening times and what you will be able to see. 

dusty beach town with pink building and a bicycle with a palapa umbrella over it.

Some of the best day trips from Puerto Vallarta are to the small unknown towns like Yelapa, San Pancho, or others that you spot along the way.

8. Yelapa

Yelapa is one of the most popular Puerto Vallarta day trips that you can do. It has become so popular in fact, that many people are opting to spend several days in this isolated beach with a few small guesthouses available.

You get to Yelapa in much the same way you get to Las Animas except that you can’t walk to Yelapa. You can only access this slice of paradise by taking a boat.

To explore Yelapa as a day trip from Puerto Vallarta, take the bus to Boca de Tomatlan. Head over to the pier where all of the boats and their captains are waiting and tell them you want to go to Yelapa.

Pay the captain once you are on the boat, there is no need to pay for a ticket before you get on (this is something of a scam to get you to overpay). It should cost about 150-200 Pesos (under $12 USD). Be sure you have Pesos, not US dollars and make sure you have enough to get you back as well. There are no ATMS in either of these towns.

Once in Yelapa you have the option to simply enjoy the quiet beach where you can relax and eat delicious seafood when you get hungry. Or you can get out and explore the nearby trails and waterfalls.

There are two waterfalls that are relatively easy to reach from the beach in Yelapa. Follow the signs for cascada or waterfall. This is a helpful guide to get you on the right track for visiting both. 

Needless to say, pack your swimsuit, comfortable and waterproof walking sandals, and a quick dry towel.

beach with lush green trees and a pier sticking out into the water in punta mita, one of the best day trips from Puerto Vallarta.

Explore the beaches of Punta Mita, head out surfing, or get on a boat to go scuba diving nearby.

9. San Pancho

San Pancho is the quieter, lesser known neighbor to the popular Pueblo Magico of Sayulita. 

About an hour from Puerto Vallarta, San Pancho is the place to come to get away from the crowds but without the work required to get to Yelapa or Las Animas. You can simply hop in a rental car and drive straight to San Pancho. You’ll easily find a parking spot and then walk straight to the beach.

The beach here is wonderful for relaxing and the water is nice and calm for swimming. There are cute boutiques for shopping along the main street. There are also some great places to grab food, especially the street cart of Ceviche Girael

If you don’t want to drive yourself, you can take a tour like this one which includes a stop in both Sayulita and San Pancho.

puerto vallarta beach with the sunsetting over the beach.

Spend your days exploring the cool day trips from Puerto Vallarta and come back in time to watch sunset over Los Muertos Beach.

10. San Sebastian del Oeste

The only day trip from Puerto Vallarta that doesn’t include a stop at the beach. San Sebastian del Oeste is actually not near the coast at all. You’ll head inland to visit this popular Jalisco Magic Town that is battling to keep its culture alive.

The stunning brick buildings of San Sebastian del Oeste are on the UNESCO World Heritage list and should not be missed on your trip here. Another popular thing to do here is explore the coffee plantations where you can see the coffee growing and then sample some freshly roasted brews.

Another thing to do while in San Sebastian is hike up to La Bufa. This viewpoint offers incredible views back over the town. Take it easy if you aren’t used to higher altitudes because you’ll have a bit less oxygen than at sea level. San Sebastian sits at about 4,500 feet (about 1300 meters).

The best way to get here is to drive yourself. It takes about an hour and a half each way and the road can be windy, so take your time and stop along the way at some cute local towns. 

If you would prefer to leave the driving to someone else, you can go on a guided tour like this one. It includes a knowledgeable bilingual guide, a stop at a local coffee plantation, lunch at a local restaurant, and free time to spend wandering the town. Book that tour here.

11. Punta Mita

Located in the Riviera Nayarit, this little peninsula has been made popular by the rich and famous. It is packed with luxury resorts and exclusive golf resorts. But it is also home to stunning beaches, great waves for surfing, and cute little towns with delicious food.

If you have a rental car, you can explore the little beaches that dot the coastline here like Playa la Lancha or Palito Verde. If you get hungry, you don’t want to miss ceviche and fish tacos at Cevicheria La Cruz located on the road back to Puerto Vallarta. 

One of the things that makes this a great day trip is if you pair it with a trip to number 12.

woman sitting on a boat with a rock structure in the water behind her at islas marietas, mexico, one of the best day trips from Puerto Vallarta.

A boat trip out to Islas Marietas is an absolute must when visiting Puerto Vallarta.

12. Islas Marietas

Islas Marietas is a marine reserve that is home to sea lions, tons of bird life including blue footed boobies, as well as a plethora of underwater life waiting to be explored.

You can visit Islas Marietas on a snorkeling tour, or if you want to really get beneath the surface, you can go diving here. Besides in Cabo Pulmo, the diving here is some of my favorite in all of Mexico.

Punta Mita Expeditions leave right from the main pier in Punta Mita and will take you out to Islas Marietas to dive around the stunning marine life here. You can also opt to snorkel if you would prefer.

If you want to visit Islas Marietas from Puerto Vallarta with a tour, this boat tour is a great option. It includes paddle boards and kayaks to use to explore around the islands. You will also have access to snorkeling gear and there will be a guide with you to help you learn more about this magical set of volcanic islands.