Puerto Vallarta with Kids: Best Things to Do on a Family Vacation
When you choose to vacation in coastal Mexico, you expect great beaches. Puerto Vallarta is certainly no slouch in the beautiful beach department, but it has so much more. While it offers all the amenities of a world-class seaside resort, Puerto Vallarta is also an authentic Mexican city. Its manageable size and friendly vibe make it easy to mingle with locals. Here are our top reasons to consider Puerto Vallarta for your family’s next beach vacation.
Kids will love strolling or cycling this mile-long waterfront promenade. The action-packed path is lined with shops, restaurants and street performers. The visual stimulation is high, with giant sand creations constructed right before your eyes and permanent sculptures that you can climb on. All this complements the natural soundtrack of Pacific surf. Climb to the top of the Matamoros lighthouse to catch the best view in town.
Puerto Vallarta’s cobblestone streets are full of artists selling their work. You’ll also find many fine galleries representing local artists, and shops selling the crafts of the indigenous Huichol people. Yarn paintings, beaded bowls, jewelry and folk art make excellent souvenirs.
The Old Town Farmers Market is held each Saturday. It’s a producers-only market, and everything is grown or made within 75 kilometers of town. Flowers, produce, homemade food and locally made crafts are all for sale. You can also watch weavers and basket makers in action, and listen to live music.
Puerto Vallarta is one of Mexico’s culinary gems. If you’re interested in eating like a local, book a guided tour with Vallarta Food Tours. Even if you’re not a foodie, you can learn about the culture, history and sights of Puerto Vallarta as you stroll the city with your guide and nibble away. We booked the Evening Taco Tour and sampled edible delights sold at family-run food carts. Vallarta Food Tours carefully vets each vendor. Owner/chefs take tremendous pride in their food carts and all were scrupulously clean.
Interacting with locals really enriches your travels. If you’ve ever considered vacation volunteering, Entreamigos welcomes casual volunteers of all ages. This vibrant community center is located in San Francisco, about a 50-minute drive from Puerto Vallarta in neighboring Rivera Nayarit, so you’ll need to book a round-trip taxi or rent a car. The center offers locals classes in English and circus arts, while the art studio turns recycled laundry detergent containers into ride-on children’s toys that are sold at the shop. You may help out in the library, art studio, play center or kitchen. Your tween or teen might want to be a homework helper to a younger child. Your family may even learn a few words of Spanish in the deal. Visit the Entreamigos website for more information.
The natural landscape of Puerto Vallarta is striking, with palm-fringed sandy beaches and the lush backdrop of the Sierra Madre. You’ll have your pick of beautiful beaches in town, but consider a day trip outside city limits to explore one of the many semi-deserted beaches. Hire a water taxi at the marina for approximately $7 per person and 45 minutes later, you’ll arrive in Yelapa. Hemmed between jungle and ocean, it’s a time warp, as electricity and telephones only arrived this century. The boat lets you off right on the beach, and some visitors never venture any further. You’ll need to climb a fairly steep path to get to the village, but ambitious kindergarteners should be able to handle it. Once you’ve aced the ascent, you’ll be smack in the middle of a rural Mexican village. Urban kids will get an eye-opening peek into the rustic life of the town’s several thousand inhabitants. A hassle-free way to visit Yelapa is to book a day cruise with Vallarta Adventures. The itinerary includes a stop to snorkel and kayak, a cold buffet lunch, drinks and a very helpful crew. You’re likely to see whales if you cruise December through March.
Swim with Dolphins and Get Up Close with Sea Lions
Many beach destinations offer visitors the chance to swim with dolphins, but Aquaventuras Park one-ups it with Sea Lion Discovery, a large facility featuring 10 water slides and a pool. There are a variety of dolphin experiences, from a simple encounter to swimming alongside them. Ironically, Sea Lion Discovery doesn’t allow you to swim with the marine mammals in its title, but you can feed and pet them. Naturalists teach participants about their diet and general care, a treat for animal-crazed kids. You need to be ages 8 an up to swim with the animals, but kids as young as 1 may engage in the animal encounters.
Pirate Ship Tour
Yes it’s kitschy, but kids and Johnny Depp fans should have loads of fun on this high-seas adventure with Pirate Ship Vallarta. You can watch pirates swing from the mast, walk the plank and sword fight. There’s even an on-board treasure hunt. The ride lasts for seven hours and includes several hours spent kayaking, snorkeling and swimming on a remote beach. Food and drinks included.
The Night of the Iguana launched a wave of Hollywood films shot on location here, and locals speak enthusiastically of all the many stars who have visited. Your kids may not know who Liz and Dick are, but locals love to point out where the lovebirds stayed and played.
Puerto Vallarta has long been considered one of the most tolerant and open-minded destinations in the world. Many LGBT couples vacation here, and LGBT families may want to consider visiting this welcoming and inclusive community.
We stayed at the Buenaventura Grand Hotel. It's on a nice beach with the opportunity to watch or try parasailing. There are several pools, and it’s only a few minutes walk to the Malecon. Meals and beverages are included in the low rates as it’s an all-inclusive property. The common areas are breezy and decorated with funky art. Food and service is decent for the price, but don’t expect luxury. There is a daytime kids' club for children ages 4 to 12. If you prefer something more upscale, there are scores of fancy hotels. The Casa Magna Marriott is an immaculate property with panoramic views, a great spa and can-do staff.
The international airport is only a few minutes from town, so your vacation starts just minutes after you land. For more information, visit VisitPuertoVallarta.com.