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  • Writer's pictureAlyssa Rodriguez

Bienvenido a Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

The beach is my happy place and it’s my first go-to spot for a long weekend trip. My husband JJ and I just celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary! Since the pandemic, our traveling has been very lite, like everyone, but with travel restrictions starting to loosen up, I was itching to pack my backpack again!

JJ and I have been wanting to travel to Mexico for some time, I thought the beach would be the perfect place to start. Cancun and Puerto Vallarta were the most popular destinations when we talked to our friends. In the end, we booked P.V. because it offered cheap flights and even cheaper hotels right on the beach.

Puerto Vallarta is known for its welcoming spirit and genuine hospitality. It was recognized as one of the happiest places on earth by Conde Nast Magazine in 2001 and was rated among the top 30 friendliest cities in the world. As soon as you step off the plane you can feel the city bustling with energy and positive vibes. Even with the fears and worries about what is going on in the world, the Vallartenses don’t let it show. They are eager to share their city, history, and beaches with all visitors and go out of their way to make sure you are comfortable.

Our trip to P.V. was quick. We went for 4 days and 5 nights and only barely scratched the surface of what this beautiful city has to offer. For my budget and minimalist travelers, I’ll show you how I packed for the long weekend getaway with only a personal backpack and how I managed to not break the bank while staying in a touristy part of the city. Here is what to do and where to stay in P.V.

Where to stay

Puerto Vallarta is divided into 7 zones or areas, each having its own unique identity. Depending on your vibe and what you are looking to do, there is going to be a place for you to stay.

1. North Zone

Actually, located in the neighboring state Nayarit, The North Zone is quite large and has your typical “Mexican feel” meaning it's more rustic and traditional. Most people come here to get away from the noise of downtown city life. There are a few luxurious resorts including St. Regis and the Four Seasons in Punta Mita. Bokeria’s is the largest town and many swear that this is what Puerto Vallarta looked like almost 50 years ago! It has a nice long beach with bars and beachside side restaurants; a much more chill and relaxed vibe for folks not looking for that party life.

2. Nuevo Vallarta

This zone is where you will find your all-inclusive resorts, golf courses, marinas, condos, and villas. If you are looking for a place to just get a tan, relax, eat and drink without leaving your resort, this is the place for you. The beach is nice and wide with super soft sand. If you have a family with pre-teens this is a great place to stay because there is so much to do, including, biking, banana boats, parasailing, water sports, and shopping.

3. Marina Vallarta

Finally entering Puerto Vallarta, Marina Vallarta is still not in the downtown zone. However, grab a taxi or bus and you’ll find yourself downtown in minutes. Here you will find top-notch all-inclusive beachfront resorts and a champion golf course. The sand is a bit grey and a little less attractive compared to up north. The Marina is known to open its doors to spring breakers, so there is more noise and action for those looking to have some fun!

4. Hotel Zone

This area is a little newer and has a range of budget-friendly accommodations to luxurious 5-star hotels. There are many hotels, malls, and restaurants and downtown are accessible by foot. The beaches are not the best, but the hotels work hard to keep them nice. Pitillal is a small town with a plaza and gives you a glimpse of how the real Mexicans live.

5. Downtown Puerto Vallarta

Finally, we make it to downtown Puerto Vallarta. This is the historical part of downtown, the “old” Vallarta. Here you will find the Malecon, a boardwalk that is the starting point for all this area’s activity. The only beach downtown is The Camarones Beach, but Los Muertos and Olas Atlas beaches in the Romantic Zone are within walking distance. The main attractions downtown are Los Arcos, The Malecon, the hill and Gringo Gulch, the Seahorse statue, the Naval Museum, and various flea markets.

6. The Romantic Zone- “Old Vallarta”

This zone is great for families with kids, older couples and it is well known to the LGBT community. If you want to be in the center of all the activity this is the place for you. This area is great for tourists and ex-pats. It was built around Los Muertos beach and there are a ton of restaurants, bars, cafes, and clubs.

7. South Zone

This area is far from downtown and is well known to host families with small children, older couples, and newlyweds. This area is great for people who want to get away from it all, much like the North zone.

The main attractions in the South Zone are the beaches including the ones you can only reach by boat like Yelapa, the Vallarta Botanical Gardens, and the Zoo. You can find great places to stay in the quaint town El Tuito, the fishing village Boca de Tomatlan, or the exclusive neighborhood Concha Chinas.

Top Things to Do in P.V.

1. Los Arcos and El Malecon

El Malecon was our first stop after we dropped off our luggage. The mile-long boardwalk is where all the action is, from restaurants and bars during the day to clubs opening at night. It was very safe, and I didn’t feel uncomfortable even at night. Along the way, you can look out over the Bahia de Banderas and catch some stunning photos. You will see everything from sand sculptures to bronze sculptures. El Malecon is home to Los Arcos Amphitheater where live musicians and Mexican dance troupes perform under the arches just about every night. There are numerous street vendors selling all types of food and drinks. It might feel a little overwhelming, but please, don’t be wary; their food was some of the best I had while in P.V. We bought elote on the first night to share and it was so good, also, very cheap!

2. Visit Zona Romantica

Locals refer to this area as Old Town or Old Vallarta. This area is more laid back and full of color and culture. This area has the most popular beach in the city, Playa Los Muertos, and some of the city’s best restaurants located in this part of town. A pier was built in 2013 where pedestrians can sit and relax and in the evening it is illuminated with a kaleidoscope of colors.

***Beach Paradise Below***

3. Playa Los Muertos

The popular beach in Zona Romantica should not be missed. Water sports, land sports, and of course people watching are on the top of the must-do list. Playa Los Muertos is known as a party haven for PV’s LGBTQ travelers.

4. Playa Palmares

This beach is known for its clean sand and clear water and is well known to both locals and visitors alike.

5. Playa las Gemelas

This is a great beach to visit if you want to avoid pushy vendors and get away from some crowds. Take a cab or an Uber early in the morning to go claim your spot as it can get a little crowded, especially since it’s a smaller beach. You will also need to pack your own food and drinks since there aren’t many vendors or shops in the area.

6. Playa las Animas

This is a nice day trip via water taxi. The beach offers fun water sports, good restaurants, and tends to be less crowded if you arrive in the morning.

7. Isla Rio Cuale

This is a mystery to many new-time visitors in part because it’s difficult to find. If you walk from El Malecon until you reach a bridge that spans the river and you’ll discover the island which is home to market stalls selling local wares.

***Vallarta Adventures***

8. Water Sports

JJ and I went scuba diving for the first time together and it did not disappoint. The excursion was a full day on the hideaway island of Las Caletas, a private beach on the southern shore of Banderas Bay. You learned the basics and trained for a 40-meter dive. The entire excursion lasted about 1 hour then we got to go to the Island for lunch and drinks, can you say “open bar”! The dive was beautiful. We saw s various marine life including a sea horse, jawfish, manta rays, and large schools of tropical fish. You could almost imagine you were like Ariel, living under the sea! Other water sports on the Island included snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding, just to name a few. We used Vallarta Adventures to book our scuba diving excursion and we highly recommend you go through them. They were highly rated on trip advisor and the reviews were excellent. Our guide was so knowledgeable and kind, and our photographer took some epic photos! Check them out!

How I Packed for a Long Weekend-Female Traveler Info :)

I sincerely dislike checking bags when I travel. One it cost too much and second, it takes too much time to get through baggage claim. I can be quite impatient at times, but I’m working on it! When I travel, I like to travel with the least amount of “stuff” so I can get where I’m going and start my adventure. For Puerto Vallarta, I knew I would be spending most of my time at the beach and the poolside bar, wink wink. I mean it is my anniversary, we were definitely planning a chill mode kind of weekend. For the special occasion, I bought three new bathing suits, mostly since I couldn’t remember the last time I actually bought a new swimsuit. I brought all of them since they are super easy to pack. Next, I grabbed two summer dresses, ones that I could dress up for down for whatever occasion and one pair of shorts and one pair of running shorts. For my tops, I took two neutral tank tops (my favorites are from Paragon because I can wear them to work out or go out) and one crop top t-shirt. For undergarments, I had two sports bras, one regular bra, and 4 pairs of underwear and socks. My shoe wear was simple, one pair of comfortable sandals that would go with both dresses and my running shoes since we always go for a run wherever we travel. Lastly, I packed my PJs! Below I listed out a small bullet list of what I needed for my 4 days, 5 night trip to PV. I hope this helps you when you start packing your backpack!

So here is the clothing checklist:

· 3 bathing suits

· 2 summer dresses

· 1 pair jean shorts

· 1 pair running shorts

· 1 pair of sandals

· 1 pair of running shoes

· 1 Bra and 2 sports bras

· 4 pairs of underwear and socks

· PJs

· 1 Hat and my favorite sunglasses

Toiletries were simple:

· Makeup: mascara, BB cream foundation, powder

· Hairbrush

· Toothbrush and toothpaste (travel size)

· Face wash and face lotion (travel size)

Miscellaneous but important stuff:

· Headphones for the plane

· Phone charger

· Journal (document my thoughts)

· 1 book (because I love to read)

· Passport and wallet

I used a 30L backpack and I used my lovely packing cubes to help organize my stuff. Everything fit perfectly and my backpack fit right under my airplane seat. So simple and so convenient. I swear, this is the absolute best way to travel.

“El Fin”

If you haven’t been to Mexico yet, I highly recommend going to Puerto Vallarta. It has character and charm, and the people are so friendly. It’s easy to get around and you can find some local gems if you know where to look. The beaches are beautiful, especially if you can get off the beaten path. I haven’t been to Cancun yet bet from what I heard from my friends, PV is much less “touristy”, and I totally got that vibe when I was there. The food was amazing, and accommodations were inexpensive. Your dollar will definitely go a long way! I hope this post gives you some insight on the beautiful Puerto Vallarta, teaches you how to pack your backpack, gets you started on planning your itinerary for where to stay and what to do!

Happy Travels!


Alyssa Brooke

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