Tuesday, April 16, 2024

4 top day trips from Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta is one of Mexico’s top vacation destinations for good reason. Visitors come for the spectacular scenery that lends itself to endless outdoor activity, hotels with beautiful views and fabulous beachfront restaurants. Puerto Vallarta also happens to be centrally located between a variety of other smaller, less-visited escapes that make for great day trips.

Within a two-hour drive from Puerto Vallarta in any direction lie a variety of Spanish-style mountain villages, bohemian beach towns and cultural attractions. Visitors may find themselves sipping locally grown coffee in the mountains, snacking on fish tacos on an untouched seven-mile beach or wandering the bones of an unfinished 19th-century cathedral.

Read on to discover the perfect day trip itineraries from Puerto Vallarta.  

Sayulita and San Pancho

One of the most popular excursions from Puerto Vallarta is a day trip to Sayulita. This seaside town has seen quite a bit of development in the past decade. What was once a sleepy fishing village blossomed into a surfer’s hideaway and has finally peaked as an energetic community, complete with fabulous restaurants, cocktail bars, boutique hotels and local designer shops. For a quieter, more laid-back scene, consider continuing up the coast for about 10 minutes to visit the neighboring town of San Pancho.

Sayulita (Shutterstock)

Drive time: 1 Hour

Morning: Stop for a beautiful backyard breakfast at Miscelanea Sayulita. You can’t go wrong with the huevos rancheros or the banana pancakes. Pair either with a strong coffee or a green juice and you’re ready to start the day.

After an energy-boosting breakfast, get back to Sayulita’s roots with a surf session. Sayulita has lots of spots that are great for surfers of all levels, as well as plenty of surf shops that offer lessons for beginners. ​​Sayulita Surf School is a good option for lessons, rentals, or surf trips.

If you’re not a surfer, you can spend the morning browsing the gorgeous boutiques of Sayulita — Manyana is a personal favorite. Another option is to take a yoga class or get a massage. Sayulita is a wellness haven, after all.

Afternoon: For lunch, zip up the coast to nearby San Pancho. Sayulita is extremely popular these days, so you’ll find San Pancho to be a more relaxed version of the town. Personally, I find the beach in San Pancho to be more beautiful than the one in Sayulita, so if you’re a beach-chaser, this might be where you spend your day. Dig your toes in the sand at La Perla for a classic beachfront lunch of fresh seafood and a cold drink. You can stay all day and bounce between the restaurant and the waves and you can even let the afternoon linger on well into sunset.

You might also opt for an afternoon activity like a catamaran tour out to the Islas Marietas. If you’re visiting from December through April, you might even spot a humpback whale or two. 

Evening: Head back to Sayulita for a sunset cocktail at Don Pedro’s Restaurant & Bar. This beachfront institution is one of the oldest spots in town and has the best view of the beach. If you’re there on a Monday, you’ll be able to enjoy their live salsa music.

For dinner, you can go old school at Tacos Al Pastor Diaz, a street-side stand serving the best tacos in town, or dress it up at Tukari for swanky Mediterranean-style cuisine in a beautiful outdoor setting.

After dinner, it’s a quick drive back to Puerto Vallarta. However, Sayulita also happens to be one of the best overnight trips from Puerto Vallarta, so feel free to book a hotel and keep the trip going. I recommend Aurinko Bungalows for its location and price. 

San Sebastián del Oeste

San Sebastián del Oeste (Gobierno de México)

For something completely different, consider driving up into the mountains surrounding Puerto Vallarta to visit the misty, jungle-shrouded village of San Sebastián del Oeste. This spectacular mountain town was once a major mining town in 17th-century New Spain. Today San Sebastián is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its Spanish architecture, alleyways and hauntingly beautiful natural landscape.

Drive time: 1.5 hours

Morning: Arrive early in San Sebastián del Oeste. The first thing you’ll notice in San Sebastián is the temperature. The cool, fresh mountain air sweeps over you like a welcome relief after the heat and humidity of the beach. Fuel up with a hearty breakfast at the family-run Fonda Eva Maria, which serves typical dishes from around the mountain regions of Jalisco.

After breakfast, start walking the charming cobblestone streets of the village. Sites to hit are the 18th-century Parroquia de San Sebastián Mártir or the 19th-century Camposanto Viejo cemetery. 

One of the best things to do in San Sebastián is to experience the local coffee. Cafetalera La Quinta is a family-run coffee plantation that sells locally grown and ground coffee, as well as other treats made within the community.

Afternoon: Stop at El Fortín de San Sebastián, a charming cafe that serves nice homemade pizzas. Be sure to have a hot chocolate here, too. 

Afterwards, it’s off to La Bufa, a viewpoint that sits more than 2,400 meters above sea level. The best — and most fun — way to get there is by ATV, which you can rent in town. The trail will take you to the panoramic overlook of the surrounding mountains, all the way out to Bahía de Banderas.

Evening: For dinner, snag a reservation at Jardin Nebulosa, a beautiful boho-chic mountain oasis serving local cuisine and great cocktails. They even have vegan options.

Mayto and Tehuamixtle

Puerto Vallarta is a beach town at its core, but the beaches here tend to be overcrowded and not all that photogenic. For one of the best beaches near Puerto Vallarta — and a great excuse for a day trip — head south to the municipality of Cabo Corrientes to discover Mayto beach and the town of and Tehuamixtle.

Tehuamixtle. (Costalegre.com)

Drive time: 2.5 hours

Morning: Leaving Puerto Vallarta around 8 a.m. will put you on the beaches of Mayto by 10:30 at the latest. Brace yourself for seven miles of undeveloped, rugged beach beauty. This sweeping bay is ringed by beautiful mountains and carpeted with fluffy golden sand. You won’t find much here except for a couple of unpretentious hotels. Hotel Mayto is perched directly on the beach and has a small restaurant and a swimming pool.

Afternoon: Spend the afternoon exploring the nearby villages of Tehuamixtle or Villa del Mar. These remote fishing communities are pocket-sized and best-known for their long swaths of undeveloped shoreline, laid-back energy and palapa-topped shoreline seafood restaurants. These towns are for the true beach lovers who want to get off the grid and experience a bit of untamed natural beauty.

Talpa and Mascota

Two of Jalisco’s inland Magical Towns are the historic cities of Talpa de Allende and Mascota. 

Drive time: 2 hours, 45 minutes

Morning: grab a breakfast-to-go at Panaderia Carmen’s Bakery, located beside El Puente El Progreso, about an hour from Puerto Vallarta. Take your pick of the decadent sweet or savory breakfast, like the pastries filled with everything from sweet vanilla custard to rich and flavorful meats and sausages.

Mascota (Gobierno de México)

You’ll pass through Mascota first on the way to Talpa. Don’t worry — you’ll hit Mascota on the way back to Puerto Vallarta.

Talpa de Allende is most famous for its gorgeous cathedral, home to the image of Our Lady of the Rosary of Talpa. The church was built in the 17th century and is still a major pilgrimage site for visitors from all over the world. A visit to the cathedral is a must for a first visit. You’ll also find a museum behind the church, which has a wealth of information about the history of Talpa, which was founded in the 16th century. 

Spend a little bit of time wandering the plaza, which is flanked on all ends by local shops and restaurants. It’s the perfect place to have a bite to eat before continuing the day.

Afternoon: Stop into La Casona de Chonita for lunch or a late brunch. The menu serves local specialties like machaca con cecina and lamb barbacoa. After lunch, wander the alleyways to discover the beautiful street murals splashed across the historic buildings.

From Talpa de Allende, head back towards Puerto Vallarta and pass through Mascota. Mascota is a quiet, peaceful village whose main highlight is the unfinished Templo de la Preciosa Sangre. Standing here are the unfinished ruins of a 19th-century church, draped in beautiful bougainvillea blossoms.

Evening: Make the drive back into Puerto Vallarta. You can combine this with a stop in San Sebastian del Oeste on the way home if you’d like to stop there for dinner.

Meagan Drillinger is a New York native who has spent the past 15 years traveling around and writing about Mexico. While she’s on the road for assignments most of the time, Puerto Vallarta is her home base. Follow her travels on Instagram at @drillinjourneys or through her blog at drillinjourneys.com

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