Sunday, July 21, 2024

Top 5 short hikes in Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit

If you look at Puerto Vallarta and see only beach, you’re seeing it wrong. The crown of Sierra Madre mountains that wreath the historic city and loom over the sweeping Bay of Banderas are just as important a part of the Puerto Vallarta package. In those mountains, from end to end of the bay, are dozens of hiking trails beckoning the intrepid to get away from the sand and cobblestones and deep into the verdant jungle. 

Puerto Vallarta and the surrounding towns have many excellent hiking trails of varying levels, whether you’re looking for a leisurely beach stroll or a vertical ascent to pump your heart rate. Here are a few of the best hikes in Puerto Vallarta.

Boca de Tomatlán to Las Animas

Length: 4.8 miles (out and back)

Boca de Tomatlán
Start your hike in picturesque Boca de Tomatlán. (Visit Puerto Vallarta)

Let’s start with a bang, shall we? If you’re looking for a perfect blend of adventure, stunning scenery, and beachside relaxation, the hike from Boca de Tomatlán to Las Animas in Puerto Vallarta is my favorite hike.

As you set off from the trailhead at the back of the parking lot in Boca de Tomatlán, you’ll quickly immerse yourself in the jungle. The trail meanders along the stunning coastline, opening up to view after view of the Bay of Banderas. 

One of the best parts of this hike is the series of pristine, undeveloped beaches you’ll encounter along the way. These hidden gems, like Playa Colomitos and Playa Caballos, offer the perfect spots for a refreshing dip or just to bask in the sun. The beaches are quiet and untouched and frequently empty of many other tourists, making you feel like you’ve landed on uncharted islands.

The hike itself is moderately challenging but worth every step. As you navigate the sometimes rocky, sometimes sandy trail, the sounds of the waves crashing and the vibrant tropical birds singing create a natural soundtrack that is nothing short of magic.

Why not call into Maraika on the way, and make a romantic oceanside meal a part of your hike? (Maraika)

After about an hour and a half to two hours of hiking, you’ll arrive at the lively and colorful Playa Las Animas. Here you can kick back and enjoy a well-deserved break. Consider stopping for lunch a few beaches prior at Casitas Maraika, a rustic-chic beachfront day club and bungalows that serves delicious seafood and incredible views. 

If you want to push yourself further, you can continue past Las Animas to Playa Quimixto, a relatively quiet beach that is the perfect spot to unwind after a hike. The beach is known for its laid-back vibe, crystal clear waters, and a small village with a gorgeous waterfall. Remember that forging on to Playa Quimixto will add another two miles, one way, to the hike.

When it’s time to head back, you have several options. If you’re up for more adventure, retrace your steps and hike back to Boca de Tomatlán. Alternatively, hop on a water taxi for a quick and scenic ride back, allowing you to enjoy the coastal views from a different perspective. 

Yelapa Waterfall

Length: 1.6 miles (out and back)

A trip to one of Puerto Vallarta’s most Instagrammable waterfalls is a must for any aspiring influencer. (Exploratory Glory)

The remote community of Yelapa is a favorite for Puerto Vallarta residents. Accessible only by boat (mostly), Yelapa is a small beachfront village surrounded on either side by towering mountains and sliced by a river. If you want to experience the beauty of Yelapa, the Palo Maria waterfall hike is an adventure.

Getting to Yelapa from Puerto Vallarta is part of the fun — you’ll need to take a water taxi either from Los Muertos Pier in Zona Romantica or from Boca de Tomatlan. The ride is a scenic journey along the southern coast of the Bay of Banderas, offering stunning coastal views.

Once you arrive in Yelapa, you’ll feel the laid-back vibe that feels worlds away from Puerto Vallarta. Before you head off on the hike, consider fueling up at one of the delightful beach restaurants. Cafe Bahia and Sirena Morena are great options, offering delicious, freshly prepared seafood right on the sand. If you have time, spending the night in Yelapa is a fantastic idea — several cozy guesthouses and bungalows are available.

The hike to the waterfall is a journey through Yelp’s lush landscape. As you begin, the trail winds through dense jungle with vibrant green foliage and the sounds of exotic birds. The path is well-marked, but be prepared for some rocky and uneven terrain. Sturdy shoes are a must.

Sirena Morena, Yelapa, Jalisco
Refuel at one of Yelapa’s great lunch spots, like Sirena Morena. (Sirena Morena/Instagram)

The further you go, the more you’ll feel like you’ve entered a hidden paradise. You’ll cross a few small streams and might even encounter some local wildlife along the way. The trail is shaded and cool, making it a pleasant hike even on warmer days.

After about an hour of hiking, you’ll reach the Palo Maria waterfall, a cascading force of gushing water that plunges into a cool, clear pool at the base. Stop here to cool off, picnic, or simply admire the falls. If you want, you can push yourself a bit further to keep going to a second waterfall. The hike to the second is a bit more challenging, with a steeper ascent, but the payoff is worth it. 

Once you’ve soaked it in, make your way back to Yelapa. When you return to town, consider unwinding at one of the beach bars, like Chico’s Cantina

Mirador Cerro de La Cruz

Length: 0.5 miles (loop)

Mirador el Cerro de la Cruz, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico 🇲🇽

If you’re looking for a quick but rewarding adventure without leaving Puerto Vallarta, the hike up to Mirador Cerro de la Cruz is a perfect choice. Atop a hill right in the heart of the city, this viewpoint has some of the most beautiful views over downtown Puerto Vallarta and the Bay of Banderas.

The ascent to Mirador Cerro de la Cruz is short but challenging, making it an ideal option for those who want to get their heart pumping without committing to a full-day hike. Starting from the Zona Romantica, you’ll navigate cobblestone streets and traditional houses before the real climb begins.

As you start the ascent, you’ll encounter a series of steps that wind up the hill. It’s a bit of a workout, but the payoff is absolutely worth it. Take your time and enjoy the journey — there’s no shame in stopping to catch your breath and admire the views along the way.

Once you reach the top, you’ll be greeted with visas over the entire city, the mountains, and the bay. Be sure to bring the camera — it’s a view you won’t want to miss.

Malecón

Length: 1.9 miles (out and back)

Puerto Vallarta Malecon
Take a stroll down Puerto Vallarta’s famous boardwalk, the Malecón. (Visit Puerto Vallarta)

Strolling along the Malecón in Puerto Vallarta is a great way to get moving without having to travel far or work too intensely. Plus, you can soak in the city’s sights and energy while enjoying a leisurely walk. The iconic seaside promenade stretches about a mile along the downtown waterfront, offering a mix of natural beauty, art, and local life.

Starting your walk, you’ll have uninterrupted views of the Bay of Banderas on one side and the colorful streets of Puerto Vallarta on the other. With palm trees swaying, the air filled with the sound of music, and the aromas of street food, it’s one of the must-do activities in Puerto Vallarta. 

Be sure to head all the way to the northern section of the Malecon to see the sculptures that line the shoreline. These artworks, created by Mexican and international artists, add a touch of whimsy to the stroll. My favorite is “Nostalgia,” by Jose Ramiz Barquet, but there are about a dozen others to admire and choose your own.

The Malecón has restaurants, cafes, and bars, each offering something different. Whether you’re craving fresh seafood, traditional Mexican dishes, or international cuisine, there’s something for everyone. La Dolce Vita is a favorite for Italian cuisine, while La Bodeguita del Medio is great for authentic Cuban food and live music.

Monkey Mountain

Length: 4.3 miles (out and back)

Monkey Mountain summit
When it comes to views of the Bay of Banderas, the vista from the peak of Monkey Mountain is hard to top. (Nuevo Vallarta Tours)

If you’re up for an adventure that rewards you with spectacular views, hiking up Monkey Mountain in Sayulita is a great way to spend the day. This hike offers a mix of challenges, stunning views, and Sayulita’s fun energy, which you can enjoy afterward.

The hike begins in Sayulita, known for its bohemian vibe, surf culture, and great food. The Monkey Mountain trailhead is a short drive from Sayulita in the nearby village of Higuera Blanca. You’ll start by following a dirt road into the jungle.

The hike up Monkey Mountain takes effort, but the views are worth it. As you make your way up, you’ll be surrounded by dense foliage, colorful flowers, and the jungle soundtrack. The path can be steep and rocky in parts, so be sure to wear proper shoes and bring plenty of water.

As you climb, the views become more and more wow-worthy. About halfway up, you’ll reach a clearing that offers a sneak peek of what’s to come — panoramic views of the coastline and the rolling green hills below.

The final push to the summit is steep, but once you reach the top, you’ll have 360-degree views of the Pacific Ocean and the landscape below. It’s the perfect spot to take pictures and breathe in the stunning Nayarit coastline.

After designing, head back to Sayulita to celebrate with a post-hike treat at ORGANI-K Sayulita. If you’re in the mood for something more lively, grab a seat at the beachfront bars. You can also use our weekend guide to Sayulita for more ideas on what to see and do in this popular beach town.

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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