Thursday, April 18, 2024

How to find the best beaches in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

It may feel like we’re in the throes of winter right now but believe it or not, spring break is just around the corner and when it comes to spring break travel, nowhere is quite like Mexico.  Puerto Vallarta is often the first place that springs to mind for sun-seeking travelers. The bustling Pacific Coast beach city is known for the enormous Bay of Banderas, surrounded by dozens of beaches that create that idyllic beachy backdrop.

But when it comes to the best beaches in Puerto Vallarta, where do you even begin? 

You may be surprised to learn, however, that most of Puerto Vallarta’s top beaches aren’t even in Puerto Vallarta itself. Since Puerto Vallarta is a full-fledged beach city, some people find that the beaches in PV proper are crowded and can have expensive tourist traps. So if this spring break you want to chase those postcard-perfect slices of sand, you’ll have to know exactly where to look. After years of exploring the coastline, I’m here to let you in on where to find the very best beaches in Puerto Vallarta and what you need to know to enjoy them to the fullest.

Playa Las Gemelas

Las Gemelas Beach, 15 minutes from Puerto Vallarta. (Shutterstock)

Just outside of Puerto Vallarta, about 15 minutes south of the world-famous Zona Romantica, lies Playa Las Gemelas. The aptly named “Twin Beach” is split in half by Condominios Girasol Sur, making it two beaches in one. 

The trip out of town is what helps to keep the crowds at bay. On weekdays, you’ll find the shoreline to be relatively empty, so you’ll be able to claim a sugary soft patch of sand to call your own. The water here is also a beautiful gradient, running from a gentle turquoise to a glorious deep blue.

This beach has no facilities, so you’ll have to bring what you need for the day. But its undeveloped, rugged beauty is what makes this one of the best beaches in Puerto Vallarta, and should be at the top of the list for any beachgoer looking for a quiet getaway.

Playa Conchas Chinas

To the south of Puerto Vallarta lies the always-busy Playa Los Muertos, a much smaller, quieter, stunningly beautiful beach. It’s hard to believe that such a beautiful beach sits mere steps away from one of the most overcrowded beaches in the Puerto Vallarta area.

Sandwiched between the mountains and the sea, this beach is known for its spectacular natural beauty, crystal clear water, and its proximity to downtown. If you like exploring tidal pools, this is the beach to visit.

Surrounding the beach is the upscale Conchas Chinas community, with its grand hillside villas and terraces with panoramic views of the bay. South of Playa Conchas Chinas is Playa Lindomar, which has a casual little restaurant called La Playita that is well worth the visit. Directly to the north of Conchas Chinas is the Zona Romántica and all the tourist-friendly facilities you’ll need.

Playa Caballo

My favorite beach in Puerto Vallarta takes a little legwork to access, but that is all the more reason to love it. Most travelers headed to this part of town are in pursuit of Playa Las Animas, a beach accessible only by boat and known for its string of beach restaurants and bars. This is not the beach I’m talking about.

I’m talking about Playa Caballo, directly adjacent to Playa Las Animas, but with a completely different vibe. This undeveloped beach is straight out of a fantasy novel, with soft, powdery sand and a color palette of extreme jungle greens set against sparkling turquoise. 

The only way to access Playa Caballo is to either take a water taxi to Las Animas and hoof it on foot or to hike along the Cabo Corrientes trail that begins in Boca de Tomatlan and runs along the coastline to Playa Las Animas. I recommend hiking in and taking the water taxi out.

You won’t find any services on Playa Caballo — it’s truly a pristine beach. However, there is a beach club nearby at Casitas Maraika, plus all the restaurants and facilities over on Playa Las Animas.

Playa Las Glorias

When I need a quick beach fix without having to work too hard, I always find myself at Playa Las Glorias, located between the Hotel Zone and Cinco de Diciembre neighborhoods. This predominantly locals-only beach has remained quite quiet thanks to its position in front of a construction site, where work has been a start-stop for years. It’s a rare underdeveloped bubble smack dab between two of Puerto Vallarta’s most bustling neighborhoods.

The best way to get to this beach is to head to the Costa Club Punta Arena and walk past the construction site, which overlooks the beach. A few companies have their jet ski rental operations here, and a very small wooden shack is run by a young couple, selling snacks, fresh coconuts, water, and beer.

Playa Camarones

Heading away from Playa Las Glorias towards downtown and the Malecon, you will cross over Playa Camarones, the principal beach for the Cinco de Diciembre neighborhood. This beach has a lot more action than Playa Las Glorias, but its clientele is made up of mostly locals and expats. It has a much different, more laid-back energy compared to beaches closest to Zona Romantica. 

My favorite place to spend the day at Playa Camarones is at El Solar, a toes-in-the-sand beach club and restaurant that always blasts a great playlist and serves a deliciously fresh menu focusing on seafood. The tuna poke and the Baja shrimp tacos are always a hit.

Playa San Pancho

Sunset at San Pancho beach. (Shutterstock)

Crossing the bridge from the Puerto Vallarta airport puts travelers in the state of Nayarit. The coastline here, known as the Riviera Nayarit, has its fair share of beautiful beaches too. Most visitors to the state are headed to Punta Mita or Sayulita, two well-established tourist destinations boasting a boho chic vibe.

But in my opinion, the best beaches here are found in the smaller village of San Pancho, just 15 minutes north of Sayulita. Sleepy San Pancho (short for San Francisco) is a beloved beach town among locals and those in the know. Often compared to Sayulita 10 years ago, this much quieter stretch of sand has some of the best beaches around — even better than those in Punta Mita and Sayulita. Picture a broad swath of golden-hued sand, groves of palm trees, surfer bungalows, sandy streets, and a laid-back (but growing) restaurant and bar scene.

The most economical way to get to San Pancho from Puerto Vallarta is by bus, but you can also take a taxi or an Uber for a more direct and faster trip.

Playa Colomitos

Back on the opposite side of the bay, Playa Colomitos is one of the smallest beaches in Puerto Vallarta, but also one of the most beautiful. Just a short distance from Boca de Tomatlan, the best way to visit this beach is to take a five-minute water taxi from the village, or a 30-minute hike along the coastal hiking trail. Yes, this is the same hiking trail that goes all the way to Las Animas, but if you are not up for the entire hike, it’s equally rewarding to stop at Playa Colomitos.

Sandwiched between two rocky outcrops, Playa Colomitos is a jewel of a beach. The soft, fine sand is surrounded by thick jungle and the water is calm and great for swimming. You won’t find any beach facilities here, so you’ll have to bring what you need with you. You can also return to Boca de Tomatlan for lunch or a refreshing drink before heading back to Puerto Vallarta.

Playa Yelapa

Playa Yelapa is the most remote beach on this list, only accessible by water taxi from Puerto Vallarta’s Los Muertos Pier or Boca de Tomatlan. This rugged, insular village, sliced by the Tuito River, climbs up from the beach into the rocky, jungle-covered hills. Fun fact: If you hike upstream, you’ll reach a beautiful waterfall.

The beach here is sheltered by a small bay, so the water is always warm and safe for swimming. A row of modest beach bars and restaurants line the sand, all serving fresh seafood and strong drinks.

I recommend spending a night or two in Yelapa. It’s the perfect way to escape the fray of Puerto Vallarta and soak up the natural beauty of the southern end of the Bay of Banderas.

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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