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48 Hours in Puerto Vallarta
What to do in Puerto Vallarta with 48 hours
Puerto Vallarta is a magical gateway to smoldering adventure. It is an electric fusion of seafaring and cowboy with all the romantic spice of Mexico drizzled on top. This magical gateway offers the chance to indulge so deeply that you might lose months there and think only a day has passed. On the flip side, you can easily spend 48 hours there and feel like you lived a rich lifetime. Pick your base of operations in Puerto Vallarta and then prepare to embark on a journey through your own heart.
Every time I’ve visited Puerto Vallarta it’s been as a shore stop for a sailing adventure. Last time I was in port for a few days before setting out to sea again to sail for Tahiti. It seems that the best way to enjoy Puerto Vallarta is to pick a passion and commit to it. There are as many things to do in Puerto Vallarta as there are fish in the sea. The main stays of this port town are romance, fishing, sailing, shopping, and rejuvenation.
Once you pick your area of interest you can go from there. When you arrive you should be aware that the city is broken into two halves, Viejo Vallarta (Old Vallarta) and Nuevo Vallarta (New Vallarta). Nuevo Vallarta is the hub for high-end restaurants, resorts, and clubs. Viejo Vallarta is a rolling mix of cobblestone streets, open-air markets, and authentic Mexican restaurants.
For those of you with an intrepid soul, aim straight for Viejo Vallarta. It’s a treasure chest of fishing shops, taco stands, and bazaars. My first stop is always to the Old Town market. It’s a labyrinth of vendors and stalls, laden with every color of the rainbow pouring onto the ground. The shopkeepers are very insistent, so make sure you are prepared to politely say “no” again and again. If you’re willing to brave it, the reward is great.
Viewfinder Tip: The vendors in the main markets are insistent, but harmless. Make sure you don’t get pulled into a shop by being too polite.
The heart of the main market is full of the usual culprits. Keepsakes, knick-knacks, and themed shot glasses are abundant. As you swirl outwards though you’ll encounter more local crafts and more importantly, local food. The Viejo Vallarta food scene is not to be missed. You can find items that range between sit-down bar style Mexican to large rooms full of tables above the main market. These are the true gems. Find a local haunt (usually on the second level above the shopping stalls) and order a plate of tacos. This is some of the finest and cheapest food in the city. Any place that has a stone bowl of homemade salsa in the middle of the table is usually a good indicator.
The hum of the market area is inescapable. Beware, if you’re traveling with a special someone, since this is where the magic happen. You’ll find yourself being drawn, beyond explanation, to the south end of Puerto Vallarta. Don’t fight it. You’ll end up in the Zona Romantica.
This soft edge of the city is nestled on the beach and contains all of my favorite shops, restaurants, and most importantly, beach dancing. As the sun begins to set, the restaurants and bars put tables and chairs on the beach and couples begin to drink and dance by the sea. Mariachi bands are as plentiful as the stars. In short, between the music, the crimson smear of sun, and the tequila, it’s impossible not to fall in love. At the heart of this historic end of town is the Church of Our Lady of Guadlupe. Certainly a treasure of the city that is not to be missed.
For those of you more interested in the thrill of a different catch, then try the boardwalk or Malecon. This district of town is stocked with all the fishing outfits and sailing hubs you could hope for. Whether you’re looking to head out to sea for a leisurely day of sailing or try your hand at deep-sea fishing, you’ll find the right outfit here. Or you can find any of the most comfortable bars in town to tell your fishing stories to and cap off your 48 hours in Puerto Vallarta.
What’s your favorite way to spend the day?
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Chris and Tawny have had articles and videos published on USA TODAY TRAVEL, BBC Travel, Matador Network, as well as appeared as guest stars on TLC Asia's Fun Taiwan television series. When not on the road, you can find Chris and Tawny nestled in their home in Tacoma, Washington fueling up on coffee and cat cuddles while planning their future adventures. You can follow their travels on their blog, Instagram, and YouTube