The name Puerto Vallarta is synonymous with the beach for good reason. Mexico is a world-famous destination and Puerto Vallarta helped to garner much of that attention due to the diversity of saltwater playgrounds. There are a lot of options and I think you should explore the Puerto Vallarta beaches along the entire Banderas Bay. This article looks at the Puerto Vallarta beaches from the Jalisco state line to the south shore of the Banderas Bay.
Puerto Vallarta Beaches From North to South
- What to Bring
- Seasons of Puerto Vallarta
- Boca de Tomates
- Playa Salado and Marina Vallarta
- Playa de Oro and the Zona Hotelera
- Los Tules and Las Glorias
- Playa Camaron and Rosita Beach Malecon
- Olas Altas and Playa de Muertos
- Playa Amapas, Conchas Chinas, and Lindo Mar Beach
- Playa Las Estacas
- Punta Negra and Playa Palmeras
- Playas Gemelas
- Playa Los Arcos & Parque Nacional Marino Los Arcos de Mismaloya
- Boca de Tomatlan
- Colomitos and Ocean Grill
- Playa Caballo
- Playa Las Animas
- Las Caletas and Majahuitas
It is important to remember that there are a lot of different styles of beach in this large area. Sometimes there are big hotels with fancy restaurants and amazing infrastructure. More often than not there will be simple palm-thatched roof enramadas with rustic kitchens, lounge chairs, and umbrellas. Other times, the beaches will be absolutely virgin: no bathrooms nor any services whatsoever. As beachgoers, we need to plan for the beaches that we want to visit. Neglecting to bring water or some shade to a virgin beach will limit the time you get to spend in the most beautiful locations.
There are a lot of fun activities in Puerto Vallarta. I want to encourage you to get out there and explore. It’s cool to hand out at the hotel but the best beaches in Puerto Vallarta require a little more effort. I promise that it will be worth it.
What to Bring to the Beach in Puerto Vallarta
As beachgoers, we need to plan for the beaches that we want to visit. Neglecting to bring water or some shade to a virgin beach will limit the time you get to spend in a beautiful location. Make sure that when selecting you know what is available at the beach so you know what to bring along.
- Sunscreen: Check out the complete article on the best sunscreens for Mexico. You should consider a reef-safe sunscreen that is Octinoxate, Oxybenzone, and nano-particle free to protect marine life.
- Hats are an important part of sun protection. The Barmah wide brim hat puts off a lot of shade and stays cool at the same time. A classic Panama hat (made in Ecuador) is always a classy addition to just about any outfit. If you are going to be spending a lot of time in the sun, consider the tried and true lifeguard hat.
- Long sleeves: a long sleeve rashguard not only keeps you out of the sun but keeps the mosquitos off of your skin. Several of the Puerto Vallarta beaches are located very close to the jungle and there are mosquitos all year long with the rainy season being particularly bad for dengue fever.
- Shade umbrella or tent: posting up all day at the beach requires some shade. Many of the beaches on the list have humble restaurants that rent umbrellas and lounge chairs. There are virgin beaches without any tourist infrastructure that will be better with a little shade. I have used both umbrellas and a pop-up sun shelter and I like the pop-up version more.
- Cooler: the locals all carry the styrofoam OXXO coolers but those things are garbage and don’t even keep your drinks cold. Get a good cooler if you want to bring some cold beverages.
- Water bottle: a good water bottle is life-changing. I love drinking cold water on a hot day and I am always amazed at how long the ice lasts in a good water bottle. Plus, limiting the use of disposable plastic water bottles is always a good thing.
Click here to read about how to get to Puerto Vallarta from Guadalajara
Seasons of Puerto Vallarta Beaches
I teach an ESL class on the seasons and enjoy talking to students from different parts about the seasons where they live. The seasons in Puerto Vallarta are very different from the seasons in the United States or Canada. In fact, there is a massive yearly migration of snowbirds that can attest to the differences between the Canadian and Mexican winters.
Jalisco is famous for heavy rains and it is more likely to hear people talk about the rainy season and the dry season than it is to hear people talk about the colors of fall.
Spring in Puerto Vallarta
March, April, and May is the driest time of year leading up to the rainy season and it is common to see fires in the hills above town. The spring is also very beautiful because the trees bloom. There are spectacular trees that flower in shades yellow, red and purple all over town.
Summer in Puerto Vallarta
June, July, August, and bleeding into May and September is the rainy season in Puerto Vallarta. The rainy season is considered the low season because many part time residents dislike the humidity and the heat.
It takes a little bit to learn to live with heavy rain. You should carry an umbrella and learn how to drive in the rain. It’s really not that difficult. You just have to slow down, plan ahead and be patient. If it is hailing like crazy you should just wait it out. The heaviest downpours usually only last a little while. If there is a hurricane offshore you will know about it in advance and you can plan to not be on the road.
The rain turns the jungle spectacular shades of green and the clouds make for some dramatic sunsets. However, the rainy season is also mosquito season. You have to be conscious of mosquitoes because dengue is a threat every year.
Fall in Puerto Vallarta
September, October and November is my favorite season in Puerto Vallarta. It rains much less but everything is green. The temperature goes up a little bit on the days it doesn’t rain but it’s usually nicer than it is in Guadalajara. The days are hot but the ocean breeze cools it down a bit and the evenings are lovely.
Winter in Puerto Vallarta
December, January, and February are considered the high season. The sky is often bright and clear and the temperatures are usually mild. In 2020/2021 there was an unusually long cold front that brought the water temperatures into the mid-sixties for almost two months. I have never seen so many wetsuits in the lineups around Puerto Vallarta. The visitors could get away without a wetsuit but the locals were wearing full suits for an extended period of time.
Winter brings a large number of seasonal residents down from the snowy regions of North America and the prices of rentals and hotels can be higher than other times of years. The last two weeks of December and the first two weeks of January are particularly expensive to travel around the beaches of Puerto Vallarta.
Geography of Puerto Vallarta and the Banderas Bay
The geography of Puerto Vallarta is defined by the Banderas Bay (Bahía de Banderas). There are roughly 100 kilometers of coastline from the top of the bay in Punta Mita to the bottom of the bay in Cabo Corrientes. The Sierra Madre Mountain Range climbs out of the water with tropical green tones. The northern half of the bay falls in the State of Nayarit and the south half in the State of Jalisco. The mighty Ameca River divides the two states way up into the highlands. The river originates in the Primavera Forest in the Guadalajara Metro Region, irrigates a lot of farmland, and quickly gains speed as it drops from an elevation of 5,000 feet down to sea level.
This article is going to focus exclusively on the Puerto Vallarta beaches that fall in the State of Jalisco. If you are interested in the beaches of Punta Mita and Nayarit, I have another article dedicated just to that region. Here are some pictures just to show you how awesome that area is also.
My favorite Puerto Vallarta beaches are not located within the city limits but a little to the south. The south shore of the Banderas Bay is less developed than the city itself and there is more nature. The coastal highway goes as far as Boca de Tomatlan before heading south, away from the coast. The only way to access the beaches along the south shore is by boat or along a hiking trail. The isolation is a form of preservation.
Don’t confuse Baca de Tomatlan with Boca de Tomates. One is in the north and one is in the south. Boca de Tomatlan is the most common departure point to take a water taxi to the beaches along the south shore. It is an easy bus ride from Puerto Vallarta that costs ten pesos. Parking is always scarse in Boca de Tomatlan.
Boca de Tomates: Puerto Vallarta Beaches
The Ameca River empties into the middle of the Bay of Banderas at Boca de Tomates. It is an undeveloped (at least for now) section of land between the international airport and the States of Nayarit. To the north of the Ameca River is Nayarit and Nuevo Vallarta and to the south is Puerto Vallarta and Jalisco.
During the rainy season, there is a lot of water moving through the river and estuary to the Bay of Banderas. The beaches near the river mouth are full of debris including river rocks, tree branches, and even tree trunks. Sometimes there is garbage as well. This is a great place to see wildlife and get something to eat but it isn’t the best beach for swimming. The crocodile viewing area on the road discourages many would-be swimmers. It isn’t uncommon to see crocodiles swimming in the ocean during the rainy season when the river flows quickly and sweeps them into open water.
People come here to see wildlife more than to swim in the beach. There is a bird watching area, a sea turtle nesting area, and a crocodile viewing area all within a few hundred meters.
There are a number of good restaurants with plastic tables on the sand that specialize in grilled whole fish and ceviche.
Playa Salado and The Vallarta Marina
Most people visiting Playa Salado will be staying at one of the large hotels. You can access the beach through the Marriott by telling the security guard you are eating at the restaurant. However, you are not going to be allowed to bring a cooler full of beer like you normally might bring to the beach. The other access to the beach is on Paseo Bocanegra the far north side of the golf course. You have to drive a little ways away from the beach to find the public access road to Playa Salada.
The area in front of the Marriott, the Westin, and Vela’s is very well taken care of. There is no trash and the beach crew takes good care of the guests. The area in front of Paseo Bocanegra is a public beach and doesn’t get the same care. The Ameca River mouth is not far and the sand can be a little silty with the debris during the rainy season. The beach is ok but not my favorite.
Playa de Oro, Playa del Holi, Playa Flamingos, and the Zona Hotelera
Playa de Oro is the section of Puerto Vallarta beach south of the Marina. The cruise ship terminal is on the north side of the neighborhood and the Pitillal River is on the south side. The area around the Pitillal River is referred to as Playa del Holi and the area south of the river is Playa Flamingos. There is a mall and some high-end restaurants along the highway. Beach access is better than Playa Salado but finding parking can still be a problem. There is a parking lot along the Pitillal River with public access to the beaches.
The beach along Playa de Oro is nice but probably not a destination on its own. There is a lot of sand, even at high tide, to spread out and share with the hotels. The hotels take up a lot of space with umbrellas and lounge chairs for their guests. If you happen to be staying in one of the big hotels it is perfectly fine. If you like to walk on the beach, this is a great place to walk. But I probably wouldn’t plan a day at the Playa de Oro if i wasn’t staying nearby. I highly prefer the beaches south of Puerto Vallarta to the beaches inside the city.
Playa del Holi is named after the old Holiday Inn on the south side of the Pitillal River. A few years back, the Holiday was renovated and renamed to Sunscape. The beach kept its name even though there is no longer a Holiday Inn in the area.
I will say that the Puerto Vallarta Beaches south of the Marina are nicer than the beaches closer to Boca de Tomates and the Ameca River. The sand is nicer and there is usually less debris especially in the rainy season.
Los Tules and Las Glorias
The neighborhood south of the Pitillal River and west of the highway is called Las Glorias. From north to south the beaches are Los Flamingos Beach, Los Tules Beach, and Las Glorias Beach.
There is public access along the creek where Avenida de los Tules meets the highway behind Plaza Caracol. Parking is limited.
The beaches in Puerto Vallarta are incredible. Anywhere else in the world, Playa los Tules and Las Glorias would be a major destination. In Puerto Vallarta, they are just your average beaches. These beaches are within the city limits. The really spectacular beaches are north and south of the city along undeveloped sections of the coast.
Playa Camarón and Rosita Beach
Where the Las Glorias Neighborhood ends the 5 de Diciembre neighborhood begins. The beach gets a lot narrower along this stretch of the coast because the Malecon (boardwalk) is an elevated seawall. The sand comes and goes with the big storms. A lot of the area is rocky but there are some little pockets of enjoyable sandy beach at different points.
The most enjoyable activity along this section of the Puerto Vallarta Beaches is walking the boardwalk at sunset and taking pictures of the monuments. My favorite sculptures are by Alejandro Colunga. I love his surrealist style. He has a few more sculpture gardens in Guadalajara at the Hospicio Cabañas and Plaza del Sol. Sergio Bustamante has a little exhibit. You have to see the Puerto Vallarta sign, the arches, and the Puerto Vallarta church.
There are some great restaurants on the boardwalk like La Docena and Juniko and even more in the 5 de Diciembre neighborhood. There are a couple of beach clubs that I would like to visit on the northside of Playa Camarones but we always head south of town.
Olas Altas and Los Muertos Beach: Puerto Vallarta beaches everyone loves
The Cuale River separates downtown from the Zona Romantica. The Zona Romantica is often called Old Town Puerto Vallarta but I believe the area around the church on the north side of the river is actually older. It’s kind of an arbitrary delineating mark because both sides are lovely but my favorite beaches are to the south.
It probably isn’t the best name either. Olas Altas means tall waves but this is by no means a surfing beach. I see more of a surge and a little shore break if there is anything at all. Big waves are much more common outside of the Banderas Bay.
Olas Altas isn’t a really wide beach but as you move south it gets much bigger. On the weekend it feels busy, especially at high tide. There are lots of restaurants lining the beach. The boardwalk is very simple and nothing like the boardwalk on the north side of the Cuale River.
This may not be entirely true, but I think about the area north of the pier as Olas Altas and the area south of the pier as Los Muertos.
The Los Muertos Pier is a beautiful monument to Puerto Vallarta’s aquatic culture. It is shaped like a sailboat and lined with pangas. The water taxis are ready to take you to the beaches along the south shore like Playa Las Animas and Yelapa.
One thing to remember about Playa Los Muertos is that this is where people come to party. I hate cigarettes in the sand. The beach is pretty clean of rubbish but there are a lot of cigarette butts in the sand.
Playa Los Muertos really opens up as you head south. There is a lot more space to spread out as you walk south. This is also where mountains seem to climb out of the sea. Most of the year the hills are vibrant green and maybe a little brown during the dry season. You will notice that where the city ends nature starts to take over again.
Playa Amapas is both a neighborhood and a beach. The neighborhood is actually much larger than the beach. The Amapas neighborhood refers to a couple of blocks of the Zona Romantica, Playa Los Muertos, and a little bit of the hill. Playa Amapas is the next cove south of Playa Los Muertos. The beach access is from the south making it feel isolated from the party scene on Los Muertos.
Conchas Chinas and Lindo Mar Beach
Playa Amapas is where the Banderas Bay and the Puerto Vallarta Beaches really start to change. The area around the river is flat with long sandy beaches. South of Amapas there are more rocky reefs with pockets of sandy beaches in between.
The reefs on the south shore also change the sand. The sand around the rocks is decomposed granite. The grains of sand are larger than the silty agricultural runoff around the Ameca River mouth. The large grain decomposed granite makes the water visibility much clearer and the color of the water much bluer. The area around the Ameca River is often murky and brown. Conchas Chinas is a beautiful blue.
It seems there is a little debate about what the name Conchas Chinas means. Some people think that it means Chinese shells while others say it translates to curly shells. I am firmly planted in the curly camp. I know of plenty of shells that are spiral shaped where different types of mollusks, snails, and crabs make their homes. To me, spiral and curly are almost synonymous and the answer is easy to understand.
This is one of my favorite beaches for young kids. There isn’t a lot of swell that enters the bay but the reefs block the little bit that does make it in. The area reminds me of where I grew up going to the beach near La Jolla Cove. The tide pools are a lot of fun for little kids to learn about ocean life.
On the far south side of Conchas Chinas is the Lindo Mar Hotel. I wouldn’t even call this stretch of sand a separate beach from Conchas Chinas but because of the hotel people call it Lindo Mar Beach. It’s tiny but beautiful.
Conchas Chinas is not in the city of Puerto Vallarta proper. It is a few minutes south of the Zona Romantica along the highway to Barra de Navidad. The parking can be difficult making the area somewhat exclusive. That exclusivity makes the area a favorite for weddings. There are a number of beautiful venues for throwing intimate weddings on the beach.
Playa Las Estacas and the Hyatt Ziva
Playa Las Estacas is an exclusive stretch of Puerto Vallarta beach that does not have any public access unless you have a boat. The beach is rather small, about 300 meters from north to south, but it is nice and wide with plenty of room to spread out. The Hyatt Ziva is a beautiful facility with a spectacular beach but I am opposed to spending US$65 for a day pass to hang out on the beach.
Punta Negra and Playa Palmeras
This is a great beach. There is a small parking lot off the highway and a serious environmental consciousness. The community takes trash seriously and there are lots of signs telling you to take care of the environment and pack your trash. It also looks like the locals spend a good amount of time picking up any trash that may wash ashore or blow away. The beach is impeccable.
As you travel the beaches south of Puerto Vallarta there are a lot of rocky shores. Playa Palmeras and Punta Negra have beautiful white sands with pockets of cobblestone rocks. There is a wheelchair ramp and plenty of beach equipment for rent including umbrella, tables, and lounge chairs. You won’t find any formal restaurants but there are plenty of vendors selling food up and down the beach.
Playa Palmeras has an international recognition which is called a Blue Flag Beach. There is a significant ecological program working to educate the public on environmental issues and ocean preservation. This is easily one of the most beautiful and easily accessible beaches in Puerto Vallarta.
The beaches on the south shore of Puerto Vallarta go from excellent to spectacular. The difficult part can be the access. Playas Gemelas is one of my favorite beaches anywhere in the world but it is hidden. This is a local favorite with very limited and kind of sketchy parking right on the sidewalk/highway. If you are not staying in the condos on the beach, it is probably better to take the bus in rather than driving.
We have friends that lend us their condo from time to time. The three towers are simple yet refined. They might even be considered a little retro by the standards of the new construction going up all over town. That doesn’t matter, this is classic Puerto Vallarta.
Playas Gemelas means twin beaches in Spanish because there are two sandy coves that are just about the same size. Each stretch of beach is only 150 meters long but there is plenty of room to spread out because the beach is nice and wide. There are tall trees along the highway that give off a lot of shade in the first part of the day.
The snorkling in this area is not particularly good but the water is very clear and the reef at either end of the beach does have a little bit of sea life. This is one of my favorite places to swim in open water. The Banderas Bay is usually calm and the clear water makes for an enjoyable swim.
One of my dreams in life is to make enough money that I can buy a house across the street from Playas Gemelas. The Sierra del Mar development is one of the most beautiful places to live that I could imagine. This place is paradise.
Playa El Paredon
Playa El Paredon is where they have the bungee jump platform built over the cliff. If you are traveling on a paddle board, there is a really cool sea cave along the rocky shore. If not, Playa El Paredon probably won’t be on your radar.
Playa Los Arcos & Parque Nacional Marino Los Arcos de Mismaloya
The beach at los Arcos isn’t anything to wrote home about. The cliff could actually use a little trash clean up. Los Arcos isn’t about laying on the beach. It is about getting in the water. The underwater park is one of the premier snorkeling and scuba diving locations in the Bay of Banderas.
Most people will visit los Arcos on a boat or paddle board but the snorkeling is excellent just off shore.
I highly recommend talking to Vallarta SUP & Surf, or at least looking at their photos. Los Arcos is a magical place and they know all the best spots.
I want to like Mismaloya. I have been enchanted with the beach since I first saw that old John Huston movie way back in the day. My mom drove down to Puerto Vallarta in 1969, idolized the place and got me pretty excited about it as well.
You can’t imagine what a disappointment Mismaloya was when I finally got to hang out there. Don’t get me wrong, the place is beautiful but it is a classic tourist trap.
The barkers will walk you down to a restaurant and sell you coconuts they don’t have. There were some odd looks between the waitress and the barker that we understood to be, “we don’t have any coconuts” and “just go with it”. There was next to no liquid in the coconut they gave us and it was fermented beyond my enjoyment.
The worst part of Mismaloya is the port. There are a lot of boats sitting right off the beach giving tours of the marine sanctuary, and the beaches to the south. The smell of gasoline permeates the water. A beach that smells like gasoline is not a beach that I want to swim in.
Boca de Tomatlán
Boca de Tomatlan is an important geographical reference point in the Banderas Bay because this is where the highway heads away from the coast. There is no more vehicle access to the beaches southwest of Boca de Tomatlan.
The river mouth, or boca, is a makeshift harbor for a good deal of pangas that work the bay. The pangas serve as water taxis to the beaches to the southwest, fishing charters as well as pleasure cruises. The beach at Boca de Tomatlan is pretty nice but still pales in comparison to the isolated beaches further south.
In addition to the boat launch, Boca de Tomatlan is the starting point of the popular hiking trail to Playa las Animas.
Colomitos Beach is called the smallest beach in Puerto Vallarta and one of the smallest beaches in all of Mexico. At high tide the beach is only about 10 meters long. The water is crystal clear because of the decomposed granite sand.
The real attraction at Colomitos is the famed Ocean Grill restaurant perched on the cliff overlooking the beach. The view is better at the restaurant than it is at the beach. You need to make reservations in advance and they don’t accept kids under 10 years old. It only takes a few minutes to travel the kilometer from Boca de Tomatlan to the dock in Colomitos by boat. The water taxi costs MX$100 per person but if you walk in the taxi is free going back. This was one of my favorite meals in Puerto Vallarta before we had kids.
Playa Madagascar is a special treat. Sometimes it exists and sometimes it doesn’t. Well the beach is always there but the sand comes and goes after big storms. The water is an incredible turquoise color and there is reef at either end of the beach with lots of small fish. The beach is located right around the corner from Playa Colomitos but doesn’t get nearly as much traffic because there are no restaurants nor services. This is a favorite stop along the Las Animas trail.
Playa El Caballo
Playa el Caballo is one of the best beaches in Puerto Vallarta with a luxury resort situated on either end. The are is very exclusive and favorite of the popular kids in Guadalajara. I like to think of the concept as jungle chic. You will need the mosquito nets but the exotic wood details and thatched roof are done in excellent taste. Everything around here is expensive because there are no roads and everything has to be brought in on a boat. It is very rustic but you can see the starts at night and listen to the waves put you to sleep.
Playa Las Ánimas
Playa Las Animas is a touristic product. The beach has clear water that is great to let kids play in. There is a dock that serves the water taxis from Boca de Tomatlan and Playa los Muertos. There is all of the infrastructure necessary to enjoy the beach without having to bring all of your own equipment like umbrellas and lounge chairs. The food and drinks are good but probably not the best you will find in Puerto Vallarta. If you come on the weekends the place will be absolutely packed to the gills and the last water taxi back to the city will be very full.
Quimixto Beach is my choice for the best beach in Puerto Vallarta because there are waves. Even when the swell is small there are waves breaking on the cobble stone rivermouth. The wave is a left hand point break that can easily run down the line for a few hundred meters on a good north swell.
The beach is long with a dock on the far west end. There is a small waterfall a little ways up the river. The river has deposited enough rocks just off the shore to create a shelf. It is the perfect place to let little kids play in the water without fear of the waves.
This is a very special stretch of coast. You will often times see people practicing yoga along the shore. Cocos Restaurant is a humble enremada that serves some of the best food in the area. I like that there are a few businesses but enough room to spread out and find your own space. This is where you will really want to bring a shade tent because you will want to spend all day here.
Playa Caletas is where John Huston lived for a number of years after he made Night of the Iguana. The area is beautiful but not easily accessible unless you are on one of the tours by Vallarta Adventures. I have not taken the tour but I would like to one day. It looks like a good family friends tour that has something for everyone.
I did not get the chance to swim in Majahuitas but our panga operator said that this little cove has the best snorkeling in the bay. Again, the installations are exclusively for the Vallarta Adventures crowd. You can use the beach but you can not buy food from the restaurant unless you are on the tour. You must bring all of your own equipment and pack your trash back out.
This little cove is like a parking lot for luxury yachts.
Yelapa is significantly further away from Boca de Tomatlan than any of the other beaches that I have mentioned on the south shore. It also has the most infrastructure. There is a small village with a variety of hotels, restaurants and taco shops. There is a decent-sized waterfall a short hike away. Yelapa is one of the most popular beaches in the Bandera Bay for good reason.