Puerto Vallarta Surf Guide

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No matter what anyone else says, Puerto Vallarta is a surf town. There are surf shops, surf lessons, and experienced surfers. There just aren’t a lot of waves. Puerto Vallarta gets less than 30 days of ridable surf a year. It is flat almost all year until hurricane season starts. The Puerto Vallarta surf scene is not only about the city itself but also the whole Bahía de Banderas and Riviera Nayarit region as a whole.

Puerto Vallarta surfers are hurricane hunters. There are also a tremendous amount of waves within a few hours of Puerto Vallarta but they are not in the city of Puerto Vallarta.

The reason that Puerto Vallarta does not get a lot of surf is that it sits in the back of an enormous bay called the Bahía de Banderas. A typical north or south swell will not penetrate deep enough into the bay to make waves in Puerto Vallarta.

Puerto Vallarta needs a storm with a westerly swell angle to wake up. Storms with a westerly angle are not typical ground swells from far away; they are hurricanes that pass right in front of the Bay of Banderas.

Hurricanes pass by Puerto Vallarta consistently during the season from May to November which coincides with the rainy season. In recent years there have been anywhere from 5 to 10 hurricanes per season plus some tropical storms. Hurricane conditions produce a lot of swell energy and strong currents that are not for beginners.

Just remember that travel becomes less predictable when there is a hurricane nearby. Flights are delayed, roads see landslides, and bridges are washed out.

I thought this article really summed up the Puerto Vallarta surf scene nicely. Even with a massive earthquake and tsunami warning, the local surfers were not going to miss out on one of the few good days of surf at their local break. There was a small tsunami that hit Manzanillo just down the coast and an unusually high tide in Puerto Vallarta but these kids couldn’t be convinced to get out of the water.

Where is Puerto Vallarta?

Puerto Vallarta is located in the State of Jalisco on the Pacific Ocean. It is on the border with the state of Nayarit and many of the best surfing spots are located along the Riviera Nayarit to the north. The latitude of Puerto Vallarta is almost the same as Hawaii so you can expect warm waters year-round.

The Puerto Vallarta Airport is one of the most common places to start a surf trip in Mexico because there are waves up and down the coast.

In addition to Puerto Vallarta, there are surf breaks on the north side of the bay at Punta de Mita and on the south side of the bay at Quimixto.

Puerto Vallarta surf lessons

Surf Lessons and Surf Excursions

Many people will come to Puerto Vallarta on vacation and realize that there isn’t a lot of good surf in front of their hotel like they had been hoping.

The best way for beginners to score a memorable Puerto Vallarta surfing experience is to hire an experienced guide that will handle the transportation and necessary equipment. Puerto Vallarta has excellent surf instructors with local knowledge to make sure visitors have fun while staying safe. They know all the best spots in the region and where to take a private tour so they score waves for their ability level.

There are dozens of companies doing surf lessons and most of them are driving an hour north to the beach towns in Nayarit. The probability of scoring good waves increases as you exit the bay. The nearby breaks are consistently better than the breaks in Puerto Vallarta.

If you want to arrange transportation from Puerto Vallarta these guys will dial you in with exactly the type of wave you are looking for.

I recommend WildMex if you are already in the Cruz de Huanacaxtle or Punta Mita area. I have used them over the years to rent boards a few times. They have a surf shop at the trailhead to La Lancha beach with a bunch of types of boards all types of conditions. If the waves are small it is nice to have a board with a little more foam to catch more waves.

The Best Puerto Vallarta Surf Spots

As mentioned earlier, most of the year Puerto Vallarta isn’t going to have surfable waves. If you happen to be there in hurricane season you could score. If you do travel to Puerto Vallarta during hurricane season, you may have to deal with bad weather and debris in the water. Watch out for those tree trunks and crocodiles that get washed out to sea.

Olas Altas

Right off the boardwalk by the Río Cuale in between Downtown Puerto Vallarta and the Romantic Zone is a section of beach called Olas Altas. Guess what Olas Altas means in Spanish? That is right, big waves. The river will create some sand bars and the cobblestones give the wave a nice shape. The waves are typically A-frames with both ridable rights and lefts.

Olas Altas only breaks on hurricane swells that have a very short period. There is a lot of water moving and the waves come back to back without much time in between them. The waves break in shallow water and the paddle can be a challenge. Have you ever duck-dove a big wave right into a sand bar?

It is a rare treat to be able to surf a fickle wave. Keep your eyes out.

Playa Del Holi

Located at the mouth of the Pitillal River, Playa Del Holi or Playa Flamingos is a bank or a sand bar. It breaks like a point but it isn’t long enough to really be considered a point. There is only a right and it only breaks in a couple of different sections. When it gets good, it is a barrel in very shallow water.

It is rare that Playa Del Holi will break so don’t count on it. If you happen to be here in the rainy season you might just score a hurricane.

Velas Vallarta

The Ameca River moves a lot of water and sand into the bay creating beautiful sand bars. When the hurricane swells come, the waves get heavy.

Because of the river, the water is a chocolaty brown during the surf season. It is important to watch out for small crocodiles that get flushed out to sea when hurricane rains swell the river. You would not believe what gets washed into the ocean after a big rain.

The Velas resort is beautiful. It isn’t likely that you would be able to reserve it in advance but if you happen to be in the area when that tropical storm is just forming it would definitely be worth a last-minute reservation. You just need to hunker down the day the hurricane hits. Most of the hurricanes don’t make landfall anywhere near Puerto Vallarta but pass by well off the coast, outside of the bay. Even so, they bring a lot of rain. It is possible to lose a day or two to non-stop rain if the storm is close to shore.

Quimixto Beach

Quimixto, Puerto Vallarta surf guide

Surfing Quimixto requires leaving Puerto Vallarta by boat. There are no roads to Quimixto, just boats. The water taxi leaves from the Los Muertos Pier and from Boca de Tomatlán and shuttles the masses to the beaches on the south shore to relax at the beach clubs. What better way to experience a beach club than to surf all day.

The Quimixto surf spot is a left reef break that picks up a lot of swell. There is an active waterfall and river that deposits cobblestones along the sea floor giving the waves a nice shape. The winter season is the best time to surf Quimixto when the north pacific swells march down the coast.

The south shore of the Banderas Bay is spectacularly beautiful with turquoise waters

The Best Surf Spots Near Puerto Vallarta

While there is surf in Puerto Vallarta it isn’t likely that you are going to see it. Most people are not traveling to the beach during a hurricane. The best bet for scoring surf from Puerto Vallarta is to make the short drive up the coast to the Riviera Nayarit. Punta de Mita, Sayulita, San Pancho, Chacala, and San Blas all have outstanding waves that are very consistent. There are beaches for both the summer and winter seasons.

Punta de Mita vs Punta Mita

Puerto Vallarta surf guide

Punta de Mita is the town and Punta Mita is the gated community of condos, golf courses, and hotels at the very tip of the peninsula. When I say Punta Mita, I am referring to the northern part of the Bahía de Banderas pretty much from the Cruz de Huanacaxtle all the way to the tip of the peninsula. Pretty much the whole northern edge of the bay is filled with great surf spots.

Punta burros in between waves

Punta Burros is out in front of the Grand Pallidum Hotel. It is one of the best waves in the region that is steep enough to surf a short board. It is known for long rights and shorter lefts. I contend that the waves are best suited for a longboard but you will see a lot of shortboards, twin fins, and boogie boards as well. It is a great place to hang out and spend the day. There are no services and very little shade so make sure to come prepared with water and some shade.

Playa La Lancha is one of the best places for beginners. There is a surf shop next to the gas station with private instructors and group classes. They have all sorts of board rentals and there is even a world-class seafood restaurant next door. To surf La Lancha you have to find a place to park and walk down a trail through the mangrove forest. The beach is only starting to be developed and the services are only for hotel guests. It is best to think that there are no services at this beach. Make sure to bring your own water and shade.

Walking down the trail to surf Burros

La Lancha breaks pretty consistently but it isn’t the best wave in the world. It is a little unorganized and even though there is a significant amount of reef, the waves break all over the place.

El Anclote is the main break in the town of Punta de Mita. This a great place to learn to surf because the wave never gets very big. The only problem is that the whole beach is cobblestone rocks so little kids are not going to like getting in and out of the water.

Click here to read the full Punta Mita surf guide.


Left point break in the Puerto Vallarta Surf Guide

Sayulita is easily one of the best day trips from Puerto Vallarta and there is surf out front. The waves are better in Punta Mita but the party is better in Sayulita. There are more bars and restaurants with concepts for a younger crowd. Punta Mita is a very wealthy enclave and it feels like everyone is at retirement age. Sayulita has a more relaxed vibe, a younger population, and better bars.

San Pancho

San Pancho is the town right next to Sayulita. The wave in San Pancho is better suited for a short board most of the year. It is much steeper wave that breaks over shallow sand.

The town of San Pancho has grown a lot but still has a strong sense of community.

Things to do when there is no surf in Puerto Vallarta

Where to stay in Puerto Vallarta

How to get to Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta is a very easy travel destination. There is a major international airport with more than 30 destinations in North America with non-stop flights.

The drive into Puerto Vallarta is slow. There are no toll roads connecting Puerto Vallarta to the rest of Mexico at the moment but there are several under construction.

Having a vehicle is the best way to explore the different breaks in the region. Taking some tours would be the second best way to find good waves.

Some Final Thoughts on Surfing in Puerto Vallarta

I don’t think that most hardcore surfers are going to be planning a surf trip to Puerto Vallarta in the near future. If they happen to be in Puerto Vallarta and happen to see a big swell on the forecast it is easy to score some great waves.

Puerto Vallarta isn’t a surf destination but a place that a lot of surfers are going to pass through and should maybe check out. I think the town and beaches in Puerto Vallarta are worth a look.

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