(LifeWire) - Welcome to Puerto Vallarta
Nestled on Mexico's central Pacific Coast between the beautiful Banderas Bay and the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains, Puerto Vallarta has been a draw for those seeking seclusion since the 19th century. From the newlywed boatman who named the area Las Penas in 1851 to legendary lovers Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor (who set off the tourist boom during the filming of The Night of the Iguana), Puerto Vallarta has long appealed to those with no greater ambition than having a good time. Families will enjoy the wonderful beaches, shopping, water sports and attractions such as a water park and Casa Kimberley, the Taylor/Burton love nest.
Puerto Vallarta's Gustavo Díaz Ordáz International Airport is well served from the United States. You can make a straight shot from many major US hubs, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Houston and Atlanta. Some flights go direct from western Canada's cities too, but generally those in Canada and other countries will need to connect.
The airport is just four miles north of Puerto Vallarta's downtown and not far from the Marina Vallarta area, where many resorts are located. Check to see if your resort offers airport transfers; if not, there are plenty of taxis and shuttle services at the airport. Stick to the official companies.
How's the Beach?
With nearly 30 miles of golden sand, you'll have no shortage of choices for beach bumming. The popular beaches along the hotel zone of the Marina Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta are wide. Further south are Playa de los Muertos, Playa Las Animas (popular with families) and Playa Mismaloya (where The Night of the Iguana was filmed), all good spots for swimming and various water sports from paragliding to diving.
For those who hope to catch some waves, take your surfboard to the beaches north of Puerto Vallarta; the top spots are Playa Destiladeras and Punta de Mita.
Puerto Vallarta makes it easy to enjoy a family vacation with a solid selection of resorts. Some choices:
Meliá Puerto Vallarta: Located a short drive from the airport in Marina Vallarta, this affordably priced all-inclusive beachfront resort is one of Puerto Vallarta's premier family options. In addition to fun amenities such as an archery range, 18-hole golf course and bungee trampoline, children can enjoy the themed Flintstones Land activity center and one of three kids clubs: Baby Rock Club (4 months to 4 years), Bamm-Bamm Club (5 to 8 years) or Cool Club (9 to 13 years).
Westin Resort & Spa Puerto Vallarta: Just five minutes from the airport and 15 minutes from downtown, this sophisticated Marina Vallarta resort is a 21-acre property with a private beach, four outdoor pools, spa and tennis courts. The Westin Kids Club (ages 4 to 12) is active daily and free of charge for the first three hours per day.
CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa: Another Marina Vallarta resort, the CasaMagna has been named one of the world's best hotels by Condé Nast Traveler. The renovated property has a luxurious spa. In addition to the Marriott Kids' Club (ages 4 to 12), there's a children's pool, a seasonal sea turtle rescue program and pottery painting.
Velas Vallarta Suite Resort & Convention Center: This all-inclusive oceanfront property in Marina Vallarta has sizable suites that are great for families who'll make use of the kitchenettes or full kitchens. It also offers a Velas Vallarta Kids Club (ages 4 to 12) and a children's pool. Keep an eye out for special seasonal family vacation packages.
Barceló La Jolla de Mismaloya: If you'd rather base yourself in Mismaloya (15 minutes south of downtown Puerto Vallarta), this all-inclusive luxury resort where The Night of the Iguana was filmed is a good choice. The free kids' club keeps the 6-to-12 set busy; babysitters are also available.
Attractions & Fun Outings
Banderas Bay offers excellent watersports opportunities, including kayaking, surfing and windsurfing, parasailing and snokeling. There are world-class diving sites, such as El Morro and Punta Mita. And although Mazatlán may have a higher profile as a sportfishing destination, the bay here is also a great place for deep-sea fishing.
Back on dry land, take some time to explore the cobblestone streets of Puerto Vallarta's Centro neighborhood. Elizabeth Taylor's Casa Kimberley - a birthday present from her lover Richard Burton - now operates as a bed and breakfast, but you can stop by for a visit. The former mansions of Taylor and Burton are connected by a pink "love bridge" and hosted a number of Hollywood luminaries, including Ava Gardner and John Wayne. Puerto Vallarta also has great shops for those in the market for art, pottery, textiles and clothing. The town's tropical location means that jungle and canopy tours are also an option.
More Puerto Vallarta Tips
- Single parents or guardians traveling to Mexico with a child under age 18 should read about extra documentation to bring, i.e. a notarized letter indicating the other parent's permission to travel abroad or proof of the death or legal absence of the other parent.
- To avoid traveler's diarrhea, stick to bottled beverages (even for toothbrushing) and avoid uncooked or street food.
- For resorts and major attractions, always check recent visitor comments at a site such as TripAdvisor.com.