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Puerto Vallarta Travel Guide

Land Sports

ATV and Dune Buggy Tours

Increasingly, ATV, dune buggy, and jeep tours are heading for the hills around Puerto Vallarta. Most rides are to small communities, ranches, and rivers north, south, and east of town. Sharing a vehicle with a partner means a significant savings.

Logistics

You need a valid driver's license and a major credit card. Wear lightweight long pants, sturdy shoes, bandanna (some operators provide one as a keepsake) and/or tight-fitting hat, sunglasses, and both sunscreen and mosquito repellent. In rainy season (July–October) it's hot and wet—ideal for splashing through puddles and streams; the rest of the year is cooler and dustier. In either season, prepare to get dirty. Three- to four-hour tours run $80–$120; full-day trips to San Sebastián cost about $165 for one rider or $175 for two.

Outfitters

If you plan to gulp rather than sip on a tequila-tasting tour, please strongly consider riding two per ATV and designating one person as the day's driver. Doubling up is usually also the bargain rental option.

Adventure ATV Jungle Treks. This company leads daily three-hour ATV tours ($75 for one rider, $95 for two) that head into the hills behind Vallarta. The stop at Rancho Las Pilas includes a brief tequila-making tour and tasting, but lunch there is optional and not included in the price. A four-hour tour combines this ATV trek with a canopy tour through River Canopy, along the Cuale River ($130 for one rider, $190 for two). Calle Basilio Badillo 400, Col. E. Zapata, Puerto Vallarta, 48380. 322/223–0392.

Multisport Operators

Ecotours. It's a downtown PV–based operator (with a second office at Marina Vallarta) whoseofferings include hiking, diving, snorkeling, kayaking, bird-watching, whale-watching, and turtle tours. Puerto Vallarta. 322/223–3130 or 322/222–6606. www.ecotoursvallarta.com.

Puerto Vallarta Tours. This company offers tours that are available from other area operators, but we recommend it for its excellent Web site, English-speaking operators and crew, and the convenience factor: through this one operator, you can book everything from canopy tours, ATVs, deep-sea fishing, and mountain biking to cruise tours, cultural tours, and bullfighting. Puerto Vallarta. 322/222–4935; 01800/832–3632 in Mexico; 866/217–9704; 866/464–6915 from U.S. or Canada. www.puertovallartatours.net.

Sociedad Cooperativa Corral del Risco. Local fishermen at Punta Mita (aka Punta de Mita) have formed this cooperative, which offers reasonably priced fishing trips, surfing, whale-watching excursions, and diving and snorkeling outings. Puerto Vallarta. 329/291–6298. www.puntamitacharters.com.

Tours Soltero. Canadian expat Ray Calhoun and his wife Eva rent mountain bikes, snorkeling equipment, and boogie boards ($10 per day) and lead active tours from their base in San Patricio Melaque, a town next to Barra de Navidad south of PV. Typical excursions are snorkeling in Tenacatita with boogie boarding at Boca de Iguana, from 10 to 5 ($32), and a day trip to the state capital, Colima, which includes lunch and a stop at a typical hacienda-cum-museum ($60). Puerto Vallarta. 315/355–6777. .

Vallarta Adventures. It's a well-respected operator with 20 years' experience, two offices, dozens of tours, and a staff of some 350. It's often used by high-end hotel concierges and cruise-ship activity directors for canopy tours, hiking, sailing, dinner-show cruises, Sierra Madre expeditions, and dolphin- and whale-watching cruises. Puerto Vallarta. 322/297–1212 in Nuevo Vallarta; 322/221–0657 in Marina Vallarta; 888/526–2238 from U.S. and Canada. www.vallarta-adventures.com.

Rancho Mi Chaparrita. On his family ranch, Luis Verdin runs a 13-zip-line tour ($75) and horseback riding trips ($25 per hour). Or combine the two, accessing the ranch on Señor Verdin's lively, healthy horses via the beach and backcountry for a complete adventure ($95). The company rents boogie boards, surfboards, and paddleboards and give surfing lessons and four- to six-day surfing packages. They also offer snorkeling and whale- or wildlife-watching excursions around the Marietas Islands. Manuel Rodriguez Sanchez 14, Sayulita, 63732. 329/291–3112. www.michaparrita.com.

Wildlife Connection. Based in downtown PV, this Mexican-owned company does what its name implies: It connects you with wildlife (specifically birds, turtles, dolphins and whales) on seasonal trips. It also leads snorkeling and photography outings. Puerto Vallarta. 322/225–3621. www.wildlifeconnection.com.

Canopy Tours

Canopy tours are high-octane thrill rides during which you "fly" from treetop to treetop, securely fastened to a zip line. Despite the inherent danger of dangling from a cable hundreds of feet off the ground, the operators we list have excellent safety records. If you're brave, bring your camera to take photos while zipping along; just be sure the neck strap is long enough to leave your hands free.

Logistics

Check with each operator regarding maximum weight (usually 250 pounds) and minimum ages for kids. Don't take a tour when rain threatens. A thunderstorm isn't the time to hang out near trees attached to metal cables, and rain makes the activity scary to say the least. Even during the rainy season, however, mornings and early afternoons are generally sunny.

Outfitters

Canopy El Edén. The daily trips to the spirited Mismaloya River and an adjacent restaurant are 3½-hour adventures ($81) that depart from the downtown office. You zip along 10 lines through the trees and above the river. To take full advantage of the lovely setting and good restaurant, take the first tour (departures are weekdays at 9, 10, 11, noon, 1:30, and 2:30—sometimes less frequently in low season), and bring your swimsuit. The schedule includes about an hour to spend at the river, spa, or restaurant. If you wish to stay longer and there's room, you can return to Vallarta with a later group; otherwise take a taxi or ask the restaurant staff for a lift to the highway, where buses frequently pass. Office: Plaza Romy, Calle I. Vallarta 228, Interior 1, Col. E. Zapata, Puerto Vallarta, 48380. 322/222–2516. www.canopyeleden.com.

Canopy Tour de Los Veranos. Los Veranos has the most zip lines (14), the longest zip line (1,300 feet), and the highest zip line (500 feet off the ground). It also has the most impressive scenery, crossing the Río Los Horcones half a dozen times on several miles of cables. Departures are from the office, across from the Pemex station at the south side of Puerto Vallarta, every hour on the hour between 9 and 2 (arrive 15 minutes early), with reduced hours in low season (June through November). After your canopy tour, there's time to scale the climbing wall, play in the Horcones River, eat at the restaurant, or hang out at the bar overlooking the river, but check to make sure that a ride back to town is available. There are shuttles from Marina Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta, and discounts for groups. Office:, Calle Francisca Rodríguez 336, Col. E. Zapata, Puerto Vallarta, 48380. 322/223–0504; 877/563–4113 from U.S. and Canada. www.canopytours-vallarta.com..

Rancho Mi Chaparrita. On his family ranch, Luis Verdin runs a 13-zip-line tour ($75) and horseback riding trips ($25 per hour). Or combine the two, accessing the ranch on Señor Verdin's lively, healthy horses via the beach and backcountry for a complete adventure ($95). The company rents boogie boards, surfboards, and paddleboards and give surfing lessons and four- to six-day surfing packages. They also offer snorkeling and whale- or wildlife-watching excursions around the Marietas Islands. Manuel Rodriguez Sanchez 14, Sayulita, 63732. 329/291–3112. www.michaparrita.com.

Vallarta Adventures. It's a well-respected operator with 20 years' experience, two offices, dozens of tours, and a staff of some 350. It's often used by high-end hotel concierges and cruise-ship activity directors for canopy tours, hiking, sailing, dinner-show cruises, Sierra Madre expeditions, and dolphin- and whale-watching cruises. Puerto Vallarta. 322/297–1212 in Nuevo Vallarta; 322/221–0657 in Marina Vallarta; 888/526–2238 from U.S. and Canada. www.vallarta-adventures.com.

Golf

"Not a bad mango in the bunch" is how one golf aficionado described Puerto Vallarta's courses. From the two courses at Four Seasons Punta Mita (prohibitively expensive for those not staying at the hotel) to the Gran Bay at Barra de Navidad, the region is a close second to Los Cabos in variety of play at a range of prices. Well-known designers are represented, including Jack Nicklaus and Tim Weiskopf.

Logistics

Most of these courses offer first-class services including driving ranges and putting greens, lessons, clinics, pro shops, and clubhouses.

Courses

Puerto Vallarta

Marina Vallarta. Joe Finger designed this 18-hole course; the $129 greens fee includes practice balls, tax, and a shared cart. It's the area's second-oldest course and is closest and most convenient for golfers staying in the Hotel Zone, downtown Puerto Vallarta, and Marina Vallarta. Although it's very flat, it's far more challenging than it looks, with lots of water hazards. Speaking of hazards, the alligators have a way of blending into the scenery. They might surprise you, but they supposedly don't bite. Go to the course's Web site to find hotels participating in their "Stay and Play" golf packages. Paseo de la Marina s/n, Marina Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, 48354. 322/221–0545 or 322/221–0073. www.marinavallartagolf.com.

Vista Vallarta. Some of the best views in the area belong to the aptly named Vista Vallarta. There are 18 holes designed by Jack Nicklaus and another 18 by Tom Weiskopf. The greens fee for the course, which is a few miles northwest of the Marina Vallarta area, is $194. A shared cart and tax are included. Circuito Universidad 653, Col. San Nicolás, Puerto Vallarta, 48290. 322/290–0030 or 322/290–0040. www.vistavallartagolf.com.

Nuevo Vallarta to Bucerías

El Tigre. At the Paradise Village hotel and condo complex is this 18-hole course with 12 water features. The greens fee of $150 includes a shared cart, bottled water, practice balls, and cold towels, but not tax. Don't be surprised if you see a guy driving around with tiger cubs in his truck: the course's namesake and mascot is the passion of the club's director, Jesús Carmona Jiménez. El Tigre has a par-3 hole played entirely on an island. Paseo Paraíso 800, Nuevo Vallarta, 63732. 322/297–0773; 866/843–5951 from U.S.; 800/214–7758 from Canada. www.eltigregolf.com.

Four Seasons Punta Mita. Nonguests are permitted to play the 195-acre, par-72, Jack Nicklaus–designed Pacífico course; however, they must pay the hotel's day use fee of 50% of the room rate (approximately $300 plus 28% tax and service charge), which covers use of a guest room and hotel facilities until dark. Reservations are essential. The greens fee is $262, including tax and the golf cart. The club's claim to fame is that it has perhaps the only natural island green in golf. Drive your cart to it at low tide; otherwise hop aboard a special amphibious vessel (weather permitting) to cross the water. There are seven other oceanfront links. Opened in 2009, the Bahía is another stunning 18-hole course. It has more undulating fairways and greens than the first course, but similarly spectacular ocean views—and high price tag. Punta Mita, Puerto Vallarta, 63734. 329/291–6000. www.fourseasons.com.

Los Flamingos Country Club. Designed by Percy Clifford in 1978, PV's original course has been totally renovated. The 18-hole course in Los Flamingos development, at the northern extremity of Nuevo Vallarta, has new irrigation and sprinkler systems to maintain the rejuvenated greens. The high-season greens fee is $139, including a shared cart, tax, a bottle of water, and a bucket of balls. Carretera 200, Km 145, 12 km (8 mi) north of airport, Nuevo Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, 48300. 329/296–5006. www.flamingosgolf.com.mx.

Nayar Golf Course at Mayan Palace. Nine of the 18 holes at Mayan Palace have been completely redesigned by Jack Nicklaus. At this writing, renovations were getting the finishing touches, and the course should be open by press time; until they're finished golfers repeat play nine holes once ($80) or twice ($130). The full course was projected to run about $150. The fee includes cart, tax, use of practice range, and return transportation to hotel. Twilight fees (after 1 pm) are almost half that price, at $80 for 18 holes. Paseo de las Moras s/n, Fracc. Naútico Turístico, Nuevo Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, 63735. 322/226–4000 Ext. 4600.

Costalegre

El Tamarindo. About two hours south of Vallarta on the Costalegre is one of the area's best courses. At least six of the holes play along the ocean; some are cliff-side holes with fabulous views, while others go right down to the beach. On a slow day, golfers are encouraged at tee time to have a swim or a picnic on the beach during their round, or to play a hole a second time if they wish. Designed by David Fleming, the breathtaking course is the playground of birds, deer, and other wildlife. It's an awesome feeling to nail the course's most challenging hole, the 9th: a par 3 with a small green surrounded by bunkers. The greens fee is $240, including cart and tax. Resort guests get priority for tee times; call up to a week ahead to check availability. Carretera Melaque–Puerto Vallarta, Carretera 200, Km 7.5, Cihuatlán, Jalisco, 48970. 315/351–5032 Ext. 113.

Horseback Riding

Most of the horseback-riding outfits are based on family ranches in the foothill towns of the Sierra like Las Palmas. Horses are permitted on the beach in smaller towns like Sayulita and San Francisco, but not in Vallarta proper, so expect to ride into the hills.

Logistics

Outfitters pick you up either from the hotel or strategic locations north and south of town and return you to your hotel or to the pickup point. Short rides depart morning and afternoon, while longer rides are generally in the morning only, at least in winter, when the sun sets earlier.

Ask at the beachfront restaurants of tiny towns like Yelapa, Quimixto, and Las Animas, south of PV, to hook up with horses for treks into the jungle. Horses are generally well cared for; some are exceptionally fit and frolicky.

Outfitters

Cabalgatas, or horseback riding, is a wonderful way to get out into the countryside. These visitors are touring with guide company Rancho El Charro.

Club de Polo Costa Careyes. Though the trail rides here are expensive at $100 for 45 minutes, you know you're getting an exceptional mount. Trips leave in early morning or around sunset. Km 53.5, Carretera 200, Carretera a Barra de Navidad, El Careyes, Puerto Vallarta, 48983. 315/351–0320.

Rancho El Charro. Rancho Charro provides transportation to and from your hotel for rides to rivers and waterfalls. Choices include three-hour ($62), five-hour ($82, two different trails for average or experienced riders), and all-day rides ($120). Puerto Vallarta. 322/224–0114. www.ranchoelcharro.com..

Rancho Manolo. The friendly folks at the family-owned property take you into the mountains they know so well. The usual tour is to El Edén, the restaurant-and-river property where the movie Predator was filmed. The three-hour trip (about an hour each way on horseback, with an additional hour for a meal, which is not included, or for splashing in the river) costs just $30—definitely a good deal. Km 12, Carretera 200, at Mismaloya bridge, Mismaloya, 48934. 322/228–0018.

Rancho Mi Chaparrita. This ranch has very nice, healthy horses willing to run (or walk, if you ask them politely). Ride on the beach, in the tropical forest, or a combination of the two for $25 an hour. There's a four-hour horse ride ($85) up to Monkey Mountain, with a short break at the top for photo ops and a stretch. Manuel Rodriguez Sanchez 14, Sayulita, 63732. 329/291–3112. www.michaparrita.com..

Art Adventure

The owners of Galeria Arte 550 (322/222-7365www.yourcreativeawakening.com) offer unique tours combining art and adventure. Visits to the mountains and the botanical gardens, whale-watching trips, or other activities provide a springboard for journal drawing and artistic expression in clay, tile-decorating, or other media. Students can arrange their own accommodations or book a package, staying at the new B&B House of Wind and Water : lovely lodgings out in a neighborhood most tourists never see, along the Cuale River on the east side of Highway 200.

Pick-up Polo

Club de Polo Costa Careyes. Though the trail rides here are expensive at $100 for 45 minutes, you know you're getting an exceptional mount. Trips leave in early morning or around sunset. Km 53.5, Carretera 200, Carretera a Barra de Navidad, El Careyes, Puerto Vallarta, 48983. 315/351–0320.

Mountain Biking

Although the tropical climate makes it hot for biking, the Puerto Vallarta area is lovely and has challenging and varied terrain. Aim for the relatively cooler months of November through mid-April. A few operators lead rides up river valleys to Yelapa and from the old mining town of San Sebastian (reached via plane; included in price), high in the Sierra, back to Vallarta. It's about 45 km (28 mi) of twisty downhill.

In the rainy season, showers are mainly in the late afternoon and evening, so bike tours can take place year-round. In summer and fall rivers and waterfalls are voluptuous and breathtaking. A popular ending point for rides into the foothills, they offer a place to rest, rinse off (there's lots of mud), and have a snack or meal. In dry season, it's relatively cooler and less humid. The very best months for biking are December through February: the weather is coolest, and the vegetation, rivers, and waterfalls are still reasonably lush after the end of the rainy season in October.

Logistics

Four- to five-hour rides average $35 to $45; Yelapa costs $110 and up. The ride down from San Sebastián, including one-way plane trip, goes for around $150. Rides of more than a half day include lunch, and all include helmet, gloves, and bikes.

Outfitters

Eco Ride. A few streets behind Vallarta's cathedral, Eco Ride caters to intermediate and expert cyclists. Most rides start at the shop and go up the Río Cuale, passing some hamlets along single tracks and dirt roads. A few rides include time at local swimming holes; the Yelapa ride ($110) starts in El Tuito, about an hour south of PV (you get there by vehicle), and enjoys some magnificent scenery—with two 10-km (6-mi) uphills and a 20-km (12-mi) downhill—returns by boat after lunch on the beach. Calle Miramar 382, Centro, Puerto Vallarta, 48300. 322/222–7912. www.ecoridemex.com..

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