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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 ATV tours ($75 to 165$) that head into the hills behind Vallarta, Sayulita or beyond. Those that stop at Rancho Las Pilas include 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 ($135 for one rider, $190 for two). Dune buggies and Polaris RZR tours are also available, and now there is also a convenient branch in Bucerias if you're based in Nuevo Vallarta or Bucerias itself. Calle Basilio Badillo 400, Zona Romántica, Puerto Vallarta, 48380. 322/222-8944. www.wildtreksadventures.com/.

Multisport Operators

Ecotours. A PV–based operator (with the main office at Marina Vallarta) whose offerings include hiking, diving, snorkeling, kayaking, bird-watching, whale-watching, and turtle tours. Proa 20, Marina Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48335. 322/209-2195. www.ecotoursvallarta.com.

Puerto Vallarta Tours. This company offers tours that are available from other area operators, but we recommend it for its all-in-one website, 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. Centro, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. 322/222–4935; 866/217–9704 Toll free USA; 866/464–6205 Toll free 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, diving and snorkeling outings. Riviera Nayarit, Punta Mita, Nayarit. 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). South of Puerto Vallarta, San Patricio–Melaque, Colima. 315/355–6777. .

Vallarta Adventures. Possibly Vallarta's most famous and popular adventure tour operator, Vallarta Adventures has something exciting for everyone: adrenalin pumping canopy tours in the jungle, spectacular whale watching in winter, romantic sunset sailing tours for adults, themed dinner shows for families, and many more. Safety is taken very seriously, and all tours are guided in English and Spanish (when necessary) by a very friendly and entertaining staff. Av. Las Palmas, 39, Nuevo Vallarta, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, 63735. 322/297–1212 in Nuevo Vallarta; 322/221–1477 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 ($79) and horseback riding trips ($30 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 (100 USD). The company rents boogie boards, surfboards, and paddleboards, gives surfing lessons, offers snorkeling, sportfishing and whale- or wildlife-watching excursions around the Marietas Islands. Manuel Rodriguez Sanchez 14, Riviera Nayarit, Sayulita, Nayarit, 63732. 329/291–3112. www.michaparrita.com.

Wildlife Connection. Based in Puerto Vallarta's marina, 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 as well as cultural tours. Without a doubt the most popular tour is the one where you can swim with wild dolphins in the bay. Oh, and unlike in most other tours, most of these are led by real biologists. Paseo de la Marina Sur #214, Marina Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48300. 322/225–3621 or 322/227–1645. 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, Zona Romántica, Puerto Vallarta, 48380. 322/222–2516. www.canopyeleden.com.

Canopy Tour de Los Veranos. Los Veranos was the first canopy tour company to establish itself here and has extended the number of services it offers, now including ATV and city tours as combos. After the descent you may want to enjoy its restaurant, sip some tequila or go on a fantastic nature hike. Canopy tours start at 67 USD (web) and the post tour trek along Freddy's trail is free. Office:, Calle Francisca Rodríguez 336, Zona Romántica, Puerto Vallarta, 48380. 322/223–0504; 619/955-6993 from U.S.; 877/563-4113 Toll free US and Canada. www.canopytours-vallarta.com..

Rancho Mi Chaparrita. On his family ranch, Luis Verdin runs a 13-zip-line tour ($79) and horseback riding trips ($30 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 (100 USD). The company rents boogie boards, surfboards, and paddleboards, gives surfing lessons, offers snorkeling, sportfishing and whale- or wildlife-watching excursions around the Marietas Islands. Manuel Rodriguez Sanchez 14, Riviera Nayarit, Sayulita, Nayarit, 63732. 329/291–3112. www.michaparrita.com.

Vallarta Adventures. Possibly Vallarta's most famous and popular adventure tour operator, Vallarta Adventures has something exciting for everyone: adrenalin pumping canopy tours in the jungle, spectacular whale watching in winter, romantic sunset sailing tours for adults, themed dinner shows for families, and many more. Safety is taken very seriously, and all tours are guided in English and Spanish (when necessary) by a very friendly and entertaining staff. Av. Las Palmas, 39, Nuevo Vallarta, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, 63735. 322/297–1212 in Nuevo Vallarta; 322/221–1477 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 $135 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 website to find hotels participating in their "Stay and Play" golf packages. Paseo de la Marina s/n, Marina Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48354. 322/221–0545 or 322/221–0073. www.clubcorp.com/Clubs/Marina-Vallarta-Club-de-Golf.

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 $204. A shared cart and tax are included. Circuito Universidad 653, Centro, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48290. 322/290–0030. www.vistavallartagolf.com.

Nuevo Vallarta to Bucerías

El Tigre. This 18-hole course with 12 water features is at the Paradise Village hotel and condo complex. The greens fee of $180 includes a shared cart, bottled water, practice balls, and cold towels. After 2 pm it's $116. Don't be surprised if you see a guy driving around with tiger cubs in his truck: the course's namesake animals, tigers, are a passion of the club's director, Phil Woodrum. Paseo las Garzas, Nuevo Vallarta, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, 63732. 322/226–8190; 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 green's fee is $240, 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 a high price tag. Punta Mita, Riviera Nayarit, Punta Mita, Nayarit, 63734. 329/291–6000. www.fourseasons.com/es/puntamita/golf/.

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 green's fee is $149, 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, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, 48300. 329/296–5006. www.flamingosgolf.com.mx.

Nayar Golf Course at Mayan Palace. This par 70, nearly-7,000-yard course is a natural and technical masterpiece. The course features conditions to fit every player, and was recently redesigned by the celebrated group Nicklaus Design. It's challenging because of the constant, strong crosswinds coming off the ocean. Spotting iguanas is part of the fun and you can keep an eye on the crocodiles sunning in a neighboring sanctuary. The full 18-hole course runs at $195. The fee includes cart rental, taxes, use of the practice range, and return transportation to your hotel. Twilight fees (after 1 pm) cost $145. Paseo de las Moras s/n, Fracc. Naútico Turístico, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, 63735. 322/226–4000 Ext. 4600. www.vidantagolf.com/nuevo-vallarta.

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, Costalegre, 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, Careyes, 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). Calle Vicente Guerrero 99, Centro, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. 322/224–0114. www.ranchoelcharro.com..

Rancho Manolo. The friendly folks at this 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 includes about an hour each way on horseback, with an additional hour for a meal, which is not included, or for splashing in the river. The cost is just $30—definitely a good deal. Km 12, Carretera 200, at Mismaloya Bridge, South of Puerto Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 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, Careyes, 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 ($115) 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. If cycling is not your thing, no worries: they now also offer hiking tours. Calle Miramar 382, Centro, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48300. 322/222–7912. www.ecoridemex.com.

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