Unique things to do in Puerto Vallarta To Get You Off the Beaten Path 2

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It’s true, most tourists hopping the border for an R&R vacay in Mexico head straight for the “Spring Break” locations, such as Cancuun, Cozumel, and Cabo.

And I don’t blame them, after all, Andy and I even honeymooned in the beautiful and amazing Riveria Maya and enjoyed a full week of resort relaxation!.  For many of these travelers, this may be the first trip out of the US so they are just “dipping their toes” into international travel.  The comforts of an all inclusive resort, everything taken care of for them and on site restaurants that don’t pose (too much) fear of scary street food vendors and belly issues are reassuring for those a bit hesitant to step too far away from their back door.


But what about those wanting a little more “off the beaten path?”

What about the travelers who enjoy pristine beaches where they can lounge and do absolutely nothing but also get a taste for local culture beyond the confines of the gated resorts or the cruise liners?

Where can one go that still has plenty to offer for adventurers, explorers and beach bums alike but that won’t break the bank with an all inclusive luxury package while also still not skimping on the luxury and relaxation?


Puerto Vallarta, Mi Amigos!!!!

Here are our top things to do in Peurto Vallarta that can help you get a bit off the beaten path, while still getting a taste of what drives tourists to this beautiful beach and tropical getaway.

Top things to do in Puerto Vallarta that get you off the beaten tourist path

1) Pick Your Lodging Wisely and Accordingly

Ok, TRUTH TIME.  I’ve slept in a tent in the Alps, in a van in Iceland, on a boat deck in Thailand, in Hostels on 4 different continents and for free in hotels booked on points.  And each of these different lodging situations offer a different kind of experience.  Some give you a more local taste than others, some are out of “budget-minded” necessity and some are to just splurge and live a little!  For me, our trip to Puerto Vallarta was the first after almost a full year with Lil B in our lives.  Needless to say, a bit of “do nothing and relax” was a TOP priority!

However, I was fearful that the all inclusive resort mentality (while absolutely phenomenal!) wasn’t quite our travel style anymore.  I was afraid that considering how expensive all inclusive resorts are that I wouldn’t want to leave and pay for a lunch that I already had “paid” for in the all inclusive package.

This would result in me never leaving the resort….which would then result in me not seeing the REAL culture and the REAL Puerto Vallarta.

Which would just be a shame, because while travel serves many purposes (such as to unwind and relax) it is also HUGELY about learning what is beyond my own comfort levels and zones and embracing other cultures around the world.

All Inclusive

Soooo for our lodging, we met in the middle.  We had plenty of points to book nights at the Sheraton Puerto Vallarta.  And wait for it…we even splurged on upgrading to an all inclusive package!!! (GASP! I know!) Can you believe that WE decided to pay for something like that?  But, like I said, I was in serious need of some R&R after chasing around that strong willed and adventurous Lil B (gee, where could he have gotten THAT from!?).  I kind of just wanted to raise my hand and have a margarita brought to me.
Note: We were NOT impressed with this option.  The food at these large resorts are medicore at best and for the cost of points and cash, we were expecting a bit better service.  If you have points coming out the wazoo, it’s not a big deal to choose this option, but if you like to stretch your points and miles, I might think twice about this kind of package.


We then split that with a few nights at an AirB&B.  If you haven’t already used an AirB&B (then here is a $40 credit for you!), this has pretty much become our go-to for booking lodging outside of free points hotels.  You often get to meet your host, who is typically more than willing to help you discover the real town beyond just the tourist attractions, even if it is something as simple as telling you where the locals go to eat.  We also love coming back to a place that feels more like a “home” than a drab hotel or crowded hostel.

By staying off of a resort, this allowed us to feel willing to go out and explore on our own.  We sought out the most delicious street food, we wandered around just enjoying the town and we saw and experienced local life and culture; everything one wants in a perfect vacation getaway!  The three days we stayed at the AirB&B weren’t luxury, but they ended up being our favorite three days of the trip where we got to see a real, authentic Puerto Vallarta.


You can also stay at a normal hotel if you are squeemish about AirB&Bs.  This way, you still can get out and see local life.  We ended up booking a room for our last few days at Hacienda Buenaventura.  It actually was all inclusive, but at the price of a lot of other “normal” hotel rooms.  We also much preferred the small, local feel rather than some mega resort that you can get lost on the property at.  This way, if we left and had street tacos, we didn’t feel bad about wasted money from the all inclusive package.



Heading to Puerto Vallarta?

Find the best priced hotels here and find out what the best activities are here



2) Drink as the Locals Do

I don’t know about you, but I had a pretty rough night back in my college days and let’s just say that tequila and I were no longer friends.

Well, that is almost a lie.  

I still have a love affair from time to time with my good ol friend, ‘Rita (as in “Margarita”) but just tequila on it’s own or in other drinks and I would get queezy at just the smell and thought of that fateful night in my early 20s.

However, when we traveled through Italy, I felt it a necessity to dive into the wine culture (ok, that wasn’t hard because I love wine!) and having lived in Germany for 6 years, I came to love beer tastings.

So, when in Mexico, I felt it only fair to my inner drink lover to give tequila another shot (see what I did there!? 😉 ) and book a tequila tasting.

Drink as the locals do! Fun things to do in Puerto Vallarta

We met up with Ricardo and his wife who clearly had a passion for tequila.  But not just pounding it down and chasing with a lime.  We quickly learned there was an art for tequila tasting, just as there would be for a fine wine or craft brew.  We were encouraged to find the subtle notes of fruit flavors and were taught how to properly sip (yes SIP) and enjoy a tequila.

I was a bit nervous starting our tasting, worried that I was going to be sloshed by the end of it, but Ricardo set a slow, laid back pace where the focus was on the enjoyment of the moment, not taking shots for the sake of drinking.

You can read more reviews and book at tasting here.


3) Eat as the Locals Do

If you’ve read any of my other destination posts, you know that food is a top priority during travel for me.  It’s not that I’m a foodie, it’s just that I love to eat…and when I dont, I get hangry…. and NOBODY wants me hangry! So, there’s that.

It’s also because I am a BIG believer that one of the best ways to see local life and culture is to share a meal with a native.  You can learn so much from breaking bread with someone that you just don’t get from site seeing tours.

So, when I found out that Vallarta Food Tours had a new food tour that combined street food with biking around local communities, the inner fat kid in me combined with the adventurer in me screamed, “YES! GIVE ME ALL THE TACOS!” I mean, let’s not lie, just the fact that I knew I’d be biking around, made me feel like I could have “just one more” because, well you know… I was “exercising!” Right?

But let’s get serious here.

The “Bike and Bites” could not have been a more perfect way to get a tourist who isn’t quite sure what foods to order or what street vendors to give a try the perfect solution to exploring Puerto Vallarta.  While I typically am all about DIY self-guided tours (Um, hello…free vs paid!) sometimes, a good tour that gets you over the hump of uncertainty is worth it.  Manuel, our bike guide took us to places where we were clearly the ONLY tourists there.  But the lines were long and all the locals would be chowing down, so you KNEW you were getting the legit, real stuff.

One of the many unique things to do in Puerto Vallarta: take a street food tour

We took the knowledge that we learned from the food tour and were able to confidently go out and get our own street food for the rest of our trip without fear of unclean or questionable locations.  It also allowed us to see a whole other side of Peurto Vallarta through the eyes of a local that we never would have gotten, even on a DIY food tour.  Since we were on bikes, our tour was spread out enough to see four whole different local neighborhoods and areas, each very different from one another, giving us the perfect tour of the city.

Food Stall Eating Tips:

If looking to eat at the local stands, don’t be weary of health code standards and cleanliness, just know what to look for and you’ll be fine

1) Look for the locals
If nobody else is there or it is only other tourists, beware! Head for the long lines of locals instead.  Not only does this mean that it is good, authentic food but it also means that there is a high turnover of food.  Food isn’t going to be just sitting out going bad if people are constantly buying (and devouring) it.

2) Heat it Up
We had some SPICY sauces on our food tour, but I’m not talking about chili heat here.  Instead, if you want to eat at a food stand, look for one that has some serious heat coming from a grill.  A good fire should help to kill off any revenge that Montezuma might try to curse you with

3) Safety Codes
Look for stands that look like they are in line with safety codes.  For example, all street food must have plastic over their plates (unless there is a restaurant attached).  If it doesn’t, skip it and find a place that is following all the correct food safety codes.

Check out the different kinds of food tours they offer here.


4) Explore Down Under

Puerto Vallarta is currently one of those locations that is just getting on the radar of tourists but isn’t swarmed and swamped quite yet.  Which means that it’s underwater life is still doing pretty good.  And it is our duty as tourists to keep it that way! The Los Marietas famous, “Hidden Beach” is already mostly off limits to tourists who were too wreckless and careless which is just a shame! But, there are still plenty of amazing beaches and underwater spots to hit around Puerto Vallarta if you want to do a bit of snorkeling and SCUBA diving.

There are several dive shops around Puerto Vallarta.  Find one that has a minimum amount of divers per Dive Master and one that is going out to a site you want to see.  We went with Banderas Scuba Republic simply from the Trip Advisor reviews.  We dove at two sites at Los Arcos.  We saw three majestic sea turtles within feet of us, several species of eels, a ray hanging out on the bottom,  a school of coronet fish and of course tons of tropical fish!


5) Take a Bus Ride

I always prefer local methods of transportation, mostly because it is cheap.  However, there is also a great experience to be had when traveling in a bus that literally throws you a foot in the are as it sails over speed bumps.  Whether you are sharing a seat with an abuelita or hanging on for dear life to the rails while you are crammed back to back with a total stranger, you can’t get much closer to “local life” than this.


6) Go to the Marina

If you are looking for the perfect excuse to take a bus, but aren’t sure where to, consider getting on a blue bus that has the words “Plz Marina” and head to the (you guessed it), Plaza Marina. Only a 10-15 bus ride from downtown, the marina is a great place to walk around, check out a good restaurant scene and enjoy looking at all the fancy, schmansy boats.

Puerto Vallarta Marina

7) Head Out of Town For an Afternoon

Another way to use the bus is to find a bit of paradise off of Puerto Vallarta.  We took a 30 minute bus ride to Bucerias.  Others swear by the Nuevo Vallarta neighborhood while some take a water taxi and swim under the waterfalls in Yelap.

No matter where you head, you are likely to get away from the throngs of the crowds but still have all the amenities you’d want while traveling.


8) Step Away From the Boardwalk

What I really liked about downtown Puerto Vallarta was that even just a block or two away from the boardwalks and tourist areas were streets filled with locals and people going about their daily lives.  You could find street vendors selling great foods and just feel a bit off the beaten path, while still not having to venture too far away from the main drags.


9) Catch the Sunset

Pretty much no matter where you are at along Banderas Bay, if it is sunset, you will get a magnificent view.  Find a beach bar with more locals than tourists, put a cold drink in your hand and just enjoy watching both the local life as well as the sun set over the Pacific.

Catching a sunset: Just one of the things to do in Puerto Vallarta


Other Things to Do In Puerto Vallarta

If you are looking for more “on the path” type of activities, don’t forget to check out TripAdvisor’s Top Things To Do In Puerto Vallarta.  Just to get the juices flowing you could:

  • Go Ziplining
  • Go Sailing (sunset boat rides are all the rage!)
  • What Not To Do In Puerto Vallarta
  • Visit the Botanical Gardens
  • See the Church of our Lady of Guadalupe
  • Stroll Down the Boardwalk
  • Shop for Souveniers at
  • Wander the Zona Romantica



What NOT To Do In Puerto Vallarta

1) Don’t Stay at Your Hotel the Whole Time

If you’ve gotten this far in the post, it’s obvious that I am a big believer is EXPERIENCING the culture of where you are visiting.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED the week we spent at an all inclusive resort several years ago, but we also went to local sites, even if only on a guided tour and excursion.

2) Highly Reconsider Your Animal Tourism

I get it.  Swimming on that dolphin’s fin looks REALLY fun and all your Facebook Friends are going to love that video.  But really, truly do think twice about the money that you spend to support animal tourism and do some research on the effects of animal attractions.  This article phenomenally discusses the most common animal attractions, why they are harmful and what you can do instead that is equally as  as fun.  Often these animals are taken away from their mothers as babies, abused into learning tricks and obeying the captures and are forced into unnatural living conditions.

Instead, go whale and dolphin watching near Banderas Bay.

If you decide to do a SCUBA or snorkel excursion, be sure that the company is eco-concious and does not support any malpractices against underwater life.


Where to Stay in Puerto Vallarta
Read reviews to find the perfect place to stay in Puerto Vallarta here.
Compare to find the current cheapest accommodation in Puerto Vallarta.
Stay at your own personal apartment or home while in Puerto Vallarta.


There are plenty of things to do in Puerto Vallarta for all types of travelers.  What is your favorite “off the beaten path” part of Puerto Vallarta?


[Thank you to Vallarta Food Tours for allowing us to experience such an authentic and fun tour.  All opinions are my own]

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LeAnna Brown

Author and Creator at Economical Excursionists
Former teacher turned blogger turned mom turned full time travel addict, LeAnna has never been one to live life by the rules. Whether she is moving to a farm in Switzerland to learn to make cheese (Yes, CHEESE), jumping off a mountain to paraglide over Cinderella castles, or taking her baby all over the world with nothing but a backpack on their backs, LeAnna designs and defines her OWN life. LeAnna, her husband Andy, and kiddo, "Lil B" love to live a minimal lifestyle, not only for the "thrill" of pinching pennies but in order to save for traveling the world. Considering over 40 countries and 90+ cities have been explored, we'd say they are doing something right!

About LeAnna Brown

Former teacher turned blogger turned mom turned full time travel addict, LeAnna has never been one to live life by the rules. Whether she is moving to a farm in Switzerland to learn to make cheese (Yes, CHEESE), jumping off a mountain to paraglide over Cinderella castles, or taking her baby all over the world with nothing but a backpack on their backs, LeAnna designs and defines her OWN life. LeAnna, her husband Andy, and kiddo, "Lil B" love to live a minimal lifestyle, not only for the "thrill" of pinching pennies but in order to save for traveling the world. Considering over 40 countries and 90+ cities have been explored, we'd say they are doing something right!

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2 thoughts on “Unique things to do in Puerto Vallarta To Get You Off the Beaten Path

  • Australian ETA Status

    Zip lining is very much interesting to do in Puerto Vallarta. Mexico is indeed beautiful. I hope you’ll get a chance to visit Australia too, great ocean road is one of my favourites. Looking forward to more of this. Thanks for the advice.

    • LeAnna Post author

      Thanks, while we haven’t seen enough of Australia, we were fortunate to have that be apart of a 2 month backpacking trek. We’d love to go back for more, though!