The Best Beaches in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico: From the Underrated to the Iconic
Spoiler alert: I am not a beach fan. I’ve never understood the appeal of sitting practically naked under the beating sun all day long, trying to enjoy a book or a podcast surrounded by screaming children, all while sand works its way into your fanny (fyi, for American readers, I’m not talking about your ~ass~ when I say fanny). However, I can totally get on board with walking down the beaches in Mexico, swimming in the sea or getting drunk on the best beaches in Puerto Vallarta with beers that have been kept chilled in a homemade sand cooler box (yes, really). And I kind of have to, given that my boyfriend is from Puerto Vallarta (one of the best Mexican beach resorts) and the beach is practically his spiritual home.
Buuut, I know that plenty of people thinking about going on holiday in Puerto Vallarta probably love oiling up and rolling around in sand for hours on end and are looking for the best Puerto Vallarta beaches to do that on. So, that’s why I thought it best to write up a short and sweet, only marginally cranky, non-beach lover’s guide to the best beaches in Puerto Vallarta Mexico (according to me).
(Incidentally, if you want to read about the best beaches near Puerto Vallarta, hop over to this mega-guide which details what to do in Puerto Vallarta, as well as what to see, eat and places to visit near Puerto Vallarta.)
THE BEST BEACHES IN PUERTO VALLARTA
PLAYA LOS MUERTOS | Playa Los Muertos, Puerto Vallarta
Honestly? Playa Los Muertos (the central beach that runs the length of the Puerto Vallarta malecón) is super meh. The sand is OK, but not great, the water is blue but not blue, if you know what I mean, and the place is full of tourists who, yes, managed to haul themselves out of their hotels, but couldn’t be bothered to go much further than the area’s principal beach.
What do you mean I’m not selling it?!
OK, I’m being harsh, and it is a nice, super centrally located spot to take a stroll and one of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta. BUT there are far nicer beaches in the area that are ideal for sunbathing, swimming and even surfing. Go to Los Muertos beach if you want to look at sand art, stone art and tourists who didn’t read this super useful guide that’s full of better beaches in Vallarta to visit.
HOW TO GET THERE: Go to the malecón. That’s it. You’ve made it.
CONCHAS CHINAS | Conchas Chinas, Puerto Vallarta
Described as the most romantic beach in Puerto Vallarta, Conchas Chinas is close to the Garza Blanca resort but remains really laidback, quiet and fairly well hidden from tourists, although it’s worth mentioning that it gets its name because the ‘sand’ is made up of tiny shells. Wear flip flops. Also, while it’s great for a sunset stroll or a day of getting stoned while watching quinceañeras take photos in puffy blue dresses (don’t ask), the rocky seabed makes it less than ideal for taking a dip. It’s one of my boyfriend’s personal faves too.
HOW TO GET THERE: Walk all the way down Playa Los Muertos, heading south, until you arrive to a big hunk o’ rock with some stairs carved into it. Go up the stairs and down the other side, crossing the tiny beach that you’ll find at the bottom and then navigating the rocks/ beach front path. The next biggest beach you hit is Conchas Chinas.
PLAYA PALMARES | Playa Palmares, Puerto Vallarta
Despite being right outside, and named for, the condominium that towers over it, Playa Palmares (on the occasions that I’ve stopped by) has never been overrun with people. Instead it seems more like a local favourite if anything.
I really like it, given that it’s quiet, the water is beautifully blue and the sand is far softer than at other spots on the coastline. It’s also one of the best swimming beaches in Puerto Vallarta. However, if you’re in the market for somewhere with plenty of dining options this is not the spot, as there are only a handful of small places serving seafood and beers at this beach.
HOW TO GET THERE: Getting around Puerto Vallarta to the beaches south of Puerto Vallarta is super easy. Take the bus bound for Boca de Tomatlán or Mismaloya from central Puerto Vallarta (outside the Oxxo at Basilio Badillo and Constitución) and get off at the Playa Palmares Condominiums, before heading down the narrow stairs that lead to the beach. Ask the driver to tell you when if you don’t trust your ability to spot the place in time. At the time of writing the bus costs MXN$8.
BOCA DE TOMATES | Boca de Tomates, Marina Vallarta
Go for the croc spotting of an evening and then leave, as this is only one of the best beaches in Puerto Vallarta for its wildlife, rather than…well, anything else. I wouldn’t recommend going to this beach (which is north of Puerto Vallarta centro) to just hang out or even really swim, plus the noise from the low flying planes above is kind of annoying and it’s out of the way to get to if you’re not staying in the marina area itself.
HOW TO GET THERE: Enter the residential marina area (just to the left of the Plaza Neptuno) and walk all down Paseo de la Marina, taking a right on Calle Pelicanos and following that round until reaching Calle Albatros. Go right on that street until you see Paseo Bocanegra on the left. Sure, it takes a while, but you get to see how the other half live in the posh accommodations in the Marina, and once you hit Paseo Bocanegra, you’re set – just keep going until you get to the entry point of the beach (which is right next to the private golf course).
PLAYA LAS GEMELAS | Playa Las Gemelas, Puerto Vallarta
Arguuuably the best all-rounder beach in Vallarta, Playa Gemelas is super swimmable, and great for both sunbathing and sun-fearing white girls like me, as there are plenty of super shady spots. It’s also really local and laidback, but has become far more popular in recent years, especially amongst Mexican families. Plus, it’s a stone’s throw from the best snorkeling in Puerto Vallarta – Los Arcos.
HOW TO GET THERE: Take the bus bound for Boca de Tomatlán or Mismaloya from central Puerto Vallarta (outside the Oxxo at Basilio Badillo and Constitución) and ask the driver to give you the heads up when you’re at Playa Las Gemelas, before heading down the narrow stairs that lead to the beach. At the time of writing the bus costs MXN$8.
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PLAYA MISMALOYA | Playa Mismaloya, Puerto Vallarta
One of Puerto Vallarta’s more iconic beaches (and easily one of the most well-known Mexican beaches), Mismaloya was the place where The Night of the Iguana was filmed in the 60s and became the epicentre of the whole Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton love affair saga. It’s also the only one on this guide I’ve never been to. Oops.
Mismaloya (as a region) really enjoyed its heyday when Vallarta became a booming tourist resort back in the 60s, post-Night of the Iguana success, but has gone somewhat downhill since then; however, Mismaloya beach remains a reliable former fishing favourite that’s worth a visit if you want to take a dip, get a bite to eat on the beach and generally just not have to hang out on Playa Los Muertos. Just like Las Gemelas, Mismaloya beach is really close to Puerto Vallarta snorkeling spots.
HOW TO GET THERE: Take the bus bound for Boca de Tomatlán or Mismaloya from central Puerto Vallarta (outside the Oxxo at Basilio Badillo and Constitución) and get off when you hit Mismaloya, which, judging by Google Maps is when you get to Hotel Barceló Puerto Vallarta. If you’re a nervy bus-rider like me, just ask the driver to tell you when you’ve arrived. At the time of writing the bus costs MXN$8.
COLOMITOS | Colomitos, Puerto Vallarta
This is a teeny weeny beach that I’m not even sure how to access directly. I’ve only ever passed through en route to Playa Las Ánimas by walking along the coastal path which starts in Boca de Tomatlán, and the one time we stopped there for, like, five minutes, we were accosted by an enormous Great Dane who wanted to eat (or fuck?) the Yorkshire Terrier we had with us. (Everyone else that was getting annoyed by this dog was super happy when we left though, because it followed us for the rest of the coastal path, right up to Playa Las Ánimas.)
Giant dog aside, this tiny beach had beautiful blue waters and some of the clearer sand I’ve seen on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. I can’t attest for its swimming potential, but given the petite size and the fact that its surrounded by rocks, I personally wouldn’t get in the water for more than a paddle.
HOW TO GET THERE: Take the bus bound for Boca de Tomatlán from central Puerto Vallarta (outside the Oxxo at Basilio Badillo and Constitución) and get off at the last stop. From there, do the coastal walk until you hit Playa Colomitos. At the time of writing the 25-minute bus ride costs just MXN$8, regardless of where you choose to get off.
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PLAYA LAS ÁNIMAS | Playa Las Ánimas, Puerto Vallarta
A touristy beach, that’s a popular stop off point for boat tours that go down the coast from the marina, Playa Las Ánimas has fairly course sand and typically quite murky water (because of all the knackered old boats and lanchas/pangas that clutter up the dock there), but beautiful views of the Puerto Vallarta mountains. You can totally swim there though, as long as you go to the areas not full of boats.
I might not be making it sound great, but I really like it and it’s the perfect end point of the aforementioned coastal walk from Boca de Tomatlán, and it works as one of the best day trips from Puerto Vallarta in its own right. Plus, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from that offer you free use of their sun loungers if you eat or drink there. I’ve always eaten fish ceviche at (I think) Mike’s Beach Club and, while it’s not exactly dirt cheap, it’s more reasonably priced than some of the other locations on Playa Las Ánimas too. And they can arrange your lancha back to Boca for you.
Fun fact: The first time I went to Las Ánimas was during my first ever month in Mexico, as part of an open bar boat tour on which my friends told the captain I was a TV presenter from Britain and made me dance in front of all the other passengers…but, that’s a story for another day and I’m getting off topic. Anyway, I ended up conquering my fear of heights (kind of) by going parasailing for MXN$200.
HOW TO GET THERE: Take the bus bound for Boca de Tomatlán from central Puerto Vallarta (outside the Oxxo at Basilio Badillo and Constitución) and get off at the last stop. From there, either follow the coastal path until you reach Playa Las Ánimas (you’ll know when you’re there – there are tons of beach restaurants and boats). At the time of writing the 25-minute bus ride to Boca costs just MXN$8, regardless of where you choose to get off.
Alternatively, after getting to Boca, hire a lancha to take you straight to Las Ánimas. At the time of writing, they should cost you MXN$90 per person, at the most. I always recommend doing the walk there and getting the lancha back, for what it’s worth.
And that’s it! Those are the best beaches in Puerto Vallarta, according to me, a non-beach lover. Wondering why the hidden beach in Puerto Vallarta didn’t make my list? Well, it’s actually in Nuevo Vallarta, that’s why. Also, if you’re sad about the lack of good surfing spots in Puerto Vallarta, don’t worry – there are some great places for surfing near Puerto Vallarta. You’ll have to read my mega-guide to Puerta Vallarta to find out more about all that though. In the meantime, pin this post!