The Vallarta Zoo
The Puerto Vallarta Zoo is unlike any zoo in the US or Canada. Here not only do you get up close and personal with the animals but you can feed them right from your own hands!
Opened in 2005, the zoo is now inhabited with over 700 mammals, birds and reptiles. The grounds are nestled into the mountainside jungles of the Sierra Madres which provide a beautiful setting.
Admission is 100 Pesos (about $9 USD) and before entrance you will be offered various extended packages. These packages include the feeding and petting of various creatures. If you select a feeding package (highly recommended) you will be provided with a bag of food (about 50 Pesos or $4.50 USD) packed with carrots, peanuts, pellets, bread and corn. The instructions for feeding each animal the proper food are printed on the sides of the bag.
One of our favorite attractions is the opportunity to pet some of the animals (depending on recent births). You may be able to pet and interact with big cats like Lions and Jaguars (see an example in the video below).
Be aware, the grounds wind through some fairly steep inclines (and the park is not handicap friendly) so be prepared for a light hike and wear comfortable shoes.
It’s truly an amazing experience that we highly recommend! Jacqui’s Been There Tip: That giraffe is a little standoffish, but if you are patient he’ll come around!
- Open 7 days a week
- Admission: Adults 10 Pesos and children 50 Peso
- Phone 228 09 55
Vallarta Botanical Gardens
Established in 2004 the Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens is located in the Sierra Madre Mountains just 30 minutes south of Puerto Vallarta proper. It is a tropical paradise featuring many plants native to Mexico and regional orchids, and the mountains are a birdwatcher’s and butterfly watcher’s delight.
The Gardens are located in the mountains at an elevation of 1,400 feet above sea level where you will find a rejuvenating and much cooler micro-climate that is always a surprise to Garden visitors.
You can spend an entire day exploring jungle trails, the tree fern grotto, the orchid conservatory, or blue agave hills; or, you could even enjoy a swim in the Rio Los Horcones.
Created in the style of a tropical 18th century plantation manor, the Hacienda de Oro sits on a jungle ridge overlooking the Rio Los Horcones and the Gardens. They serve gourmet Mexican breakfast or lunch, plus brick-oven pizza in the Plantation House Restaurant-Bar with balconies overlooking the river and surrounding mountains.
Public transportation is only 15 pesos on the El Tuito-Botanical Gardens bus from Old Town.
Admission is 60 Pesos (about $5.50 USD)
- Open 10am-6pm
- January to March: Open 7 days a week
- April to December: Closed on Mondays
- Closed Christmas and New Years
- Phone number 223-6182
San Blas is a sleepy beach town that is a beautiful 2 hour drive north of Puerto Vallarta. San Blas is known for its extremely good surfing and superb bird watching. The town also makes claim to having more bicycles than cars!
Although a sleepy and relaxing town, San Blas and the surrounding areas offer plenty of things to do: surfing record length waves, tours into the Mango jungles and estuaries, bird and crocodile watching, horse riding trips to jungle waterfalls and coffee plantation tours.
San Blas was founded in 1531 and by the late 18th century it had grown into one of the Pacific coast’s busiest ports and shipbuilding centers. The port now serves as a base for the Mexican Navy. At its peak San Blas had a population of 30,000; today it hovers around 9,000 inhabitants and growing as more tourists make the trip from Puerto Vallarta. Although it is becoming more popular with tourists, it is still a very quiet town.
Not only is San Blas known for its amazing surf and its bird infused Mango jungles, the area suffers from an incredibly pesky, biting sand fly called Jejenes. There is a misconception that these nasty bugs are unavoidable, but the reality of it is, for the most part, the bugs are only severe during the days surrounding the New and Full moons. On the periods that they are active, they are most troublesome in the early morning and after dusk. To be prepared, it’s advised that you wear long pants, a long sleeved shirt and insecticide with DEET..
To get to San Blas take the one road out of Puerto Vallarta to the northwest (Puerto Vallarta- Xalisco) towards Bucerias and Sayulita, turning left (west) in Las Varas on Revolucion Pte and then take Mexico Highway 76 to the left (west) at the fork in the road towards Santa Cruz and onward to San Blas.
La Tovaro Jungle Tour – This may very well be the best tour in all the Puerto Vallarta area. Tour guide led skiffs take you through tunnels of overhanging mangroves branches filled with a slew of bird species, iguanas, crocodiles, turtles and boa constrictors. The full tour will take you to Ejido de la Palma Crocodile Farm ($2) and to a crystal clear fresh water Camalota Spring which comes with a restaurant and bar, and a natural swimming pool. The full tour takes you on a 8 mile trek through the jungle and depending upon your guild, the trip could last anywhere from 3 to 8 hours.
It’s best to wait for others to arrive to share the cost of the trip. Cost are around $300-400 pesos (approximately $28-$38 USD) each for a boat of 4-6 people (you can wait for more tourists to arrive, or barter with the tour guide)
La Contaduria – A 17th Century fort and church ruins over looking the city and ocean. Opens at 9am-6pm and costs 6 pesos.
Ejido de la Palma Crocodile Farm – Cocodrilos in captivity $2 per person
San Blas has plenty of small local hotels that are rustic and low priced, and one top shelf hotel.
Stoners Surf Camp – offering beach front cabins from 150-300 pesos (approximately $28-$47 USD), camping for $50 (approximately $4.50 USD), bike rentals for $60 per day (approximately $5.75 USD) and surf lessons for $150 pesos (approximately $14 USD) per hour. The owner is “Pompis” a Mexican Long-boarding Champion who gives surfing lessons. Open 7am-10pm.
Hotel Hacienda Flamingos– Top shelf lodging. Rooms are not cheap and hover around $100 USD a night. Amenities include a beautiful pool, mini gym, chapel, and free Wi-Fi.
The surf season begins in late April and continues through the end of November.
The longest wave is at Las Islitas, and surfing lessons are available at the beach.
The areas north and east of Puerto Vallarta have an international reputation as a great place for bird watching. There are 173 full time species and 180 of those who migrate here during the winter. They can all be found everywhere in the Puerto Vallarta area but enthusiasts will definitely want to spend some time in San Blas for the best birdwatching.
The Costal Villages to the north of Puerto Vallarta
The first town to the north of Puerto Vallarta is Nuevo Vallarta.
While Puerto Vallarta is in the state of Jalisco, just a 5 minute drive north and you are in the state of Nayarit. Due to it’s proximity to Puerto Vallarta, in the mid ‘90s the state of Nayarit attempted to capitalize on Puerto Vallarta’s booming tourism industry and produced a planned residential and resort community called Nuevo Vallarta. The town sits on over three miles of creamy sandy beaches.
To get there it’s just a quick 10 minute drive north of the airport. There’s really only one road north so it couldn’t be more simple. Approximately a mile north of the Rio Ameca Bridge you will see Club de Playa, pass the parking lot (entrance fee $15 per car) and you’ll find a public pool, snack bar and a wonderful long beach. The sand is nearly level with the ocean and provides good surfing, fishing, swimming, bodysurfing and boogie boarding. Surfers may want to continue to Playa Anclote, a bit north in Punta Mita.
Dave’s Been There Tip: When you cross the Rio Ameca Bridge you are crossing into another timezone and will gain or lose one hour.
The second town north of Puerto Vallarta is Bucerias (Place of Divers) located 12 miles north of the Puerto Vallarta airport and features the longest, palest beach on Banderas Bay. Bucerias is an old sleepy fishing village which is becoming a favorite for people looking to escape the (relative) hustle and bustle of Puerto Vallarta but still want the amenities of a Resort town. Although Bucerias is a small town of 5,000, there are plenty of activities for visitors such as a vibrant art scene, good dining, nightlife and shopping opportunities.
Restaurants are located on Calle Lazaro Cardenas, parallel to the beach, just south of the town center. Bucerias is also known for its roadside stands serving fresh seafood at extremely reasonable prices.
Continuing north on the Pacific coast from Punta Mita (there is only one road along the coast) you will find Sayulita, a small fishing village with a population of approximately 4,000. The two mile beach is incredibly beautiful, sits on its own small cove and produces perfect waves for surfing. The excellent surfing has turned Sayulita into a mecca for young, hip bohemian visitors and expats. That said, Sayulita still retains its authentic Mexican town feel with cobblestone and sand streets.
The south end of the beach is popular with tourists and during the high season it can get a bit crowed, but for a little slice of peace you just need to walk a short distance to the north end, which is much more laid back and secluded.
Getting to Sayulita
Taking the bus to Sayulita (from the Romantica Zone)
1. From the east side of Lazaro Cardenas park and catch any bus that says Walmart on it’s front windshield (this will be prominently handwritten in large letters). The bus takes about 20-25 minutes and costs 6.5 pesos (about .50 USD).
2. Get off the bus at Wal-Mart, and take a short walk north to the next stop and wait for an ATM or Compostella bus to Sayulita. The bus fare is 24 pesos one way and it takes about hour to get to Sayulita.
3. The bus will let you off in Sayulita, usually on the side street next to a baseball park. Walk over the new bridge and you are right on Revolution street, the main street of Sayulita. You’ll find lots shops, galleries, cafes, outdoor restaurants…and of course the beach.
- From Revolution, go right down any street and you will be on the beach in 3 blocks. This area can be very busy. If you want quiet, head right (north) along the beach, cross over the little river, and head on down to a quieter beach that is long and tranquil.
Returning to Puerto Vallarta from Sayulita
1. Return to the bus same way, but when you reach the new boulevard, go right. The bus stop is about 3-4 blocks down -you will see folks waiting. The bus leaves about every half hour, and the last bus to Vallarta leaves at 8 pm.
2. Retrace your steps….get off at Wal-Mart. Catch a city bus, blue and white, or green. Look for Olas Altas on the window and that bus will take you all the way back to the stop at Lazero Cardenas park.
San Francisco aka San Pancho
The last substantial village north of Puerto Vallarta and south of San Blas is the little former mango processing village of San Francisco (or as the locals refer to it, San Pancho). The town is small, with a population of 1,000 full time residents. San Francisco sits in the middle of a mile long beach which produces big open ocean waves that often carry with it very strong undertows – so ocean activities should be undertaken with a great deal of caution.
The next city north of Puerto Vallarta is San Blas, another hot spot for surfing. San Blas has it’s own chapter.
The Costal Villages to the south of Puerto Vallarta
Where the north side of the bay is all about luxury, the south is all about the remote and rustic relaxation.
A water taxi or panga or camion from the old pier runs around 140 pesos
A bus route North takes you to all the Southern towns in the bay. The entire route (from Puerto Vallarta to Boca de Tomatlán) takes about 45mins and you catch the bus at the corner of Constitucion and Basilio Badillo. The fare costs 70 pesos (around 65 cents in USD) and bus routes run from 6:30pm-10pm.
To get to Mismaloya you can either jump on a skiff leaving from Playa los Muertos or by public bus, private car or by taxi. The trip by vehicle is about 25 minutes south from Puerto Vallarta.
The beach is located on a lovely cove, with a full view of the Los Arcos sea rocks and hosts several restaurants and two large hotels which tower over the beach.
Snorkeling offshore of Mismaloya is fantastic thanks to its proximity to the Los Arcos sea rocks. To get there you can hire a glass bottom boat to the rocks where the marine park and aquatic preserve begins. The algae and coral attract schools of grazing butterfly, parrot, goat, and angel fish, as well as cornet, croakers, and sturgeon can be seen.
Although the movie The Night of the Iguana put Puerto Vallarta on the map, it was actually filmed in Mismaloya. The original set and once famous John Huston Cafe are now just empty shells on top of the hill.
Boca de Tomatlán
Three miles south of Mismaloya lies the tranquil village of Boca de Tomatlán which is the last southern town on the bay that is reachable by roads. A city bus ride from Puerto Vallarta to Boca costs 65 pesos. Bus service runs between Boca de Tomatlán and downtown Vallarta every day, starting at about 6:30am with the last bus coming in at 11pm, They run at intervals of 15 minutes until 7pm, and then every 1/2 hour. The bus route ends up on the hill of the Boca main street “Calle Pelicanos” and the bus then u-turns back to its downtown Vallarta stop at the corner of Basilio Badillo and Constitucion St.,”Centro”
The town of Boca de Tomatlán is concentrated around the Horcones river on the Boca Bay. The beach serves as a push off point for water taxis in route to Quimixto, and Yelapa.
Quimixto is the next village south of Puerto Vallarta that is accessible only by boat.
You can go horse riding, and we recommend booking it on-site rather than through Vallarta Adventures. At Quimixto, simply follow the main and only paved road up the hill, off to the left then inland, to find the horse rental location. A local guide will go with you on the 25-45 minute horse ride through the forest to the Quimixto waterfall and restaurant/bar.(about $15 roundtrip)
A large secluded beach with beachside palapa restaurants, and a jungle waterfall. Yelapa has a population of about 1,500 native residents, and there are no roads or cars in the entire village – in fact they only recently got electricity. You can rent a horse, or hike up the river to a nice waterfall and natural swimming pool. Yalapa is a true gem!
It’s about an hour south of Puerto Vallarta by boat (leaving from the pier on los Muertos Beach), or a about a 30 minute boat ride from Boca.
Getting to the remote beaches
Boats to Yalapa from Los Muertos Pier on Playa Los Muertos during the high season (Nov 15th-May 15th) 10:30, 11:00, 11:30 and 4pm (about $13 USD each). Boats back to Puerto Vallarta from Yalapa 8am, 8:30am, 9am and 4pm (about $13 USD)
Yalapa has a very informative web site with the latest water taxis times and route, you can find that here. [on-line]
The Tranquil Mountain Towns above Puerto Vallarta
If you’d like to really get away from it all, traveling into the mountains above Puerto Vallarta will certainly provide what you desire.
Equally, if you are in Puerto Vallarta in the summer months and are overwhelmed by the heat, the mountain villages are a great place to cool off.
San Sebastian del Oeste
A two hour drive from Puerto Vallarta brings you up the mountains to the secluded former mining town of San Sebastian. The town is elevated 4,600 feet above Puerto Vallarta, which keeps San Sebastian about 16 degrees cooler in the summer. In the winter months from November to May the average temperature is 75 degrees with an average low of 45 degrees, so you may want to bring a light jacket or sweater. In the summer, which is the rainy season, you can expect some afternoon or evening showers with the average temperature of 85 degrees and evening lows of 61 degrees.
The town was founded in 1605 during the Spanish Colonial period. During its heyday people were drawn to the town to work in its fertile gold, silver and lead mines, and by 1900 the population had peaked at 20,000 residents. After a couple of decades, the natural resources had run out, and the last mine was abandoned in 1921. The population dropped significantly and today it is only 600. Today most locals make their living farming either maguey cactus or coffee beans.
Many of the town’s buildings are over 100 years old and have not been changed. They are, for the most part, completely intact. The southern part of town is on higher ground, and offers a beautiful view of the town.
Considering the size of the town, lodging, restaurants and activities are numerous. You can rent ATVs or horses, visit the town’s museums, check out an abandoned mine, and tour a coffee plantation and shop.
Mascota is twenty miles south of San Sebastian. Established in 1592 it sits 4,300 feet above Puerto Vallarta and has a population of 13,000. Mascota is primarily a farming town with the main crops being wheat, rice and corn. Mascota is also known for its horse training; people come from all around to bring their horses to be trained. The streets are very clean, quiet, and lined with original adobe homes that are well maintained. As with most Mexican towns it is centered around the Central Plaza.
Mascota is a farming community so the fruits and vegetables are local and incredibly fresh and can be bought daily at the town market a block west of the town square.
Talpa de Allende
About 20 miles to the southwest of Mascota is the quite town of Talpa, population of 10,500 people and at an elevation 4,000 feet.
Each year thousands of Catholics make the pilgrimage to Talpa to pray to “Rosario de Talpa” (the Virgin of Talpa), a petite straw figure of the Virgin Mary. Many believe that the visit can help cure disease, repair relationships, cause a healthy birth, and just about everything else.
The streets are amazingly clean and you’ll be hard pressed to find many other, if any, tourists here.
It’s a three hour drive back to Puerto Vallarta.