There isn’t any diving off the shore in Puerto Vallarta but many dive sites can be reached by boat within an hour or two. Most companies will do a day trip including a couple of dives and lunch so you can get the most out of your day of diving. Bahia de Banderas (Bay of Flags) is one of the largest bays in the world with 65km’s (40 miles) of coastline and is over 3000 metres deep (10 000 feet).
There are about 10 great dive sites in the area. The bay is home to some amazing animals such as dolphins, sea turtles, giant manta rays and for part of the year, humpback whales make their temporary home here, but you can see all sorts of reef fish, corals and cool critters on most of the sites.
The closest site to the Vallarta is Los Arcos (the arches) and it’s great for all levels of divers or snorkelers. On the west side of the site a place called the ‘Devil’s Canyon’ where advanced divers can enjoy a great wall dive where the wall drops down to 490 metres (1600 feet) but of course you’ll have to stay within recreational limits. The site is like an aquarium and turtles are known to hang out here.
Mismaloya was made famous by the 1970’s movie ‘The Night of the Iguana’ and schools of eagle rays can be seen here. Great for both diving and snorkelling is calm site of Majahuitas where garden eels pop their little heads up to say hi. El Morro is a great advanced dive but has strong currents and rough sea conditions, making the water rich with nutrients and inviting giant manta rays to hang out here. El Chimo is another site for mantas. For muck diving and great macro photography opportunities, head to La Viudas.
Islas Marietas is two large islands and has the greatest diversity of underwater life in the area. In 2005 it was declared a Marine Protected Area and in later years the islands a Biosphere Reserve. It is home to around 90 different species of birds and a great day trip for both diving and snorkelling. You should book a trip that will allow you to explore both the island and the reef as both are something very special.
If you get the opportunity to do a liveaboard trip from Vallarta then you will spend some exciting days exploring the area and it’s a great way to see the magic the bay has to offer.
Located on the western coast of Mexico, this lovely city is a popular resort destination for its white sandy beaches, relaxed atmosphere, cobbled streets and friendly people. Surrounded by palm covered mountains and sitting right on the Bahia de Banderas (Bay of Flags), you can find every type of activity here and taste every kind of tequila possible as it is located in the state of Jalisco, the home of tequila and mariachis. This is one of the more expensive cities in Mexico to visit but you can still get away with it on a budget.
Vallarta has an international airport with regular flights to many US cities and connections to Mexico City. If you hire a car in the city it can get rather expensive in the high season so it’s best to book online to get the best rates. Driving to Vallarta from other parts of the country is lovely but the winding roads are sometimes tough to navigate and the tolls are rather ridiculous! It’s better to fly. Taxis are readily available to transport you around the city.
There are hostels and hotels dotted around the city ranging from $30-$100 a night for a double room to huge spa resorts on the beach for $500 a night for two people all inclusive. If you really want to splurge then you can head to the small towns next to Vallarta (China Blanca direction) and get a multi million dollar house on the beach with 8 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms, a maid, chef, barman and security guard for only $1300 a night! You might have to put that one on your wish list but shared between a few people and it can actually be cost effective.
If you want to relax on the public beach then you’ll probably have a few touts coming over to sell you stuff. Be sure to bargain with them before you buy anything, it can be a great way to do your gift shopping without going anywhere.
To see the lush surrounding area then there’s a few different ways to do it. Land tours include ATV trips, horseback riding, hiking and canopy zip lining. Water activities include whale watching (Dec 8 to Mar 23 only, this is regulated by the government), dolphin tours (please only go on the wild dolphin tour as we DO NOT recommend supporting dolphins kept in captivity unless it’s for rehabilitation and release), sailing, fishing, bay cruises, snorkelling and diving.
If you wanted to some cheap unguided tours then take a bus to Boca de Tomatlan and a water taxi to Las Animas Beach or Yelapa. Another bus will take you to the old town of El Tuito or the Botanical Gardens (just past Las Juntas y Los Veranos).
Vallarta has a great nightlife and some funky bars along the waterfront road. There is a special tequila tour to the museum where you can taste every type of tequila available and learn all about how they make it, which is very interesting. Restaurants are a plenty and all types of food are available from steak and seafood to all the Mexican regular delights. Cheap street food can be found but be careful of hygiene if your stomach isn’t cast iron then I’d head to a restaurant. A tip for you: if there are a lot of local people eating there, it’s usually a good, cheap place to eat.
Enjoy this different side of Mexico and let us know if you find any other great places to visit around the area.
(By Kelly Luckman)