The Puerto Vallarta region of Mexico can be a paradise for families, with all-inclusive hotels in every price range and easy flight access from the U.S. and Canada. Spending a week within the gated compound of one hotel can make you (and the kids) kind of stir-crazy after a while though, so here are some family-friendly diversions to consider on your Puerto Vallarta adventure.

Boogie Boarding with the Kids

Boogie Boarding with the Kids

The region stretching from Mismaloya south of the city past Nuevo Vallarta to Punta Mita is packed with hotels and traffic, so plan according when it comes to where you will catch transportation to your excursion.

Water Excursions

There are only a few spots in the region where you can snorkel right off the shore and really see anything. A better bet is to take a large catamaran boat trip to the Marietas Islands at the north end of the bay or the Las Caletas cove at the south end.

Cruise to Marietas Islands

Cruise to Marietas Islands

The Marietas Islands trip cruises up the coastline past the tip of the Punta Mita peninsula to rocky islands that are a protected park. There’s a shady bottom section or a sunny top section for the ride. Cruising past blue-footed boobies and other birds, the boat docks in a cove where you can snorkel around for an hour and paddle around in a kayak. Then you split into smaller groups to ride a small boat to a postcard-perfect beach for a swim. The trip back features a buffet lunch, an open bar for mom and dad, and entertainment from the crew. Ages seven and up.

The Las Caletas trip reaches an area only accessible by boat, a place where the jungle meets the sea. The ship cruises south past Puerto Vallarta, reaching a secluded beach where you can go on nature hikes, snorkel (with a chance of seeing sea lions), visit the parrot center or go kayaking. A light breakfast, buffet lunch, and open bar are included. Ages five and up.

For something shorter, a snorkeling trip to the Los Arcos rock formations just south of town is a five-hour trip.

You can swim with dolphins in an enclosure in the Nuevo Vallarta area, but you’ll need an ample budget: it’s nearly a hundred dollars for adults and you can’t take photos with your own camera. Ages five and up.

Enjoying the beautiful beaches

Enjoying the beautiful beaches

Land Excursions

The most popular side trip from your hotel is free after you get there: a walk along the malecon next to the bay in the center of Puerto Vallarta. Here whimsical metal sculptures offer great photo ops and there are usually young men building elaborate sand castles. Town squares, the main church, a playground, and trinket shopping are all within a few blocks.

Sand Sculptor along the Malecon

If you want something more exciting, Puerto Vallarta is at the base of the Sierra Madre Mountains and you don’t have to go far to hit steep mountains and thick jungle. Just south of the center is a ziplining canopy adventure center, for ages eight and up. Or you can go much higher up in the mountains by 4X4 and then mule ride on an Outdoor Adventure Tour. On this tour you can rappel down waterfalls, cross jungle bridges and speed down “the highest and longest ziplines in Mexico.” Twelve years and up.

To head inland and see Old Mexico, the best bet is a Sierra Madre jeep adventure tour. This all-day trip hits traditional villages, a spot for a nature walk, and a secluded beach where there’s a barbeque lunch. Ages eight and up.

If you get tired of being shuttled around, rent a car and head north to Sayulita and other towns along the Pacific coast where the hotels are smaller and the pace is slower. When I rented a car recently, I booked it through the Viator.com site after reserving an excursion and it was cheaper than I found through the regular big booking sites like Kayak and Expedia. Be sure to accept the liability insurance though—it’ll save you days of hassle if there’s an accident no matter who is at fault.

Tim Leffel

Planning a trip? Browse Viator’s Puerto Vallarta tours & things to do, from day trips and excursions to more family friendly adventures.