On Mexico's west coast, the Sierra Madre mountains tumble down onto gold sand beaches that meet the deep blue water of the Pacific Ocean in the charming town of Puerto Vallarta. An easy and direct flight from cities like Denver, Los Angeles and Newark, it is a top US travel destination well worth exploring.
The just opened Hilton Vallarta Riviera All-Inclusive Resort is a gorgeous new property and a great place to stay on a beautiful section of Puerto Vallarta coastline about 45 minutes north of the international airport. I love this resort for many reasons but it is especially appealing for first time Mexico visitors. It offers the reliability of a Hilton and can be booked using points or miles. Plus it has stylish design, excellent food and plenty to keep you busy.
Set on Puerto Vallarta's Bay of Banderas, the hotel has 444 spacious and modern suites each with sleek bathrooms featuring walk-in rainfall showers. Rooms are very comfortable with modern decor and the best have direct Pacific coastline views from furnished balconies. The brand's signature Heavenly beds are extra comfy and the linens were high quality. If you want to vacation in true style, book one of the suites with a whirlpool tub.
When it comes to dining, there is no shortage of included options. Choose from Mexican, fresh seafood, Asian, Italian, tapas, sushi and a few buffets along with six craft cocktail bars. The Hilton doesn’t water down drinks either and the quality of the beverages as well as the food is excellent. Our favorite onsite restaurant is Cocomar. It serves fresh Mexican fare including several types of ceviche, which are highly recommended.
The Hilton has two infinity swimming pools, one of which is reserved for adults only and offers a huge assortment of free activities daily from water aerobics to poolside trivia quizzes and beach volleyball matches. There is nightly entertainment.
Why Puerto Vallarta?
Puerto Vallarta is a magical choice for a Mexican getaway year-round. On the country’s west coast, the scenery is gorgeous with the Sierra Madre mountains tumbling down onto gold sand beaches that meet the deep blue water of the Pacific Ocean. Plus, the sunsets here seem to go on forever and feature the brightest explosions of orange, pink and purple hues.
Best of all Puerto Vallarta is an easy direct flight from a number of US cities including my hometown of Denver, Colorado. From Denver the flight takes just over 3-hours and airlines like United offer multiple flights per day. In California there are direct flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco. United Airlines even offers a direct flight from Newark Airport to PV.
In the state of Jalisco, Puerto Vallarta (or PV as its known by locals and returning tourists) began as a fishing village in the early 1900s and still retains much of that authentic charm. The old town is still cobbled and vibrant and you can sit on its ocean facing promenade and watch the fisherman unload their daily catch. There are also a myriad of hotels and resorts scattered along this coastline ranging from sprawling all-inclusive properties to small boutiques and Airbnbs.
Although PV fell out of style for a number of years as destinations like the Riviera Maya began attracting more tourists, in the mid 20th-century it was one of the most glamorous getaways in Mexico. The town gained its fame after “The Night of the Iguana” starring Richard Burton was filmed here in 1964.
Prior to the film’s release the town didn’t even have air service, but after a much publicized love affair between Burton and Elizabeth Taylor happened here (while both were still married to other people), it fast became a celebrity hotspot. Tourists followed suit.
PV began its tourism comeback in the early aughts when a $2.4 million renovation of its port and ocean boardwalk, El Malecón, in 2013 took the downtown area from seedy to slick. Around the same time more mainstream and large resorts began opening along the coastline.
Today PV is also known for being Mexico’s most LGBTQ+ friendly city and was Mexico’s first city to receive GayTravel.com's Gay Travel Approved distinction. The Romantic Zone is the heart of the gay scene and Los Muertos Beach has gained international fame as PV’s best gay beach.
What to Do in Puerto Vallarta
Although you can easily spend your entire vacation at the resort, I highly recommend venturing off the property for a day or two and exploring the surrounding region. If fishing is your sport, you’ll love Puerto Vallarta. Many anglers return year after year as it serves up top-notch sport fishing year round.
The sea around here is filled with trophy-size marlin, sailfish, mahi mahi and tuna, among many other sportfish, and a Vallarta fishing charter seldom returns you empty-handed. It is easy to book a fishing charter either through the resort or online before you depart.
PV is one of the best places around to spot humpback whales. Whale watching season begins in December and can run as late as May, although the best months are usually January and February when sightings are very frequent as the whale migrate from the arctic to breed and raise their young on the sheltered Banderas Bay coastline. You can either charter a yacht for a day or book a group tour. Both usually stop for lunch on a nearby island.
Also make sure to devote an afternoon to exploring Puerto Vallarta’s two main downtown areas, the cobbled streets lined with traditional pueblo architecture that make up the Romantic Zone, ground zero for PV's lively LGBTQ+ scene, and The Malecón boardwalk area. The later runs for 12-blocks and is lined with shops, bars and restaurants as well as some colorful artwork. The sunsets here are also gorgeous (although honestly the Hilton has one of the best sunset locations around).
The Romantic Zone is home to more unique boutiques, taco shops and international restaurants and renowned galleries. While here make sure to stop at Lázaro Cárdenas Park, where benches, posts and walls are covered with beautiful tile patterns. On Saturday mornings, local artisans gather here to sell handicrafts. Los Muertos Beach is also here.
When to Visit
And when it comes to visiting, there is really no bad time of year. The region is usually sunny with temperatures averaging about 85 degrees year-round. The hottest months are July through September, but due to a protected location on Banderas Bay, you rarely have to worry about hurricanes. And while summer is the rainiest season, storms are usually short and move in and out quickly, lasting hours not days. Traveling in summer and fall is especially lucrative if you’re looking to save some cash on hotel rooms and airfares as this is considered the low season.
I recommend between 5 and 7 days in this paradise. This allows for enough time to relax at your resort as well as participate in a few different day trip adventures.