The 6 Best “Locals Only” Hot Spots in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Yelapa beach

Romantic, cobblestone streets. Sprawling beaches. Colorful art galleries. Dynamic street food. And Hollywood history. With the right mix of climate, culture and aesthetics, the coastal haven of Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s Pacific coast has tantalized vacationers since The Love Boat docked here in the 1970s, and if you’re lucky, you can discover some of the best locals only hot spots in Puerto Vallarta.

Beyond the boon of historic Old Town and sun-drenched Los Muertos beach, there are unique and unforgettable places locals have long kept secret—and for good reason. Veer slightly off the beaten path to discover crowd-free, authentic gems that relatively go unexplored. We came across some of the best locals only hot spots in Puerto Vallarta, and we’ll show you how to get there.

Rainbow at VIlla Mandarinas
Rainbow at VIlla Mandarinas

These are the 6 best locals only hot spots in Puerto Vallarta

  1. Escape to Yelapa

Yelapa beach
Yelapa in Puerto Vallarta

When you have to hop on a boat to reach a secret beach, you know you’re in for the real deal. A 45-minute, scenic boat ride from town, the small fishing village of Yelapa lures true beach lovers with old-school charm that never seems to change. There are no sky-high condos blocking views, corporate chains or—best of all—crowds, which has kept this bohemian-retro beach town unspoiled.

Yelapa Beach in Puerto Vallarta Mexico.

Like any great tropical paradise, the point of Yelapa is to do nothing at all. Slink into one of the hammocks under palm trees as the crashing waves send you further into nirvana, or saddle up at one of the thatch-roof beach shack bars for fresh margaritas.

The crescent-shaped, sandy beach is virtually deserted; feel free to sprawl out in this locals only hot spot in Puerto Vallarta. Catch a private boat at Boca de Tomatlan (approximately $100 r/t per boat) or from the Puerto Vallarta marina with a public water taxi (rates vary).

2. Wonderful waterfalls

Puerto Vallarta’s dense rainforest doesn’t get as much attention as the beaches and Old Town, but it’s just as alluring. Due to the rugged mountains and flowing rivers, the waterfalls here are spectacular, abundant with wildlife in pristine terrain. The falls are also deep in the jungle, which requires more effort on foot.

Among them, Quimixto Waterfalls in Quimixto is the most accessible waterfall for adventure-seeking travelers. From the town’s pier, visitors can hike thirty minutes by foot along the scenic Las Juntas Y Los Veranos River or opt to hire a donkey or horse for a leisurely stroll. The waterfall rushes into a refreshing, emerald pool, perfect for daytime dipping. To get to Quimixto, book a 30-minute boat ride from the marina (click the link above for direct access to Viator). The waterfalls are close to Yelapa, so it’s ideal to package the two attractions together in one trip.

3. Jungle loving in Vallarta Botanical Gardens

Vallarta Botanical Gardens is teeming with three thousand plant species—including a fabulous orchid farm and agave gardens—but you don’t have to love botany to visit. A thirty-minute cab ride from town, the 20-acre eden is set within the lush rainforest.

Visitors immerse in miles of nature through hiking trails where native flora and trees are labeled, and scenic look-outs harbor breathtaking views of the verdant Sierra Madre mountains. Don’t forget to pack your swimsuit.

The botanical gardens are right on the crystal-clear Los Horcones river, a favorite splashing spot for families. Vallarta Botanical Gardens, Carretera Puerto Vallarta, a Barra de Navidad Km. 24, Las Juntas Y Los Veranos, Cabo Corrientes, Jalisco. Tel: 52-322-223-6182. 

4. The hidden beach day-trip

At first sight, visitors to Marietas Islands typically have the same awe-struck reaction as famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, who initially explored the protected marine park in the 1960s. The 3,460-acre archipelago is a magnificent refuge for exotic birds and marine life, best toured on a charter boat or tour operator (choose one that provides kayaks).

Puerto Vallarta beaches are nearby.
Puerto Vallarta beaches are nearby.

The park’s claim to fame is playa de amor, widely known as “the hidden beach” inside the rim of a crater. The roof collapsed a hundred ago, forming an idyllic beach under a sheltered cove where visitors must swim to the sliver of shore from their boat (in the morning, tour operators will gauge the smoothness of the sea, which largely dictates whether the boat can venture out). While it’s become touristy, it still is a favorite locals only hot spot in Puerto Vallarta.

Snorkeling is the most popular activity; the unique islands are known for sea turtles and exotic fish. Tour operators like Vallarta Adventures offers day trips. For a more private excursion, BIP Charters caters primarily to splurging visitors. 

5. Live Vicariously through Elizabeth Taylor

Casa Kimberly bedroom
Casa Kimberly bedroom

When actor Richard Burton filmed The Night of the Iguana in 1963, he bought his lover and iconic actress Elizabeth Taylor a home in the hillside to live with him. For decades, curious visitors to Puerto Vallarta never peeked any further than the Love Bridge the couple built to connect to another villa.

Casa Kimberly Puerto vallarta
Casa Kimberly Puerto Vallarta

Now, their former glam hideaway is Casa Kimberly, a palatial boutique hotel that offers a fine-dining, al fresco Mexican restaurant, The Iguana, and tequila bar, both framing the same sweeping bay views the famous couple beheld every day. The restaurant and bar are open to the public, and various Elizabeth Taylor memorabilia throughout the property is nostalgifying. Casa Kimberly, Calle Zaragoza 445, Tel: 52-322-222-1336. Reservations at the bar or restaurant are mandatory.

6. Jazz it up

Villa Mandarinas breakfast
Villa Mandarinas breakfast

Take a break from Old Town’s popular cantinas and beachside restaurants at El Patio de mi Casa. This tucked-away jazz club on an unassuming, cobblestone street (with no signage) is a magnet for discerning locals who appreciate craft cocktails, fine wines and live jazz.

The outdoor courtyard is magically lit at night with brick and stone walls, green vines and a cozy bar under vaulted ceiling. It’s one of few highbrow places in town where you can order raicilla. The wild-agave distilled spirit, a cousin of mescal that’s native to Puerto Vallarta’s state of Jalisco, is having a moment. El Patio de mi Casa, Guerrero 311, Centro, Tel: 52-322-222-0743.

More stories:

Is Yelapa Puerto Vallarta’s best kept secret?

Review: Villa Mandarinas in Puerto Vallarta

This new development in Tulum proves the authentic beach town is officially over

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Jimmy Im has traveled to 113 countries, stayed in over 600 hotels and has flown a million airmiles. He lives in New York City.

2 thoughts on “The 6 Best “Locals Only” Hot Spots in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

  1. While it’s become touristy, it still is a favorite locals only hot spot in Puerto Vallarta.

    How does that even make sense?

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