(Photo courtesy of Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa)

72 Hours in Puerto Vallarta: Tequila, Taco Tours + Hidden Beach

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Need a reboot to finish out the year? There's an oft-overlooked tropical destination that's surprisingly affordable and just a few hours from San Francisco.

Puerto Vallarta is a lush, rustic, and charming oceanside destination. Fall temperatures are perfectly moderate in the 80s, and while hurricane season is nearing its end anyway, Puerto Vallarta is also one of the most protected cities in Mexico when it comes to storms. Take our 72-hour itinerary—filled with jungle adventures, hidden beaches, and plenty of tacos and tequila—to power you through the end of the year.


Day 1: Check into paradise.

(Courtesy of Marriot Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa)

Flights from SFO

Both United and Alaska offer nonstop flights (just over three-and-a-half hours) to Puerto Vallarta that will have you in by mid-afternoon or early evening. Currently, you do not need a negative Covid-19 test or proof of vaccination to fly to Mexico. You will have to complete a health declaration form and scan the QR code it generates on arrival. But note: You will need a negative test, taken within 72 hours of your flight home, to return to the States.

Consider getting your Covid-19 test at the Puerto Vallarta airport when you land (about $22 for the antigen test and $71 for the PCR test) as long as you're within the 72-hour window required. This will require some patience before heading to your resort, but it means you'll have it done and out of the way. Many resorts are also offering Covid tests on site.

Stay: Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa

A five-minute drive from the airport, the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa checks all the boxes for a rejuvenating Mexico vacation, so much so that you technically don't even need to leave the grounds if you're going for a classic beach-pool-tacos-margarita respite. The rooms are simple, modern, and breezy—splurging for the ocean view is worth it—though you'll likely spend most of your downtime at the massive infinity pool complete with cabanas and floating loungers, allowing for plenty of personal space. It also has a new swim-up pool bar and even a coconut stand where you can order up boozy concoctions like the Coco Libre made with Bacardi, watermelon, and coconut water.

Just steps from the pool and bar is a private beach where you can lounge on a nest-inspired daybed or borrow kayaks or paddle boards to ride over the waves (best done in the morning when the water is calm). Make time for a visit to the Ohtli Spa, where you can choose between a beachside massage in a tiki cabana or a healing water meditation.

The Marriott also offers complimentary, on-site Covid-19 rapid antigen tests for guests staying three consecutive nights longer; tests can be arranged by the concierge upon arrival. If you're staying just one or two nights, the test is $18. // marriott.co



Dinner at the Resort

There are half a dozen culinary concepts here including an ice cream shop, high-end sushi, and Las Casitas, an elevated, beachside tiki restaurant serving sunset views and lobster tacos, mezcal-marinated chicken, and a five chile and chocolate-crusted beef tenderloin. The traditional dry noodle starter with chipotle avocado, cream, fresh cheese, and fries pasilla chile cannot be missed if it's on the menu. For something lighter, dine on the glass-walled upper deck of Nosh (the pool bar) for stunning views, cocktails, and an assortment of flavorful seafood tostadas.

Day 2: Choose Your Own Adventure

(Courtesy of Vallarta Adventures)

Trek into the rainforest.

Leave the sanctuary of the resort for a day of outdoor adventure in the Sierra Madre mountains, located just outside the south end of Puerto Vallarta. At the end of a long, rural road through the rainforest, Canopy River feels straight out of Jurassic Park and is an all-in-one destination for hiking, zip-lining, horseback riding, and ATV rides. You can even drive an ATV over the Jorullo Bridge, the world's longest suspension bridge that's accessible by vehicles. At 1,550 feet long, it hangs almost 400 feet above the Cuale River. To take the edge off once you've crossed, you can sip a Corona in a hammock at Canopy River's treetop bar.

Take the road to Mismaloya.

A less physical option is to take the scenic route to Mismaloya. Reminiscent of Maui's Road to Hana, the somewhat curvy, eight-mile stretch of coastal road (along Highway 200 South) provides nonstop panoramic views of the sparkling emerald Banderas Bay with luxury cliffside villas and resorts on one side and lush rainforest on the other. The road takes you to the small fishing village of Mismaloya, the location for the 1964 film Night of the Iguana starring Richard Burton, whose torrid romance with Elizabeth Taylor famously blossomed here. You'll want to pull over more than once along the way to snap photos and grab a cerveza from a roadside palapa. There are quiet beaches in each little town you pass, but the most popular is Mismaloya Beach, where you can lounge in the sand, swim, and snorkel.

Discover the Hidden Beach.

The Instagram-famous Hidden Beach, a crescent moon of white sand and crystal-clear water set within a lush crater, is worth the hype. The catch: It's only visible when the tide is low. To reach it, you can book a day-long excursion through the resort (or other local tour companies) to the Islas Marietas, a collection of small uninhabited islands located about an hour's boat ride from Puerto Vallarta. Protected by the government from fishing and hunting, this ecological sanctuary is positively buzzing with marine life, making it a top snorkeling and diving spot. Starting in December, you can catch sight of gray and humpback whales. Depending on the tour and if the tide allows, you can swim to the hidden beach from a cave-like entrance.

Dinner

Return to the Marriott for some R&R at the pool, beach, or spa. When it's time for dinner, head out into the city for a meal. For peak romance, make a reservation at The Iguana, a restaurant perched high on the cliffs overlooking the city and Banderas Bay. Dine alfresco—dishes include chile relleno in a puff pastry and hearty steaks—and sample a range of spirits from the boutique tequila bar. You might even catch some live mariachi music.

El Dorado serves gourmet Mexican from an elegant table set right in the sand. Need we say more than lobster and bone marrow tacos? How about stone crab enchiladas? A more casual option is Gaby's, a cozy and lively little taqueria that's been around since 1989 (Gaby's also offers traditional cooking classes if that's something you want to add to your itinerary).

Day 3: Explore Puerto Vallarta

(Courtesy of Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board)

Eat all the tacos.

Be honest: You love the sound of chicharron for breakfast. We suggest booking the Signature Taco Tour from Vallarta Eats Food Tour (offered daily at 10am for $55 per person). The three-and-a-half-hour tour in Old Town Puerto Vallarta stops at all the locals' best-kept secrets and includes a visit to a tortilla factory.

The Romantic Zone

The taco tour meets in Old Town, also known as the Zona Romantica. Think of this as Puerto Vallarta's gayborhood, which is is famous for being extremely inclusive. It's worth spending some extra time walking the cobblestone streets lined with traditional pueblo architecture, ducking into intimate cafes and international eateries, and visiting Lázaro Cárdenas Park, where the benches, poles, and walls are covered in stunning tile designs. On Saturday mornings, local artisans gather here to sell handmade goods. Los Muertos beach is a great stop for some people watching.The Romantic Zone also comes alive at night with dancing and legendary gay bars like Mr. Flamingo and Wet Dreams, which features shower strip shows.

The Malecón

Every city has one can't-miss tourist hot spot and Puerto Vallarta's is the Malecón, a 12-block boardwalk along the ocean lined with shops, bars, and restaurants. It's a great place to walk off all those tacos, check out some colorful art, and get your picture taken in front of the iconic "Puerto Vallarta" sign. Just be prepared to be bombarded by local vendors. The Malecón is also one of the best spots in Puerto Vallarta to catch the sunset if you time it right.

A Michelin-Worthy Meal

Treat yourself to dinner in the enchanting garden at Café des Artistes, a French fine dining establishment for over 30 years. Chef Thierry Blouet infuses Mexican influences into dishes like a suckling pig confit taco or the cream of prawn and pumpkin soup. If you're feeling fancy, the five-course tasting menu is a steal at roughly $70 (or $100 with wine pairings). Do note there is a dress code, so don't show up in beachwear.

Tequila, Tequila!

Puerto Vallarta's nightlife is defined by its many clubs (Strana is one of the most popular) where you can dance all those tacos off until the sun comes up. But if you want quality drinks and something more low-key, check out Bar La Playa, an adorable hole-in-the-wall with some of the best bartenders in town.

Day 4: One Last Margarita

(Courtesy of Marriot Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa)

Spend your last few hours in paradise soaking up the sun and all things resort life before heading back to reality. If you have time and need a little hair of the dog before you depart, arrange for a tequila tasting at the resort with their resident tequila sommelier. After all, you're in Jalisco, the cradle of tequila.

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