Puerto Vallarta offers a number of boat trips, including sunset cruises and snorkeling, swimming, and diving excursions. They generally travel one of two routes: to the Marietas Islands, a 30- to 45-minute boat ride off the northern shore of Banderas Bay, or to Yelapa, Las Animas, or Quimixto along the southern shore. The trips to the southern beaches make a stop at Los Arcos, an island rock formation south of Puerto Vallarta, for snorkeling. Prices range from $45 for a sunset cruise or a trip to one of the beaches with open bar, to $85 for an all-day outing with open bar and meals. Travel agencies sell tickets and distribute information on all cruises.
One of the best outings is a day trip to Las Caletas, the cove where John Huston made his home for years. Vallarta Adventures (tel. 888/526-2238 in the U.S., or 322/297-1212; www.vallarta-adventures.com) has done an excellent job of restoring Huston's former home, adding exceptional day-spa facilities, and landscaping the beach, which is wonderful for snorkeling. The trip ($85 per person, $70 for children 4-11) sets out every Monday through Saturday from Nuevo Vallarta at 8:30am or from Vallarta's Maritime Terminal at 9am, and includes a light continental breakfast, buffet lunch, open bar, snorkeling and kayaking equipment, and guided tours.
Whale-watching tours become more popular each year. Viewing humpback whales is almost a certainty from mid- to late November to March. The majestic whales have migrated to this bay for centuries (in the 17th c. it was called "Humpback Bay") to bear their calves. The noted local authority is Open Air Expeditions, Guerrero 339 (tel. 322/135-9260; www.vallartawhales.com). It offers ecologically oriented, oceanologist-guided 4-hour tours on the soft boat Prince of Whales, the only boat in Vallarta specifically designed for whale-watching. Cost is $95 for adults, $82 for children 5 to 10, and travel is in a group of up to 12 (there's a discount for booking online). The tour departs at 9:30am.
Tukari Servicios Turísticos can arrange an unforgettable morning at Terra Noble Art & Healing Center (tel. 322/223-0308; www.terranoble.com), a mountaintop day spa and center for the arts where participants can get a massage, temazcal (ancient indigenous sweat lodge -- available only for groups), or treatment; work in clay and paint; and have lunch in a heavenly setting overlooking the bay. Hotel travel desks and travel agencies, including Tukari, also book popular Tropical Tour or Jungle Tours ($95), a basic orientation to the area. These excursions are expanded city tours that include the workers' village of Pitillal, the affluent neighborhood of Conchas Chinas, the cathedral, the market, the Taylor-Burton houses, and lunch at a jungle restaurant.
The Sierra Madre Expedition is an excellent tour offered by Vallarta Adventures. The excursion offered Monday through Thursday travels in Mercedes all-terrain vehicles north of Puerto Vallarta through jungle trails, stops at a small town, ventures into a forest for a brief nature walk, and winds up on a pristine secluded beach for lunch and swimming. The $78 outing is worthwhile because it takes tourists on exclusive trails into scenery that would otherwise be off-limits.
Ecotours & Activities
Open Air Expeditions (www.vallartawhales.com) offers nature-oriented trips, including birding and ocean kayaking in Punta Mita. Ecotours de México (tel. 322/222-6606; www.ecotoursvallarta.com), in Marina Vallarta, runs eco-oriented tours, including whale-watching, snorkeling, sea kayaking, hiking, and seasonal (Aug-Dec) trips to a turtle preservation camp where you can witness hatching baby Olive Ridley turtles.
A popular Vallarta adventure activity is canopy tours. You glide from treetop to treetop, getting an up-close-and-personal look at a tropical rainforest canopy and the trails far below. Tours depart from the Vallarta Adventures offices in both Marina Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta at 8am, returning at 2pm. The price ($79 for adults, $55 for children 8-11) includes the tour, bottled water, and light snacks.
A second option is available in the southern jungles of Vallarta, over the Orquidias River, through Canopy Tours de Los Veranos (tel. 877/563-4113 toll-free in the U.S. or 322/223-6060; www.canopytours-vallarta.com). Shuttle locations include the Canopy office (in front of the Pemex Conchas Chinas), in front of Le Kliff Restaurant in Mismaloya, at Hacienda Palma Real in Nuevo Vallarta, or at Collage Disco in Marina Vallarta. Departures are on the hour, from 9am to 2pm. In addition to the 14 cables -- the longest being a full 350m (1,148 ft.) -- it offers climbing walls and water slides. Price is $79 for adults, or $58 for children ages 6 and older.