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Breaking Down Banderas Bay: A Guide to Help You Understand the Coastline of Puerto Vallarta

December 11, 2013 at 11:00 AM | by | Comments (4)

Yesterday, we told you why you should be making plans to visit Puerto Vallarta this time next year. Now, you need to understand the layout of the region to fully appreciate the amount of opportunities you will have within a short distance.

For the sake of this discussion, we'll consider the city itself, including the Zona Hotelera (north side), El Centro (center city), and the Zona Romantica (south side), as one point on the map (although we may break it down further in a later post). You can see that Puerto Vallarta is located pretty much in the center of the Banderas Bay, which, by the way, is huge - 62 miles of coastline in total that stretches from Punta Mita in the north down to Yelapa in the south. Using the city as a center point, let's split the region in two and take a closer look.

North Banderas Bay, Puerto Vallarta to Punta Mita

We currently have a bit of a love/hate outlook on the area north of Vallarta due to the fact that the zone immediately north of the city, the Zona Hoterla and Nuevo Vallarta, have lost much of the small-town Mexican charm that keeps Vallarta feeling authentic. These two areas are built to support and host tourists, including a three-slot cruise ship port. We understand the necessary logistics of this area, but wouldn't recommend anyone to run off and spend a day there.

Instead, we suggest going further to Bucerias and Punta Mita, two surfing-oriented areas that are great "just cause" day-trip options. The coast really begins to thin out as you exit Nuevo Vallarta, and the further northwest you go along the bay, the bigger and better the waves become. From these two towns (Punta Mita especially), you are within a short boat ride of the Las Marietas Islands, which harbor the incredible "hidden beach" cavern you see in the photo above.

South Banderas Bay, Puerto Vallarta to Yelapa

The south side of Banderas Bay is comprised of a series of small valleys and natural coves thanks to the mountains that hug the coastline, forming little pockets that feature local villages and less-touristy beaches with a few condos and resorts thrown in along the way (the latter are mostly between Vallarta and Mismaloya).

If you look closely, you'll notice that the road that heads south out of Vallarta does not turn with the coast of the bay at Boca de Tomatlan. Instead, it continues due south, meaning that the remaining villages on the map - Las Animas, Quimixto (shown above), Majahuitas, and Yelapa - are inaccessible (for the sake of this article) via car.

From Mismaloya or Boca, you can catch a water taxi for a couple bucks that will take you to any of these villages. It is here that you can also rent private boats and a guide to take you out fishing, snorkeling, or simply joy-riding along the coast. We found the prices to be a steal, especially with a group of four, approximately $50/hour total with room for negotiation. Mismaloya and Boca are villages in themselves, and good places for a beer or fish taco on the beach. If you go fishing, bring your catch back to one of these villages and they will cook it for you.

There are plenty of beaches to be found from the south part of the city down to Boca, and most are marked along the highway with public access via stairways down the cliff. We recommend checking out Playa Negra and Playas Gemelas on your first visit, not only because they are beautiful but because there are way less beach vendors than on, say, Mismaloya, Boca, or Vallarta. Bringing your own snorkel goggles, which you can buy in town for a few bucks, is always a good idea.

Getting Around

Renting a car is one option if you have the funds, but those on a budget will do just fine getting around via public bus. While the routes and system may seem irregular (maps of routes are hard to come by), the public transportation in Vallarta is extremely reliable and on-point, not to mention cheap. You can take a bus from Vallarta to Punta Mita for under $3, and local routes within the city and down south to Mismaloya and Boca cost approximately 50 cents. Feel free to write us if you have questions about the bus system, but the best way is to simply ask once you are on the ground, as 9 out of 10 locals will be able to point you in the direction of the nearest stop.

[Photos: Will McGough for Jaunted/Vallarta-Adventures]

Comments (4)

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Islas Marietas

You mentioned that Hidden Beach is volcanic in origin. Actually it was created when the islands were used as bombing range in the early 20th century: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2336764/Worlds-idyllic-bomb-site-Hidden-beach-created-giant- blast-Mexican-government-target-practice-stunning-strip-sand.html

Re: Islas Marietas

Wow... they certainly don't tell that story around here... thanks for the link, that's incredible.

Re: Islas Marietas

Interesting though that in the article there is a bit of doubt... they think the beach was already there and the bombings may have formed the cavern?

Excellent Map page

SayulitaLife has an excellent map page to give you a great idea of the area as well as surf spots, town views, etc! Also, a great website for the town itself. http://www.sayulitalife.com/sayulitamaps.htm

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