Puerto Vallarta's palm-fringed beaches, secluded coves and emerald waters just might be the Mexico you've dreamed of. Spanning more than 60 miles, this stunning stretch of Pacific coast has something for everyone, from chilled out surf towns and family-friendly havens to island getaways teeming with marine life. Here's our list of six of the best beaches in and around Puerto Vallarta.

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Playa del Amor (Islas Marietas)

Best hidden beach & wildlife watching

Okay, so the secret is out about these wildlife-rich uninhabited islands but the good news is that authorities have placed strict limits on the number of daily visits allowed as a measure to prevent overcrowding and a potential ecological disaster. First on many folks' minds is visiting Playa del Amor, the national park's astonishing underground crater beach, but only 116 spots are permitted per day, so plan ahead. Regardless of whether you get the coveted green light for Playa del Amor, all excursions and permits must be handled by a certified tour outfit. Ecotours de México is a reputable one.

Snorkeling, diving and bird-watching are as good as it gets at this Unesco biosphere reserve. Giant mantas and sea turtles glide through the warm waters, while on land you can spot the endangered blue-footed booby and some 90 other bird species. The islands lie about 22 miles (36 kilometers) west of Puerto Vallarta and 6 miles (9 kilometers) southwest of Punta de Mita.

Majahuitas Beach in Cabo Corrientes, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco
The best beach near Puerto Vallarta for snorkeling is Playa Majahuitas © Daniel-Avin77 / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Playa Majahuitas

Best beach for snorkeling

If you can't make it out to Islas Marietas, Playa Majahuitas' clear jade waters offer some of the best snorkeling on the bay. Visibility is excellent in the tranquil cove and you can explore several small caves as you swim among the parrotfish and angelfish.

With its golden sands, dazzling jungle backdrop and quiet calm, Majahuitas makes a fine spot to escape the hubbub of downtown Vallarta. If you have your own snorkeling gear, the beach is most easily reached by water taxis departing from the Zona Romántica's Playa de los Muertos pier, otherwise you can hook up a tour with dive shops that provide both transportation and equipment.

Playa Palmares

Best sustainable beach

Along a relatively undeveloped strip of coastline about 4 miles (6 kilometers) south of the Zona Romántica, Playa Palmares' aqua-blue shallows are far removed from river mouths, giving swimmers crystalline waters year-round. What's more, this precious strip of sand is one of Vallarta's cleanest and most eco-friendly beaches.

In fact, Palmares is so impeccable that it was designated a Blue Flag beach. To uphold that distinction it must comply with 33 criteria requiring the highest of standards in water quality, environmental management, safety and services. Onsite facilities and services include a wheelchair ramp, lifeguards, showers, restrooms and parking spaces (a rarity in these parts), but the serene water, of course, is what keeps people coming back.

Mixed race boy surfing in ocean
Families have a great time in Sayulita ©Sollina Images/Getty Images


Best beach for families

Sitting pretty about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita's laid-back surf town vibe, swimmable waters and ample offering of outdoor activities make it one of the best family-friendly beach destinations around. Interested in picking up surfing? Numerous surf shops and camps in town offer beginner lessons for all ages and once you get the hang of it, the coast of Sayulita has a variety of breaks to choose from as you look to put your new skills to the test.

Here you can also hike along jungle trails to secluded beaches, explore the coast by horseback or kayak and visit a turtle sanctuary. For an easy outing with the kids, a dirt road north of the busy main beach cuts through a colorful cemetery and leads to several small beaches with gentle surf, including Playa de los Muertos (not to be confused with Puerto Vallarta's Beach of the Dead). Sayulita lies in the neighboring state of Nayarit but it's just an hour away from Vallarta by car or bus.

Punta Mita is a gorgeous beach with great surf for beginners and intermediate surfers © Four Seasons Punta Mita

Punta de Mita

Best beach for surfing

Jutting out into the Pacific on the northern end of Banderas Bay, the scenic peninsula of Punta de Mita has become a hotspot for beginner and intermediate surfers due to its long rideable waves. Numerous surf shops offer classes and rentals around the centrally located beaches of Playa El Anclote and Stinky's (both with ideal conditions for beginners), while experienced boarders paddle out to the more challenging breaks at El Faro, La Lancha and Punta Burros.

Even if surfing isn't your thing, you'll dig the unhurried pace along the pretty shores of Punta de Mita, just 26 miles (42 kilometers) northwest of Puerto Vallarta. While in Playa El Anclote, don't miss a meal at Tuna Blanca, a lovingly designed oceanfront restaurant with some of the best seafood in town.

Playa El Caballo

Best getaway beach

If you really want to get away from it all, head for the quiet sands of Playa El Caballo and enjoy a carefree day under the shade of a rustling palm. Two low-key hotels with open-air restaurants flank the edges of this beach but you'll find nothing but creamy sand and calm aqua-green water in between.

Playa El Caballo is just one of many blissful beaches and small coves along this stretch of coastline backed by jungle-shrouded mountains. You can reach Playa El Caballo and many other sweets spots along a coastal trail that winds through the jungle from Boca de Tomatlán to Playa Las Ánimas (just west of Playa El Caballo). Alternatively, water taxis departing from Vallarta's Playa de los Muertos pier will drop you in Playa Las Ánimas, where it's just a short walk east to Playa El Caballo.

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Sayulita, Mexico - September 16, 2021 - street photography of red VW Beetle vocho, a hat shop, and surfboards on Sayulita Beach; Shutterstock ID 2045735411; your: -; gl: -; netsuite: -; full: -


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