Mexico, in general, is a wonderful place to travel with kids. Family is at the center of the everyday life and children are warmly welcomed just about everywhere. Puerto Vallarta – where beach time, cultural experiences and outdoorsy activities easily fill the days – is one of Mexico's many fantastic family-friendly destinations, a jewel on the rugged Pacific coast.

Family travel in and around Puerto Vallarta is doable on most budgets. Child discounts are typically available on things like park admission and guided tours (and lap kids are often free). Most resorts and hotels have reduced daily rates for children; many higher-end places boast "Kids Clubs" to keep children engaged throughout the day. If you want a night out on the town, reliable babysitting services are offered too. Here are the bes tthings to do with kids in Puerto Vallarta.

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A group of men dressed in red suspended from a central pole - Voladores de Papantla
The Voladores de Papantla put on a great show © Daniel Cardenas / Getty Images

Be entertained during a sunset walk on El Malécon

Puerto Vallarta’s Malécon is a lively boardwalk on the city’s main waterfront, and a popular place for a sunset stroll for locals and visitors alike. Stretching twelve city blocks, it’s dotted with fantastical bronze sculptures that kids play and pose on. Cart vendors sell grilled shrimp-on-a-stick (and hot dogs too) while artisans peddle whimsical trinkets. Street performers help keep crowds entertained – look for the Voladores de Papantla, a nod to an indigenous Totonac tradition where men, attached by ropes to a 20m-high pole, cast themselves from the top, gently "flying" in circles to the ground. Los Arcos amphitheater seals the deal for family fun, with free cultural performances throughout the year, including gaucho parades and mariachi festivals. 

Relax in the Plaza de Armas meeting place

The heart of Vallarta’s historic center, Plaza de Armas is a breezy central square, an oceanfront meeting place for locals of all ages. It’s a good spot for kids to run and play and for grown-ups to take a break – street snacks and ice-cream shops provide the fuel to get going again. On weekends, live music often inspires impromptu dancing – a slice of Vallarta life. 

A crowded beach scene with people walking the seafront or relaxing under palm-frond shades - Puerto Vallarta Beach
Make the most of all the beach activities at Playa de Muertos © BlokPhoto / Shutterstock

There are great activities for older kids at Playa de Muertos

Playa de Muertos is a vibrant city beach with thick golden sand, and casual restaurants that serve fried fish and other beach food at tables and chairs set up right on the sand. Older kids will love the activities, including banana boat rides, parasailing and jet skiing. And if you need a break from the sun and sand, the historic center is just steps away. Stay ‘til late to see the adjacent city pier illuminate its sailboat-like structure in dramatic lights.

Playa Conchas Chinas is perfect for families with small children

Just 3km (1.9 miles) south of downtown, Playa Conchas Chinas is a tiny cove with soft tawny sand and tranquil turquoise waters. It’s favored by families with small children for its shallow waters and sheltered pools. Snorkelers will enjoy exploring the burly rock reef while the beachcombers have a field day at the numerous tide pools. Full-time lifeguards are a major plus. 

Dolphins swimming in the ocean near the coastal town of Puerto Vallarta
Go on a tour with an ethical operator to see whales and dolphins © Faina Gurevich / Shutterstock

Take a boat tour to spot humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins

You just might earn that elusive "Best Parent in the World" badge after taking the kids on a whale or dolphin watching tour of Bahía de Banderas. From December to March, humpback whales migrate from Alaska to the warm waters of Puerto Vallarta to mate and bear calves. Boat excursions bring visitors close enough to feel the spray of water of these massive creatures spouting, slapping their fins on the surface, even leaping from the water – an unforgettable experience.

You won't see whales if you're visiting from April to November, but you're likely to spot playful bottlenose dolphins year-round. Some tour operators offer "wild dolphin snorkeling" tours – approach these with caution. Look for ethical providers who don't go chasing dolphin pods, ensure people keep their distance, and don't encourage touching. Check out Ecotours de México; run by enthusiastic naturalists, it puts a premium on low-impact tours.

Assist with the release of baby sea turtles 

Every year from July to December, thousands of olive ridley sea turtles hatch on the shores of Puerto Vallarta. The trek from their sand nests to the ocean’s edge, often just a few meters, can be a harrowing ordeal with predators circling above. Volunteering with well-known and respected research organizations to help these tiny sea turtles reach the ocean safely is a magical experience, likely to be popular with older children and teens. Releases occur at sunset and later, and often involve walking long distances on darkened beaches. Seek out the conservationist group Campamento Tortuguero Boca de Tomates to participate – the group’s staff biologists lead visitors during releases, and ask only for donations. 

A teenager crossing a suspended bridge towards a small city island
Cross the suspension bridges to the car-free Isla Rio Cuale © Marilyn Nieves / Getty Images

Find souvenirs at Isla Rio Cuale's crafts market

A leafy pedestrian-only island, Isla Rio Cuale is home to a colorful crafts market selling everything from Mexican wrestling masks and bobble heads to beaded works of Huichol art. It is perfect for souvenir-hunters of all sizes and tastes. An assortment of riverside cafes offer a mid-shopping break, while wide paths are good for strollers and running kids. Several bridges connect the island to the mainland – the hanging bridges are especially fun to bounce on (though not so fun for people with a fear of heights). Look for iguanas in the rubber trees! 

Explore the Sierra Madre mountains on horseback 

The Sierra Madre mountains form a verdant backdrop to Puerto Vallarta, and are fascinating and fun to explore, especially on horseback. Several tour operators offer guided excursions through the jungly mountains to cascading waterfalls, hidden rivers and lookout points (bring bathing suits); most trips are suitable for children and newbie riders. Rancho El Charro is highly recommended for its healthy horses and its half- and full-day trots into the mountains. Located just 12km (7 miles) northeast of town, it’s also provides a quick change of scenery – a treat for sure. 

Follow the trails through the lush Jardín Botánico de Vallarta

Set in the lush Sierra Madre mountains, Vallarta’s 64-acre botanical garden is a beautiful and soothing place for families to explore. Manicured paths and hiking trails wind through a spectacular array of native plants – orchids, bromeliads, agaves, wild palms and more. Kids will especially enjoy exploring the jungle trail, which leads to the tranquil shores of Río Horcones – a popular spot for a post-garden swim. Located just south of town, city buses and taxis provide easy transportation.

Things family travelers should know about Puerto Vallarta

Like everywhere, challenges exist in Puerto Vallarta. City sidewalks are often narrow and uneven, making them difficult to navigate with strollers. Public restrooms also are scarce – be on the lookout for restaurants with pay-to-use toilets. And tap water, while easy enough to avoid at meal times, can be tougher to manage during bath- and bedtime routines. 

This article was first published June 2021 and updated June 2022

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