Puerto Vallarta Botanical Garden.

© Francisco J Ramos Gallego / Shutterstock

Jardín Botánico de Vallarta

Top choice in Puerto Vallarta

For a change of scenery from the beach, head for the tropical highlands of the Sierra Madre mountains and wander the well-curated Jardín Botánico de Vallarta (Vallarta Botanical Gardens), home to one of Mexico's most extensive orchid collections and a fascinating variety of native plants and birds.

After strolling through wooded grounds colored with bromeliads, succulents and brilliant hummingbirds, make your way down a jungle trail to the tranquil shores of Río Horcones, where you can cap off the visit with a refreshing dip in a boulder-strewn river. 

Things to do

Nature enthusiasts come from far and wide to feast their eyes on the garden’s colorful collection of native orchids, which can be seen flowering along landscaped pathways and inside a large conservatory. Among the scores of orchid species is Mexican vanilla accompanied by displays explaining how the coveted spice is made. 

You’ll also come across a fair share of cacao trees and learn a thing or two about chocolate, which has been produced in Mexico for thousands of years and played an important role in pre-Hispanic rituals. Visitors can also get an up-close look at the state of Jalisco’s signature blue agave, aka agave tequilana, the base ingredient for making tequila. 

For a guided tour of the grounds you can book a six-hour nature-and-culinary outing on the garden’s website. It includes round-trip transportation, entrance fee, lunch at the onsite restaurant and a demonstration on how to make vanilla extract. The website also lists upcoming events at the botanical garden, such as flower and garden shows, birding fests and gatherings with a food or drink tie-in. 

If you get hungry, once inside the only option is the onsite restaurant Hacienda de Oro. The pleasant open-air restaurant and bar serves breakfast dishes, fish tacos and gringo-friendly fare such as burgers and brick-oven pizza; no outside food or beverages are allowed. Alternatively, on the way back to Puerto Vallarta you can grab a late lunch at a waterfront seafood restaurant in Boca de Tomatlán, a fishing village just 8km (5 miles) north of the garden.

Journey into Jalisco – Mexico’s heartland

History of Jardín Botánico de Vallarta

The botanical gardens opened to the public in 2005 to support plant conservation, public education programs and horticulture for native and exotic plants. Formerly a large cattle ranch with overgrazed lands, the property was subsequently reforested with numerous pine, oak and mahogany trees. Today the nature preserve covers some 33 hectares (81 acres) and in addition to its renowned gardens and orchid house, it also features extensive hiking trails and a vitro propagation lab. Founded and curated by Savannah, Georgia transplant Robert Price, the nonprofit receives its funding from donations, admissions and proceeds from the restaurant and store. 

Practicalities and tips

The garden accepts most major credit cards, however, it’s always a good idea to carry cash just in case. Admission is M$200 per person and children under four enter for free. Don’t forget to pack a bathing suit and towel if you’re up for a swim in the river, which swells to its most swimmable level during the rainy season from June to October. Bring insect repellent (or purchase it at the gate) and wear appropriate shoes to hit the hiking trails. The garden closes on Monday throughout most of the year but stays open daily during peak season from December to April. The restaurant area has Wi-Fi.

When to go to Puerto Vallarta

Getting there

To reach the Jardín Botanico by car, from downtown drive about 30km (19 miles) south along Hwy 200; it’s an easy 35-minute ride. If you’re taking a taxi or a more affordable Uber, expect to pay a one-way fare of M$370 to M$450 from the city center. For the cheapest option, buses marked “El Tuito” (M$35) depart every half hour or so from the corner of Carranza and Aguacate, in the Zona Romántica. 

Around the botanical gardens

On your return to Puerto Vallarta, make the most out of the trip with a stop in the fishing village of Boca de Tomatlán, where you can enjoy a late lunch or access a coastal hiking trail that leads to a string of secluded coves and beaches. The scenic Colomitos cove is just a short hike away and the seafood restaurant Ocean Grill affords sweet bayside views. If you're up for seeing more of the inviting emerald coastline, it’s possible to walk as far west as Playa Quimixto

Another option would be to stop 5km (3 miles) east of Boca de Tomatlán in Mismaloya, where director John Huston famously shot his classic drama The Night of the Iguana. A colossal resort dominates Mismaloya’s scenic cove but it makes for a good jumping-off point to visit the nearby islets of Los Arcos, a wildlife-rich snorkeling and diving site that can be reached by motorboat, kayak or stand up paddleboard. 

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