Graced with golden sands and serene aqua-green shallows, Playa Palmares is one sweet strip of coastline. Hugging an undeveloped shore about 6km (4 miles) south of downtown Puerto Vallarta, eco-friendly Palmares flies the esteemed Blue Flag, meaning it complies with 33 criteria requiring the highest of standards in water quality, environmental management and safety. Onsite facilities and services include umbrella rentals, lifeguards, restrooms, public parking and wheelchair access to the beach. But the main draw, of course, is the clear swimmable waters that can be enjoyed without the crowds of the busy beaches in the city center.
Where to stay near Playa Palmares
Given its ecological focus and commitment to sustainable development, Playa Palmares has no accommodations. However, you’ll find numerous sleeping options within walking distance of the beach, most of the top-end variety, including a large resort hotel, vacation rentals and luxury villas (some big enough to house entire wedding parties). Hacienda Maria Elena, a tasteful colonial-style villa perched on a hillside jungle about 1km (a half-mile) south of Palmares, makes for an easy 10-minute walk to the beach and it’s one of the better deals in the area. Other nearby places are Garza Blanca, an upscale resort and spa set on a quiet beach, and sister property Mousai Hotel, a chic adults-only setup with a rooftop infinity pool overlooking the bay. Massive oceanside guesthouses in the area cater primarily to visitors traveling in groups. Budget-minded travelers will score the best digs in the city center and with Palmares’ close proximity to downtown, it’s just a short bus ride away.
Where to eat
Eating options in Palmares are somewhat limited, especially when compared to the wealth of choices in downtown Vallarta, but there’s just enough to nosh on to keep your tummy content. Several roadside stands sell fresh ceviche and chilled coconut water, while on the beach roving vendors hawk tasty grilled fish and shrimp on skewers. The beach’s only restaurant, the oceanfront Canto Palmares, features a menu with the usual suspects (fish tacos, burgers, grilled octopus and seafood tostadas), while the bar there prepares refreshing beer cocktails (micheladas) and mixed drink concoctions made with mezcal or tequila. The restaurant’s covered terrace not only allows you to beat the heat but also serves as the ideal late-afternoon spot to watch the sun disappear into the Pacific. For more eating options, you can always head 1km (a half-mile) south to the Garza Blanca resort and dine in one of several restaurants there, Covid protocols permitting.
How to get there
Orange-and-white buses marked “Boca de Tomatlán'' (M$10) depart frequently from the corner of Basilio Badillo and Constituyentes in downtown's Zona Romántica. When boarding the bus, tell the driver you want to hop off at the Playa Palmares stop. In a taxi, or a more affordable Uber, the one-way fare from the Centro costs about M$90 to M$130. If you have your own wheels, the beach has ample parking, a rare find along this stretch of coast. It’s possible to hoof it to Palmares from downtown but prepare yourself for a hot hour and 15-minute walk along the coastal highway.
Around Playa Palmares
If you’ve had your fill of swimming and lazing around on the beach, there are several noteworthy activities you can do in the area that will get you out and about. To explore the coast, rent a stand up paddleboard or a kayak on the beach and then paddle south along the aquamarine shoreline of Playa La Garza Blanca, or for something more challenging, head further south to the islets of Los Arcos, a wildlife-rich national park about 4km (2.5 miles) from Palmares.
Another fun activity takes you on a hike along a jungle trail that leads to cascading waterfalls with natural pools surrounded by large boulders. The trailhead lies just north of the Garza Blanca resort (look for the “Puente Palo Maria” sign on the coastal highway and follow the dirt path heading east). It’s a fairly easy hike to reach the first waterfall but reaching the more remote falls requires some rock climbing as you go higher up into the jungle. From Palmares, it’s about a 3km (2 mile) out-and-back hike to the Palo Maria waterfall.
Accessible transportation and mobility equipment
With designated wheelchair parking and a ramp to the beach, Palmares stands out as one of the most accessible beaches along Vallarta’s rugged southern coast. For people with disabilities, Beach Crossers has several lift vans available for daily transportation (US$40). It also rents amphibious wheelchairs, beach strollers and other mobility equipment. The open-air Canto Palmares restaurant provides a shady wheelchair-accessible terrace affording a view of the sparkling bay.