From the cobalt sweep of Banderas Bay to the cobblestone streets and rose-hued terraces of Old Town’s Zona Romántica, Puerto Vallarta retains much of the allure that first drew Hollywood stars and beatniks here to sip tequila and stroll the malecón back in the 1950s. It’s at once the most sophisticated and yet the coziest of the major Pacific beach destinations, with a walkable downtown, noteworthy food and nightlife scenes, and self-contained neighbourhoods and hotel zones packed with plenty to keep you busy.

1. Go horseback riding to a waterfall with Puerto Vallarta Tours

Ride horses at Rancho Capomo, where guides from Puerto Vallarta Tours lead you along the rocky shore—and through numerous fordings—of the Las Palmas River to the El Salto waterfall, discovered, so the story goes, by a vaquero searching for a lost cow. Wash away the dust of the ride with a cool dip at the base of the falls before a return ride to a hearty lunch.

2. Eat seafood at Mariscos El Guero

Sitting in a spacious corner location in Old Vallarta is Mariscos El Guero, where house specialties like green chiles stuffed with smoked marlin and the freshest fried shrimp tacos around attest to the fact that the town’s bustling fish market is just steps away. Don’t leave without trying gorro, a scallop-like sea snail prized by locals for its buttery-rich flavour.

3. Wander the Vallarta Botanical Garden

More a nature preserve for plants than a groomed garden, the Vallarta Botanical Garden offers a wild and fragrant foray into the native flowers, trees, vines and shrubs that colour the foothills of the Sierra Madre so vividly. Follow an extensive network of trails to the river, where there are secluded spots to wade and watch darting hummingbirds and flycatchers. Insect repellent is a must.

Vallarta Botanical Garden, photo courtesy of Vallarta Adventures

Vallarta Botanical Garden, photo courtesy of Vallarta Adventures

4. Taste the local flavours with Vallarta Eats Food Tours

Puerto Vallarta is known for its culinary offerings, and an outing with Vallarta Eats Food Tours will get you familiar with local specialties in no time. Sample fresh tortillas and visit the factory that makes them on the Signature Taco tour, or take the Mole Pozole tour, highlighting two regional favourites. Can’t choose? Opt for the variety-rich Tasting Vallarta tour.

5. Go to a hidden beach on the Marieta Islands

Once used as bombing targets and almost destroyed, the Marieta Islands, just outside Banderas Bay, have recovered to become a premiere wildlife destination, protected by UNESCO due to the presence of many rare bird species. Don’t miss “Hidden Beach” (note: access is tide and weather dependent).

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[This story appears in the November 2016 issue of WestJet Magazine]