Puerto Vallarta lies at the centre of the Bahía de Banderas, prime beach territory easily explored via rental car, or with more time, public bus and water taxi. Indeed, for the more peaceful and scenic beaches further south – Playa Las Animas and Yelapa are the most appealing – a boat is the only means of access.
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To the north, over the state line in Nayarit, the bay arcs out to Punta de Mita, some 30km away. A summer preserve for Guadalajarans and a winter retreat for motorhome vacationers from the north, these gorgeous beaches offer facilities in just a few spots – Nuevo Vallarta, Bucerías and Punta de Mita – leaving many kilometres of secluded sand for camping and some excellent surf breaks.
From the beach at Mismaloya boats are on hand to take you snorkelling at Los Arcos, a magical underwater park around a group of offshore islands, some creating the eponymous arches. A superb array of brightly coloured fish – parrot, angel, pencil, croaker and scores of others – negotiate the deep rock walls and the boulder-strewn ocean floor. In addition to ninety-minute trips from the beach, boats are rented to groups for unlimited periods. Operators usually charge M$250 for basic snorkelling trips.
PV zip lines (or "canopy tours")
PV boasts two zip lines (aka “canopy tours”) competing for your pesos. The oldest is Los Veranos Canopy Tour (322 223 6060), in the small village of Las Juntas y Los Veranos, above Boca de Tomatlán. This is a series of fourteen exhilarating zip lines along cables up to 60m high and 335m long over the Río Orquídeas; zip past coffee trees, vanilla vines and agave plants.
Competition is supplied by Canopy River (322 222 0560), twelve higher zip lines (200m) including the longest in Mexico (420m), a small river beach in the jungle and transportation to the site.
Zona Pacífico time
If you travel north of Puerto Vallarta you need to put your watch back one hour: Nuevo Vallarta, Bucerías, Punta de Mita and Sayulita officially lie within the Zona Pacífico (Pacific Zone), the equivalent of Canadian and US Mountain Time, which starts at the Jalisco/Nayarit state border, just north of Puerto Vallarta’s airport. However, because Nuevo Vallarta, Bucerías and Punta de Mita are so close to PV, most businesses work on Zona Central (US Central) times; Sayulita officially changed to Central time in 2011. If you are given a time followed by the word Jalisco, it means Zona Central; if followed by Nayarit, it is Zona Pacífico time.