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ATV and Dune-Buggy Tours

Increasingly, ATV, dune buggy, and jeep tours are heading for the hills around Puerto Vallarta. Most rides are to small communities, ranches, and rivers north, south, and east of town. Sharing a vehicle with a partner means significant savings.

Logistics

You need a valid driver's license and a major credit card. Wear lightweight long pants, sturdy shoes, a bandanna (some operators provide one as a keepsake), and/or tight-fitting hat, sunglasses, and both sunscreen and mosquito repellent. In rainy season (July–October) it's hot and wet—ideal for splashing through puddles and streams; the rest of the year is cooler and dustier. In either season, prepare to get dirty. Three- to four-hour tours run $80–$120; full-day trips to San Sebastián cost about $165 for one rider or $175 for two.

If you plan to gulp rather than sip on a tequila-tasting tour, please strongly consider riding two per ATV and designating one person as the day's driver. Doubling up is usually also the bargain rental option.

Outfitters

Adventure ATV Jungle Treks. This company leads daily ATV tours ($75 to 165$) that head into the hills behind Vallarta, Sayulita or beyond. Those that stop at Rancho Las Pilas include a brief tequila-making tour and tasting, but lunch there is optional and not included in the price. A four-hour tour combines this ATV trek with a canopy tour through River Canopy, along the Cuale River ($135 for one rider, $190 for two). Dune buggies and Polaris RZR tours are also available, and now there is also a convenient branch in Bucerias if you're based in Nuevo Vallarta or Bucerias itself. Calle Basilio Badillo 400, Zona Romántica, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48380. 322/222-8944. www.wildtreksadventures.com/.

Bird Watching

Although there aren't many dedicated birding operators here, this region is perfect for the pastime. Vallarta has more than 350 species in a wide variety of habitats, including shoreline, rivers, marshes, lagoons, mangroves, and tropical and evergreen forests. In the mangroves, standouts are the great blue heron, mangrove cuckoo, and vireo. Ocean and shorebirds include brown and blue-footed boobies and red-billed tropic birds. Military macaws patrol the thorn forests, and songbirds of all stripes serenade the pine-oak forests at higher elevations.

Logistics

Most people come on trips through birding clubs or organizations or hire a private birding guide. Outfitters charge $50–$60 for half-day tours and $100–$125 for full-day tours.

Outfitters

Wings. It's a Tucson, Arizona–based operator that leads at least one weeklong tour each year to the mangroves and tropical forest around San Blas, Jalisco, and Colima. Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. 520/320–9868; 888/293–6443 in U.S. and Canada. www.wingsbirds.com..

Canopy Tours

Canopy tours are high-octane thrill rides during which you "fly" from treetop to treetop, securely fastened to a zip line. Despite the inherent danger of dangling from a cable hundreds of feet off the ground, the operators we list have excellent safety records. If you're brave, bring your camera to take photos while zipping along; just be sure the neck strap is long enough to leave your hands free (some tours may not allow photography because they provide their own photos—at a price).

Logistics

Check with each operator regarding maximum weight (usually 250 pounds) and minimum ages for kids. Don't take a tour when rain threatens. A thunderstorm isn't the time to hang out near trees attached to metal cables, and rain makes the activity scary to say the least. During the rainy season, you can usually count on generally sunny weather in the mornings and early afternoons.

Outfitters

Canopy El Edén. The daily trips to the spirited Mismaloya River and an adjacent restaurant are 3½-hour adventures ($81) that depart from the downtown office. You zip along 10 lines through the trees and above the river. To take full advantage of the lovely setting and good restaurant, take the first tour (departures are weekdays at 9, 10, 11, noon, 1:30, and 2:30—sometimes less frequently in low season), and bring your swimsuit. The schedule includes about an hour to spend at the river, spa, or restaurant. If you wish to stay longer and there's room, you can return to Vallarta with a later group; otherwise take a taxi or ask the restaurant staff for a lift to the highway, where buses frequently pass. Office: Plaza Romy, Calle I. Vallarta 228, Interior 1, Zona Romántica, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48380. 322/222–2516. www.canopyeleden.com.

Canopy Tour de Los Veranos. Los Veranos was the first canopy tour company to establish itself here and has extended the number of services it offers, now including ATV and city tours as combos. After the descent you may want to enjoy its restaurant, sip some tequila or go on a fantastic nature hike. Canopy tours start at 67 USD (web) and the post tour trek along Freddy's trail is free. Office:, Calle Francisca Rodríguez 336, Zona Romántica, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48380. 322/223–0504; 619/955-6993 from U.S.; 877/563-4113 Toll free US and Canada. www.canopytours-vallarta.com..

Rancho Mi Chaparrita. On his family ranch, Luis Verdin runs a 13-zip-line tour ($79) and horseback riding trips ($30 per hour), or combine the two, accessing the ranch on Señor Verdin's lively, healthy horses via the beach and backcountry for a complete adventure (100 USD). The company rents boogie boards, surfboards, and paddleboards, gives surfing lessons, offers snorkeling, sportfishing and whale- or wildlife-watching excursions around the Marietas Islands. Manuel Rodriguez Sanchez 14, Riviera Nayarit, Sayulita, Nayarit, 63732. 329/291–3112. www.michaparrita.com.

Vallarta Adventures. Possibly Vallarta's most famous and popular adventure tour operator, Vallarta Adventures has something exciting for everyone: adrenalin pumping canopy tours in the jungle, spectacular whale watching in winter, romantic sunset sailing tours for adults, themed dinner shows for families, and many more. Safety is taken very seriously, and all tours are guided in English and Spanish (when necessary) by a very friendly and entertaining staff. Av. Las Palmas, 39, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, 63735. 322/297–1212 in Nuevo Vallarta; 322/221–1477 in Marina Vallarta; 888/526–2238 from U.S. and Canada. www.vallarta-adventures.com.

Cruises

Daytime bay cruises generally begin with a quick jaunt to Los Arcos Underwater Preserve, off Mismaloya Beach. There's about a half hour for snorkeling or swimming—sometimes with legions of little jellyfish in addition to the turtles that feed on them. Cruises then proceed to Yelapa, Quimixto, or Playa las Animas, or to Islas Marietas for whale-watching (in winter), snorkeling, swimming, and lunch. Horseback riding is usually available at an additional cost (about $15).

There are plenty of tours available; our list contains some of the most popular and professional.

Logistics

Buy your ticket from licensed vendors along the boardwalk at Los Muertos Beach, online, or through area tour operators. Prices are fluid; like car salespeople, the ticket sellers give discounts or jack up the price as the market allows. Full-day booze cruises cost about $40–$55 per person, including open bar, Continental breakfast, snacks, and snorkeling and/or kayaks. Three-hour sunset cruises with access to an open bar cost about $85 per person. Dinner cruises start at $85.

Outfitters

Boana Hot Springs. Boana Hot Springs offers a twice-weekly romantic hot spring tour ($75). Included are transportation, a candlelight dinner, and open bar. In high season tours operate Tuesday and Friday, leaving at 4:45 pm and returning to PV at midnight. To hold a spot, make a deposit in person at Boana's office in Boana Torre Malibu, behind Blue Chairs on Highway 200 just south of the Romantic Zone. Boana Torre Malibu Condo-Hotel, Calle Amapas 325, Col. E. Zapata, Zona Romántica, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48399. 322/222–0999. www.boana.net.

Diana's Gay Cruise. Diana's Gay Cruise is a booze-and-beach cruise (Thursdays and most Fridays in high season) popular with lesbians and gays. Straights are also welcome, but minors are not. Go for the swimming, snorkeling, and lunch on the beach at Las Animas or another area beach, or for the unlimited national-brand beers and mixed drinks. Most of the time is spent on the boat. It's easiest to reserve tickets ($80) online using PayPal. Private tours are also available. Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. 322/222–1510 in PV; 866/514–7969 in U.S. for reservations. www.dianastours.com.

Marigalante. A true sailing vessel that has circumnavigated the world more than once, the Marigalante has a pirate crew that keeps things hopping for kids and teens with games, snorkeling, kayaking, or banana-boat rides during a seven-hour day cruise. The five-hour dinner cruise, with open bar, snacks, and pre-Hispanic show, is for adults only and has some bawdy pirate humor. Women who don't want to be "kidnapped" may prefer the day cruise or another operator. Both tours cost $85 for adults and about half that for kids under 12. Buy tickets online at a discount or from licensed vendors in town. The boat embarks from Terminal Marítima, across from Sam's Club on Boulevard Francisco M. Ascencio, in Marina Vallarta. Av. Politecnico Nacional 78 Int 304, Marina Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48338. 322/223–0309; 322/223–0875; 866/915–0361 from the U.S.; 866/954–5984 from Canada. www.barcopiratavallarta.com.

Dolphin Encounters

Many folks find the idea of captive dolphins disturbing; others cherish the opportunity to interact with these intelligent creatures that communicate through body language as well as an audible code we humans have yet to decipher. Decide whether you support the idea of captive-dolphin encounters, and act accordingly. Listed below are operators with captive dolphin programs as well as one that has an open-ocean encounter. As these gregarious mammals are fond of bow-surfing, many bay-tripping boats will encounter dolphins as they motor along, providing more opportunities to see dolphins as well as leaping manta rays and other sea life.

Logistics

Dolphins are abundant in the bay year-round, though not 24/7. Dolphin encounters limit the number of humans per encounter and usually allow just two visits a day. Call before you arrive or early in your stay to book.

Outfitters

Aquaventures Park. Kids can plummet down one of 10 enormous waterslides, play on playground equipment, and indulge in junk food at the obligatory snack shops while their parents swim or relax around the pool. On the property are the dolphin and sea-lion discovery adventures. Carretera a Tepic, Km 155, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, 63732. 322/297–0724. $18. Tues.–Sun. 10–5.

Dolphin and Sea Lion Discovery. For both the Dolphin Encounter ($79) and the Dolphin Swim ($99) at Dolphin Discovery in the Sea Life Park you spend about 30 of the 45-minute experience in the water interacting with dolphins. In the Royal Dolphin Swim ($149), you still get only 30 minutes in the pool, but, with a higher ratio of cetaceans to humans, you get more face time. It's an expensive outing, and the memento photos really jack up the price (you're not allowed to take your own snaps, and they photograph each family member individually). To get the most bang for your buck, plan to spend the day at the water park. The entrance fee of $18/$14 for adults/kids to Aquaventures Park is included with dolphin program. Aquaventures Park, Carretera a Tepic, Km 155, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, 63732. 322/297–0724; 866/393–5158 in U.S.; 866/793–1905 in Canada. www.aquaventuras.com..

Wildlife Connection. This Mexican-owned company uses two-motor skiffs equipped with listening equipment to find pods of dolphins in the wild blue sea. You can then jump in the water to swim with these beautiful creatures in their own environment. The most common destination is around the Marietas Islands. The cost is $76 per person for a three- to four-hour tour; tours are conducted April through December only. There's no guarantee, however, that the dolphins will stick around for the fun. There's also a combined tour ($80 per person) searching for both whales and dolphins between December and March only. Calle Francia 140, Dpto. 7, Marina Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48310. 322/225–3621.

Caution

Several organizations, including Greenpeace, the Humane Society (U.S.), and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, have spoken out against captive dolphin encounters, asserting that some water parks get dolphins from restricted areas and that the confined conditions at some parks put the dolphins' health at risk. Consider putting the $100-plus fee toward a snorkeling, whale-watching, or noncaptive dolphin encounter, where you can see marine life in its natural environment.

Fishing

Sportfishing is excellent off Puerto Vallarta, and fisherfolk have landed monster marlin well over 500 pounds. Surf-casting from shore nets snook, roosters, and jack crevalles. Hire a panga (skiff) to hunt for Spanish mackerel, sea bass, amberjack, snapper, bonito, and roosterfish on full- or half-day trips within the bay. Pangas can be hired in the traditional fishing villages of Mismaloya and Boca de Tomatlán, just south of town; in the Costalegre towns of La Manzanilla and Barra de Navidad; and in the north, at El Anclote and Nuevo Corral del Risco, Punta Mita.

Yachts are best for big-game fishing: yellowfin tuna; blue, striped, and black marlin; and dorado. Hire them for four to ten hours, or overnight. Catch-and-release of billfish is encouraged. If you don't want to charter a boat, you can also join a party boat. Most sport-fishing yachts are based at Marina Vallarta; only a few call the marina at Paradise Village, in Nuevo Vallarta, home. The resort hotels of Costalegre and Punta Mita arrange fishing excursions for their guests. Bass fishing at Cajón de Peña, about 1½ hours south of Vallarta, nets 10-pounders on a good day.

Logistics

Most captains and crews are thoroughly bilingual, at least when it comes to boating and fishing.

Licenses

Licenses are required; however, a new set of regulations requires anglers to buy their fishing licenses ahead of time via a confusing online bank-deposit system. Since boat owners are the ones (heavily) fined if there are unlicensed anglers aboard, you can leave it to the captain to make the necessary arrangements.

Prices

Prices generally hover around $600–$650 for six hours, $600–$800 for eight hours, and $1,000–$1,200 for a 10-hour trip. A longer trip is recommended for chasing the big guys, as you can go to prime fishing grounds like El Banco and Corbeteña. Pangas usually accommodate up to six clients and yachts hold four to ten people. Party boats start at $140 per person for an eight-hour day. Drinking water is generally included in the price. Box lunches and beer or soda may be sold separately or included; sometimes it's BYOB. Pangas and superpangas, the latter with shade and a head of some sort, charge $200–$300 for four hours. You'll obviously save lots of money by going with the local guys in their often fast, but not luxurious, pangas.

Outfitters

CharterDreams. Although most fisherfolk choose to leave around the smack of dawn, you set your own itinerary with this company. Excursions range from trips with one to three people for bass fishing to cruises with up to 12 people aboard luxury yachts. CharterDreams also offers whale-watching and private sailing, sightseeing, or snorkeling tours. Marina Las Palmas II, Locales 1, Marina Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48354. 322/221-0690. www.charterdreams.com..

Fishing with Carolina. This Canadian expat has been sending out anglers for 25 years. Fishing tours last 4 to 8 hours and they recently upgraded their boat to a newer and better 30ft powerboat. Whale watching and snorkeling tours are also available. Terminal Marítima, Los Peines Pier, Marina Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48333. 322/109-4094. www.fishingwithcarolina.com..

Gerardo Kosonoy. For fishing excursions in and around Barra de Navidad, at the southern end of the Costalegre, contact Sr. Kosonoy. He speaks excellent English and has low hourly rates. Alternatively, you can round up another fisherman with a panga from one of the two large fishing co-ops on the lagoon side of town. There's usually at least one representative hoping for clients at the water-taxi dock. Gerardo and his compadres charge 500 pesos (just shy of $30 at this writing) per hour for one to four passengers or 3000MXN for 7 hours. There's a three-hour minimum. For fishing close to the shore, the price can be split among up to six anglers. Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. 315/355–5739; 315/354–2251 cell. .

Mismaloya Divers. Do you remember the seductive-looking divers in Night of the Iguana? Well, their progeny might be among the local staffers at this outfitting company. Panga trips here go for $200 for four hours, a bit more for longer trips, and can include anything from whale-watching to fishing to night-diving. Av Paseo del Rio 125, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 49421. 322/228–0020. www.mismaloyadivers.com.

Vallarta Tour and Travel. Captain Peter Vines can accommodate eight fisherfolk with top-of-the-line equipment, including the latest electronics, sonar, radar, and two radios. Rates are reasonable (four hours $400, six hours $500, eight hours $600, 12 hours $800). Transportation from your hotel is included in the full-day bass-fishing expedition to Cajón de Peña; clients should call a couple weeks ahead to schedule this trip to make sure the bass are running. Marina Las Palmas II, Local 4, in front of Dock B, Marina Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48354. 322/294–6240 cell; 877/301–2058 from U.S. and Canada.

Seasonal Catches

Sailfish and dorado are abundant practically year-round (though dorado drop out a bit in early summer and sailfish dip slightly in spring).

Winter: bonito, dorado, jack crevalle, sailfish, striped marlin, wahoo

Spring: amberjack, jack crevalle, grouper, mackerel, red snapper

Summer: grouper, roosterfish, yellowfin tuna

Fall: black marlin, blue marlin, sailfish, striped marlin, yellowfin tuna, wahoo

Golf

"Not a bad mango in the bunch" is how one golf aficionado described Puerto Vallarta's courses. From the two courses at Four Seasons Punta Mita (prohibitively expensive for those not staying at the hotel) to the Gran Bay at Barra de Navidad, the region is a close second to Los Cabos in variety of play at a range of prices. Well-known designers are represented, including Jack Nicklaus and Tim Weiskopf.

Logistics

Most of these courses offer first-class services including driving ranges and putting greens, lessons, clinics, pro shops, and clubhouses.

Courses

Puerto Vallarta

Marina Vallarta. Joe Finger designed this 18-hole course; the $135 greens fee includes practice balls, tax, and a shared cart. It's the area's second-oldest course and is closest and most convenient for golfers staying in the Hotel Zone, downtown Puerto Vallarta, and Marina Vallarta. Although it's very flat, it's far more challenging than it looks, with lots of water hazards. Speaking of hazards, the alligators have a way of blending into the scenery. They might surprise you, but they supposedly don't bite. Go to the course's website to find hotels participating in their "Stay and Play" golf packages. Paseo de la Marina s/n, Marina Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48354. 322/221–0545 or 322/221–0073. www.clubcorp.com/Clubs/Marina-Vallarta-Club-de-Golf.

Vista Vallarta. Some of the best views in the area belong to the aptly named Vista Vallarta. There are 18 holes designed by Jack Nicklaus and another 18 by Tom Weiskopf. The greens fee for the course, which is a few miles northwest of the Marina Vallarta area, is $204. A shared cart and tax are included. Circuito Universidad 653, El Centro, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48290. 322/290–0030. www.vistavallartagolf.com.

Nuevo Vallarta to Bucerías

El Tigre. This 18-hole course with 12 water features is at the Paradise Village hotel and condo complex. The greens fee of $180 includes a shared cart, bottled water, practice balls, and cold towels. After 2 pm it's $116. Don't be surprised if you see a guy driving around with tiger cubs in his truck: the course's namesake animals, tigers, are a passion of the club's director, Phil Woodrum. Paseo las Garzas, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, 63732. 322/226–8190; 866/843–5951 from U.S.; 800/214–7758 from Canada. www.eltigregolf.com.

Four Seasons Punta Mita. Nonguests are permitted to play the 195-acre, par-72, Jack Nicklaus–designed Pacífico course; however, they must pay the hotel's day use fee of 50% of the room rate (approximately $300 plus 28% tax and service charge), which covers use of a guest room and hotel facilities until dark. Reservations are essential. The green's fee is $240, including tax and the golf cart. The club's claim to fame is that it has perhaps the only natural island green in golf. Drive your cart to it at low tide; otherwise hop aboard a special amphibious vessel (weather permitting) to cross the water. There are seven other oceanfront links. Opened in 2009, the Bahía is another stunning 18-hole course. It has more undulating fairways and greens than the first course, but similarly spectacular ocean views—and a high price tag. Punta Mita, Riviera Nayarit, Punta Mita, Nayarit, 63734. 329/291–6000. www.fourseasons.com/es/puntamita/golf/.

Los Flamingos Country Club. Designed by Percy Clifford in 1978, PV's original course has been totally renovated. The 18-hole course in Los Flamingos development, at the northern extremity of Nuevo Vallarta, has new irrigation and sprinkler systems to maintain the rejuvenated greens. The high-season green's fee is $149, including a shared cart, tax, a bottle of water, and a bucket of balls. Carretera 200, Km 145, 12 km (8 mi) north of airport, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, 48300. 329/296–5006. www.flamingosgolf.com.mx.

Nayar Golf Course at Mayan Palace. This par 70, nearly-7,000-yard course is a natural and technical masterpiece. The course features conditions to fit every player, and was recently redesigned by the celebrated group Nicklaus Design. It's challenging because of the constant, strong crosswinds coming off the ocean. Spotting iguanas is part of the fun and you can keep an eye on the crocodiles sunning in a neighboring sanctuary. The full 18-hole course runs at $195. The fee includes cart rental, taxes, use of the practice range, and return transportation to your hotel. Twilight fees (after 1 pm) cost $145. Paseo de las Moras s/n, Fracc. Naútico Turístico, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, 63735. 322/226–4000 Ext. 4600. www.vidantagolf.com/nuevo-vallarta.

Costalegre

El Tamarindo. About two hours south of Vallarta on the Costalegre is one of the area's best courses. At least six of the holes play along the ocean; some are cliff-side holes with fabulous views, while others go right down to the beach. On a slow day, golfers are encouraged at tee time to have a swim or a picnic on the beach during their round, or to play a hole a second time if they wish. Designed by David Fleming, the breathtaking course is the playground of birds, deer, and other wildlife. It's an awesome feeling to nail the course's most challenging hole, the 9th: a par 3 with a small green surrounded by bunkers. The greens fee is $240, including cart and tax. Resort guests get priority for tee times; call up to a week ahead to check availability. Carretera Melaque–Puerto Vallarta, Carretera 200, Km 7.5, Costalegre, Cihuatlán, Jalisco, 48970. 315/351–5032 Ext. 113.

Hiking

The coastal fringe and the hills behind Vallarta—with streams and rivers heading down from the mountains—are beautiful areas for exploring, but few tour operators have hiking and walking trips. If you plan an impromptu exploration, it's best to take along a local familiar with the area.

Logistics

Some of the biking tour operators will lead hiking outings as well, if you ask.

Outfitters

Ecotours. Its three-hour hike around El Nogalito River ($60) includes a pit stop at a rocky, waterfall-fed pool for a dip. En route to either you'll see a small number of birds, butterflies, and tropical plants. Ignacio L. Vallarta 243, Zona Romántica, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48380. 322/223–3130 or 322/222–6606. www.ecotoursvallarta.com..

Horseback Riding

Most of the horseback-riding outfits are based on family ranches in the foothill towns of the Sierra Madre, such as Las Palmas. Horses are permitted on the beach in smaller towns like Sayulita and San Francisco, but not in Vallarta proper, so expect to ride into the hills.

Logistics

Outfitters pick you up either from the hotel or strategic locations north and south of town and return you to your hotel or to the pickup point. Short rides depart morning and afternoon, while longer rides are generally in the morning only, at least in winter, when the sun sets earlier.

Ask at the beachfront restaurants of tiny towns like Yelapa, Quimixto, and Las Animas, south of PV, to hook up with horses for treks into the jungle. Horses are generally well cared for; some are exceptionally fit and frolicky.

Outfitters

Boana Tours. Three-hour, $45 horseback adventures with Boana Tours include one-way transportation to a ranch outside the city, a little more than an hour on a horse, a snack, and two drinks. You can take a swim in the river before returning on your own to PV. Daily tours at 9:15 am and 2:15 pm. Torre Malibu, Carretera a Mismaloya, Zona Romántica, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48399. 322/222–0999. www.boana.net.

Club de Polo Costa Careyes. Though the trail rides here are expensive at $100 for 45 minutes, you know you're getting an exceptional mount. Trips leave in early morning or around sunset. Km 53.5, Carretera 200, Carretera a Barra de Navidad, Careyes, Jalisco, 48983. 315/351–0320.

Rancho El Charro. Rancho Charro provides transportation to and from your hotel for rides to rivers and waterfalls. Choices include three-hour ($62), five-hour ($82), two different trails for average or experienced riders), and all-day rides ($120). Calle Vicente Guerrero 99, El Centro, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. 322/224–0114. www.ranchoelcharro.com..

Rancho Manolo. The friendly folks at this family-owned property take you into the mountains they know so well. The usual tour is to El Edén, the restaurant-and-river property where the movie Predator was filmed. The three-hour trip includes about an hour each way on horseback, with an additional hour for a meal, which is not included, or for splashing in the river. The cost is just $30—definitely a good deal. Km 12, Carretera 200, at Mismaloya Bridge, South of Puerto Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48934. 322/228–0018.

Rancho Mi Chaparrita. This ranch has very nice, healthy horses willing to run (or walk, if you ask them politely). Ride on the beach, in the tropical forest, or a combination of the two for $25 an hour. There's a four-hour horse ride ($85) up to Monkey Mountain, with a short break at the top for photo ops and a stretch. Manuel Rodriguez Sanchez 14, Sayulita, Nayarit, 63732. 329/291–3112. www.michaparrita.com.

Art Adventure

The owners of Galeria Arte 550 (322/222–7365 www.yourcreativeawakening.com) offer unique tours combining art and adventure. Visits to the mountains and the botanical gardens, whale-watching trips, or other activities provide a springboard for journal drawing and artistic expression in clay, tile-decorating, or other media. Students can arrange their own accommodations or book a package at the new B&B House of Wind and Water : lovely lodgings in a neighborhood most tourists never see, along the Cuale River on the east side of Highway 200.

Kayaking

Except on calm, glassy days, the open ocean is really too rough for enjoyable kayaking unless you’re based in the southern end of the bay, and the few kayaking outfitters there mainly offer this activity in combination with snorkeling, dolphin-watching, or boating excursions to area beaches. The best places for kayaking-and-birding combos are the mangroves, estuaries, large bays, and islands off the Costalegre coast, south of Puerto Vallarta.

Logistics

Many of the larger beachfront hotels rent or loan sea kayaks to their guests. Double kayaks are easier on the arms than single kayaks. Since the wind usually picks up in the afternoon, morning is generally the best time to paddle. Stick to coves if you want to avoid energy-draining chop and big waves. Kayaks range from $10 to $15 an hour or $27 to $35 per day. All-inclusive hotels like Dreams, just south of Puerto Vallarta, usually don't charge their guests for kayaks.

Mountain Biking

Although the tropical climate makes it hot for biking, the Puerto Vallarta area is lovely and has challenging and varied terrain. Aim for the relatively cooler months of November through mid-April. A few operators lead rides up river valleys to Yelapa and from the old mining town of San Sebastián (reached via plane; included in price), high in the Sierra, back to Vallarta. It's about 45 km (28 miles) of twisty downhill. Should this be too tough you may want to rent a bike and participate on the Wednesday night rides instead, when the main road is closed to cars and even full families can enjoy the cooler night safely.

In the rainy season, showers are mainly in the late afternoon and evening, so bike tours can take place year-round. In summer and fall rivers and waterfalls are voluptuous and breathtaking. A popular ending point for rides into the foothills, they offer a place to rest, rinse off (there's lots of mud), and have a snack or meal. In dry season, it's relatively cooler and less humid. The very best months for biking are December through February: the weather is coolest, and the vegetation, rivers, and waterfalls are still reasonably lush after the end of the rainy season in October.

Logistics

Four- to five-hour rides average $35 to $45; trips to Yelapa cost $110 and up. The ride down from San Sebastián goes for around $150. Rides of more than a half-day include lunch, and all include helmets, gloves, and bikes.

Outfitters

Eco Ride. A few streets behind Vallarta's cathedral, Eco Ride caters to intermediate and expert cyclists. Most rides start at the shop and go up the Río Cuale, passing some hamlets along single tracks and dirt roads. A few rides include time at local swimming holes; the Yelapa ride ($115) starts in El Tuito, about an hour south of PV (you get there by vehicle), and enjoys some magnificent scenery—with two 10-km (6-mi) uphills and a 20-km (12-mi) downhill—returns by boat after lunch on the beach. If cycling is not your thing, no worries: they now also offer hiking tours. Calle Miramar 382, El Centro, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48300. 322/222–7912. www.ecoridemex.com.

Multisport Tours

Ecotours. A PV–based operator (with the main office at Marina Vallarta) whose offerings include hiking, diving, snorkeling, kayaking, bird-watching, whale-watching, and turtle tours. Proa 20, Marina Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48335. 322/209-2195. www.ecotoursvallarta.com.

Puerto Vallarta Tours. This company offers tours that are available from other area operators, but we recommend it for its all-in-one website, English-speaking operators and crew, and the convenience factor: through this one operator, you can book everything from canopy tours, ATVs, deep-sea fishing, and mountain biking to cruise tours, cultural tours, and bullfighting. El Centro, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. 322/222–4935; 866/217–9704 Toll free USA; 866/464–6205 Toll free Canada. www.puertovallartatours.net.

Sociedad Cooperativa Corral del Risco. Local fishermen at Punta Mita (aka Punta de Mita) have formed this cooperative, which offers reasonably priced fishing trips, surfing, whale-watching excursions, diving and snorkeling outings. Riviera Nayarit, Punta Mita, Nayarit. 329/291–6298. www.puntamitacharters.com.

Tours Soltero. Canadian expat Ray Calhoun and his wife Eva rent mountain bikes, snorkeling equipment, and boogie boards ($10 per day) and lead active tours from their base in San Patricio Melaque, a town next to Barra de Navidad south of PV. Typical excursions are snorkeling in Tenacatita with boogie boarding at Boca de Iguana, from 10 to 5 ($32), and a day trip to the state capital, Colima, which includes lunch and a stop at a typical hacienda-cum-museum ($60). Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. 315/355–6777. .

Wildlife Connection. Based in Puerto Vallarta's marina, this Mexican-owned company does what its name implies: it connects you with wildlife (specifically birds, turtles, dolphins, and whales) on seasonal trips. It also leads snorkeling and photography outings as well as cultural tours. Without a doubt the most popular tour is the one where you can swim with wild dolphins in the bay. Oh, and unlike in most other tours, most of these are led by real biologists. Paseo de la Marina Sur #214, Marina Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48300. 322/225–3621 or 322/227–1645. www.wildlifeconnection.com.

Sailing

Although large Bahía de Banderas and towns to the north and south have lots of beautiful beaches to explore and wildlife to see, there are few sailing adventures for the public. Most boating companies don't want to rely on the wind to get to area beaches for the day's activities.

Logistics

For insurance reasons, companies or individuals here don't rent bareboat (uncrewed) yachts even to seasoned sailors. Those who want to crew the ship themselves can do semi-bareboat charters, where the captain comes along but allows the clients to sail the boat.

Scuba Diving and Snorkeling

The Pacific waters here aren't nearly as clear as those in the Caribbean, but they are warm and nutrient-rich, which means they attract a variety of sea creatures. Many of the resorts rent or loan snorkeling equipment and have introductory dive courses at their pools.

The underwater preserve surrounding Los Arcos, a rock formation off Playa Mismaloya, is a popular spot for diving and snorkeling. The rocky bay at Quimixto, about 32 km (20 miles) south of PV and accessible only by boat, is a good snorkeling spot. Pangeros based in Boca, Mismaloya, Yelapa, and elsewhere can take you to spots off the tourist trail.

On the north side, Punta Mita has the Marietas Islands, with lava tubes and caves and at least 10 good places to snorkel and dive, including spots for advanced divers. El Morro Islands, with their big fish lurking in the underwater pinnacles and caves, are also suitable for experienced divers.

Logistics

Although it's fine all year long, winter is the very best time for snorkeling and diving. You can spot gigantic manta rays, several species of eel and sea turtles, and many species of colorful fish. During the rainy summer months, while the water is at its warmest, visibility is not the best because of runoff from the rivers. In winter's colder conditions, some luck will yield orca and humpback-whale sightings.

Outfitters

Chico's Dive Shop. This shop arranges PADI or NAUI certification, equipment rentals, and one- or two-tank dives. Trips to Los Arcos accommodate snorkelers ($40 per person) as well as those who want a one- or two-tank dive ($70 and $79, respectively). Book several days ahead for a night dive ($60 for one tank). You can also book tours with Vallarta Adventures from them. Paseo Díaz Ordáz 772, El Centro, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48380. 322/222–1895 or 805/617 0121. www.chicos-diveshop.com..

Vallarta Undersea. This operation offers PADI dive courses; runs dive trips; and sells, rents, and repairs dive equipment. On Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday tours are to Los Arcos National Park and another dive spot like Majahuitas, Colomitos or Mismaloya. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday they visit Marietas Island National Park. Rates are 125 USD for certified divers, and snorkelers can tag along for 69 USD. Calle Proa, Local 22, Marina Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48354. 322/209–0025 or 956/287-3832. www.vallartaundersea.com..

Skydiving

Skydiving is an excellent adrenaline-pumping activity in Puerto Vallarta that is available for both new and experienced divers. There are beautiful aerial views from the plane, but the best part of the experience is landing on the gorgeous sands of the Nuevo Vallarta beaches.

Skydive Vallarta. During the winter season particularly, but also year round, you'll frequently see skydivers landing at the beach in Nuevo Vallarta. Thrillseekers at Skydive Vallarta will take off at the airport in Puerto Vallarta and fly for about 25 minutes before jumping in tandem at around 9,00 ft, with three jumping schedules to chose from. Calle Mirlo 109 Int2, Zona Hotelera, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48350. 322 189 3909. skydivevallarta.mx.

Surfing

The main surfing areas are in the north, in Nayarit State, and include Sayulita and Punta Mita, where there are nearly a dozen offshore breaks for intermediate and advanced surfers, some best accessed by boat. The best spots for beginners are shore breaks like those at El Anclote and Sayulita; in the south, Barra de Navidad is also appropriate for beginners.

Logistics

Seasons

Waves are largest and most consistent between June and December; the water is also warmest during the rainy season (late June–October), averaging nearly 80°F (27°C) July through September.

Prices

Surfboard rentals start at $4 an hour or $18 a day. Surfing trips run around $45 per hour, usually with a three- or four-hour minimum. Shops sell rash guards (you usually don't need a full wet suit here), boogie boards, wax, and other necessities. For good info and links, check out www.surf-mexico.com.

When to Catch a Wave

Locals have lots of folk wisdom about when to catch the best waves. Some say it's best right before a good rain, while others believe it's when the tide is moving toward an extreme high or low.

Outfitters

Accion Tropical. All surfers in the area know that the best waves are found in the beaches of Punta Mita on the northernmost tip of the bay. Accion Tropical is one of the most established surf businesses in the area and can hook you up with surf and SUP lessons, snorkeling tours, whale-watching, and more. All staff members are bilingual and will make sure you enjoy the sport of kings! Av Anclote 16, Riviera Nayarit, Punta Mita, Nayarit. 329/291–6633, 329/295–5087, or 322/131–6586. www.acciontropical.com.mx.

Captain Pablo. At this outfitter on the beach at Sayulita you can rent equipment or take surfing lessons with Patricia: $30 should get you to your feet (board included). Surf tours, gear included, cost $180 for four hours (up to four surfers). Calle Las Gaviotas at beach, Riviera Nayarit, Sayulita, Nayarit, 63732. 329/291–2070 early morning and evenings only.

Sininen. Sininen rents surfboards ($5 per hour, $18 for the day) and paddleboards ($8/hour, $33 all day), gives lessons on both pieces of equipment, and sells surfboards and surf paraphernalia. Rent from the shop or head straight to its outpost a block away on the beach. Calle Delfín 4–S, Riviera Nayarit, Sayulita, Nayarit, 63732. 329/291–3186.

Surf Puerto Vallarta. Surf Puerto Vallarta is the most visited website in the area by local surfers and tourists alike. They offer surf reports for the most popular surf breaks, links to surf shops, and recommended hotel stays. They also arrange surf lessons and trips that include pick up and drop off at your hotel anywhere in the bay. Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. www.surfpuertovallarta.com.

Wildmex. Located right on the beach in Sayulita, Wildmex rents surfboards (as well as bicycles and kayaks) and gives surf lessons either at Sayulita or elsewhere around the bay, depending on conditions. It offers four- and six-day surf packages and a weeklong surf camp; the latter includes accommodations, some meals, and airport transfer. The company also arranges horseback riding, fishing, yoga classes, and other activities. The beach at Sayulita, Riviera Nayarit, Sayulita, Nayarit, 63732. 329/291 37 26 cell; 1 877/904 39 74 USA. www.wildmex.com.

Turtle-Watching and Repatriation

Mexico has seven of the world's eight sea-turtle species. Three of those species live in and around Banderas Bay. The fastest growing and earliest to mature of the Pacific Coast turtles are the olive ridley, or golfina, which are more numerous than the Careyes and the even less frequently sighted leatherback. Researchers estimate there are 1 to 10 leatherbacks for every 1,000 olive ridleys in the Puerto Vallarta area.

After the female turtle creates a nest in the sand, the eggs incubate for approximately 60 days. The babies must bust out of eggs and earth on their own, and with luck they will head for the ocean under cover of night. Birds, crabs, and other wild animals are relentless predators. For every 1,000 baby turtles born, only 1 survives to adulthood. Fortunately the average nest holds several hundred eggs.

Logistics

Tours run from summer through late fall. Wear shoes or sandals that are comfortable for walking in the sand. Bring a sweatshirt or light jacket, and plan to stay out late in the evening for most turtle repatriation programs, as that's when predators are less active. Most tours cost $46–$50 per person, last three to four hours, and combine educational programs with hands-on activities; for a quicker and cheaper hands-on experience, contact the Marriott Hotel in Puerto Vallarta, which offers free turtle release experiences during the season.

Outfitters

Ecotours. Three-hour turtle tours August through mid-December cost $48. Depending on the time of year, you may walk the beach searching for females depositing their eggs in the sand and help remove these eggs for safekeeping. Whether or not you find egg-laying females, there are always little turtles for releasing to the wild at the end of the evening. Tours are Monday through Saturday. Ignacio L. Vallarta 243, Zona Romántica, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48350. 322/223–3130 or 322/222–6606. www.ecotoursvallarta.com..

Whale-Watching

Most of the boats on the bay, whether fishing boats or tour boats, also run whale-watching tours (December–mid-March). Some boats are equipped with hydrophones for listening to the whales' songs and carry trained marine biologists; others use the usual crew and simply look for signs of cetaceans. The species you're most likely to see are humpback and killer whales (a gray whale occasionally); false killer whales; and bottlenose, spinner, and pantropic spotted dolphins.

Logistics

Whale-watching is only available December through March. Prime breeding grounds are around the Marietas Islands. The larger boats leave from Marina Vallarta, but you can hire fishermen in villages like Corral del Risco, Anclote, Mismaloya, Boca de Tomatlán, Yelapa, Las Animas, Barra de Navidad, and Tenacatita for less formal, more intimate trips. The larger boats are more likely to have radio equipment useful for communicating with others about the location of whale pods. Some outfitters offer a discount if you sign up online.

Outfitters

Ecotours. After a brief lecture about cetacean ecosystems, you'll board a boat equipped with hydrophones at Punta Mita for a three-hour whale-watching tour. Tours are daily in season (mid-December to mid-March) and cost $75. Ignacio L. Vallarta 243, Col. E. Zapata, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48350. 322/223–3130 or 322/222–6606. www.ecotoursvallarta.com..

Sociedad Cooperativa Corral del Risco. Two hours of whale-watching or snorkeling around the Marietas Islands, for up to 10 people, costs $114. Anyone older than 6 but younger than 60 also pays $2 for a wristband allowing entrance to the Marietas, a national aquatic park. You search until whales are spotted, and then have a half-hour of viewing time before returning to dry land. Av. El Anclote 1, Manz. 17, Punta Mita, Nayarit, 63734. 329/291–6298. www.puntamitacharters.com..

La Bufa

La Bufa. Local men can be hired for a truck ride up to La Bufa, a half-dome visible from the town square. The truck will wait while you climb—about 15 minutes to the top—and enjoy the wonderful view of the town, surrounding valleys, and, on a clear day, Puerto Vallarta. San Sebastián was founded as a silver- and gold-mining town; ask the driver to stop for a quick visit to a mine en route. The excursion takes about three hours. Or you can hike both ways; it takes most folks two to two and a half hours to reach the top, and half to two-thirds that time to return. San Sebastián, Jalisco.

Obed Dueñas. Obed Dueñas can be hired to take you up to La Bufa. He charges about $70 for the trip, whether for two or eight passengers. It's the same price if you return with him or hike back. 322/297–2864.

Ecotour

Singayta. Singayta is a typical Nayarit village that is attempting to support itself through simple and ungimmicky ecotours. The basic tour includes a look around the town, where original adobe structures compete with more practical but less picturesque structures with corrugated tin roofs. Take a short guided hike through the surrounding jungle, and a boat ride around the estuary ($6 per person). This is primo birding territory. The townspeople are most geared up for tours on weekends and during school holidays and vacations: Christmas, Easter, and July, and August. The easiest way to book a tour is to look for English-speaking Juan Bananas, who sells banana bread from a shop called Tumba de Yako (look for the sign on the unmarked road Avenida H. Batallón between calles Comonfort and Canalizo, en route to Playa Borrego). He can set up a visit and/or guide you there. Groups of five or more can call ahead to make a reservation with Juan (323/285–0462 ecomanglar@yahoo.com) or with Santos (323/100–4191); call at least a day ahead if you want to have a meal. 8 km (5 miles) from San Blas on road to Tepic, San Blas, Nayarit, 63740.

La Tovara

La Tovara. A series of narrow waterways winds through the mangroves to La Tovara, San Blas's most famous attraction. Turtles on logs, crocs that look like logs, birds, iguanas, and exotic orchids make this maze of mud-brown canals a magical place. Begin the tranquil ride ($8 per person; four-person minimum or $27 [360 pesos] total for fewer than four) at El Conchal Bridge, at the entrance-exit to San Blas, or the village of Matanchén. Boats depart when there are enough customers, which isn't usually a problem. Either way you'll end up, after a 45-minute boat ride, at the freshwater pool fed by a natural spring. Rest at the snack shop overlooking the water or jump in using the rope swing, keeping an eye out for the allegedly benign resident croc. There's an optional trip to a crocodile farm for a few dollars more, making it a three-hour instead of a two-hour tour. Carr. Las Islitas s/n. Embarcadero principal, Matanchen, San Blas, Nayarit, 63744. www.latovara.com. $10. Daily 8–6.