Romantic Puerto Vallarta — Beyond the Zona Romántica

by Brandon Schultz

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday September 28, 2022

With steamy beach days and sizzling nightlife dominating the social scene, it's no wonder that a vibrant LGBTQ+ village has been thriving in Puerto Vallarta, the relaxed city sheltered by Banderas Bay on Mexico's central Pacific coastline, for decades. 

While the Zona Romántica isn't exclusively a gayborhood, equally brimming with expats of all sorts (but especially Canadian), snazzy shops, buzzy bars, and cozy cafés, the perennially trendy neighborhood is the de facto center of LGBTQ+ life in the city and you'll have no problem finding your people, or whatever else you're looking for, while you're here. Still, make an effort to step outside your comfort Zona and explore a different side of romance next time you escape to PV, diving into the casual wellness that can be found in some of the city's other swanky areas, like Marina Vallarta (don't worry, it's still just a cheap bus ride or easy taxi from the Zona and the rest of downtown, which you should certainly still visit). Here's how to treat yourself and/or your partner with a weekend of well-living in romantic Puerto Vallarta outside the Zona Romántica. 

Base Yourself in Marina Vallarta

Whether you're here to focus on loving yourself or romancing your partner, you'll have an easier time appreciating the escape element of Puerto Vallarta from Marina Vallarta rather than shacking up directly among the activity of the Zona Romántica. Here, among the more secluded hotels and resorts of the region, you'll find more yachts than thots, and can recharge and refresh in style while remaining close enough to the sights and sounds of downtown to reach them any time. The Westin Resort & Spa, Puerto Vallarta offers ocean views from every room and suite with a stretch of private beach at the edge of the lush, 14-acre property. This was once a palm tree plantation, and more than 600 mature palms still cover the property, even found on their own tiny islands within the pools. Speaking of pools, while the resort is family friendly, most younger guests stay toward the activity pool (Periquillos), leaving Tlaquepaque (next door) more unofficially adult, and this is where the swim-up bar is, too. 

While here, visit the spa for treatments designed to help you feel well, sleep well, move well, or just plain relax, and be sure to visit the onsite restaurants, including lively La Cascada, home to an award-winning tequila program, and beachfront El Palmar, a steak and seafood house showcasing fresh daily catches. For special occasions or even just to treat yourself, ask ahead about a private sunset beach picnic. You won't regret this exclusive and casually elegant experience. If whale spotting is high on your bucket list, consider checking in from December—March for the best chances of sighting sprays from your private balcony; or, bring your own "wildlife." It's a pet-friendly property, so your furbabies are welcome year-round. 

Go to Town

While resting and recharging in tranquil Marina Vallarta is highly recommended, you're certainly not coming to Puerto Vallarta to avoid its main attractions, so do go to town from time to time. The city's malecón, a waterfront promenade popular throughout Mexico's coastal getaways, is an easy walk at under a mile, and filled with fascinating sculptures that range from historical to whimsical. A couple of them are subtly interactive, so feel free to poke around and see what pops up. From here, cross one of the hanging bridges to Cuale Island and shop the colorful stalls of local vendors before making your way further to the Zona Romántica on the other side. Here, there are countless options for dining, both fun and fine, but make a reservation for a riverside table at Tintoque for a can't-miss meal that ranks nationally as one of the best restaurants in all of Mexico. The menu changes regularly, but prepare to be wowed by both presentation and flavor as you savor globally influenced Mexican cuisine shaded by the trees lining the banks of the Cuale River below. 

Sail South

You may have bypassed the Caribbean when choosing Puerto Vallarta, but you'll find a taste of island life at Playa Majahuitas at the southern end of the bay. No, it's not an actual island, but the private beach club oozes castaway vibes and is reached by boat, so reserve an afternoon with a tour operator like Vallarta Adventures for a day of drinks and snacks on the catamaran before exploring the curated vibes of Majahuitas (seriously, bring your best outfits—photo opps abound here). If you're looking for more of an active day on the water, Vallarta Adventures also sails snorkeling excursions, eco visits to the Marietas Islands, extreme ziplining, and more. Whatever wellness means to you, you'll find a suitable option for an ideal day on the water before returning to The Westin. 

Brandon Schultz is the author of 6 travel and lifestyle books, and his work regularly appears in Forbes, Fodor's, Global Traveler, and Thrillist, with contributions to dozens of others including OUT, Out Traveler, and The Advocate. He lives in New York City.