Mexico is a great place to travel with children. There is a family at the center of the everyday life. One of Mexico's many fantastic family-friendly destinations is Puerto Vallarta, a jewel on the rugged Pacific coast.

Most families can travel to Puerto Vallarta on a budget. There are usually child discounts on things like park admission. Many higher-end places have "Kids Clubs" that keep children engaged throughout the day. Reliable babysitting services are available if you want to go out on a date. There are a lot of things to do with children in Puerto Vallarta.

Forge new connections on your next adventure with the latest advice from our weekly newsletter.
A group of men dressed in red suspended from a central pole - Voladores de Papantla
The Voladores de Papantla put on a great show © Daniel Cardenas / Getty Images

Be entertained during a sunset walk on El Malécon

There is a boardwalk in Puerto Vallarta that is popular with locals and visitors. It is dotted with bronze sculptures that children play and pose on. Vendors are selling grilled shrimp-on-a-stick and hot dogs. The Voladores de Papantla is a nod to an indigenous tradition in which men are attached to a 20m-high pole and fly in circles. There are free cultural performances throughout the year at Los Arcos amphitheater.

Relax in the Plaza de Armas meeting place

The central square of the historic center is called Plaza de Armas and is an oceanfront meeting place. Street snacks and ice-cream shops provide the fuel to get going again, and it is a good place for kids to run and play. Live music often leads to dancing on weekends.

A crowded beach scene with people walking the seafront or relaxing under palm-frond shades - Puerto Vallarta Beach
Make the most of all the beach activities at Playa de Muertos © BlokPhoto / Shutterstock

There are great activities for older kids at Playa de Muertos

The Playa de Muertos is a vibrant city beach with thick golden sand and casual restaurants that serve fried fish and other beach food at tables and chairs on the sand. Banana boat rides, parasailing and jet skiing are popular with older children. You can take a break from the sun and sand at the historic center. The city pier is lit in dramatic lights at night.

Playa Conchas Chinas is perfect for families with small children

Playa Conchas Chinas is a small cove with turquoise waters just south of downtown. Families with small children like it for its shallow waters and sheltered pools. While the beachcombers have a field day at the tide pools, snorkelers can explore the burly rock reef. Lifeguards are full time.

Dolphins swimming in the ocean near the coastal town of Puerto Vallarta
Go on a tour with an ethical operator to see whales and dolphins © Faina Gurevich / Shutterstock

Take a boat tour to spot humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins

If you take the kids on a whale or dolphin watching tour of Baha de Banderas, you may be able to earn the "best parent in the world" title. Humpback whales migrate from Alaska to the warm waters of Puerto Vallarta in the winter to mate and give birth to bears.

You won't see whales if you visit from April to November, but you will see bottlenose dolphins year-round. Approach wild dolphin snorkeling tours with caution. Look for providers who don't chase dolphins, people who don't encourage touching, and providers who don't chase dolphins. Ecotours de México is a premium tour that puts a premium on low impact tours.

Assist with the release of baby sea turtles 

Thousands of olive ridley sea turtles hatch on the shore of Puerto Vallarta every year. The trek from their sand nest to the ocean's edge can be a frightening experience. Older children and teens are likely to like volunteering to help sea turtles reach the ocean. At sunset and later, releases often involve walking long distances on dark beaches. The group's staff biologists lead visitors during releases and ask only for donations.

A teenager crossing a suspended bridge towards a small city island
Cross the suspension bridges to the car-free Isla Rio Cuale © Marilyn Nieves / Getty Images

Find souvenirs at Isla Rio Cuale's crafts market

There is a crafts market on the island that sells everything from Mexican wrestling masks to beaded works. It's perfect for souvenir hunters of all sizes. A mid-shopping break is offered by an assortment of riverside cafes. The hanging bridges are great for bouncing on, but not so great for people with a fear of heights. There are iguanas in the trees.

Explore the Sierra Madre mountains on horseback 

The Sierra Madre mountains are a great place to ride a horse. Several tour operators offer guided excursions through the jungly mountains to cascading waterfalls, hidden rivers and lookout points. Rancho El Charro is a great place to take your horses for a ride into the mountains. It is located just north of town and provides a quick change of scenery.

Follow the trails through the lush Jardín Botánico de Vallarta

Vallarta's botanical garden is located in the Sierra Madre mountains and is a great place to visit with your family. There are Manicured paths and hiking trails that lead to a variety of native plants. The jungle trail leads to the tranquil shores of Ro Horcones, a popular spot for a post- garden swim. The city buses and taxis are close to the town.

Things family travelers should know about Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta has challenges like everyone else. The city's sidewalks are difficult to walk with strollers. Pay-to-use toilets are available in some restaurants, but public restrooms are hard to find. It can be difficult to manage tap water during bath and sleep routines.

The article was first published in June of 2021.