On a recent trip to check out Garza Blanca’s new Hotel Mousai in Puerto Vallarta, I found myself wanting to get out and explore all the fantastic nature around me. Despite the muggy heat, it seemed a shame to spend four days cooped up in my air conditioned room, so I strapped on my sneakers and went exploring. Here are a few things I found that I think you might like.

Palo Maria waterfall Lydia CareyI decided to take the concierge’s advice and hike to the Palo Maria waterfall about an hour away from the hotel. One trail begins on hotel property, but there are other accesses off of Route 200 open to the public. From Hotel Mousai I started up some stone steps that quickly became a dirt path winding its way through the dense foliage, cutting along side the mountain and exposing a steep drop to the side. As I wove through the forest there were ropes along the path (put in place by the hotel) for the steepest and most slippery parts. After about an hour of up and down I came to a rushing river, chock full of massive boulders and dozens of mini swimming holes. Crossing the river I headed east along the bank towards what sounded like the river’s mouth. When I arrived at the source of the rushing water I was greeted by a 20-foot waterfall with a narrow, deep pool at its base. Local kids dove from the cliff face above the deep blue water and plunged into its cold surface. Perfect for a hot day. There are other more impressive waterfalls further up the river but getting to them requires (dangerously) hiking each waterfall to get to the next. There are no signs on along trails, so your best bet is to ask a local or go on a guided tour that can be arranged by your hotel.

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The following day I took the water taxi from Boca de Tomatlan out to see some of what the locals call their “virgin beaches” to the south of Puerto Vallarta. These tiny inlets along the southern rocky coast of the Pacific are all unreachable by car. The only walking path is a hike that takes you up one side of the mountains and down the other, about 45 minutes to the first beach, Las Animas. The water taxis, locally called pangas, are a much faster trip and give you the local experience, piled in beside kids, restaurant workers and other tourists. For about 10usd you can catch a ride all the way to Yelapa, the beach at the end of the coast, along the way you can stop at Las Animas, Las Caletas, and Majahuitas. The beaches are clean and the water a deep turquoise. Each is lined with tiny beach bars and restaurants snorkeling_los_arcoswhere you can dig your feet in the sand and enjoy a red snapper al ajo and cold Pacifico beer. If distance and inaccessibility is your thing, there are resorts and hotels all along this little patch of coast for your own private getaway. Getting to Boca de Tomatlan is an easy taxi (about $15) from the center of town or anywhere along the hotel zone on Route 200.

A trip to Puerto Vallarta wouldn’t be complete without kayaking out to snorkel at Los Arcos Natural Marina, just off the coast, south of the city. Over 200 varieties of tropical fish will swim up to meet you inside the arched tunnels of these rock islands (the arches or los arcos). The rock islands lay right beside the San Andres fault which intrepid divers get a chance to look at thousands of feet below them. This natural wonder has waters that are appropriate for all skill levels of snorkelers and divers. Lots of local tour agencies will take you out to Los Arcos and most hotels offer to arrange trips for their guests. Always make sure you dive with professionals and know the limits of how deep you should go in this area.

Jalepeno_stuffed_tacoAnd don’t forget about eating. I set out with Vallarta Food Tours one morning to taste some of the local delicacies. It was a great way to see the city through the eyes of a local. We hit some family-run seafood joints, drank coconut water on the street, ate award-winning birria tacos and tasted tuba, a drink made with palm tree sap, apples, strawberries and pecans, sold on the boardwalk by local legend Concepción, out of a hallowed out gourd. When my guide Alex outlandishly claimed that Puerto Vallarta was the culinary center of Latin America I took it as a sign of his personal zeal for his city, who better to show me around than a die-hard P.V. fan? Alex explained the multitude of culinary traditions that influence food in the region (Chinese, Spanish, Arabic and the port itself, a long-time fishing community), and gave me insider tips on the best eating in Puerto Vallarta. Several food tour companies operate in Puerto Vallarta including Vallarta Food tours and Vallarta Eats. In addition, there are lots of great restaurants in town like luxury La Palapa and Cafe des artistes, and the popular 8 Tostadas seafood joint.

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Puerto Vallarta is more than just white-sand beaches and all-inclusive hotels. Whether you hit the local craft market, taste some artisanal tequila, or down some fresh oysters under the boardwalk — just make sure you get out there and experience all that the port has to offer! If you go check on the official Puerta Vallarta tourism website for more great ideas for your trip.

Lydia Carey is a writer in Mexico City and author of the upcoming Mexico City Streets: La Roma, a guide to living in one of the city’s hippest hoods. You can see more of her writing on her blog Mexico City Streets