Sunshine, warmth, ocean waters, and sandy beaches combine with a well-developed tourism industry and fantastic restaurants to make Puerto Vallarta a popular Mexican vacation destination. Water activities and lazy beach days are a big draw, but there is also plenty to do when you want a break from the beach.

1. Go On An Art Walk

Puerto Vallarta's active art scene includes vibrant street art, sculptures along the Malecón and numerous art galleries throughout the city. Although you can visit the galleries at any time during their operating hours, the Puerto Vallarta Art Walk, which takes place Wednesday evenings October through May, offers a special opportunity to visit galleries in the central historic zone. Use the map provided on the Puerto Vallarta Art Walk site or available at each of the participating galleries to guide you from gallery to gallery, where you'll find exhibitions of local, national and international artists. Some galleries provide a glass of wine and a snack. You may find musical entertainment too, or have a chance to discuss the works with the artist. Bring your credit card. Chances are good you'll see something you want to take home with you.

Wall mural of woman with butterfly over her eyes, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Photo credit: Donna Janke.

2. Take An Art Class

Puerto Vallarta is a great place to go beyond viewing art to creating it, as a number of galleries offer classes in painting and pottery.

Art VallARTa in the Romantic Zone has an extensive selection of painting and applied art classes. You can learn basic painting techniques, try your hand at sketching, and work with watercolors or acrylics. Courses on working with clay, creating mixed media pieces, painting on silk, stringing beads and fusing glass are also available. The classes are designed in such a way that you can attend week after week or simply drop in on one or two classes while on vacation. In addition to having creative fun, you're likely to discover more about the Puerto Vallarta art community through the artists you meet at Art VallARTa's cooperative space. Check their website for class schedules.

3. Explore History On A Walking Tour

In spite of its hills and uneven cobblestone streets, one of the best ways to experience Puerto Vallarta is on foot. Two-hour free walking tours sponsored by the Municipal Tourism Office provide insider information about the city and its architecture, culture and history.

Sandra of Puerto Vallarta Walking Tours offers a variety of themed walking tours. Her Gringo Gulch tour gives visitors insight into the history and people of the hillside expatriate neighborhood that developed in the 1950s. Learn about the "Vallarta Style" architecture and the features introduced by Fernando "Freddy" Romero and Guillermo Wulff. Plaques identify the houses constructed by these two prominent builders.

Puerto Vallarta and the Gringo Gulch area gained popularity in the early 1960s when director John Huston filmed Tennessee Williams' The Night of the Iguana in nearby Mismaloya. Richard Burton starred in the movie alongside Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr. Elizabeth Taylor was not in the movie, but she accompanied Richard Burton to Puerto Vallarta. Their steamy extramarital affair drew paparazzi attention from around the world.

The walking tour of Puerto Vallarta will take you past Elizabeth Taylor's former house and the Little Bridge of Sighs that connected her property with Richard Burton's apartment across the street.

4. Make Your Own Chocolate

Chocoholics will enjoy a visit to ChocMuseo. In the store, at ground level, you can purchase chocolate products and indulge in free samples of the goodies made on site using fair trade and organic chocolate. Information about the growing and production of chocolate is found on the second level. The café on the third level serves a menu of chocolate-inspired dishes. ChocoMuseo offers workshops in which you not only learn about the entire tree-to-table chocolate-making process, but also have the chance to make your own chocolates.

Samples of dark and white chocolate.

Photo credit: Donna Janke.

5. Improve Your Spanish

One can quite easily get by speaking English throughout Puerto Vallarta's tourist areas. This is not the case if you wander off the beaten path. Naturally, there are times when a little bit of Spanish helps, even in the heart of the tourist zones. Wouldn't it be great to learn or improve your Spanish in a place where you have the opportunity to use what you learn as you learn it?

The International Friendship Club offers intermediate and beginner drop-in classes for short-term vacationers. If you want a more intensive schedule, the Spanish Experience Center offers a week-long courses of daily half-day lessons and Spanish School Vallarta runs three-week long courses with half-day lessons scheduled three times a week.

6. Tour Unique Homes

There are many beautiful and architecturally interesting homes in the Puerto Vallarta area. You can take a peek at a few of them by taking an International Friendship Club Home Tour. Daydream about what it would be like to live in a luxurious villa, admire an outstanding view, or get decorating ideas for your own home. Three or four homes are showcased each week, and the selection of homes changes all the time.

The International Friendship Club began in 1985 as a handful of people from Canada and the United States meeting socially. Today, it has over 600 members and is a registered Mexican charitable organization. They support more than twenty charities and fund an extensive Cleft Palate Surgery and Clinic Program. The home tours are their major fundraising source, so your delight and amazement at the homes you get to explore will support a good cause.

7. Learn to Cook a Mexican Meal

Anyone who has visited Puerto Vallarta can attest to its wealth of delicious dining options, and there are cooking classes to teach you how to recreate those tastes back home in your own kitchen.

At cooking classes at El Arrayán restaurant, you make a traditional Mexican appetizer, main course and dessert. Both Chef Enrique of Cookin' Vallarta and Rosie of Rosie's Vallarta Cooking take you shopping for fresh ingredients before you learn to prepare traditional Mexican dishes. Other cooking classes are available at Miriam's Mexican Kitchen, Arte Culinario and Art VallARTa. Most classes run only during winter months, but you may be able to arrange a special group class at other times.

There is indeed a lot to do in Puerto Vallarta. If you're still not ready to go back to the beach, consider taking a yoga class at one of the many yoga studios in the city, doing Zumba in Lázaro Cárdenas Park, visiting a cabaret or shopping for crafts and souvenirs.

If you're heading to Puerto Vallarta, we hope some of these recommendations will help you fill your itinerary with memorable excursions.

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