The Puerto Vallarta surfing offering is all about exploring the breaks of the Riviera Nayarit and the south of Bahia de Banderas, then returning to one of Mexico’s top party towns.
An introduction to surfing in Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta sits smack bang in the middle of the wide and stunning Bahia de Banderas. That puts it amid some of Mexico’s most idyllic beaches and most charming fishing towns. It also makes it a haven for wave seekers. Yep, there are loads of breaks along this section of the Pacific Coast – seriously, loads! They range from heavy wedges to neat left- and right-hand reefs to beach breaks that can host beginners and surf schools in the smaller winter season especially.
Let’s just set a few things straight before we begin. Puerto Vallarta isn’t a surf town in itself per se. It’s a sprawling, energetic and party-mad coast city. It’s famed mainly for its big hotel resorts and pumping Malecon (promenade), along with golden urban beaches and spring break bars. Those who come especially for the Puerto Vallarta surfing will need to make a trip either to the north (our favourite area) or to the south (remote and less busy). It’s at least an hour’s drive or transfer to the nearest place with decent breaks.
It’s still possible to base yourself in the city for a Mexican surf holiday, though. The journey to both surfing areas near PV (as the town is known to regulars) is easy to make. You can do it by bus, taxi, car, and even water taxi, and it shouldn’t cost you more than a handful of pesos. The good news is that you’ll have a vibrant town of party bars, coffee shops and attractions to return to after being on the waves. It’s a fine option for city slickers who want to hop out to the surf now and then.
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This is a part of our greater guide to surfing Mexico
Puerto Vallarta surfing at a glance
What will I find in this guide to the surf in Puerto Vallarta?
Where is Puerto Vallarta?
Puerto Vallarta has long been a famous beach destination for snowbird gringos and Mexicans alike. It sits on the far western edge of the country, in the depths of Banderas Bay. That’s a mega hotspot for marine wildlife, and there’s whale watching and dolphin spotting to be done in the surrounding region. The city itself rolls down the green foothills of the Sierra Madre near the Ameca River. The long Mexican Federal Highway 200 (which actually connects all of the Pacific seaboard of Mexico) runs right through the town.
The top Puerto Vallarta surfing spots
As we’ve already seen, the best surf in Puerto Vallarta isn’t actually in the city itself. But don’t despair. It’s only about one hour from the downtown and the buzzy promenades before you can hit some seriously epic Mexican waves. The bulk of them are around the Punta Mita surf haven to the north, but there are also places sat in the Bahia de Banderas to the south.
Oh, San Pancho – you’re just great! Sorry, but we do love this chilled surf town. It’s around an hour’s drive north of PV, but the local buses tend to take anything up to two hours, depending on where you stop. It’s slowly becoming one of the mainstays of the Riviera Nayarit, mainly for its pristine golden-sand beach and Pacific-front villas. The break here is pretty consistent, although it’s not the nicest wave in the area. You’re looking at a beach-reef mix underfoot with a steep take off and lots of potential close outs on bigger days. The best spot is probably the mix of point breaks that come of the headland to the south end of the bay, but watch out for rips there.
Check out our full guide to surfing in San Pancho
Sayulita surfing is some of the most famous surfing in all of Mexico. A happening town of bars and surf shops, it’s got loads in the way of tuition and surf camps for those putting together their first ever Puerto Vallarta surfing trip. The waves are good for novices, too. There are three in the town itself. One’s a super-chilled beach break over sand (pop up practice perfect). The other two are left- and right-hand reef breaks with rocks below, offering somewhere to progress to. Prime swell comes N-NW or S-SW (in summer). Get in early to catch offshore and smaller crowds – because this one does get crowded!
Check out our full guide to surfing in Sayulita
A not-so-popular beach break that can get messy, Litibu is the main playa of Higuera Blanca. You can travel here in around 45 minutes if you come direct from the airport in Puerto Vallarta. Just be warned there isn’t much in the way of bars and eateries. Only a couple of villas string along the shore, facing waves that are largely closeouts when above chest high. It’s got potentia on smaller days and when Sayulita is packed!
Bahia is the first break you come to as you enter the realm of Punta Mita surf. It’s an area that caps off the northernmost end of the Bahia de Banderas, sat around an hour’s drive from PV, and famed for its chic hotels and five-star resorts. It’s also got some of the best Puerto Vallarta surfing going! Some say Bahia is the best of the lot. Look for a water taxi to take you straight to the break. It’s a little far out on the headland, where it forms a lovely right-hand point that can carry some pretty long rides on rippable waves. Take the shortie and try to time it for high tide – otherwise the rocks can be exposed.
Bahia all the way to Burros (the next few breaks on this list) are all part of the Punta Mita surf area – we’ve got a guide to that too!
El Anclote & Stinky’s
El Anclote relies on the heavy S-SW summer swells to get kicking. Even at its best, it’s just a mellow break that the longboarders love. However, the real draw is the long ride, which can even go for up to more than 0.5km. Ride it on mid tide and look for those northerly offshores for the best conditions. Stinky’s is right next door to El Anclote. It’s way more consistent, named for the salt-smelling fishing boats that meet in the nearby cove. The wave itself is a chilled, glassy break over sand and rocks that has both left and rights. It’s good for beginners and can even be quite quick. Works best at chest height.
One of the best beach breaks on the whole Puerto Vallarta surfing line up, Palmitas sits just to the west of Punta de Mita. It’s a heavy beach break that wedges up and can go both left and right. Can get quite strong in the summer S-SW swells but sits nicely at shoulder or overhead during the winter months. Rippable peaks that are a nice challenge for more experienced riders.
Faro is one of the least consistent spots when it comes to the range of Puerto Vallarta surfing places. However, when the stars align on a N swell during the winter and you catch good N-NE offshore winds, things can be gnarly. It’s a right-hander point break with pretty nice rides that can be both fast and slow, depending on the swell strength. We’d say it’s mainly an intermediate wave, but it also gets its fair share of improvers looking to pop up on a rocky bottom.
La Lancha is a really lovely surf spot. It’s got two separate breaks that are located on the same beach – and it’s a seriously gorgeous beach: White sand, stooping palms, pure blue water. It’s just a little less than an hour’s drive north out of Puerto Vallarta. Most people come as part of a surf school, but you can also find parking for your own car in the nearby petrol station. Then it’s about 150m walking to the beach. The first break is a chilled right hander close to the shore. The more challenging left-hand wedge breaks a hefty paddle out, but it’s quick and offers good drop ins.
Burros, also known as Punta Burros, takes us further east along the Punta Mita surf shoreline, closer to the airport of Puerto Vallarta itself. The wave is a glassy right-hander that breaks over reef-rock underfoot. It can hold up well – around 10ft on heavy summer days. However, it usually works with much less than that, although chest- or shoulder-high conditions are better for the beginners and improvers. You’re looking at a five-minute walk to the wave from the main road out of Puerto Vallarta, and then a 100m paddle to the break itself.
Veneros is considered one of the shortboard meccas of the Puerto Vallarta surfing scene. It’s got quick take offs and rippable right- and left-handers that come off lovely wedges. It works best on strong southerly swells, which are far more common in the summer months. Offshores are from the north-east. Head in for the morning session to catch the glassy part of the day.
Quimixto is one of the few well-known breaks that sit to the south of Puerto Vallarta itself. You can find it tucked between gorgeous jungles and white-sand beaches amid some of the most beutiaful coves on the Bahia de Banderas. As far as the wave goes, this one’s more of a classic beach break compared to its compadres to the north. Because it draws in good power from the N-NW winter swells, it’s a prime option for the popular months of December and January. Bigger days are best left to the experienced surfers because Quimixto can get hollow and barrel. We’d recommend asking at a local surf school if the swell is right for a beginner lesson if that’s what you’re after.
The best Puerto Vallarta hotels for surfers
Hotel Mousai – Adults Only ($$$)
Hotel Mousai – Adults Only might be a little away from the main surf spots on the PV shoreline, but boy is it worth the trek to the waves. What you lose in proximity to the swell, you really do gain in luxury. There’s a whopping infinity pool worthy of George Clooney with unparalleled views of the Pacific. Suites have stunning balconies and sumptuous modern interiors. And you’re located on the beautiful Bahia to the south of the city – home to some of the best beaches in the region, no less!
Hotel Meson de Mita ($$)
3-star Hotel Meson de Mita takes you a little north, up to the Puerto Vallarta surf spots that line the Punta Mita headland (probably the best in the whole area). It’s a fine, mid-range option with thatched cabanas lining its pool and colourful interiors that channel a little of the Mexican character. The best part? The surf spots are just a walk away.
Casa Pavlova ($)
Casa Pavlova is a simple but affordable lodging that’s smack bang in the heart of Puerto Vallarta. Good for budget seekers, it’s got stripped-down rooms with comfy doubles and private bathrooms. We’d say be sure to plan an organised surf trip from here – a pick up and a drop off will be necessary to get to the breaks and back.
Surf camps in Puerto Vallarta
As we’ve mentioned a few times, PV isn’t a surf town on its own. Really, it’s the gateway city to the surf region of the Nayarit coast. The chances are you’re going to be heading to nearby Sayulita or San Pancho for those surf camps. If you’ve come here to surf and only surf then we’d say that’s actually a GREAT idea. Booking one will get you out of town and right on the beaches, with surf lessons and rentals all taken care of. We can recommend:
- Yantara Retreats 8 Day Private Group Surf & Yoga Retreat in Sayulita – Yantara is so cool. A lux villa come surf camp set in the lush hills above Sayulita, it’s been making waves in the industry for its awesome yoga-surf packages. They aren’t the cheapest but they are among the best. Days look like this: Wake to Vinyasa yoga, two hours of surfing, evening yoga, dinner with your new mates.
- 8 days Yoga and Surf Escape – The focus is on holistic health and surfing every day at this camp. Morning yoga takes place on the beachfront and there are lessons everyday.
Step-by-step guide to planning your [yoast_kw] trip right now
Step one: Book flights to the [yoast_kw]…Lately, we like Omio for searching flights. It’s a nice interface and has lots of airline options. We also use Skyscanner because that sometimes offers deals that even beat going direct to the carrier!
Step two: Book your surf camp Book Surf Camps is the numero uno online booking platform for fully-fledged surf-stay packages on the internet right now. Then there’s Booking.com. That has consistently unbeatable rates for hotels and a nifty map feature that lets you check EXACTLY how close your hotel is to a surf break.
Step three: Get insuranceThis is kinda’ important. Not just for surf trips but for any trips. SafetyWing is great for nomad travelers. They offer rolling contracts that cover amateur surfing.
Step four (optional): Rent a car If you’re surf camping then you might not need wheels. If you’re not then we’ll just say this: We’ve never been on a surf trip that wasn’t improved by having our own car. Use RentalCars – they’re the best.
Step four: Enjoy!
A guide to the Puerto Vallarta surfing season
One of the great things about Puerto Vallarta surfing is that it’s on offer all year round. Yep, there’s rarely a month with nothing to ride. That’s thanks to a mix of different surf spots (see above for a lowdown on the lot) that work on either north or south swells – the two dominant directions for the two seasons on this corner of the Pacific coast. That said, wave size will change and so will the weather…
The summer (May to October)
The swell direction in the Mexican summer tends to be from the south. It’s powered by storms far out in the Pacific and the actions of the Southern Ocean. That’s great for regions like Oaxaca, where the famous beach breaks get pumping but is a different story on the Riviera Nayarit. Because the Puerto Vallarta surfing area is more protected from southerly swells, a lot of the local spots – namely Sayulita – will be flatter during this period. Meanwhile, Punta de Mita’s main surf spots usually get pretty big, being exposed to the south through Banderas Bay.
Weather wise, Puerto Vallarta is hot from May all the way through to October. The rainy season falls around June. It’s mainly responsible for quick bursts of rain throughout the day, which then tail off for cooler evenings. We’d recommend early starts and dawn patrols to avoid cross-shore and unpredictable winds.
- Wear: Rash vest and board shorts/swimwear bikinis. Boots for the reefs
The winter (November to April)
The winter months are always popular in Puerto Vallarta. Low rainfall and balmy temperatures that average around 25-30C (Up to 86 F) bring loads of US snowbirds. Spring break also comes towards the end of the season, when you’ll find PV at its hedonistic best.
For the waves, winter is also a gem. Thanks to the unique shape of the Riviera Nayarit and the north-facing beach breaks on the bottom of the Bahia de Banderas, there should be plenty to ride. Most importantly, Sayulita surf and the vibrant little coast town of San Pancho enjoy direct N-NW swells that bring good period and glassy walls. The main downside of coming in winter is probably the crowds. Early starts or golden hour surfs are the way to go.
- Wear: Rash vest and board shorts/swimwear bikinis. Boots for the reefs
Surf shops in Puerto Vallarta
Because surfing in Puerto Vallarta is so popular, you’re bound to find plenty of surf shops in the city itself. Also, don’t worry too much if you don’t find what you need here. A quick trip to the dedicated surf towns of San Pancho and Sayulita (around an hour to the north) should have everything you’re after.
Coral Surf Shop
Hidden in the backstreet of the lovely Zona Romántica area, Coral Surf Shop covers riding on saltwater and tarmac (aka surf & skate). Inside, you’ll find rack upon rack of decks, longboards, boardshorts, and more. There’s also a good selection of surf fashion for getting dressed before making for the surf towns of the Riviera Nayarit.
Perfectly located if you’re heading to the surf spots of Punta Mita and the Riviera Nayarit to the north of PV, Surf Mexico sits on the highway just before the turn off to well-known breaks like La Lancha and Burros. It’s part surf school, part store. However, you should find all the tech you need. There are shaped boards to buy (long and short), along with foamies, rash vests, leashes and sports watches.
Things to do when you’re not surfing in Puerto Vallarta
Hike the Sierra Madre
Puerto Vallarta sits under the gaze of the wild Sierra Madre range. It’s among the best hiking regions on the Mexican Pacific. There are lush jungles and waterfalls, along with soaring lookout points where you’ll be able to glance back at the ocean down below. Local guides now offer planned treks to well-known summits in the area.
Hop beaches on Bahia de Banderas
A quick bus ride from the Zona Romantica of PV can whisk you down to the sleepy fishing village of Boca de Tomatlan. We went there on our last surfing trip to Mexico back in 2019 and were simply amazed by the sheer beauty of the local bays. They are all linked by a wonderful hiking path that weaves through the jungle (don’t be a doofus and take the water taxi!). As you walk, you’ll find gorgeous coves with turquoise water and golden sand. It’s paradise for flat days.
Party on the Malecon
The Malecon of Puerto Vallarta links the whole city along the edge of the Pacific. It’s now legendary ground for spring breakers, who flock to the spot every February-April to hit the beer bars and drink waaaay too much tequila than they can handle. It’s got a party atmosphere the whole year, though, with oodles of cocktail spots and vibrant eateries.
How to get to Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta is one of the major cities in Mexico, and there are many ways to get there. There is an international airport with many direct connections to the US and Canada, along with one to Panama. There are also some direct domestic flights arriving daily.
Mexico is a huge country and it’s often worth considering flying to avoid spending hours on the road. That said, if you’re coming to Puerto Vallarta from Guadalajara or any other closer destination, a bus could be perfect. We found that buses in Mexico are relatively inexpensive and extremely comfortable. Stations are usually located on the outskirts of the cities, but taxi fares to and from the centre are inexpensive.
To find the cheapest flights, we usually rely on Skyscanner. It’s a good comparison tool that lists almost all major airlines (careful – not all comparison tools do that!).
This ultimate guide to Puerto Vallarta surfing is always being updated and changed. If you think we’ve missed something or gotten something wrong, we’d sure love you to get in touch. You can use email or just drop a message in the comments below.