It is important to know that even though Banderas Bay is a large protected bay within the Pacific Ocean, there is always a possibility of strong currents and waves. It is wise to check the swim flags posted at the hotels to see what the current conditions are. You should never swim during dangerous conditions, and always swim with a buddy.
The beaches of Puerto Vallarta and the Banderas Bay have many characteristics in common, and many unique attributes. Puerto Vallarta has over 40 different beaches, all public up to the high water mark, with exception to the Four Seasons Hotel in Punta de Mita, only because it is virtually impossible to get to if you are not a guest.
The sand differs from beach to beach, some grainy, some soft and powdery. Most are a light golden color with medium grained sand. The ocean color is typically a deep blue to an emerald green. Keep in mind, numerous rivers flow into the bay, thus, during rainy season, they bring silt and particles down into the bay, clouding the clarity.
Beaches to the north are known for soft light colored sand and shallow waters. On the more mountainous southern end of the bay, the sand tends to be grainy with deeper water in the calm coves. Scattered in between are little coves and beaches that appear during low tide.
Beaches By Zone
The Hotel Zone beaches are mostly fronted by hotels. You can walk on the beach from most hotels all the way to downtown Puerto Vallarta. Most hotels have palapas (beach umbrellas made from palm leaves) and beach chairs for guests. Some have bars and restaurants that are open to the public (usually the all-inclusive hotels cater only to their own guests). The waves vary from ripples to 2 feet high.
The beaches of Centro run along the "Malecon" or Boardwalk, tend to be rocky, and are seldom used by sunbathers or swimmers, although recently, with the remodelling of the Malecon, new steps have been installed leading to the beach.
Playa del Sol/ Los Muertos beach is fronted by a number of hotels and public restaurants. Several of the restaurants have tables and umbrellas set on the sand so you can enjoy a cold beverage or have lunch or dinner on the beach. Here you will find Los Muertos Pier, used for fishing, water taxis to the villages to the south, a number of small fishing boats, and occasionally some of the snorkeling excursions. If you'd like to spend an afternoon strolling, shopping, and people watching, this is the destination for you.
Marina Vallarta is an area of high quality hotels and mostly man-made beaches. From one of the hotels you can walk on the beach north, past the golf course, the end of the airport runway, the turtle sanctuary, to the mouth of the Rio Ameca, which is the dividing line between the states of Jalisco and Nayarit. Across the river is the beginning of the beaches of Nuevo Vallarta.
Nuevo Vallarta beaches are divided by the entrance to the Nuevo Vallarta Marina, to Bucerias. The hotels to the north of the Nuevo Vallarta Marina enjoy the longest stretch of beach in the Puerto Vallarta area. Here the sandy bottom slopes more gradually. You can walk out a hundred feet and only be waist deep in water. If you enjoy walking on the beach, you can walk to Bucerias, a town about 3 miles to the north.
Other Beaches There are numerous other small, less frequented beaches in the area. Some are easily accessible; others require some hiking, while a few can only be reached by boat. These beaches can be more treacherous and not as well maintained as those more frequented by tourists. It is not recommended yo set off on your own to such beaches, and never swim or snorkel alone.
Nudist Beaches Nowhere in Puerto Vallarta is there a "clothing optional" beach. Mexicans take a dim view of such activities and consider it a violation of decency.
For specific descriptions see
Beaches By Name.