At Dolphin Discovery in Nuevo Vallarta, guests can play and pose for pictures with dolphins. // © 2014 Dolphin Discovery
Feature image (above): The once-bustling mining town of San Sebastian del Oeste is an easy drive from Puerto Vallarta. // © 2014 Vallarta Adventures
I was only an hour and a half from Puerto Vallarta, but strolling in the hilly, stone streets of San Sebastian del Oeste, I felt like I was a few centuries away.
There were no chain stores or restaurants, no big buildings and no traffic. I love Vallarta, but my recent side trip to the historic mining town of San Sebastian helped me appreciate a completely different side of the Mexican state of Jalisco. It also showed that day trips and tours can add a new dimension to any Puerto Vallarta vacation experience.
Here are a few options for travelers looking to head out of town for the day.
San Sebastian del Oeste
Settled in 1605, San Sebastian (as it’s usually called) sits in the scenic hills of the Sierra Madre Mountains. Once a wealthy mining town with more than 30,000 residents, it’s now a gloriously sleepy village of about 600. It’s a lovely place to stroll and admire historic architecture and to sample the coffee and agave that are now some of the town’s main products. Nearby is Hacienda Jalisco, a historic estate built in the 1700s that is now a guest house and a museum dedicated to the region’s bygone days. It’s no wonder that San Sebastian is designated a Pueblo Magico — a magical town — by the Mexico Tourism Board. Vallarta Adventures is among the tour operators that offers guided day trips here, including lunch and snacks.
This company operates marine centers in several locations around Mexico, and the one in Nuevo Vallarta is a short trip from Puerto Vallarta. For the best experience, visitors might splurge on the Dolphin Royal Swim, which provides lots of face-to-face time with the resident dolphins. Through the experience, guests will learn about how dolphins live in the wild, and they’ll meet a gigantic South American sea lion as well. The photo opportunities here are truly memorable. Dolphin Discovery is located inside Aquaventuras Park Vallarta, a water park that is ideal for families.
Several companies offer day cruises in the area. Cruceros Princesa, for example, offers excursions north to Marietas Island and to Pizola, an island located south of the Bay of Banderas. An open bar and food help keep passengers refreshed as they enjoy the scenery. There are opportunities to swim and snorkel on some excursions.
Estero El Salado
Connecting with nature is the theme for an excursion to Estero El Salado, an urban estuary that is home to a variety of flora and fauna. Visitors should have their cameras and binoculars ready as they try to spot some of the more than 100 species of birds, 29 species of amphibians and reptiles and 10 species of mammals that inhabit this nature reserve. The estuary is administered by a non-profit government organization that aims to document and protect the natural setting. The organization also oversees guided tours for visitors.
Los Veranos Canopy Tour
Travelers looking for a bit of excitement should sign up for this zipline adventure, which offers a full day in a lush river valley just outside of the city. More than two miles of cable make up the 14 zip lines here. Visitors can also join nature hikes and opt for a canopy and ATV combo tour for even more action. There is an on-site restaurant and tequila bar, as well as an animal sanctuary that is home to a Burmese python, a tarantula and marmoset monkeys, among other residents.