Bay of Banderas

This stretch of Mexican coastline has sandy beaches, quaint fishing villages and ideal spots to swim, surf or snorkel.

The Bay of Banderas (Bahía de Banderas) is a 62-mile (100-kilometer) stretch of beach on the west coast of Mexico. The bay region includes beaches, quaint cities and villages, and wildlife protection areas. Rent scuba diving equipment, snorkeling gear or a kayak from Puerto Vallarta and head out into the water. Many types of sea life make the bay their home, including manta rays, sea bass and dolphins. Humpbacks and orcas give birth in the bay and can be spotted from the shore. Take a whale-watching trip with one of the many tour boats; try to join a tour that has a boat with devices that let you listen to whale sounds.Los Muertos, in Puerto Vallarta, is the bay’s most popular beach. Swim around El Púlpito and Las Pilitas, two iconic rock formations at the south end of the beach. Surfers will enjoy a trip to Playa Olas Altas, a beach just north of Los Muertos that generally gets bigger swells. Playa Conchas Chinas, “Chinese Shells Beach,” is considered the city’s most secluded beach. Try Playa las Gemelas, too, for a quieter spot. Walk through the historic old town of Puerto Vallarta. The Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, built over the course of 50 years starting in 1903, is the city’s central landmark. The church spire is topped by an elaborate green crown, which is believed to be modeled on the crown worn by Carlota, wife of the Emperor Maximilian. The church is open daily and has services in English on weekends. Stroll through the Romantic Zone of the old town and try an authentic Mexican meal. Visit the Los Arcos Marine Natural Area, to the south of Puerto Vallarta. This protected zone is popular for snorkeling and bird watching. Swim just off the shore to find coral beds, manta rays and various types of fish. The Bay of Banderas runs north from Puerto Vallarta to the headland at Punto de Mita and south to the headland at Cape Corrientes. The bay is serviced by local buses, which are cheap and come frequently.