Puerto Vallarta, Mexico is super popular for U.S. vacationers. I’m fortunate to have a sister who’s lived in that area for over 20 years. I was able to spend a lovely week with her and another friend there earlier this month.
One of the highlights was spending several hours at the Botanical Gardens south of Vallarta. If Puerto Vallarta is on your travel-soon list, it’s well worth taking the time for this!
The Botanical Gardens of Puerto Vallarta (Jardin Botanico Vallarta) exist…
“To create Mexico’s foremost botanical garden for the propagation, study, discovery, conservation, and display of Mexican native plants for the enjoyment of Puerto Vallarta’s residents and our visitors.”
It’s situated in the Sierra Madre Mountains south of Puerto Vallarta, just a few miles off the coast. It’s known for, among other things, its amazing collection of orchids.
Here are things that stood out to me…
Tropical and Sub-Tropical Plant Life
The kinds of plants we buy from a garden center for potted house plants are the kinds of plants that grow natively into bush and tree-size in Mexico!
The Garden trails feature information plates all along the way so we know what we’re looking at. I appreciated that.
Hiking in Real Jungle
We can’t call this strenuous hiking, although one trail is definitely more difficult than the rest. But you’ll want healthy knees and good shoes. There are steps, switchbacks and one swinging bridge (very jungly!).
Coffee, Cocoa and Vanilla…
These are some of the plants growing natively in Mexico that we use every day in the US. It was so cool to see coffee beans and cacao beans in their non-harvested state. And did you know vanilla is a type of orchid? I didn’t!
Carved Stone Steps
On an obscure section of one trail, we noticed these beautiful stepping stones. I’ve never seen this on a hike in the woods in the US!
There are warning signs about the myriads of hungry mosquitoes awaiting us on the trails. We dosed up with bug spray, but since it was the end of the dry season, I don’t think I saw even one.
It’d be a different story if we had been there earlier in the year, or certainly anytime during the rainy season (May-October).
Trails Named after Large Spotted Cats
I know jaguars are native to Mexico, but I still was surprised to see this sign. Pretty cool walking on the Jaguar Trail—the most difficult trail in the Gardens. We didn’t actually see a jaguar, of course, which would’ve totally made my trip!
Part of this trail follows a crystal-clear mountain river, which is swimmable in a couple spots. Bring your suit and towel if you want to take a dip!
Orchids, Orchids and More Orchids
One of the goals of the Botanical Gardens is to have the most complete collection of native orchids in Mexico. They’re well on their way, with a greenhouse dedicated completely to them.
It wasn’t the season for “wild” orchids, although we saw lots of orchid leaves, some of them high up in the trees. The beginning of the dry season (late fall/early winter for us) would be a good time to go if you want to see orchids amidst the trails and not just in the greenhouse.
Back to Civilization: Food and Gifts
Besides the jungle trails there are cultivated gardens, both inside and out. There’s also a very nice gift shop and restaurant. I had my first piñada of my trip there (a piña colada without the alcohol)—yum!
And those gorgeous flowering “trees” in the photo below? Bouganvillea. They’re huge down there, and they’re everywhere!
When to Go
When you plan your trip to Puerto Vallarta, go during our late fall, winter or early spring. It’s the dry season there—the nights are coolish, the air is dry and days are almost always hot and sunny.
If you go earlier in the dry season, the vegetation is lush and green after six months of rain. The later in the season it gets, the drier and browner some of it gets.
My sister likes to try to get out of Vallarta during their rainy season. It’s hot, sticky and wet. Because of its geographical situation, Vallarta doesn’t get hit with many hurricanes. When they come, it’s usually August-October.
An insider’s tip from my sister: The schools in the entire country of Mexico take their spring break the same week—Holy Week (the week up to and including Easter). And many Mexican families flock to the coastal cities like Puerto Vallarta. So best to avoid that week for your trip!
How to Get There
If you don’t have a sister to take you to the Botanical Gardens like I do, you can hire a taxi or take your life in your hands by renting a car and driving yourself. You can ask your hotel if they’ll shuttle you down.
Another option is one of the local touring companies. My sister recommends Vallarta Adventures. The Gardens is part of their “Hidden Mexico” day trip.
Admission per person is a mere $150 pesos—less than $10.
I hope I’ve convinced you to not just go to Puerto Vallarta, but when you’re there, to visit the Botanical Gardens. It was an absolute highlight of our week.
For more Puerto Vallarta experiences, check out this post (hint: part of it involves a large creature with more than 4 legs!).