Growing up in Pennsylvania I spent lots of lazy summer days swimming in rivers. Moving to the Pacific in the 1990s gave me easy access to the ocean, but never quieted my love for a good swimming hole. Over the years we have been to many river spots but I think my very favorite of all is at the Vallarta Botanical Garden.
The gardens are located south of Puerto Vallarta, and include a twisting ride through the southern part of Banderas Bay with its rocky beaches, Night of the Iguana vibes, and majestic arches jutting out of the ocean. There are some fabulous spots to stop along the way, including Le Kliff restaurant for a sunset cocktail.
There is no cell coverage at the gardens, so prepare to be wonderfully offline. There is a parking area and an entrance fee. Currently in July 2020 it is $200 pesos and allows two visits in one week. To the right of the entrance begin gentle hiking trails with a vanilla plantation (my favorite section), a swinging bridge, and tons of local foliage in its natural habitat. To the left of the entrance are greenhouses, patios, a chapel, and lots of orchids and other potted plants exuding life and green abundance. I highly recommend exploring both areas!
The true gem of the gardens in my opinion is the river. Its a moderately steep path with stone stairs down to the river, and there is another path that runs along the bank. We always head to the left once we reach the river, to arrive at our destination, a year round swimming hole. I have visited in summer and winter, and the water is always deep enough to swim here. The dry season is shallower and the water is clearer, and as long as you space your visit to not coincide with a huge rainstorm the river is just as amazing in the rainy season. We can spend hours here lazying on rocks and splashing around. Which leads to the next stop.
The Vallarta Botanical Garden Restaurant and plant shop (selling local orchids!) is almost as exciting as the river swim. The food is fresh, with sweeping birds-eye views of the whole garden. They have a full bar and there is often live music. There are hummingbird feeders all around the balcony and we have also seen guacamaya birds (macaws) while enjoying the view at the restaurant.
If you are interested in a more strenuous hike I recommend the jaguar trail. It is more natural habitat and is longer than the other garden paths. I have heard that hikers should beware of actual jaguars on this extended jungle trail. I have never seen one, but part of the goal of the botanical garden is to restore their natural habitat.
Hope to see you there!!