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Say what you will about Instagram ruining travel; sometimes, it’s a really helpful platform for inspiring you to plan that trip, book that tour, or eat that meal. That’s how I feel about the cruise excursion I booked in Puerto Vallarta, where a fellow traveler’s Instagram posts sold me on the tour we ended up taking – and loving.
For those who’ve read this blog before – and especially any of my cruise stories –, you know that I’m generally more skeptical about my experience the bigger the ship gets. So when I had the opportunity to spend a week sailing the “Mexican Riviera” with Princess Cruises, I was willing to give it a shot but simultaneously wary about any negative impacts the cruise might have (environmental, economic, etc.). In particular, I pay close attention to who I book cruise excursions with, since this is a critical part of supporting local economies when you cruise.
Choosing cruise excursions is always tricky, but I can honestly say that the tour we booked with Vallarta Adventures – the Yelapa & Mahjuitas tour – is the best cruise excursion in Puerto Vallarta. The tour offers something for everyone: snorkeling, beach time, hiking to a waterfall, included drinks, and possibly even whale watching if the whales are in the bay while you cruise across the water. It’s a full-day cruise excursion but one that leaves you with tons of memories.
In this post, I’ll share my full Vallarta Adventures review, with details both about the company and their practices as well as the specific tour we took with them in Puerto Vallarta in February 2022. After reading, you’ll know whether this tour is right for your cruise itinerary and if supporting this company qualifies as responsible tourism in your book.
Vallarta Adventures Overview
Before jumping into my experience, I thought it might help to start with an overview of the company of Vallarta Adventures – so you can know whether or not this is the type of company you want to support with your tourism dollars.
Vallarta Adventures is actually part of The Adventures Group, a collection of tour companies across Mexico and the Bahamas. It has three sister companies: Cabo Adventures (which we also used during our Majestic Princess Mexican Riviera cruise), Cancun Adventures, and Bahamas Adventures. The Adventures Group started in 1995, and claims to have over 1,000 employees (according to their LinkedIn) – which I think is probably an accurate statistic if you count all of the tour guides and other staff that support them in various locations.
A quick search on their site shows that they offer 58 different tours in the Puerto Vallarta region, and they have a very strong brand presence near the cruise port docks.
I don’t know whether the company grew through acquisition or by coming in to offer tours that pushed out more homegrown operators; Vallarta Adventures sits on the fence between being a local tour operator and a big tour company that loses its personal touch. Between my two experiences with The Adventures Group (in Cabo and Puerto Vallarta), I had very different experiences in terms of group size (6 on our tour in Cabo, 80+ in Puerto Vallarta), but the staff on each tour made both experiences incredible.
Cruise Excursions with Vallarta Adventures
While many people visit Puerto Vallarta each year, a large number of them arrive via cruise ship, which is – I’m guessing – the main business for Vallarta Adventures. Puerto Vallarta can berth up to three cruise ships per day, meaning some 10,000 people may flood out into the city depending on the capacity of these ships; that’s big business and Vallarta Adventures certainly seems to be doing well.
When booking my cruise excursions and then doing additional research for this story, I recognize many of their tours from the descriptions on the Princess Cruises shore excursions catalog. If you’re booking a cruise excursion in Puerto Vallarta, it’s probably going to be operated by Vallarta Adventures.
However, not all of the tours offered by Vallarta Adventures are targeted at cruise passengers; there are some which are 7-8 hours and longer which won’t fit into the time each ship spends in port. These include excursions a private tequila tour, evening cultural shows, and exploring some of the small Mexican communities further from Puerto Vallarta.
The rest of Vallarta Adventures’ tour catalog – which do work for a day in port – has a good deal of variety: dolphin and sea lion tours, zip-lining, sailing, snorkeling, and SCUBA trips are all available for cruise guests stopping in Puerto Vallarta.
Vallarta Adventures’ Animal Encounters
I prefer my animal encounters in the wild, and from a safe distance for the animal.
Puerto Vallarta is less well-known than Cabo San Lucas for wildlife, but people obviously still come to have animal experiences. I said it in my review of their sister company, Cabo Adventures, but I’m pretty bummed that Vallarta Adventures offers touch-guaranteed animal encounters in enclosures.
While the company says no dolphin works more than two hours per day and they are certified by the American Humane Association, I personally won’t do any tours that keep animals in enclosures and that’s something to keep in mind. (I did one on a Caribbean cruise without realizing that would be the experience and still feel awful about it!)
I personally feel much more comfortable with their other animal tours, where you see and potentially interact (in the case of dolphins) with animals in the wild. Yes, you might get skunked (not see anything), but this is a much more responsible way to travel and have animal encounters.
Vallarta Adventures Yelapa & Majahuitas Tour
With almost 60 tour options, you might wonder which Vallarta Adventures tour is the best – and which one caught my eye on Instagram to make me write this review.
Personally, I think the Yelapa & Majahuitas Tour is the best cruise excursion offered by Vallarta Adventures, due to its affordable price, variety of experiences, and the uniqueness of those experiences. Let me tell you about our tour so you can see why.
Our tour started by disembarking the Majestic Princess to walk around the port to our smaller tour boat. Smaller is, of course, relative – this boat held about 80 passengers for the day, plus about 10 crew. (This was obviously quite different than our tour in Cabo where there were only 6 guests and 3 crew!)
We set out across Banderas Bay, which is the large bay that Puerto Vallarta sits on. Along the way, our crew introduced themselves, had a silly dance contest, and pointed out whales we spotted. We made a short detour to try and have a better whale encounter but didn’t have the best luck – that was okay by me as we had such a great time with whales in Cabo.
Next, we pulled into a small bay near Majahuitas; almost everyone grabbed snorkel gear and life preservers to jump in for a bit of snorkeling. There wasn’t a ton of coral or colorful fish, but there were some interesting ones, including damselfish and parrotfish. I’m pretty sure I also spotted a few boxfish too. While everyone was required to take fins and a life vest into the water, we were allowed to swim at our own discretion, so both Mr. V and I did a few dives to get closer to the colorful fish deeper in the water.
We then swam to Majahuitas which was a bit tricky with the waves and current; it felt very James Bond to climb up onto the beach with all my snorkel gear, though I have no doubt I did not have any Bond Girl appeal by that point!
We had time to relax and enjoy a drink at Majahuitas; the bartender had both beer and agua fresca which was the perfect combo to sit and enjoy with our toes in the sand and palm trees swaying overhead. Majahuitas used to be a private resort but the beach has changed ownership and is now open to cruise excursions – of which we saw several come and go.
Next, we re-boarded our boat and enjoyed a buffet lunch – this was the first buffet I’ve had in a while due to the pandemic! I was pleasantly surprised at the spread: sandwich fixings, several pasta dishes, and plenty to drink (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic). The food wasn’t quite as nice as what we enjoyed on the luxury half-day sailing we did with Cabo Adventures; then again that tour had “luxury” in the name and this one had a much bigger boat and passenger list.
As everyone finished lunch, we set sail for Yelapa. This small community is primarily accessible by boat, but is home to a beach resort and lots of local businesses catering to tourists. The main attraction in Yelapa is a waterfall that takes about 10 minutes of walking uphill through town. Most people on the tour stayed dry but Mr. V and I both went into the pool beneath the falls for a few fun photos. We then hiked back down to the dock, boarded our tender, and returned to the boat.
On the way back to Puerto Vallarta, the drinks were flowing (ask for the piña colada!) and then a complete surprise occurred. Each member of the crew put on a costume and pretended to be a member of the Rolling Stones; apparently, each crew of Vallarta Adventures puts on a different band performance during the 45-minute cruise back across Banderas Bay! This was a fun way to end the cruise, though entirely unexpected based on the outdoor/adventure tone of the rest of the day.
Vallarta Adventures Review: Final Thoughts
Overall, our Yelapa & Majahuitas Tour with Vallarta Adventures was a great way to spend the day in Puerto Vallarta. I had no idea just how much variety the tour would offer – it was my friend’s waterfall picture that convinced me to book this excursion at all, and I was delighted by everything else we did as part of the tour.
I did have a few other thoughts I want to share before wrapping up:
- I thought it was odd that Vallarta Adventures mixed guests from two different ships during the pandemic. While everyone on the ships should be vaccinated and tested, it was still odd to consider being around people who weren’t in our ship’s “bubble” – though the entire tour was outdoors so that helps too.
- Vallarta Adventures offers a photographer aboard the boat, and Mr. V and I were the only ones to use the photographer and buy our photos. I was sad to hear that people didn’t even want to have their photos taken at all as this is one of my favorite souvenirs when I travel. That’s how we got so many great photos during the day to share in this post!
- This is a mass-market tour, but still surprisingly fun. Vallarta Adventures doesn’t offer a private tour to Yelapa and Majahuitas, so be prepared to be in a big crowd during this tour. Still, these experiences were awesomee, our crew had great energy, and I recommend doing this tour even if you’re normally more of a private tour traveler.
- There are opportunities to make this tour unique to you. In Yelapa, we passed a rascilla vendor and stopped with another couple to try this Mexican spirit. Most people just strolled on past in the very “I’m on a cruise and have my blinders on” kind of way; trying a local flavor was one of the highlights of the day for us!
Aside from the dolphin tours, which I just can’t get behind (and I say this as someone who really wants to swim with dolphins as it’s on my bucket list and 40 Before 40 list!), I think Vallarta Adventures is a company that’s worth touring with during your time in Puerto Vallarta. They may not be local in that “guy with a boat and one crew member, only operates in PV” type of way, but they do specialize in Puerto Vallarta tours (along with the other destinations they serve). Our crew was certainly local and did a great job showing us the sights, keeping our cups full of piña colada, and keeping the energy up all day.
While you certainly have plenty of choices, if you go with Cabo Adventures – and especially if you choose the Yelapa and Majahuitas Tour – I think you’ll be as happy with your (brief) time in Cabo as we were.
Ready to book? You can likely book this Puerto Vallarta cruise excursion (and others) or your cruise ship, or you can book directly with Vallarta Adventures and ensure they receive the greatest margin possible. Don’t forget cash for tipping your crew and budget extra if you want to buy the photos offered by the onboard photographer.
Have any questions about this Vallarta Adventures review, the boat, beach, and waterfall tour we did, or anything else? Let me know in the comments.