Last Updated: June 22, 2023
With robust natural resources and a rich cultural history, Mexico’s emerald waters are teeming with dramatic pinnacles and pelagic critters along Pacific and Caribbean coasts.
No wonder that Mexico has been a favorite dive destination for many. So if you’re planning a trip to this part of Latin America, you wouldn’t want to miss out on the gorgeous undersea topography of Puerto Vallarta.
Some of you may not be aware that an epic diving adventure awaits you in this beautiful city. So in this article, I will unpack the details you need to know about Puerto Vallarta diving, the best dive sites, what to expect underneath, top tour operators, the ideal time to visit, and a few more of its secrets.
About Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta, formerly called Las Penas, is a city on the Mexican Pacific coast and serves as the chief port of Jalisco Estados in west central Mexico. With a tropical climate all year round, it is famed for its beaches, water activities, and vibrant nightlife. Tourists love to stroll along the El Malecon boardwalk, a seaside promenade that serves as the city’s downtown, where all the shops, restaurants, galleries, bars, and nightclubs are located.
Unlike other curated destinations such as Los Cabos and Cancun, this resort town naturally evolved from being a small fishing town into a veritable world-class tourist place. Golden sandy beaches, lush jungle hills, emerald waters, and glorious sunsets are just some of the things that comprise the natural beauty that helped propel it to where it stands today.
Although it has turned into a modern city, Puerto Vallarta has preserved its most cherished heritage and traditions. Celebrating fiestas, such as one honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe, remains a major event among the locals. Other things visitors can do to spend their time in the city include taking trips to smaller northern towns and colonial-style places where time seems to have frozen.
Puerto Vallarta Scuba Diving
Whether new or seasoned, divers will be delighted to unlock some of the ocean’s mysteries when they explore the beautiful dive spots of Puerto Vallarta.
While you can expect to witness different marine species in huge quantities and various sizes, here, you will truly be in close quarters with large critters like dolphins, hammerhead sharks, hawksbill sea turtles, and humpback whales. Then you have schooling fish whose perfectly coordinated movements are mesmerizing to watch. Best of all, such varieties have sought refuge in the most amazing shipwrecks, caverns, and pinnacles, supporting a thriving underwater ecosystem that you will get to see when diving in Puerto Vallarta.
Best Dive Sites in Puerto Vallarta
Discover what this resort city has to offer for divers with the best dive sites as listed below. Note that most of them are near Banderas Bay and accessed by a short boat ride.
1. Los Arcos
Situated between Mismaloya Beach and Las Gemelas, Los Arcos waters are one of the deepest and greenest in Banderas Bay. It features several dive spots, such as El Acuario (Aquarium), Devil’s Canyon, and Bah Hol De Cristo, with varying depths of up to 45 meters and visibility of 60 feet.
The dive usually begins in El Acuario, the main arch, which is relatively shallow at 40 feet below. And it is a natural aquarium indeed. You’ll see balloon fish, zebra morays, eagle rays, surgeonfish, and seahorses packing the area. Beginners will be thrilled to witness such variety within a manageable depth.
Next in line is the Devil’s Canyon, which, at 130 feet below, is reserved for advanced divers. It has some of the largest caves, arches, and tunnels that are perfect spots to catch marine life in action. There are so many colorful nudibranchs dotting the reefs and countless juvenile fish going in and out of holes and crevices. Before you exit the other side of Los Arcos, you may encounter huge schools of fish and large creatures like manta rays and sea turtles.
Bah Hol De Cristo, which translates to Shadow of Christ, is a shallow dive that welcomes all types of divers. It has three pinnacles that are jampacked with both familiar and unique pelagics that make your dive a time well spent.
Other dive sites in Los Arcos include Las Lajas (The Slabs) and El Paredon (the Great Wall).
2. El Morro
Also near Banderas Bay, El Morro is a secluded dive site marked by a large rock formation above sea level. It is located 26 miles from Puerto Vallarta and features multiple stone mounds that reach depths of 150 feet.
But at 50 feet below, advanced divers can explore inside the caves and tunnels as well as rocky walls where a multitude of sea life is thriving. The cave darkness makes the crystal waters glisten, making them more stunning. Many vibrant corals and sponges provide a nice underwater scenery where schools of fish like to move around. Reefs are covered with gastropods and invertebrates such as sea fans, gorgonians, and ascidians.
3. Princesa Shipwreck
Here, you have not one, not two, but multiple mini wrecks, plus the main attraction, which is the Vallarta Princesa party boat comprising the Princesa dive site. Located near Mismaloya Beach, you are in for an exciting and historical dive at the former bay cruise-turned-cargo ship and now an artificial reef.
The ship is roughly 90 feet long and was sunk in 2017. Once you reach it, you will see what used to be the deck, engine room, and bow thrusters are currently habitats for a grateful marine life. Given the conditions of this dive, only advanced divers can explore this beauty.
4. Las Caletas
A dive site south of Banderas Bay that welcomes all types of divers, Las Caletas has natural reefs and two shipwrecks waiting to be discovered. It is one of the few sites that allows shore diving, with calm waters, mild currents, and good drop-offs, making it safe to navigate.
Las Caletas Beach is a protected area given the rich marine life housed in a cove, including garden eels, manta rays, sea turtles, eagle rays, sea lions, and schooling fish species. Thanks to its excellent visibility, you’ll get an eyeful of the whole underwater topography. Hence, snorkeling would also be a great activity in this area.
5. Marietas Islands
If you’re the adventurous diver looking for extensive biodiversity in submerged mountains and sufficient cave openings, Marietas Islands will be a worthwhile dive. Made famous by French biologist Jacques Costeau, the subsea mountain peaks created islands that are visible on the surface.
All types of divers are welcome to explore the site based on a dive plan by the tour operator. Before you take the plunge, you can tour the island grounds for sightseeing and birdwatching. Over 80 bird species stop by, especially during migration season. But then, there is even more good stuff underneath at depths of up to 25 meters. You’ll find humpbacks, manta rays, dolphins, and tropical fish galore.
6. El Chimo
El Chimo is a near-shore small fishing village in the southern part of Banderas Bay, 26 miles from Puerto Vallarta. Las Iglesias is one of its popular dive sites, which showcases cathedral-like rock formations supported by columns stemming from the plateau at the bottom of the ocean called Torrecillas.
Exploration begins at 30 feet below, which descends further to over 200 feet. Massive schools of fish swooping in are a visual delight. Manta rays and other large critters are underwater mainstays. Note that this is typically a 2-tank dive that requires divers to have an advanced open water certification.
Another dive location on the bay’s south side, Majahuitas features pristine beaches and small coves with a jungle that fringes to the sea. The name comes from a tall grass species found in the nearby mountains.
Although you can only reach this area via a 45-minute boat ride, you can dive directly from the beach. It has calm waters that make snorkeling a good alternative for non-divers, with depths ranging from 30 to 100 feet. Once you dive in, a splendid display of oceanic adventures will present itself to you. Parrot fish, puffers, angelfish, garden morays, eagle rays, sea turtles, octopuses, damselfish, trumpet fish, and other fascinating creatures appear in the scene.
8. Los Anegados
Located midway between El Morro and Marietas Islands, the Los Anegados dive site features a rocky bank transitioning from shallow waters into the deep sea. At 30 feet below, you will find several caves and rock formations where different marine species will pass you by. You have tuna, jacks, manta rays, moray eels, octopuses, and nudibranch varieties.
But the highlight of this dive is a chance encounter with a nurse shark that usually rests on shallower sandy bottoms during the day. If you have an advanced open water certification or higher, you can go further down to 80 feet to increase the odds of seeing more elusive critters.
Diving Conditions and Best Time to Dive
You can dive in Puerto Vallarta all year round, during which eagle rays, turtles, puffers, jacks, parrotfish, lobsters, and eels are ever-present. Thus, you don’t have to worry about finding anything in case you make a random visit.
Summer months will bring about warmer waters of up to 86 degrees Fahrenheit and excellent visibility of 100 feet. At this time, many divers opt out of the wetsuit. If you want to see humpback whales, you should visit this place during winter as they may even show up on the surface or hear them sing from a distance.
Water temperature could be as low as 66 degrees Fahrenheit, so you need to wear a 7mm wetsuit and anticipate less than great visibility.
Most dive sites have calm conditions, some of which are beginner-friendly. Expect locations further into the sea to have stronger currents but prove rewarding with more unique critters around.
Top Puerto Vallarta Dive Shops
I have picked out five dive shops that offer fun tours, professional training, certifications and good-quality dive gear and supplies. You should not have trouble finding one that would fit your specific needs.
#1. Banderas Scuba Republic
Banderas Scuba Republic is a PADI 5-star dive shop that sells professional dive equipment and supplies, as well as dive tours around Puerto Vallarta. But what makes this shop stand out from others is its genuine interest in listening to the ideas and feedback of its customers. Its service-oriented approach has put it on the radar of visiting divers from around the world.
#2. Chico’s Dive Shop
Having just reached its golden anniversary, Chico’s Dive Shop has evolved into a full-service dive center with a heavy emphasis on personal service. It adopted a permanent discount policy for online bookings, thus ensuring its tours have the best prices.
#3. Vallarta Adventures
Vallarta Adventures will be your perfect companion when planning your dive vacation in Banderas Bay. This shop takes pride in its water activities designed for all levels of skill, enabling access to the natural wonders this town has in store. It also offers city excursions, whether experiencing a unique dinner show highlighting traditional Mexican music, or going for a zip line adventure for some sheer adrenaline fun.
#4. Silent World Divers
Silent World Divers offers different dive packages according to skill level. Hosted by certified dive instructors and multilingual staff to cater to international guests, it has the most enjoyable tours without compromising safety.
#5. PV Ocean Tours
Another great dive shop to consider when in Puerto Vallarta, PV Ocean Tours provides clients with a wide array of dive tours, certifications, and specialty courses. It uses Cressi equipment which is not only a top scuba brand but also brings comfort and reliability. Other tour packages are also available for non-divers.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Puerto Vallarta Good for Diving?
Yes. Puerto Vallarta diving boasts varied seascapes with shipwrecks, underwater pinnacles, and cave openings alongside rich biodiversity in warm waters.
How Much Does it Cost to Scuba Dive in Puerto Vallarta?
Depending on the course or tour, an intro dive may cost at least 140 dollars, while a two-tank guided dive for certified divers is priced from 150 to 200 dollars.
Are There Coral Reefs in Puerto Vallarta?
None. The Mesoamerican Reef lies in the Caribbean and only touches the Mexican coast.
Is the Ocean Swimmable in Puerto Vallarta?
Yes. The calm waters of Banderas Bay are perfect for swimming, kayaking, snorkeling, and diving.
What Sea Creatures Are in Puerto Vallarta?
There are tuna, sharks, dolphins, sea turtles, humpback whales, and a huge variety of tropical fish like angelfish, parrot fish, grunts, etc.
How Common Are Crocodiles in Puerto Vallarta?
Crocodiles are not very common in Puerto Vallarta and are almost impossible to find on its beaches. Instead, they are usually in estuaries like El Salado, Boca Negra, and Boca de Tomatlan.
My unbounded love for the oceans and everything it has to offer motivated me to pursue my passion and become a professional scuba diving instructor.
I keep reading, exploring, and learning more about scuba diving and the underwater world all the time, so I’m excited to share my knowledge with fellow scuba enthusiasts and hopefully contribute a little to your development as a diver. I want people to fall in love with the oceans with as much passion as I have. Read more about me here.