Looking to escape the cold weather for the holidays? Check out these fun activities in the Rio Grande valley!
Every year, we go visit my parents in Texas for the holidays. We always stay busy with all of the amazing Christmas time activities in the Rio Grande Valley! The area encompasses a number of cities in southeastern Texas along the Rio Grande River, which is a border between the U.S. and Mexico. Some of these activities are only available during the holiday season, but others are open year-round. Keep reading to explore some of our favorite things to do in the Rio Grande Valley.
1. Dolphin Docks cruises
Dolphin Docks is located in Port Isabel, which is right on the Gulf of Mexico. This is one of my favorite activities in the Rio Grand Valley. We usually take one of their cruises each year. My favorite is the dolphin watching cruise. It is an hour and half long and costs $13 a person, a steal in my opinion. We have gone on this cruise a couple of times, and seen a ton of dolphins each time. Last December, we even had two swimming along beside our boat! If anyone in your party is a dolphin fanatic, be sure to put this on your to-do list. This activity is open year-round, not just during the holidays.
2. Black Dragon Pirate Ship Cruises
If you are more into pirates than you are dolphins, you can put a Black Dragon Pirate Ship cruise on your list of activities to do in the Rio Grande Valley. This particular cruise starts at $38 a person and was a ton of fun. We drank tropical drinks, watched a pirate show, and even took part in a sword fight! My only complaint is that I won the “high maintenance” award at the end of the cruise…not sure what that was all about ;).
3. Visit Nuevo Progresso
While visiting border towns isn’t necessarily the safest activity in the Rio Grande Valley, Nuevo Progresso is one of the safer border towns. They loooove winter Texans since a large part of their economy depends on them. There is even a “Welcome Winter Texans” sign when you walk across the border. Just be prepared for a little culture shock, which is part of the fun in going!. It is also a great place to buy cheap purses, watches, Christmas ornaments, etc. It costs $1 to get into Mexico, and 25 cents to get back into the U.S. Be sure to take change, your passport, and have your picture taken at the U.S./Mexico border! Note that the border is closed right now except for essential business such as visiting a pharmacy or the dentist.
4. Hildalgo Festival of Lights
The Hildalgo Festival of Lights is one of my favorite Christmas time activities in the Rio Grande Valley! The Festival runs from Dec. 1 through Dec. 30. For just $5 a person, you can board a narrated trolley that will take you all around the Festival of Lights. The Festival features over 3,000,000 lights and over 900 displays! It is truly amazing if you have never been there before. Warning: it will completely jade you towards smaller light displays in the future!
5. Gladys Porter Zoo
The Gladys Porter Zoo is in Brownsville, TX. It is a fun zoo to visit, but it is especially fun during the holidays when they hold their “animal enrichment day”. On this day, they give the animals Christmas presents to open. You haven’t seen anything until you have watched a baby chimpanzee open a Christmas present, only to play around in the box and roll himself up in the wrapping paper. Seriously, cuteness overload. They do enrichment activities one day each month, so the fun doesn’t have to be limited to just Christmas time.
6. Harlingen Arts and Heritage Museum
If you are looking for a super cheap but fun activity in the Rio Grande Valley, be sure to check out the Harlingen Arts and Heritage Museum. There are three historical buildings on the grounds, including Harlingen’s first hospital, the home of the town’s founder, and the Paso Real Stagecoach Inn. You can take a self-guided tour of the buildings for free, or have a guided tour for only $2 a person for adults. The museum inside features rotating cultural exhibits, and has a display of Christmas trees around the holidays.
7. South Padre Island
South Padre Island is another fun stop/activity in the Rio Grande Valley. It is a former spring break hot spot, but now offers a more laid-back, family-friendly atmosphere. There is a ton of open beach, and most of the resorts on the island offer pools and beach access. The main strip has a wide variety of touristy shops if you are looking for the tourist experience. Towards the end of the strip there is a little conservatory with a nice board walk. Just be careful as word has it there are a couple of alligators in that area!
8. Sea Turtle Hospital
The Sea Turtle Hospital is a unique experience in the Rio Grand Valley. It is a fully functioning hospital for injured sea turtles around the island. On the tour, you learn the stories of the sea turtles that have been injured and nursed back to health at the Sea Turtle Hospital, and you can view the ones who are still in recovery. The museum admission is $6 for adults in the off season and $10 for adults in the summer.
9. Holiday Village at Dean Porter Park
One of the cutest Christmas activities in the Rio Grande Valley is the Holiday Village at Dean Porter Park in Brownsville. The exhibit begins around the end of November and ends on the first of the year. The park is filled with adorable, decorated little houses featuring Christmas scenes and holiday music. It is totally free. Try to find the Elf-on-a-Shelf to win a free Krispy Kreme donut!
10. Museum of South Texas
Visit the Museum of South Texas in Edinburg to learn about South Texas’s rich history. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Plan on being there for a few hours if you are someone who likes to take in all of the information. Admission is $9 for adults, $6 for seniors and students, and $5 for children.
Check out more affordable vacations in some of our other posts here:
Things to Do in Munising and Marquette, MI
How We Went on a 6-Night/7-Day Vacation for Less Than $300!
Need a rental car for your trip? Check out Fox, Dollar, and Thrifty car rental as they usually have the best deals.
What are some of your favorite things to do in the Rio Grande Valley? Feel free to share below!