Your Trip to Puerto Vallarta: The Complete Guide

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Located on Mexico's Pacific coast in the northwest corner of the state of Jalisco, Puerto Vallarta rings Mexico's largest natural bay, the Bahia de Banderas (Bay of Flags). This popular beach resort area is one of the main ports of call for Mexican Riviera cruises, has a well-deserved reputation as a foodie destination, and is also home to a wide variety of natural and cultural attractions.

Planning Your Trip

Best Time to Visit: December through March is the best time, with excellent weather and fun activities including opportunities for whale watching. 

Language: the most spoken language is Spanish, although many people working in the tourism industry speak English, and some of the indigenous people may speak Nahuatl or Huichol.

Currency: the local currency is the Mexican peso. Some upscale establishments offering goods and services to tourists list prices in US dollars and the symbol ($) is the same as the dollar sign, so if there's any doubt, enquire what currency prices are listed in.

Getting Around: Both taxis and Ubers are plentiful and economical, and public buses are convenient for longer journeys, and in town can be a good option for budget travelers.

Travel Tip: The best time to visit is also the most crowded (especially during holidays such as Christmas and Easter). For good weather and fewer crowds, visit in October and November.

Things to Do

In Puerto Vallarta, you can take it easy on the beach or fill your days with interesting and fun activities - it's entirely up to you. Either way, you’ll want to enjoy the city’s outstanding food scene wherever you go. Here are a few activities to enjoy:  

  • Take a stroll along the Malecon to see the collection of sculptures. In the evenings, buskers here entertain passers-by.
  • Enjoy Puerto Vallarta's many beaches. Check out a beach club such as Mantamar Beach Club where you can soak in the hip, upbeat vibe, or visit some of the best beaches located to the south of the city, many which are only accessible by sea.
  • Make a visit to Puerto Vallarta's Botanical Garden, where you can discover the exuberant flora and fauna of the area and take a dip in the Horcones River.
  • Go shopping for local art and handicrafts, such as the beadwork of the Huichol indigenous people, or hit the mall for some window shopping.
  • Get an adrenaline rush on an extreme adventure like riding an ATV or zip-lining through the Sierra Madre.
  • Treat yourself to a spa treatment at one of Puerto Vallarta’s excellent spas.
  • In the evening, find a spot on the Malecón or a beachside restaurant to enjoy Puerto Vallarta's beautiful sunsets.

Explore more attractions with our full-length article on the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta.

Street food in Puerto Vallarta
TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon

What to Eat and Drink

Puerto Vallarta is well known as a foodie destination in Mexico, and with its annual gourmet festival has also been steadily gaining recognition internationally. Whether it’s at a street food stand selling tacos al pastor, a beachside palapa restaurant offering up the catch of the day, or a fine dining establishment serving haute cuisine, Puerto Vallarta offers some of the best food experiences you’ll find anywhere. Take a street food tour to discover all the wonderful street food and low-key dining options, or enjoy one of Puerto Vallarta's upscale restaurants like Café des Artistes or Trio.

When it comes to drink, Puerto Vallarta also has a lot to offer. It’s located in the state of Jalisco, just about four hours drive from the town of Tequila, and you’ll find many opportunities to sample this popular Mexican spirit, and there are even some places where you can see how it’s made. Another drink that is also made from the agave plant but has only recently gained popularity is raicilla, known by many as “Mexican moonshine,” it has recently been legalized. Puerto Vallarta's craft beer scene is gaining ground, and you can try some of the locally produced brews at Los Muertos Brewing or La Cerveceria Union. And of course at any of the many bars and nightclubs you'll find all the standard international drinks as well.

Where to Stay

There are a great many choices of hotels and resorts in Puerto Vallarta, in all price ranges and for all tastes. Some popular choices for both couples and families include the large resorts CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta and The Westin Resort & Spa Puerto Vallarta. For an adult-only boutique stay, consider Casa Velas near the Marina, or Villa Premiere in the center of town. AirBnBs are becoming more common, and can be a good choice for families. Budget travelers have been flocking to the well-located Posada de Roger for decades.

Check out our recommendations for the best Puerto Vallarta hotels.

Getting There

The most common way to get to Puerto Vallarta is by air, arriving at Puerto Vallarta's Licenciado Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport (airport code PVR). There are also many visitors who arrive on cruise ships, as Puerto Vallarta is a popular port of call for cruises of the Mexican Riviera. Cruise ships dock at the Marina Vallarta Maritime Terminal, which can accommodate three full-size cruise ships. If coming by land, travelers can get to Puerto Vallarta from Guadalajara by bus in under five hours. The bus line ETN offers first-class service.

Culture and Customs

There are a few cultural differences and customs that you should be aware of in Puerto Vallarta. One thing that you may notice is timeshare salespeople and vendors who may come across as excessively pushy and aggressive when trying to get your attention. This is something that Mexicans and frequent visitors get used to and learn to block out. Here are some strategies you can use for dealing with pushy vendors.

Mexican mealtimes may be on a different schedule from what you're used to, with the main meal of the day taken in the afternoon between 2 and 4 pm. In restaurants, the server will not bring you the bill until you request it. Ask for “la cuenta, por favor,” or make a sign of writing in the air. Usually the tip (“propina” in Spanish) is not included, and you should add 10 to 20% depending on the quality of service. Tipping is customary in bars and restaurants, but not so much in food stalls and markets (though always appreciated). It's also customary to tip bellhops and cleaning staff at your hotel.

Money Saving Tips

There’s no need to break the bank on a trip to Puerto Vallarta. If you stick to a budget hotel or AirBnB, ride city buses, eat at economical restaurants and street food stands, and avoid taking high priced tours, you’ll find it can be a very inexpensive destination. Here are some other things you can do to save money:

  • Have a large breakfast, which is usually the cheapest meal of the day, then for a late lunch opt for a multi-course "comida corrida" fixed price meal. In the evening, a couple of tacos or other inexpensive street eats will suffice. 
  • Find alternative transportation methods. For example, the water taxi from the Los Muertos pier to the beaches south of Puerto Vallarta can be pretty pricey, but you can cut the cost in half if you take the city bus to Boca de Tomatlan and get a boat from there. 
  • There are plenty of free things to do in Puerto Vallarta. Strolling along the Malecón you’ll see art and will likely run into some performance to watch. The vast majority of the beaches are public and you can enjoy them without any cost if you bring whatever you need with you.
  • Instead of buying drinks at restaurants or bars, head to a local store to buy your water or cold cervezas, you'll find they cost a fraction of the price, and you can find a nice spot to enjoy them on the beach or in your hotel.
  • The main nightly show, the sunset, is free for all and a wonderful way to enjoy Puerto Vallarta.
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