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13 Puerto Vallarta travel tips for first timers

If you are traveling to Puerto Vallarta for the first time, these Puerto Vallarta travel tips will help you plan your itinerary, choose the right area where to stay, and make the most of your trip.

I lived in Puerto Vallarta for two months while I was housesitting beautiful cats and a sweet dog while working on my other blog Boundless Roads.

I made time to enjoy the quaint city and discover its secret corners and find my way around living like a local.

I will tell you about all the amazing things to do in Puerto Vallarta. In this post, I would like to focus on sharing with you some Puerto Vallarta practical tips that I consider important information to know before getting to the friendly city, so it’s Puerto Vallarta called.

Do I need travel insurance in Mexico? Yes, you do! I can never stress enough what a lifesaver it can be in unexpected situations. Although I hope I never need it, it gives me peace of mind to know that whatever happens I am covered. I have been using  Safety Wing and I find it quite fair, covering a lot for its pricing level. Depending on your needs or you can compare different insurance companies on this useful site, TRAVEL INSURANCE MASTER. Make sure you read carefully what’s included before making the purchase. If you are undecided yet you can read my post on the best travel insurance for Mexico for more clarity.

Where is Puerto Vallarta Located?

First thing first, location. Puerto Vallarta, called PV by the locals, is a tourist city in the state of Jalisco, on the Mexican west coast, right in the middle of the huge Banderas bay.

It’s actually one of the largest in the country, stretching all the way to the state of Nayarit up north and the state of Jalisco in the south. The bay is surrounded by the beautiful lush vegetation of the Sierra Madre mountains, which keeps Puerto Vallarta a little more protected from the Hurricane’s fury.

AREA: 1300 sq. km

POPULATION: 325.000 inhabitants

When is the best time to travel to Puerto Vallarta?

The climate is tropical and humid. The average temperature is around 28 C (82F). The rainy season is from late June through October.

However, you can find rain all through the year and the sun too. There is a higher risk for hurricanes from August through October.

The low season, which is from May through November is normally the cheaper and less crowded. For this time of the year, you can easily find great hotel and home deals.

Read also: Best area to stay in Puerto Vallarta

What’s the local currency?

The Mexican Peso is the local currency although US and CA dollars are accepted. It is always better to exchange your cash in banks where the exchange rate is always more convenient. Remember to carry your passport otherwise, you won’t get the service.

How to move around in Puerto Vallarta?

Puerto Vallarta is pretty much walkable wherever you go, but it’s a huge city and to move from one Zone to the other you will need transportation. Uber is available in Puerto Vallarta, in case you are wondering.

How to move around in Puerto Vallarta by bus

Urban buses run around the city quite efficiently. The fare is  8 pesos per person and segment, and you pay when you get in. There is no “transfer” ticket. Therefore every time you board a bus, you have to pay the same amount, no matter the distance.

How to move around Puerto Vallarta by taxi or Uber

Taxis have set rates according to the zones. Remember to agree on the price before boarding a taxi. You can also check the rates in the hotel lobby if you are staying in a hotel. There are fixed prices from the Airport and the Marina.

From Airport is about 340 pesos to the city center. (Uber is 140, so if you have data on your phone, it is definitely more convenient). A taxi from the center to the Airport or the “Central de autobuses” is instead 200 ( Uber 110).

Also remember that the city cab, yellow-colored, is charged by the ride and not by the passenger.

Remember to take the identification number of the taxi in case something happen or if you forget something in the cab.


Also read – Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun: which one is better?


Is tap water drinkable in Puerto Vallarta?

Tap water is not drinkable, just like anywhere in Mexico but the majority of hotels in Puerto Vallarta have a purification system. However, if you want to be sure, you can purchase bottles anywhere. It’s very important though that you stay hydrated in such a hot climate, especially when you go on a tour or stay on the beach.

What’s the time zone in Puerto Vallarta?

Puerto Vallarta and the southern part of Nayarit are on central time, whereas north of Guayabitos and San Blas is on Mountain time.

However be careful to check the time on your phone if you are in Sayulita or San Pancho because it could happen that they change automatically to the mountain time and if you have an appointment, like a tour,  you can miss it. It happened to me with a car rental 🙂

How to make phone calls in Puerto Vallarta?

Always check how much the hotel charges to make a call abroad from the room, because most of the time rates are very high, up to 7 USD per minute.

Buying a Mexican sim card would be a smart idea and it’s cheap.

How do you tip in Puerto Vallarta?

Tipping is usually around 10 to 15%  in restaurants and bars, and although it is not mandatory, it’s always expected.

It is also common practice to tip bellboys, taxis, waiters, maids at the gas station, and the baggers and parking lot guardians, in the supermarkets.  

What are the business hours in Puerto Vallarta?

Some offices typically close from 2 to 4 and reopen till 7 or 8 pm. Banks normally open from 8 or 9 am to 4 pm. Some banks open on Saturday morning as well.

Where can I exchange money in Puerto Vallarta?

Banks always offer a better rate than any money exchange office but, oddly enough, if you change at the airport you can get an even better deal. Remember to bring your passport when you exchange at the bank.

Puerto Vallarta safe travel - Boundless Roads
A sunset view from the Malecon

A pet-friendly community

During my one-month stay in Puerto Vallarta, I have noticed a strong sensitivity towards pets, especially strained dogs and cats, which are a lot. There are a huge pet rescue community and a lot of pet rescue associations, which I find amazing.

If you want to adopt a dog or a cat and live in the US or Canada, keep in mind that it is effortless to do it, and some associations help you with the documents.

If you cannot adopt but still want to help, there is often a need for a lift, meaning that adopted pets need to be taken to their new home, and you might want to help take them on your way back home. You can contact a local animal shelter for more info: 2933690.

Puerto Vallarta Botanical Garden
Puerto Vallarta Botanical Garden Photo © Isabella Biava

What are the best areas to stay in Puerto Vallarta?

The city offers a huge variety of hotels of all price ranges, and services, and in different locations.

The Zona Romantica and Old Vallarta are my favorites since they have the romantic feel of an old colonial town and are full of art galleries, and nice restaurants.

Many vegans and vegetarians, but with a vast choice of flavors and cuisines. Here you can also find the best beaches. Zona Romantica and Old Vallarta are the beating heart of Puerto Vallarta.

If you want to find out more about the different areas and you are looking for a nice place to stay, my guide on The best area to stay in Puerto Vallarta will be of help.

Vallarta Pride

Puerto Vallarta is known, among other reasons, for being one of the most gay-friendly cities in Mexico. It is actually the first destination for gay tourism in North America.

Every year in May, they have celebrations all over the city center with parades, concerts, and shows. If you wish to participate in the next edition the next year, you can check out the Vallarta Pride Facebook page for more information.

The Vallarta Pride event, held every year in May, brings more than 15.000 tourists to Puerto Vallarta, exclusively for the festival.

“It has been created to celebrate the diverse and vibrant  LGBTQ community that lives and visits Puerto Vallarta and that over the years has influenced and integrated its culture, heritage, and history.” (source: PV mirror, city paper)

hyatt puerto vallarta views
Hyatt Ziva in Puerto Vallarta – view from the room – Photo © Isabella Biava

Is Puerto Vallarta Safe?

I would say yes, Puerto Vallarta is relatively safe, for a short answer. Petty crime does exist just like in any other city in the world. So common sense is required.

There are other kinds of dangers though, that are worth mentioning:

Hurricanes

Puerto Vallarta’s weather is similar to the Caribbean coast and subject to being hit by hurricanes in the wet season, from June through October.

Although historically there haven’t been as many hurricanes as in the Caribbean, there is still a chance of being hit in the summer.

So make sure you check the weather forecast if you are traveling in the summertime.

Sea Currents

Probably you have heard about the Mexican Pacific Coast for the amazing surfing spots that attract professionals from all over the world to enjoy the greatest swells. In fact, the Pacific Coast is Ocean and different from the calm Caribbean sea, it’s very dangerous for those who are not professional swimmers and surfers.

So even if Puerto Vallarta has apparently tranquil bays keep in mind that there are very strong currents underneath the surface that can be dangerous.

Puerto Vallarta Sailship - the best time to visit Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta at sunset – Photo from Canva

Mosquitos

Mosquitos are part of the environment and love us, humans, especially in the wet seasons. (June to October).

Zika and Dengue have been detected in Mexico, and it’s not deniable. If you are subject to allergies or particularly sensitive to mosquito bites, make sure you protect yourself with repellent and long sleeves and trousers during the night. 

If you are pregnant or planning to be, both you and your partner should avoid places with risks of contracting the Zika virus as it can affect the baby’s health.

Please consult your doctor before leaving. If there is no pregnancy involved Zika virus it’s innocuous.

Sunburnt

Oh well, I shouldn’t even have to say this but the sun is strong even behind the clouds, so make sure you always wear sunscreen even when you are not on the beach, especially if you have sensitive skin. Better if the sunscreen is eco-friendly.


For Further Reading

✨ Mexico Travel Planning Guide ✨

👉 Do I need travel insurance to travel to Mexico?

I would do it if I were you. You never know what can happen and know that no matter what, you will be covered with any expenses will give you peace of mind, and make your travel worry-free. You can check out SafetyWing which I have used and find it affordable and comprehensive and also Travel Insurance Master which is great because you can insert all your information and what kind of insurance you need and their system will pull out the best insurance for your need.

🚰 Can I drink tap water in Mexico?

No, you can’t! Maybe in some areas or in some homes where they have installed water filters but to be on the safe side, I would say, never drink tap water in Mexico. Carry a water bottle with you and fill it up where you find available potable water sources. Most of the hotels have those.

🚗 Is it safe to drive in Mexico?

The short answer is: depending on where you are. Although in general if you stick to the main roads and don’t drive at night you should probably be safe. In lesser tourist areas you should probably check the local news to stay up to date. Driving in the Yucatan Peninsula is easy everywhere, even at night, although I would still avoid it. I usually use Discover Cars because the site offers the options to compare prices among different car rentals and you can add their own full coverage.

Read more on my guide on Renting a car in Mexico.

📱 Will my phone work in Mexico?

It will probably work, especially if you have a European or US phone, but your roaming rates may be to the stars (check with your SIM provider). Even if have an affordable international rate, you will be much better off by buying a Mexican SIM Card. It’s cheap, easy to set up, and it will keep you connected with your friends, family, and, more important, google Maps so you will never get lost!

🤕 Is it safe to travel to Mexico right now?

The short answer is, yes it is. However, there are parts of Mexico that are indeed troubled and you should avoid for now, and others that are super safe and easy to travel around.

Regardless of where you are you should always use some common sense rules such as, never flaunting expensive clothing, accessories, electronics, or money and keeping a low profile.

Read more on my detailed guide on safety in Mexico. If you are traveling to a specific destination I have got you covered as well:

💉 Do I need any vaccine to travel to Mexico?

No, there is no vaccine requirement (of any kind) to travel to Mexico

🇲🇽 Do I need a visa to travel to Mexico?

If you are coming from the US or Europe you don’t need a VISA to enter Mexico. Once you get in you need to fill out a form that you need to keep with you until you leave. If you don’t have it you will pay a fine.

Although the tourist visa for US and European travelers used to be 6 months long which you could easily renew by leaving the country for a couple of days and going back, nowadays they have been stricter. You may be asked how you would sustain your living and other similar questions. Sometimes they even ask you to show your credit cards.

It seems odd but they can do that. If you intend to stay longer than a usual couple of weeks’ vacation time, just be honest and explain your plans. If you are not from the US, check this site to see if you need a visa

💸 Where do I find the best travel deals for Mexico? 💸

A trip to Mexico can be expensive if you love to travel with all the comforts (like I do). There are a few tricks that will help you find the best deals. Here are my tips:

👉 DON’T travel in the high season, which is Holy week, Christmas and winter in general, and August.
👉 Book months in advance to find early booking discounts
👉 Use aggregators such as Discover Cars to find price comparisons and VRBO for vacation rentals!
👉 Look for packages flights+hotels on Expedia or Skyscanner as usually, that’s where the best deals are.
👉 Check on Booking.com or Hotels.com for hotel deals

Happy travels!!