If you have yet to discover the charm of Puerto Vallarta, you’re going to love it!
Your first visit is about to be filled with oceanfront boardwalks, authentic architecture and cobblestone streets, endless sunsets, an abundance of street food, lively beaches with swimmable water, street art, colors and culture and outdoor adventures.
And not only that, Puerto Vallarta is still quite cheap!
Yes, you can definitely find places that break the bank, but the local food is so flavorful and fresh, and you can find hidden gem restaurants for only a few dollars a meal.
Combine that with some boutique hotels or Airbnbs for less than $50 per night, Puerto Vallarta is still an inexpensive Mexican vacation destination.
Since Puerto Vallarta is a lot different from other popular spots in Mexico like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Cabo and Oaxaca, there are some essential things to know before visiting this city for the first time.
I visit Puerto Vallarta 2 to 3 times per year and hope this guide helps you plan your first trip with ease!
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What is Puerto Vallarta Known For?
Puerto Vallarta is known for being a coastal resort city with great swimmable beaches, an abundance of local culture, spanish colonial architecture, flavorful (and cheap) street food, captivating sunsets and outdoor adventures.
It’s also best known for its lively Malecon, which the ocean front boardwalk that stretches for miles.
The Best Months to Visit Puerto Vallarta Based on Weather
The best time of year to go to Puerto Vallarta is between November and April, with late January through early April being the busiest, as the weather is the most pleasant.
For great weather but fewer tourists, I recommend visiting Puerto Vallarta in early November or late April as these are the very beginning and tail ends of high season.
The coldest month in Puerto Vallarta is January, and the hottest month is 6 months later in July.
In December, January and February, you might even be a little chilly in the evenings. I usually always need a sweater in the evenings.
Because of rainy season and high humidity, late July through September is usually the cheapest time to travel to Puerto Vallarta.
I would avoid booking a trip during Holy Week (Semana Santa), starting on Palm Sunday leading up to Easter Sunday each year. It is extremely busy and hectic, as this is a holiday week for most nationals.
How Many Days Do You Need in Puerto Vallarta
The beauty of Puerto Vallarta is that it’s a small city within a big area.
So if you only have 3 or 4 days, that’s plenty of time to enjoy the main sights of Puerto Vallarta and visit some great restaurants and find some street tacos.
However, you could stay for 1 or 2 weeks in Puerto Vallarta and never run out of things to do or places to see.
Puerto Vallarta sits in the middle of Banderas Bay, which is surrounded by smaller beach towns as well as fun jungle adventures.
For your first visit though, I recommend spending at least 5 days and 5 nights in Puerto Vallarta (at minimum).
Where to Stay in Puerto Vallarta for Your First Time
The Main Neighborhoods
Nuevo Vallarta (also known as Nuevo Nayarit) is where you’ll find the mega all inclusive resorts.
Then you’ll pass the Marina Vallarta, home to high end condos and hotels where you can watch the cruise ships and yachts roll in.
Then you’ll pass the Hotel Zone, which has several all inclusive resorts, and is about a 30 minute walk into the downtown area.
After a few more minutes you’ll pass by 5 de Diciembre, Centro, Zona Romantica, Amapas and Conchas Chinas.
These are the neighborhoods I recommend staying in.
Types of Hotels to Stay At
I recommend avoiding staying at an all inclusive resort in Puerto Vallarta, especially if it’s your first time.
There are just too many great places to stay in the lively and local neighborhoods, which is what separates Puerto Vallarta from other places like Cancun or Playa del Carmen.
I suggest a boutique hotel in either downtown/centro or the Zona Romantica (romantic zone).
These neighborhoods are side by side and walkable to each other within minutes.
They’re divided by the Cuale River.
If you’re comfortable or familiar with renting Airbnbs, there are lots of great choices in the neighborhoods I mentioned above.
If you stay in downtown/centro, you’ll be very close to all the action on the Malecon.
The closer you stay to the Malecon, the busier (and potentially louder) it will be.
If you stay just a few blocks up from the Malecon, it will be very quiet, and you’ll have great views of the city.
In this area, I love Luna Liquida Boutique Hotel.
It’s a 16-room hotel with a rooftop pool and patio area with views of the entire city. Each room is different, and the whole hotel has a laid back vibe.
I also recommend staying in the Zona Romantica, which has a high concentration of restaurants, coffee shops and bars for nightlife.
Since this is the oldest part of Puerto Vallarta, it’s where you’ll find the narrow cobblestone streets, red-tile roofs and white washed brick houses.
You’ll be in the heart of the city, but it’s also easily walkable to the Malecon.
I love staying at Casa Maria Hotel Boutique to be close to all the action, yet still have a quiet hotel to come back to and chill.
(It’s also adults only).
The pool area is a vibe with a bar in the afternoon, and coffee and light pastries are set out each morning for guests to self serve.
If you stay within a couple blocks of the ocean in the zona romantica, it will definitely be busy.
But if you keep going a few more blocks, it will be much quieter, but still easily walkable to anywhere you want to go.
If this is what you’re after, I highly recommend staying at Rivera del Rio.
It’s adjacent to the river and an 8 minute walk to the beach. Because of this, it’s in a calm and quiet area.
The hotel itself has a whimsical theme, and the heated rooftop pool offers incredible sunset views.
What To Budget for Your First Trip in Puerto Vallarta
While inflation has hit many parts of the world, including Puerto Vallarta, it can still be a very cheap and inexpensive city to visit.
As far as how much you’ll be spending during your vacation in Vallarta, it depends on your budget and what type of vacation you’re after.
On average, you should plan between $30 and $75 spending money per person per day in Puerto Vallarta.
This is for food, drinks and maybe purchasing a couple of souvenirs.
For one week in Puerto Vallarta, I usually spend about 10,000 pesos.
I take out 5,000 pesos from the ATM on the first day, and then another 5,000 pesos for the second half of the trip.
For a better idea, let’s break down the total cost for your Puerto Vallarta trip based on accommodations, food & drink and sightseeing or tours.
How Much to Spend on Accommodations
Regarding accommodations, if you’re on a budget, you can find great hotels in the heart of the romantic zone for $40 per night.
Hotel Posada de Roger is my favorite place to stay on a budget in PV.
You can also find dozens of highly rated boutique hotels ranging from $100 to $250 per night.
Of course, you can spend a lot more than that if you choose.
Depending on your budget, you will have plenty of accommodation options to choose from between $40 and $250 per night.
How Much to Spend on Food
Again, when it comes to food, you can spend as little or as much as you want and have a delicious meal every single time in Puerto Vallarta.
Cost does not equal quality, quantity and flavor in this city.
I’ve found that a standard ‘’tourist’ breakfast at any standard restaurant is going to cost on average about 300 pesos ($15) for 2 people.
This will be a breakfast consisting of something along the lines of bacon & eggs, an omelet, waffles/pancakes with protein or chilaquiles (basically Mexican breakfast nachos).
This also includes coffee or juice for 2 people.
However, you can also find great breakfast for about 50 pesos or $2.50 per person in Puerto Vallarta.
Many mornings we ate birria tacos.
This is a traditional dish in this area of Mexico, which is a stewed meat.
Traditionally it’s goat, but we found most places used beef.
It’s marinated in this incredible broth and served in tacos, with the consommé served on the side.
Need ideas about where to eat? Insider’s Guide to the Best Breakfasts in Puerto Vallarta
Lunch & Dinner
When it comes to how much to expect to spend on lunch and dinner in Puerto Vallarta, prices vary.
Street tacos, especially Al Pastor, which is marinated pork roasted on a spit, are very popular.
You can find them all over the city for about 20 to 25 pesos per taco. About one dollar.
And they load them with meat, so you have a full meal with 2 to 4 tacos.
If you find a traditional Mexican restaurant where mostly locals eat, you can have a big meal with a couple drinks for about $12 to $18 for 2 people.
You can also find cheap dinner along the Malecon or at the many park plazas each night.
Food vendors set up every night and if you don’t mind eating street food (which I encourage you to do so), you can sample a few different dishes, like enchiladas, for only a few dollars each.
More popular or touristy restaurants serving up dishes like fajitas or coconut shrimp are going to run about $15 to $20 per entrée or main course.
Drinks and Happy Hour
Along the Malecon and the beach, most bars and restaurants will charge anywhere from 35 to 75 pesos per beer (2 to 4 dollars).
And 130 to 160 pesos (6 to 8 dollars) for cocktails like margaritas, pina coladas or daiquiris.
Often in the afternoon hours, the most popular happy hour deal you’ll see is 2 for 1 on drinks like margaritas.
This means that one person can have 2 drinks for the price of fun. Unfortunately this can’t be split between 2 people.
How Much to Spend on Things to Do, Sightseeing and Tours
Many of the sights and experiences of Puerto Vallarta are free.
Walking the Malecon, strolling through the markets, exploring the beaches and catching sunsets are completely free.
In fact, I have a full guide on the best free and cheap things to do in Puerto Vallarta.
I do recommend trying some walking food tours or tequila and mezcal tasting experiences.
These types of tours (lasting about 3 hours) usually run anywhere between $40 and 65 per person.
Day tours, such as beach and snorkeling and booze cruise tours are going to cost between $100 and $160 per person.
Keep in mind tours in these price ranges usually include a meal, such as lunch, and drinks and snacks.
Top Things to Do for Your First Time in Puerto Vallarta
As far as the main things to see and do on your first trip to Puerto Vallarta, you’ve got an endless amount of activities.
To soak up the energy and the sights of the city, don’t miss walking up and down the entire Malecon at least a couple of times.
Do this both during the day and at night.
Stroll through the streets of the Zona Romantica and visit the Los Muertos pier.
Try al pastor street tacos at any taco stand, they’re all good!
Go market shopping under the lush vegetation at the Rio Cuale Market.
There’s great hiking. I recommend a hike up to the Mirador Cerro de la Cruz viewpoint for a city view.
Or take the bus to Boca de Tomatlan and hike through the jungle to multiple small beach coves.
Visit Yelapa, a small fishing village only accessible by boat. Hike to waterfalls and then enjoy lunch or drinks at the beach bars.
Do a snorkel and boat cruise to Las Caletas or Marietas Island (the hidden beach in the middle of the ocean).
You’ll find Vallarta Adventures is the largest tour company in Puerto Vallarta.
If it’s your first time in Puerto Vallarta, this is a very reputable company to go with, and they put together some fantastic trips for tourists.
Rhythms of the Night is the highest rated dinner, show and cruise in Puerto Vallarta.
This 5 hour experience includes a sunset catamaran ride to an isolated beach where you have dinner and watch a Cirque du Soleil style show.
If you visit between December and March, whale watching is one of the best sea activities.
And since Puerto Vallarta is located in the state of Jalisco, you must do some tequila tasting. Jalisco is the only state where real tequila can be produced.
For more adventurous excursions, there’s great zipline tours, dune buggy tours and natural hot springs tours.
For nature lovers, the Vallarta Botanical Gardens are one of the best on the planet, there’s an incredible butterfly sanctuary, or there’s great bird watching tours.
Puerto Vallarta Transportation and Airport Tips
When you arrive at the airport in Puerto Vallarta, the most important thing to know is to get outside as fast as you can!
Once you pass through immigration, customs and collect your luggage, you’ll pass through a busy corridor.
This will be full of people who will try and grab your attention, offering to help you with transportation.
These are usually sales reps for timeshares and they’re not authorized transportation.
Only private transportation, taxis and transport arranged through your hotel will be outside the airport.
I recommend just avoiding anyone in this busy corridor trying to get your attention, and make your way outside before talking to anyone.
Transportation Tips and Getting Around the City
At the airport, you can take a taxi, Uber or the public bus to get to your hotel or rental accommodation.
Airport taxis are the most expensive, but the most convenient. It will cost you about 400 to 450 pesos to get to downtown.
If you exit the airport and immediately turn left, you can walk across the orange pedestrian bridge and grab an Uber or an inexpensive taxi from there. It will be about half the cost.
Uber is readily available throughout the city and works the same as it does at home.
The public bus system runs frequently and is 10 pesos to almost everywhere in the city.
Walking in Puerto Vallarta
And finally, walking is my favorite (and the best) way to get around and travel within Puerto Vallarta.
It’s probably one of the most walkable cities you’ll ever visit.
If you’re staying in the zona romantica, Conchas Chinas, centro/downtown, 5 de Diciembre or even the hotel zone, you can walk anywhere. It’s safe and the neighborhoods are close together.
It’s not uncommon for me to put on between 20 and 25,000 steps in a day exploring Puerto Vallarta.
Should You Bring Dollars or Pesos to Puerto Vallarta?
The money used in Puerto Vallarta is Mexican Pesos.
While US dollars are widely accepted in the touristy zones of Puerto Vallarta, I recommend using Pesos, because you’ll get a much better rate.
And the good news is that you can wait to get pesos until you arrive in Puerto Vallarta.
The best place is to go to an ATM that’s attached to a bank, and just withdraw cash (pesos) as you normally would.
You’ll get a much better rate than any currency exchange – just look for ATMs that have a transaction fee of 35 pesos or less. I’ve seen some as high as 80 pesos.
How Safe is Puerto Vallarta for Travel
Puerto Vallarta is a very safe city to visit.
In fact, it’s considered safer than many major North American cities.
It’s also very safe for solo travelers. That being said, you still want to use common sense like you would anywhere else.
Keep your wits about you, be aware of your surroundings, don’t carry large amounts of cash or have large amounts of flashy and expensive jewelry on you.
Don’t leave your bag anywhere unattended and you’ll be just fine.
There are a few distinct things you should be aware of in Puerto Vallarta regarding safety, especially these 7 scams to watch out for.
More Puerto Vallarta Travel Tips
I wrote this post to provide a general overview to cover all the major things at a high level that anyone would need to know before visiting Puerto Vallarta for the first time.
If you want to dive deeper into even more things to know, I wrote an entire other guide that focuses solely on my ultimate list of Puerto Vallarta travel tips.
I’ve collected these tips after multiple trips to Puerto Vallarta, and some I wasn’t even aware of until after visiting a few times.
It’s too much for one post, so you can read the rest of my Puerto Vallarta travel tips here.
Watch the full video I put together for first time travelers to Puerto Vallarta: