Puerto Vallarta at a Glance
Nestled on Mexico’s Pacific coast, Puerto Vallarta is a captivating blend of natural beauty and rich culture.
With its sun-kissed beaches, stunning landscapes, and vibrant culinary scene, it’s one of the most unique places to visit in Mexico for foreigners and locals alike.
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Airport: PVR – Licenciado Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport
Time Zone: Central Standard Time
Currency: Mexican Peso (credit cards accepted)
Language: Spanish, but English is common (you don’t need to know Spanish to visit)
Electric sockets & plugs: they use Type A (two-prong) and Type B (three-prong) – if you’re traveling with lots of electronics, bring a small powerstrip because most hotel rooms do not have enough outlets.
Getting around: Taxis, Ubers and local buses are all fine to use.
Top food to try: Tacos al Pastor
Top activity: Hidden beach at Marietas Islands
Where is Puerto Vallarta Located?
Puerto Vallarta can be found on the western coast of Mexico, right along the beautiful shores of the Pacific Ocean, as you can see in the map above.
It’s in the state of Jalisco, which is kind of like a Mexican version of a “state” in the U.S.
When you look at it on the map, it’s right in the middle of the Bahia de Banderas, or Banderas Bay.
How to Get There
Most major airlines fly directly into the Puerto Vallarta airport, named Licenciado Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport.
The airport code is PVR so you can search easily for flights.
One of the best things about arriving in Puerto Vallarta is that the airport is in the city.
It’s located very close to the Marina and hotel zone, which are only about a 10 minute drive away.
To get to downtown neighborhoods (like centro and zona romantica), you’re only a 20 minute drive form the airport.
Here are flight times from some popular cities:
Los Angeles: 3 hours
Vancouver: 4 hours, 30 minutes
Calgary: 4.5 hours
Toronto: 5 hours
Phoenix: 2.5 hours
New York City: 5 Hours
Cancun: 5 hours
What’s the Best Time to Visit Puerto Vallarta?
November to April – high season
November to April is the time to visit Puerto Vallarta, when the temperatures are mild, and the humidity and mosquitoes are at bay.
You’ll find many American, Canadian and European travelers visit during this time.
A huge reason to visit at this time of year is because of the annual whale migration in Mexico.
From January to March, magnificent species like Pacific gray, humpback, orcas, and others gracefully traverse the Pacific coast of Mexico as they make their way to their breeding grounds.
Here are more details about what you can expect if you’re visiting in February, for example.
May & June – shoulder season
Many people still visit in May and June, which is considered shoulder season and the beginning of off-season.
It can be a great time to visit because the winter crowds have thinned out and hotel prices are a little cheaper.
The weather gets hot, but it’s not at its peak humidity yet.
You’ll also notice a lot more Mexican citizens start to travel and take holidays.
July to October – off season
July through October is the rainy season in Puerto Vallarta and it gets extremely humid.
However, it’s usually sunny during the day or at least until mid afternoon, and then it usually rains every evening.
Many restaurants in the ‘touristy’ areas shut down for the month of September, so I do not recommend visiting during that month.
Where to Stay in Puerto Vallarta (neighborhood guide)
For easy navigating and holiday planning, Puerto Vallarta is split into different zones, which all have their own features.
Starting from North to South, here is a summary of all the zones & why you might want to consider staying there.
North Zone (Zona Norte)
Starting about 30 minutes north of the airport and beyond, you’ll find small towns and secluded resorts.
Quiet and serene, this zone offers a relaxing escape from the hustle and bustle, with secluded beaches and charming fishing villages.
This actually stretches into the next state, called Nayarit.
Stay here if you crave a serene getaway, surrounded by untouched beaches and quaint fishing villages, far from the bustling tourist crowds.
I recommend visiting Bucerias or La Cruz de Huanacaxtle.
A bit north of Puerto Vallarta, this upscale area is renowned for its luxury resorts, golf courses, and water adventures, perfect for travelers seeking an opulent beachfront experience.
Stay here if you’re looking for an opulent beachfront escape with luxurious resorts, world-class golf courses, and a taste of upscale coastal living.
A paradise for golf enthusiasts and water sports lovers, this zone boasts a tranquil atmosphere, luxury resorts, and a picturesque marina with fine dining options.
Marina Vallarta, stay here if you’re a golf enthusiast or enjoy watersports, as it offers a tranquil atmosphere, luxury resorts, and a picturesque marina with fine dining options.
Hotel Zone (Zona Hotelera)
Perfect for beach lovers, this zone offers a plethora of beachfront resorts, water activities, and stunning views of Banderas Bay.
Stay here if you want beachfront resorts and being perfectly in the middle of the airport and downtown.
Downtown (El Centro)
This bustling area is known for its vibrant nightlife, historic charm, and a wide range of dining options, making it perfect for visitors looking to immerse themselves in the local culture.
Stay here if you want to experience Puerto Vallarta’s vibrant nightlife, soak up its historic charm, and savor a diverse range of dining options, all while immersing yourself in the local culture.
Romantic Zone (Zona Romántica)
Famous for its lively atmosphere, beautiful beaches, and LGBTQ-friendly scene, this area is ideal for travelers seeking a blend of relaxation and excitement.
Stay here for a blend of locals and tourists, old world architecture, a huge concentration of bars and the LGBTQ-friendly scene.
Nestled between the beach and downtown, Amapas is a peaceful neighborhood, perfect for travelers looking to enjoy both serene surroundings and easy access to Puerto Vallarta’s lively attractions.
Perched on the hillsides, Conchas Chinas offers upscale villas with breathtaking ocean views, making it a haven for those seeking luxurious tranquility.
South Zone (Zona Sur)
Nature enthusiasts will find solace in this lush area, known for its pristine beaches, tropical forests, and opportunities for hiking and eco-tourism.
stay here if you’re a nature-enthusiast seeking pristine beaches, tropical forests, and opportunities for hiking and eco-tourism.
For a more in-depth guide, check out my post on the different neighborhoods in Puerto Vallarta.
Best Things to Do & Top Attractions in Puerto Vallarta
Visiting Puerto Vallarta has so much to offer!
You’re surrounded by beautiful beaches to one side and mountains to the other, whale watching in winter is a must-do activity, there’s gorgeous resorts, fantastic hiking, tequila tours, tasty local cuisine and an endless amount of day trips and excursions.
Plus, you’ll be blown away by the city’s history, colorful architecture and friendly locals.
It might be one of the best destinations in Mexico with the biggest variety of unique things to do, like visiting natural hot springs and bioluminescent kayaking with glowing plankton.
Here are some of my top picks for things to do in Puerto Vallarta:
Best Puerto Vallarta Tours
Tours in Puerto Vallarta are a great way to see the city, its vibrant neighborhoods and the surrounding areas — and unless you’re planning to rent a car in Puerto Vallarta, this is the best way to get around because Uber rides and taxis add up quickly!
Below, you’ll find the most popular and best tours in Puerto Vallarta, and the surrounding areas.
Downtown Puerto Vallarta Food Tour: 5-star rating, sample dishes at 10 spots!
Zipline, Tequila & Speed Boat All Inclusive tour: 5-star rating, biggest variety!
Wild Dolphin Swimming: the only way to swim with dolphins in Puerto Vallarta!
Sea Limousine to Yelapa Waterfall: if you only do one boat excursion, this is the one to pick!
Natural Hot Springs tour: this one is my favorite! (tell them Aly Smalls sent you for VIP treatment)
Tip: if you’re curious, watch my vlog about our day trip to the hot springs!
Is Puerto Vallarta Safe for Travelers?
While no destination is entirely without risk, Puerto Vallarta maintains a reputation as a safe haven for tourists.
For first-time visitors to Puerto Vallarta, especially those new to Mexico, the city generally offers a safe and welcoming environment.
It’s a popular tourist destination with a strong focus on visitor safety.
The city center and tourist areas are well-patrolled, and violent crime against tourists is relatively rare.
However, like any tourist destination, it’s essential to take standard precautions:
- be mindful of your belongings
- avoid walking alone in unfamiliar areas at night
- use reputable transportation services
Like any city, there are some scams that visitors need to be aware of, which I discuss in my article here.
By staying aware and following common-sense guidelines, your visit to Puerto Vallarta is likely to be a safe and enjoyable experience.
I go in-depth about safety in Puerto Vallarta in my video here.
General Puerto Vallarta Travel Tips
After over 20 visits to Puerto Vallarta, I’ve made a list of some random travel tips that are helpful to know.
Greetings and Manners
It’s very common for locals to greet you and say hello, whether you’re passing them in the streets or at the resorts.
They’re just very friendly people! Don’t be afraid to smile and meet them with a greeting such as:
- Hola: hello
- Buenos dias: good morning
- Buenos tardes: good afternoon
- Buenas noches: good evening or goodnight
- Por favor: please
- Gracias: thank you
One of my favorite things to do is browse all the markets for handicrafts and other handmade souvenirs and trinkets.
If you’re looking at an item that doesn’t have a price, it’s very common to negotiate to come to an agreement on price. This is normal and expected!
I suggest asking them to name their price, and then off about 50% less. Usually you can meet in the middle and come to an agreement for a price of 65 to 75% of the original asking price.
And remember, if it’s not a price you’re comfortable paying, it’s perfectly acceptable to say thank you and walk away.
(they might even offer you a lower price at this point).
Street Food & Tacos
Puerto Vallarta’s food culture is all about tacos and street food.
You can’t visit this city without trying at least a few dishes.
First, if you’ve never tried street food (or traditional Mexican tacos for that matter), book a walking street food tour at the beginning of your trip!
Then, you can go back and visit all your favorite spots and have the confidence to branch out and try other places.
Also, meal times in Puerto Vallarta are a little different than what you might be used to in the USA or Canada.
While restaurants will always be open at traditional meal times, you might be wondering why some places are completely empty or packed at odd times.
Mexicans traditionally have a ‘first breakfast’ which is usually coffee and a light pastry. This is early, around 7 or 8am.
Then, around 10 am they have a second breakfast which is a little heavier, and is usually something like Birria tacos.
Then lunch is usually eaten around 1 or 2pm, and usually something like tacos, tostadas or tortas.
And dinner isn’t usually eaten until 7:30 or 8pm and even much later.