It sounds strange but when a destination has a lot of choices of accommodations, the harder it can be deciding which one to pick. If you’ve planned on visiting Puerto Vallarta and researched where to stay, you may have noticed that there are a lot of options. There are also some very distinctive neighborhoods. Which one is right for you depends on your needs and what your plans are.
I had never visited the coastal beaches of Jalisco until recently. Once I went, I was hooked. It was love at first sight. Since that first time, I’ve had the chance to spend several weeks there. After checking different neighborhoods and staying in several different places, I have a pretty good grasp of the area. Here, I’m going to review five different areas that will, hopefully, help you decide what’s the best area for you to stay in Puerto Vallarta.
The Romantic Zone
My favorite and preferred neighborhood to stay in is the Romantic Zone or La Zona Romantica. You may have also heard it referred to as Old Town. Even though Puerto Vallarta is a big city with over a quarter of a million inhabitants, you would never know it when you stay in this area. This charming, quaint neighborhood transports you back to a simpler time with it’s narrow cobblestone streets and colorful buildings. You get to experience old school Vallarta.
Situated south of the Rio Cuale, which kind of divides the city, the Romantic Zone is full of smaller budget friendly, boutique hotels, inns, condos and even a hostel. There are some larger hotels in this area but no mega resorts like in the hotel zone. You really never have to leave this neighborhood if you don’t want to because it has the highest concentration of restaurants and bars in all of Vallarta. The hardest thing you might do all day is decide where to eat.
The beautiful Los Muertos Beach and El Muelle, or the pier, are nearby. You can hang out at the pier or even try your hand at fishing. There are plenty of umbrellas and chairs to rent from individual vendors or if you prefer a private beach club, there are some of those too. There’s even a spa with beach side hot tubs where you lounge and take in the views all while having a soak.
If you prefer to be a little more active, walk over to the nearby twelve block long, Malecon, or promenade, for sculptures, artists and street performers. You can shop or just people watch. There are several market areas that sell clothing and souvenirs. On the weekend there is also a farmer’s market.
At night this area really comes alive with restaurants featuring live music, entertainment and fireworks in high season. Don’t miss the sunset or the pirate boat tour that fires it’s “gun” nightly in the bay.
Hotel Posada de Roger is where I enjoy staying in the Romantic Zone. Built in the early seventies, the posada or inn, is a simple place with a courtyard, beautiful small pool and colorful plants. It’s not fancy and some rooms are on the small side but for what it lacks in luxury, it makes up in cleanliness and customer service. If you like feeling at home, even having a communal kitchen to use, then you might just love this place as much as I do. There is a also a restaurant on site and some great restaurants around it.
Getting around: The Romantic Zone is about thirty minutes from the airport. You can get there by taxi, bus or shuttle (check where you are staying to see if they offer one). At the time of writing, Uber was not allowed onto Federal property, so if you are at the airport then they aren’t allowed to pick you up. The Romantic Zone is a very friendly, safe walking neighborhood. However there are plenty of Ubers and taxis if you choose not to walk. If you plan on renting a car, parking is very limited in this area.
It’s very easy to catch the bus south if you are planning any day trips to Mismaloya, Boca or Yelapa. The bus leaves from the corner of Basilio Badilla and Calle Constitucion at the OXXO. It’s 8 pesos or about 42 cents to ride one way.
Despite the fact that the Marina area of Puerto Vallarta doesn’t have the easiest beach access, unless you are at one of the big hotels on the beach, it’s another one of my favorite areas. It has quiet tree lines streets with plenty of condos, boutique hotels and resorts. There are shops, spas, golf courses, tennis courts, bowling, restaurants, hair salons. It’s really a city within a city. It even has it’s own school and Post Office.
I stayed the hip San Tropico Hotel, which is more condo than hotel. I was ready to move right in! The grounds and everything about it was fantastic. I had two bedrooms and a full kitchen. The best part? The pool area! Even though I’m usually a beach girl, that pool made cheating on the beach very easy. The staff went out of their way to make sure I was comfortable and all my needs were met. When I checked in early, they kept my luggage and let me go hang around the pool. There is a bar that offers breakfast, drinks and beer through out the day. If you decide to roll out of your chair and be a little more active, there are yoga classes poolside too.
Getting around: Marina Vallarta is just ten minutes from the airport via taxi. Again, check with your hotel to see if they offer a shuttle. Taxis and Uber available in the marina and the resorts but you will have to call for one if you are staying somewhere on one of the residential streets around the marina. If you are renting a car, parking is congested and limited in the marina.
For travel into downtown or to the Romantic Zone from the marina, you can walk out to the main road and catch a local bus at the Starbucks. Buses should have the destination written on the windshield but you might want to verify with your driver when you get on, just in case. Heading north? Catch a bus at the stop in front of the Walmart/Sam’s Club across from the Maritime Terminal where the Cruise Ships dock.
Airport & Bus Station Area
When I travel I always try to sneak in a little bit of a road trip, however I can, so the first time I went to Puerto Vallarta this year, I traveled by bus from Guadalajara. I knew I would be getting in late and at that point I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. So I decided to look for something close to the bus station/airport for the night.
I chose the City Express which is a Mexican chain of hotels geared towards the business traveler. The room was exceptionally clean and had a great view for a hotel located in this area of Vallarta. Very good service and a nice pool.
This area would be a great jumping off spot if you plan on some day trips or activities north of Puerto Vallarta or if you like me are passing through or don’t really know what you want to do.
Getting around: located about five minutes from the airport. It can be reached by bus as well as taxi. I’m sure you could arrange a shuttle but being so close and with so many other options I think that would be unnecessary unless your hotel offers one. If you are headed to outlying area north such as Nuevo Vallarta or Bucerias, you can catch a bus in front of Walmart/Sam’s Club across from the Maritime Terminal where the Cruise Ships dock.
Puerto Vallarta’s hotel zone is fairly large and runs along the beaches of downtown. There are plenty of hotels, resorts, and condominiums. My first time in Vallarta was high season and kind of last minute trip but I snagged a smaller hotel in the northern end of the hotel zone, in the 5 de Deciembre neighborhood. It’s a good neighborhood and even in high season, fairly quiet. While you are not directly on the Malecon, it’s close enough to easily walk to it.
Most hotels and resorts have a pool so even if you aren’t a beach person this is still a great area. The beaches are a bit rockier than others but I found them to be quieter and less crowded. Another plus of being on the north side is you have closer access to the Marina other areas north of Vallarta that are worthy of visiting, like Nueva Vallarta, Bucerias or Sayulita in Nayarit.
You can rent chairs and umbrellas from vendors on the beach or there is a beach club called Mangos on Playa Camarones. While Mangos has better chairs, I found the individual vendors offered just as good of service. A chair and umbrella set you back about $10 USD. Even if you do rent from individuals you can order food from Mangos.
The hotel I stayed at was called El Pescador. It’s a beautifully maintained hotel from the outside but it needs work on the inside. Over the course of two days I had three different rooms. The issue could have been remedied but they were not concerned because basically they had their money because I had prepaid. The customer service was unacceptable. I felt like no one cared if I ever stayed there again. And I won’t. There are other hotel options with the same price point in this neighborhood.
Getting around: depending on where your hotel is in the Hotel Zone, you are about twenty minutes from the airport. Again, check with you hotel to see if they offer a shuttle. There are plenty of buses and taxis to take you to this area from the airport. Uber, taxis and buses are plentiful in the neighborhood. It’s also very walking friendly and safe and you can quickly get to the Malecon.
The South Zone is located on the road that takes you south out of town. This area is known for it’s luxurious resorts and hotels. Many are perched high on the hillside and have stunning views of the Bay of Banderas and the surrounding jungle. I didn’t stay overnight in this area but had the opportunity to spend the day and eat at Garza Blanca, a five star, all inclusive luxury resort. This zone is best suited for the traveler who has access to a car or shuttle or someone content to stay put. The buses that run south will stop at most of the resorts but I think it would get old taking the bus into town every time you wanted to go somewhere. Most of the resorts in the South Zone have a restaurant on site.
You definitely can’t beat the views. The water at that those southern beaches is spectacular.
Puerto Vallarta Tips
High season is November through April so if you are want to visit but also save money, visit after the Easter holiday. The weather is great and the rainy season hasn’t started yet. I was able to get significant savings in May as opposed to February.
While US Dollars might be excepted in some places, if you pay with them you will get pesos back and the exchange rate won’t be good. You are better off to go ahead and exchange money. However, you don’t have to do this at the airport. There are plenty of banks, ATMs and change houses, especially in the Romantic Zone and the Hotel Zone. If you go to the Bank to exchange, you should not only carry your passport, but two copies of it. The banks used to make a copy and keep it, but now they expect you to bring a copy for them. The exchange rate at the change houses isn’t bad but the bank is always better. TIP: make sure there are no Mexican holidays while you are visiting since many places close, including banks and change houses. It might catch you by surprise if you need money. Ask me how I know.
It’s been reported in the news that certain areas of Mexico have a problem with drugs being added to drinks. While I have not heard of this personally in Puerto Vallarta, I’d be remiss to not mention it. My advice, always watch your drink. I drank beer. Not specifically because of this but that it’s just easier to watch them open a beer than mix a drink. Since I was traveling alone I wanted to be extra cautious.
Wherever you decide to stay in Puerto Vallarta, I’m sure you will love it. I really don’t think there is a bad location or a bad time to go. It has been one of the highlights of my year and look forward to going back many time. Also check out my post about Sayulita if you planning on visiting there while you are in Puerto Vallarta.