It might sound strange but it seems the more hotels and resorts a destination offers, the harder it can be deciding where to stay. If you have ever thought about visiting Puerto Vallarta and researched hotels, you may have noticed that there are some very distinctive neighborhoods full of resorts, hotels and condominiums. So which one is right for you? Up until this year I had never been to Puerto Vallarta. After visiting once, I quickly fell in love with it and have, since then, had the opportunity to spend several weeks there. Using my time to check out different neighborhoods and plenty of beaches, I’m going to break Vallarta into five areas that will, hopefully, help you decide what’s the best area to stay in Puerto Vallarta.
The Romantic Zone
My favorite area in Puerto Vallarta is the Romantic Zone or the Zona Romantica. You may also hear it referred to Old Town. Even though this is a city with over a quarter of a million inhabitants, you would never know it staying in the Romantic Zone. With small cobblestone streets and colorful buildings, this neighborhood transports you back to a simpler time. You can really get a taste of Mexican hospitality, food and culture in this neighborhood. Situated south of the Rio Cuale, it’s full of smaller budget friendly, boutique hotels, inns, condos and even some hostels. There are some larger hotels in this area but no mega resorts. Another bonus is this area has the highest concentration of restaurants and bars in all of Vallarta.
The beautiful Los Muertos Beach and the pier or El Muelle, are just steps away. By day, you can choose to rent umbrellas and chairs from the various vendors or beach clubs. There’s even a spa where the hottubs have a beach view.
Walk over to the twelve block Malecon, or oceanside promenade, for the sculptures and street artists, or just to people watch. There is plenty of music, entertainment and shopping. The city has a nightly fireworks show in high season. Don’t miss the pirate boat tour that fires it’s “gun” nightly in the bay.
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. Once in the Romantic Zone, there are plenty of taxis and Ubers should you choose to ride instead of walk. You should walk some though. It’s a very friendly, safe neighborhood. If you plan on renting a car, parking is very limited in this area.
If you are planning any day trips south, for example to Mismaloya, Boca or Yelapa, it’s easy to catch the bus at the corner of Basilio Badilla and Calle Constitucion at the OXXO. It’s 8 pesos to ride one way. That’s about 42 cents.
I love staying at Hotel Posada de Roger. Built in the early seventies, the posada or inn, is a simple place with a courtyard, beautiful small pool and gorgeous plants. It’s not fancy and some rooms are on the small side. What it lacks in luxury, it makes up for 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.
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 also one of my favorite areas and one of the best areas to stay in Puerto Vallarta. 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.
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 should be available in the marina and the resorts but you will have to call for one if you are staying somewhere on a 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, 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.
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.
Airport & Bus Station Area
Always trying to sneak in a little bit of a road trip, however I can, 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 a hotel slightly closer to the city center and with a better view than others. It’s not really an area that I would want to be in for a long time but for a weekend or a stopover, it works great. This area would be a great jumping off spot if you plan on some day trips or activities north of Puerto Vallarta.
This area is 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.
I stayed at the City Express which is a Mexican chain of hotels geared towards the business traveler. I found the room to be very clean and it had a great view for a hotel located in this area of Vallarta. Very good service and a nice pool. I would not hesitate to stay here again.
The Hotel Zone of Puerto Vallarta is quite large and runs along the beaches. There are hotels, resorts, and condominiums. My first time in Vallarta was in high season and since it was a last minute trip, I didn’t have a lot of hotels to choose from. I was able to find a smaller hotel in the northern end of the hotel zone, located just north of the start of the Malecon in the 5 de Deciembre neighborhood. I liked this neighborhood a lot and found it, even in high season, to be fairly quiet. While you are not directly on the Malecon, it’s close enough to easily walk to it.
You can rent chairs and umbrellas from vendors on the beach or there is a beach club called Mangos in Playa Camarones. While Mangos has better chairs, I found the individual vendors offered just as good of service. For about $10 USD you can rent a chair and umbrella. I did eat food from Mangos one day and it was pretty tasty. It’s hard to beat fish tacos on the beach.
Most hotels and resorts have pools so if you aren’t a beach person you would enjoy this area. The beaches are quieter and the sunsets stunning. Another is being on the north side you have closer access to the Marina, shopping and other areas north of Puerto Vallarta that you might want to visit, like Nueva Vallarta, Bucerias or Sayulita.
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.
I stayed at a smaller hotel called El Pescador. It’s a beautifully maintained hotel from the outside but it needs work on the inside. I had a bad experience with three different rooms over the course of two days. 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.
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!
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.
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