What’s the Best Area to Stay in Puerto Vallarta

August 1, 2018

This post was updated November 2019

Are you planning a vacation to Puerto Vallarta but not sure what’s the best area to stay in? Picking the right neighborhood can save time and even money that you might spend on transportation if you aren’t in an area that fit your needs.

When I planned my first trip to Vallarta, I was unsure too. Fortunately, I’ve been able to visit a few times since then and actually stay in different neighborhoods.

By having the opportunity to stay in five of the six zones, I was able to see firsthand what worked for me and what didn’t. Hopefully sharing this info will help YOU make a decision about the best area to stay Puerto Vallarta.

The six zones in Puerto Vallarta are:

  • The Airport Zone
  • Marina Vallarta
  • The Hotel Zone
  • Downtown
  • The Romantic Zone
  • The South Zone

Let’s see what works for you.

Where is Puerto Vallarta?

Puerto Vallarta is on Mexico’s Pacific coast in the state of Jalisco. One of the things that makes it so attractive to visitors is it’s location on the Bay of Banderas. The bay is the third largest in Mexico, and since Puerto Vallarta lies almost in the middle of it, it means there’s about 30 miles of coast line.

Puerto Vallarta’s neighborhoods basically wrap around the Bay of Banderas and the coast, so there’s a multitude of choices of beaches and unique neighborhoods. You can see why picking one could prove to be a hard task.

Have you heard of Puerto Vallarta’s 12 block long boardwalk or malecon? Whether of not you’d like to be close to it affects which area you pick as well.

Along the malecon or the 12 block long boardwalk

When is the Best Time to Visit Puerto Vallarta?

November thru mid April is considered high season in Puerto Vallarta because of the perfect weather. This is the dry season so it doesn’t rain and the average temperature is about 82F. Many American and Canadian snowbirds escape the snow in the north and head south to Mexico during these months.

If Easter falls in April, you can expect that to be a busy time too. Puerto Vallarta is a popular destination for Mexicans during the Semana Santa or the holy week leading up to Easter. Many people take the entire week to spend with their families.

By May things have really slowed down. Weatherwise, it’s still a great time to visit and you can find really good deals on lodging.

June means the beginning of the rainy and low season, Expect hotter and more humid weather. The average temp is 88F. This continues through about mid October. Fortunately, when it rains it usually only rains in the evening and at night so your days shouldn’t be affected too much. Although it could be a little overcast during the day even when it’s not raining.

The Zones

Airport Zone

The first time I went to Puerto Vallarta, 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 was going to do while I was there or if I would even like it. The bus station is close to the airport so I decided to look for something close by in this area for the first night. That way if I was delayed or really tired, I wouldn’t have to travel far after a long bus ride.

City Express in this area worked perfectly for me. They are a chain of Mexican hotels geared towards the business traveler. It was reasonably priced and  exceptionally clean. From my room on the front side, I was able to see the bay and watch the cruise ships come into the marina. The hotel has a pool, complimentary breakfast and free parking

It’s not an area I would want to stay in long term, but it worked out well for that night. It would be a great jumping off spot for exploring the entire region or if you just plan on exploring the areas north of Puerto Vallata in Nayarit.

The hotel is only a quick ride from the airport or bus station and about a fifteen minute ride to downtown. It’s also an excellent area if you have a car because most hotels will have free parking available onsite. It’s much more difficult to find parking in some of the other areas.

This area would be best for:

  • someone passing through
  • someone exploring the region and areas north
  • someone with a car

Marina Vallarta

Marina Vallarta is a working marina and the area around the marina has been turned it into it’s own little city, with restaurants, shops, spas and golf courses. Practically anything you need or want is there.

Despite the fact that this area of Puerto Vallarta doesn’t have much beach access unless you stay at one of the resorts on the beach, it’s still one of my favorite areas. Quiet tree lined streets with condos and private homes surround the marina and provide a place to relax and get away from it all but you are still close enough to the action of the marina.

I stayed in the San Tropico Hotel. The name says hotel but it’s more condo than anything. Beautiful manicured grounds and the cutest pool area. Even though I’m usually a beach girl, their pool made cheating on the beach very easy. It’s even slightly heated.

I had a two bedroom condo with a complete kitchen. The entire wall in the living room opened to a huge balcony. I could have seen myself staying several months at this property.

The staff was super nice as well. When I checked in early, they not only kept my luggage, they let me go hang out around the pool even though it was early in the morning.

Onsite, there’s a bar that serves breakfast, drinks and beer through out the day. If you decide to roll out of your lounge chair and be a little more active, there are yoga classes poolside too.

The marina is only about ten minutes from the airport and ten minutes to downtown. While it is close to the action, it might be a little more complicated getting a taxi to pick you up since they aren’t just going to be on those residential streets. You shouldn’t have a problem with Uber although you may have to wait a little longer. Transportation is readily available in the marina shopping area. And if you don’t mind walking, you could walk to the marina and even catch a local bus to take you downtown.

If you have a car, parking could be an issue in the marina and even on the streets. Check with your hotel to see if they have parking available on the premises.

This area would be best for:

  • couples
  • families
  • snowbirds or long term
  • someone who doesn’t mind walking
photo of the pool at the San Tropico
San Tropico pool

Adorable bar area

Hotel San Tropico in the Marina is a great option for families or long term guests

Is the Hotel Zone the Best Area to Stay in Puerto Vallarta?

Probably the most popular area of Puerto Vallarta is the hotel zone. Full of hotels and condominiums, it’s pretty big

and runs along the beaches of north of downtown. This is where you will find the biggest concentration of the bigger resorts. While there are hotels on the city side of the main road, the majority are on the beach side. If you are a beach lover, this area is one of the best areas to stay in Puerto Vallarta.

It’s also the one area I haven’t stayed in. If I’m traveling solo, resorts are really not my thing. I prefer a smaller more intimate place. However, if I was looking to book a room at one of the resorts in this area, I would check out:

Friendly Vallarta– a modern 4 star resort with beautiful grounds right on the beach

Canto del Sol Plaza Vallarta– a smaller modern resort with Mexican touches

Sunset Plaza Beach Resort– an all inclusive resort and spa on the beach

The hotel zone is close to some of the biggest shopping in the city including a mall, however, you could easily stay on your hotel property and never leave if you didn’t want to.

Fifteen minutes from the airport, you would have no trouble with any type of transportation, including taxis and Uber. Buses run frequently on the main road in this area. You can easily hail a taxi or catch a bus to go downtown. Hotels should have parking if you have a car.

This area would be best for:

  • first time visitors
  • beach lovers
  • families
  • couples
  • girls trip
  • solo traveler who wants to be around other tourists
Palm tree and beach view from the in Puerto Vallarta
Morning beach views

Downtown

My first time in Vallarta was high season in February. It was kind of a last minute trip so there wasn’t many options for lodging. I was able to snag a smaller hotel in the 5 de Deciembre neighborhood in the Downtown zone called Hotel El Pescador. It’s not a hotel I would recommend though.

It’s in a great location and it looks nice on the outside but the rooms are a bit lacking. I had three different rooms over the course of two days. One had a mold problem in the form of a white powdery dust that fell from the ceiling all over the room and my things. When I asked for another room, they gave me a room with no air conditioning. Thankfully it wasn’t an issue at this time of the year because it was mild weather in February.

My biggest issue wasn’t the room though. It was the customer service. They offered no apologies or a discount since I paid for a room I didn’t get. I would have been happy with a free meal at their restaurant even. Things go wrong at hotels, that I accept, but the way they handled it was unacceptable.

The silver lining was that it’s a great neighborhood though. The right mix of locals and tourists. Even in high season, it didn’t feel crowded. While you are not directly on the malecon, it’s just a few blocks away. There are plenty of great restaurants, taco stands and shopping.

The main beach here is Playa Camarones. It’s a bit rockier here than other beaches in Vallarta but the trade off is it was quieter and less crowded too. Chairs or umbrellas are available to rent or there are a couple of beach clubs too. Best of all it’s a great spot for sunsets.

This area is about fifteen minutes from the airport. Public transportation, Uber and taxis are plentiful and as long as your hotel has parking you would be okay with a car. It’s also a great walking neighborhood and as I mentioned, just a short distance from the start of the malecon.

This area would be best for:

  • solo travelers
  • couples
  • snowbirds
  • someone who wants to explore the center city
  • beach lovers
  • returning visitors
sunset on the beach in Puerto Vallarta
Playa Camarones sunset

The Romantic Zone

If you are looking to capture a piece of old Mexico on your vacation in Puerto Vallarta, then look no further than the Romantic Zone or La Zona Romantica.

Puerto Vallarta is a big city with over a quarter of a million inhabitants but you would never know it staying in this neighborhood. Narrow cobblestone streets, colorful buildings and most importantly- friendly people welcome you to this part of town. While there is some new construction going on, it remains a charming and quaint area. It’s my neighborhood of choice and where I’ve spent the most time.

Situated south of the Rio Cuale, which divides the downtown area, the Romantic Zone is full of smaller budget friendly hotels, boutique hotels, inns, condos and even a hostel or two. There are a few larger hotels but no mega resorts like in the hotel zone. It also has the highest concentration of restaurants and bars in all of Puerto Vallarta.

In the Romantic Zone, you are just steps from the beautiful Los Muertos beach, the iconic Puerto Vallarta pier and the malecon.

I’ve stayed at two properties in the Romantic Zone- Hotel Posada de Roger and Casa Yasmin. Both are on the small side but perfect for the solo traveler. The rooms face inside to the cutest courtyards. These types of properties are also very safe since the gate to the courtyard is locked nightly. Don’t worry if you come back after it’s locked; there is always someone there to let you in.

Hotel Posada de Roger is adorable and has some larger rooms and suites for families or someone requiring more space. There’s a communal kitchen if you want to store food or cook and their pool is adorable.

Posada de Roger pool

Hotel Yasmin is next to one of my favorite restaurants. I started going to the restaurant first and when I found out they owned the hotel I decided to stay there. It’s the cutest place decorated with bright cheery furniture and plants in a typical Mexican style. They also have the most inviting pool in the courtyard.

Southerner Says: Hotel Yasmin is cash only

A view of the pool at Hotel Yasmin
The pool at Hotel Yasmin.

The Romantic Zone is also the best area to stay in Puerto Vallarta for LGBT. Many hotels such as Blue Chairs and the Almar Resort cater to gay travelers.

If you choose this area, you are just about twenty minutes from the airport, with plenty of taxis and Ubers, if you even need them. The Romantic Zone is a super walking friendly neighborhood. Parking is somewhat limited so it’s not ideal for a rental car but there are a couple of public paid lots nearby though.

The would be the best area for:

  • couples
  • girls trip
  • bachelor trip
  • LGBT
  • snowbirds
  • first time visitors
  • returning visitors

Southerner Says: you might also hear the Romantic Zone referred to as Old Town or Emiliano Zapata too

The South Zone

The South Zone is the area along the coastal road that takes you south towards Mismaloya. This area is known for it’s spectacular views. The jungles seem to empty into the ocean. It’s also where the big luxurious resorts and hotels are located. Many are perched high on the hillside and have stunning views of the Bay of Banderas.

I didn’t stay overnight but I had the opportunity to spend the day and dine at 5 star, Garza Blanca, an all inclusive gorgeous luxury resort set in the jungle.

Most of these resorts in the South Zone have restaurants on site, offer spa options and can even arrange tours or a driver for you. Besides the spas, the water and beaches are gorgeous here so anyone interested in water activities would love it. You can snorkel or dive the nearby los Arcos.

Since the South Zone is the farthermost zone from the airport so check with your hotel about an airport shuttles. If they don’t have one, you could still hire a taxi. Hiring one or getting an Uber to take you back to town could be a little more complicated due to the remoteness of the area.

The public buses stop at a few of the resorts on their way to Boca de Tomatlan so you could easily bus into the Romantic Zone. You can catch a south bound orange and white bus in the Romantic Zone for forty cents.

The area would be best for:

  • resort lovers
  • romantic getaways
  • beach lovers
  • someone who wants to stay put
  • visitors who have a car
  • someone that doesn’t mind skipping the city center

I really don’t think there is a bad location in Puerto Vallarta. Each one has it’s own unique features. Wherever you decide to stay, I know you will love it!

 

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