-This post was updated November 2019-
Are you planning a vacation to Puerto Vallarta but not sure what’s the best area or zone 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 didn’t know what zone to pick either. Fortunately now, I’ve been able to visit a few times and actually stay in different neighborhoods.
By having the opportunity to stay in four of the five 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.
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 appealing 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.
The neighborhoods or zones, basically wrap around the Bay of Banderas, 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.
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. Weather wise, 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.
What Are the Five Zones in Puerto Vallarta?
There are five main areas or zones in Puerto Vallarta. They are:
- Marina Vallarta
- The Hotel Zone
- The Romantic Zone
- The South Zone
You might see maps that have Nuevo Vallarta added but technically that isn’t Puerto Vallarta or even Jalisco. You might even see the Hotel Zone divided into north and south and that’s okay but for simplicity I have left it all as one zone.
What’s the Best Area for You?
The Marina Vallarta zone includes the marina neighborhood and also the area around the airport. This area also includes the main bus terminal and International Convention center. Even though they are the same zone, the accommodations in the marina are very different from the more chain like hotels around the airport.
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, on the airport side, or the east side of the main road into town, Mexico 200, 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 facing the bay, I was even able to see the cruise ships come into the marina.
The hotel has a pool, complimentary breakfast and free parking
Even though there are plenty of restaurants to walk to, it’s not an area I personally 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.
This area of Marina Vallarta would be best for:
- if you need a room for a night
- someone exploring the region and areas north
- someone with a car
The Marina Side
On the west side or the bay side of Mexico 200, is the actual Marina Vallarta. It’s a working marina boats and boat storage. The area around it is rally it’s own little city. You can find everything here. It has restaurants, shops, spas, hair salons, golf courses, a post office and so much more. Practically anything you want or need 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.
San Tropico Hotel is the other hotel I stayed at in the Marina Zone. The name says hotel but it’s more condo than anything. The hotel has beautiful manicured grounds and a very nice 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 was traveling solo but they gave me 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 these streets more residential and less commercial.
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:
- snowbirds or long term
- someone who doesn’t mind walking
The Hotel Zone
Probably the most popular area of Puerto Vallarta is the hotel zone. Full of hotels and condominiums, it’s pretty large 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
- girls trip
- solo traveler who wants to be around other tourists
The first time I visited Vallarta, it was February which is high season. 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.
What to do Downtown
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, where it starts is 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
- exploring the center city
- beach lovers
- returning visitors
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, neighborly people, welcome you to this part of town. While there is some new condo construction going on, it remains a charming and quaint area. It’s my favorite neighborhood 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.
Where to Stay
I’ve stayed at two properties in the Romantic Zone. Both are on the small side but perfect for the solo traveler. In typical Mexican fashion, the rooms face inside to 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 the first property I stayed at in the Romantic Zone. It’s an adorable little inn with rooms on the smaller side but they have some larger rooms and even suites for families. For people there long term or that want to cook, there’s a communal kitchen. They also have a restaurant and their pool is adorable.
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.
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:
- girls trip
- bachelor trip
- 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 spill 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. If you like resorts and a quieter vacation then this might be the best area to stay in Puerto Vallarta for you.
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
The Best Area to Stay in Puerto Vallarta
Honestly, 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. After you pick the perfect area make sure to read my post about where to eat in Puerto Vallarta so you can find the perfect food!