Need help figuring out the the best area to stay in Puerto Vallarta? I can help you with that! Since Puerto Vallarta has several neighborhoods or hotel zones to choose from, picking the right one can be challenging. When I planned my first trip to Puerto Vallarta, I had no clue where to stay either. Fortunately, after several visits and plenty of exploring, I’ve stayed in four of the five major hotel zones. Researching and knowing where to stay in Puerto Vallarta can save time and money because you’ll be in the best neighborhood for your needs. Here’s my suggestions.
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 darn appealing 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 beautiful coast filled with hotels, condos and resorts. The neighborhoods or zones, wrap around the Bay of Banderas, so there’s a multitude of choices of where to stay in Puerto Vallarta. No wonder it’s hard to pick.
When is the Best Time to Visit Puerto Vallarta?
Puerto Vallarta is practically perfect anytime of the year. I’ve visited in winter, spring and early summer but I wouldn’t hesitate to go any time of the year. Even in the more humid late summer. You can get some great deals. However, there are times that more popular than others.
November thru mid April is considered high or busy season in Puerto Vallarta. It’s during this the time of the year when Canadians and Americans, head south to escape winter in their home countries. The weather is near perfect with average temperature around 82F and no rain.
Easter Week or la Semana Santa is also a popular time for Puerto Vallarta. Many people take the entire week and vacation 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. It’s warm but not so humid yet.
June means the beginning of the rainy 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. July through October is still rainy and hurricane season.
What Are the Hotel Zones in Puerto Vallarta?
There are five main areas or hotel zones in Puerto Vallarta. They are:
- Marina Vallarta
- The Hotel Zone
- The Romantic Zone
- The South Zone
SouthernerSays: depending on who you ask, some people might name more than these five zones. But from doing research and asking locals, there are only really 5. Many people mistakenly name “colonias”, which are little areas, sections or even popular streets, within a zone, and count those as zones. You also might see maps of the zones that include Nuevo Vallarta but technically it isn’t Puerto Vallarta or even the state of Jalisco for that matter. Also, on some maps the Hotel Zone is divided into north and south. For simplicity, I have left it all as one zone.
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The Marina Vallarta zone includes the marina neighborhood and 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.
Where to Stay in Marina Vallarta
The first time I went to Puerto Vallarta, I traveled by bus from Guadalajara. I knew I would be getting in late. 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. So I decided to look for something close by the bus starion for the first night. That way if I was delayed – and I was – or really tired, I wouldn’t have to travel far after a long bus ride.
I decided on City Express for my first night in Puerto Vallarta. The hotel is on the airport side, or the east side of the main road, Mexico Hwy 200. It was perfect for what I needed that night, just getting into town. City Express is a chain of Mexican hotels geared more towards the business traveler. The hotel 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.
Even though it was convenient for the night I arrived, I probably wouldn’t stay there long term, Not because there’s something wrong with it but only because I want to be closer to the beach and the malecon. However, if you are planning on traveling around the region, are only in town a night or two, or just arriving, it’s a suitable spot with nice amenities like a pool, complimentary breakfast and free parking.
City Express is just a quick ride from the airport or bus station and about a fifteen minute ride to downtown. It’s a practical area if you have a car because most hotels in this area have free parking available onsite.
The Marina area around the airport is best for:
- travelers needing a room for a night
- someone exploring the region and areas north
- travelers with a car
The Marina Side
On the west side or the bay side of Mexico Hwy 200, is the actual marina of Marina Vallarta. This area is really it’s own little city. It has restaurants, shops, spas, hair salons, golf courses, a post office and much more.
Even though 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 get away from from the city but you are still close enough to the action of the marina.
My Hotel on the Marina Side
On the bay side of the marina, I stayed at San Tropico Petit Hotel and it was everything I hoped for! The name says hotel but it’s really more of a condo. The grounds are beautifully manicured and upkept with several public areas. Even though I’m usually a beach girl, their pool made cheating on the beach very easy. I didn’t even miss it. It’s even slightly heated for those cooler winter days.
My room had two bedrooms and a full kitchen. One of my favorite things is the entire wall in the living room opened up to a huge balcony. It was like having another room.
If you don’t want to cook, there’s a bar onsite that serves breakfast, drinks and beer through out the day. For those that want to get out of their lounge chair and be a bit more active, there are yoga classes poolside too.
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.
The marina is about ten minutes from the airport and ten minutes to downtown. While it is a popular area, I found it a little more complicated getting a taxi to pick you up since these streets are residential and less commercial. Taxis aren’t just driving by.
Uber shouldn’t be a problem although you may have to wait a little longer for someone to pick you up. Transportation is also readily available in the marina shopping area. And if you don’t mind walking, you can walk to the marina and catch a local bus to take you downtown or to catch a bus north.
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.
Marina Vallarta is best for:
- snowbirds or long term
- someone who doesn’t mind walking
The Hotel Zone
One of the most popular areas of Puerto Vallarta is the hotel zone. Full of all inclusive hotels and resorts, it’s a great area for a first-timer and someone that wants a resort stay with plenty of amenities.
The hotel zone is located south of the marina and runs along the beaches of north of downtown. While there are hotels on the city side of the main road, the majority are on the beach side. So, if you are a beach lover, this area is one of the best areas to stay in Puerto Vallarta.
Unfortunately, it’s the one area I haven’t stayed in. Yet. The reason is, if I’m traveling solo, I prefer smaller more intimate places. Resorts are really not my thing when I’m alone. 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 just fifteen minutes from the airport. Transportation is plentiful in this area. There’s access to taxis, Uber and even public buses that take you downtown. If you are driving, the hotels and resorts should have parking available.
The Hotel Zone is best for:
- first time visitors
- beach lovers
- girls trip
- solo traveler who wants to be around other tourists
Southerner Says: good news for travelers to Puerto Vallarta. The malecon is being extended about a kilometer, from Downtown north to the hotel zone. Soon, it will be easier than ever to walk into town from the Hotel Zone.
If I ranked my favorite areas of Puerto Vallarta, then Downtown is my second favorite. Even though I didn’t have the best experience at my hotel there, I loved the vibe of the neighborhood. It’s not as touristy and there aren’t as many resorts.
My Downtown Experience
The first time I traveled to Puerto Vallarta, it was peak season in February around Valentine’s Day. The trip was last minute so by the time I wanted to book a room, there wasn’t much available.
I snagged a room at the Hotel El Pescador in the 5 de Deciembre neighborhood. The hotel looks nice on the outside but the rooms are a bit plain and need updating. Since I didn’t plan on being in the room much, I didn’t mind. It was a great location and it was clean or so I thought until I came back to a room filled with white mold falling off the ceiling. It was on everything. Including the bed, my bags and my clothes. I knew I couldn’t sleep in that.
I asked them to move me to a different room and long story short, they gave me three different rooms over the course of three days. The next one they moved me to had a water leak. I got up in the middle of the night to an inch of water covering the floor. The room after that had no air conditioning. Which was fine because it was cool enough in February that I didn’t need it but I had paid for air.
My biggest complaint with the hotel wasn’t the rooms and the inconvenience of moving three times but how they handled the problem. Things happen. Things go wrong. Honestly, I was just happy to be in sunny Mexico. Let’s fix the problem and let me get back to my vacation.
But they simply didn’t care. I spent a good portion of my time waiting around for maintenance and then waiting around while they found a solution and then changing rooms. It was frustrating. In the end, they offered nothing in return. No apology, no discount, no upgrade, not even a meal at their restaurant. I accept that there will be issues that come up when you travel.
Where Else to Stay Downtown
Even after that less less than desirable experience, I would still stay Downtown again. I loved 5 de Diciembre and think that neighborhood is one of the best areas to stay in Puerto Vallarta for an more authentic, less touristy experience.
Across the street from El Hotel Pescador is Hotel Portonovo. It’s listed as a 4 star on Google and has really good reviews there and on Booking.com. It’s not on the beach but there’s no problem accessing beaches in this neighborhood. Playa Camarones is one of my favorite ones.
There’s also plenty of good food in this neighborhood. For restaurant info in this neighborhood and others, read my Where the eat in Puerto Vallarta post.
I’ve also read good things online and in Facebook groups about Hotel Rosita, which is further south a couple of blocks, closer to the malecon, which would be an ideal location.
Downtown is, give or take, fifteen minutes from the airport. Public transportation, Uber and taxis are plentiful and as long as your hotel has parking you would be fine with a car. It’s also a great walking neighborhood and as I mentioned, just a short distance from the start of the malecon.
Downtown is 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 (La Zona Romantica) or Old Town as it was originally known. This is my favorite area of Puerto Vallarta.
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. All of this combined gives is a very intimate neighborhood feel.
The beautiful Los Muertos beach, the iconic Puerto Vallarta pier and the malecon are all just steps from the Romantic Zone.
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 a typical Mexican style, the rooms face inside to courtyards. These types of properties are very safe since the gate to the courtyard is locked at night. 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 in the Romantic Zone. It’s an adorable little inn with rooms that are built around a courtyard full of flowers and one of my favorite swimming pools. Some of the rooms are on the small side but perfect for the solo traveler or a couple. For families, there are larger rooms and even a few suites. It’s a simple style hotel but very clean and it has air conditioning. For those that want to cook, there’s a communal kitchen. For those that don’t, there’s also a restaurant onsite.
Hotel Yasmin is the other hotel I’ve stayed in the Romantic Zone. (Unfortunately, as of April 24, 2021, Hotel Yasmin is temporarily closed) The hotel is next to my favorite restaurant, Cafe de Olla. I started going to the restaurant, and loved it, and when I found out they owned the hotel, I decided to give it a try too.
The hotel is the cutest property. It’s decorated with bright cheery furniture and plants in a typical Mexican hacienda style. All the rooms face an inner courtyard with the most inviting pool. Even though it’s an older style hotel with smaller rooms, it’s very clean. Couples would find in comfortable and it’s perfect for the solo traveler. All the rooms have ceiling fans and air conditioning as well.
Southerner Says: If you pay at the hotel, Hotel Yasmin is cash only.
The Romantic Zone is about twenty minutes from the airport. If you are driving or have a rental, parking is limited in this area. Unless your hotel or condo has designated parking, it will be hard to find a spot. There is a public, pay for parking lot across the street from the Parque Lazaro Cardenas.
The good news is you really don’t even need a car if you are staying in the Romantic Zone. It’s very walking friendly, with plenty of restaurants, bars and shopping in a small area. If you don’t want to walk or can’t, then there are always taxis and Ubers available in the neighborhood. It’s also easy to catch a public transportation. Both hotels mentioned here are less than five minutes from the Malecon and the beautiful Puerto Vallarta sunsets.
The Romantic Zone is the best for:
- girls trip
- first time visitors
- returning visitors
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.
Where to Stay in the South Zone
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 Marine Park.
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.
This area is best for:
- resort lovers
- romantic getaways
- beach lovers
- visitors who have a car
- someone that doesn’t mind skipping the city center
Homestays in Puerto Vallarta
Because Puerto Vallarta is popular with ex-pats and snowbird communities, there are plenty of of condos and apartments for rent in the city. VRBO has a has a huge list of properties in every neighborhood. A couple of tips: the longer you stay, the better the rate. Also it’s to your advantage to pay in pesos.
The Best Area to Stay in Puerto Vallarta
Honestly, when it comes to where to stay in Puerto Vallarta, I don’t think there’s a bad location of. Each neighborhood has it’s own unique vibe, features and advantages. Wherever you decide to stay, I know you will love Puerto Vallarta as much as I do. Are you ready to book? Are you ready to book a trip. Use Expedia.com for the best prices on flights and rental cars.