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. To make your vacation the best it can be, especially if you want to maximize your time, you really want to choose the area that best suits your plans and makes getting around easy.
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 where to stay when you visit.
The Romantic Zone
My favorite area in Puerto Vallarta is the Romantic Zone. 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 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). I’ve heard good things about Gray Line Shuttle. 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. There are plenty of taxis and Ubers once you are in the Romantic Zone if you choose to ride instead of walking. It’s a very friendly, safe neighborhood. If you plan on renting a car, parking is very limited in this area.
If you are headed south 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. 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. Check with your hotel to see if they have a shuttle. Taxis 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. I had to wait a long time for a taxi and Uber in this area for some reason. If you are renting a car, parking is limited in the marina.
If you want to travel into downtown, 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 San Tropico Hotel, which is a condo, and I was ready to move right in! The grounds and everything about it was so cute. 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 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 the pool. There is a bar that offers breakfast and drinks through out the day. If you decide to roll out of your chair for some exercise, 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. 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 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.
I had heard the north end beaches weren’t as pretty as other beaches in the area. They are a little more rocky but I thought they were very pretty. I chose the beach over the hotel pool every day. You can rent chairs and umbrellas from vendors 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 still enjoy this area. The sunsets here are stunning. Also a plus is being on the north side with close access to the Marina, shopping and other area north of Puerto Vallarta that you might want to visit, like Nueva Vallarta, Bucerias and 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.
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. 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 jungles. I have not stayed overnight but had the opportunity to spend the day at Garza Blanca, a five star, all inclusive luxury hotel. This zone is best suited for the traveler who has access to a car or shuttle or someone content to stay at their hotel or resort. 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 resorts have restaurants on site.
However, you can’t beat the views. The water at that those southern beaches is spectacular!
High season is November through April so if you are wanting to visit but also save money, you should visit after the Easter holiday. The weather is great since the rainy season hasn’t started yet. I was able to get significant savings in May as opposed to February.
You will need to exchange money to get pesos. Don’t pay in dollars. Especially if you are need change back. The exchange rate when you do this is awful. 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 and keep a copy of your passport but now they expect you to bring a copy for them. The exchange rate at the change houses isn’t terrible but the bank is better. You also might want to make sure there are no Mexican holidays while you are visiting since many places close and it might catch you by surprise if you need money. Ask me how I know.
There is still somewhat of a dispute between city officials and Uber. Use your Uber app and check to see what’s available. Don’t be fearful to use Uber though if it is available. The authorities will not confront an Uber with a passenger inside and even IF they did, it’s not unsafe. The dispute isn’t with tourists. The taxis are just upset at the competition since Uber is still pretty new.
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.
I have heard of tourists having too much to drink and being scammed out of their money. Even by police. My advice, don’t carry a lot of cash. Carry just what you need.
All in all, Puerto Vallarta is very safe. They need those tourism dollars.
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.
For more info about local beaches visit alltherooms.com/blog/best-beaches-in-puerto-vallarta.