The Ultimate First Timer's Guide to Puerto Vallarta
In honor of our wedding festivities happening at the end of March, we created a master guide to Puerto Vallarta. Here you will find such useful information as how to arrive, what to do about money, transportation and safety. Along with fun information such as where to grab cocktails, where to find the best views, best seafood, best coffee and what activities to partake in.
ATMs & Cash
Cell phone service & WIFI
Food Safety Precautions
Where to Eat
Where to Drink
What to Do
Arriving in Puerto Vallarta:
Chances are you will arrive in the Licenciado Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport, about 30 min taxi ride from downtown Puerto Vallarta. This airport is small, easy to maneuver and gets quite busy certain times of the year. We’ve never had issues here and often are able to get through quickly; but this depends on several factors. If you must go through customs its likely to take no less than 30 min, much more if you arrive during a super busy time.
TIP: The PV airport has free WIFI. if you’re having a hard time finding the network; the WIFI name is an acronym for the airport name.
Do you want to have local currency? You can use one of the ATMs near the airport exit. Just be sure you’ve contacted your bank and let them know you’ll be in Mexico prior to leaving home and check to see if they charge you extra fees. If you plan to take a taxi, you’ll want some cash right away.
1000 pesos = $50USD. We will often get $100USD (2000 pesos) out to get us started.
Avoid talking to any people on your way out of the airport. There are usually plenty of taxi/transport companies, and timeshare people trying to sell you stuff and they can be pretty good sales people! Ignore them until you walk outside the front of the airport. Probably not necessary to do business with them; instead follow the instructions listed below.
Getting from the airport to downtown Puerto Vallarta:
Most convenient, least walking, most expensive:
Arrange your taxi from a booth near the outside entrance of the airport –
This will likely be the most convenient, however most expensive option. If you can, avoid paying more than 300 pesos to get a direct cab (if there are less than 4 in your group). When you ask or look at the prices quoted by cab companies, it will likely say 400 pesos ($20) or more. They often show you a map and you pay depending on which zone you are traveling to (more for further). If you arrive late at night and feel uncomfortable taking a cab from across the street, by all means use this option.
Cheaper option, involves a 5 min walk:
Taxi from Tacon de Marlin (across the footbridge/highway)
If you are landing during day time or early evening hours, and don’t have tons of heavy luggage, upon exiting the airport take a left and follow the sidewalk in the direction of the Oxxo (convenience store) and main highway. On your left you will see a ramp up to a overhang pedestrian bridge that crosses over the highway. You will not be the only gringos (tourists) doing this; this is a well known money-saving trick. Follow this across the road where you’ll see several restaurants/taco stands.
Even if you get a cab here, you are likely to pay half of what you would in the airport. Bargain your price to $150 (>$8) pesos or lower. If you don’t speak any Spanish, there are often at least a few drivers who speak minimal English (numbers, etc).
Local Tip: Hungry after your journey? Grab a delicious smoked marlin burrito from Tacon de Marlin before you grab a taxi or hail an Uber. Its huge and juicy and comes with so many yummy salsas and sauces. You’ll notice the place is filled with like-minded people with suitcases.
Uber from Tacon de Marlin vicinity:
*This is what we do*
We grab a Marlin burrito, then arrange the Uber from inside the restaurant, when he says he’s 1 min away, we leave the restaurant and wait from him to arrive; this way we can avoid all the taxi drivers trying to get us to book with them. Last time we took from this area near the airport to downtown PV was 110 pesos ($5); but this depends on the time of day and where you are going.
NOTES ABOUT SAFETY:
In our experience, Puerto Vallarta is quite safe. It’s a popular vacation destination and there’s a large number of retired folks from Canada and the US who spend winters in PV, ensuring there’s often a decent police and security presence throughout the city. You likely have a bigger risk of getting hit by a car when crossing the road than being the victim of crime, so look both ways, seriously.
*Be aware of your belongings at all times to avoid getting pickpocketed, it's yet to happen to us, but there's always a small risk when you stand out in the crowd, or look like an easy target, and when in crowded or touristy locations. Like with anywhere in the world.
To be safe:
*Men: carry your wallet and phone in front pockets especially when in busy places. Don't carry large wads of cash on you at all times or keep all your credit cards on you or flash your wealth.
*Women: be aware of where you keep and carry your purse. I always use a crossbody bag and often keep smaller bills in my front pockets, so I can easily access it for my day to day purchases.
*Store passport, extra money, valuable jewelry etc in a safe place in your hotel or rental and avoid bringing too much extra out with you when you go out at night.
For every bad story you hear in Mexico, there are 100 good ones. Try not to let your paranoia get the best of you. We’ve not had issues of any kind here, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t always a possibility–so be smart. Out of all our travels, we’ve met the sweetest, most caring and welcoming local people here during our collective +12 months visiting Mexico.
No worries here! Mexico has the same outlets as in the US. You should be able to charge your electronics no problemo.
ATMS & CASH
Always let your bank know prior to arriving when you will be in Mexico and ask about extra fees they may have. I think this goes without saying but, opt to take money out of legit looking "brand named" ATMs, rather than the sketchy random no-name ATMs. The ATMs attached to banks are often a good bet.
As previously mentioned, you may want to get some pesos (remember 1000 pesos = about $50) out at the ATMs in the airport if you are arriving from the US. Downtown, in the area also called the “romantic zone,” where most of the tourist action occurs, there are many banks and ATMs to choose from.
PRO TIP: Mexico is a cash economy, so if you wish to eat at cute local restaurants, taco stands etc, which we highly recommend, you should always have a little cash on you. It’s almost 20 pesos = 1 dollar. Wherever in the world we are: we never take out more than $100-150 at a time, and never have more than that on us at any given time. We use it till we run out, then hit up another atm. Of course, our bank doesn’t charge us extra fees and reimburses all our ATM fees; but this is not the case with every bank. So best to find out first than get hit with surprise fees.
Many nicer, tourist oriented places in PV accept USD. If using your card, use a credit card, never a debit.
Just like any city, if you want trouble, you can find it by: flaunting your cash, getting drunk and wandering around late at night, staying out till the wee hours of the morning to visit sketchy bars, buying drugs, opting to walk rather than cab home late at night, acting like a fool etc. You know normal stuff. Common sense, a positive attitude and self awareness go far, like anywhere in the world.
CELL PHONE SERVICE:
Many cell providers have free or inexpensive options for visiting Mexico. We recommend talking with your provider to ensure you will have service during your visit. This way you can have access to Google maps, messenger, Uber, etc. Most restaurants and hotels in town have wifi. Uber is wonderfully convenient here especially if you don’t speak Spanish and want to cut down on cash transactions.
As mentioned, we prefer uber. Of course, you must have a working cell phone in order to use it. Uber is the cheapest, safest, and often most convenient option. Many drivers speak English, but even if they don’t, you enter the address and pay via the AP so need for much communication with your driver. Choose your pickup location wisely; pick a quieter road near a busy place and avoid an area with tons of yellow taxis. Oxxos and Kioskos (both convenience store chains) make for great pick up locations.
Using Taxis in Puerto Vallarta:
When using taxis stick to official looking yellow taxis. Most taxis operating in PV do not have a meter, so it’s recommended that you negotiate your price BEFORE getting in the cab. They would love to rip you off if you let them. So if the price sounds too high tell them. If you are getting cabs within or to Old Town, Conchas or “Centro” you shouldn’t pay more than 50-60 pesos ($2.50-3.10). Heading to the Hotel Zone, Marina, Airport or beyond you’ll pay more depending on the distance; 100-200 pesos ($5-10).
Here’s a map showing how much to expect to pay for cabs depending on where you are going. Click on the zones to see the prices listed on the left.
Tips for delicate American tummies…
Over four months in PV, and we have yet to succumb to food poisoning, but we may have tougher stomachs than the average American.
Avoid eating the raw vegetables from cheap, local places. “If you can’t cook it, peel it, or boil it don’t eat it”
Visit only busy street vendors and restaurants.
When in doubt check out google reviews; top rated places are often less risky.
Bring pepto bismol and take a little if you worry a meal may hit you wrong.
I hope this goes without saying, don’t drink tap water.
Where to Eat:
One of the best parts about Puerto Vallarta, and really, all of Mexico is the food. Whether it’s $1 tacos in the street or seafood from a scenic restaurant–the food here is fresh, abundant and delicious. Because of PV’s scenic location nestle between green mountains the sea it’s really easy finding places with a great atmosphere.
Dishes to try:
*Tacos Al Pastor: Heavily marinated grilled pork
*Birria: slow stewed and extremely tender mutton or goat meat (though around here, often beef) served with broth “au jus.” Really tasty.
*Ceviche: We are on the coast. Fresh fish marinated in lime juice often served with red onions, cilantro, chopped tomatoes and cucumber. (we will have ceviche at our wedding!)
*Churros: deep fried dough rolled in cinnamon and sugar (we will have fresh churros at our wedding!)
*Tacos de Cabeza: super tender part of the cow. Makes for a super yummy taco filling
*Barbacoa; fried, fatty, spicy, juicy beef. So nice.
*Chile Rellenos; poblano chiles stuffed with cheese and sometimes meat, breaded and deep fried
*Chile en Nogada: a very traditional Mexican dish; poblano peppers stuffed with beef, smothered in a creamy walnut sauce, garnished with pomegranate.
*Tamales: look for street vendor's with large stainless steel pots. Cheap. Corn dough filled with a plethora of flavors
*Tequila, Mezcal, Raicilla: All made from agave, all taste a little different. All worth trying.
If you’ve never had traditional Mexican breakfast, you have to try it! Try: Huevos Rancheros, Huevos Divorciados, or Chilaquiles.
Mexican: Random street tacos stands (the busier, the better), Taqueria Las Gueras, El Campanario, El Patio, Cafe De Olla, La Traviata
Western: Memo’s Pancake House, A Paige in the Sun,
Mexican: Marisma Fish Tacos, El Patron, any busy random street stand selling seafood
Western/Fusion: Salud Super Food
Mexican: Tacos Al Pastor at Panchos Takos, Lolita Restaurant,
Western/Fusion: Monzon Brewing Co.
Breakfast: Coco's Kitchen, La Palapa, Andale
Lunch: Gaby’s restaurant, Joe Jacks Fish Shack, Swell Beach Bar, Tuna Azul, La Palapa, El Dorado, Joe Jacks Fish Shack, Daquiri Dicks
Jorge’s Shrimp Shack Hideaway, Mole de Jovita, El Arrayan, Barrio Bistro, Los Muertos Brewing (if you want pizza, Western food)
$$$ - Special Meals:
Breakfast: La Palapa (Location of the rehearsal dinner before the wedding), Brunch Buffet at the Sheraton, Sunday Brunch at The Iguana (make reservations)
Lunch: Le Kliff, Cuale Paradise, El Dorado
Dinner: Cafe Des Artistes, El Panorama, Ocean Grill (reservation-only, reachable only by water taxi), The Iguana Restaurant & Tequila Bar
Solid Vegetarian Options:
Salud Super food, The Green Place, Barra Light
Best places for food & drinks on the beach/water:
El Barracuda, Swell Beach Bar, El Dorado, Cheeky Monkey, La Palapa, Daquiri Dicks
GET OUT AND HAVE FUN:
A long stretch of sidewalk along the sea, filled with palm trees, sculptures, food vendors and lined with restaurants, cafes, shops and bars. A must-see in PV, for sure. Ideal place for a sunset stroll, or pick one of the bars advertising happy hour specials.
TIP: At the start of the malecon, stop by the Cheeky Monkey (top 2 floors of the building), for decent $1 margaritas and primo people watching.
Explore Isla Cuale:
Between Centro and Old Town you’ll see a green space on the map where the river splits and forms an “island.” This is Isla Cuale. The part closest to the beach has an artisan/souvenir market and the back half away from the sea is peaceful and pretty with a few little restaurants.
TIP: Head through Isla Cuale, away from the beach until the vendors thin out, and you reach Babel Bar. This is a great spot to relax with a good micro brew or cocktail and enjoy a more tranquil environment in the afternoon. There is often live music playing here and they serve food.
The area stretching for several blocks leading to the Malecon, mostly south of the Rio Cuale (river). This area is concentrated with tons of restaurants, shops, bars and more. It’s the old part of Vallarta and still retains much of the old school charm. It’s fun to wander aimlessly around this part of town.
Shop on Basilio Badillo:
This street in the heart of the Romantic Zone is concentrated with lots of cool shops, art galleries, bars and restaurants. Take a wander.
Vallarta Botanical Garden:
A bit of a journey to get here from downtown, but well worth the effort. Give yourself a few hours and definitely check out the garden’s cafe. One of our favorite day trip spots! It’s possible to get her by public bus. You can catch it on the corner of V. Carranza and Aguacate, by the Kiosko convenience store.
Saturday Farmer’s/Artisanal Market-
A lively, friendly market featuring artisanal food & goods, produce, handmade items and more happens every Saturday at Lazaro Cardenas Park downtown PV. Definitely worth checking out. Get there early if you can to avoid crowds.
Free walking tours:
“There are lots of free walking tours that take place all year long but probably the best one is with the Municipal Tourism Office. They take place every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday at 9:00 am and noon (Saturday is only at noon). The meeting point is at the Municipal Tourism Office in the Old City Hall Building. It lasts about 2 hours and there’s no need to make a reservation.”
Find all the street art!
Scattered on the sides of buildings all over Downtown and the Romantic Zone, you’ll find beautiful mural, sculptures and more.
Try the craft beer:
Tired of watered down light beers such as Corona or Pacifico? There are now two microbreweries downtown; Los Muertos and Monzon. Both have a tasty selection of beers brewed in house and good food. Monzon has beer/food pairings.
We personally don’t swim at the downtown beaches; they don’t seem as clean and are often way more crowded. They are great for walking, sitting & relaxing or grabbing a drink though.
Heading south of downtown; Conchas Chinas and Mismaloya have beautiful beaches. Also, you can take a water taxi from Los Muertos Beach pier (cool looking one) to Yelapa. This is the perfect day trip if you want beaches.
Shop at a local produce market:
Renting an airbnb with a kitchen? Pick up fresh exotic fruits from the market; mangos, watermelon, guanabana, guavas, passion fruit and more. Plus the best tasting avocados you’ve ever had.
If you see a mariachi or a guy with a guitar; pay him to play you a song; in our experience these people are often very talented! 50-70 pesos per song would be much appreciated.
Join a pay as you please food tour:
Join a Vallarta Eats food tour