I ended up in Puerto Vallartabecause it was the closest warm destination from San Francisco. Before boarding my flight, barring some quick chats with my Mexican friend Marisa, I had little knowledge about the things to do or places to see in Puerto Vallarta.
Her sister got married there, so she gave me a few tips on the high-end golf and beacharea of Punta Mita, but she was not very familiar with much elseand we had a really hard time picking a good place to stay because of the abundance of all-inclusive resorts (not out cup of tea), several very expensive resorts and the difficulty in figuring out which one of the towns in the area we wanted to stay at.
So a road trip around Puerto Vallarta seemed a good option: even if we did not pick the right hotel, we could explore the surroundings.
So, in our lack of planning, we had at least made the wisest decision: renting a car at the airport for the four days we were going to be there. This turned out to be a great idea.
Without a car, our options of activities in Puerto Vallarta would have beenseverely limited and we would have beenat the mercy of the vulture tour companies. Trust me on this one, if you are visiting Puerto Vallarta, choose to road trip. And don’t forget to save my Guide to Puerto Vallarta with things to do and places to see.
- West Coast Mexico, Jalisco and Nayarit (with map)
- Puerto Vallarta
- Punta Mita
- Need to know for a road trip around Puerto Vallarta
West Coast Mexico, Jalisco and Nayarit (with map)
The Western Coast of Mexico is less famous than the very popular and crowded East Coast where Cancun and the Riviera Maya is. The ocean provides cooler breeze (in fact I needed a jacket at night in spring), and bigger waves, so the area tends to be famous for water and wind sports.
It is also a good two hours farther from Europe so it has been less of a charter destination. Nonetheless, expect Jalisco, the province where Puerto Vallarta is, to be full of tourists mostly from the US. So much so that most people thought I was indeed from the US and addressed me in English, everytime, even after repeatedly replying in Spanish. I guess they assumed I did not look Mexican and my Spanish was learned rather than native. It did make for several funny situations.
Jalisco, the province where Puerto Vallarta is, and Nayarit, where Sayulita and Punta Mita are, are bothknownfor the beach and the sea with several islands likeMarieta Island, famous for its Playa Escondida or Hidden Beach, being the subject of many a selfie opportunity. It is also famous for the infamous dolphin excursions, whale watching and all-inclusive resorts.
Puerto Vallarta receives about 85 flights a day during the weekends, landing from several cities across the US and Europe. The airport can get a bit crowded on a Saturday morning, but I cannot blame the hordes of American West Coast visitors. The weather, only 3h south of the Bay, and the overall prices and lifestyle is significantly more relaxed.
Puerto Vallarta has 300,000 inhabitants and stretches along the sea. Some stretchesof town around the Malecon, are indeed similar to parts of Havana with the same name, whereas other offer sandy beaches. A long promenade affords evenings strolling to the sound of the waves, the sounds of street performers and vendors and the noise of families and tourists.
The city center is made of cobblestone streets with trees, colourful bougainvillea and steep narrow alleys climbing up the mountain. Bright and crowded tourist shops sit next to local Cenadurias, also reminiscent of Cuban Paladares, where one has a meal in what feels like someone’s home.
Although it is a rather large city it has anair of small towngirl looking for fun. Closer to the airport, on the northern parts of the city, one can find the timeshare Vacation Clubs and large all-inclusive resorts. Drive South of Puerto Vallarta and you are likely going to be mesmerised with the winding road and the beautiful villas and hotels perched on the steep side of a cliff.
A tiny town that feels like what Puerto Vallarta would have been before it exploded, Bucerias is located on a sandy bay between Puerto Vallarta and Punta Mita and straddles the two provinces of Jalisco and Nayarit.The town received its name from the oyster divers (diving – bucear) that once inhabited the area.
This quaint town is best explored on foot. There are markets selling all types of touristy items from Mexican sombreros to beach clothes and even handicrafts. The beach is flanked by a long string of bars and restaurants all selling fresh seafood and great local Mexican food with a side of sea views and friendly atmosphere.
Many prefer Bucerias above the other three more popular cities because it maintains a relaxed and slower take on life.
Our next stop on theroad trip around Puerto Vallarta took usto Sayulita. Here,Bali meets the Pacific Ocean. The colourful explosion of pastels on walls, shops and even cars mixes well with the laid back attitude, the cobblestone narrow streets, the bare feet surfersand the coconut stalls.
The beach is not the prettiest, often smelling of the rotten fish caught by the fishermen, but it is picturesque and it enjoys high waves. Plastic chairs and wooden beach bars provide a sense of relaxation. Life seems to happen at a slower pace here to let the creative juices of those owning artist workshops and small designer shops flow.
Visitors are a mix of retiredday trippers, younger Spring breakers and perfectly tanned locals and expats in search of a shaded spot. This is a town that can be easily walked in half an hour and where one could move for a month and get to know everyone. Small cafes and vegan restaurants have sprouted as have alternative stores, eco-friendly shops and conscious businesses. Sayulita made me want to stay.
Have lunch at one of the beach restaurants with your feet dipped in the sand and watch beach life unfold. For more information, read my guides on where to stay in Sayulita and what to do in Sayulita.
A bit of a schizophrenic village, Punta Mita is a combinationbetween a small fishing village, a tourist launch pad to the Marieta Islands and an exclusive beach front development and resort area.
Part of Punta Mita is the tiny original fishing village. The port is filled with wooden boats and motorboats, the former to procure fish and the latter to take tourists to visit the famous Marieta Islands where Hidden Beach is located.
The last stop on this road trip around Puerto Vallarta is Punta Mita’s exclusive real estate developments.High-end villas and condominiums as well as luxury resorts like the Four Seasons or the St. Regis. Celebrities and Silicon valley entrepreneurs get away from it all in these beach front properties where the weather is always temperate and warm.
In this multi faceted village there is also an ancient archaeological site known as Careyeros Hill believed to be from the 800 AD. Stop by for a sunset drink at one of the top-end resorts, but make sure to have a reservation, exclusivity here lies at a while new level and without a printed pre-confirmed booking you will not be allowed passedthe various security loops.
Need to know for a road trip around Puerto Vallarta
Most rental companies have a stand by the arrival halls. Walk passed the hundreds of touts at arrivals and onto your chosen rental company for directions on how to reach the rental office. Many of them require you to be dropped off nearby where their offices are for the car pick up.
We booked withFox Rent a Car online and the car came with a free smartphone with GPS maps and WiFi hotspot, although it was only really useful in Puerto Vallarta and quickly lost signal outside. If you are using Google maps, be prepared to use an old fashioned map as the signal drops regularly. though it will be hard to get lost as there is only one real road. Or just ask for directions, Mexicans are really friendly.
On the road to Sayulita you will find several fresh coconut and coconut candy sellers. Many of them also offer bathrooms should you need a pit stop, though they are basic facilities. Watch the stall owners slash open a frozen coconut with a machete and a lot of skill, then empty the coconut water into a plastic bag, scoop out the young coconut and put it all in the bag, with a straw, to go. If you are brave, do as the locals do and add some chili and freshly squeezed lemon.
- Check if you need a visa, get help processing it at iVisa.
- Never ever leave without travel insurance. Get affordable coverage from World Nomads or long term insurance from Safety Wing.
- I find all of my flights on KAYAK. Check their Deals section too.
- Search for all your transportation between destinations on the trusted travel booking platform Bookaway.
- I book all my day trips and tours via GetYourGuide, they are the best and their tours are refundable up to 24h in advance.
- Get USD35 off your first booking with Airbnb.
- Compare hotels EVERYWHERE at HotelsCombined and book with Booking.com.
- Compare car rental prices at Rentalcars.com
Where can you drive around Puerto Vallarta? ›
Puerto Vallarta has a well-established network of paved streets in the area of the citys center, but further inland dirt roads are prevalent. Centro Vallarta and Old Town as well as other surrounding neighborhood have cobblestone roads, which should be considered when selecting a vehicle for everyday use.What is Puerto Vallarta best known for? ›
Puerto Vallarta is a stunning resort town located on Mexico's Pacific coast in Jalisco state. Known for its spectacular beaches, marine life, water sports, and local resorts, Puerto Vallarta is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world.Can you drive in Puerto Vallarta? ›
Most folks allow three full south-of-the-border driving days to Puerto Vallarta, but it can be done in less. From the U.S. Pacific Coast and west, follow National Highway 15 (called 15D as the toll expressway) from the border at Nogales, Sonora, an hour's drive south of Tucson, Arizona.What trips can you do from Puerto Vallarta? ›
- Sayulita. Sayutlia is the perfect day trip from Puerto Vallarta if you want to visit beautiful beaches! ...
- San Pancho. Isn't it magical. ...
- Marietas Islands and Hidden Beach. Hidden Beach is so cool! ...
- Playa Mismaloya. ...
- Playa Colomitos. ...
- El Eden (Predator movie set) ...
- Bucerias. ...
- Punta Mita.
Cuota Roads Vs Libre Roads
I always recommend taking the cuota roads, but especially if you need to drive after dark. In general, these are considered the safest option when traveling around the country and often there is no other option to get to your destination.
The best time to visit Puerto Vallarta is between April and June when the weather is pleasant and the room rates are affordable. During these months, rain is scarce and there are fewer tourists compared to the winter high season. If you're interested in whale watching, however, visit from December to March.What is better Cancun or Puerto Vallarta? ›
In summation, the whole difference between Puerto Vallarta and Cancun boils down to the kind of experience they offer. If you care more for the beaches and all-inclusive hotels and want to be close to the Mayan culture to explore, Cancun is your place.What is the best way to get around Puerto Vallarta? ›
The best way to get around Puerto Vallarta is by bus – there are plenty of stops and the fares are cheap. If you're looking for a less bumpy ride (though not by much) you can also take a taxi or an Uber.How much does it cost to rent a car in Puerto Vallarta? ›
Puerto Vallarta rental car information
The average cost to rent a car in Puerto Vallarta is $162 per day.
You do not need to rent a car in Puerto Vallarta thanks to Mexico's expansive bus system—the best way to get around the Puerto Vallarta area. The public bus system in this walkable coastal city is efficient and affordable, with one-way fares starting at 10 pesos (equivalent to about 50 cents).
Is Puerto Vallarta walkable? ›
Zona Romantica is the most walkable area of Puerto Vallarta and is home to many of Puerto Vallarta's best restaurants, bars, and top things to do in Puerto Vallarta.How do you get to the hidden beach in Puerto Vallarta? ›
The easiest and best way to get to Hidden Beach is by boat. The boat ride from Puerto Vallarta is roughly an hour and there are several tour companies that offer full-day excursions; easily found with a bit of research beforehand.How far is Puerto Vallarta from tequila? ›
The distance between Puerto Vallarta and Tequila is 175 miles. The average travel time is around 3 hours. It will cost you 29 USD to refuel your car. Use a taxi at a fare of 130 USD to get from one city to another.Does Puerto Vallarta have jungle? ›
One of the best features of Puerto Vallarta is the vast jungle that surrounds it. Exploring the jungles of the Sierra Madre is one of the top activities you'll find here.How do I get from Puerto Vallarta to Sayulita? ›
The bus ride from Puerto Vallarta to Sayulita costs around $46 pesos, buses normally arrive every 20 minutes and the 24 mile journey takes approximately 1 - 1.5 hours due to frequent stops. If you plan on catching the bus from the airport, cross over the highway using the pedestrian bridge.How do you get to Yelapa Mexico? ›
To get to Yelapa you must take a boat from Boca de Tomatlan , Los Muertos beach or the beach just south of the Rosita Hotel. Yelapa can also be reached by mountain bike or hiking down from Chacala, high in the mountains behind the village. There are a daily cruise boats that drops tourists off for about two hours.Can I drive in Mexico with a US license? ›
Valid U.S. Driver's License
If you have a valid driver's license for any U.S. state, you can legally drive across the border to Mexico. Like your passport, your driver's license should be valid for at least another six months, just to be safe so you have no issues crossing the border into Mexico.
Never drive at night, in any part of Mexico. The reason is that some parts of Mexico are known for assaults at night, but most of all because it's not safe in general. You won't see path-holes, also many roads are not lit and you wouldn't see people or animals walking with the risk of running them over.Do I need a permit to travel to Mexico by car? ›
Driving to Mexico
Temporary import permits for cars registered in the United States are needed in order to drive beyond the border zones in Mexico. Permits are enforced when driving approximately 20 kilometers into Mexico. Permits are NOT needed in the Baja Peninsula.
The easiest and best way to get to Hidden Beach is by boat. The boat ride from Puerto Vallarta is roughly an hour and there are several tour companies that offer full-day excursions; easily found with a bit of research beforehand.
How far is Puerto Vallarta from tequila? ›
The distance between Puerto Vallarta and Tequila is 175 miles. The average travel time is around 3 hours. It will cost you 29 USD to refuel your car. Use a taxi at a fare of 130 USD to get from one city to another.How do I get from Puerto Vallarta to Yelapa? ›
The most common way to reach Yelapa is by boat.
There are several vendors right by Puerto Vallarta's Playa Los Muertos Pier, offering water taxi services to Yelapa. You can expect to pay around 380 pesos (or around $18) for roundtrip tickets or around 200 pesos (about $10) for a one-way ticket.
The bus ride from Puerto Vallarta to Sayulita costs around $46 pesos, buses normally arrive every 20 minutes and the 24 mile journey takes approximately 1 - 1.5 hours due to frequent stops. If you plan on catching the bus from the airport, cross over the highway using the pedestrian bridge.Can you swim in Banderas Bay? ›
Puerto Vallarta is located on beautiful Banderas Bay where the waters are calmer than the Pacific Ocean. The bay and beaches are perfect for swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling, and kayaking.How long is the ferry ride from Puerto Vallarta to marietas? ›
It takes about and hour and 45min.Are there caves in Puerto Vallarta? ›
The Marieta Islands are a national marine park with fascinating caves and wildlife. Why go? The islands are a great place to go snorkeling, but most people come to see the Hidden Beach, a beach engulfed by a cave, which can only be accessed by swimming or kayaking through a tunnel.How much is a bus from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara? ›
How much does it cost to get from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara by bus? Travelling by bus between Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara is an affordable option. The cheapest ticket is offered by Pacifico and costs $37. A Futura's ticket will set you back $45 on average.Where does the Tequila train go? ›
The all-you-can-drink 'Tequila Train' offers an 11-hour journey through the state of Jalisco, between Guadalajara and the actual town of Tequila, with sightseeing, cocktails and some cool experiences along the way. Guests can choose from four different 'wagons' or train cars that range from luxe to super-luxe.How do you get to Puerto Vallarta from Tequila? ›
- Take the bus from Crucero Tequila to Guadalajara Central Vieja.
- Fly from Guadalajara (GDL) to Puerto Vallarta (PVR)
The ferry from Puerto Vallarta Los Muertos Pier to Yelapa Hotel Pier takes 56 min including transfers and departs four times a day. Can I drive from Puerto Vallarta to Yelapa?
How much is the water taxi to Yelapa? ›
The price of the Water Taxi is 380 pesos roundtrip. The price of the Water Taxi trip does include your baggage, but only that of which you can carry. If you have extra baggage, you may be required to pay a little extra. For transport of larger cargo please make prior arrangements.What is the closest city to Puerto Vallarta? ›
- 100 km to Tepic, Mexico.
- 190 km to Zapopan, Mexico.
- 197 km to Guadalajara, Mexico.
- 199 km to Tlaquepaque, Mexico.
- 208 km to Tonala, Mexico.
- 314 km to Mazatlan, Mexico.
- 334 km to Aguascalientes, Mexico.
- 357 km to Uruapan, Mexico.
Sayulita is THE place to learn how to surf! Sayulita's surfing culture is what really made this town grow as a hot tourist destination. The main Sayulita beach is always filled with novice surfers (and also the pros too).How much does a taxi cost from Puerto Vallarta to Sayulita? ›
To get from Puerto Vallarta airport to Sayulita, you have two transfer options; taxi or bus. Taking a Puerto Vallarta airport taxi is the quickest transfer option as it takes just one hour and costs around €85 ($2,000 MXN).How much is an uber from Puerto Vallarta to Sayulita? ›
In the case of Sayulita from Puerto Vallarta Airport, Uber normally charges between US$25 – US$40, depending on the time of the day.