Are you visiting Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for the first time? Check out these amazing Puerto Vallarta travel tips for first-timers that will save you stress!
This list of Puerto Vallarta travel tips was written by family travel expert Marcie Cheung and contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.
Visiting Mexico and looking for Puerto Vallarta travel tips for first-timers? Then, you came to the right place.
Mexico has so much to offer, between the incredible coasts, the active volcanos, the vast mountain ranges, and the vibrant jungles. But one of the most must-see destinations in Mexico is Puerto Vallarta.
Puerto Vallarta is known for its beautiful beaches, incredible Sierra Madre mountains, lively city center, and rich cultural heritage. That’s why this is a popular tourist destination, especially during Spring break.
If you’re going to Puerto Vallarta, you might be overwhelmed with all the fun things to do and white sand beaches.
This guide will review all the important information you need before traveling to Puerto Vallarta for the first time.
These Puerto Vallarta travel tips will help you make the most of your time on the Mexican West Coast, avoid common mistakes other travelers make, and allow for a fun and safe trip.
Perfect Puerto Vallarta Travel Tips for First-Timers
Planning a Trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Planning a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, can initially be overwhelming. After all, you have incredible beaches, beautiful mountains, and much more.
The most crucial step is to decide how much time you have and which type of activities you’re most interested in.
If you’re going to Puerto Vallarta for the beaches, you’re in luck.
Los Muertos Beach is the main beach in central Puerto Vallarta. It’s full of beachgoers, vendors, great sunsets. It’s easily accessible from Old Town and the Romantic Zone, two of the most popular neighborhoods in Puerto Vallarta.
Camarones Beach is another beach in downtown Puerto Vallarta with fewer people. And if you want to escape the city, there are also many beaches near Puerto Vallarta for quick day trips.
Puerto Vallarta is inside Banderas Bay, so the waters are always calm and welcoming. Although, you can also find great surfing spots not too far from downtown.
If you want to balance beach time with more activities, don’t worry; there’s plenty of that too.
The many hiking trails often get overlooked by travelers but are a must-do for families traveling to Puerto Vallarta. There are dozens of great hikes for every level and age right in the mountain range behind the city.
Mexico is also known for its delicious food, so definitely step out of your comfort zone for a second to try some of the incredible street food and even the wide variety of international cuisine around El Centro.
If you’re worried about missing out on the best food, consider one of the Puerto Vallarta food tours that take you through the best of the best.
Read more: Best Places to Visit in Mexico
How Long Do You Need in Puerto Vallarta?
You can easily spend months in Puerto Vallarta without ever getting bored. However, most of us don’t have that kind of time.
If you’re looking for a beautiful place to unwind, soak up some sun, and spend most of the trip at the beach, then three to five days is perfect.
You can have a few days near the beach in the north hotel zone, at one of the incredible beach clubs, and time to walk around Zona Romantica and other cobblestone street neighborhoods.
If you want a little more adventure, I’d recommend seven to nine days to visit Puerto Vallarta.
With a week or more, you can have plenty of time to relax on the beaches, enjoy some fun hikes, explore the downtown area of Puerto Vallarta, and do anything else that might catch your eye.
Getting Around Puerto Vallarta Without a Car
Unless you’re planning day trips from Puerto Vallarta or want to explore the coastal city, you won’t need a car to get around Puerto Vallarta.
In central Puerto Vallarta, you can easily walk to most places. Downtown Puerto Vallarta has retained the quintessential feel with cobblestone streets and a mile-long boardwalk along the Pacific Ocean.
If you want to move further up and down the coast, you can take public buses or water taxis.
Buses frequently run through the city and service all the main areas for tourists and neighborhoods on the outskirts.
And you can find water taxis leaving Playa de los Muertos Pier to visit coves and hidden beaches. The taxi boat stops at Las Animas Beach, Quimixto, and Yelapa.
Taxis and Ride Shares in Puerto Vallarta
Taxis and rideshares are also an easy way to get around, especially if you don’t want to worry too much about navigation.
Uber tends to be more affordable than a taxi ride, and they have transparent pricing, so you don’t have to worry as much about getting scammed or anything.
Aside from Uber, you can also book Did and InDriver as alternatives. Uber works the same in Puerto Vallarta as in other areas. Open the application, set your pick-up and drop-off destination, and call a driver.
According to a survey from Statista, Uber is by far the most popular rideshare application, with an astonishing 85% of consumers in Mexico using Uber over its competitors. So, there should be no problems with Uber in Puerto Vallarta.
Book Popular Puerto Vallarta Activities in Advance
One of the best things you can do for your vacation in Puerto Vallarta is to book your activities in advance, especially during high season or for very popular activities.
Puerto Vallarta is a growing city, with more and more tourists and Mexican nationals visiting yearly for the warm weather and relaxation at some of the best beaches in Mexico.
The high season in Puerto Vallarta is from December through April, when everything is more crowded and likely to sell out.
The low season is from May to December, but it’s still best to come prepared and book in advance. Maybe you’ll even save money by doing so.
For example, people come to Puerto Vallarta from all over the world for the whale watching season, but these boat companies may fill up quickly especially the good ones.
All-inclusive resorts, boutique hotels, and even homestays can also fill up quickly, especially the popular ones.
You can avoid astronomical travel fares and the chance of paying hefty fees by planning and booking everything as soon as possible.
Make sure you use good travel insurance when booking; that way, you won’t have to worry about cancellation fees.
Travel insurance sometimes offers insurance on flights, hotels, activities, and rental bookings in case of a cancellation.
You can ensure you have a fun trip by booking your activities and accommodations as soon as possible.
Learn a little Spanish.
Most locals speak English because of the influx of tourists from the cruise ship terminal and other travelers every day. However, many people only speak Spanish.
Learning a few key phrases can go a long way. It will make everything much easier and show that you respect the local language and are making an effort.
Here are some phrases to start with before you travel to Puerto Vallarta:
- Hola: Hello
- Adiós: Goodbye
- Por Favor: Please
- Gracias: Thank You
- Cuánto Cuesta?: How Much?
It also might be helpful to learn some of the money amount translations, especially if you plan on shopping.
Set aside some time for a day trip or two.
There are a few day trips from Puerto Vallarta that really can’t be missed.
There are a few small, uninhabited nearby islands in Banderas Bay called Marietas Islands (Islas Marietas).
Sayulita is another fun day trips from Puerto Vallarta. It’s a small beach town on the Pacific Coast. It’s about an hour and a half from Puerto Vallarta. There are many things to do in Sayulita, from surfing to hiking.
For a more cultural experience, a day trip to San Sebastian del Oeste is highly recommended. This is a small, cultural town nestled in the Sierra Madre mountains. It’s about one and a half hours from Puerto Vallarta, so it doesn’t take up much time, making a stop at San Sebastian worth it. Check rates here.
San Pancho (or San Francisco) is another quaint Mexican village about 30 miles (50 km) from Puerto Vallarta.
San Pancho is a unique little Mexican village filled with artists, art galleries, and low-key beach vibes. It’s what you imagine places like Sayulita or Puerto Vallarta to have been like years and years ago.
Los Arcos National Marine Park is a beautiful natural park perfect for snorkeling, scuba diving, and swimming. The warm waters of Los Arcos are home to many of Puerto Vallarta’s thriving marine life, like sea turtles, tropical fish, rays, and eels.
Boca de Tomatlán is another small fishing village near Puerto Vallarta. It’s about an hour away and easy to get to. It’s definitely a lesser-known Mexican town, so it feels more authentic.
You’ll have to check the weather forecast ahead of time to make sure things are looking sunny and nice, but it’s an incredible experience either way.
Money in Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta uses the Mexican peso (MXN), the national currency of Mexico. At the time of writing this, the Mexican peso converts to the following:
- 1 USD = 17.96 MXN
- 1 CAD = 13.06 MXN
- 1 GBP = 21.81 MXN
- 1 EUR = 18.87 MXN
Remember that a currency’s value is constantly fluctuating, so this can vary from day to day.
If you’re staying around the hotel zones, dining in upper-class restaurants, and shopping at large retailers, you can use your credit or debit cards for most things.
However, if you want to do anything else (including water taxis, city taxis, and other small events), you’ll need to have Mexican pesos on hand.
Some places accept USD as a form of payment, but they usually don’t have the best conversion rates.
So, you can come prepared and convert your currency to pesos before your trip, exchange money at an official money exchange counter (they also usually have lower currency exchange rates), or pull out money in the local currency at an ATM.
I think using an ATM is the most efficient and best value, depending on your bank account. This may only be beneficial if you have a bank with little-to-no ATM fees and no international charges.
Dining in Puerto Vallarta Tips
Alongside its lively nightlife, this huge city also has some excellent cuisine. Because of the influx of tourists, expats, and digital nomads, it also has excellent international cuisine.
You can eat somewhere along the boardwalk if you’re looking for food with a view. Many restaurants, either in El Centro or in the hotel zones, have over-the-water dining options. The food is usually pretty good, and the view is even better.
There’s also some excellent seafood around the city, so make sure to try some of these dishes during your stay.
And, of course, stop at some of the street food vendors to try some local delights. You can’t go wrong with Mexican street tacos (el pastor, or pork, is the classic), tamales, and fresh fruit juices.
If you’re dining in, a 10%-15% tip is normal in Mexico. However, if you’re eating a joint that caters entirely to tourists or has impeccable service, they may expect a 20% tip.
Safety and Awareness in Puerto Vallarta
Is Puerto Vallarta safe?
Puerto Vallarta is relatively safe for tourists, especially as much of the economy has become reliant on tourism. The government doesn’t want anything bad to happen, and most locals want to keep the tourist economy flowing.
Currently, Puerto Vallarta has a crime index of 35.82 (Low) and a safety index of 64.17 (High). This is an excellent rating compared to another popular tourist destination in Mexico.
That being said, there’s significant income inequality between locals and tourists in Puerto Vallarta and most parts of Mexico. So, there are some scams and petty crimes to watch for.
Here are a few safety tips when traveling in Puerto Vallarta:
- If you’re using the ATMs, check the card reader for any attachments. Only use ATMs inside bank buildings rather than street ATMs near downtown.
- Avoid going out late at night alone.
- Download offline Google Maps so you won’t have to worry about navigation, even when cell service isn’t great. You can also keep a Puerto Vallarta map on you, which may be harder to read.
- Stay in recommended neighborhoods like the Romantic Zone (which is also known as Old Town), the Hotel Zone (further away from town where most of the all-inclusive resorts are), and Centro (near the beach and high-energy).
If you’d like a few more resources and tips, you can join one of Puerto Vallarta’s Facebook groups before your trip, like this Puerto Vallarta: Everything you Need or Want to Know group.
These groups are filled with free resources about safety in Puerto Vallarta and everything else you might want to know.
First-Timer’s Tips for Visiting Puerto Vallarta FAQs
Is Puerto Vallarta worth visiting?
Yes, Puerto Vallarta is worth visiting. There’s so much to do here, whether the family is drawn to the beautiful beaches, the lively energy, or the Sierra Madre mountains. There’s plenty of fun for everyone, no matter your interests.
You can even book ATV tours to make your trip to Sierra Madre more fun and adrenaline rush. You can book one here.
When is the best time of year to visit Puerto Vallarta?
The best time of year to visit Puerto Vallarta is between December and April. The weather is cool but warm enough to enjoy the best beaches.
If you’re looking for the best deals, April to June is the best time to travel to Puerto Vallarta. It’s not too hot, and things are a little more calm.
You’ll want to avoid the rainy season, though. The rainy season is from June to mid-September. While the rainy season isn’t all that bad, it can literally put a damper on your vacation if it’s nothing but rain.
Where are the best places to stay in Puerto Vallarta?
If you’re traveling to Puerto Vallarta, you may want to stay in one of the nicer neighborhoods for comfort and safety reasons.
Zona Romantica is one of the best neighborhoods for tourists. It’s popular because it’s one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly places in Mexico and a well-known gay neighborhood in Mexico, with several gay clubs around. But it’s also an excellent place for families and children.
The Hotel Zone is where all the all-inclusive resorts are located. It’s a bit further from town but in a beautiful area of Puerto Vallarta. And you’ll definitely feel safe and secure while staying here.
Marina Vallarta is also a well-established neighborhood on the north side of Puerto Vallarta. It’s close to the Puerto Vallarta International Airport.
Centro is also a great place to stay if you want to be right in all the action. While it’s a bit further from the international airport, everything else you need is here.
What should I know before going to Puerto Vallarta?
There are a few other things to know before your trip to Puerto Vallarta.
First, Puerto Vallarta has a tropical climate, so you can pack light. But bring plenty of reef-safe sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and comfortable walking shoes. Your other packing items may vary depending on the activities you do.
Also, it’s important to note that the water is unsafe for drinking. Bring a reusable bottle to refill with filtered water, and purchase bottled or filtered water instead of tap water.
Is it okay to travel to Puerto Vallarta right now?
Yes, it’s okay to travel to Puerto Vallarta right now. Thousands of people travel to Puerto Vallarta each week. But you can stay up-to-date on travel advisories and other safety considerations through your country’s embassy. For example, the U.S. Department of State always issues travel advisories for Mexico and other countries.
Should I bring pesos to Puerto Vallarta?
Yes, bringing a few pesos to Puerto Vallarta will be helpful if you can get them beforehand. This way, you can hop directly from the airport to Puerto Vallarta without exchanging money, using an ATM, or dealing with bad exchange rates with foreign currencies.
How do tourists get around in Puerto Vallarta?
Tourists get around in Puerto Vallarta by walking around town, taking taxis or Ubers from place to place, and boat taxis to more remote areas along the Pacific Coat.
What are the must-see attractions in Puerto Vallarta?
The Malecon Boardwalk in Central Puerto Vallarta is a top attraction. It’s a mile-long stretch with many souvenir shops, small restaurants, and beach activities. It also has excellent views of the ocean.
Vallarta Botanical Gardens are also a must-see attraction in Puerto Vallarta. It’s a great afternoon, especially with the whole family. It feels like an entirely different place than the bustling streets of Puerto Vallarta.
The Cuale Cultural Center is the eastern tip of the Cuale River Island. The center offers family-friendly activities, like painting, dance, and music workshops.
Puerto Vallarta Travel Tips for First-Timers Wrap Up
If you want to make the most of your Mexico vacation, the best thing you can do is plan and prepare accordingly.
You’ll want to decide the activities and events that are most interesting to you, and make sure to leave plenty of time to enjoy the white sand beaches and warm waters around Puerto Vallarta.
Of course, you’ll want to come a little prepared, with some basic Spanish in your back pocket and familiarity with the Mexican peso as the local currency.
But you’re certain to have a fantastic trip, and you’ll make some unforgettable memories with the family.
Go ahead and grab your beach towel, and head to Mexico’s Resort City for a fun-filled family vacation!