Guide to Puerto Vallarta Part I

    General Information

    General Information

    Introduction

    Guide to Puerto Vallarta

    Puerto Vallarta is unlike any other city in Mexico. I’ve been writing guides to Mexican cities for 4 years now, and Puerto Vallarta stands out among the most memorable Mexican cities. Whether you're an expat or nomad—or even a Mexican national—there's something for everyone in Puerto Vallarta.

    The city itself is home to a population of roughly 220,000, but the greater metropolitan area holds about 380,000 residents. Though the people are officially known as “Vallartense”, they tend to call themselves “pata salada”, which means, “salty feet” in Spanish—a reference to their intimate relationship with the sea.

    Since the release of the film Night of the Iguana in 1964, Puerto Vallarta has captured the imagination of foreigners around the world—and this trend shows no signs of slowing down.

    Location of Puerto Vallarta

    Guide to Puerto Vallarta

    Puerto Vallarta is located in the Bay of Banderas on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. Known as “PV” by locals and expatriates alike, Puerto Vallarta is found in the northwestern corner of the state of Jalisco, where the Ameca River separates it from the state of Nayarit.

    In fact, the city of Puerto Vallarta has spread beyond the border—spilling into the state of Nayarit under the name Nuevo Vallarta. However, this guide will only focus on Puerto Vallarta.

    How to Get to Puerto Vallarta

    Guide to Puerto Vallarta

    Getting to Puerto Vallarta is easy. It has an international airport, its terminal divided into two terminals. Terminal A is for domestic arrivals, whereas Terminal B is for international travelers. The airport services almost 5 million passengers each year, making it the 7th busiest airport in Mexico.

    Direct international flights can be found from numerous American destinations, Canadian destinations, and a few European airports such as London Gatwick, Manchester airport, and occasionally Helsinki. (Madrid will begin direct flights in 2022.)

    *Also, Panama City has a direct flight for those arriving from Central America.

    The airport is located about a 20-minute drive from the city center, so getting to Puerto Vallarta proper entails a ride by car. As you’re leaving the airport, a multitude of bus and taxi services will try and lure you into paying an exorbitant amount to take you to the city proper and give you the hard-sell for a second-rate dime-store time-share.

    Uber is a much cheaper option. Uber drivers are not allowed inside the airport, so you will have to exit the airport and walk to the left toward the bus stop. There, an Uber can pick you up, which will save you time and money.

    If you are staying at an all-inclusive hotel, many of them have free shuttle services that will take you to your hotel for free, so you should check that option first.

    Where to Stay in Puerto Vallarta

    Guide to Puerto Vallarta

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    Neighborhoods in Puerto Vallarta house very different demographics. Some are almost strictly local communities, while others are more popular with expats—and some show a mix of both local and international residents.

    Perhaps you have been thinking of living in Puerto Vallarta, or maybe you’re just interested in visiting; regardless, there are lots of wonderful attractions that draw thousands of tourists and expats to this great city. Deciding on a neighborhood to visit in Puerto Vallarta can be difficult if you have never been. That’s why Expat Insurance has put together a helpful neighborhood guide to Puerto Vallarta.

    Central Neighborhoods in Puerto Vallarta

    Guide to Puerto Vallarta

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    – El Centro de Puerto Vallarta

    Known to locals as “El Centro” or “Viejo Vallarta”, downtown Puerto Vallarta has a lot to offer expats and tourists alike. El Centro has a rich culture intermingled with all the amenities of a modern, cosmopolitan city. Shops, supermarkets, cafes, restaurants, bars, theaters, nightclubs, galleries, and hospitals can all be found in Puerto Vallarta’s Centro district.

    If you haven’t seen the Malecón in a while, then you’ll be surprised by just how trendy this area has become since a recent renovation. This beachfront walk is trendy and chic. Here, you can see Voladores de Papantla, street performers, sand sculptures, and all the other attractions you would expect at any major beach destination.

    During the high season, you can expect Art Walks put on by local galleries which offer free appetizers and libations to anyone interested in viewing—and hopefully purchasing—their work. Be warned that this is one of the most expensive areas in Puerto Vallarta.

    El Centro is among the oldest neighborhoods in Puerto Vallarta, though the nightlife tends to be a huge hit with the younger crowd. However, if you’re not into urban areas, then you might find El Centro in Puerto Vallarta to be overly crowded and noisy.

    – Zona Hotelera in Puerto Vallarta

    The Zona Hotelera is the area with the most hotels in Puerto Vallarta. All along Francisco Medina Ascencio Avenue, as that stretch of Highway 200 is known—stretching from the Puerto Vallarta Maritime Terminal in the north to the Sheraton Buganvilias Resort in the south—you can find some of the nicest hotels in all of Mexico.

    The Zona Hotelera was created in the middle of the 20th Century to allow El Centro to remain relatively untouched architecturally, thus preserving the cobbled streets and heritage sites that Puerto Vallarta is famous for. All along these neighborhoods in Puerto Vallarta, historic hotels offer stunning ocean views over Banderas Bay. Several high-rise luxury condos have been built up in this area as well, only increasing the population of expats in the Zona Hotelera.

    The Zona Hotelera is famously loved by joggers who often start at the River Walk and run along the many beaches, or follow Francisco Medina Ascencio until it runs into the Agustin Flores Municipal Sports Stadium where they can lift weights or run the track for a bit.

    Not only does the Zona Hotelera have everything you would expect from a hotel zone such as several shopping centers, bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, it also has theaters, hospitals, and even a Skydiving Center so you can explore Puerto Vallarta from a bird’s eye view.

    – 5 de Diciembre in Puerto Vallarta

    A small district situated between the Zona Hotelera and El Centro is the Puerto Vallarta neighborhood of 5 de Diciembre. This area is located where the flats of El Centro and the shores of Playa Camarones to where they begin to ascend in elevation. The neighborhood maintains the cobbled Old-World architecture for which Puerto Vallarta is famous, and the heights boast some of the best views in all of Puerto Vallarta.

    There are many theories as to why it is called 5 de Diciembre. Theories range from the Battle of the Alamo to the day that Christopher Columbus found the island of Hispaniola. However, street names are usually taken from the dates of battles fought for Mexican independence or during the Mexican Revolution. Nonetheless, of all the theories as to why 5 de Diciembre is named as such, the theory that rings most true to yours truly is that on the 5th of December, 1838, General Santa Anna expelled the Spanish from the city of Veracruz in the Pastry War.

    Quieter than downtown, yet still close enough to enjoy all the sights and sounds, this is one of the most up-and-coming neighborhoods in Puerto Vallarta. Slightly less expensive than the surrounding areas, 5 de Diciembre is a wonderful place to buy goods and souvenirs.

    More authentic than the Zona Hotelera, 5 de Diciembre boasts some of the best tacos in all of Puerto Vallarta—as well as many other fantastic restaurants and bars to explore. 5 de Diciembre is also famous for its fish market which features local and fresh seafood that can make any meal a culinary delight.

    This area is popular with expats and locals alike, attracting a Bohemian, artsy crowd that make the area a magnet for creatives from all around the world.

    This area is currently gentrifying, meaning that in the outskirts of 5 de Diciembre, you can expect to find dirt roads and tin-roofed shacks. However, in a couple of decades, this area is likely to be as developed as its surrounding areas, attracting massive attention from international investors.

    – Zona Romantica in Puerto Vallarta

    The Zona Romantica is one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Puerto Vallarta. This area is not only popular with tourists, but also with expats and other locals, ensuring a thriving scene all year round. It's known for being the artsy district that attracts loads of creatives to the cozy, cobblestone walkways.

    One of the main reasons for this neighborhood’s popularity was the renovation of Basilio Badillo Street, which widened and lit up the street WHEN?. Soon, all the businesses on Basilio Badillo Street had jumped onboard—in effect rebranding the area and stimulating the local shops and restaurants along it.

    During the high season, this neighborhood in Puerto Vallarta holds all manner of events, such as the Farmer’s Market in Lazaro Cardenas Park (also known as “El Parque de los Azulejos” for the colorful mosaics adorning the park’s many concrete benches). The market runs from 9:30 am – 2:00 pm—selling baked goods, artisan products, and homemade crafts. Also during the high season, in Lazaro Cardenas Park on Wednesday nights from 7:00 pm – 11:00 pm, you can check out Viva Vallarta and explore Mexican culture through its art, performances, and interactive activities. This is a great way to meet local artists and try some delicious food—which is catered by some of the nicest restaurants in Puerto Vallarta.

    Or on Fridays during the high season, you can explore the Southside Shuffle, which is a form of Art Walk that works its way from art galleries to boutique shops while you drink free wine, eat free appetizers, and enjoy some of Puerto Vallarta’s finest shopping.

    Don’t forget to go to the new Los Muertos Pier. Originally built of wood in the 1960s for the movie The Night of the Iguana, it has been renovated twice since that time. Now, this sleek, modern pier resembles a massive sail and is illuminated with colored lights after sundown. The new pier has loads of charming seating, and it’s the perfect spot to spend some time with a loved one enjoying the colorful waterfront promenade.

    Northern Neighborhoods in Puerto Vallarta

    Guide to Puerto Vallarta

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    – Fluvial Vallarta in Puerto Vallarta

    Another of the more prominent neighborhoods in Puerto Vallarta is Fluvial Vallarta. Sometimes only called “Fluvial”, this northern neighborhood in Puerto Vallarta has been garnering quite the attention of expats and tourists.

    As Banderas Bay expanded, this spurred the development of a new neighborhood in Puerto Vallarta which needed to facilitate residential expansion to accommodate the influx of tourists and expats alike. Fluvial Vallarta in its modern incarnation is less than fifteen years old.

    This Puerto Vallarta neighborhood is still under development, with construction on new commercial complexes containing mega-theaters, corporate chains such Starbucks and Costco, and many American chain restaurants.

    Due to this rapid, urban development, Fluvial Vallarta in Puerto Vallarta is attracting attention from expats and locals who are looking to settle down and purchase property inexpensively in an up-and-coming area.

    – Nuevo Vallarta in Puerto Vallarta

    One of the fastest-growing neighborhoods is Nuevo Vallarta (to the north of Puerto Vallarta in the state of Nayarit). This is because expats are drawn heavily to the idyllic landscapes of the surrounding areas. Pristine, golden beaches flank a countryside laden with attractions including two major golf courses (El Tigre and Nayar Golf Club), as well as luxury condominiums, and tourist attractions.

    Nuevo Vallarta attracts many water sports enthusiasts in Puerto Vallarta. Whether you are into scuba diving, paddle boarding, surfing, kayaking, or even kitesurfing, you’ll find fellow adventurers and people renting equipment in Nuevo Vallarta.

    Nuevo Vallarta has two marinas: Paradise Village Marina and Nuevo Vallarta Marina, which together hold up to 500 ships. Paradise Village Marina has been recognized as the cleanest marina in all of Mexico, which has attracted wildlife like pelicans, herons, ducks, gulls, and even the occasional crocodile. If you catch the right time period, and if you are respectful, then you can observe the turtle mating season from the turtle sanctuary near Bahia del Sol Resort.

    – Marina Vallarta in Puerto Vallarta

    Marina Vallarta is one of the fanciest neighborhoods in Puerto Vallarta. The yacht clubs and luxury condos set the tone for Marina Vallarta. This posh area is a self-contained neighborhood in Puerto Vallarta that was built in the 1980s to provide a port for cruise ships to dock—thereby stimulating tourism and spurring the local economy. It has become the model for other similar neighborhoods in Ixtapa, Los Cabos, Mazatlan, and Cancun.

    This area has everything you would need for a tourist visit to Puerto Vallarta, including shops, restaurants, bars, a Comercial Mexicana mega-supermarket, and a shopping center called Plaza Marina. It even has an 18-hole golf course.

    At the entrance to Marina Vallarta is a large whale sculpture designed by Octavio Gonzales during the 90s—which has become one of the local icons of this neighborhood in Puerto Vallarta. Rent a boat for the day at Nima Bay and then dine at local restaurants with a view of the old lighthouse.

    Southern Neighborhoods in Puerto Vallarta

    Guide to Puerto Vallarta

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    The southern neighborhoods in Puerto Vallarta are largely jungle landscapes of higher elevation. With their cliff-side, idyllic vistas and virgin beaches, many of these neighborhoods in Puerto Vallarta have become residential hot spots for expats and other locals.

    As soon as the neighborhood of Emiliano Zapata gives way to zones like Alta Vista and the up-and-coming Amapas, rich beachfront villas are a common sight among these affluent neighborhoods in Puerto Vallarta. Eventually one reaches areas like Conchas Chinas, which is known as the “Beverly Hills of Puerto Vallarta”.

    These affluent areas peppered with luxurious villas stretch for miles until one comes upon the little village of Mislamoya. Famous for being the site of the filming of The Night of the Iguana, this quaint fishing village is famous for having calm waves which are atypical along the Pacific. These mild waters not only attract tourists and expats, but a myriad of wildlife, which is why the village lends itself to fishing—as well as swimming, wading, SCUBA diving, and of course relaxing.

    Weather in Puerto Vallarta

    Guide to Puerto Vallarta

    Puerto Vallarta is a beach resort city located on Mexico’s Pacific coast. English speakers often shorten its name to “PV”. The city is an especially popular tourist destination among the LGBT community. Lying on the same latitude as The Hawaiian Islands, Puerto Vallarta’ s weather is typical of its tropical climate. One half of the year here consists of a dry season, and the other, a rainy season.

    While the two seasons experience a marked difference in the levels of rainfall, Puerto Vallarta’s average temperature remains more or less stable all year round. Continue reading to learn more about Puerto Vallarta’s weather during its dry season and its rainy season, and to find out about its hurricane season. Towards the end of this article, you will find month-by-month averages of Puerto Vallarta’s weather.

    Weather in Puerto Vallarta’s High Season

    Guide to Puerto Vallarta

    Puerto Vallarta’s high season spans from mid-October until May. Virtually no rain falls during this season. If you are planning a visit to the city during these months, make sure you bring your sunglasses and sunscreen—the high season boasts almost unbroken season-long warmth and dry spells, and plenty of sunshine too. This time of year is also the busiest for the big local tourist industry, so expect higher prices and lots of other tourists. Puerto Vallarta’s average daytime temperatures during the high season typically range from between around 80° to 90° F (27° to 32° C) and dip to around 70° to 75° F (21° to 24° C) at night.

    Weather in Puerto Vallarta’s Rainy Season

    Guide to Puerto Vallarta

    The other half of the year is occupied by Puerto Vallarta’s rainy season, which runs from June to mid-October. As the name suggests, this season is characterized by an increase in rainfall, but this should not be taken to mean that the rain that gives this season its name is pouring all of the time during this time of year. When the heavens do open, they usually do so in short, intense bursts, which often start at night, and certainly aren’t likely to spoil your trip.

    That being said, if you are planning to visit during Puerto Vallarta’s rainy season it is a good idea to pack an umbrella or buy yourself one once you arrive–and umbrellas are preferable to waterproof clothing. The rains also cause humidity levels to spike in Puerto Vallarta’s rainy season, which can reach in excess of 80% during July. Rubber, wax-coated, and other non-breathable waterproof fabrics will only compound these already sweaty conditions.

    Puerto Vallarta’s rainy season’s temperatures are a little higher compared to those of its high season. During the day the heat often rises to about 90 – 93ºF (32 – 34 ºC) and falls to 80 – 85ºF at night. Though there is a chance that days relaxing on the beach may be marred by the occasional deluge, Puerto Vallarta’s rainy season is actually still a good time of year to pay the city a visit. The rains ward off a sizable chunk of the tourist hordes, lowering costs from the expensive prices typical of the busy season. Furthermore, in such a hot climate, the rains are often a welcome respite from the intense heat.

    Puerto Vallarta’s Hurricane Season

    Guide to Puerto Vallarta

    Although Puerto Vallarta lies on a geographical path that is frequented by hurricanes, the city is protected by a formidable natural defense. The surrounding Bay of Banderas deflects almost all hurricanes headed for the city, diverting them away from Puerto Vallarta and into the ocean. The remnants of any tropical storms that do make it through generally have been decreased in intensity. Because of this, the term "Puerto Vallarta’s hurricane season" is effectively a misnomer. Hurricanes are not a common feature of Puerto Vallarta’s weather and certainly do not strike here on a seasonal basis.

    Occasionally one does slip through with enough strength to cause destruction, such as Hurricane Kenna dealt 101 million dollars worth of damage and injured 100 people as it swept through the city back in 2002. In September of 2021, Hurricane Nora hit the city, causing floods, destroying a major bridge and the local market, and sadly, even killing a handful of residents. However, these occurrences are uncommon.

    You can expect milder thunderstorms to occur in this region, however, especially during the normally otherwise dry month of November.

    – Weather in Puerto Vallarta in January Average temperature: high 84ºF (29ºC), low 62ºF (17ºC) Average rainfall (inches): 1.3 Average rainy days: 2.2 Average wind speed (MPH): 6.1

    – Average Weather in Puerto Vallarta in February Average temperature: high 84ºF (29ºC), low 61ºF (16ºC) Average rainfall (inches): 0.2 Average rainy days: 0.7 Average wind speed: 6.3

    – Weather in Puerto Vallarta in March Average temperature: high 85ºF (29ºC), low 62 ºF (17ºC) Average rainfall (inches): 0.1 Average rainy days: 0.6 Average wind speed: 6.8

    – Weather in Puerto Vallarta in April Average temperature: high 86ºF (30ºC), low 63ºF (17ºC) Average rainfall (inches): 0.1 Average rainy days: 0.2 Average wind speed: 6.8

    – Weather in Puerto Vallarta in May Average temperature: high 89ºF (32ºC), low 69ºF (21ºC) Average rainfall: (inches): 0.1 Average rainy days: 10.8 Average wind speed: 6.9

    – Weather in Puerto Vallarta in June Average temperature: high 90ºF (32ºC), low 73ºF (23ºC) Average rainfall (inches): 7.4 Average rainy days: 16.4 Average wind speed: 6.3

    – Weather in Puerto Vallarta in July Average temperature: high 92ºF (33ºC), low 73ºF (23ºC) Average rainfall (inches): 12.9 Average rainy days: 15.2 Average wind speed: 5.2

    – Weather in Puerto Vallarta in August Average temperature: high 93ºF (34ºC), low 73ºF (23ºC) Average rainfall (inches): 12.3 Average rainy days: 15.6 **Average wind speed: ** 5.3

    – Weather in Puerto Vallarta in September Average temperature: high 92ºF (33ºC), low 73ºF (23ºC) Average rainfall (inches): 14.6 Average rainy days: 5.1 Average wind speed: 5.9

    – Weather in Puerto Vallarta in October Average temperature: high 93ºF (34ºC), low 72ºF (22ºC) Average rainfall (inches): 3.7 Average rainy days: 5.1 Average wind speed: 5.8

    – Weather in Puerto Vallarta in November Average temperature: high 90ºF (32ºC), low 68ºF (20ºC) Average rainfall (inches): 0.8 Average rainy days: 1.4 Average wind speed: 5.9

    – Weather in Puerto Vallarta in December Average temperature: high 86ºF (30ºC), low 64ºF (18ºC) Average rainfall (inches): 0.9 Average rainy days: 1.9 Average wind speed: 5.9

    Puerto Vallarta’s hottest month is August and its coolest is February, but there isn't a great change in temperature from month to month, nor from season to season. September is the city’s wettest month, while April is its driest. Average wind speeds remain gentle year-round.

    Puerto Vallarta’s high season offers almost guaranteed dry, warm weather, and Puerto Vallarta’s wet season, while a little wetter, remains hot and is still a great time to visit the city.

    What to Do in Puerto Vallarta

    Guide to Puerto Vallarta

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    There is something for everyone in Puerto Vallarta. With charming and trendy neighborhoods to explore and lovely beaches to relax on. You could spend years in Puerto Vallarta and still have new things to discover!

    The following is a short list of top sites to visit when you’re traveling through Puerto Vallarta:

    – Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

    Built in the 1930s, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe is a cathedral located in Puerto Vallarta’s Centro neighborhood a block from the trendy Malecón beach walk. Known for its Renaissance-style tower, it’s a brilliant piece of architecture in Mexico.

    *To find Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe on Google Maps, click here.

    – Mirador de La Cruz

    Located in the hills overlooking the Centro of Puerto Vallarta, the Mirador de La Cruz is a lookout where you can see the whole panoramic view of the city of Puerto Vallarta. This is a great place to get your bearings and take in some fresh air—and take some Instagram-worthy photos.

    *To find Mirador de La Cruz on Google Maps, click here.

    – Los Arcos de Mismaloya

    Puerto Vallarta’s answer to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, this geological wonder is amazing to visit. Here, rocky formations jut out from the ocean floor. You can take a tour by boat, but it’s also an attraction for snorkeling and scuba diving aficionados.

    *To find Los Arcos de Mismaloya on Google Maps, click here.

    – Art Walk on Calle Guadalupe Sanchez

    Held on Wednesdays, over 16 galleries host an Art Walk inviting art lovers to have a drink and discuss works of art with the artists that created them. If you’re interested in the local art of Puerto Vallarta, then this Art Walk is a must-see.

    *To find Calle Guadalupe Sanchez on Google Maps, click here.

    Beaches in Puerto Vallarta

    Guide to Puerto Vallarta

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    – Yelapa

    A secluded beach on the southern tip of the Bay of Banderas, Yelapa is a popular location for nature lovers visiting Puerto Vallarta. You can take a boat from the city’s main dock, but the fastest way to get there is by renting a boat from the town of Boca de Tomatlan. (You can even take a bus from the city center to this dock.) “Water Taxis,” as the pangas are known, leave every half hour and cost about 250 pesos per person. Any tour guide or hotel can help arrange this for you.

    *To find Yelapa on Google Maps, click here.

    – Playa Los Muertos

    Not to be confused with the beach of the same name in nearby Sayulita, Playa Los Muertos is Vallarta’s largest beach, and where all tourists flock. The beach is crowded—especially on weekends—but it’s a great way to hang out with throngs of locals and tapatios visiting from Guadalajara.

    *To find Playa Los Muertos on Google Maps, click here.

    – Playa Amapas

    Just south of Playa Los Muertos lies a small cove called Playa Amapas. If you're seeking to escape the throngs of tourists overtaking Playa Los Muertos, Playa Amapas is quaint and quiet. SAFETY NOTE: It's a bit of a treacherous walk over to the cove, so if you suffer from limited mobility, DO NOT cross over to Playa Amapas.

    *To find Playa Amapas on Google Maps, click here.

    This concludes Part I of our Guide to Puerto Vallarta. To continue on to Part II and learn where to eat, drink, and dance with the locals, click here.

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    Meet the writer

    Raf Bracho

    For several years, Rafael has been crafting articles to help expats and nomads in their journey abroad. He takes great pride in meticulously researching the ins-and-outs of bureaucratic processes in different countries around the world. A digital nomad for almost a decade, Rafael also enjoys exploring cultural phenomena in his articles to better help expats and nomads assimilate. If you have any questions or issues with the content of an article, he’s the one to contact for further information.