In December I went on a spur-of-the-moment trip for a weekend in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I had never been to the country before so it was quite exciting! The kicker was that I went for only 2.5 days and I booked the flight and accommodation less than 2 weeks before departing. Keep in mind that I live in Canada and not Europe where it’s easy to hop borders on a whim! Making this snap decision was simple: gas, food, and accommodation are expensive in Canada, so why not visit another country for the same price or less?

How did I decide on the final destination for my spontaneous international trip? Read this blog for several tips on how you can plan your own spontaneous international trip!

Why Visit Puerto Vallarta?

There are a few reasons why I chose to visit Puerto Vallarta for a quick weekend trip. I have wanted to visit Mexico for a long time. The first Spanish word I remember learning as a child was “chica”, which family members from Mexico named their dog. This simple fact captivated me and I remember craving more words. Puerto Vallarta was somewhere I could immerse myself in the language. In addition to absorbing the sounds, I was keen to taste as many new Mexican dishes as possible. There’s a certain satisfaction from enjoying a cuisine in its homeland. Last, I wanted to explore somewhere completely new.

Flair Airlines Window View Sunrise Flight

Culture, Relaxation, Adventure, and Kindness

While my reasons may not be your particular reasons for visiting Puerto Vallarta, there are several others to entice you, not least of all its stunning geography. Snug between the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Madre mountain range, Puerto Vallarta has a little something for every outdoor enthusiast. As one of the country’s best beach towns, sun worshippers flock to the world-famous Playa Los Muertos beach to soak up the rays’ heat. Those in search of a party will find plenty of places to dance and sip cocktails, such as El Dorado Beach Club, Mantamar Beach Club, and the Sapphire Ocean Club. Puerto Vallarta is also the perfect place to go whale watching and dive into water sports.

Back on land, the lush subtropical jungle of the Sierra Madre mountains beckons you to beautiful vistas. The opportunities to hike, rappel, and zipline will excite any adrenaline seeker. Adjacent to the beach are numerous restaurants, shops, and lively El Malecón (boardwalk). Families and photographers will enjoy the treasure trove of public art. Puerto Vallarta is also home to more galleries than any of Mexico’s other popular beach destinations. Gastronomically speaking, the city is an absolute party for your mouth. The street food is fantastic, the cafes are cute, and the restaurants are truly top notch.

Safety is another reason to visit Puerto Vallarta. The crime rate is low, the locals friendly and helpful, and the LGBTQ+ community is welcomed with open arms.

Frida Kahlo Mural in Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta Travel Guide FAQ

Is Puerto Vallarta Safe for Travel?

When it comes to travelling in Mexico, people’s first question is often about safety. From personal experience, I can tell you that I felt very safe while in Puerto Vallarta. Don’t take my word for it though. According to Travel Safe Abroad, Puerto Vallarta is one of Mexico’s 10 safest destinations. The city’s low crime rate, save for petty theft, is evidence that they take safety seriously. In fact, Puerto Vallarta has lower crime rates than many cities in the US. Numbeo, a popular travel website for expats, is another statistical source. Puerto Vallarta is especially travel-friendly for LGBTQ+ travellers. The Zona Romántica, the city’s gay neighbourhood, is a popular neighbourhood for any visitor to stay in and visit.

Now, I will say that as a female, whether I’m at home or in a foreign country, I avoid walking alone at night. I also always purchase travel insurance, in addition to the insurance I have from paying for trips on my credit cards. Both suggestions are wise for any savvy traveller to implement. Canadian travellers can also check the travel.gc.ca website for up-to-date destination-specific travel advice. As always, do your research before you leave and go with your gut.

Where is Puerto Vallarta Located?

Nestled in the middle of the Bahía de Banderas (Banderas Bay), the beautiful beaches of Puerto Vallarta are found on Mexico’s Pacific west coast. The popular tourist destination in the state of the country’s 7th largest state, Jalisco, is only a 1.5-hour plane ride to Mexico City.

When is the Best Time of Year to Visit Puerto Vallarta?

There are many things to consider when choosing the “best time of year” to visit Puerto Vallarta: price, influx of tourists and, of course, weather. High season is mid-December to the end of April, which is also dry season and the best time to go whale-watching and hiking. Average temperatures during these months are 22 – 26 degrees Celsius. Unfortunately, high season is synonymous with crowds and higher prices.

Low season falls between the beginning of May and the middle of December. While there will be discounts galore, the oppressive heat and rainy season may outweigh any of the price perks. Holy Week (the week before Easter) is a popular Catholic holiday in Mexico and thus a busier time, as is Thanksgiving when the Americans head south. Another consideration is hurricane season, which stretches between June and October.

What Should I Pack for a Weekend in Puerto Vallarta?

Layers are the key to packing well, wherever the destination. While what you pack differs from climate to climate, the strategy remains the same. In Puerto Vallarta your layers will likely include a bathing suit plus any mixture of shorts, t-shirts, dresses, workout clothes, and a hat. Sun protection is a must here, so don’t forget the SPF, head covers, and sunglasses. If you’re fair-skinned, then packing a protective swimming shirt or long-sleeved bathing suit is a must. For shoes, I brought running shoes and comfortable yet cute sandals.

To be honest, despite packing in only a school-sized backpack, I still brought too many things. As a former “what if packer”, I never thought I would write those words!

What are Some Important Spanish Phrases to Use in Mexico?

One of my favourite parts of this trip to Mexico was finally being immersed again in Spanish. Though most locals do speak some English and are used to travellers not speaking Spanish, any effort you make to learn and use a few phrases goes a long way. There’s a small list below to get you started:

Spanish Travel Phrases

Do Canadians Need a Visa to Travel to Mexico?

Canadians do not need a visa to enter Mexico by air. If entering the country by land borders, then Canadians will need to fill out a Tourist Card (FMM). Make sure to have a pen on hand because they’re not supplied on the plane or at the airport. Valid passports are necessary regardless of entry point. To stay up-to-date with travel requirements, check out the Embassy for Mexico in Canada’s website.

Mexican Customs Declaration Form

Arriving in Puerto Vallarta

At the Airport

One of the great things about travelling to Puerto Vallarta is that the airport is very close to the city. Licenciado Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport, also known as Puerto Vallarta Airport (PVR), is about 10 kilometres and a short 20 to 30-minute drive from the popular Zona Romántica. There are 2 terminals: A for domestic flights and B for international. Despite being one of Mexico’s busiest airports, it’s small and easy to navigate. It won’t take long to exit, depending on seasonality and customs, especially if you pack a carry-on bag.

Within the airport you’ll find a decent amount of food and shopping options. In addition to the standard souvenir and duty-free shops, there are also clothing stores and convenience stores. The variety of food in the airport ranges from fast food spots to cafes and lounges, with a mix of international and Mexican cuisine.

In terms of Internet access, there’s free 15-minute airport WIFI however it doesn’t always work. Patrons of the 3 lounges have access to unlimited free WIFI.

PVR to Zona Romantica in Puerto Vallarta Mexico

Leaving the Airport

If you’re feeling adventurous and are comfortable with public transit, take the city bus into town. I did it and would make the same decision again. It’s a short ride, a great way to dive into local life, and is only 10 Pesos (approximately $0.80 CAD) per ride. To catch the bus from the airport, simply exit to the left and walk to the pedestrian bridge. Do not cross the bridge. Stay on the same side as the airport. The destination for the bus will be marked on the front, however if you’re not 100% sure it’s the correct one, confirm the neighbourhood you’re heading to with the driver. Public transit can be jammed at peak times, so if you have heavy luggage or several bags, it might be easier to take a taxi or ride-share.

In Puerto Vallarta, taxis are roughly double the price of an Uber. Taxis are also not metered and instead are priced by zones. Uber is the more economical choice at the airport and in the city. They can drop people off at the airport but cannot pick them up at the same spot. Luckily, they’re a short 5 minute walk away from the exit doors. Remember the pedestrian bridge I mentioned for taking the bus? Walk over it and there you’ll find your Uber driver. The price is reasonable at less than $15 CAD for a ride into the city centre.

Getting Around in Puerto Vallarta

By Foot

Walking is an excellent way to see Puerto Vallarta. If you have low mobility this might be a bit difficult with the steep hills, otherwise I highly recommend taking the “heel-toe express”. When I visited, I stayed in the Zona Romántica. As a super walkable, central, and colourful location, it was the perfect choice for a quick weekend away. For morning and evening strolls or even a jog, head to the kilometre-long El Malecón. It stretches from the Hotel Rosita at one end to the playful “Rotunda of the Sea” sculptures at the opposite. It’s safe to walk along in the evening as there are lots of people nearby if you need assistance.

There are many cobblestone streets and uneven areas so leave the high heels at home. Instead, bring a cute pair of sandals or comfy runners that allow you to enjoy meandering. I wouldn’t recommend, to men or women, walking late at night in an unfamiliar place.

Travel with TMc Strolling in Puerto Vallarta

By City Bus

The city bus is great for exploring farther than the Downtown / Centro. They run frequently and even extend beyond the city limits. To flag down the bus, point to the road. If you wave, they might not realize that you want them to pull over. If hailing a bus sounds intimidating, stand with the locals. They know how to get the driver’s attention.

There are a few things to note for taking public transportation. Buses have air conditioning, however it’s often not on. The windows will be open for circulation, though it can get steamy inside. If you’ve got a short ride, including the distance from the airport to the downtown, the heat is manageable. Bus fares are 1-time use only, no transfers. When boarding as a group, the last person generally pays for everyone to speed up the process. Make sure you hold on to your ticket in case a fare inspector asks to see it.

By Taxi & Uber

Uber and Taxis are available and affordable in Puerto Vallarta. Tipping is not required in local yellow city taxis. Always ask for, and feel free to negotiate, the cost of the taxi fare before your ride. Private vehicles can also be hired.

Where to Stay in Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta has something for everyone when it comes to accommodation. Whether you prefer a place in the middle of the action or somewhere quieter, a budget hostel or an all-inclusive resort, the choice is yours. North to south, the hotel areas are as follows: Marina Zone, Hotel Zone, El Centro, Zona Romántica, and South Zone. The Marina Zone is near the airport and main bus terminal and, of course, a marina full of luxurious yachts. South of the Puerto Vallarta marina is the Hotel Zone where you’ll find the city’s all-inclusive hotels and big resorts. The 3 most central neighbourhoods are El Centro, 5 de Diciembre, and Zona Romántica. I go into more details on these neighbourhoods below.

How to Spend a Weekend in Puerto Vallarta

Zona Romántica

I stayed in the Zona Romántica (Romantic Zone) and, as stated above, chose it for its walkability and vibrant cultural scene. The traditional neighbourhood is full of places to eat, drink, and shop, and the beach and boardwalk are nearby. There is a mix of accommodation options to choose from, including locally owned Airbnbs, boutique hotels, and beach resorts. The Airbnb I booked was great. I’ve been staying in Airbnbs since 2012 and for the first time in almost decade, my interaction was with a human who lived there instead of a faceless property management group. That warm experience alone was reason enough to revisit Puerto Vallarta. In fact, the man had built the couple’s home and store which made it even more special.

After my visit, I learned that Elizabeth Taylor lived in the Zona Romántica while making the 1964 film The Night of the Iguana with lover and co-star Richard Burton. In fact, Burton gifted her the home for her 32nd birthday. Today, her home is the luxurious Casa Kimberly Boutique Hotel and a destination in and of itself. The views inside and out look absolutely stunning. With just 9 suites, it will feel like the place is your own grand home. Casa Kimberly also has an open-air rooftop restaurant, relaxing spa, and the Iguana Tequila Bar where formal attire is required. Let’s just say it’s on my accommodation bucket list now!

5 de Diciembre

Known as “5D” to Mexican and expat residents, the 5 de Diciembre neighbourhood in the centre of Puerto Vallarta is also a popular spot with tourists and travellers. While I love my neighbourhood at home, it’s enticing me to move there…at least for a few weeks! Bordered by the beach on one side and the hills on the other, it’s mainly a residential area. There’s Playa Camarones, aka Shrimp Beach, a seafood market aptly named Mercado del Mer, and a bumping plaza (Hidalgo) where cultural events and festivals frequently occur. What’s not to love about a neighbourhood with all of that lively energy?! I haven’t even mentioned all of the amazing taco trucks and culinary hot spots whose tantalizing aromas fill the streets. Speaking of the buzz, if you prefer finding quiet accommodation, then perhaps another area is best. To start your day with a smile-worthy coffee, head to La Ventana Café’s patio to enjoy the fresh air and people watching.

5 de Diciembre Neighbourhood Street Art in Mexico

El Centro

Get your walking shoes out. This hilly and bustling neighbourhood will make you work for your sleep! Located near the start of the Malecon at the Hotel Rosita end, it’s a popular area to stay in during your weekend trip to Puerto Vallarta. Similar to 5 de Diciembre, if you need absolute peace and quiet, maybe stay a bit farther out. There are, however, several choices for places to stay, from budget hostels to boutique hotels. Fun Fact: There are no all-inclusive resorts in this area. Catholics and architecture and history buffs will likely want to take in the atmosphere at Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, known in English as the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. A leisurely stroll or morning run along the Malecón is a relaxing way to bookend a full day of exploring. If you’re looking to push your physical limits a little more (with a stunning sunset view to reward you!), then climb the The Cross on the Hill Lookout. The numerous art galleries, street murals, and public statues in El Centro will keep art enthusiasts entertained for hours. At night, head to the local gathering place: Plaza de Armas. When I visited Puerto Vallarta in December it was full of local families and travellers perusing the endless food vendors. I couldn’t resist sipping on a large cup of fruity agua fresca while taking in the wholesome entertainment from passersby.

Plaza de Armas drinks and dessert stand in Mexico

Where to Eat in Puerto Vallarta

While in Puerto Vallarta, I encourage you to eat as much as your belly will expand. The city is the 2nd gastronomic capital in Mexico with many awarded-winning culinary restaurants, events, and annual festivals. On my first night in town, the food was so flavourful and so delightful that I consumed 3 dinners in one night! Surprisingly, I did not need to be rolled away from the last food stop and somehow my tastebuds were still screaming, “MORE!”. Restaurant pricing in PV ranges from mid-tier to fine dining. Whatever your budget and travel style, you’ll definitely want to return to this culinary hot spot.

Steak Tacos from Pellizcadas in Puerto Vallarta
Steak Flank Tacos

Street food vendors are a must try, wherever you are in the world and especially in Mexico. When in doubt, simply ask the friendly vendors for suggestions. The price is right, the people are helpful, and the food will raise the corners of your mouth. One evening I stumbled upon a food stand and started chatting with the owners. They are one of very few vegetable-heavy taco vendors, a rarity in Mexico where meat is the star. They also offered meat tacos and I tried the tongue option. Surprisingly, I enjoyed it! It was wonderful to hear the story behind starting their business, Maria Taqueria. They also excitedly shared lots of information about the local 12-day Guadalupe festival processions taking place while I was there.

Maria Taqueria Street Food in Puerto Vallarta
Maria Taqueria

There are a few restaurants that I can personally suggest, some of which I stumbled upon and others which were recommended during my trip. At Layla’s Restaurant the hospitality is warm and the street side patio is a vibe. Accompanying the local dishes served at El Campanario, the bells of neighbour Our Lady of Guadalupe church ring. I loved it, but if you enjoy a quieter atmosphere, it’s not for you. At Natureza breakfast, lunch, and dinner come in all shapes and forms, including freshly-squeezed juice and breakfast bagels to Italian-inspired fare and nutrient-dense salads.

If you’re a coffee connoisseur, there are plenty of cafes to choose from, including the little blue Miscelánea Café, the minimalistic and centrally-located La Ventana Café, and the cafe bookstore A Page in the Sun. At the bottom of this post, you’ll find a Google Map with several other cafe options as well.

Limonada de Jingembre at Miscelánea Café in Puerto Vallarta Mexico
Limonada de Jengibre

Other gastronomic items to put on your taste test list for Puerto Vallarta include ceviche (raw fish, shrimp, or octopus with herbs and citrus juice), birria (slow cooked goat meat), Tortas Ahogadas (“drowned sandwiches”), and Pescado Zarandeado (grilled fish made with a 500-year-old process). If you’re looking for vegan or vegetarian options, you will find many spots in Puerto Vallarta. A few to put on your list include Vegan Ramenthe Green Place, and Salud Super Food. To try a little bit of everything, try one of the scrumptious food tours below!

Fun Activities for a Weekend in Puerto Vallarta

Water Fun

There is so much to see and do in Puerto Vallarta! An excellent way to stretch your legs after your flight and get acquainted with the area is to go for a walk along the Malecón. Post-stroll head to one of the many cafes and restaurants along the seaside walkway. Speaking of water, the opportunities to enjoy the ocean are endless. Swim, snorkel, or suntan at the beach, rent a surfboard or jet skis, or sign up a sunset sail or parasailing. If you’ve timed your trip right at the end of the year, you can even partake in a whale watching tour and spot humpback whales! Puerto Vallarta is one of the best locations in Mexico to see these majestic animals due to the protective bay waters.

Art Galore

Puerto Vallarta is bursting with vibrant murals, galleries, and statues everywhere. Whether you’re a creative in search of inspiration or an admirer of others’ talents, there are plenty of immersive options. Start with a free Sculpture Art Walk hosted by Gary Thompson, the owner of Galeria Pacifico. It leaves at 9:30am sharp from the Millenium Sculpture beside the Rosita Hotel. The link above provides the most up-to-date information. Of the 15 statues, some of my favourites included Boy on the Seahorse by Rafael Zamarripa and Triton and Siren by Carlos Espino. In addition to visual art, the acrobatic UNESCO Cultural Heritage designated Voladores de Papantla is a sight to behold.

Voladores de Papantla on the Malecon Boardwalk

Walking around Puerto Vallarta, you’ll pass mural after mural. Some of them feature renowned historical figures like Mexico’s own Frida Kahlo. For the city’s biggest street art collab, head to the corner of Bolivia and San Salvador. Another neat spot is north of the Zona Romántica, near Casa Kimberly. Rio Cuale Island has a mix of colourful murals and natural art, thanks to stunning banyan and palm trees. Interestingly, a tornado created Isla Cuale back in 1926. People lived there until the 1970s when Hurricane Lily flooded the area. A few years later, the area was dredged and used to create a children’s play area and cultural centre. A third way to experience Puerto Vallarta’s thriving art scene is to join an artist-led art walk. The Centro Cultural Vallartense (CCV) is the oldest independent cultural venue in Puerto Vallarta and where you can find these insightful tours.

Outdoor Adventures

Thanks to the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Madre mountain range, Puerto Vallarta is an adventurer’s paradise. There is no shortage of adrenaline-filled activities like zip-lining, parasailing, ATV and horseback tours, skydiving, rappelling, jungle bike treks, and hiking to waterfalls. Don’t miss the nearby island tours and day trips either!

If you’re on a tighter budget or enjoy the simpler things in life like a beautiful sunset, then the Mirador La Cruz del Cerro (Hill of the Cross Viewpoint) is a must-add to your itinerary. After a steep climb you’ll be rewarded with a 360° panoramic view of Puerto Vallarta. I missed it on my trip, but the sunrise and sunset views are said to be marvellous. It’s about 15-20 minutes away from the Malecón. If you’re not able or wanting to climb the steep hills to get there, there’s a cable car to help you bypass the last staircase…however it’s not always in operation. Definitely check this out in the early morning or late evening if you’re not a fan of exerting energy in the heat.

Shopping

The shoppers in the crowd will be pleased to learn that Puerto Vallarta has plenty of boutique stores. I can’t say I’m much of a shopper, however the tourism board has a shopping directory to help you plan your spending spree.

Bonus Google Map

I’ve put together this bonus Google Map of places to eat, stay, and adventure during your time in Puerto Vallarta. Feel free to add them to your phone for easy access on your travels.

Sneak Peek of a Weekend Trip in Puerto Vallarta

Have a sneak peek at what your weekend away in Mexico could look like too! If you’re not sure where to begin with planning a spontaneous (or not) weekend trip, I wrote a blog post on 7 ways it will change your life and another on how to incorporate spontaneity into your own travels!

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About TMc

 

Me having a seat in front of one of the famous Brighton Bathing Boxes in Australia!

Heya! I’m Tara (Tar-ah)! Welcome to Travel with TMc where you’ll find quirky language tidbits, travel hacks for Canadians, and stories from the road. I hope you enjoy!
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