Planning Your Trip
Puerto Vallarta offers enough for a year-long vacation, so you should pick and choose according to your interests and available time and money. First- or short-time visitors should probably stay in an old-town hotel, where they can enjoy the close-by shopping, strolling, good restaurants, and nightlife (2–5 days). From town, venture out either by tour, rental car, or bus for a day of exploring nearby beach villages, such as Mismaloya, Boca de Tomatlán, or Yelapa.
Stray a bit farther and spend a day or two exploring the creamy beaches or Bucerías and Punta Mita. Alternatively, off-pavement adventurers might enjoy a full-day or longer excursion to the picturesque mountain mining town of San Sebastián, in the Sierra Cuale east of Puerto Vallarta.
If time permits, ramble north for a few days along the Nayarit coast and enjoy the beaches, comfortable inns, and colorful country ambience of Sayulita and San Francisco (San Pancho). Or continue a half hour farther for a stay at the family-friendly palm-shaded beach resorts and RV havens of Lo de Marco, Rincón de Guayabitos, and Chacala. An hour farther, hike to jungle cascades and enjoy world-class surfing around the Bay of Matanchen. And finally, at San Blas, take a mangrove-jungle boat tour for views of yawning crocodiles, giant grey herons, freshwater turtles, and shiny-black cormorants (1–3 days).
On the Jalisco Coast south of Puerto Vallarta, follow the paved highway for a day’s exploration, or linger a few nights at Chamela, Careyes, Tenacatita, Boca de Iguanas, or La Manzanilla. All are ripe for fishing, boogie boarding, surfing, and beachcombing.
Continue to the region’s far southern end to the downscale twin beach resorts of Barra de Navidad and Melaque. There you can pass some restful time in the country strolling, sunning, fishing, and beachcombing by day and boogying by night.
When to Go
Formerly a seasonal retreat, Puerto Vallarta is increasingly a year-round destination. If there is a time not to visit Puerto Vallarta, it’s during the dry months of April, May, and the first half of June, when much of the natural vegetation is dried-out brown and daytime highs often top 90°F for days on end.
Foreign tourists visit most often during the clear, dry, balmy winter (days about 80°F, nights about 60°F). Mexican visitors—often whole families—prefer weekends year-round and holidays, especially Easter (be sure to make early reservations) and the school vacation months of July and August. Everyone crowds into Puerto Vallarta during the two weeks or so before New Year’s. This is when crowds are biggest, hotel prices are highest, and hotel reservations should be made many months in advance.
So, when to go? If you prefer the winter, avoid crowds and the peak hotel prices by going in January, after New Year’s Day. On the other hand, July, August, and especially September are good times to go because rains and cloud cover moderate the heat, so that days are actually cooler than during the hot, dry spring months. Furthermore, the summer tropical rainstorms result in lots of wildflowers, butterflies, and green landscapes.
For some savvy travelers, the best of all possible times to visit the Puerto Vallarta region is the late fall months of October, November, and early December, when the landscape remains a lush green, the hotels are uncrowded and lowest-priced, and the days are warm and the nights balmy.
What to Take
“Men wear pants, ladies be beautiful” was once the dress code of one of the Mexican Pacific’s classiest hotels. Men in casual Puerto Vallarta can get by easily with just one jacket and no necktie, women with maybe one or two dressy outfits and the rest mostly simple skirts and blouses. Everyone should bring a hat for the sun. Loose-fitting, hand-washable, easy-to-dry clothes make for trouble-free tropical vacationing. For cool breezy nights, especially during the winter, always bring a lightweight windbreaker. If you’re going to the highlands (San Sebastián, Mascota, Talpa, or Tepic), add a medium-weight jacket. In all cases, leave showy, expensive clothes and jewelry at home.
How to Get There
Most Puerto Vallarta–bound travelers go by air (3–5 hours’ flying time) from several U.S. airports. For cost-conscious travelers, express buses provide a safe and sure route to Puerto Vallarta. Hundreds of buses head south daily from central bus stations in the south-of-the-border towns. By all means, for comfort and speed, go luxury-class (about $80, 30 hours).
Although it isn’t a route for everyone, many visitors drive their cars or RVs to Puerto Vallarta. Driving time runs about three south-of-the- border days at the wheel, and costs around $60 in (very worthwhile) expressway tolls for passenger cars (about triple that for motor homes). For more detailed information on getting to Puerto Vallarta, click here.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Puerto Vallarta, 7th edition