Car and jeep rentals are an increasingly popular transportation option in Puerto Vallarta. They offer mobility and independence for local sightseeing and beach excursions. In the Puerto Vallarta, Tepic, and Manzanillo (Barra de Navidad) airports the gang’s all there: Hertz, National, Avis, Budget, Thrifty, Alamo, Dollar, and several local outfits. They require drivers to have a valid driver’s license, passport, and major credit card, and may require a minimum age of 25. Some local companies do not accept credit cards, but do offer lower rates in return.
Base prices of international agencies such as Hertz, National, and Avis are not cheap. With a 17 percent value-added tax and mandatory insurance, rentals run more than in the United States. The cheapest possible rental car, usually a used stick-shift VW Beetle, runs $40–60 per day or $250–450 per week, depending on location and season. Prices are highest during Christmas and pre-Easter weeks. Before departure, use the international agencies’ toll-free numbers and websites for availability, prices, and reservations. During nonpeak seasons, you may save lots of pesos by waiting until arrival and renting a car through a local agency. Shop around, starting with the agent in your hotel lobby or with the local Yellow Pages (under “Automoviles, Renta de”).
Car insurance that covers property damage, public liability, and medical payments is an absolute “must” (and required by law) with your rental car. If you get into an accident without insurance, you will be in deep trouble, and probably sent to jail. Narrow, rough roads and animals grazing at roadside make driving in Mexico more hazardous than back home.
The high prices of rental cars make taxis a useful option for local excursions. Cars are luxuries, not necessities, for most Mexican families. Travelers might profit from the Mexican money-saving practice of piling everyone in a taxi for a Sunday outing. You may find that an all-day taxi and driver—who, besides relieving you of driving, will become your impromptu guide—will cost less than a rental car.
The magic word for saving money by taxi is colectivo: a taxi you share with other travelers. The first place you’ll practice getting a taxi will be at the airport, where colectivo tickets are routinely sold from booths at the terminal door.
If, however, you want a private taxi, ask for a taxi especial, which will cost about three or four times the individual tariff for a colectivo.
Your airport experience will prepare you for in-town taxis, which rarely have meters. You must establish the price before getting in. Bargaining comes with the territory in Mexico, so don’t shrink from it, even though it seems a hassle. If you get into a taxi without an agreed-upon price, you’re letting yourself in for a more serious and potentially nasty hassle later. If your driver’s price is too high, he’ll probably come to his senses as soon as you hail another taxi.
After a few days, getting taxis around town will be a cinch. You’ll find that you don’t have to take the more expensive taxis lined up in your hotel driveway. If the price isn’t right, walk toward the street and hail a regular taxi.
In town, if you can’t find a taxi, it may be because they are waiting for riders at the local stand, called a taxi sitio. Ask someone to direct you to it: “Excúseme. ¿Dónde está el sitio de taxi, por favor?” (“Excuse me. Where is the taxi stand, please?”)
Although it’s legal in Mexico, most everyone agrees that hitchhiking is not the safest mode of transport. If you’re unsure, don’t do it. Continual hitchhiking does not make for a healthy travel diet, nor should you hitchhike at night.
The recipe for trouble-free hitchhiking requires equal measures of luck, savvy, and technique. The best places to catch rides are where people are arriving and leaving anyway, such as bus stops, highway intersections, gas stations, RV parks, and the highway out of town.
Male-female hitchhiking partnerships seem to net the most rides, although it is technically illegal for women to ride in commercial trucks. The more gear you and your partner have, the fewer rides you will get. Pickup and flatbed truck owners often pick up passengers for pay. Before hopping onto the truck bed, ask how much the ride will cost.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Puerto Vallarta, 7th edition