We here at World Nomads know that you’re excited about your trip - and you have every reason to be! Puerto Vallarta is by and large a safe destination, and the issues you’ll encounter here are more likely to be minor nuisances than serious sources of danger. That being said, we still want you to be aware of any and all potential problems before they even have a chance to occur. This way, you’ll be able to enjoy your Puerto Vallarta experience to the fullest possible extent.
Let’s not sugarcoat things - if you’ve been following the international headlines over the past decade, you know that Mexico faces its fair share of problems. Beyond government corruption, the country also battles a number of drug-trafficking cartels whose turf wars occasionally spill over into civilian casualties.
The good news is that Puerto Vallarta has remained almost completely uninvolved in these conflicts. There have been a few instances of violence - an early-morning attack against a police chief in 2012, for example - but the few victims of such attacks are widely suspected to have been previously involved with the cartels in some way.
The bottom line is that, as of May 2015, no foreign tourists have been involved in cartel violence in Puerto Vallarta.
The truth is that cartels are businesses. The people who run them are ruthless, but not stupid. They know that tourism is the foundation of the Puerto Vallarta economy - and if the tourists go away, so do their customers. As such, you can be virtually guaranteed that Mexican cartel violence, so often exploited for ratings by the international news media, will form no part of your Puerto Vallarta experience.
Now that that’s out of the way…
The actual crime rates in Puerto Vallarta are very low, significantly lower than those of major tourist cities in the United Stateslike Miami, Las Vegas, and New Orleans for example. Violent crime is something that any visitor using common sense shouldn’t have to deal with. Provided that you take the most basic of travel precautions, the threat of violent crime needn’t even cross your mind.
The reality is that any crime likely to befall you in Puerto Vallarta will be petty in nature - and mostly crimes of convenience. For example, if you leave your valuables unattended on the beach or a wad of cash sitting on your hotel nightstand, there’s a decent chance that they won’t be there when you return! But of course, in a country where the minimum wage is less than the equivalent of five U.S. dollars a day, it becomes more difficult to blame potential thieves.
In the city of Puerto Vallarta, the general rule of thumb is that basic, standard travel precautions are all you’ll need to avoid becoming the victim of a crime. Keep your wits about you and you’re sure to have a fantastic vacation experience.
Safety for Women
Just as Puerto Vallarta is an exceptionally safe destination for travelers in general, it’s also widely recognized as a safe destination for woman travelers. But this being said, it’s an unfortunate fact of life that criminals often view women as potentially easier targets than their male counterparts.
Here are a few tips for women looking to stay safe in Puerto Vallarta:
If you’re a woman, please don’t expect all Mexican men to look down on you or otherwise treat you poorly - this is so far away from the case! In reality, machismo will more likely be manifested in things like open staring or potentially the occasional catcall on the street. Though annoying and quite possibly offensive, the best thing to do on such an occasion is simply to ignore the perpetrator. The unfortunate truth is that you won’t be changing a centuries-old aspect of Mexican culture during your week in Puerto Vallarta.
The two main forms of public transportation in Puerto Vallarta are buses and taxis. Both are useful options, and which one you utilize more depends upon your own needs, tastes, and budget.
Puerto Vallarta Buses
Buses in Puerto Vallarta are plentiful and frequently used by locals and tourists alike. The bus fleet here could politely be called “eclectic” - many feature unique personal touches ranging from religious iconography to loudly blared cumbia or norteño music.
If you’re on a budget and don’t mind spending slightly more of your time traveling, Puerto Vallarta buses are a safe and surprisingly efficient way to get around. No matter where you’re waiting, a bus running any given route should come by at least every fifteen minutes, and at 7.5 pesos per ride - less than 50 U.S. cents at the time of writing - the price really can’t be beat. Additionally, don’t be surprised if a musical performer boards your bus and begins serenading passengers down the center aisle. If you’re not expecting Cirque du Soleil levels of entertainment quality, you might be pleasantly surprised. Tip a few pesos if you feel so inclined.
To identify the right bus for you, you’re going to want to study the words on its windshield as it approaches your stop. The system is pretty self-explanatory - “CENTRO” will take you to the center of town, “AEROPUERTO” will take you to the airport, etc. One thing you’ll generally want to avoid is any bus labeled “TUNEL” - these take a back route around the center of town, skipping most tourist-friendly areas to drop locals off at their homes on the outskirts of the city.
Here are a few tips to help your Puerto Vallarta bus experience go as smoothly as possible:
Puerto Vallarta Taxis
Though significantly more expensive than the city’s buses, taxis in Puerto Vallarta are quicker, more convenient, and still a relatively inexpensive way to get around. For example, a trip from the city’s New Town hotel area to the Old Town’s malecón waterfront promenade should cost around 70 pesos (just under 5 U.S. dollars).
The first thing to know about Puerto Vallarta taxis is that they aren’t metered.Always make sure to agree upon a fare before boarding! As you get used to the city, it’s a good idea to ask your hotel or restaurant staff about a fair price to your next destination as not to get taken advantage of.
In Mexico, tipping taxi drivers is not expectedlike it is in many other places around the world. Drivers will of course appreciate tips and you may tip if you’re feeling generous, but this is by no means the norm in Puerto Vallarta.
Here are two more tips to ensure that your Puerto Vallarta taxi experience goes smoothly:
Puerto Vallarta Airport
For many visitors, Puerto Vallarta’s Licenciado Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport is their introduction to the city. It’s a pretty standard, modern airport, with one exception that we’ll get to explaining shortly. Here’s what you can expect from the experience:
At this point, you may think you’re home free. However, the strangest and for many travelers the most negative part of the Puerto Vallarta airport experience is yet to come.
After you pass through customs, you’ll have to head through the airport’s infamous “Shark Tank.” In reality, the Shark Tank is a pair of white rooms full of timeshare sales representatives, and if you have any doubt regarding whether you’re in the tank or not you’ll know immediately when the reps begin aggressively approaching you as if they were… well… sharks.
The best thing you can do here is to talk to no one and continue walking. A polite series of “no gracias” is also advisable, but please - for your own good - just keep moving.
The sales reps in these two rooms are notorious for using underhanded tactics, up to and including full-blown lies, to get you into a nearly inescapable conversation with them. You may be asked for your hotel reservation documents by “an official representative” of your hotel. You may be offered free transportation from the airport to your place of lodging. You’ll most certainly be offered the “best deal available” on Puerto Vallarta timeshares. Simply put, none of this is true. Just continue along until you reach the room with car rental booths, taxi stands, and regular tourists simply standing around. And breathe deeply in, and now out…
Finally, when it comes to finding a taxi at the Puerto Vallarta airport, you have two options. The first is to purchase a ticket from one of the taxi stands located near the airport’s final exit. One of these tickets will get you a ride in a specially-licensed airport taxi, immediately available directly outside. Though these taxis cost approximately double the standard Puerto Vallarta taxi rates, they are the only taxis allowed to pick riders up directly from the airport.
The other option for visitors traveling light is to exit the airport and cross the pedestrian bridge over the highway in front of you. There on the other side of the street you’ll be able to take a standard yellow Puerto Vallarta taxi, earning you a significantly lower fare especially if you confirmed beforehand how much a taxi from the airport to your destination should typically cost.
The biggest question facing potential visitors to Puerto Vallarta is whether they’d prefer to stay in the city’s Old Town or its New Town. You’ll hear various names for these areas - the Old Town might be Viejo Vallarta, the Zona Romántica (Romantic Zone), or the South Side while the New Town might be Nuevo Vallarta or the Hotel Zone - and technically each of these terms has a slightly different meaning. However, the basic idea is as follows: Puerto Vallarta’s Old Town is the original settlement while the New Town is home to large hotels and resort towers.
Both areas have their benefits as well as their drawbacks, and where you ought to stay depends upon what exactly you’re looking for out of your Puerto Vallarta vacation:
Old Town Benefits
Old Town Drawbacks
New Town Benefits
New Town Drawbacks
At the end of the day, trying to make the argument that either the Old Town or the New Town is inherently better is an exercise in futility. In reality, each vacationer is different and each area caters to different tastes. The simplified version is as follows:
If you’re looking for a laidback vacation spent mostly at the pool or the beach, then Puerto Vallarta’s New Town is probably for you. If you’re looking for a more active vacation spent enjoying restaurants, bars, clubs, and a bit of Mexican culture and history, then Puerto Vallarta’s Old Town is more likely your style.
Puerto Vallarta Art Walk
If you’re an art lover and you’ve chosen Puerto Vallarta as your vacation destination, congratulations! Whether you knew it at the time or not, this is one of the best places in the entire country to expose yourself to the vast number of artistic traditions that fall under the wider umbrella of “Mexican Art.”
And if you happen to be arriving sometime approximately between Día de los Muertos (early November) and mid-Spring (April-May), then even better - this means that you’ll be visiting Puerto Vallarta in time to experience its world famous weekly Art Walk events.
Puerto Vallarta’s Art Walk is celebrated each Wednesday in-season between 6 and 10 P.M. The exact dates change each year, though they can be found as soon as they’re decided upon at the event’s official website. The essential premise is this - each of Puerto Vallarta’s most prominent Old Town art galleries opens up to visitors with the artists present, and additionally many offer wine, cocktails, and light appetizers to keep the atmosphere festive and fun. Though pieces are of course for sale during the event, the Art Walk is famously low-pressure. It’s more of an opportunity to get out and meet likeminded art fans than anything else.
Galleries featured during the Art Walk display an incredibly wide range of artistic mediums and styles. Though many are featured annually, the exact list of participating galleries changes from year to year. The list, as soon as it’s decided upon, is of course posted online.
If you’re interested in participating in the Art Walk during your time in Puerto Vallarta, the event certainly comes highly recommended. You can print a map from the event’s website or pick one up at any participating gallery.
Puerto Vallarta Zip-Lining
You’ve heard of zip-lining, right? It’s the activity where you use metal cables mounted on an incline to glide long distances, often in the jungle canopy high above the ground below. It’s a fun, wholesome, and occasionally heart-pounding activity - and Puerto Vallarta features some truly world-class zip-lining facilities.
Because of the sheer number of zip-line tour operators competing for customers in the Puerto Vallarta area, it’s virtually guaranteed that any zip-lining experience in the area will be of exceptionally high quality. To find the Puerto Vallarta zip-lining course that is right for you, you’ll want to consider the following questions:
As far as the safety of zip-lining in Puerto Vallarta goes, you shouldn’t be too worried. Officially-licensed tour operators here comply with very high safety standards, and we’ve personally never heard of any rogue competitors skirting the rules and regulations. If you’ve ever heard any zip-line horror stories and are still freaked out, please consider this - the vast majority of zip-lining injuries occur on homemade zip-lines, not the professionally constructed and maintained ones found in Puerto Vallarta.
If you’re looking for some suggestions as to the most reputable operators to begin your search, you can consider the aforementioned Vallarta Adventures, Los Veranos Canopy Tour, and Canopy River. However, please keep in mind that this is by no means a comprehensive list!
Though the nearby jungles are certainly beautiful, some of Puerto Vallarta’s most spectacular wildlife is actually located below the water.
From mid-December to the end of March, Puerto Vallarta offers some of the best whale watching opportunities found anywhere in the world - quite literally.
Recognizing the importance of whale watching for the local economy as well as the responsibility to simply protect the beautiful creatures, the Mexican government has imposed some of the strictest laws protecting whales found anywhere in the world. These laws are strictly enforced in Puerto Vallarta, and from December 8th to March 23rd of each year whales cannot be approached without the proper training and licenses. This protects mother whales and their young, also helping to ensure the continued return of whales to the Bahía de Banderas in the process.
If you’re planning to book a whale watching tour during your time in Puerto Vallarta, there are two main considerations that we’d recommend making:
Sea Turtle Releases
The sea turtle - or more specifically, the olive ridley sea turtle - is another creature that has historically relied on the Bahía de Banderas as an important breeding ground. Each year, primarily from June through December, the turtles flock to the beaches of the Puerto Vallarta area to lay their eggs.
Two specific attributes help to make this phenomenon so… well… phenomenal! The first is the fact that olive ridley sea turtles participate in synchronized nesting in mass numbers. Mass arrivals tend to occur between two and seven times each breeding season, but there’s no full proof way to predict exactly when. The second is that mother turtles return to their own birthplaces to lay their eggs!
As sea turtle numbers continue to drop around the world, the government, people, and businesses of Puerto Vallarta have come together to do what they can to support the continued success of the local sea turtle population. A number of hotels, including the Marriott Puerto Vallarta, have professional biologists on staff who collect turtle eggs. After being nurtured and hatched in a safe environment, the baby turtles are released in front of the hotel by guests and visitors. Evening releases take place nearly every night of the turtle nesting season, but you can call the Marriott if you’d like to confirm before visiting.
In the northern section of Puerto Vallarta’s New Town, the Mexican government has an officially-designated “Turtle Camp” where staff and volunteers work to protect sea turtles and their eggs. A number of tour operators including Wildlife Connection and Puerto Vallarta Tours offer trips to this camp, where visitors will have the opportunity to learn from professional conservationists, release hatchlings into the sea, and perhaps, with a bit of luck, even catch a mother turtle laying her eggs.
Puerto Vallarta Hidden Beach (The “Bomb Site”)
It’s one of the most picturesque beaches anywhere on the planet, secluded in a sort of crater at the center of an uninhabited tropical island with the sun beaming through.
Puerto Vallarta’s “Hidden Beach” - or more properly, the Playa del Amor - is actually located some 20 nautical miles west-northwest of the city in the small Islas Marietas island group. Despite its idyllic appearance, some say that the beach was created in the 1990s by a Mexican military bomb test! Others claim it’s the result of natural processes, but we think the first explanation is more interesting.
There are only two ways to access the Playa del Amor, the first of which being a privately-chartered helicopter with special permission from the Mexican government. The other more likely option is to arrive by boat to the island and then swim some 250 feet (75 meters) through a cave tunnel only accessible at low tide. Though it’s not a particularly difficult swim, it’s worth noting that it’s somewhat physically challenging and that the tunnel can feel a bit claustrophobic.
The Marietas Islands are also home to fantastic snorkeling and bird watching opportunities, if either of those activities piques your curiosity.
When deciding how to get to the Marietas Islands, make sure to choose an official tour operator! Because of their status as a protected natural area, only licensed boats are allowed to visit. However, this doesn’t necessarily stop some enterprising locals from offering tours themselves. Though you might save a few pesos visiting the islands this way, it certainly won’t be worth it if you get caught and sent back to shore. Additionally, licensed operators pay heed to important environmental regulations that rogue operators may ignore.
Mexico, as you may know, is one of the world’s most festive countries - and Puerto Vallarta is no exception! Let’s take a brief look at some of the festivals that mark Puerto Vallarta’s yearly events calendar: