Is it Safe to Travel to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico?

This picturesque settlement on Mexico’s Bahía de Banderas rose to fame as an exclusive getaway for American movie stars during the 1960s, and though the city has grown significantly since then it has retained much of its old world charm.


Photo © GettyImages/Spaces Images

Puerto Vallarta is a safe destination to travel, and the issues you’ll encounter here are more likely to be minor frustrations than serious danger. That being said, we still want you to be aware of any and all potential problems before they have a chance to occur.

Puerto Vallarta Airport

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…

Crime in Puerto Vallarta

Let’s not sugarcoat things – 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 Tips for Women

Puerto Vallarta is popular among women traveling solo through Mexico, but it’s an unfortunate fact of life that criminals often view women easier potential targets than men.

Here are a few safety tips for women while traveling in Puerto Vallarta:

Walk With Confidence

Walk with a sense of purpose as you roam the streets. Giving off a vibe that you're lost or confused might attract unwanted attention from anyone assuming you're an easy target. Walk like you know where you’re going – even if you don't – to deter the vast majority of scammers and con artists.

When Possible, Travel With a Group

As the saying goes, there’s power in numbers. Even a small group of women are far less vulnerable than a woman walking alone. Where possible, round up a few mates at the hostel before wandering the town.

Be Prepared for a Dose of Mexican Machismo

Puerto Vallarta is a major tourist destination, and has a distinct international flair, but the people remain traditional in a number of ways. Many of these traditional characteristics are charming, but for women who are traveling here, one particular aspect is not so inviting: Mexican machismo – the attitude that men are inherently superior to women.

Don't assume the men here treat women poorly, this is far from the truth. In reality, machismo will be manifested in staring or the occasional catcall on the street. Though annoying and offensive, the best thing to do is simply ignore the perpetrator. The unfortunate truth is that you won’t be changing a centuries-old aspect of Mexican culture during a trip to Puerto Vallarta.

Zipline Safety

As far as the safety of ziplining in Puerto Vallarta goes, you shouldn’t be too worried. Officially-licensed tour operators comply with very high safety standards, and we've never heard of any rogue competitors skirting the rules and regulations. If you’ve ever heard any zipline horror stories and are still freaked out, consider this - the vast majority of ziplining injuries occur on homemade ziplines, not the professionally constructed and maintained ones found in Puerto Vallarta. Read your travel insurance policy wording carefully to be sure you're covered for these activities.

Want to know more about Mexico? Head to our Stories section to delve a little deeper.

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  • Sandra Vee said

    Excellent article! Thank you :)

  • Sarah said

    Extremely helpful- thank you for writing this!

  • Gwen said

    Well done. Informative article. Mucho gracias señor 😊

  • Nancy said

    Very Informative. We have learned many new things that we did not know yet and we have been here 4 years in a row. Thank-you for putting our minds at ease for this trip as there is much talk of the new violence in Cancun. I think it is far enough away from Puerto Vallarta. We are staying for one month this time and needed this affirmation. :)

  • Gordon said

    Thank you for your very informative website that is not full of ads and useless video links that have nothing to do with tourism at all. It's too bad your site is so far down in google, it took quite a while to get here. Keep up the good work.

  • Jani said

    Thank you sooo much! We just purchased a condo in the Icon and will pass along this valuable info to our renters.

  • Alton said

    My family has been visiting P.V. and each time feels like coming home. This information adds a new layer of expectation for our next trip. Zip-lining - Yes! Snorkling and scuba - Yes! Art walk - yes! Two hundred and fifty foot swim through an underground cavern - hmmm (Think about it). Maybe! Great informative article.

  • Cate Indermuehle said

    This was so informative and helpful! I have been to Puerto Vallarta and what you said is accurate! There was quite a bit I didn’t! Thanks!!

  • Nick said

    I'm headed to PV tomorrow for the first time and this article was just what I needed! Thanks so much!

  • Betty said

    I have been enjoying trips to Mexico many times over the years and people such as yourself who have taken the time to upload information such as you have done is always very informative and helpful. There is always something new to learn about. Thank you.

  • Pat said

    Great article! I learned so much! Would have also enjoyed learning the names of some recommended cafes and restaurants in Old Town...I am a woman and may be traveling alone. Thanks so much!

    Pat G.

  • Billy Le said

    Thank you very much for your greatly informative article! This is the first time we have been in P.V., and we love this place so much. We will certainly come back here every year and inform other family members and friends about about this paradise!

  • Rosemary Shaw said

    We have been to PV many times over the past 10 years and this article sums it up perfectly.. Loved the part about the "Shark Tank".... Well done and informative article.

  • sandra said

    Thank you for the informative article. Traveling to PV for the first time and this is very helpful..

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