Taxi drivers in Puerto Vallarta love to tell you that Mexicans call this city the Friendliest City in the World, and truthfully it's an apt nickname. The mild, sunny climate and vibrant cultural heritage of Puerto Vallarta combine to produce a cheerful, outgoing culture that embraces visitors as soon as they step off the plane. Family is everything to Vallartans, and yours will immediately feel welcome, as if you just stumbled into a gigantic block party that encompasses the entire city. The attractions that have made Puerto Vallarta one of Mexico's top destinations start with 26 miles of beaches occupying all sides of gorgeous Banderas Bay, but they don't end there. You'll find all sorts of outdoor adventure activities, from jungle excursions and horseback riding to ziplining to cultural tours. At night, the whole family can enjoy a boisterous and lively city center, and some of the best food in Mexico.
Sandwiched between high mountains and the calm waters of Banderas Bay, Puerto Vallarta is protected to a large extent from the hurricanes that plague other parts of coastal Mexico in the summer months. Puerto Vallarta is situated at the same latitude as Hawaii, and the sub-tropical climate is quite similar. This means that any time is a good time to visit, although summer visitors will have to tolerate hot, humid weather and occasional rain showers, usually in the afternoons and evenings.
Because most American and Canadian visitors prefer to come in the cooler, less humid winter months, this season is considered high season, and prices are considerably higher. Some people designate a third season, known as "swing" or shoulder season, in the late spring and early fall. In terms of planning, these are the general boundaries between high and low season:
High Season: November 1 - April 30th
Low Season: May 1 - October 31st
Puerto Vallarta has a typical tropical climate, with hot days and cooler nights. It's very humid in the summer, somewhat humid in the winter. From October 15th to April 30th, you can expect it be stay warm and dry, with no or almost no rain. High temperatures reach the low to mid-80s. From May 15th to October 15th, you'll find it hot and humid, with afternoon and evening showers. (September is the rainiest month.) Temperatures tend to hover in the low 90s.
Puerto Vallarta is one of the most popular vacation destinations in Mexico, with plenty of direct access from the U.S. Continental, American, Delta, United, Alaska, Frontier and other airlines fly direct from many American cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Chicago, Houston, and Dallas/Fort Worth. Air Canada, Mexicana and Aeromexico also serve Puerto Vallarta. Most major airlines fly to Puerto Vallarta from their hub cities, so with one stop you can get there from just about anywhere in the U.S. There are 450 flights a week into Puerto Vallarta International Airport. Do remember, however, that this is an international flight, and you will need to have passports for all members of the family if you're arriving by air. There are no exceptions. Birth certificates are still accepated if you're arriving by land or sea, but check beforehand as regulations are in the process of changing. Puerto Vallarta is also connected to Tepic and Guadalajara by major highways, so if you want to arrive by land from another part of Mexico, it's a comfortable drive. And several major cruise lines stop in Puerto Vallarta, so sea travel is also an option.
Puerto Vallarta has grown a great deal in the 35 years since it was "discovered" by American tourists, and hotels are now located in a number of different areas along the shore of Banderas Bay. Most visitors stay either in the central district or the nearby old town, in the hotel zone called Marina Vallarta, or in Nuevo Vallarta to the north, which is technically in the neighboring state of Nayarit.If you're staying at a major hotel, there may be a shuttle provided to and from the airport or into downtown. There are also public buses that run the major north-south route in and out of downtown frequently and cost next to nothing. However, most tourists get around by taxi, which are plentiful, even late at night. If you are staying in Nuevo Vallarta or have lots of day trips planned, you may wish to rent a car; all the major car rental companies operate at the airport and also have offices downtown if you just want a car for part of your stay. When you plan an activity with an outfitter, transportation is provided; they usually pick you up and drop you off at your hotel. Some outfitters require you to take a taxi to a central meeting point where they pick you up. The more isolated beaches south of Puerto Vallarta are best reached by panga or water taxi, which pick up travelers at several piers. There are water taxi stops at the Playa Los Muertos pier, in Marina Vallarta, in Nuevo Vallarta, and in front of the Hotel Rosita in the central district.
In Puerto Vallarta, music and dance performances happen pretty much every weekend. Many restaurants have live music or roving mariachi bands, and cultural fiesta nights are held at major hotels. Thursday and Sunday evenings, the uniformed police band performs at the bandstand in the center of town just a block from the Malécon. And Puerto Vallarta loves a party, so holidays are celebrated with enormous fanfare. Mexico celebrates Christmas, Easter, New Year's Eve, and other major holidays just as we do in the states. But they also have holidays of their own, such as:
Marine wildlife abounds along the Puerto Vallarta coastline, and certain times of year have the best wildlife viewing. Some seasonal events to keep in mind:
Extensive planning information is available from the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board.
During the winter holidays and spring break, Puerto Vallarta is packed to the rafters with visitors, and you're almost certain to have to pay full price. But during the off season, discounts are deep.
Lowest rates can be found when the rain is heaviest, from June through September, but there's also a chance of lower rates in between peak periods, such as in February between the winter and spring holidays. During high season, discounts are sometimes available for longer stays, such as five nights for the price of four.
Camping isn't the choice of most visitors to Puerto Vallarta, simply because it's a fairly developed area, requiring you to camp pretty far from the center of town. However, there are three beachside RV and trailer parks, El Pescador, La Almeja, and Tachos. All have hookups.