Slow Travel Guide: Puerto Vallarta
Is it possible to Slow Travel in Puerto Vallarta? As one of Mexico’s busiest tourist cities on the Pacific Coast, it would seem difficult, right? Read on to find out!
While technically you can Slow Travel just about anywhere (it’s more dependent on your mindset than the destination), the more touristy a place is, the harder it gets to find the cultural authenticity you seek and to travel sustainably.
Puerto Vallarta is one of those places. Cruise ships dock in the marina every few days. The coastline is dotted with massive resorts, and new construction is constantly being built.
The Malecon, Centro, and Zona Romantica are full of restaurants and bars that cater to tourists from around the world who are less interested in having authentic experiences than drinking and eating their way through the city.
While that’s fun for many people, that’s not why I travel.
As such, I was a little hesitant. I was hoping for the best but bracing myself for the worst. When it comes to these kinds of situations, I love it when I’m wrong!
After three weeks in Puerto Vallarta, I discovered things that would make slow, sustainable, eco-friendly travel possible. Read on to learn how I found the experience of Slow Traveling in Puerto Vallarta and how you can do it, too!
Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta
Finding things to do in Puerto Vallarta is easy! Finding things to do that aren’t tourist traps? Okay, that’s a little harder. Luckily for you, I’ve curated a list that will help you:
- contribute to local economies
- be more eco-friendly
- have better, more authentic cultural experiences
- more thoroughly enjoy your time in Puerto Vallarta
- save money!
You can read the full blog on Slow Travel Activities to do in Puerto Vallarta here!
Visit the Cora Crocodile Sanctuary
The El Cora Crocodile Sanctuary is not a zoo but a wildlife conservation and rescue center run by Alfredo (a veterinarian) and Cesar (a marine biologist). These two are incredibly passionate about the well-being of all their guests - whether they have scales, feathers, or fur.
Walk the Vallarta Botanical Gardens
The Vallarta Botanical Gardens was one of those things my boyfriend and I had our doubts about before we arrived. It seemed pretty from the photos, but some bad reviews gave us pause. Maybe this would be one of those touristy things we would regret? Nope!
Hang out at Boca de Tomatlan
This place reminded me a lot of Positano or Cinque Terre for some reason! It’s super colorful, and there are tons of buildings built into the hillsides, boats floating in the bay, and restaurants lining the beach.
Get a Workout in at Mirador el Cerro de la Cruz
Easily reached from the city center of Puerto Vallarta and totally free to do, the Mirador el Cerro de la Cruz is a great way to get a workout and you’re rewarded with awesome views at the end!
Take a Peek in Galeria Colectika
After our hike at Mirador el Cerro and a quick bite to eat at a Peruvian restaurant nearby, we decided to stop in at Galeria Colectika. The murals outside were enough to draw us in!
Hike to a Secret Beach: Playa Malpaso
Tons of Puerto Vallarta travel guides will tell you to go to Sayulita. I talk more about my experience there in another blog about culture conscious travel but I’ll put it briefly here: I would not recommend going to Sayulita if you are into authentic, mindful, and culturally conscious travel experiences.
As an alternative, I do suggest you go to Playa Malpaso, a secret beach you can find not more than seven minutes north of Sayulita.
Food in Puerto Vallarta
When I Slow Travel I try to eat at home for at least one or two meals a day. It’s cheaper, it’s easier for me to stay healthy when traveling for extended periods, and I love to cook.
However, I definitely still eat out! That’s like 90% of the fun of traveling and one of the best ways to experience the local culture. So of course I’ve also included a list of the best places to eat (and drink) in Puerto Vallarta!
You can read the full descriptions of each place on my blog entry about the Best Authentic Places to Eat in Puerto Vallarta.
Where to Eat
Location: Aldanaca 130, Versalles
Hours: 18:00-23:00 Everyday – Closed Tuesdays!
What to Try: Braised Oxtail, Caribbean Curry, Coconut Flan
Tacos Sonorita Versalles
Location: Hamburgo 155 A, Versalles
Hours: 13:00-2:00 Open Everyday
What to Try: Pastor tacos, Pastor ponte calambre , Steak tacos, any of the Tortugas (tortas)
Birriería el Tío Toño
Location: Berlín 108, Versalles
Hours: 8:00-16:00 Open Everyday
What to Try: Goat or Beef Birria, Quesabirria
Tortas Ahogadas Tony
Location: Lisboa 128, La Vena
Hours: 9:00-17:00 Open Everyday
What to Try: Torta Ahogada (duh)
El Puerco de Oro
Location: C. España 325 D, Versalles
Hours: 9:00-15:00 Weekdays, 9:00-16:00 Weekends, Closed on Monday
What to Try: I wasn’t kidding, just order one of everything!
El Chinelo Grill Puerto Vallarta
Location: C. España 282, Díaz Ordaz
Hours: 13:00-22:00 Everday, Closed on Sunday!
What to Try: Molcajete (can do a veg/vegan version) or let them order for you!
Where to Drink
Where to Food Shop
While going out is fun and a major part of why I travel, cooking at home is going to be the healthiest way to eat and the easiest way to save money during your travels. So here are a few options to consider if you’re looking to do some home-cooking in Puerto Vallarta!
La Comer: While I usually prefer to shop at small local markets there weren’t a ton of options near where we were staying, so I’ve included La Comer on this list. While it’s very reminiscent of large grocery stores in the US I appreciated that they offered a huge selection of local and Mexican food products. There’s even a tortilleria inside if you want to take a shot at making some Mexican food at home!
California MegAbastos: Just down the road from La Comer is the California MegAbastos. This place was more my speed. They have a ton of fresh fruits and vegetables, dried chiles, and nearly every other ingredient a home cook might need!
Where to Stay in Puerto Vallarta
There are many great areas to stay in Puerto Vallarta. While this list of neighborhoods assumes you will be staying in an apartment-style accommodation, I’ve heard there are some great hostels in the center of Puerto Vallarta if you decide to slow travel this way.
Below I’ve come up with a little 1-5 rating system for each area and several categories which I find to be important when making the decision to stay in a certain area.
On this trip, we decided to stay in an Airbnb in Versalles. It was much cheaper in this area and we were really pleasantly surprised to find that all the best food in Puerto Vallarta was right outside our door!
Puerto Vallarta is generally a pretty expensive city so the per night or per month prices for an apartment in Versalles is going to be higher than other places in Mexico but are pretty reasonable for the city itself.
Smack in the middle of Versalles is a Ruta Gastronomica (Gastronomic Route), a group of restaurants committed to providing great local food options. You can find a great mix of options here including Italian, Argentinian, and, of course, Mexican restaurants. Nearly every place we tried was fantastic!
Versalles is a great option if you need a quiet place to work and sleep but want easy access to the city. While you don’t need a rental car, it does help. However, if you’re okay with walking and biking and taking the occasional Uber, you’ll find this area is a perfect location for your slow travel stay.
One point is taken off solely because there can be a ton of traffic if you decide to go into town at a busy time of day and there’s a ton of construction now (as of 2022) since the neighborhood is expanding and being developed but that will end in a few years.
One of the more expensive areas of Puerto Vallarta but you get what you pay for! You’ll be right in the heart of everything.
Zona Romantica has tons of bars and restaurants and is a great place to dip your toes in Mexican cuisine. However, one point is taken off because many of the restaurants and bars here are pretty touristy and overpriced.
As I said, you’re right in the heart of Puerto Vallarta in an area that celebrates the LGBTQ+ and where people can be free to express themselves as they see fit. There are endless options when it comes to food and bars and shopping.
One point is taken off for being pretty crowded all year round. But if crowds don’t bother you, you will find this to be a great place to stay!
5 de Diciembre
There is a range of options here, from very cheap to very expensive. So it all depends on what suits your tastes and accommodation needs!
There is plenty of local food options nearby including a great Peruvian place and one of my favorite bars in Puerto Vallarta: Xaguar!
However, because of 5 de Diciembre’s location on a hill there aren’t quite as many as other places in Puerto Vallarta.
5 de Diciembre is partly located on a very tall hill in the center of Puerto Vallarta. This comes with some big positives and negatives. While you will assuredly have the best view in Jalisco you will – unless you never leave your accommodation – have to climb that hill, or a portion of it, every day!
Ubers will drive up some parts of this neighborhood but other parts are inaccessible to cars. So make sure to triple-check that your accommodation is on or near a street that can be accessed by vehicles.
Also this 5 de Diciembre neighborhood guide indicates this is a pretty noisy area!
Preparing for Your Trip to Puerto Vallarta
Best Times of Year to Go
Puerto Vallarta is a great place to visit all year round. However, you will want to make sure the time of year you go suits your expectations. Some times of year will be quieter but hotter, other times are busier and more mild. It’s up to you what you prefer!
December – February: Winter is a very popular time for tourists from Canada and the northern states of the USA to visit Puerto Vallarta. While the weather is far better than snowy Vancouver or Michigan it is busy and packed with people visiting their second homes and soaking up some much-needed rays.
March – May: Spring would be my vote for the best time of year to visit Puerto Vallarta! The weather is mild, there aren’t that many crowds, and things are fairly priced since it’s not high season quite yet. However, if you want to scuba dive or snorkel you may be disappointed by the lack of visibility in the water as the ocean is quite turbulent during this time.
June – August: Summertime in Puerto Vallarta is HOT and quite humid. However, if you’re looking to make friends and party there will definitely be more young people around at this time of year since many will be on summer break.
September – November: Fall is another great time to visit Puerto Vallarta. There is both a dip in the summer heat and the number of tourists clogging up the streets. While the fall is considered off-season, prices will start to come up towards November in anticipation of the arrival of snowbirds in the winter.
What to Bring
These are some items you will want to bring to Puerto Vallarta regardless of the time of year:
- Loose/Breathable clothing
- Wide-brimmed hat
- Close-Toed Shoes
- Sandals with Back Strap
- Reef-Safe/Biodegradable Sunscreen
- Bug Repellant
- Tums (don't take Immodium for stomach bugs!)
At any destination in Mexico you can expect to pay far less than one in Europe. For North Americans, Puerto Vallarta is incredibly accessible, both logistically and economically. There are tons of non-stop flights from all over the US. With the exception of a few locations (namely Tulum), prices for nearly everything are almost always cheaper compared to the US.
Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect to spend for a month in Puerto Vallarta:
Apartment-Style Accommodation: $500-$1500
Food: $400-$600 (the higher end, if you eat out every day)
Monthly Car Rental: $500
How to Get Around
Getting around Puerto Vallarta is easy! Most of everything you want to see and do is compacted into a small area and is easily accessible on foot, bike, or taxi.
Renting a Car
Renting a car in Puerto Vallarta is a great option if you want total control over where you want to go and when. Renting a car is also helpful if there are some places you want to see that are a bit further away than a taxi will take you.
Just keep in mind that the streets can be quite confusing in some places and drivers are sometimes aggressive. If you’re not a confident driver, I would stick to Ubers and walking.
Uber or Taxi
Ubers in Puerto Vallarta are cheap and convenient. If you must take a taxi, agree on a price first. I would expect to pay around 20-30 pesos for every 5 minutes of driving during quiet hours. If you’re trying to get home from the Malecon at midnight or later, definitely expect to pay more!
Walking and Biking
The best and most sustainable way to get around Puerto Vallarta is by walking and biking! It’s very easy to find your way around and if you’re staying closer to Centro, you won’t have to go far to find what you’re looking for.
I hope this guide has convinced you that Slow Travel in Puerto Vallarta IS possible! There are so many ways to experience this tourist town authentically and with a budget in mind.
While it won’t be the small-town experience you might find in places like Puerto Escondido, it certainly offers everything you might want out of a destination: food, beautiful views, kind people, and amazing experiences just waiting to be discovered.
So what do you think?? Will you visit Puerto Vallarta? Let me know if you’ve been there or plan to visit! I will happily answer any questions you may have about this amazing destination in Mexico.