Puerto Vallarta 101
Published Oct 10, 2005 - (Updated Jun 21, 2012)
All packed and ready to go? Here are some last-minute details you may want to keep in mind as you prepare to discover paradise!
Alcohol can be purchased with legal proof of age (18 years and older) at supermarkets, liquor and specialty stores. It is against the law to drink and to be drunk in public in Mexico.
Area Codes and Dialing Instructions
The area codes in Puerto Vallarta and the North Shore are 322 and 329, respectively. Local calls on landlines consist of seven digits; the area code does not need to be included. To call local cell phones from another local cell phone, you must dial the area code + seven digits. To call a local cell phone from a local landline, you must dial 044 + area code + seven digits. Please check with your cell phone service provider for specific information regarding coverage and dialing instructions. Whereas it is quite common to see telephone numbers in the USA and Canada printed in XXX-XXXX format, there is no standardized consensus here, due to the fact that, up to only a few years ago, telephone numbers in Puerto Vallarta consisted of only five digits. When in doubt, ask for a seven-digit telephone number.
ATMs, Credit Cards and Traveler’s Checks
ATM machines can be found throughout Puerto Vallarta. Withdrawals from your bank account are made in the equivalent amount of pesos, according to the exchange rate of the day. Traveler’s checks can be cashed at exchange houses with proper identification (driver’s license and/or passport). While many of Puerto Vallarta’s finest restaurants, hotels and shops will readily accept your international credit card, caution is advised, as credit card cloning is a common crime, regretfully. Do not accept assistance as you withdraw funds from an ATM machine and always make sure that the credit card intake slot shows no signs of tampering.
Getting around the city on a bus is an inexpensive way to travel. Fares from one point to another anywhere in town are $6.50 pesos, roughly equivalent to 50 cents in USD. There are urban buses, which travel through town from early morning until 11:30 pm. Suburban buses reaching points south (Mismaloya, Boca de Tomatlán, El Tuito) and points north (Punta Mita, Bucerias, La Cruz, Sayulita) are also available, departing from the South Side and Wal-Mart, across from the Maritime Terminal, respectively. Buses traveling to other cities, such as Guadalajara or Mexico City, depart from Puerto Vallarta’s bus terminal north of the airport throughout the day. These buses are larger and surprisingly comfortable when compared to their US or Canadian counterparts.
Bus Performers (Tip Expectations)
Where else but in Mexico can you shop, enjoy a song or two, or see a standup comedy routine by simply riding around town in a public bus? Just think of it as a traveling gong show: If you were amused by the performance, tip generously; if not, pay no mind.
Children and Elderly Working at Supermarkets
Don’t be shocked to find children bagging your groceries at the local supermarkets! While the sight of children working at such an early age might seem unusual to the first-time visitor, supermarkets throughout Mexico operate carefully planned programs that allow children to earn extra money while attending school. These programs also apply to the elderly. A small tip is not expected, but certainly appreciated.
Pesos are the currency used in Mexico. Bills come in denominations of $20, $50, $100, $200, $500 and $1,000 pesos. Coins are in denominations of $1, $2, $5, $10 and $20 pesos and 10, 20 and 50 centavos. The exchange rate fluctuates daily. Currency exchange houses are available throughout Puerto Vallarta; however, most businesses in Puerto Vallarta will readily accept US currency as payment.
Customs’ Red and Green Lights
After claiming their luggage, all passengers on international flights arriving in Puerto Vallarta have to go through customs. Visitors are randomly selected for luggage inspection with a “traffic” light. Push a button, and if you get a green light, you’re clear to go; a red light means you may have to wait a while!
The dress in Puerto Vallarta is casual. Shorts and T-shirts are the order of the day. At night, men can be seen in casual slacks at the more upscale restaurants and events, ladies in light summer-type dresses. In the winter months, bring a sweater for evenings. Sun hats and cover-ups are a good idea as well.
Drugs are common in most tourist destinations around the world; and, regretfully, Puerto Vallarta is no exception. If you must take a trip of the senses, do so by enjoying our sunsets, our cuisine or our beaches, rather than through the use of drugs. Penalties for drug offenses are strict, and convicted offenders can expect large fines and jail sentences up to 25 years. Wouldn’t you rather just enjoy the sunset instead?
Mexico uses 110 volt - 60 Hz current, the same as the USA and Canada. No special adapters are needed; however, three-prong wall outlets are only available in new buildings, so bringing a three-prong adapter or two is a good idea.
English Publications and City Guides
Puerto Vallarta has several English publications, such as “Vallarta Today,” a daily newspaper, and “Vallarta Tribune,” published weekly. Both publications are available free throughout the bay. “Bay Vallarta,” another free publication, is bilingual, covering ongoing and upcoming events.
Aside from “Vallarta Lifestyles,” our flagship quarterly publication, Producciones VIVA produces a pocket-size “Map and Dining Guide” with plenty of maps of all the regions around the bay, dining and shopping suggestions and much more! Our complimentary map is distributed in Puerto Vallarta’s finest restaurants, gift shops and real estate offices.
Learn more about our publications by clicking here.
Film, Photo Prints and Batteries
35 mm print film is still readily available in some supermarkets, drugstores and gift or convenience stores. Other film formats (eg, slide, APS) are virtually unavailable locally. Digital printing services are also available at many of these places. Many cyber cafés throughout the city will burn a CD with images from your camera memory cards for a small fee. Batteries commonly used in cameras and electronic equipment (eg, AA, AAA) are also readily available.
Every night is a firework-worthy party in Puerto Vallarta! Expect to enjoy colorful firework displays throughout the bay for any or no particular reason, as part of the many Mexican fiestas or religious celebrations.
Groceries and Supermarkets
Visitors staying at condos or places where they’d like to do their own cooking will be happy to learn that Puerto Vallarta has several full-size supermarkets located downtown, in the Hotel Zone, near the Maritime Terminal and in Marina Vallarta. Small convenience stores with basic items (eg, milk, bread, canned goods) can be found just about anywhere.
Hospitals and Health Care Coverage
Puerto Vallarta has excellent medical care facilities. It is strongly advised that you consult your medical insurance company prior to visiting Mexico to confirm whether your policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses, such as a medical evaluation.
For short-term visitors, there are many high-speed cyber cafés located throughout the city where you can access your web-based email. Many also serve as wi-fi access points if you travel with a laptop. For long-term visitors, three different companies (ie, Telmex, Cosmored and Cyber Cable) offer high-speed Internet service, which can now be installed in your home or condo in most areas of Banderas Bay.
Legal Documents for Entering the Country
The government of Mexico requires current proof of citizenship, a photo ID and a valid passport for entry into Mexico. While you visit, you may consider carrying a photocopy of your ID and passport at all times, safekeeping the originals at your hotel or condo.
As a tourist destination that caters primarily to Americans and Canadians, you can expect to find just about everything you’ll need to enjoy your vacation here. PV is a walking town, and many of its streets are cobble-stoned, so consider bringing comfortable walking shoes. Waterproof sandals for the beach or the rainy season are also a good idea, along with hats to protect you from the sun. Other items, such as suntan lotion, hair products, common medications, batteries and film, are readily available, so you shouldn’t need to waste valuable luggage space carrying these items.
Public Displays of Affection
While most tourist areas in and around Puerto Vallarta have a strong international flair, Puerto Vallarta (and Mexico as a whole, for that matter) is still a rather conservative town. Given that, exercise common sense as you express your affections to your loved one in public, particularly among same-sex couples. Remember, it’s always better to be on the safe side. And bottom line: If you do not see anyone else around you doing it, then perhaps it’s best not to be a trendsetter!
Exploring taco stands and other street food vendors is the type of experience that intrigues our visitors as much as it concerns them. Indeed, while many street food vendors exercise caution with their handling of food and are “tourist friendly,” others are not. The best thing to do is to seek advice from locals about which places they trust. Also, check out our "Taco Stand 101" article!
With over 1,000 taxis in town, hailing one is easy. Taxi fares are not metered, but are standardized enough for you to expect to pay the same amount for the same trip. Asking about the fare before you get in is always a good idea. Also, asking ahead of time if the driver knows where you intend to go may save you a few pesos and a headache.
Airports are federal zones by Mexican law. So, while any taxi can take you to the airport, only airport-authorized taxis can take you from the airport to your destination. Regular (ie, yellow) taxis are not allowed to pick up passengers at or near the airport. Flat rates for the airport-authorized taxis are pre-established by zone and paid in advance at the airport. Expect to pay a much higher rate when using an airport taxi, as compared to a regular taxi. Tipping the driver is not necessary, unless you expect him to assist you with your luggage at your destination. Alternatively, Puerto Vallarta’s urban bus lines heading north and south make regular stops on the main road next to the airport.
Telephones, Pay Phones and Cell phones
Telmex is the only telephone company in Mexico. Long-distance rates here are higher than in many other countries; however, many Internet cafés now offer reduced rates for long-distance calls to the USA and Canada. Pay phones are widely distributed throughout Puerto Vallarta, but most are not coin operated; you must purchase a plastic phone card, commonly available at drugstores, supermarkets and convenience stores. It is not a bad idea to purchase one ($3 - $5 USD) and carry it around just in case. Some visitors are able to use their cell phones while visiting Mexico, but please check ahead for your provider’s applicable charges. Long-term visitors often purchase a local cell phone, along with a prepaid card, to be reachable to others while in Puerto Vallarta.
Ten Spanish Phrases Everyone Should Know
- ¿Cuánto cuesta? How much is it? (As you're pointing at an item)
- ¡Qué hermosa eres! You are so beautiful! (To a girl ... For guys, substitute “hermosa” with “guapo,” which means “handsome”)
- ¿Dónde estoy? Where am I?
- ¿Cómo se dice ... ? How do you say ... ? (Followed by the word you wish to learn)
- ¡Muchas gracias! Thank you!
- Con permiso. Excuse me. (As you are trying to get by someone)
- Por favor ... Please ...
- No hablo español. ¿Hablas inglés? I don't speak Spanish. Do you speak English?
- ¿Dónde está ... ? Where is ...
- No, gracias. No, thanks.
Timeshare and Beach Vendor Etiquette
It’s a living! As you walk through the streets of Puerto Vallarta or enjoy our diverse beaches, you will undoubtedly encounter folks attempting to sell you something. Rather than being annoyed by this fact, a reality in our destination, perhaps you might appreciate the various and original methods these individuals will sometimes use to get your attention. The best thing to do if not interested is to say, “Thanks, but no thanks!” and wish them well. (“No, gracias” and “Buena suerte,” respectively)
While the water in Puerto Vallarta is among the best in Mexico and is tested regularly, it is wiser to stick to bottled water, which is readily available. Most restaurants, bars and hotels use purified water, but feel free to ask to be sure. When cooking or preparing vegetables for salads, use products such as “Microdyn” to purify the water you use to clean them.
Puerto Vallarta is at the same latitude as Hawaii; thus, it shares the same tropical weather patterns. PV enjoys nearly 300 sunny days a year, with temperatures averaging 28 C or 82 F. During the winter months, daily temperatures are 78 – 85 F, cooling to around 70 F at night. The rainy season starts in mid-June and lasts until mid-October, bringing tropical rains and temperatures in the 90s along with very high humidity. The hottest months are August and September.
Feel free to visit our weather page to check Puerto Vallarta's weather forecast.
What if I don't speak Spanish?
English is pretty much a requirement for any employee at Costa Vallarta hotels who regularly comes into contact with guests and visitors. This also applies to businesses in the bay that cater to tourists, such as real estate offices and gift stores. Thus, you are likely to enjoy a wonderful time in our destination even if your Spanish is limited.
Who to Tip, Whom Not to Tip, And How Much
Establishing tipping guidelines can be tricky. As is the case in many other places, tipping has everything to do with quality of service. That said, it is not uncommon for some restaurants to automatically append a tip to your bill if you have a large party, so make sure you don't tip twice!
Restaurants aside, consider tipping supermarket grocery baggers, hotel maids, bellboys, airport baggage handlers, activity tour guides, public bus performers, Malecón performers and hair stylists.
You do not need to tip taxi drivers (unless they help you with luggage or groceries), beach vendors, timeshare vendors, street beggars (particularly if they are children), hotel performers or folks volunteering unrequested information on the street.
A special word about restaurant musicians: More often than not, the folks that spontaneously begin to serenade you as you dine are not paid by the restaurant. Therefore, they will expect to be paid (by the tune) after they are done. So, it's best for your budget to refuse a tableside performance at a restaurant before it actually begins with a simple "No, gracias."