Wow! Mexico was a little more expensive than I anticipated….at first glance, that is.
Puerto Vallartans have indeed figured out how to get the most “bang for their buck” from tourists! Be warned, it can get quite expensive if you aren’t careful. If you are looking for a cheap vacation spot, you might want to consider other areas in the Jalisco and Nayarit states of Mexico, but you can certainly hack PV to fit your budget as well.
I have a few recommendations below on accommodations, food, transportation, and activities.
After spending 10 days in the area, I feel like I have a good idea on how to have a great time without spending tons of money.
How to do Puerto Vallarta on the cheap: A budget guide
Here’s a few things to keep in mind before I dive into the details:
- Vallarta is separated into many zones. The most popular are: “Old PV”, the “Hotel Zone” and the “Romantic” Zone. See photo below for a complete picture.
- Take a bus from the airport. You can save yourself $50 total if you bus to and from! Taxi’s from the airport start at $20 for the closest “zones” and run all the way to $100 for the “South Zone”!
- Even if you don’t feel comfortable taking a bus, at least leave the airport and walk to the road before catching a taxi. It will be significantly cheaper. PV has very good public transportation. If you don’t have to get into a taxi, don’t! The buses run all day long and cost USD $0.30 per ride.
- Make sure you confirm costs up front before receiving any services, especially while en la playa. Sometimes you might think (or even know) that a person told you one price, only to demand a different one after completion of service.
- Bring your own beverages and shade to the beach if you can.
- If you speak any Spanish, please do so! Most tourists I saw practicing their español were receiving significant discounts compared to their English-only counterparts.
I’ve heard a lot of good things about the Puerto Vallarta Hostels. I’ve been told they are clean, and full of fun party crowds. If that’s what you are looking for, perfect! Plan on spending $10/night for a dorm bed.
I’m more of a laid back girl, and I need my quiet time to recharge, so I found AirBnB options for super cheap.
I rented a full condo up in the “mountains” with a few friends for $15-20 per night each. There were other cheaper options, but I was hooked on the idea of a rooftop pool. You can find a place to sleep for as little as $8/night for a shared space with locals.
The best part about hosteling or AirBnB’ing it, is that you get out of the hotel zone. I found the restaurants to be more expensive here, the beach buskers to be more aggressive and more plentiful, and the area to be more industrial (probably due to the hotels being all inclusive).
I stayed just up from the Old Puerto Vallarta boardwalk. It was wonderful being so close to all of the cool statues and shops. You can also easily stumble home from here after a long night out.
Puerto Vallarta has super cheap produce; I ate in quite a bit, and had family style meals for $1/person. A weeks worth of groceries (that would feed my weight-lifting-obsessed boyfriend and friends) ran us $25. There are also tons of budget meals (taco trucks), and diners for those on a budget. And even a “splurge” Meal will run you less than $20 per person (including beverages).
Here are my recommendations:
- Budget: Taco trucks are 10-12 pesos per taco. Each meal will run you less than $1 USD. It’s hard to find Vegetarian or Vegan options, but there are a few taco trucks that will serve you hongo al ajillo tacos (spicy mushroom tacos!) or tinga tacos (Carrot & onion tacos…my personal favorite)
- Moderate: Vallarta Factory: A little indoor/outdoor cafe with American and Mexican breakfasts, vegan options (they made me Vegan pancakes) and self-roasted coffee! They even rolled their own cigars, if you are into that sort of thing. Meals ran about 130pesos/person ($8) for espressos & breakfast
- Splurge: My personal favorite “splurge” was The Rain Cafe on Isla Rio. They had flaming alcoholic coffees for dessert!! Our total bill came out to $20/person, including multiple alcoholic beverages, appetizers and desserts. There was live music as well.
In my opinion, the further south you roam, the better the beaches get. I didn’t enjoy Playa Camarones, and didn’t mind Playa Malecon, but I loved Playa Los Muertos. I found natural shade on Conchas Chinas Beach (even further south), and had a wonderful time hiking to Las Animas Beach in Boca De Tomatlan.
Remember to bring your own beverages and shade to the beach. You will save yourself a lot of money. Some restaurants will give you an umbrella for a few drink purchases, while other places will charge 100-200 pesos for the use of one. Beverages are also a lot more expensive en la playa. A single beer is 35-50 pesos, and you can find deals for a bucket for 150-200 pesos. (You can buy a 6-pack in town for 80 pesos!)
Another note: I’m not sure if it was because I visited during gay pride week, or if it’s usual, but Playa Los Muertos was a more colorful beach. I found it quite comical that my boyfriend and his friend were receiving quite a lot more attention than my girlfriend and I! There are a lot of beautiful (but unfortunately, uninterested) men on this beach.
(So many speedos!)
- Jetskiing: $40 USD for a half hour was the cheapest price I found
- Hiking: Check out my post on hiking to Las Animas
- Parasailing: They only have single-person options, so I didn’t partake, but I found options for $35 USD
- Banana boat: We talked a driver down to 200 pesos for 8 persons! ($12)
- Snorkeling/ Dolphin Watching; options from 200 pesos. Remember to haggle!
Although clubbing left a really bad taste in my mouth for Puerto Vallarta, (Read Why Here), there is quite the night life in PV! Drinks will run you 35 pesos/beer- 100 pesos for a mix drink.
Tourists often get into clubs for free. The entire board walk was lively until 4am, though my friends and I went home to house party until the wee hours. I didn’t pay cover to any of the clubs, but saw prices listed at 100 pesos.
The best clubs we found were Mandala and Zoo, which are side by side.
Mandala has an incredible light set up, and played really good EDM mixes all evening. They also turn into a day club for Sunday Funday. Zoo was an avatar themed club that had lots of costumed dancers, and a really…um…..interesting offering for “shots”. My girlfriend bought a round of “shots” for my birthday, only to have a lady grab me, grope me, pinch my nipples, spank my ass, then pour alcohol down my throat. It was definitely an……experience? (I might have PTSD!)
My total estimated cost for 10 days was just under $400 USD, including splurge items like jet-skiing and clubbing. You can easily spend a fraction of this cost by eating in, BYOB en la playa, and skipping the touristy activities beach-side.