Getting to Puerto Vallarta by plane
The vast majority of travelers arrive by air, so let’s start there. Airline is by far the quickest but also most expensive with little adventure involved. That said, the convenience couldn’t be beat and it will most certainly afford you more time in Puerto Vallarta than any other mode of transportation. The airport gateways to Puerto Vallarta are in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Denver, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, San Jose and Oakland; all of them fly multiple flights to Puerto Vallarta each day, and with the exception of Atlanta and Chicago, it’s about a 3 hour flight.
In flight you will be given paperwork for your Mexican Tourist Permit by the airline staff, and it’s important that you fill it out completely and properly before landing.
The Puerto Vallarta Gustavo Diaz Ordaz International Airport (PRV) is a small two runway airport with no terminals. Upon arrival you will be dumped out on to the tarmac where there will be airport personal to direct you to the airport concourse. Airport staff will be there to greet you and will inspect, in detail, your Tourist Permit. If you are missing any detail, they will have you complete it on the spot. Dave’s Been There Tip: There are no surfaces to write on if they make you correct something, so it can be an awkward endeavor. Save yourself the trouble and take care when filling this out on the plane!
After your your Tourist Permit is inspected, you will move on to Customs. You’ll need to produce your passport and Mexican Tourist Permit before you can proceed.
After Customs, it’s on to the Mexican version of the TSA. Here you put your luggage and bags onto a conveyor belt for scanning. After you grab your bags off the conveyor belt you will be met by a security officer, a large metal button, and a stop light. Your job is to push the big button, which is attached to that stop light. Once you do that, the stoplight will turn either green or red. If it turns green, you’re “good to go” and you just carry on. Should it turn red, you will be pulled aside and searched. If it does, don’t worry – it’s completely random and just the luck of the draw.
After you pass through security you’ll walk into a wide area where there is a currency exchange broker. This is NOT the place to exchange your money. The exchange rates here are much lower than virtually anywhere else in town. Unless you plan to take the city bus, we recommend you wait and exchange your money elsewhere (unless you are planning to take the city bus or taxi, then you’ll have to stop here and get some pesos).
The next and last trek through the airport is the most startling to first time visitors. You’ll be tunneled through a hefty line of timeshare hawkers. We recommend keeping your head straight, your step steady and try not to acknowledge them. You’ll run into timeshare salesmen at virtually EVERY TURN, especially in the high season and often when you least expect it. This is covered in greater detail in Chapter 9.
After the timeshare hawks, you are finally out in the main lobby, you can see daylight through the glass doors, and you’re in Puerto Vallarta! But you’re still not done with the timeshare hustlers – the people who walk up to you and ask if you are looking for a taxi are not gringo loving locals, they are timeshare hawkers. You’ll need no assistance to catch a cab, they are all lined up right outside those glass doors.
The local Taxis have to pay a premium for airport access, and they pass that cost on to you. Should you stay in town, this ride from the airport will be your most expensive taxi ride of your entire trip. No taxis have meters; rather, you pay according to your destination’s district. Before entering any cab you’ll want to tell the cabbie where you are going and ask what the cost will be. Not doing so may be a big mistake and an unhappy surprise at the end of the ride! Although there are no radio dispatched taxis, they seem to be everywhere and it’s very easy to navigate the town via taxi.
Driving to Puerto Vallarta
You’ve probably heard of the horrendous dangers of driving on Mexican highways, or you’ve heard the harrowing stories of runaway buses falling off cliffs and the proliferation of highway Banditos running foreigners off the road at gun point.
But if you use common sense, be aware of your surroundings, and don’t drive at night it’s not much unlike driving in Canada or the United States.
Major highways are patrolled by “The Green Angels”, bilingual teams of two, trained in auto repair and first aid to help travelers in distress. They patrol their assigned roads at least twice daily. Should you have auto issues, pull over and put your hood up. If you have a cell phone you can call The Green Angels via the Mexican emergency number 078.
You must have Mexican auto insurance, as Mexico does NOT recognize foreign insurance. Mexican auto insurance can be acquired from your insurance company, AAA, and many other places. Because we like to fly by the seat of our pants, we usually just acquire it on our drive down to the boarder. Nearing the boarder you will pass a few brick and mortar insurance stores and they will insure you at a reasonable rate (the competition keeps rates low).
Mexico long ago nationalized gas stations and now they are all run by the government under the name Pemex. The prices are on par with what we pay in the states and on all the major highways they offer two grades, premium at 92 octane level and regular (Magna) at 89 octane level.
From the Mexican boarder the drive takes about 12 hours and you have essentially three general routes to Puerto Vallarta on the broad toll (cuota) expressways. They do not come cheap with a total toll cost around $60 each way.
list of Mexican auto insurers [web link]
Mexican Consulate [web link]
Getting to Puerto Vallarta by bus
Travel by Interstate bus
Believe it or not, Mexican buses are more luxurious than most U.S. or Canadian air travel. There are dozens of first class bus lines to choose from, and it’s really a great way to travel Mexico.
Most U.S. bus lines end at the border, at which point you’ll have to cross by foot to the immigration office (migración). There you will fill out some short paper work and jump into a taxi to Camionera Central (i.e. Central Bus Station). At the station each liner has a window and departures to Puerto Vallarta leave hourly (if not sooner). The best plan is to just get to the Central Station and book a trip on-site at the depot. Depending upon where you depart you may need to catch another line from Mazatlán or Tepic to get to Puerto Vallarta. It’s really that simple and a really great experience.
The luxury buses in Mexico have comfortable and roomy seats that tilt back considerably. They also have bathrooms and dozens of video screens showing Hollywood movies. The stops are minimal and they are very safe (most buses have ‘co-pilots’ for extra safety on long travels).
From the border it takes about 30 hours to get to Puerto Vallarta. Mazatlán or Tepic.
Getting to Puerto Vallarta by cruise ship