The two main forms of public transportation in Puerto Vallarta are buses and taxis.
Both are useful options, and which one you utilize more depends upon your own needs, tastes, and budget.
Puerto Vallarta Buses
Buses in Puerto Vallarta are plentiful and frequently used by locals and tourists alike. The bus fleet here could politely be called “eclectic” - many feature unique personal touches ranging from religious iconography to loudly blared cumbia or norteño music.
If you’re on a budget and don’t mind spending slightly more of your time traveling, Puerto Vallarta buses are a safe and surprisingly efficient way to get around. No matter where you’re waiting, a bus running any given route should come by at least every fifteen minutes, and at 7.5 pesos per ride - less than 50 U.S. cents at the time of writing - the price really can’t be beat. Additionally, don’t be surprised if a musical performer boards your bus and begins serenading passengers down the center aisle. If you’re not expecting Cirque du Soleil levels of entertainment quality, you might be pleasantly surprised. Tip a few pesos if you feel so inclined.
To identify the right bus for you, you’re going to want to study the words on its windshield as it approaches your stop. The system is pretty self-explanatory - “CENTRO” will take you to the center of town, “AEROPUERTO” will take you to the airport, etc. One thing you’ll generally want to avoid is any bus labeled “TUNEL” - these take a back route around the center of town, skipping most tourist-friendly areas to drop locals off at their homes on the outskirts of the city.
Here are a few tips to help your Puerto Vallarta bus experience go as smoothly as possible:
Always enter through the front door and exit through the back door. This is pretty much a non-negotiable setup, even when the bus is crowded.
Pay in small bills or exact change whenever possible. Don’t expect change for anything larger than 100 pesos - and frankly, even that is pushing it.
Be ready for the bus to get moving, even while the driver is still making change! They tend to take off pretty quickly, you don’t want to flop over onto the floor or some poor stranger’s lap.
Puerto Vallarta buses only stop if there are passengers to pick up or if someone on the bus presses a timbre - small buzzers located near the back door and periodically throughout the bus. If you’re far away from a timbre as you begin to approach your destination, you might have to strategically navigate towards one.
Most Puerto Vallarta bus lines begin to wind down around 10 P.M. At this point, it’s probably best to catch a taxi instead.
Puerto Vallarta Taxis
Though significantly more expensive than the city’s buses, taxis in Puerto Vallarta are quicker, more convenient, and still a relatively inexpensive way to get around. For example, a trip from the city’s New Town hotel area to the Old Town’s malecón waterfront promenade should cost around 70 pesos (just under 5 U.S. dollars).
The first thing to know about Puerto Vallarta taxis is that they aren’t metered.Always make sure to agree upon a fare before boarding! As you get used to the city, it’s a good idea to ask your hotel or restaurant staff about a fair price to your next destination as not to get taken advantage of.
In Mexico, tipping taxi drivers is not expectedlike it is in many other places around the world. Drivers will of course appreciate tips and you may tip if you’re feeling generous, but this is by no means the norm in Puerto Vallarta.
Here are two more tips to ensure that your Puerto Vallarta taxi experience goes smoothly:
Almost all Puerto Vallarta taxi drivers speak basic English, but don’t assume that this will always be the case! At the very least, make sure you know how to properly pronounce your destination’s name in Spanish.
Generally speaking, it’s best not to take taxi driver recommendations at face value. The truth is that many restaurants and other businesses offer kickbacks to taxi drivers for bringing customers to their establishments. In a worst case scenario, a driver may try to convince you that a certain restaurant is closed and that he’ll take you to another comparable spot. If you know this to be untrue, simply find another driver. You may also report the offending driver via Puerto Vallarta’s official TaxiSafe
Puerto Vallarta Airport
For many visitors, Puerto Vallarta’s Licenciado Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport is their introduction to the city. It’s a pretty standard, modern airport, with one exception that we’ll get to explaining shortly. Here’s what you can expect from the experience:
After your plane lands, and your fellow passengers will form lines and pass through immigration. It’s standard that the officers ask the purpose of your trip as well as how long you plan to remain in the country. Generally speaking, these will be the only questions asked of you before you receive a tourist card good for a stay of up to six months in Mexico. Don’t lose this card! If you do, you’ll have to wait and pay a fine upon leaving the country.
Proceed to baggage claim, where you’ll of course pick up any checked luggage.
Continue with your bags along towards customs. Standard personal goods which will leave the country again with you are of course exempt from taxes and duties, as well as up to three liters of alcoholic beverages and up to 20 packs of cigarettes. As you pass through customs, you’ll be asked to press a button randomly triggering either a green or red light. If the light flashes green, you’re free to pass. If the light flashes red, your bags may be subjected to a random search.
At this point, you may think you’re home free. However, the strangest and for many travelers the most negative part of the Puerto Vallarta airport experience is yet to come.
After you pass through customs, you’ll have to head through the airport’s infamous “Shark Tank.” In reality, the Shark Tank is a pair of white rooms full of timeshare sales representatives, and if you have any doubt regarding whether you’re in the tank or not you’ll know immediately when the reps begin aggressively approaching you as if they were… well… sharks.
The best thing you can do here is to talk to no one and continue walking. A polite series of “no gracias” is also advisable, but please - for your own good - just keep moving.
The sales reps in these two rooms are notorious for using underhanded tactics, up to and including full-blown lies, to get you into a nearly inescapable conversation with them. You may be asked for your hotel reservation documents by “an official representative” of your hotel. You may be offered free transportation from the airport to your place of lodging. You’ll most certainly be offered the “best deal available” on Puerto Vallarta timeshares. Simply put, none of this is true. Just continue along until you reach the room with car rental booths, taxi stands, and regular tourists simply standing around. And breathe deeply in, and now out…
Finally, when it comes to finding a taxi at the Puerto Vallarta airport, you have two options. The first is to purchase a ticket from one of the taxi stands located near the airport’s final exit. One of these tickets will get you a ride in a specially-licensed airport taxi, immediately available directly outside. Though these taxis cost approximately double the standard Puerto Vallarta taxi rates, they are the only taxis allowed to pick riders up directly from the airport.
The other option for visitors traveling light is to exit the airport and cross the pedestrian bridge over the highway in front of you. There on the other side of the street you’ll be able to take a standard yellow Puerto Vallarta taxi, earning you a significantly lower fare especially if you confirmed beforehand how much a taxi from the airport to your destination should typically cost.