With its top-notch resorts, restaurants, spas and hotels, Puerto Vallarta is a great vacation destination for folks with some cash to spend. But if your budget is smaller, can you make a low-cost Puerto Vallarta trip work?
As noted in previous articles, I was a guest of the Puerto Vallarta tourism board, so many of my costs were covered. However, I extended my visit and stayed a couple extra days at my own expense, so I was able to experience the full range of activities and get a good sense of prices throughout the city.
Based on what I observed during my visit, it is absolutely possible to visit on a budget, if you’re willing to make a few sacrifices. Read on to find out how to make it happen…
Come during the summer for cheaper lodging
Like with any popular destination, a big way to plan an affordable trip is to travel during the offseason. For Puerto Vallarta, this means the summer months of July through September. PV is most popular during the winter, when the freezing denizens of Canada and the northern U.S. states flock to the nice weather of the Mexican coasts.
Temps rise in summer, with the warmest month being August, with an average temperature of about 93 degrees. That’s hot, but it’s not unbearable, especially since you’re likely to be spending a lot of time in the water and at the beach.
Because fewer people visit in the summer, you can often find great deals on lodging and other necessities. Felip and I stayed at the Hotel Posada de Roger for two weeknights, and with an advance purchase via Travelocity, we paid only $92 total (taxes included). That works out to $23 per night per person – almost as cheap as a hostel!
Even at this modest hotel, there was an in-room air conditioner, a sweet courtyard, and a small rooftop pool. So you can definitely find decent accommodations at a great price. Puerto Vallarta has a number of other Posada de Roger-sized hotels, so do your homework and lock in a good deal when you find one.
Hostels are always the budget traveler’s best friend. In Puerto Vallarta, hostel beds can go for under $15 USD a night during low season. You’ll be stuck in a dorm with other travelers, but at least your wallet will thank you.
Don’t forget to consider AirBnb (affiliate link) as a way to stay with local residents, although we found that many of the hotels were just as affordable as the PV AirBnb listings.
There’s lots of cheap food, and it’s good
As noted a couple weeks ago, Puerto Vallarta has some excellent restaurants, and I recommend splurging to visit at least one or two of them. But if escargot quesadillas and grilled octopus aren’t in your budget, making smart dining choices is a great way to save money.
By visiting street vendors and small local taquerias, you can get authentic, well-cooked meals for a very affordable price. I also bought quite a bit of food (milk, cereal, fruit, ice cream) from the many local convenience stores around town. If you are so inclined, you could snack all day and then go out for one big meal at dinnertime.
Folks who don’t want to eat Mexican food for every meal can find a handful of familiar American fast food joints, like KFC, McDonald’s, and Subway. I’m obviously not recommending eating fast food for every meal, but it can come in handy. One evening when I was starving and needed a quick calorie burst between activities, I happily gorged on a Subway Italian BMT for just a few bucks.
Pay less for transportation, tours, and souvenirs
Taxis are easy to find and are fairly affordable. I took one from the Romantic Zone all the way to the airport for around $13 USD. To save even more, hop on a local bus, which costs less than 10 pesos (under a dollar) and will take you downtown or near most hotels.
As for tours and activities, some tours aren’t offered during the summer, but others, such ziplining and ATV excursions, are offered at discount prices. So you may be able to find a very good deal on certain activities by visiting during the summer.
You can also create your own tours. For instance, some tour companies offer a “cultural tour” to the nearby town of El Tuito and the Vallarta Botanical Gardens for around $95 USD. You can do this trip on your own by taking the local bus, which runs from PV to El Tuito for around 20 pesos each way (less than $2 US.)
You won’t have a tour guide, and you won’t have air conditioning, but if you can do without these amenities, you can have essentially the same experience at a fraction of the cost. The same logic applies to day cruises and other outdoor activities in Banderas Bay – ask around and you may be able to get a water taxi to go to the same locations at a discount price.
And we can’t forget about drinking, since that’s a popular tourist pastime in PV. Bars are less crowded in the summer and sometimes offer better specials to get customers in the door, so you can again save money by coming during the slower season.
As for souvenirs, lots of trinkets can be found for cheap prices. Don’t be afraid to haggle, and look around for the best deals. The Malecon (boardwalk) has the biggest number of tourist shops, but others can be found on Cuale River Island and around town. Do some comparison price shopping to score the best deal!
Conclusion: How to visit Puerto Vallarta on a budget
There’s one thing I didn’t mention: Airfare. That’s always a variable, and if you’re planning a budget-friendly trip to Puerto Vallarta, you’ll simply have to keep your eye on sales and promotions. Whenever you see a cheap flight, that’s the time to book. Finding affordable airfare is the last piece of the puzzle to making a PV trip doable.
Some may wonder why someone would want to visit Puerto Vallarta on a budget, but if funds are limited and you have a strong desire to see one of North America’s most beautiful vacation destinations, you can indeed make it happen.